OK, so it's a snide, inflammatory title. It's also one that does the book a bit of a disservice. Yes, the influence of English Romanticism is stampedOK, so it's a snide, inflammatory title. It's also one that does the book a bit of a disservice. Yes, the influence of English Romanticism is stamped all over the characterisation, inspiration and execution of this book but the idea of the recklessly feckless, bored and fickle young man - the superfluous man as he's often named in literary criticism - is as relevant today as it was then. Albert Camus even quotes Mikhail Lermontov in The Outsider, his own exploration of the figure. Some might argue that this is still 'our time' but in truth I don't think these characters are anything new in the panoply of human life.
Where Lermontov's treatment differs is his decision, in his only novel, to offer a portrait rather than a story. Thus we are offered a glimpse into the character of Pechorin from three different perspectives but barely a narrative within which to frame it. What emerges is something akin to Ivan Turgenev writing about a Byronic Heathcliff. Manipulative, selfish and cruel without the passion or backstory that Emily Brontë give her hero by way of explaining his actions. This, indeed, is a conscious decision of Lermontov's as he struggles to pin blame for Pechorin's actions and character on wider society - the 'times' of the title....more
'I have just finished rereading Moonfleet, after a lifetime of knowing full well that I had been read it as a boy, but, I confess, remembering very l
'I have just finished rereading Moonfleet, after a lifetime of knowing full well that I had been read it as a boy, but, I confess, remembering very little about it, only that I had enjoyed it hugely. But then as I read it again, nearly sixty years on, I discovered that my recollection of this great adventure story had not been lost at all, nor was it confused, as I had thought it might be, with other stories of smugglers and pirates and lost treasure. On the contrary, with every page I turned there were moments of déjà vu, and I realised that my memories of this story had simply been lying dormant in my imagination all these years, and were still there waiting to be reawakened.'
I know I had not previously read Moonfleet. I also know that I had it read to me, by the headmaster at our school. I didn't know its title or that it was a beloved classic; I had in fact assumed that it was some forgotten 1950's tale. The imagery of the crypt scenes had stayed with me all my life though and when this edition appeared in the Folio Society catalogue I knew I had identified that book. I'm quoting Michael Morpurgo's introduction to that edition here at length because it seems so apposite. This is a powerfully told tale that belies its age. Yes, perhaps it seems a little old now but not nearly as old as it is. Not just simply a riveting yarn it is something that seeps into your subconscious, becoming something formative. Like Morpurgo, I remembered vividly what I was doing when I first encountered this story, as much as I did the story itself.
'It is easy to be dismissive of a plot that seems somehow to have all the tried and tested ingredients - and Moonfleet does have all of them. John Trenchard is a teenage lad with no proper home of his own, who falls in (literally!) with a band of smugglers. From then on this breathless tempestuous tale becomes a real page-turner, with a plot so absurd you might think, so full of fortuitous improbabilities, of clichés and overly crafty coincidences, as to be ridiculous. Yet somehow it works. As you read it, you want to believe it, so you do believe it. How can that be? How did he (John Meade Falkner) do it?'
Part of the answer, surely, lies in the beautiful, compelling relationship between Trenchard and Elzevir Block. Both of whom find in the other what they need. Morpurgo hints at that, too. It's much, much more than that though. This is simply a novel that belies the sum of its parts to become something altogether better....more
God teaches us humility and by applying ourselves we can overcome almost any obstacle. Graft and ingenuity are the greatest attributes of an EnglishmaGod teaches us humility and by applying ourselves we can overcome almost any obstacle. Graft and ingenuity are the greatest attributes of an Englishman.
Ultimately it seems a shame that arguably the most famous of all adventure stories should boil down to a simplistic moral tale but it's still entertaining enough and Defoe was a writer ahead of his time, although his prose here doesn't quite match my memories of Gulliver's Travels....more
Re-read 2/11/12: There's no getting away from the fact that this is a children's book. I can understand adults reading this for the first time who getRe-read 2/11/12: There's no getting away from the fact that this is a children's book. I can understand adults reading this for the first time who get a little way in and think well, this is boring then give up and cast the book aside. I can also understand those who compare it unfavourably with The Lord of the Rings. The thing is though, they shouldn't even really be compared: they're very different books.
J.R.R. Tolkien clearly set out to write a prose epic for children here and nothing in the book deviates from that simple path: there is no character development (in fact, the characters are very poorly defined anyway, being little more than names on the page) there is no moralising and there are no twists in the tale. Perhaps children might feel the excitement, peril and danger more than an adult reader (I think I did) and that is really all this is about.
A pleasant little man sets off with a bunch of strangers and has an adventure. Like all good adventures there's a dragon at the end and gods, trolls, elves and magic in the middle. That sounds pretty uncomplicated and it is but the influence of the tale on subsequent children's literature is clear; it places the story firmly back in the fore as a thing of importance in its own right, something that can be enjoyed for its own sake without having to be taught a lesson. We're back to those epics again: the idea of sharing a story and reading it aloud over many nights.
Re-read 13/7/16: This is almost certainly the first time that I've read this after a reading of The Lord of the Rings and it reinforces most of my opinions above. I'm not sure what I was getting at regards the influence though - surely adventure was a core part of things like The Water Babies and Peter Pan? As such, this should be seen as part of a continuing tradition rather than being innovative....more
It's been a long time since I read any of H. Rider Haggard's books, not least because I had long been of the informed opinion that there were no otherIt's been a long time since I read any of H. Rider Haggard's books, not least because I had long been of the informed opinion that there were no others worth reading. So how true is that?
Well, it's difficult to make comparisons over such a large gap, but a few things did strike me as I read this. Firstly, Leonard Outram is not the usual Haggard romantic lead: he is made to carry all of the burden in the plot, playing the wise old-head as well as the dashing adventurer. Roles Haggard had kept strictly divorced in the novels I had previously read (She, King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain). The other principle character, Otter, is one of Haggard's more interesting creations: a physically deformed, clever, wry, athletic and almost super-humanly strong dwarf who is stymied only by his casting as the loyal servant and his role in making comments on the action directed towards the reader (usually beginning, bizarrely, with "Wow!).
The book actually begins rather well, after a gothic romance fashion, but loses its way somewhat in the middle and never really recovers from that. The ending, in fact, is more than a little silly and seems like a twist in the plot contrived for no other reason than to surprise the reader - in short for its own sake.
As for the other characters, many could be pulled from his other books or from similar writers, but it's notable that Juana is a very strong female lead obviously intended to contrast in every aspect with Jane Beach....more
I read this in a fuggy blur, so perhaps my judgement wasn't the best at the time.
This book was clearly a big influence on Flashman and yet also obviouI read this in a fuggy blur, so perhaps my judgement wasn't the best at the time.
This book was clearly a big influence on Flashman and yet also obviously within the cannon of Victorian era adventure yarns influenced by Baron Munchausen.
It consists of six short stories told in the first person by the eponymous hero, now long retired, as he looks back on his younger days. The narrator is clearly highly self-conceited, believing himself to be the bravest, strongest and cleverest of all of Napoleon's soldiers. Some of these qualities appear to be acknowledged by his peers, whilst others are not and due to the bias of the narrator's voice we wonder at the truth of any of his stories. One thing that he cannot disguise from the reader, for example, is that while he may or may not be quick-witted when in a tight spot, any intelligence he may have is entirely overcome by a loyalty which often serves as the precursor for getting him into the scrapes he describes. At the end of the book, he compares Napoleon's treatment of him to his own of his favourite hound and the reader is left wondering if he's aware that the treatment is only made possible by the willing loyalty of the hound....more
I probably would have enjoyed this if I'd read it for the first time as a child, but I didn't. It is, of course, a classic children's novel. It also hI probably would have enjoyed this if I'd read it for the first time as a child, but I didn't. It is, of course, a classic children's novel. It also has the reputation, though, of being of equal interest to adults as an historical novel.
Sadly, it reads like what it is, a mid-twentieth century children's book. It's easy to read, but it was far too simplistic and patronising for me to find it enjoyable reading it for the first time as an adult.
It's fair to say that it was obviously well researched, but in saying that it's also worth pointing out that the book was written nearly sixty years ago and our understanding of the period has changed somewhat since then....more
Henry Kuttner was primarily a sci-fi writer and my ignorance of him can be laid firmly at that door. This book though contains a collection of his swoHenry Kuttner was primarily a sci-fi writer and my ignorance of him can be laid firmly at that door. This book though contains a collection of his sword & sorcery tales which were apparently published to fill a Conan-shaped void in Weird Tales following Robert E. Howard's demise.
Kuttner's chief hero is the titular Elak who, wiry and wielding a rapier, does not conform to that physical shape. Assisted by his boon companion Lycon, the influence on Fritz Leiber is plain - the duo drink, womanise, steal and , most significantly, joke their way through their adventures. I also feel that the tales influenced others in more subtle ways - the slightly built prince in self-exile foreshadows Michael Moorcock's Elric, the integration of Lovecraftian horror would later be carried out by many but none more so than Karl Edward Wagner when he wrote his Kane adventures, and his depiction of Atlantis hints at Pat Mills's Tír nan Óg, where Ukko could be said to be an amped up Lycon, stripped of his bravery and fighting skills.
Whilst Kuttner was writing the Elak stories for Weird Tales, he also wrote his two Prince Raynor pieces for Strange Stories. I had to look that up. I really thought that these were two earlier pieces when I was reading them. The Elak adventures can sometimes appear rushed. It's perhaps a problem of the pulp format, rather than of the writer's, that can sometimes force too many events into too few words. The best writers overcome this though and Kuttner comes close to doing so in his Elak pieces. He fails miserably with Prince Raynor though and I'm forced to wonder why - did he just care less? About his character? Or about the publication venue?
Prince Raynor is physically similar to Elak but more priggish and less rounded. The stories clunk along with little regard for narrative development and, most uncomfortably for this 21st century reader, there's an undeniable racist component. Like Elak, Prince Raynor has a companion. Rather than a drinking buddy though, this character (whose name I can't remember, twelve hours after finishing the book, itself a damning fact) is a servant, described as a big ugly Nubian, who constantly says 'Thankyou Master' whenever Raynor saves him (curiously, this courtesy is never returned - the thanks, not the act) and is referred to at least once by another character when talking to Raynor as 'your black'. There are other examples, not related to that character, which (like his name) I've now forgotten.
Overall, the Elak stories, at least, are something that fans of swords and sorcery and of pulp fiction will probably still enjoy - eighty years after publication!...more