Grimm’s Fairy Tales

This week, I am writing about Grimms Fairy Tales.  Both Alice Hoffman and James Salter listed these in their top ten.  Apparently, based on my last 3 selections, I need to read more Alice Hoffman.  I have never heard of James Salter, so went to the all knowing Wikipedia.

I will admit that I have read this before, but I think the last time I read my compilation book of them, I was around 10.  I, have of course, in the last couple of years gotten to know the sanitized versions of the tales quite well (the fallout of having a four year old daughter).

I will also admit that I have not read through all of them at this time, so I will be doing another post in a couple of days once I finish all of them.  However, I have read through enough of them that I can give opinions and the true story on some of the ones that Disney has come through and “princessed” and sanitized.  I also can talk about the viewpoint on whether they truly are too bloody for children today.

Interesting note first, the Grimm brothers first published the book of tales, marketed towards children in the early 1800s but parents complained (apparently they did that even back then) that the tales were way too violent, so years later,  the brothers released an updated version with a few of the tales “cleaned” up.  So the stories we read today as the originals actually are probably already sanitized a bit.  This doesn’t mean that they are rated G by any means.

The charges of feminism that the fairy tales paint women in a negative light, making them appear dumb and in need of someone to rescue them, isn’t necessarily all that true.  Yes, in some tales, the girl is painted as a victim who is desirous of rescue, but in others, she is quite resourceful.  I am thinking here of “The Princess in Disguise”.  Her father, the King, promises her mother, the Queen, on her deathbed that he will marry no one unless she has golden hair like the Queen and is just as beautiful.  Of course, no one fulfills these requirements.  Until his daughter reaches of age.  So, he decides he will marry her.  Even way back when the story originated (who knows when as the Grimm brothers transcribed stories), this wasn’t acceptable.  So the girl runs away.  Hunters from another kingdom find her, and she hides her identity to keep herself safe…after she has shoved 3 gowns she forced her father into making in the hopes that he will be unable to marry her and a rough cloak of skins.  She then begins to work for the cook at this castle and contrives a way to show herself as  a princess to the King and to marry him.  And she succeeds.

Of course on the flip side, we have “Snow White”, who manages to smartly convince the huntsman to let her go. (the original version has the original proclamation from the mirror to come when she was 7, the story doesn’t signify when she runs away)  She then runs away and finds the 7 Dwarves (this is pretty similiar to the Disney version so far).  However, the wicked stepmother, upon hearing from her mirror about Snow White still being alive, disguises herself and goes as a peddler woman and sells her a poisoned hair comb.  Snow White puts the comb in her hair and falls down as dead.  When the dwarves return, they notice the comb and pull it out and warn her to be extra careful as the stepmother is after her and to not answer the door to anyone.  Well, the stepmother of course notices that she is not dead and redisguises herself and goes back, this time selling corsets.  Snow White puts up a little protest but then is so overcome with need for the corsets (of her own accord, not the stepmother’s) that she allows the woman to tie one on her, and the laces are pulled too tight and she collapses.  The dwarves save her again and re-warn her.  Then comes the apple, which the stepmother has spelled to be only poisonous on one side so she is able to take a bite out of it and convince Snow White (again) that it is ok.  She then falls down.  The dwarves can’t find anything so bury her in a glass coffin due to her great beauty.  A prince comes along and is so captivated by her that he requests to carry her body back to his castle.  As servants are carrying her, the piece of apple is dislodged from her throat and THAT is what causes her return.  Not a kiss.  They do kiss, and they do live happily ever after, but the jostling of being carried over paths is what saves her.  The stepmother goes to their wedding and they had ready red hot iron shoes, which they made her dance in until she fell down dead.

But men get the same treatment in the fairy tales.  “The Skilful Huntsman” has a young man in it who receives an air gun which will not fail to hit its target.  He then deceives three giants.  He sneaks away and the princess in the castle refuses to marry the man in the King’s Guard who says he killed the 3 giants so is exiled to sell pots (this seems to be a common punishment for princesses who refuse to do the King’s bidding in the tales I’ve read).  Other stories point at men who are smart outwitting dumb men.  In Clever Gretel, the man she is a cook/serving maid for is completely dumb.

Most of the tales in the half I have read so far have someone greedy getting punished in the end.

Recently (prior to picking Grimm’s fairy tales to read and partly causing me to pick the fairy tales for my next one) I was in the library and saw the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  I of course, had to get it.  It’s a good read for mothers or fathers of little girls and explores the whole new movement of princesses for little girls and where that might lead.  Peggy Orenstein is a humorous and easy to read author.   She talks about the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in regards to the original (or only slightly sanitized) tales, stating that Bettelheim says “…fairy tales and only fairy tales-as opposed to myths and legends–tap into children’s unconscious preoccupations with such knotty issues as sibling rivalry or the fear of omnivorous mother”.  Fairy tales show that those who stand fast are victorous.  Bettelheim goes so far as to say, according to Orenstein “without exposure to fairy tales a child will be emotionally stunted, unable to create a meaningful life”.  I did not read Bettelheim at all, beyond what is discussed in this book so can’t really go into depth of his viewpoints.  However, I don’t think he necessarily needs to go as far as saying any child without that exposure will be emotionally stunted.  I do know that as I read through these tales again, I remember how much I loved them as a child and why all the sanitized versions of Disney have always felt…lacking to me.  Unfortunately, Amelia (the four year old that has made me live in Disney princess land) has been a little ruined by those Disney versions and always looks a little confused when I read ones closer to the original.

Next time, I’ll go into the real stories behind some of the other sanitized versions.  Stay tuned for the parts that Disney didn’t want you to know!

 

 

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“Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov

Having only read Lolita and The Defense before, I was totally unprepared for the kind of Nabokov that I found in Pale Fire. It is definitely the oddest book of his I’ve ever read, though possibly one of his most interesting.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 2nd for Michael Chabon, 3rd for Mary Gaitskill, 1st for Michael Griffith, 4th for David Leavitt, 4th for Arthur Philips, and 3rd for Vendela Vida.)

To begin with, Pale Fire presents itself as a 999-line, four-canto poem by John Shade along with forward and commentary by Dr. Charles Kinbote. However, the poem, the forward, and the commentary are all fictional components of the novel. The poem is autobiographical, digressively examining Shade’s fairly ordinary life. The commentary, on the other hand, is anything but commentary on the poem.

Kinbote presents himself as Shade’s close friend, though he only knew him for a few months before Shade’s death and I get the feeling that Shade merely put up with Kinbote. Kinbote had tried to get Shade to write the poem about the escape of the king of a fictional country called Zembla and was disappointed to find out what the poem was really about.

Then, instead of actually commenting on the poem (which he pretends to do) Kibote uses the commentary to talk about his relationship with Shade, his own life, the colleagues he hates at the local college, and the escaped king of Zembla. Revealed through the commentary is the fact that Kibote believes himself to be the escaped king of Zembla (whether or not this is completely insane) and believes the unknown gunman who kills Shade to be a royal assassin named Gradus, actually sent to kill Kibote.

First, let’s look at a section from canto one of the poem (lines 13-28):

Retake the falling snow: each drifting flake
Shapeless and slow, unsteady and opaque,
A dull dark white against the day’s pale white
And abstract larches in the neutral light.
And then the gradual and dual blue
As night unites the viewer and the view,
And in the morning, diamonds of frost
Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank page of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter’s code:
A dot, and arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back … A pheasant’s feet!
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes?

Next, let’s look at the commentary for a portion of this section:

Line 17: And then the gradual; Line 29: gray

By an extraordinary coincidence (inherent perhaps in the contrapuntal nature of Shade’s art) our poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man, whom he was to see for one fatal moment three weeks later, but of whose existence at the time (July 2) he could not have known. Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d’Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. Martin Gradus died in 1920, and his widow moved to Strasbourg where she soon died, too. Another Gradus, an Alsatian merchant, who oddly enough was totally unrelated to our killer but had been a close business friend of his kinsmen for years, adopted the boy and raised him with his own children. It would seem that at one time young Gradus studied pharmacology in Zurich, and at another, traveled to misty vineyards as an itinerant wine taster. We find him next engaging in petty subversive activities—printing peevish pamphlets, acting as messenger for obscure syndicalist groups, organizing strikes at glass factories, and that sort of thing. Sometime in the forties he came to Zembla as a brandy salesman. There he married a publican’s daughter. His connection with the Extremist party dates from its first ugly writhings, and when the revolution broke out, his modest organizational gifts found some appreciation in various offices. His departure for Western Europe, with a sordid purpose in his heart and a loaded gun in his pocket, took place on the very day that an innocent poet in an innocent land was beginning Canto Two of Pale Fire. We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past in a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 596), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, steadily marching nearer in iambic motion, crossing streets, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night.

Now, I quote a fairly large portion here, but I think it is quite evident why. There is just no way to comprehend the oddity of Pale Fire without seeing how the poem and bizarre commentary interact. I think the above is the shortest section that illustrates this phenomenon quite this well.

For anyone like me who has only read Nabokov works such as Lolita and The Defense, Pale Fire is downright uncharacteristic. It is weird, metafictional, and darkly humorous. However, it is also incredibly good. Pale Fire may not have the same emotive power as Lolita, but it is much more unusual. I highly recommend it, though I do advise that it can take a little getting used to. It is well worth the effort if you hang in there.

Fahrenheit 451’s predictions…influence on literature today…Part 3

So.  We started out talking about Ray Bradbury.  Then yesterday I took you through the plot of 451 and my opinion of it.  I forgot one thing during that time.  Until the last part of the novel, I LOVED Bradbury’s way of setting a pace in the story.  He could and did speed up the narrative using shorter sentences or even fragments, sometimes there was a staccato beat to the words almost.  Loved it.  Then we got to the long expositories at the end and that changed.  The tempo went just all sorts of out of whack and never got back the same feel.  Dave told me earlier today that Bradbury typed it on a pay by the hour typewriter, so possibly he was running out of money to finish it.

But separate from that was the eerieness of some of Bradbury’s qualities of his dystopian universe.  The statements I am about to share, seem more apt for society today than they did even ten years ago.  I’m going to share the ones that really hit me, discuss and then will briefly touch on the influence 451 has had on some other books I’ve read.  (I assume they did, and if not it was just a weird parallel lol).

Ok, so looking at my notes, the first thing isn’t a straight quotation from the book.  But, Montag’s wife, Mildred is addicted to wearing ear buds.  Montag describes them as having wave sounds, or sometimes people sounds.  It just made me think so much of Ipods.  Mildred wears them to block out the real world, the outside world.  So many people I see today do the same thing.  Earlier today, I was cleaning my kitchen listening to my Ipod with my ear buds in.  That’s why I keep saying, even more eerie than ten years ago as ten years ago Ipods were just coming out.

Clarisse tells Montag this about her peers; “I’m afraid of children my own age, they kill each other.  Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone.  Ten of them died in car wrecks”.  Earlier today, I read an article that a friend reposted to facebook about another young teen, who tormented at school about being a homosexual, killed himself.  And while his death isn’t a direct murder from another peer, in a sense they contributed to his death.  Also, last week, I watched a documentary on Pruitt-Igoe, a St Louis projects area from the 60s…go here to read more.   There’s of course, the shootings, the car accidents etc, just like Clarisse says.  But I think the suicides from bullying could be added into it.

Montag’s boss, Beatty, tells him “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosphies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.  Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work.  Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”  I don’t remember the exact educational models that were running around being implemented in the fifties.  But a lot of these things _have_ happened in the last 30 years as we attempt to mold our children into more self confident, well rounded individuals (and fail miserably most of the time haha), through the “everyone’s a winner” movement, also, philosphies that say children will naturally gravitate towards learning all of that.  Some items I am a strong believer on children being able to teach themselves.  (For example:  I don’t ever tell my daughter, no it’s said like this…I just mirror the statement back at her with the correct pronunciation.  She’s smart enough to get it eventually).  I don’t know, the statement just seemed fitting for schools today.  We pretend that we are teaching them more than how to push a button etc, but in reality, in today’s world?  They can’t just get by anymore with a liberal arts college degree, now everything has to be specialized.  They’re in essence, learning how to push buttons.

This next one from Beatty (I feel like it might be Beattie, not Beatty but I wrote in my notes Beatty, so Beatty it is) is really relevant with it being election year! “…If the government is inefficient, top heavy and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry about it”.  Really, in today’s world, people “worry” but for the most part their “worry” is whatever a 5 minute sound bite on their news channel of choice has told them what to worry about.  Very few people actually go and read about their candidates and their government.  There’s another section where Mildred and her friends are discussing the last presidential race and how the President won, and they were glad as he was so much better looking than the other candidate.  And isn’t that true of today?  Last election, there were two strong females…Clinton and Palin.  People were RABID about Clinton’s style, her looks etc.  Some seemed to hate her based solely on her pants suits.  Palin though, now some people LIKED her merely because of her pant suits.

Those were the things that really stuck with me.

Another character from the book, Faber, a retired professor, had the following things to say about books and why Bradbury’s dystopian society grew to hate them.  I just loved the statements so much I had to share them.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us”

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.”

“the books are to remind us what asses and fools we are”.

Just liked those!

So, unless you’ve lived under a rock or maybe in a third world country, you’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games, our latest dystopian wonder of a trilogy (and it is amazingly good, trust me).  I’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games, as I don’t see as much of a connection between it and a different Young Adult series I picked up last year and began.  Ally Condie (oddly, another person in Salt Lake City, Utah…maybe I should move there and then write a YA series…something in the water.  I am of course referring to this famous author) began a trilogy in 2010.  The first one, called Matched, begins a trilogy about a society where at 17, the government matches you with another person, very rarely from the same community, for marriage.  Everything like this is decided for you.  Now, the thing that struck me as the same, the thing that was completely influenced by Bradbury…in this society only 100 songs, 100 poems etc were chosen as okay for people to read…they were ones that kept dissension down.  The main character finds two poems that her grandfather passes to her.  She shares them with a boy.  One is a Dylan poem.  There’s a scene, where her father, who archives prior caches of this type of stuff is at a site, and she goes and they’re burning books.  Then, later, they come across people living outside of the society, and she is absolutely amazed at all the books.  Books and literary information is on black market trade in this trilogy.  It’s what I kept thinking about reading 451.

I’ve always been a huge reader.  And maybe Dave can address this in a future post, but for me personally, books have always provided a touchstone to my life.  They’re a stability and sometimes a way for me to process an emotion or an event in my life.  Reading books provides me with a depth of understanding on the human condition.  I have never been able to understand people that don’t read at all.  I feel like your view on the world has to be a bit limited if you’re not willing to pick up a book.  TV and movies and the internet can take you so far…but books can take you all the way.  Books give you a peace inside that other media has never done for me.  And that’s I think one of the major things Fahrenheit 451 says to me, that if we lose that…then our society crumbles.

Happy Reading!

Fahrenheit 451–Review–Part 2

So, today, I am actually going to be talking about 451, not Bradbury himself or my backstory on how I came to read 451 etc etc.  I don’t think I gave away any ruining plot points below, but if I did, you can feel free to kick me in the virtual shins.

451:

The only thing, literally, that I went into knowing about 451 was that it was a dystopian novel.  Which, also led me to give myself an internal wtf look, as most people that know me know, I love me a good dystopian tale.  And 451 really was the father of dystopian literature that has come since (see my next section of this post for further information on this opinion).  So, everything could hit me fresh.  It did.  Hit me.

I read this on my kindle, so if I misquote something or anything, it’s because I either wrote it down wrong or am relying on a faulty memory.

451 is divided into three sections.  They’re numbered.  They’re also titled.  The Hearth and the Salamander=Part 1, The Sieve and the Sand=Part 2 and Burning Bright=Part 3.  I am going to generalize a lot here, as I don’t want to spoil the plot too much.  The main character is Guy Montag, and the book centers around him.

I feel that Part 1 could really be called “Montag’s Awakening”.  Montag is a fireman, and in this future, firemen burn books.  All houses have a fireproof covering so there is no fear of a house burning anymore.  Firemen have been converted into book burners.  He meets a neighbor girl one day who is different than others.  She’s 17, her name is Clarisse, and she doesn’t race about getting the newest thrill.  She wanders.  She strolls.  She observes leaves in the wind, holds dandelions under chins to see if someone’s in love, and really looks at people.  Her uncle tells her a lot about the past, a time when people had front porches, that they’d sit on, that they have stopped making front porches because it might encourage people to slow down a moment and actually reflect on stuff.  The tendrils she places in Montag slowly expand and creep past his awesome love for the flame on the books, for his feeling of excitement.  The tendrils light up and Montag is able to fully see just how dark and ashy and gray his life really is.  He’s married to a woman named Mildred, and I think his life could be summed up by the fact that he asks her one night how they met.  Neither of them can remember.  He feels that if she died, he wouldn’t even mourn.  Mildred always is in the parlor, watching a 3 walled tv, and calls the people on it “family”.  She is pestering Montag to get the 4th wall put in, even though they just put in the 3rd 2 months prior.  Basically, Montag starts to see in himself what Clarisse tells him “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not”.  During this time, he has to burn a house down and the woman refuses to leave her books.  She even pulls out a match to do the job herself when Montag hesitates and attempts to get her to leave.  He begins to wonder.  And he steals a book while there.  During this section, two things are hinted at but not revealed.  Montag looks up at his vent a few times with vague thoughts of what’s up there, and he also thinks occasionally of an incident involving a conversation with a gentleman at a park the prior year.  Bradbury never tells us though during this section what is behind the vent and what was the conversation all about.

Part 2, The Sieve and the Sand, is titled because Montag eventually begins attempting to stuff information from books into his brain in the hopes that something might stick but feels it’s like pouring sand into a sieve and hoping some stays.  And here’s where discussing might get a little tricky as this is where the spoiling might happen if I don’t walk the fine line.  This part could be called “Montag’s Transformation”.  This is where we discover that maybe Clarisse didn’t _cause_ the explosions beginning to happen in Montag’s mind and his life, but might have just teased out something that was already slowly formenting in Montag.  In the first section, towards the beginning of the book, Montag comes home to discover that Mildred has taken all her sleeping pills.  There are men that come out to clean out her stomach and then pump new blood into her.  They basically tell Montag they get a lot of these calls, and it’s not worth it to send real doctors out on them anymore.  Montag ends up thinking that his wife is two people.  There is the happy, watch the parlor walls all day Mildred, and the nighttime Mildred who is depressed and suicidal.  Mildred also likes to take out the “beetle” (their mode of transportation in 451) and drive reallllyy fast.  I felt like Bradbury might have used the discussion of Mildred’s dichotomous self to highlight that Montag himself had a dichotomy hidden until Clarisse.  There was the have fun, find it exciting fireman, and the confused, apathetic, depressed other Montag.  Montag’s boss comes and talks to him and tells him that they basically know he’s stolen the book and that every fireman eventually does something similiar.  Beatty (boss) tells him that they allow the fireman 24 hours to turn it in before coming to burn it.  Beatty says that it’s good for them to take a look to understand further why they’re doing it.  The plot furthers from here, brilliantly carrying it towards Montag’s complete rebirth through flame.

Part 3, Burning Bright, is basically the conclusion.  My choice to say Montag is reborn through the flame, also came because one of the characters at the end talks about the phoenix.  It ends up that between the cities, old retired professors and educated people have been memorizing books and figuring out how to recall even something they’ve read once so that eventually all the books can be written back down.  They all have specific ones memorized and all know which ones others know.  I didn’t like Part 3.  I felt that the dialogue became way too expository.  I didn’t feel that a person would talk the way one of the end characters does, or at that length.  It was probably the only part of the book that I didn’t like the writing on.  I also did not like the speedy way Bradbury tied everything up.  It was like this beautiful book, beautiful story of a man’s self awakening amidst a world that no longer allowed slow thought and reading was suddenly just finished.  I felt like a publisher told Bradbury “Hey Ray, you got 2 days to finish that book before we’re not gonna take it anymore” and Bradbury slapped the ending all together quick.

I am a person that sometimes rereads books.  As I think I said in my blog about Wuthering Heights.  I honestly don’t think I’d read 451 again, or if I did, I’d probably just read the first 2 sections and skip the last.  I loved it, and will be buying an actual bound copy to keep on my shelf (so that it can be burned one day if necessary I guess), but can’t see myself yearning to pick it up again and re read it.  However, I would recommend it to most anyone, as we will discuss tomorrow, just for the eerie “predictions” in the book.  It makes me wonder what Bradbury thought in the last 20 years of his life about technology advancements, since the book was written in 1953.  Which makes it the same age as my parents.  Weird.

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451.

I originally had picked Middlemarch by George Eliot to use for this entry.  I was about 1/5 of the way through it on June 6th, when I happened to see that Ray Bradbury, at the age of 91 had passed away.

Instead of calling, texting, or emailing Dave, I did what any self respecting 2012 friend does.  I posted on my fb wall (timeline? what are we supposed to call it now?) about it, and that I’d be reading 451 for this entry instead.  Dave and I, being good 2012 friends, proceeded to have the entire conversation in regards to the entry right there on the wall/timeline.  Writing about this now, I find it oddly fitting that we did do that for Fahrenheit 451.

451 was listed by Alice Hoffman as her #2 book in The Top Ten.  On a weird note, I actually began listening to one of Hoffman’s books tonight while doing the dishes.

Once again, 451 (I am shortening it to this from here on, as I can sometimes get a little lazy about words like Fahrenheit), was a book I had never read.  Again, when people brought it up as a book they had read or that it was one of the greats etc, I would paste that “Oh of course I’m literate, I always have a book in my hand” look on my face while inside I would berate myself for not reading it yet.  As Dave has already read 451, I would have gotten to it, probably fairly soon to push off reading books that I don’t feel quite like I do about My Antonia (see here for a full explanation of the Willa Cather Impasse from Dave’s point of view) but don’t particularly feel like reading.

By the way, I apologize for giving all this backstory, but I find for me, the experience behind the reading interesting, so I include it all for you to enjoy (suffer) through.  Also, unlike Dave, I don’t have a personal blog at this moment so maybe I’m secretly trying to pretend I do.  Okay, back to our program.

I am going to be breaking Bradbury and Fahrenheit up into 3 blog posts, as I have become quite wordy on the whole thing, and I feel that to do Bradbury justice I _need_ to be lengthy for a memorial and also because of the comparisons between Bradbury’s “predictions” in 451 and the reality of today, to do them justice, I need three blog posts.  (sorry Dave for not discussing this with you previously).  Today’s post will be about Bradbury himself.  Tomorrow’s post will be about the plot line and my thoughts on said plot line.  Saturday’s post will be about the influence I can see of 451 on current literature today (especially in YA literature) and items Bradbury talked about in 451 that have probably an even stronger eerie resonance than they did even ten years ago.  I also will put in quotations where these things are described.

For information on Bradbury, I went straight to raybradbury.com, as that seemed the most likely place to receive information.  Bradbury, as mentioned above, was 91.  The staggering thing for me, isn’t necessarily his age, as I come from a family of long lifers and married a man from a family of long lifers, but that he was writing FOR SEVENTY YEARS.  It’s weird to see publication dates for him from the forties.  I’m not entirely sure why that bent my mind out of shape, other than maybe because it shows someone that figured out early on what made them tick, started doing it and NEVER STOPPED.  Quoting straight from raybradbury.com;

“In 2005, Bradbury published a book of essays titled Bradbury Speaks, in which he wrote: In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back. Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I’ve worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior. ”

I just think that holds so true for anyone that finds the one thing that does it for them and figures out a way to live that way.  Bradbury has won numerous awards, published over fifty books, and multitudes of short stories, but for me, the thing that makes me….proud?  happy? that a man like him lived on this earth is what he said above.

It’s sad when someone who has worked their way into our heads, into our culture and through that into our hearts dies.  I find this death more impacting to me than Michael Jackson.  Call me odd.

Coming up tomorrow! Discussion of 451’s plot and my opinions on it.

 

Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

For my second review here on Eleven and a Half Years of Books, I decided to get ambitious. I like to think of myself as a relatively intelligent guy. As such, I thought I’d take on Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett. Incidentally, this Beckett trilogy is officially the victor of the contest.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for Paul Auster and Molloy by itself was 10th for Lydia Millet.)

I did enjoy reading immensely. When I read Molloy I thought I was doing pretty good. After all, I sort of understood what was going on. It was weird, but fun. Mind you, that did not mean I exactly knew what was going on.

After all, in part I of Molloy, we hear from Molloy. Molloy is a disabled former vagrant who now lives in his mother’s room. There is somebody who comes to pick up the pages he writes and give him money:

            I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now. I don’t know how I got there. Perhaps in an ambulance, certainly a vehicle of some kind. I was helped. I’d never have got there alone. There’s this man who comes every week. Perhaps I got here thanks to him. He says not. He gives me money and takes away the pages.

Molloy tells about a time in his past when he was wandering around (getting picked up by the police for lewdly resting on his bicycle, running over a woman’s dog and then having to live with her for a time, killing a charcoal-burner in the woods) trying to get to his mother’s. In the end of his section, he gets taken to the room where he writes.

Then, in part II, we hear from Malone. Malone is some kind of agent hired to look for Molloy. So, he takes his son off to go look for Molloy. However, his son ditches him, his leg goes bad for mysterious reasons, and he can’t even remember what he is supposed to do should he ever find Molloy:

            The day seemed very long. I missed my son! I busied myself as best I could. I ate several times. I took advantage of being alone at last, with no other witness than God, to masturbate. My son must have had the same idea, he must have stopped on the way to masturbate. I hoe he enjoyed it more than I did… I surrendered myself to the beauties of the scene, I gazed at the trees, the fields, the sky, the birds, and I listened attentively to the sounds, faint and clear, borne to me on the air. For an instant I fancied I heard the silence mentioned, if I am not mistaken, above. Stretched out in the shelter, I brooded on the undertaking in which I was embarked. I tried again to remember what I was to do with Molloy, when I found him.

Things don’t really get better for Malone. In fact, his injuries and tribulations resemble Molloy’s story in some ways. Molloy and Malone might even be the same person, perhaps part II being a prequel to part I and Malone eventually becoming the Molloy of part I, whether or not there ever was a real Molloy that he was looking for.

However, Molloy is relatively straightforward when compared to Malone Dies. I am unsure if the Malone of Malone Dies is the same Malone of Molloy or not. He may be, but he also may not.

Regardless, Malone is writing in the room of an institution of some kind, waiting for death. He can barely get around, using a stick to reach the few possessions in the room that haven’t been taken from him. Other than describing his room and his wait for death, Malone does little other than tell stories:

I must have thought about my time-table during the night. I think I shall be able to tell myself four stories, each one on a different theme. One about a man, another about a woman, a third about a thing and finally one about an animal, a bird probably. I think that is everything. Perhaps I shall put the man and the woman in the same story, there is so little difference between a man and a woman, between mine I mean…

However, despite the above, he really only tells the story of a man named Sapo, whose name Malone changes to Macmann at some point in the narrative and may really be Malone. After all, Malone is dying in a room of some kind of institution. At some point in the story about Sapo (Macmann by this point), Sapo is also dying in a room of some kind of institution. The book breaks off with a tale about Macmann being taken on a trip by a nurse where the nurse starts killing other patients (before I assume being killed by Macmann or Malone).

Still, as much as Malone Dies is Harder to figure out than Molloy, it is downright simplistic when compared to The Unnamable. The Unnamable is one long, disjointed monologue. I couldn’t discern any plot, structure, or much of anything else. I couldn’t even figure out who is delivering the monologue. It’s just a hair easier to follow than Finnegans Wake. All I can do is quote a small section:

They are not interested in me, only in the place, they want the place for one of their own. What can one do but speculate, speculate, until one hits on the happy speculation? When all goes silent, and comes to an end, it will be because the words have been said, those it behoved to say, no need to know which, no means of knowing which, they’ll be there somewhere, in the heap, in the torrent, not necessarily the last, they have to be ratified by the proper authority, that takes time, he’s far from here, they bring him the verbatim report of the proceedings, once in a way, he knows the words that count, it’s he who chose them, in the meantime the voice continues, while the messenger goes towards the master, and while the master examines the report, and while the messenger comes back with the verdict, the words continue, the wrong words, until the order arrives, to stop everything or to continue everything, no, superfluous, everything will continue automatically, until the order arrives, to stop everything.

I think you can see what I mean.

Now, I enjoyed reading the whole book, but there was a tradeoff as I moved further in. As I kept reading, the writing became increasingly impressive in the achievement alone. I mean, The Unnamable is downright astounding. However, the further I got the less I understood. The Unnamable was just way more than I could ever understand.

So, in the end? Well, I’m not really sure. There is some extremely impressive writing in here, but I doubt I’ll ever try rereading any of this again except Molloy. There are some who understand and really get into this sort of writing, and I recognize and admit its brilliance, but it’s just too much for me. I’ll chicken out and spend my time reading something that’s a little easier for me to get a handle on. Hey, I tried at least, right?