As much as I generally disdain the pedantic quality of Christopher Tolkien's editorial style, it is clear that his years of work pouring over his fath...moreAs much as I generally disdain the pedantic quality of Christopher Tolkien's editorial style, it is clear that his years of work pouring over his father's voluminous leftovers have finally borne fruit here. With precious little of the analysis for which he is (in)famous—this passage was certainly written after 1951 because my father corrected the amanuensis typescript with a red ball-point pen blah blah—and that confined to two brief appendices of value to those who have slogged through The History of Middle-Earth, this actual narrative is the closest it is possible to get to finally seeing J.R.R.'s vision of the Elder Days manifest.
Despite the popularity and enduring quality of the books on which the movies are based, it was the grand tales of the Elder Days, synopsized in The Silmarillion, that were always the primary stories intended to be told, even as far back as the 1920s, with nary a Hobbit in sight, nor indeed in mind. Sadly, none of these core elements were ever completed in full narrative or poetic form, including this which was always planned to be the longest, a grand tragic epic. After coming through many variations of the story of Túrin in the various posthumous publications, I have long looked forward to someone, someday, putting the pieces together to form a single, coherent whole. This has been done to marvelous effect herein.
In fact, as much a fan as I long have been, I daresay that this is perhaps the best of Tolkien's work, no matter to which Tolkien one refers. No foot-dragging, no loose abstraction, no ponderous asides; this is straight-up classical heroic tragedy in the Western mode. Moreover, virtually every word outside the appendices is from original manuscripts, but for a scant few "corrections" by the editor well noted and well needed (at least for those who pay obsessive attention to such details as where the moon should be rising depending on what direction the hero is facing). No footnotes. No extraneous sites on the fold-out map. Genealogical charts of the main families, and a full glossary of names for those who have trouble keeping track of bit-players, foreign terms, and the inevitable allusions to the other interlocked stories not covered directly herein, such as "The Lay of Leithian" and the Quenta Silmarillion, which add so much to the perception of depth in the tales of Middle-Earth. And of course, Alan Lee's wonderful illustrations, some in full-color plates, which add nothing to the story, but contribute well to the overall aesthetic experience.
In short, this is my new favorite, and I can only hope that we may see a similar treatment of the Fall of Gondolin and/or the tale of Beren and Luthien before we must enter a third generation of authorship.(less)
Generally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I found...moreGenerally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I found myself desperately longing, not only for an electronic edition, but for a fully hypertextual version, rich with links. Over the two months I spent on this volume, on and off, I believe two-thirds of my time was spent on the Internet looking up references. At the very least, this book would benefit greatly from extensive illustration: the range of artistic works referenced, from Caravaggio to Millais to Vermeer, is sure to baffle most modern readers without a degree in Art History. Remember Laurent Tailhade? Yeah, me neither.
Frankly, with the state of Liberal Arts education today, I have a hard time believing that much of anyone who has read this in the last 30-40 years has understood but a fraction of it—and reading over the reviews I can find bears this out. Both essays are often seen as little more than an apologia for "drug experimentation." While that is certainly an element of both, it can hardly be taken as Huxley's central point. It was rather Dr. Leary who much later reduced the matter to such a simple and simplistic premise, and even he had more than that to say to those who were willing and able to delve beneath the surface.
Instead, while making the case for the legitimacy of drug use, Doors offers a hypothesis for the mechanism of the experience via the well known reference to Blake and the then-current state of neuro-biological research; to wit, that ordinary perception is a matter of the mind filtering data for survival, while transformed or visionary experience—whether achieved through asceticism, art, or chemistry—opens the mind to all the data available, regardless of its mere survival value, thus allowing one to see through the ordinary to a truer vision of reality. Why, after all, should one need to starve or abase oneself for months and years to achieve such states when the same experience, or a reasonable simulacrum, can be had for the cost of a drug and perhaps a mild hangover?
Heaven and Hell goes on to develop this thesis by comparing the visions induced by exogenous chemicals to the more visionary pieces of art throughout history, as well as elaborating on the religio-spiritual theme. This is where, I believe, a majority of readers are likely to get lost, and thus explains why there are far more extant reviews of the former essay than of the latter. Even with handy art references, the latter is still the more difficult read, with its several tangential appendices and textual digressions. One might almost suppose that the drugs had not yet worn off while he wrote this one. Still, for the persistent, this is a worthwhile sequel, and it is readily obvious why the two are so often packaged together. But keep your browser near at hand, because many of his points are utterly lost without knowing the art to which he refers.
Finally, it is this very lack of illustration, and internal referencing for the modern reader, that prompts me to deduct one star from what would otherwise be a truly stellar recommendation. I continue to hope that the Huxley estate, or whoever controls the copyrights, will consider reissuing this with the necessary supplemental material, perhaps even in a definitive scholarly "critical edition." Were it in the public domain, I might take on such a project myself.(less)
Surprisingly, the movie of the same name appears to be based mostly on just the first of three stories in this book. And there are enough differences...moreSurprisingly, the movie of the same name appears to be based mostly on just the first of three stories in this book. And there are enough differences between the two to keep one guessing about the outcome, to a degree. The second story picks up chronologically after the first, but bears no relationship to the film apart from the overlapping characters, though some elements appear in a sub-plot of the Day Watch film. The third has still less to do with the screen versions, and digs a little more into characterization while also getting more philosophical.
The whole thing is quite unlike any supernatural-fantasy I've read before—most of which today has develoved into mere "paranormal romance" which this decidedly is not despite the required unrequited love interest—and is therefore a very refreshing take on the genre. This despite the fact that there do appear to be bits in the background that are not to readily comprehensible to an audience that is not immediately familiar with modern Russia, Muscovite geography, or Stalinist history. It's good to have Wikipedia handy if you like catching the subtler references. For example, I was amused to learn—from an oblique reference I happened to look up—that the surname of the protagonist probably derives from the poet Серге́й Митрофа́нович Городе́цкий.(less)
It is perhaps worth noting that this is the script for the stage-play, which differs from the screenplay for the movie version. It is certainly no les...moreIt is perhaps worth noting that this is the script for the stage-play, which differs from the screenplay for the movie version. It is certainly no less enjoyable, though I did miss some of my favorite bits of business in Ros's unwitting near-witless rediscovery of such scientific principles as gravity and buoyancy. The substance remains quite as enjoyable and post-modernly self-conscious as ever.
For those unfamiliar with both the stage and screen versions, I would suggest first reading or watching Hamlet if you have not already, as without that bit of framing background, much of the action is likely to be still more inscrutable. Stoppard several times uses references to Shakespeare's work as a shorthand in the text.(less)
It may have been revolutionary (so to speak) for it's time, but I found it a bit of a tedious pot-boiler. Not to mention that, so far as I can tell, t...moreIt may have been revolutionary (so to speak) for it's time, but I found it a bit of a tedious pot-boiler. Not to mention that, so far as I can tell, this particular translation (that by Horace Samuel) is execrable, which may well explain having found dozens of copies in the dollar cut-out bin. If I can stand to do so, I may come back to this review later with some particularly perplexing turns of phrase. Nevertheless, I will most likely attempt the Moncrieff translation of The Charterhouse of Parma, and hope thereby to get a better sense of my real opinion of Stendhal, and in the process perhaps better prepare myself for the eventual assault on Proust.(less)