I'm not really a big fan of comics (unless they are Tintin, but that is another story) but since I have this gig whPeter Quill is Starlord 25 May 2015
I'm not really a big fan of comics (unless they are Tintin, but that is another story) but since I have this gig where I get paid to write reviews (not much mind you, but then again writing doesn't turn all that much money, unless of course you're in advertising) and since everybody writes reviews on pubs, bars, cafes, and restaurants (as well as their local beauty salon) I decided that I would be my geeky self and go and review game stores and comic book shops. However, I can't just walk into a shop and then write a review, I have to buy something as well. After glancing over the endless shelves of comic books that I was not at all interested in I finally settled on Guardians of the Galaxy.
Anyway, while the core characters of the film appear in the original comics (so I believe) as far as I am aware there are a lot more characters floating around. However, this particular series was released just prior to the movie, no doubt as a way to advertise the upcoming release. However, I must admit that I was quite disappointed in this offering. I really liked the cocky Peter Quill, aka Starlord, who has tickets on himself. In the film I was under the impression that he gave himself the name Starlord simply because it sounded really cool. However, this is not that Peter Quill in this comic. He wasn't kidnapped by aliens after his mother died, in fact it turns out that his mother had an affair with this galactic prince who then nicked off to continue to fight a space war, and Peter Quill is well aware of that fact. Also, he isn't kidnapped, but rather he joins NASA so as to attempt to get into space. Also you don't have Groot drinking from a fountain with Rocket Raccoon screaming “will you stop that Groot, that's disgusting”. Oh, you also have Iron Man who decided that he needed a holiday so he decided to travel into space (as you do).
Anyway, the five great powers of the galaxy get together because they realise that Earth is just way too powerful (namely because of all the superheros and X-men mutants that happen to be living there, though it makes me wonder why all these other planets don't have their X-men mutants and superheros as well) so something has to be done or else they will become a threat to the order that has been established (not that there is actually any order since these five great powers are fighting amongst themselves). However, the representative of Asgard (who isn't Thor) steps in and says “over my dead body” so they decide proclaim that Earth is to be left alone. Of course the proclamation applies to everybody except for the Badoon, who basically ignore it and go and attack Earth. Also, as Peter Quill's father is involved in the proclamation, he suspects something fishy is going on so decides to go and protect Earth anyway.
Guardians of the Galaxy is basically the Avengers in space. In fact the title of this graphic novel declares it as such. What they have done with this series of comics is to extend the Marvel Universe off from Earth (and from places like Asgard as well) and to develop the interstellar conflicts, heroes, and villains. Mind you, this is basically superhero stuff, so when the Guardians go off an fight somebody it isn't in fighter jets like Star Wars, or huge battleships blasting away at each other, but rather them jumping into their spacesuits, flying out into space, and going manno-a-manno with the baddies (who are all locked safely away in their spaceships – not that that helps all that much because they are the Guardians of the Galaxy). This sort of didn't wash with me all that well. Still, I do have a couple more to read (since I did have to buy something when I was in that comic book store).
I am surprised that it has taken me so long to get around to reading this book, particularly since it isn't all tThe original fantasy epic 21 May 2015
I am surprised that it has taken me so long to get around to reading this book, particularly since it isn't all that long, and also that I have been a long time fan of the fantasy epic. In fact this was one of Tolkien's major inspirations for his Lord of the Rings trilogy (and I do emphasise one, since he drew on lots of sources in crafting his fantasy epic – in particular the Nibelungenlied). Anyway, as I suggested this is pretty much your typical fantasy novel. In fact when you read about how bards will sing about a hero's exploits, this is the type of song that they would end up singing (and the greater the hero, or should I say the greater the story, then the longer the song will remain in the consciousness of the listeners).
Mind you, the story itself is pretty basic: a monster comes and terrorises a king and eats his men during a banquet so the King asks for help and along comes Beowulf, cuts off the monster's arm, and leaves it for dead. They all then get together and start celebrating Beowulf's bravery in defeating the monster – bare handed nonetheless – when the monster's mother comes along and gatecrashes the party, namely because she is really upset that somebody went and ripped the arm off of her child (as you would expect from any mother). Anyway Beowulf then kills the mother and becomes king.
Mind you, the poem (or should I say song because the bards had been singing this for centuries, telling everybody the story of Beowulf's bravery) doesn't end there because Beowulf then goes off to fight a dragon, but this time he isn't so lucky because even though he manages to land a killing blow upon the dragon, the dragon replies in kind resulting in Beowulf not surviving the battle.
So, there we have it, a guy goes out, kills a monster, has a party, kills a monster, so on and so forth. Actually, that sounds like your everyday Dungeons and Dragons game – you know, enter a room, kill the monster in there, take all the treasure, and then go into the next room and do it all over again. Granted, there is this part of the game where you are supposed to role play your character, but on the other hand there isn't anything all that wrong with the good old fashioned dungeon crawl (though if you wanted a real dungeon crawl there are plenty of computer games that offer just that experience).
The other thing was that for some strange reason I thought the monster (that happens to have the name Grendal, though his mother doesn't have a name – she is only known as Grendal's mother) was like a hippopotamus, though I have no real reason why I would think such things. As it turns out Grendal is more like a troll, though I think he would be a troll in the vein of the Three Billy Goat's Gruff type of troll rather than the Dungeons & Dragons type of troll which I sometimes wonder who actually came up with the idea, and what drugs he (or she) was smoking at the time they decided to settle on this rather bizarre creature. Anyway a troll is probably more appropriate since you do get the impression that it has some form of intelligence (though not all that much), and it does break into the king's hall to carry away his men.
So, this is another of the handful of true epics, though it is nowhere near as long as the Odyssey or the Iliad. However, both of those other ones (as well as The Song of Roland and the Nibelungenlied) were all originally sung and also passed down by word of mouth. It is also interesting to note that these songs are songs of the deeds of heroes that have been passed down from generation to generation, though it does make me wonder what causes the actions of one particular hero to be passed through the generations to eventually be written down, and others to fade into insignificance. Considering, at least with our western culture, the bulk of these stories came from the Greeks, though we do seem to have a smattering from the Norse regions (such as Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied). In the end I guess it is probably luck, or more likely popularity. I guess it is like these days – popular books get reprinted and popular movies get replays. Those movies that flopped generally pass away into obscurity (though some of them, for some bizarre reason, go on to become cult classics). I guess it is the same with epic poems – the popular ones continue to be told, and continue to be passed down, while the ones people simply don't like (like the story of how Wulfgung was chased around the paddock by a rabid cow, but managed to overcome it) get forgotten....more
Once again the allies are losing planes, however this time it is the route between India and China and this isMore planes are disappearing 18 May 2015
Once again the allies are losing planes, however this time it is the route between India and China and this is causing problems for the Chinese attempting to hold off the Japanese invasion. As can be expected, when the RAF has a problem there is only one person that they can call in to help: Biggles. Oh, and also his squadron, which usually consists of Algy and Ginger (and a couple of others though they don't tend to be as regular as Biggle's two friends, though I don't remember Ginger in any of the World War I stories that I read).
So, when I discovered that the mission involved disappearing planes, and that they all thought it was some secret weapon all I could think was 'here we go again'. The previous Biggles story that I read, Biggles Sweeps the Desert, also involved disappearing planes which was thanks to some Nazi secret weapon, so I was starting to wonder whether Captain Johns was being a little lazy with some of his plots. Mind you, I certainly haven't been reading these books in any sort of order, and due to the number of them that were published (and the price tag as well – you could be paying anywhere up to $300 Australian dollars for an early edition with the dust jacket) I am simply going to read them piece meal in whatever order I manage to get them (and even then I'll only be reading the ones on my Dad's bookshelf).
So, we have disappearing planes and quite possibly another secret weapon (this time invented by the Japanese) so Biggles puts on his Sherlock Holmes cap, grabs his magnifying glass (well, metaphorically speaking that is) and tries to unravel the mystery. As it turns out there is a nice little twist and suddenly we discover that they are up against Japanese spies and a secret organisation whose goal is to shut down the air routes from India to China. As such we have a good old spy adventure where Bigglesworth is not just donning his Sherlock Holmes attire, but also grabbing his Walther PPK and his vodka-martini, shaken not stirred, and going out to put an end to this nefarious plot.
Okay, I may be sounding a bit cliched here, though from my experience many of the earlier James Bond stories were more mystery thrillers as opposed to action adventures, and in a way so is this story. Sure, we have a couple of dog fights, but then a Biggles war story wouldn't be a Biggles war story without him jumping into a Spitfire and shooting some Japanese (or Germans) out of the sky. Anyway, I really don't want to say all that much more because I will end up completely ruining the plot, particularly for those of you who may actually go out and get their hands on a Biggles book. Sure, I could tell you what happens in this book because, well, there are over a hundred other Biggles books out there for you to read, however it may simply turn out that the one I spoil is the one that you may have found the best.
Oh, here is a picture of a Japanese Zero (can't have a Biggles review without a picture of an aeroplane):
Before I start writing about this particular Fighting Fantasy book I have to mention that I found this realThis time you're on a pilgrimage 1 May 2015
Before I start writing about this particular Fighting Fantasy book I have to mention that I found this really cool blog (called Fight Your Fantasy) where the author plays through each of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks blind (meaning that he has not yet read the book) and plays through the book until he either completes it, or dies, and then posts his adventure as a story on the blog. From the few that I have read (including Spellbreaker) he ends up dying. In fact, from what I can tell, he has yet to successfully complete one adventure, though I guess half the fun of this blog is to follow his escapades which will always end up being fatal.
Anyway, I should probably say a few things about this book. Well, I must say that it was entertaining, though the name of the kingdom (Rumblestone) sounded like it belonged in Disneyworld. However, unlike a Disneyworld adventure, this one is quite brutal. In fact, in the first paragraph you encounter this really, really, powerful demon, and because it is a really, really, powerful demon you have to fight it with a disability, which makes this one of these very few Fighting Fantasy gamebooks where you can die before actually beginning the adventure. However, once you get past that little hurdle (unless of course you cheat, then that demon is going to be no problem whatsoever) you then come across the other really difficult part of the game (and I am not talking about the bad grammar either).
To complete this adventure you need lots and lots of items, and the items that you need are not always that clear. I guess that simply adds to the replayability of it because once you get to a certain point and discover that you needed to collect all of that stuff that you ignored in the market (that is if you even had the gold to buy it) then it means that you can go back to paragraph one and start all over again (and hopefully not get killed by that really, really, powerful demon).
As for the adventure, well, you are on a pilgrimage, because, well, you are that sort of hero, and you meet this really nice guy out on the moors in the middle of a rainstorm. So, deciding that camping in the rainstorm is not good for your health (because you could end up catching a cold – just like I did this week), you make your way to the monastery, and then invite him in with you. However, this really nice guy turns out to be completely the opposite, namely because he kills a monk and then steals this book on demonology to, well, raise a demon from the dead. Of course, since you were the guy that invited him into the monastery the monks expect you to track him down and get the book back.
So, in the end, I must say that despite the bad grammar, and the name that sounded like it came from Walt Disney (and the overweight princess that was travelling to the healing well to see if the well would also cure obesity – I've never actually considered whether that is actually a possibility), I still enjoyed this little adventure, and felt that it, once again, breathed some life into this latter end of the series....more
Well, I am getting pretty close to the last of the Fighting Fantasy series, but with the time that I hAn epic adventure to slay a dragon 29 April 2015
Well, I am getting pretty close to the last of the Fighting Fantasy series, but with the time that I have taken reading them I have a feeling that the next few are going to end up taking almost another year. Even then, there are still a number of other gamebooks that I also wish to revisit (namely Grailquest and Lonewolf among others) and that makes me wonder if I will ever get around to completing all of them before Goodreads, and the rest of the internet, ends up dying due to some super-computer becoming sentient and destroying everything we know and love, and then sending a bunch of robots back in time to kill the mother of the child that ends up defeating it.
Who knows, maybe the internet will simply end because it all becomes obsolete due to massive advances in technology in which we either all become fused with robotic bodies, or simply wake up one day, trash all of our technology, and go back living on a farm growing our own crops because it is all so much easier. Well, I like that third option because at least I can take all my books with me and read them while watching the plants grow. Hey, I could probably do that now, and take my computer with me, but then again I don't know anything about farming, nor do I have enough money to buy a farm, unless that farm is in Vietnam, but then I probably won't have the internet.
It seems like, once again, I have got a little distracted by talking about anything except this particular book. Well, I better rectify this because this is one pretty cool gamebook. You start of in that scumhole of scumholes known as Port Blacksand where you are approached by a Dark Elf (and since it is a Dark Elf hiring you for this quest, then it must be serious) to help bring an end to a great evil (which surprises me because shouldn't Dark elves be happy that great evils are about to arise, unless of course they are in the firing line as well, which makes a lot of sense as to why they want somebody to deal with it). Anyway, you must travel overland to the frozen north, collect a sword, a shield, and some armour, and they go and kill a dragon that is bigger, more powerful, and much more nastier than any dragon that you have ever encountered before.
You can find a solution to this adventure here though this is not necessarily the only way to successfully complete it. In fact I suspect that there is another way through as you should be able to get some specific items prior to reaching certain locations, and you should also be able to destroy some other aspects of the Night Dragon's power before the ultimate combat.
The book has some additional traits, such as an honour and nemesis statistic, though I discovered that neither of those stats seem to add all that much to the adventure. While the nemesis stat did have some effect, mine never got as high that it would end up having a negative effect upon me. As for honour, well, I think there was one point where it came into play, but for the most part it was almost as if it did not exist. Another stat counts the amount of time that passes, and while it can have an effect upon the game, it is not necessarily a huge effect. However it does give you the impression that you are working against the clock, and every time you are told to increase that stat it sort of makes you want to get through a lot quicker, which could result in you missing important items. What it does do though is that after a certain point, it begins to make your final adversary a little tougher.
Like a lot of these later adventures, there are number of maths puzzles that need to be solved, so a lot of the important items have numbers attached to them, which when used at certain points you are told to manipulate the number in a certain way and then turn to the resulting paragraph. It also uses the old turn the letter into its corresponding number, add them all up, do some other things, and then turn to the resulting paragraph. Oh, a number of the monsters, to make them a little more interesting, and some rather convoluted skills, which while they are convoluted, still makes them a little more interesting that simply rolling the dice, working out who won, and then deducting the relevant stamina.
All in all, a pretty cool adventure, though like a lot of these later ones, also pretty long. That probably has something to do with them dropping a lot of the paths that the earlier ones had that would move you towards your goal, but also result in you missing a large chunk of the adventure.
A trek through the heart of Modern Africa 16 May 2015
Well, I have already written three blogposts worth of thoughts on this really interesting book, hA trek through the heart of Modern Africa 16 May 2015
Well, I have already written three blogposts worth of thoughts on this really interesting book, however I will simply touch on a few more important points for those of you who don't have the time (or the inclination) to read through what I have written elsewhere (and the links to those posts are below). Anyway, this is the diary of a journey that the author took from Cairo, across the African continent, to Cape Town. His original intention was to travel entirely by land, however since the Sudanese border was closed (and the fact that he wanted to travel legitimately, meaning no sneaking over the border, and no bribing officials) a couple of legs were by plane.
Anyway, Theroux had been in Africa in the 60s, first as a teacher in Malawi and then as a university lecturer in Uganda. However due to the deteriorating situation in Uganda at the time he, and his wife decided to leave and ended up settling in England. Years later Theroux decided that he wanted to go back to Africa and visit some of these places to see what had changed, but to also simply escape and wander across the continent completely cut off from the modern world. The story of his journey, while not necessarily eye-opening, is interesting to say the least.
The first theme that comes up regularly in the book is that of the modern tourist industry, an industry that Theroux really does not particularly like. In a way the industry is simply another form of entertainment where tourists go and see a sanitised version of the continent, whether it be to the ruins of Ancient Egypt, the big game parks of central and southern Africa, or the cheap coastal resorts. Okay, I must admit that I quite enjoy travelling myself, however I have also experienced this modern industry where travel agents do their best to book you into some of the most expensive hotels simply to jack up their commissions, and where you are shielded from the worst excesses of some of these countries. In places like Tanzania the tourist enters via a shiny new airport and is whisked away by minibus on sealed road to the game parks. What they do not see is the grinding poverty and the decaying infrastructure off of the main route.
Decay is another thing that is repeated throughout the book. Africa in many cases is a land that is in decay, and in a way it is simply because the locals do not have the mindset that those of us in the developed west have. While we may be regularity repairing our homes and maintaining our roads, the Africans have never really done that in the past and the only reason much of this infrastructure was built was thanks to the European settlers. As the wave of independence spread across the continent many of the colonial governments were expelled to be replaced by governments consisting of the local people, people who had no experience in running a modern state and people who too easily succumb to corruption. While western countries may give aid to the government, or provide assistance with trade, much of this money never makes it to the community level and instead disappears as soon as it hits the minister's desk.
Theroux seems to be very critical with regards to the aid industry, and while I am only going by his word, in a way I am not surprised. The question that is raised is why is it that many of these countries are still living in abject poverty despite all of this money and all of the agencies working here tirelessly for decades. Theroux suggests that a part of it is because aid is big business, and if these countries were lifted out of poverty then there would no longer be any work for them. Another suggestion is that these organisations don't educate the local population, but rather do everything for them. For instance they dig wells and the build schools, and then they leave, and while the community may have this brand spanking new building, they don't really know how to keep it in good condition, and as such it begins to decay. Another thing is that these countries are really cheap and this provides young aid workers an adventure that doesn't cost all that much. Thus they can sit in their resorts sipping margaritas by the pool, and then go out performing some project that in the end will do nothing for the community. I guess it all comes down to the old axiom – give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
Don't get me wrong, I believe aid agencies do a lot of good for many of the communities that they help. Sure, Theroux suggested that these agencies love disasters because it brings them money in the form of donations, but famines are even better because while a natural disaster may occupy the minds of the western world for a couple of weeks, a famine can last a lot longer. It is with disasters that these agencies really begin to shine because many of these countries do not have the infrastructure, or even the resources, to be able to deal with the consequences of a disaster, which means that these agencies can get feet on the ground to supply food and medical aid quickly, which helps prevent the spread of diseases. While the disaster may have an immediately effect, if help does not come quickly, disease can quickly take hold and end up leaving a much, much greater death toll.
Yet these is also the problem with the fact that if you simply give things to people then these people become to expect these gifts. Some may scoff at the idea that giving a beggar money only works to encourage them, but the sad truth is that in many cases it does. I have even heard stories that here in Australia backpackers will pose as beggars to top up their travelling allowance. Granted, there are people out there that are genuinely in dire straights – in particular the mentally ill that simply cannot take care of themselves. Rent increases are increasingly marginalising people and pushing them out onto the streets, and when somebody hits the street, it is very hard for them to turn their life back around. However there is some truth to the fact that simply by giving money to people doesn't necessarily help them, it simply rewards them for in effect doing nothing. This is also why I have concerns about giving houses to the homeless. Don't get me wrong, I believe that everybody should have a roof over their head, but then there are many of us who work really hard to maintain that roof over our head while others are misusing their funds and regularly getting bailed out by the government, and it is not just the undeserving poor, it is the corporate world as well.
Anyway, I'll finish off there, though this is sounding like I have suddenly drifted far over to the right. This is not the case because not everybody has the skills or the ability to sell themselves that others have. However everybody should be entitled to receiving a far rewards for the work that they put in, but some people just find it really hard to find work. This is where I believe assistance needs to be provided, not by simply giving people money, but by providing meaningful work that pays a decent wage so that they might also participate in society – oh and also getting rid of the advertising industry that uses psychological manipulation to enslave the masses into a debt that they cannot ever pay back.
The Secret Seven help a family in trouble 28 April 2015
This is another one of those feel good Secret Seven stories where a poor unfortunate, namely aThe Secret Seven help a family in trouble 28 April 2015
This is another one of those feel good Secret Seven stories where a poor unfortunate, namely a lady that lives in an old shack and makes ginger bread biscuits for the local fair, has her house burnt down. In response the Secret Seven step in to help her and her family get back onto their feet. However, a Secret Seven story would not be a Secret Seven story without a mystery to be solved, and in this one it involves a stolen violin, most likely a Stradivarius (though we are never told what it is, we are just told that it is a very old, and thus very expensive, violin, which in my mind suggests that it is a Stradivarius). By the way, I hope, like me, you didn't get it mixed up with a Fender Stratocaster, because there is a big difference.
This is a Fender Stratocaster:
And this is a Stradivarius:
Another difference is that Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster however, as far as I am aware, he never played a Stradivarius (though I could be wrong, and who knows, he may have even smashed one up at the end of one of his concerts, which is something that he seemed to be prone to do – smashing up instruments that is, not very expensive violins).
I found Blyton to be quite clever in this story because it seemed that there were a number of events that occurred that did not seem to be all that connected, however as the story progresses all of these disparate events were easily weaved into quite a coherent ending. Mind you, it was pretty predictable in some instances. I had worked out who had stolen the violin, where it was located, and what the wailing sound out on the paddocks was, though the ending still came as quite a surprise. Also, it is one of those stories where the antagonist isn't actually all that bad, but rather he is just trying to get himself, and his family, back onto their feet without being too much of a burden to those around them.
We never actually found out why the hut burnt down, but then I guess that wasn't all that important. A part of me was hoping that it was because the father, Luke, owed the mafia money for gambling debts, and had been told that if he didn't pay up by a certain date then they would burn his house down with his family inside. However, I then realised that this is an Enid Blyton book, and while we do deal with smugglers and thieves, we generally don't have organised crime, or racketeers, as the antagonists. Even then, we are dealing with children here, and while they are able to bust open the plans of the petty criminals in the local area, I am not certain if they would be ready to graduate to dealing with organised crime.
Another interesting thing is how the Secret Seven have changed over the years. While the stories may be the same, the pictures in the books have changed somewhat. Here is a picture of the Secret Seven in the edition that I read:
Here is a picture from one of the newer editions:
Okay, it probably has nothing to do with the story itself (much in the same way that a Fender Stratocaster has nothing to do with the story) but I still thought it was interesting....more
This is one of those classic Biggles books set during the war (well, World War 2, meaning that it is a litA good old fashioned war story 27 April 2015
This is one of those classic Biggles books set during the war (well, World War 2, meaning that it is a little more serious than the World War I stories) so you can expect to encounter Nazis, dog fights, lots of action, and of course a fighter ace that Biggles has to beat. You also have the good old British slang that you would also expect from these war books that seem to paint the allies (or at least the British) as jolly good fellows who are always up for a cup of tea, and don't mind giving a bit of lip to their commanding officer (because isn't that what they were fighting for, the freedom to be able to give lip to their commanding officers without being court-martialled?).
Anyway, since this is a good old World War II story involving planes, you can expect to have a healthy dose of Spitfires:
and just to add a bit of variety, as well as excuse to throw in some paratroopers, a couple of Junkers:
By the way, did you know that Messerschmidt also made cars? If you don't believe me, have a look at this picture that I found on Wikipedia:
Actually, that sort of looks like a cockpit on wheels. It almost seems that you could add it to a plane and it, well, will become a plane. Anyway, I haven't seen any of those things on the roads here (or in Germany, but then when I was in Germany I wasn't really keeping an eye out for any odd cars, though I am sure if one of them shot past me on the autobahn at 220 kph I probably would have noticed it, though I doubt I would have said 'oh, that must be one of the Messerschmidt cars').
You may be wondering what this book is actually about. Well, I've probably said everything you need to know about it without actually giving anything away. I probably don't need to give anything away because all you need to do is look at the title and work out that Biggles goes to some desert location (the Sahara), does something, and then saves the day. If you look at the cover you will see him in uniform, which suggests that he is fighting Germans (because the only wars that Biggles fought in involved fighting Germans – I don't think he saw action in Korea or Vietnam, but then again I understand that the British weren't actually involved in those wars).
Who knows, there is something like 128 Biggles books, and I have read a grand total of 8 (which means there is another 120 to go – I think I'll just stick with trying to get through the Famous Five and Secret Seven books), so I really can't call myself an expert on anything and everything Biggles. However, despite the age (and obviously some attitudes of the writers back in the 1930s and 1940s) this is one of those rollicking good adventures that you would expect a brave member of the Royal Air Force to throw himself into and come out on top....more
7 things you probably knew about Pilgrim's Progress 22 April 2015
Well, I will have to thank the Classics of the Western Canon discussion group for sel7 things you probably knew about Pilgrim's Progress 22 April 2015
Well, I will have to thank the Classics of the Western Canon discussion group for selecting Pilgrim's Progess for this month's read because otherwise it would have continued to sit on my shelf until such a time as I got around to reading it. Okay, I probably don't follow the readings of many of these groups as closely as some do, but they can be good to spur me on to reading a book that I probably wasn't thinking of reading at the time. The discussions on this book have also been interesting to follow as well, though I do note the comments do tend to come quite thick and fast and I end up getting left behind.
It is also been interesting that my evening church has been studying the Book of Hebrews (or at least the last part of the book) because there are connections, and references, in that part of the Bible to Bunyan's work. Mind you, Bunyan draws heavily on the Bible in this book, but the exploration of the struggles of the Christian life is a central theme to this work.
Anyway, instead of simply dumping my thoughts onto the page as I normally do, I thought that I might discuss a number of ideas that came to me as I was reading it. Also, since this is probably one of the most well known books in the English Language, I probably don't need to give a synopsis, or a background, and if you want one there is always Wikipedia. Oh, and I should also mention that Pilgrim's Progress is listed as number two on The Guardian's list of 100 best novels of all time.
1) Allegory is dead
Okay, there might be some debate about this, but after a couple of comments on the lack of allegory in use today I realised that people simply do not write like this anymore. In a way the last great allegorical novels were Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (as well as the subsequent books in the Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis. Mind you, I'm not really sure if allegory was actually all that big simply because there are very few allegorical novels that come to mind – Piers Plowman and Gulliver's Travels are two more, but other than that I really can't think of any others.
The main reason that I suspect that people don't write allegory is simply because it is really hard to read. However there are a couple of reasons why authors occasionally do so:
a) The literature is subversive: One of the reasons is because if they were to say what they were saying directly, and the literature fell into the wrong hands, then the author would land up in an awful lot of trouble. This was the case with some of the more difficult books of the Bible, such as the book of Revelation (as well as Gulliver's Travels and Animal Farm). By writing the way that they did the authors were able to challenge the system, or criticise the ruling authorities, without fear of retribution. As with the case of Revelation, John the Baptist was able to continue to promote his religion in an environment that had effectively banned it.
b) The concepts are difficult: This is probably the main reason why Bunyan wrote using allegory (and in a way borrows the style from Jesus who used parables for a similar purpose). What Bunyan was trying to do was to paint a picture of the Christian walk, and to simply write like your standard, everyday theologian would have probably put quite a lot of people off and the book would never have become as well known, and as popular, as it did. Thus through the use of allegory Bunyan is able to turn a dry, and somewhat very heavy topic, into a form that is not only accessible, but also quite enjoyable.
2) The text is very theological
Sure, Pilgrim's Progress is a story about a man, in fact a person whom is referred to as an 'everyman' (namely a type of character that anybody and everybody can relate to), who leaves his family and goes on a journey to the Celestial City, but that does not mean that there is no actual discussion of Christian theology. In fact there is quite a lot of discussion about the nature of faith and spirituality. As Christian travels on his journey, not only must he overcome obstacles, but he also meets various people, some good, some bad, and enters into conversation with them. Through these conversations we learn about quite a few aspects of the Christian faith and concepts such as grace, the nature of God, and salvation, are all explored. While the book does paint a number of pictures, Bunyan to does resort to simply explaining a number of concepts through the mouths of his characters.
3) You have a lot of time in prison
Okay, according to Wikipedia there is a debate as to whether this book was written during his twelve year stint in goal, or the much shorter stint a little later, however it is generally agreed that it was written while he was in prison. Okay, while prison is probably not a place that any of us should ever aspire to spend the rest of our lives, at least what it does give us is a lot of time, which means we can sit down and write stuff without having to be interrupted with work. It is also a place of solitude meaning that you are less likely to be disturbed.
Okay, it probably wasn't a prison like this one:
or this one:
but that does not necessarily mean that it was any better, or any worse. I'm not sure whether he had to wander around wearing orange overalls, or even if he was given three meals a day (if you were in prison back then you were not guaranteed any of the things that prisoners these days are guaranteed – well, yes, a roof over your head, but that didn't necessarily mean that the place was dry), however he did have time to write, which meant that he must have had access to writing materials.
One person even suggested that quite a lot of books were written in prison, but once again that is not surprising because, as I mentioned, you do have a lot of time on your hands in there. Mind you, not all of them were good, or even popular, though I must admit that Mark Chopper Read did generate a decent income from his writings (and even boasted about how he, an uneducated illiterate became a best selling author while all of these university types, such as me, can't get a single book published – but then people like books about crime).
Which brings me to:
4) Bunyan didn't go to school
Well, maybe he did, but apparently he didn't stay there long enough to be considered educated, and he certainly wouldn't have had the education that many of the other great writers of the time would have had, yet much like Chopper Reed, while many of them were writing rubbish, he not only wrote a best seller, he wrote a classic (which sort of outclasses Chopper's efforts in my books).
Another reason I mention this is because there has been some suggestions that he was inspired by Dante (hey, another allegory, I forgot that one) but there is one big problem with that – he couldn't read Italian, and it wasn't translated into English until the 19th Century. Sure, Dante goes to sleep and has a dream, as does Bunyan, but that does not necessarily mean that he copied Dante, or was even influenced by him (how could he have been). Rather, what I suspect both authors are doing is bringing the reader on a journey with them, and by placing themselves into the text and then turning it entirely into a dream sequence I suspect gives more credence to what they are trying to say.
Anyway, here is a picture from Wikipedia:
The other thing that I want to mention are references to classical literature – there aren't any. A lot of writers at the time where returning to many of the texts of the Greek and Roman world and were drawing inspiration from them. However Bunyan wasn't one of them, which is not surprising since he didn't have a classical education. Rather, the only book that he draws upon is the Bible. In fact there are quite a lot of Biblical allusions in the text, many of them being quite obscure. What I suspect Bunyan is doing is drawing upon the parables of Jesus, as well as other Biblical allusions, to paint his picture.
For instance there is a section where Pilgrim passes Mount Sinai, which is on fire, while travelling towards Mount Zion. This is taken straight out of Hebrews 12, where Mount Sinai represents the law, and Mount Zion represents grace. What Bunyan is doing here is showing how Christians can be tempted to earn their salvation by being good, however that is not actually how salvation comes about. One cannot be so good as to earn their salvation, and even if they are, there are still deeds that have been done that cannot be wiped out by a few good deeds. It is sort of like me going and robbing a bank and then giving all of the money to a charity. Sure, I did a noble thing by giving it to charity, and sure, the bank may (and probably did) deserve to be robbed due to the fact that the money that it has was no doubt earned through nefarious means – but that does not exonerate me from my act of violence. Even if one could say that the bank itself was bad, there are still innocent people working in the bank (such as the teller in whose face I stuck the shotgun, or the old granny who was cashing in her pension cheque). In the end, the law does not care whether I robbed the bank to give the money to the Salvos (who wouldn't accept it anyway), or that they bank had committed fraud and were laundering money, I still committed a crime, and no act on my behalf will be able to exonerate me from that crime. I have to be punished, and the only way that I can escape that punishment is for somebody else to takes that punishment on my behalf.
5) Bunyan did not live in the 20th Century
Yeah, I know, that's a no-brainer, but there is a reason why I have raised that point, namely because there are churches out there that like to try and claim Bunyan as one of their own. The problem is that the Christian sect that Bunyan was a practitioner of, and was eventually gaoled for, no longer exists. The thing is that Bunyan was what was termed as a 'non-conformist', and honestly, that classified an awful lot of people. Milton was a non-conformist as well (though I believe the word puritan is more appropriate to him – another sect that no longer exists). The thing about non-conformists is that they were not Anglicans (Epsicopalian or Church of England). In Bunyan's day the only place you could worship, and the only people that were allowed to preach, were Anglican churches. If you live in England and you were not an Anglican you could get yourself into a lot of trouble, especially if, as Bunyan did, you were holding regular church services. However, the thing about non-conformists is that they were not: a) Baptists; b) Methodists; c) Assemblies of God; or d) Pentacostal either. Okay, those denominations may have eventually emerged from the non-conformist movement, but that does not mean that a non-conformist subscribes to any of those particular denominations – they simply did not exist.
6) Not everybody in Bunyan's day were Christian
One of my pet peeves is when Christians talk about how we live in a post-Christian age, yet in many cases that is not really true. You see, if everybody in Bunyan's day were Christians then he wouldn't have needed to write this book, or his others (such as A Journey to Hell. Okay, while the multitude of faiths that we have today (think Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) didn't exist in Europe back then, and the only religion you would find was Christianity (though there were Jews), and everybody went to church, it did not mean that they actually believed it. In fact many of the people who went to church went there because it was expected of them, and even then it was mostly a middle and upper class phenomena.
If everybody was Christian then, as I have suggested, you would not have had Bunyan writing his book, or even characters such as the Wesleys going out and preaching to the people of England. Even then, the Anglican church was not necessarily a place that would teach evangelical Christianity, and there were quite a lot of people out there that simply did not like the way the church operated. What Bunyan is showing in his book suggests that even though people would go to church, they were not necessarily saved, and in many cases simply left standing in the City of Destruction.
Also, consider the fact that Christian leaves his wife and children suggests that even when one was living in an apparent Christian country, one would still be mocked and ridiculed for their faith. It is interesting that they don't follow him on his journey, in a sense rejecting what he believes. In the end though, what the book does in a way is to challenge an apathetic society into understanding more about the faith to which their nation allegedly adheres.
It can be really annoying as you read a book and pick up all of these wonderful ideas about the themes and suddenShakespeare's Final Play 2 April 2015
It can be really annoying as you read a book and pick up all of these wonderful ideas about the themes and suddenly discover that you have forgotten them by the time you get around to writing the review. Honestly, it happens to me all the time, and it is even more annoying with these Shakespeare Signet editions which are crammed full of essays so one tends to also suffer from information overload by the time one reaches the end. I must say though that I love these Signet editions simply because of the interpretive essays that they contain – they even contain one by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Anyway, the Tempest is by far one of my favourite Shakesperian plays. I studied it in university, have read it six times, and seen it performed another three (and this does not include the BBC version, and Prospero's Books, which I have also watched). The play itself has so much in it that I even wonder if I could truly touch upon every aspect of it, though I will give it a go (though I will be writing a blog post later this year if I get around to seeing another performance of the play).
So, the story is about a sorcerer (Prospero) who has been banished from his dukedom and fled, with his daughter (Miranda), to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean, somewhere between Sicily and the coast of Africa. Upon arrival he confronts, and defeats, the witch Sycorax (and what a cool name that is) and becomes the island's master. Years later a ship carrying some Italian nobles, who are on their way to Tunis, get caught in a storm and land up on the island. As it turns out these nobles are the ones that removed Prospero from power. So then begins a game, of which Propsero is the master, to teach these nobles a lesson in humility (as well as marrying off his daughter to the prince Fernando).
I probably should now discuss a bit of the context to the play. Okay, I can hardly say that the New World had just been discovered (Columbus had landed there over a hundred years prior to the production of the play) but it was still very much a new world. England at established their first colony at Jamestown, and Montaigne had written an essay on the noble savage. Also there had been a story about how a ship travelling to the New World had become caught in a storm and pretty much left for dead, only to reappear a year later (and the account of this story has been included in the signet edition that I read). These documents, as well as Ovid's Aeneid acted as a source to the play, but other than that this is one of Shakespeare's very few original works.
With this in mind I wish to first touch on the idea of Colonialism. There was a version of this play produced during the 19th Century that did use the idea of Colonialism in the performance, but to link this play as such is very much a post-modern interpretation of the play. However, that does not necessarily mean that this interpretation is wrong, it is just that I highly doubt that Shakespeare set out to criticise colonialism. Okay, Prospero can be seen as the European colonist who effectively invades and takes control of the island for himself, reducing Caliban to a slave (though his character does not seem to be portrayed as a noble savage, rather as a base and wild creature that cannot be tamed). The original master of the island, Sycorax, has been replaced by the enlightened European, though some of the natives of the island are unable to adapt (Caliban) while others can (Ariel). However, Prospero ends up leaving the island and in doing so gives Ariel (the enlightened native) his freedom, meaning that this island is now in effect a part of Europe, and even though Caliban has also been freed, he has not risen above his base nature.
Another idea that has been suggested is that the Island is edenic in structure, however I really don't accept that idea simply because Prospero (the God figure) does not create the island but rather takes control by defeating Sycorax. If it is the case that the island represents Eden, then what is suggested is that the island was evil prior to the arrival of Prospero and by defeating Sycorax Prospero has in effect sanctified the island. That interpretation would be all well and good if Prospero was in effect a redeemer, but in many cases his is not and I struggle to see him in that role. He is not so much redeeming the island, but usurping the rule. There is no indication (other than the fact that she was described as being a witch) that Sycorax was ever meant to be evil. However, while I may suggest that, I believe that Shakespeare wants us to believe that she was evil and needed to be defeated.
This takes me to the question of nature. Sycorax is in effect one with nature, and from Sycorax we get Ariel, who is connected with the air, and Caliban, who is connected with the earth. Prospero represents art, and the conflict on the island is the conflict between nature and art. Nature is not necessarily bad, as Ariel represents that which is beautiful in nature, that which can be tamed and transformed; while Caliban represents that which is base, wild, and untameable. Nature at its purest is in some ways beautiful, and in others wild and untameable. Nature can be tamed into a garden, but the base and wild aspects of nature, such as weeds, will always return to destroy that which has been tamed. While a dog can be tamed, the dog needs to constantly be reminded how to behave otherwise it will return to its base wild nature. Some animals can be tamed, and will remained tamed; some animals simply can never be tamed – this is Caliban: the wild, unpredictable aspect of nature.
This is where Prospero comes in – he is God. There is no two ways about it. Just as Christianity, at the time, was seen as taming the wild excesses of pagan Rome, Prospero comes to the island and tames nature. However Prospero is so much more than that. Throughout the play he is in complete control. He learnt his lesson from Milan, where he was banished because he spent more time in his books than he did ruling the city, and as such was seen as a bad ruler. However he managed to flee with his books (and his daughter) and his time on the island has taught him the necessity of sovereignty. In one performance that I watched Prospero was present in every scene, even the scenes in which Shakespeare had not written him. The tempest that brought the nobles to the island was conjured up by him. The attempted assassinated is crushed without raising a sweat, and the nobles are teased and mocked throughout the play. Prospero is in charge – Prospero is God.
There is also the idea about Prospero being Shakespeare himself, and some have interpreted the scene where Prospero breaks his wand as Shakespeare saying that he is retiring from writing plays (and since this is, allegedly, the last play he wrote alone, many believe that adds weight to the interpretation). There is merit in this belief because, like God, Shakespeare has created this island. In fact the author is god of everything they write. Okay, that may be a Calvinist interpretation of God, since the characters in the story have no freedom whatsoever. Still, considering that the only person in the play that is free is Prospero (every other character, at one time or another, is enslaved to Prospero's will), this also supports this argument. The author creates the world, creates the characters, and then creates the destiny of each and every character. The author decides whether the character lives, or dies. The author, in effect, has complete authority over the composition of the story, and everything in it.
Anyway, I think I will leave it at that as it is late, I am getting up early tomorrow to go for a drive over the Easter long weekend, and my brain, in effect, has turned to mush. However, I will say that I just love this play, and no doubt I will be writing more of it in the future....more
Well, I've just discovered that I have been reading the Secret Seven books completely out of order. Oh well, thaAnother Guy Fawkes story 29 March 2015
Well, I've just discovered that I have been reading the Secret Seven books completely out of order. Oh well, that doesn't matter all that much considering you don't actually need to know what happened in the earlier books to be able to enjoy the later ones. Anyway, I mentioned that in Good Work Secret Seven that this one seems to also deal with fireworks, and I have also noticed that inside the front cover are a list of instructions that basically say DON'T PLAY WITH FIREWORKS. Also, the story itself has one of the father's handling all of the fireworks, so it seems as Blyton was just as concerned about kids blowing themselves up as the publishers are today. Oh, she also points out that it is illegal for children to buy fireworks (which is why their Dad goes and purchases them).
Anyway, at first I thought I may have already read this one because both this one and Good Work, Secret Seven are both set around Guy Fawkes day, and they also are building a bonfire with a guy to sit on top of it. However it became pretty clear that it wasn't the same book, though I did wonder why Blyton had to use the same setting in another of her books. Mind you, this is book number 11, and one of the many, many books that Blyton had written so it is not surprising that she would go back on some old ground – especially since children love fireworks.
Anyway, I have to say that this really wasn't one of her best works. In fact it was down right annoying. Sure, there were some crooks in here, and some pretty nasty ones at that, but they tended to hover in the background while the Secret Seven prepared another bonfire. However one of the crooks ends up causing them a bit of trouble, though the Secret Seven don't realise that it is him – they think it is little Susie, so they spend the entire book picking on the poor girl and accusing her of stealing.
Which reminds me that once again Blyton has gone over some old ground – Susie starts her own secret society; this time it is the tiresome three. Last time it was the Famous Five, however in this book they simply exist to cause trouble (though I am sure that was also the case in Secret Seven on the Trail, so it seems as if Blyton may have started running out of fresh ideas by the time she got to this book. Anyway, as with all of her books, it was a quick read, but there have certainly been a lot better....more
If I were to sum up this book in a single sentence it would be that this is a book about tools. Not tools in theA book about deviants 21 December 2011
If I were to sum up this book in a single sentence it would be that this is a book about tools. Not tools in the traditional sense (like a hammer or a screwdriver), but people that we have a very low opinion, usually because they do or say stupid things. Granted, a number of people mentioned in this book have, or have had, very good reputations, and some of them still do, but what this book does is that it explores the darker sides of this individuals.
Now, when we come to people like Tchaikovsky or Roman Polanski, we usually think of them as being a brilliant composer (as in Tchaikovsky's case) or filmmaker (as in Polanski's case). However it is their dark side that is the focus of this book. Both of these individuals were paedophiles: Polanksi actually having a conviction recorded against his name. We should note that while paedophilia is illegal (as it should be), it was only about 50 years ago that anything that wasn't the strict Christian view of sex was illegal (and even then sex between a married couple was also considered a little distasteful). It is interesting to see how much has changed since then.
One of the common themes that seems to run through this book is that most (not all) of the people explored were in one way or another sexual deviants. Granted, the term has changed now so that any form of sex between consenting adults is acceptable. However if we consider many of the characters in this book (with de Sade being one of the worst) there is also a common theme of people being interested in young boys. This, to me, is simply perverted. The reason I say this is because unless one is an adult one really has little concept of what is happening and such actions can result in a deviated mind later on in life: this was the case with the Marqui de Sade. He was molested as a boy, and out of all of the sexual deviants in this book he was the worst. In the case of de Sade anything goes. He was a prolific writer, however I have already decided that his books are off my list (and I suspect that they are still black listed in a number of places). It was good to see that Napoleon, after reading two of his books, was so horrified that he locked de Sade up and went to extraordinary lengths to prevent him from writing any more.
Reading through a number of these characters does remind me of an incident that happened in Australian politics. A high profile member of one of the state legislatures was caught having sex with a mentally deficient man. Now, technically he was an adult, but due to his mental deficiency one does raise the question of whether he was able to consent. In the same way that a child under the age of 18 is incapable of making an informed decision, I believe that a person who is mentally deficient will also have the same difficulties. While it was implied that technically what the politician did was not wrong, it was good to see that he was pressured to resign. It was not because of his homosexual tendencies, that is not an issue here in Australia, given that there are a number of openly homosexual politicians in prominent positions, but rather because, as I believe, he took advantage of this man.
Fraud is another aspect that this book explores, and there are a few people who are guilty of it. The book looks at one Parisian lady who has been considered one of the greatest fraudsters that ever lived. However, as with all fraud, and lies in general, they tend to be built on shaky ground and once somebody wisens up the whole house of cards quickly collapses. We saw that recently with Bernard Mardoff. Then there is the tele-evangelist who built an empire on the innocence of people and their religious beliefs. Through his programs he would raise millions of dollars which went to fund an extravagant lifestyle. We still see this today where pastors of mega-churches live in luxury while their congregations struggle to make ends meet. It is no wonder that people find it difficult to trust the church.
Look, in the end, unless you are interested in learning about people's darksides, this book can be quite disturbing and gut wrenching. One of the other things that sticks in my mind is the story of Anthony Blunt. He was a high profile member of the British elite, holding the position of Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. Not only did it turn out that he was a homosexual (though by the time his secrets were revealed it was no longer a crime) but that he had been selling secrets to the Russians. What happened was that the Russians would leverage him and his friends through blackmail. Learning that they were homosexual they threatened to reveal this to the world unless they assisted them. Despite my position on homosexuality, making it a crime simply does not work, and the proof of this is clear with the life of Anthony Blunt. It was only because it was criminal behaviour that the enemies of freedom were able to use it as a weapon against the English (and no doubt the Americans also)....more
I would say that this is just another story about a sea journey, but then again it was written by Joseph CoA sea captain's final journey 28 March 2015
I would say that this is just another story about a sea journey, but then again it was written by Joseph Conrad, and despite the three stories that I have read being about ships and journeys, I simply cannot describe it using the words 'just another'. The book in which this story was originally published was called 'Youth and other tales' and contained (in this order) Youth, Heart of Darkness, and The End of the Tether. The book I read also contained these three stories, however it was called 'Heart of Darkness and other stories' and had Heart of Darkness coming first, followed by Youth.
The reason that I raise that is because these three stories deal with characters at different stages of their life: Youth obviously has the protagonist as a young man; Heart of Darkness has the protagonist as middle aged; while the protagonist in The End of the Tether is in his twilight years. I have already written reviews on Youth and Heart of Darkness, so I will be mostly focusing on The End of the Tether (which is not surprising considering this is a review of this story).
The End of the Tether is about an old ship's captain who has since retired on his savings but a banking crisis has left him penniless. It is not so much that he doesn't have any money any more (though that still is a bit of a problem), but rather than he wanted to pass some money down to his daughter so that she might not live in want. In fact there is a whole story about his daughter, but then again this particular book is incredibly complex with the various threads weaving through it.
Anyway, Captain Whalley (as he is called) decides that he will scrape together his last remaining 500 pounds and return to the sea – in part because he has grown tired of living on the land and yearns to return to the deck of a ship, and in part because he wishes to provide a decent amount of money to his daughter before he dies. Unfortunately he has been away from the sea for too long and many of his contacts have since left the business to be replaced by a much younger crowd. However he does manage to buy into a ship, the Sofala which, like Whalley, is on its last legs. To add to the complications, the first mate – the person with whom Whalley is going into partnership with, is a problem gambler and needs Whalley has he had just blown the last of his money in the casinos of Manilla.
The first thing that really struck me about this story is how deeply flawed the characters happened to be. For instance, Masey is a problem gambler – not the type that sits in front of pokie machines for hours on end, but rather the one that sits in smoke filled rooms playing poker. Mind you, it makes me wonder sometimes what a problem gambler really is: is it somebody that always loses, and in doing so lands up in so much debt that the mob want to hunt them down as an example; or is it somebody who simply cannot help but gamble, despite the fact that they always seem to come out on top? For some reason though I suspect that the second type doesn't really exist and is only a creation of Hollywood. Okay, there is a saying that 'The House always wins', though that is not necessarily the case either (as the businessman James Packer discovered when he invested his father's fortune in a casino in Macau, only to discover that nobody was going there).
Anyway, Masey's gambling addiction is evident throughout the book in how he is always trying to get more money out of Whalley. He even attempts to set him up to try and get him off of the ship so that he can then sell it and return to Manilla and the gambling dens that he frequents so often (though when people talk about Manilla I generally don't think of a place full of gambling dens, though since I have never been to Manilla I cannot say for sure).
Whalley is the other deeply flawed character, no so much because of any particular vice that he has (in fact is quite an honourable person, and is also a highly decorated ship's captain) but rather the situation in which he has landed. He is a captain of an old ship with a first mate that is doing his best to get rid of him, and his sight is failing dramatically. He does manage to keep this a secret through the use of a confidant, but you can see through the story that the only reason that he is pushing on is due to his love for his daughter. Even then his daughter has gone and married a man whom he does not believe is suitable for her and has also taken a job as a governess of a boarding house. In a way I guess that is the struggle that all parents go through – they have great dreams for their children and are shattered when that dream comes to naught.
This is a beautiful, and in a way heart wrenching, story of a man nearing the end of his life; with his golden days long behind him. I guess in a way it is an allegory of life in that as we grow old life becomes ever more difficult as our body begins to break down. In a sense each of the stories in this book can be seen as allegories – with Youth about the eagerness of the young and the hurdles that they must overcome as they go out into the world, and Heart of Darkness about the time when we come to see the nastiness of life. Once again Joseph Conrad has drafted a marvellous piece of literature that highlights his ability so much more since not only did he come from the working class, but that English was also his second language. In fact, a quick look over his biography suggests that he never even attended university....more
A part of me, upon learning of Sir Terry's death, thought that it was only fitting to make the next book thatThe butcher, the baker ... 23 March 2015
A part of me, upon learning of Sir Terry's death, thought that it was only fitting to make the next book that I read a Discworld novel; which turned out to be this one. I won't say anything about Sir Terry here as I have already written a blog post on his passing and instead will just speak about this book. In fact, it turned out that so far this was one of the best discworld novels that I have read (and that is saying something since there are quite a few contenders out there, and it also goes to show how great a writer he is if he can still hold my interest this far into the series). At first Feet of Clay reminded me a lot of the movie I, Robot – you know the one where Will Smith discovers that the robots that were created to serve humanity are actually planning a takeover? The problem is that this book was written quite a few years before Will Smith took to the stage playing a cop in a movie that give the term 'loosely based' a completely new definition (and for those who have not seen the film, but read the book, the only similarities between the two is that they have robots in them – well, not quite, but you get the picture). Mind you Feet of Clay is definitely a 'cop novel'. I would say a 'cop movie' but it is not actually a movie – it is a novel, but I guess the term is sort of transferable. Okay, it is partly a detective novel because there have been a couple of murders, as well as an assassination attempt (isn't if funny that if a person is unimportant then it is a murder, but if they are important they are assassinated – why can't I be assassinated, it would be much better than being murdered – at least in my opinion), and Captain Vimes is trying to find the person behind it. So Vimes (and the rest of the City Watch) goes out to investige the situation - it isn't as if it is an Agatha Christie novel: you know, set in a static place (unless you consider Anhk-Morpork a static place, but for some reason I really don't think that actually counts) where there are a bunch of culprits and you are supposed to work out the guilty party before the author gives it all away. Okay, Sir Terry does give us some clues, such as the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker, but that doesn't necessarily tell you how the poison was administered (and it is quite clever in that regards). So, what has this to do with robots, you ask? Well, the book is about golems - you know those creatures made of clay (or whatever non-living material may be at hand, including corpses, but in Discworld they are made of clay) who do other people's bidding. Well, they do play a role in this book, and they are effectively the magical version of a robot. Actually, to our modern mind, golems really seem to be a magical version of a robot, and Sir Terry plays that idea up to no end. What is interesting is that this idea goes back to the Ancient Greeks (though I can't quite remember which myth it was) where one of the gods, or was it a mortal, I can't remember which off the top of my head, did create something that was remarkably similar to a robot. There is also another legend, from the Jewish Quarter of Prague, where a golem was created to protect the Jews from their enemies (a legend that I discovered when I actually visited that city where I picked up a book called The Prague Golem). Interestingly enough he is also playing up the fears of automation in this book as well. We, or at least the working class, don't like robots because they take away our jobs. However these robots are so much more efficient, and faster, than any human could ever be. In Discworld we are told that golems do not eat, sleep, or require any maintenance so they are much better than the ordinary worker. However, the problem is that they scare people, they scare people because they are so life like, yet they are unliving. In a sense they have a body, and a mind, but they have no soul. This is probably why I connected it with I Robot (the movie, not the book) because, in many ways, the robots were so creepy because of that very thing. In every sense of the word they were alive, but in reality they were not. Okay, they aren't undead – at least undead beings were at one stage alive, but they are not exactly living either. Anyway, I should probably finish this review off here, though I should say that I really enjoyed this book, and am compelled to continue reading his books right down to the final one. I'm not sure if I will get to the last one, but at least I will try. Also, for those who are interested, you can find my tribute to Terry Pratchett here (and sorry, it may not be as fancy as hiding it in computer code, but I felt that I should probably write one anyway)....more
Okay, I have mentioned before that reading a play can be somewhat more difficult that watching it performed; one of tA lost love returns 15 March 2015
Okay, I have mentioned before that reading a play can be somewhat more difficult that watching it performed; one of the reasons being that sometimes it is difficult to differentiate the characters. However, after being forced to put this play down after reading the first act because I had to go to work (and unfortunately I don't work in a job where I can put my feet up on a desk and read a book while video cameras monitor the outside of a warehouse making sure that nobody is trying to break it – I did have a friend who had a job like that, and that is basically what he did all night), I suddenly discovered another problem with plays – they are meant to be read in one sitting. Unfortunately they are not like novels where you can put them down and pick them up later, because it can be a lot easier to lose your place in a play than in a novel (or maybe it is just me).
Anyway, this play is about a woman who grew up in a lighthouse. She then met and fell in love with a sailor but when the sailor left to go out to sea he got into a bit of trouble (he killed his captain) and was forced to abandon ship – thus becoming lost and presumed dead. After a period of mourning the lady, Ellie, goes off and marries a doctor and moves inland. However, years later a stranger rocks up at her front door, introduces himself to her as her highschool sweetheart (for want of a better word) and asks her to elope.
One of the things that strikes me in this book is how the loves of our youth can hold on to us for years. I'm not talking about pining over somebody who is probably not all that good for you and rejecting all other advances because you want that one person, I am talking about a romance that happened years ago, back in our teenage years (or early twenties) and then, for some reason or another (maybe they moved school), the relationship comes to an end. However what Ibsen is exploring here is how these loves can linger on, and how a part of us wishes that our lost lovers will someday return and we can begin from where we finished.
I'm not so much talking about those relationships that ended because we broke up, but rather those ones that ended because of inconvenience – such as the case in this book, namely he went away, a disaster happened, and he was left for dead. In my mind I picture the highschool romance that ended because the parents found a job in another city (or even another suburb) and because of that we parted company as one of us moved away. There was no Facebook, or email, or even mobile phones, back in those days – if somebody moved, they were gone, and gone for good. Maybe, one day, we would meet again, but I think of all the people that I knew from school, and only a handful of us have reconnected over social media (usually Facebook).
The other interesting thing about this play is how Ibsen uses the image of the mermaid. At the beginning of the play somebody is a painting a picture of a mermaid, and at the end of the play Ellie makes a comment about how she, the mermaid, has made her decision. It is interesting how Ibsen uses this imagery as there are a couple of things I have noticed. First of all, as we are aware, the mermaid is tied to the sea, but the other interesting thing is that mermaids aren't necessarily good creatures (unlike our modern legends, thanks to Hans Christian Andersen). Some legends have mermaids luring sailors to their deaths, while others would stir up storms and tempests – in general heralding bad luck. This is not necessarily the case with this play, even though Ellie grew up in a lighthouse, which adds to the mermaid allusion as they are generally built on rocks out at sea, the traditional home of the mermaid. However, instead of being an ill omen, they are a warning to passing sailors, crying out 'beware for here lies danger'.
Anyway, while it would be good to continue on exploring the allusion, I think I will leave it at that because that would end up giving away the ending, and for some reason I really don't want to do that....more
Poirot's vacation is interrupted with a murder 11 March 2015
Well, after reading And Then There Were None I was wondering whether I was going to be ablPoirot's vacation is interrupted with a murder 11 March 2015
Well, after reading And Then There Were None I was wondering whether I was going to be able to read another Agatha Christie book – well it seems that I have. Okay, I selected five from my Mum's bookshelf, namely the five that I knew about, just to get a good sampling of her work. Unfortunately of the five that I grabbed, four of them happened to be Hercule Poirot mysteries (and none of the Ms Marple – which I'm going to have to rectify once I have finished the last three).
Anyway, even though this is the first Poirot mystery that I've read I got the feeling that the poor guy simply cannot catch a break. It seems as if everywhere he goes a body turns up thrusting him into the middle of a murder mystery. Of course, being the type of guy that loves a good mystery he simply cannot say to the attending police officers “I'm on holiday, I'll leave it to you guys to work it out – call me in two weeks if you're stumped”. No, instead he goes “actually guys, I'm pretty good at solving murder mysteries, mind if I tag along?”, which of course any self respecting cop who doesn't want to be stumbling around clueless for two weeks will happily accept.
The funny thing about this book is that it reminded me of a game of Cluedo. You know, the game that comes in this box:
The one where you put three cards into a sleeve and place it in the centre of the board, which looks like this by the way:
And then at random somebody cries out “I believe: Colonel Mustard did it in the study with the candle stick”, after which Bill and Ted simultaneously cry out “sorry Death, you lose” before high fiving each other. Actually, to be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea one was supposed to play this game – its been a really really long time but maybe, one day, I will get the opportunity to play it again (that is if somebody brings it and decides to play it as opposed to all of the other, much more exciting, Eurogames out there).
Anyway, I got a little distracted there, talking about Cluedo, but it did remind me of it somewhat, you know: the isolated location, the set number of characters, and the clues all scattered about that in a way seem to be completely random but somehow Poirot manages to bring them all together in some logical order that nobody else has managed to do.
The other thing that struck me was that murders generally don't happen like that, or not as far as I am aware. I have never seen a news report where I hear of a murder occurring in some motel somewhere, a motel which just happens to have a detective from Scotland Yard staying, and a bunch of people all milling around for a day or two before the Scotland Yard detective manages to piece it all together. Well, it probably does happen, but you are never actually going to learn about the detective's musings until such a time that the trial is over, the murderer has been convicted, and everything released to the media. Mind you, if there was the headline would probably go something along the lines of 'A murder straight out of an Agatha Christie novel'. I don't think I have seen a headline like that in recent memory (though no doubt the tabloids would be more than happy to print such a headline if such a murder were to happen).
Actually, let's see what Google turns up.
Nope, if I enter that into Google it simply turns up a bunch of references to Agatha Christie novels, but nothing from a tabloid.
So, it seems as if I've said nothing about this novel, but then again I'm probably not supposed to because it is a murder mystery and I really can't say anything more about it than I already have without giving anything away. Well, I didn't enjoy it as much as And Then There Were None, but it wasn't bad nonetheless.