I found myself back in Paris this winter because my 10 year old son, the indomitable Miloš, took on The Three Musketeers for his essay, and I read itI found myself back in Paris this winter because my 10 year old son, the indomitable Miloš, took on The Three Musketeers for his essay, and I read it in support. It is my sixth or seventh reading, but I haven't read it in a while so I honestly can't remember which reading it is, not that it matters. I had quite the experience this time through.
In the past I have been obsessed with the treatment of Milady de Winter -- both Dumas' treatment of her and the Musketeers' treatment of her -- but this time I was much more focused on the Musketeers themselves. Most if not all of that can be chalked up to Miloš' essay topic. About half way through he was zeroing in on the fact that the Musketeers, particularly Athos and D'Artagnan (who begins the tale unattached then turns Guard then turns Musketeer) are vastly less than heroic. So my reading went down the same path, and damn are they an ugly bunch.
I've spoken and written of their iniquities in the past, so I'll leave the listing of their bad behaviours aside, but I will say that I was struck most profoundly -- once again -- by the way pop culture has twisted the Inseparables.
I am sure that Dumas' didn't conceive of them as humorous, sexy, devil-may-care, lily white, honourable or even upstanding heroes. He conceived of them as flawed men living in a flawed society, busy taking advantage of whatever they could to get ahead, get in a bed, get rich or richer or forget their pasts. Sure they are fun to read when they have a rare sword or musket fight (and there are precious few when you consider the page count of this book), but so much of who they are is so unsavoury that, as Miloš said to me, "they can't be heroes." No. They really can't.
I wonder if we started a petition of literary fans if we could get HBO to produce a version of the Musketeers that makes them appear as they truly are, though I doubt it. BBC has succeeded in making their time dirtier and grungier, and even made Cardinal Richelieu vastly more nasty than Dumas intended, but their Musketeers are as charming as ever Hollywood made them. I, for one, would rather see the nasty Musketeers. I want to see them as they were conceived by Dumas. That would be something. ...more
Never have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futuresNever have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futures that I can see being possible, but The Space Merchants is mostly here right now, and everything else (if you exchange Mars for Venus) is merely moments away. And that is a scary fucking proposition.
Pohl & Kornbluth's world is an overpopulated mess, where food and water are at a serious premium and the super-rich dominate the use of goods and services. And that world is ruled by the all-powerful ad agencies, who just happen to have overtaken every industry. There is a President who is no more than a useless figurehead. There is martial law that everyone happily accepts. There are Orwellian levels of thought control without any need for thought police because advertising and media do the job quite nicely. And there is the usual group of revolutionaries working clandestinely for the "good of all."
The Space Merchants has been on one of my must read lists for twenty years, and I've only now gotten around to it because I tracked down a two part radio play of it on Relic Radio's Sci-Fi podcast. I'll be giving it a listen tonight, but I am not sure how close to the book a sixties CBS radio play can be, especially considering the damning criticism of America's consumer culture, and its ambiguously depressing ending. I imagine it is going to end about halfway through Mitchell Courtenay's journey, when his capitalist dreams are complete. I'm kind of stoked, regardless.
One last thing, if you are looking for a classic work of Sci-Fi to turn into a mini-series SyFy, this is the the work for you. Mitchell Courtenay could easily be the Don Draper of Sci-Fi pop culture. And there's even a part for Peter Dinklage (and a damn good one).
Charles, you had it absolutely right. I am so glad I got around to this. ...more
Out of idle curiosity, I've lately been turning my reading to Scoutie into a discovery of the source texts for Disney's biggest films. I stumbled uponOut of idle curiosity, I've lately been turning my reading to Scoutie into a discovery of the source texts for Disney's biggest films. I stumbled upon versions of both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty that were surprisingly close to Disney's Princess movies, and we had much fun with them (I wish old Walt hadn't cut the baby-eating Ogre Queen Mum from Sleeping Beauty, though. What fun that would have been).
Again I was surprised by how closely the Disney company (this time under Katzenberg/Eisner) adhered to the text. All the key elements remain in the movie; they are often altered but they're there: the Enchantress (evil in the book), the rose(s), Belle's father meeting the Beast first, food magically appearing, Belle's release and return. I didn't expect the versions to be so closely related without Walt Disney's personal influence, but they were and that's likely at the root of why Disney's Beauty and the Beast is so successful.
What I found most delightful, however, is how much friendlier Villeneuve's original is compared to the Disney movie (I've since discovered that it is not much friendlier. It is actually the Beaumont adaptation, which is what I read, that is friendlier. I need to get my hands on the original). The Beast is far less the abusive kidnapper and much more a Prince trapped in bestial form. He's kinder from the outset, anonymously providing food and shelter for Belle's father, the tired, cold, passerby, and only reveals himself and takes her father prisoner when the father attempts to pick a rose for Belle. Moreover, there is no apparent clock the Beast is racing against, no nasty Gaston to muddy the waters, and no foolish villagers marching to destroy the Beast in his castle, and less of a feeling that Belle is a kidnap victim who falls prey to the Stockholm syndrome.
It's a straight up tale of love developing through friendship, and a tale of kindness and selflessness being rewarded. Winnie-the-Pooh is next (not a discovery for me, but it is for Scout). One more thing about this version of La Belle et la Bête: the art by Walter Crane is kind of beautiful in its quaint way -- even in an eBook....more
A -- Alfheim: It's the place where the elves live. There's lots of elves there with bows, and they have long blonde hair and pointy years. The wear archer clothes and stuff.
B -- Balder: The God of Light (is he the God of Light? Maybe he's just goodness. No, he's the God of Light too). He was always happy. He was never mad. He just smiled the whole time. I can't remember a time when he was mad. He died because Frigg asked everything not to hurt him except mistletoe, then Loki, disguised as an old woman found out it was unsafe, then made an arrow out of mistletoe, gave it to Balder's blind brother, then Loki helped Hod shoot Balder, and Balder died.
C -- Chess and Chessmen: Almost everybody plays chess, the gods that is, and I didn't know that chess was made back then. The gods probably invented it, the god of gold that is because they were golden chessmen. Or maybe it was the Gnomes. They seem more like the building type.
D -- Draupnir: I think it would be cool to have a bracelet like Draupnir. It was cool that Odin put it with Balder in his funeral pyre.
E -- Embla: Embla is one of the first humans created by the Gods. She was the first woman.
F -- Fenris: He's Loki's son who is the big wolf who grows too big to control. He's not scared of anything, so he's fearless, and he's very big, and he can open his mouth so wide his bottom jaw can touch the Earth (Midgard), and he bites off Tyr's hand. Plus, he's stuck at the bottom of Yggdrassil.
G -- Garm: He's the dog who guards the gate to Hel.
H -- Hel: She's Loki's daughter who rules Hel, which is named after her.
I -- Ida: The green field of Asgard with a whole bunch of buildings that I expect are huge, and it is very busy.
J -- Jotuns: The Jotuns live in a very, very cold world on the tree. Instead of their beards being soft and furry, they're cold and hard like icicles. The Aesir and them don't agree with each other. Thor challenges every Jotun he sees, and kills it and stuff, declares war on it, I'd say.
K -- Kvasir: Wasn't that the drink that made people smart? Odin was wise after drinking it or something.
L -- Lidskjalf: That's the seat where Odin sits and he can see everything.
M -- Midgard's Serpent: It's scary. Very, very scary, and it's always angry, and apparently it's not too heavy for Thor.
N -- Nanna: She is the wife of Balder. She is pretty nice, and she is my favourite of all the ladies in Asgard.
O -- Odin: He is the All Father and the ruler of Asgard. He has a very, very, very fast horse with eight legs named Sleipnir. He only has one functional eye, and he pulls his hair down over his missing eye. In the Norse myths, he's my (Miloš') favourite.
R -- Rungnir: He was a pretty big Jotun, really tall, and he had the second fastest horse on the entire World Tree. He's pretty cool, and fairly strong, and Thor beat him in a duel, but his head isn't fairly strong becaues Thor smashed it, right?
S -- Sif: She is beautiful, and she has the best hair. If she was a Charlie's Angels she'd be Jill. Her hair was blonde but it became gold.
T -- Tyr: He is very brave, and he is pretty strong too. Fenris ate his hand, so he has only one hand. He is also pretty nice. He is one of Odin's sons.
U -- Utgardsloki: He was super smart. It was awesome how he made all the tricks, the illusions, to trick Thor. I thought Thor would win. I loved the fact that Thor didn't win and that Utgardsloki won.
V -- Vanir: The battle between them and the Aesir was pretty interesting. They were pretty cool, and some of them joined the Aesir.
W -- War: The Norse Gods fought too much, definitely. They were really violent. Whenever somebody died nobody even cried, except for Balder, or then their wives die too. It's weird the way they were with death and war.
Y -- Yggdrassil: It's a cool tree. I like how it is holding all the Nine Realms in place and stuff. It is there to keep everything in place. I like that Yggdrassil is so important, and trees are because they give us air and stuff, but this tree is more important because it is holding our worlds together in one space so Midgard, Asgard, Jotunheim and all the rest would probably spin off into space without the tree.
Æ -- Aesir: Whenever they said something they promised, they had to do what they promised, so instead of being fierce they did what they said they would, but when they failed to do what they said they would something bad happened, and eventually it caused Ragnarokk.
*I just finished reading this to my twins last night. We start the Greek Myths tonight. ...more
So I think Manny and Beth-Ann have it spot on. Peter Rabbit dies in this book, and his escape is a moment-of-death fantasy. Peter is the Peyton FarquhSo I think Manny and Beth-Ann have it spot on. Peter Rabbit dies in this book, and his escape is a moment-of-death fantasy. Peter is the Peyton Farquhar of kids books.
Farquhar, for those who don't remember, is the Alabama Confederate (gentleman farmer / non-combatant) from Ambrose Bierce's An Occurence on Owl Creek Bridge. He's strung up to a railroad bridge to be hanged by the Union soldiers, but his rope breaks and he pulls of a miraculous escape, only to have his escape end with him still on the rope as he chokes to death.
Well, little Peter doesn't have Union soldiers to string him up, but he has old Mr. McGregor to chase him around the garden, and in Peter's attempt to escape he dives into a watering can -- and I say he drowns. How's that for a cautionary tale? I figure that Peter's death in the watering can is also a euphemism for rabbit stew, and Peter becomes a yummy dinner for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor. Lucky farmers that they are.
But Peter, at least, is able to enjoy a moment-of-death fantasy where he goes home and declares to Mother Rabbit that he's learned his lesson. But even at home, even in his fantasy, death begins to close in, and while his siblings play and the smells of cooking rise up to greet him (Mrs. McGregor's kitchen as she skins his corpse, perhaps?), Peter ends his day (and his life) wrapped in the blankets of his little bed. Shivering from the cold he caught in the Mr. McGregor's water bottle.
Death comes to us all, little bunny, especially when we ignore our parents! Remember that.
Culinarily, I think I need to get my own little rabbit for a stew. It's been a while, and rabbit is de-lish. ...more
This is the first time I've read this book. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's especially hard to believe when I consider my mother -- this is just the sThis is the first time I've read this book. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's especially hard to believe when I consider my mother -- this is just the sort of schmaltzy crap she loved. I probably missed this book because it falls in that range between picture books and chapter books that I skipped in my reading progression.
However it came about, I only just read this book. I shared it with my little Scoutie Kat as our bedtime book. It took a couple of nights, and she loved it, especially the part about the fairy and the painting it was accompanied by. It became, "My own Rabbit," in Scoutie talk. And it wasn't so bad. I certainly enjoyed the experience, although I think most of my enjoyment sprang out of cuddling with my two year old and enjoying her enjoyment.
I was surprised to discover that this book is sort of the Toy Story Pinnochio. Crappy Bunny is made. Crappy Bunny is loved by its boy. Crappy Bunny is tossed out to be burned when the boy has Scarlet Fever. Crappy Bunny becomes mottled real bunny because he was so loving. Real Crappy Bunny and its boy see each other one more time. Tears or giggles or sighs of "...um, yeah," depending on your age and reason for reading.
I can see why it was loved back when it was written. I can see why little kids dig it, especially if they're cuddled up with their Moms and Dads, but for me, for me now, it was nothing special. ...more
Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you aDear Hamlet Hater,
Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you and your bullshit about his "indecision," that indecision sets him apart. Unlike everyone else in the play -- who slay their foes willy-nilly or embrace their personal ignorance to engage in tacit murder or let their passions o'errule their reason -- Hamlet takes his time with his revenge, refusing to be fooled by a damned ghost, looking for proof, making sure that Claudius is really guilty before he acts.
Yeah, yeah, Hamlet was mean to Ophelia. I don't disagree. But Hamlet can hardly be considered the only factor in her death/suicide. And it's not like she didn't deserve it. Polonius and Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude (and maybe even that sneaky bastard Horatio, the last to see her alive) played their parts in her "madness," and it's not like Ophelia didn't have her own hand in her demise. Hamlet loved her. Hamlet's father dies, he's seeing ghosts, his mother is banging his uncle, and there's Ophelia -- at the behest of her family's patriarchs -- cutting off Hamlet when he needs her most. I'd be pissed if she did that to me. I'd call her a whore and a weakling and mock her until she left me alone. Where's her backbone? Where's her love? Nowhere to be found; hence, Hamlet's anger (not that I blame Ophelia, though. What the hell could she do considering the world she was living in? Considering the power of the men in her life?).
And what about Hamlet's thoughts on the equality of mankind? How can you hate on a guy who thinks the way Hamlet does? This is a cat who spends most of his soliloquys holding an in-head debate about the equality of man in death. This is a guy who puts kings and nobles on the same level as fishmongers and worms. He's a guy who embraces life in death without fliching. He sees the "providence in the fall of sparrow" and knows it is good.
Yet you hate him. Why?
Is it because your high school teacher sucked? Is it because you are daunted by Shakespeare and Elizabethan English? Is it because you are convinced that Hamlet is a whinger? Is it because you've fallen prey to a century-plus of Freudian disassembling? Is it because you expect Mobster-style decisiveness? Would you like it more if RockStar put out a shooter game called Grand Theft Elsinore?
Or are you simply a dumbass?
Go watch Lion King or Strange Brew and get back to me.
p.s. this is a Ceridwen-special: a drunken review.
there is no better way to kick off a semester of literature than a modest proposal. one smart ass student always tries to derail the conversation withthere is no better way to kick off a semester of literature than a modest proposal. one smart ass student always tries to derail the conversation with an early declaration of the proposal’s satire, but no one listens, and within moments i have a class of fifty - sixty students angry, frustrated, and sometimes rabid as i take swift’s ironic side and ask the students, with all the seriousness i can muster (which is quite a bit), if we shouldn’t give it a try? i follow that up with “why not?” after “why not?” then smack them upside the head with their universal humanist superiority complex, and force them to think. it’s so new to them they leave hating me or loving me. but they do leave thinking. poor bastards. except that one mormon in the front row. he never leaves thinking anything other than how superior he is. and what a dipshit i am....more
iii. Finished, but I need some time to let this sink in. The review is coming.
iv.One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is about non-conformity. It is also about the horrors of the mental health system circa the late ‘50s & early ‘60s. I am sure it is about some other things I didn’t pick up this time around. But it is also about metaphor, and that was the theme in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that most spoke to me.
Chief Bromden is the narrator, you see, and he is schizophrenic. Some would say he is an unreliable narrator because of his hallucinations. I think those people are wrong. I don’t see his opening statement as an admission or a warning:
I been silent so long now it’s going to roar out of me like floodwaters and you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.
I see this as a declaration that just because he is schizophrenic, just because he sees the world differently from you, doesn’t invalidate what he’s seen and what he’s been through. It is a declaration of his reliability, and one that I heeded throughout my reading.
Because, you see, like many schizophrenics, Chief is aware that all the things he sees may not be there, or aren’t there for everyone. He knows that people around him will call him crazy when he is fogged in or trying to clean the green filth from the walls of the meeting room. He knows that people will shun him for the way he sees the world, so he – or Ken Kesey – needs you to know that he recognizes your biases before he even starts telling this story, and he needs you to hear him despite that, not just listen with a condescending head pat for the poor crazy Injun. Some of the things he sees may intrude on what you call reality, but reality is still there amidst the "crazy" stuff.
And oh! what he sees. He isn’t just witness to a battle of dominance-submission-freedom. He isn’t just a witness to sadism and selfishness. He isn’t just a witness to hope. He isn’t just a witness to change. He is gifted the ability to see metaphor. For you, metaphor is a tool with which you understand the world. Your brain takes some input, filters it through metaphor, and out comes your meaning. But the Chief takes some input and that input suddenly becomes the metaphor and that meaning is the metaphor. Perhaps that’s what all schizophrenics see. Perhaps that’s their “illness.” Perhaps it’s their gift. An ability to see metaphor as a physical construct, for metaphor to cease being a filter and become reality.
And that was the book for me. Despite all the great characters, despite the battle for control that rages between Ratched and McMurphy, despite the damage done and the control won and lost and won and lost, I was totally focused on the journey through Chief’s mind. I get him. And I love him. And I still love Milos Foreman’s film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -- good thing too since I named my son after Foreman -- because the film and the book are two completely different works. They are akin. No doubt. And they are both beautiful. But they are too different (in delivery) to be considered the same.
My mind was blown.
v. I guess I'll have to add this to my "crazier-than-a-lobotomized-mcmurphy" shelf, even thought it isn't crazy at all....more
I don’t really know why, but when I think of Siddhartha I think of hippies. I am sure I’ve seen a copy of Steppenwolf or Siddhartha in the hands of aI don’t really know why, but when I think of Siddhartha I think of hippies. I am sure I’ve seen a copy of Steppenwolf or Siddhartha in the hands of a hippy in a movie, or I've read about some hippy being a fan of the book in some bio about a sixties' rock star. Whatever the reason, though, that connection tugged on my reading of Siddhartha like gravity.
People often talk about how the hippies went from being love children opposed to Vietnam to investment bankers approving of the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan, but there is little sadness attached to that talk. If anything it is used as an implied argument for the righteousness of the latter position, as though love is childish and imperialism (or just plain vengeance) is the adult reality.
I, too, have often wondered how one became the other, but I’ve always felt pretty bummed about the shift. I’m even sadder about it now that I’ve read Siddhartha. If my imagination of old tattered, dog eared copies of Siddhartha passing from reader to reader in communes has any kernel of truth to it, the old hippies clearly missed Hesse’s warning.
You see, Siddhartha does precisely what the hippies did. He turns his back on his search for Nirvana and runs smack into the corruption of possession. He grows fat, old, corrupt and poisoned by the comfort that enticed him to give up his search for the way. But Hesse lets him find his way back again. He hears the river, and the river leads him to love and timelessness and peace and living. It’s kind of beautiful, actually. But the important thing is that he sees his move into mercantilism and gambling and societal membership as a failure and returns to the happiness of simplicity.
If the hippies really did read Siddhartha, it’s too bad they didn’t heed Hesse’s message, but then they probably didn’t read it after all. It’s probably nothing but a piece of fancy that found its way into my head through some obscure piece of popular culture.
So "Om" to you, and go listen to the river....more
Ivanhoe. Seriously?! Could there be a more arbitrary title to any famous book in the English language? It would be like naming Lost "Benjamin Linus,"Ivanhoe. Seriously?! Could there be a more arbitrary title to any famous book in the English language? It would be like naming Lost "Benjamin Linus," or naming the original Dragonlance Chronicles "Caramon Majere." This isn't a book about Ivanhoe, it's a book with Ivanhoe in it.
Sir Walter Scott must have been sitting around his room with his D&D dice to come up with Ivanhoe.
Random Title List for Unnamed Book I Just Finished Writing About King Richard's Return From the Crusades and the Defeat of His Slightly Crazy Brother Prince John Roll 1d20
1. Lady Rowena 2. Brian de Bois-Guilbert 3. Front de Boeuf 4. Friar Tuck 5. Isaac the Jew 6. The Black Knight 7. Cedric 8. Ivanhoe 9. Richard Coeur-de-Lion 10. Prince John 11. Athelstane 12. Wamba 13. Rebecca 14. Albert Malvoisin 15. Waldemar Fitzurse 16. Gurth 17. Maurice de Bracy 18. Locksley 19. Ulrica 20. Me
It's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insigIt's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insights and idiocies remain relevant to modern readers, and frightening that humanity has made so little progress that the insights and idiocies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles still concern us.
I picked up the Oresteia because I thought it was about time I put the plays to the tale I thought I knew. I found what I expected:
The children were eaten: there was the first affliction, the curse of Thyestes. Next came the royal death [if we ignore the sacrifice of Iphigenia:], when a man and lord of Achaean armies went down killed in the bath. Third is for the saviour. He came. Shall I call it that, or death? Where is the end? Where shall the fury of fate be stilled to sleep, be done with?
The familiar bloody tale of cannibalism, infanticidal sacrifice, vengeance, more vengeance, and the Gods ordained entrenchment of patriarchy were all there. The three plays of the Oresteia -- Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides -- were brutal, lovely, frustrating, illogical, brilliant and exciting in turns. I spent some of my time trying to suss out a way to stage these entertainingly without wholesale change, and some of my time thinking about the insights and idiocies that the Oresteia offered.
Amongst it all, I was shocked to discover something fresh -- at least to me. We often talk about the stultifying power of patriarchy, how that power has twisted up our cultures into the ugliness we know now, and the blame for that power is widely accepted to be the responsibility of those who made the power, hold the power and don't want to give it up.
What struck me in the Oresteia is that most people, from that day to this, from Ancient Greece to our modern globalized world, are responsible for the power of patriarchy (at least partially) because they desire infantilization. Few, so very, very few, want to be adults (metaphorically speaking). They don't want to make choices, they don't want to accept responsibility, they don't want to face conflict, they don't want to think. They want protection, they want to be told, they want to justify, they want to conform, they want to remain permanent metaphysical children embracing illusory comfort.
In the Oresteia the gods are credited with every act taken, so the players live or die believing that another is responsible for what they've done. They remain willing children of the gods.
It's a human willingness that I see all around me 2,468 years after the Oresteia was written. Is it any wonder the concerns of Aeschylus still plague us today?...more
When I first met Erika, for some long forgotten reason and situation, someone said, "Do you like my hat?"
I answered: "No. I do not." There was an awkwWhen I first met Erika, for some long forgotten reason and situation, someone said, "Do you like my hat?"
I answered: "No. I do not." There was an awkward pause and I added, "Good-bye. Good-bye again," with some totally bizarre, guttural, kiddie voice. It became a fun inside joke for Erika and me, but for the life of us, we couldn't remember where it came from. It sounded familiar; it didn't sound me-invented, but we couldn't place it.
Then we had babes, and I picked up a bunch of board books -- and there it was.
"Do you like my hat?"
"I do not."
It wasn't quite how I remembered it, not quite the way my mind had twisted it over all those years, but we had finally found the source, and we were stoked.
5 years later my boy is reading it to me. It is a great book to foster reading , but even if I didn't have a prior bond with the book beyond learning to read, I would still love Go Dog. Go because of my son.
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions....more
The Golden Bird -- If you are the “Chosen One” you can eschew all advice, screw up constantly, and still come out onThe Lessons of the Brothers Grimm
The Golden Bird -- If you are the “Chosen One” you can eschew all advice, screw up constantly, and still come out on top.
Hans in Luck -- Half-wits can be happy with anything.
Jorinda and Jorindel -- You can trespass unreservedly, so long as “the Other” owns the land.
The Traveling Musicians -- Robbing the rich to give to yourself is fine if your victim is a robber.
Old Sultan -- Obey your master to the detriment of your friends, especially if your friends threaten your master’s property.
The Straw, The Coal and The Bean -- Death is the funniest joke of all...and tailors are always nice.
Briar Rose -- Disney can reduce anything -- even a story about slights and righteous indignation -- into a ninety minute indoctrination of the fantasy of good and evil.
The Dog and The Sparrow -- Vengeance is fine if you are the first person wronged, but if you wrong one, then are wronged in return you may not seek vengeance -- even if the vengeance wrought upon you is out of proportion for your crime. This is also known as the “carpet bomb Afghanistan” fable.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses -- Listen to whatever an old hag tells you because her ugliness must equal wisdom.
The Fisherman and His Wife -- Be happy with your station in life. Ambition above your station cannot make you happy. Marx would love this one.
The Willow-Wren and the Bear -- No matter the idiocy of a war and its cause, the defeated should pay reparations, regardless of how humiliating.
The Frog Prince -- Spoiled, nasty, unlikable though one may be, if one is royalty and does what one’s father tells one, living happily ever after is one’s right, and one's inevitable destiny.
Cat and Mouse in Partnership -- The meek will inherit nothing. They will be devoured. No idealism here.
The Goose Girl -- The ideal wife should be meek and mild and of the right station. Also, beauty will out.
The Adventures of Chanticleer and Partlet -- “How They Went to the Mountains to Eat Nuts,” “How Chanticleer and Partlet Went to Visit Mr. Korbes,” & “How Partlet Died and was Buried, and How Chanticleer Died of Grief:” Everyone dies, so live for yourself while you can.
Rapunzel -- Vengeance thy name is woman, but if you’re a Prince everything works out in the end.
Fundevogel -- If you’re going to be boiled by a crazy cook...run. Unless you are a shape shifter...of course.
The Valiant Little Tailor --Make people believe you’re a bad ass and you’ll never have to prove it.
Hansel and Gretel -- If you kill a “godless witch” you will be rewarded beyond the dreams of avarice, and if you are a father who abandons your children at the behest of your second wife but feel bad about it, you too will be rewarded. And if you catch the mouse you can make a hat out of it.
The Mouse, The Bird and the Sausage -- Stick to your proper social roles or you will DIE!
Mother Holle -- If you are ugly you must be lazy. If you are ugly and lazy you will be punished. Your punishment will be having your skin covered in pitch that will never come off, so according to the Grimm Brothers ugly = lazy = black skinned. Yikes.
Little Red-Cap -- Listen to your mother because she is always right, and kill all the predatory wildlife you can because it will eat you otherwise. Oh, and if you are “devoured” by a wolf you can be cut out soon and revived.
The Robber Bridegroom -- Never leave witnesses, and always check for missing body parts.
Tom Thumb -- There’s no place like home is the stated lesson, but the real moral is that cheaters and crooks prosper.
Rumpelstiltskin -- The rich and powerful do not have to honour contracts and agreements. That is the lot of the poor.
Clever Gretel -- Lie your face off to protect the secret of your eating disorder and your alcoholism.
The Old Man and His Grandson (possibly the best story in the tales; it’s certainly one of my favourites) -- Treat others as you’d like to be treated lest you be treated ill.
The Little Peasant -- Lie, cheat, steal and commit murder, even mass murder, and you will flourish, so long as you are preying on the idiocy of your neighbours.
Frederick and Catherine -- Dizzy blondes always prosper.
Sweetheart Roland -- If you love your man and remain faithful, he’ll always come back to you, no matter his own unfaithful transgressions.
Snowdrop (also known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) -- Creepy men will always come to the rescue of a too-young girl...if she is lovely enough.
The Pink -- Apparently pink has always been the colour of homosexuality (of course, it could just be that I was feeling particularly gay when I read that night).
Clever Elsie -- Divorce is as simple as a fowling net and bells tied around your moron spouse’s neck. At least if you are a Clever Hans.
The Miser in the Bush -- Someone always pays.
Ashputtel (aka Cinderella) -- The Brothers Grimm really made no sense at all, and they must have had a wicked step-mother of their own. These boys had issues.
The White Snake -- Be kind to lesser beasts and you will some day be rewarded, but you can still kill any domesticated beasts indiscriminately.
The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids -- Predators are evil and must die; prey are good and must live. Prey can also torture and kill predators whenever they want.
The Queen Bee -- Be nice to animals and they will make you richer than Daffy Duck in the Genie's lair.
The Elves and the Shoemaker -- Naked dwarf/elves make kick ass shoes.
The Juniper Tree -- Killers should be killed, so their victims will be born again.
The Turnip -- There is virtue in con artistry.
Clever Hans -- THE BEST STORY EVER! The whole crew giggled their brains out at the escapades of Clever Hans. Of course, it could have been my silly Austrian accent. In fact, every Grimm Tale would be better with an Austrian accent.
The Three Languages & Lily and The Lion -- Leave the fairy tales behind for a few days and they are totally forgettable.
The Fox and The Horse -- Domesticated animals deserve much better than wild ones. Haven't I seen that somewhere before?
The Blue Light -- It’s terrible for a Princess to be forced into menial labour. A capital offence, in fact.
The Raven -- Useless men are the perfect men for a wronged princess.
The Golden Goose -- Always feed homeless men, it’ll make you a King. And here I thought the most you could get from such a deed was a dipped ice cream cone.
The Water of Life -- The good guys always win. Silly isn’t it?
The Twelve Huntsman -- Sexism will always help a lady get her man.
The King of the Golden Mountain -- Midgets and dwarves are nothing but magical. Bad people have black faces. Kings can steal anything they want. That's the Brothers Grimm in a nutshell.
Doctor Knowall -- Idiots are fated to riches. See...there was ntohing new about Forrest Gump.
The Seven Ravens -- Father’s are never responsible for their crimes against their children.
The Wedding of Mrs. Fox -- First Story: Genetic anomalies are easy to overlook if you are a fox. Second Story: Racial purity must be maintained. Hey...weren't these cats German?!
The Salad -- Turn a woman into an ass, and she will drop to her knees and do anything you want, making you happy forever.
The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was -- The longer the story (or title) the more idiotic the moral.
King Grisly-Beard -- Any shrew can be tamed.
Iron Hans -- Cursed Kings will help any knob who can help them break their curse.
Cat-Skin -- There are Kings everywhere, and they’re all looking for a Princess who wants to hide her Princessness. I am not sure that PETA would be impressed with this one.
Snow-white and Rose-red -- Every talking animal is a Prince in disguise’ every pretty little girl is just waiting to be made a Princess; every dwarf is evil.
So who comes out ahead in The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales: The super rich, the rich, all nobility, the stupid, and cute animals.
Who ends up looking bad: any woman who isn’t nobility, step-moms, dwarves, the poor. folks with dark skin.
Yep, this book is crap. It is such crap that nearly every Disney adaptation is an improvement -- seriously. The last thing I can say, the thing I need to say, is YUCH. Yuch-yuchity-yuch-yuch-yuch!
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant muchTwenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much to me at twelve. The only books that had been reached by me alone were books on mythology and horror. Everything else I read, from DH Lawrence to Hemingway to Dickens to Shakespeare (and this also included Dracula and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde because they were "true" classics), was suggested and sanctioned by my mother (for which I will always owe her deeply).
It is easy to forget that The Lord of the Rings was not a pop culture phenomenon in the seventies and early eighties. It was a fringe book (at least in North America), something that was not yet considered a part of the canon, something that was not a name on every boy's lips (even if they were just getting to know D&D) let alone every child's lips. Sure it was respected and loved by those who knew it, but knowing it was not a foregone conclusion as it is today, and its audience was almost completely genre oriented. In my little community (my school and the blocks surrounding my home), I was the first kid to read it.
And that first reading was a revelation. Sure I'd read The Hobbit, but that didn't prepare me for the breadth and depth of The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth in its grandest incarnation.
To create a fantasy world is one thing, but to breathe life into ages of that world, to keep all the pieces together with such magnificent detail and rigour, to create character after believable character and make us care about most of them, even poor Smeagol/Gollum, that is a literary labour of Hercules. And by pulling it off, Tolkien created the single most important manifestation of Fantasy that has ever and will ever be written. The Lord of the Rings has rightly been named a classic. It is part of the canon, and it deserves its place. It is entertaining, it is weighty, and it is loved by nearly all.
Aye...and there's the rub.
Its indisputable greatness has made it indisputable.
It has become dogma among fanboys and fangirls that the bastions of The Lord of the Rings are unassailable. Criticize Tolkien's work -- academically or otherwise -- and you put yourself in almost as much danger as a chatty atheist trying to engage in a theological discussion in a coliseum full of Jehovah's Witnesses (how many of those folks will make it into the afterlife? Isn't there a limit?).
Feminist critics point out the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings, and that those women who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn's strength is dependent upon adopting male gender qualities, a typical stereotype of "powerful women in fantasy," and she is alone amongst the Rohirrim as a woman who can and will fight. All other women in her culture are present as a reason to fight rather than as integral parts of the struggle. Arwen's place (in the books, at least) as a maiden waiting for the hand of her king takes the "reason to fight" to even greater heights. And the only powerful female, Galadriel as the terrible, beautiful elven Queen, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, thereby removing her from the realm of women and men and making her a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious.
Post-Colonial critics have latched onto the racism inherent in The Lord of the Rings, pointing out the hierarchies between the races: from the "superiority" of the elves, to the "chosen" role of "European" Men of the West under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are "lesser" because they are "too greedy" and the latter are "lesser" because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the "orientalization" of Sauron's forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and "the dark folk." They point out Tolkien's family's history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa (while he did leave at three years old, his family's presence there at all suggests that some of the classic colonial opinions about the colonized "dark races" helped form the man who wrote these books), as possible reasons for this racism.
These criticisms further suggest, at least to me, that the archetypal source of all fantasy's entrenched racism -- even those books being written today -- is The Lord of the Rings. Those fantasy authors who have followed Tolkien consistently and inescapably embrace his configuration of the races (yes, even those like R.A. Salvatore who try and fail to derail this configuration) and the concepts of good and evil that go along with them, which leads to the stagnation and diminishment of their genre.
The fact is that these flaws do exist in The Lord of the Rings. They are present. They are easy to find. But few of Tolkien's rabid fans want to hear about them.
And even when the criticism is not necessarily suggesting a flaw in Tolkien's work but merely the presence of some subtext, the dogmatists react with rage and condemnation. A fine example of this is when Queer and Gender theorists point to the overwhelming relationships between men, and how the relationship between Frodo and Sam is homosocial, at least, and possibly even homosexual. The only true intimacy in the book occurs between the men, after all, and to ignore that fact is to ignore one of key components of why The Lord of the Rings is so emotionally satisfying, especially to young men.
Even faced with these ideas supported by convincing arguments, however, many fans either strive for ignorance or attack the messenger. This may have much to do with the worry -- unreasonable though it is -- that to admit that a flaw or something uncomfortable exists in any of these books, which so many people love so deeply, is to accept that The Lord of the Rings is neither great nor worthy of love.
But this is not the case.
I love The Lord of the Rings even though I subscribe completely to the post-colonial criticism, and see the merits in both the feminine and queer criticisms, not to mention the countless other criticisms and subtexts that are floating around.
The books are racist; they are sexist. They are not perfect. And I must criticize the elements of The Lord of the Rings that make me uncomfortable and deserve no praise. But my complaints and the complaints of critics make Tolkien's achievement no less great.
Tolkien created the most magnificent imaginary world ever conceived, and, for good or ill, Fantasy would be nothing today were it not for him. The Lord of the Rings is a triumph on countless levels, but it is not the word of God, nor should it be elevated to such heights.
I love The Lord of the Rings, but I love it with reservations. I love it because of its place in my personal mythology, its genuine originality, its creativity, its power, but I love it with my mind open to its flaws, and I refuse to make excuses for Tolkien or his work.
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. Not today. But I am still willing to admit my love. ...more
For me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his toFor me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his total refusal to bullshit. He is a human stripped of our indoctrination to seek ease through conformity, leaving him as human as a human can be. For that, Meursault is a hero to me. And so is Camus....more
I remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for gradI remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for grade three. We were in the library for a library period, and I asked Mrs. Dalgliesh, our groovy librarian, for a book. I can't remember if I was the one who suggested Greek Mythology or if it was she, but I do remember her aiding me at the card catalogues, then she sent me off to the shelves to track down "292 DAU [JUV]."
That little journey changed me irrevocably.
I devoured D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in what was then record time, and within days I was debating my father on theology. I demanded to know why I couldn't worship Zeus instead of his God; I wanted to know why, if the Greek Gods came first, they had a flood, Heracles was resurrected, and Phrixus was saved from being sacrificed by his father by the presence of a golden ram, amongst other things. I wanted to know how Christianity could have such similar myths.
It was the beginning of the end of my religiosity and the penultimate blow to my catholicism. It was the end of my acquiescence to unjust authority. It was the end of acceptance without questions. It catalysed my constant search for understanding. It was the beginning of my father's disdain for me, and his fear of my mind (the latter, I've always suspected, was close to the root of much of the abuse I suffered at his hands). It was the moment of my enlightenment. And I've loved this book deeply from the second I first closed its cover until today.
I finished reading it to our twins last night. To hear them talk today, they are in love with the book themselves, though I doubt it can be felt as deeply as my love for the book. We encourage them to think for themselves, to question, to seek, to demand that authority earns respect, so their experience with the book isn't as revelatory as mine. They have parents who've been answering their questions -- about gods, life, death, where babies come from, about anything -- since they were asking questions. They haven't needed to find that power for themselves, we've pointed the way to that power from the start. Still, they love this book, and I hope they share it with their kids (if they choose to have kids) in turn.
Rarely have my feelings about a book been so jumbled.
I hated all The Haunting of Hill House's characters so much that I couldn't stand reading the booRarely have my feelings about a book been so jumbled.
I hated all The Haunting of Hill House's characters so much that I couldn't stand reading the book, yet Shirley Jackson's need to make us hate all the characters in the book, and her success impressed the hell out of me.
But then I wondered if the reason I hated the characters was not genuinely because of the book, but because of the crappy film version from 1999. Jan de Bont's remake, The Haunting, was abysmal, and the performances of its four stars were some of the worst of their careers (especially Lili Taylor, whose performance as Eleanor was the most insufferable of the lot).
But as soon as I picked up the book Jackson's characters became the actors for me. Liam Neeson was all I could see when I was reading Dr. Montague, despite the fact that Jackson's vivid descriptions of the Doctor don't match the Irishman in any way. And I had the same problems with Owen Wilson (Luke), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Theo) and Lili Taylor (Eleanor). Their performances were the characters for me, and I worried that I wasn't giving Jackson's characters a fair shake.
This hardly ever happens to me. I watch movies all the time -- sometimes before I read the books, although I try to avoid this -- and I've nearly always been able to avoid the actors' performances spilling into my fanciful renderings of the characters. This time, though, all four horrible performances stuck.
So was my disdain for the characters really Shirley Jackson's doing, or was it my personal issues with a bad rendering of her work? I hope it was the former rather than the latter, but I remain unsure.
I also ran into problems with my expectations of the story, and these seem to have been miraculously untainted by the movie. Even odder than my retention of the movie characters was my total lack of recall for the story itself.
Jackson kept me guessing throughout The Haunting of Hill House, but right up until the end I felt like all these false leads and potential "realities" were missed opportunities. She frustrated me again and again. I wondered if the hauntings were being staged as a psychological experiment by Montague, then I hoped that was the case, then it wasn't. I wondered if Eleanor was there at all, then I hoped she wasn't, then she was. I wondered if someone was already a ghost, then I hoped she was, then she wasn't. And so it went: Jackson kept setting me up with the story's potential then knocking me down with an overturning of my expectations.
Then I reached the end of the story, and Chapter Nine actually redeemed the tale for me. It didn't make The Haunting of Hill House one of my all time favourites, but it did bring me closer to believing that Shirley Jackson really expected us to loathe her characters, that she even depended on it, and that the control she exerted over her work was as deliberate and delicate as a surgeon repairing ligaments.
These ingredients may have been put together to tell us how to live our lives in and for every moment, but something tells me Kazantzakis was not writing Zorba the Greek to preach a way of life so much as to celebrate life in all its glory -- seeing everything in life, including death, as worthy of glorification.
Zorba can be a choppy piece of literature at times, moving between moments of glorious prose, dull passages of lounging about, and sudden bursts of frenetic action, but that choppiness could be a brilliant move on the part of Kazantzakis to mimic the rhythms of life itself. Whatever the shortcomings of Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis still manages to imbue his story with an incredible depth of balance.
Humanity is as ugly as it is beautiful, and neither state is superior to the other. They simply are.
I will read Zorba the Greek again in a year. I must. I know that it will require time and meditation to fully savour what Kazantzakis has done. Maybe then, after I've taken the time, I will have more to say.
For now I will simply do what makes me feel most alive. ...more
I want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrowI want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrow out of every fish bone, enjoy every puff of every cigarette, bask in a sunset, watch the moon cross the sky, fall asleep content; I want to focus on the necessities of living; I want to focus on life, but I have too much. It's not much compared to most everyone I know, but it is still too much.
And because it is too much I can't appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does. Reading about it is not enough, but right now it is what I have.
I giggled, I guffawed, I snorted, and I laughed in turns. I smiled at some particularly insightful bits of satire. I nodded happily when Bierce's wit assaulted his peers or scored a palpable hit on an issue or a word I wanted to see skewered.
I wanted so badly to enjoy Bierce's classic more than I did, but for every entry I enjoyed there was another that made me bored (I should mention, however, that there was nothing that I hated), and I found myself slogging through to the next definition rather than enjoying where I was at.
Bierce was particularly somnolent when he turned to humorous verse to flesh out his definitions. The man had a gift for prose, but he had no gift for poetry. His verse was, occasionally, funny -- I will concede that -- but much of it simply made me yawn.
Some of this could be me, some of this could be the distance in time between Bierce and myself, but some of it must be Bierce too.
I recognize The Devil's Dictionary's place as a classic, and it certainly deserves the title; I also think everyone should have a copy lying around to pick up and put down whenever they need something stimulating to read (it could be the perfect toilet book, and I don't mean that in a bad way). But, sadly, my feelings about the book never surpassed contented enjoyment.
Would you care to riposte, Mr. Bierce?
"CRITIC, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.
There is a land of pure delight, Beyond the Jordan's flood, Where saints, apparelled all in white, Fling back the critic's mud.
And as he legs it through the skies, His pelt a sable hue, He sorrows sore to recognize The missiles that he threw.
I struggled with my star rating for Conan because, despite any mitigating factors, I really love the character of Conan, particularly iAaaaah...Conan!
I struggled with my star rating for Conan because, despite any mitigating factors, I really love the character of Conan, particularly in the hands of his progenitor, Robert E. Howard.
Howard had a fiercely creative mind and a burning work ethic that enabled him to crank out some of the most amazing pulp heroes and anti-heroes, including Kull, El Borak, Solomon Kane, the humorous Breckinridge Ellis, and, of course, Conan before taking his own life at thirty years old.
It is an impressive run, and his characters continue to live and breathe for us almost seventy-five years after his suicide.
Rereading the first Conan book, an attempt by L. Sprague de Camp (Howard's flame holder) to bring together Conan's short tales in something resembling chronological order, was a real treat: a return to my teenage years of sword and sorcery roll playing, pulp comic book madness, and pubescent wish fulfillment that everything could be answered with a strong fist, righteous violence and that women would swoon for the man who could deliver those things.
But there are things that mitigate the quality of the Conan books today, and they are unavoidable. L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the partners who filled in the gaps in the Conan saga, wrote their own chapters and finished Howard's tales from notes and partially written drafts, are nowhere near as talented as Howard, and their work, which appears in every Conan book of the original cycle, gets in the way.
It is also tough to swallow the sexism and racism underlying much of Howard's work. The former is blatant and Howard made no attempt to hide Conan's patriarchal proclivities; the latter is not as obvious but Howard himself may have been totally unaware of its presence. Howard was fairly forward thinking for his day, but he was writing pulp in 1930s Texas and we can't expect him to share our supposedly "enlightened" opinions or views of the world. Even so, some of Conan's behavior is tough to take.
But there is so much that is entertaining and excitingly creative about Howard's writing that I find myself swinging the other way on the pendulum almost as soon as something bothers me. It's so easy to get swept up in Zamoran intrigue or Nemedian murder mystery or Stygian black magic that all other concerns disappear.
Howard's finest achievement, and one that I have never seen discussed, was the way his Conan narrative unfolded with Conan's role constantly shifting. I'm not speaking about Conan's move from thief to adventurer to mercenary and back again. What I find fascinating is that Howard tells the story of Conan using countless short stories, but Conan isn't always the main character. Sometimes he's nothing more than a peripheral supporting character, yet each occasion of his presence tells us something more about Conan and furthers the chronicle of his life. "The God in the Bowl" and "Rogues in the House" are perfect examples of Conan's shifting narrative role, and these are stories unmuddied by the hands of Howard's followers. The technique of allowing a major character to have his story told through drips and drops is, I think, underused in literature today -- and Howard mastered it with Conan.
This time through I marveled at Howard's creative and narrative genius, cringed at his antiquated social outlook, and moved through my discomfort to simply enjoy what is -- no matter its flaws -- a classic of Fantasy literature. I love Conan, and I probably always will, but tainted as it is, and as a potential recommendation for others, I can't give it more than three stars -- even if its a five in my heart....more
I remember hearing a radio version of this when I was young, long before I eveTo Build a Fire is one of the stories that made me want to be a writer.
I remember hearing a radio version of this when I was young, long before I ever read it. My Dad and I were on a camping trip in one of the provincial parks, and he'd brought along a little transistor radio. In the dark of our tent we picked up a radio station that played old radio shows, and that night the story was To Build a Fire. It was wonderful to listen to it in that setting. The old crackly radio hummed, the static mixed with the Yukon wind sound effects, the dog barked, the man talked to himself while he tried to get his fire lit, and all the while our canvas tent creaked in the warm night. It was a full immersion into London's story of Nature humbling man.
A while later, in school, I had to read To Build a Fire in a reading period; I was thrilled to be remembering the story as the words unfolded in front of me. I wanted to go to the Yukon (which I am finally doing this summer). I wanted to face Nature in a way that was smart. I wanted to do what the man failed to do. I wanted to avoid arrogance, swallow my natural hubris, and experience the cold and danger of a Yukon winter just so that I could show the man that he should have listened to the old man's advice and paid attention to his dog's uneasiness.
Now that I teach, I bring out To Build a Fire in any class that calls for short stories. It is one of the greatest short stories ever written, and it always leads to a lively discussion, especially today when so many students are concerned with the environment.
Some students find themselves cheering for the Yukon, some find themselves cheering for the dog, and a few find themselves cheering for the way the man never gives up. Then there are those who scoff at the man for his stupidity, for his lack of imagination, for his arrogance in the face of such raw, frigid power.
I find that, these days, my reaction to To Build a Fire depends on my mood. I can see every side; I can empathize with every perspective, which I am sure has everything to do with the brilliance of London's craftsmanship. This last time I found myself connecting most with the story of the dog. When I reach the Yukon this summer (boy am I glad that it won't be winter), I'm going to read it again. I think it's a pretty good bet who I'll side with in that reading. But one never knows. ...more
--i could have sworn i read this a decade ago, but now i don't know. something tells me i read an excerpt in a class sometime and than html thing!>
--i could have sworn i read this a decade ago, but now i don't know. something tells me i read an excerpt in a class sometime and thought i read the book. i didn't remember a fucking thing other than Hari Seldon
--c'mon ... Lucas is the most shameless thief since Shakespeare. Coruscant = Trantor. Don't even pretend it doesn't. And the Ewoks are stripped straight out of The Word for World is Forest.
--psychohistory is a load of crap, but a fun load of crap.
--Sherri told me that Foundation was all about the intrigue and she was right. i get so tired of violencebeing the tool of victory in ALL literature that it is amazing to read a book without a shred of violence, where diplomacy and intellect rule the galaxy or universe or whatever.
--this shit is one of the true progenitors of sci-fi as we know it. which rocks.
--the guy who sold me this book has all these fleshy pollops drooping off his facial skin. i badly want to see him on the beach this summer. he probably has one under his armpit the size of a giant droopy thing
--the fall, intellectual arrogance, religion, mercantilism, all good things. it's universilization in the fifties.
--fukushima mon amour
--can i get me one of them personal force fields?
--my cover is this amazing, funky green, wannabe-cubism from the Avon edition circa 73. it looks like my mom's old stove.
I know this is supposed to be a scary story, and I know that it is the much lauded Henry James who wrote it, but The Turn of the Screw never grabs meI know this is supposed to be a scary story, and I know that it is the much lauded Henry James who wrote it, but The Turn of the Screw never grabs me the way I hope it will or think it should. It's just not chilling to me, and that's what I want in a ghost story.
That doesn't mean it's without merit -- or perceived merit -- because this is James, after all. When I look at it as the story of an extremely disturbed and unreliable Governess being filtered through a nameless narrator, it takes on so much more depth than the average "scary story." These dual perspectives raise all sorts of questions about the veracity of the tale, whether or not the story-ending death is a murder, and whether the ghosts of Quint and Jessel are figments of an overactive, Romantic/Gothic imagination. And the potential readings spin off from there into politics, intertextuality, psychology, hyperreality and more.
I always wonder, though, if because it's James, I find myself digging much deeper than I was meant to in this tale. Is it possible that James was really just telling a good ghost story? Spinning a yarn? Is it possible that James' reputation, his literary chops, make this tale impossible for me to enjoy as a horror story? Is it possible that I read The Turn of the Screw too deeply?
I think the answer to all these questions is "yes" -- at least for me -- because what I really want when I read a ghost story is a chance to be shivered. I want to be induced to run around the house looking into dark corners and under beds, making sure no one is lurking about and waiting for me to go to sleep so they can paralyze me and gut me with a knife (sorry...I'm okay now). What I don't want is to be so conscious of the writing itself that the shivers never set in -- and that's what happens to me with The Turn of the Screw.
For pure fear, I'll take Poe over James anytime. You're just too damn intellectual to scare me, HJ. Sorry....more