God teaches us humility and by applying ourselves we can overcome almost any obstacle. Graft and ingenuity are the greatest attributes of an Englishma...moreGod 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.(less)
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 get...moreRe-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.(less)
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 other...moreIt'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.(less)
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 obviou...moreI 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.(less)
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 h...moreI 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.(less)