The Book of Ruth & The Book of Esther—Old Testament Bible

As those of you following this blog know, one of the books listed in the Top Ten Books, was the Bible.  Now as many of you probably know, the Bible isn’t a short read.  It makes Les Miserables look like The Lorax.  So, I am covering the Bible in sections.

For who listed the Bible as their favorite book, see my original post here.

I read the two books in the Old Testament that are named after women and whose main characters are women.

The Book of Ruth comes first in the order of Old Testament books, so I’ll discuss that one first.

Ruth is about a woman (oddly enough, named Ruth) who marries an Israelite who is living in Moab (a neighboring country) with his mother, father and other brother.  Over the years, his father dies, then he and his brother die.  This leaves only Naomi, his mother.  She tells Ruth and the other daughter-in-law that they should return home to their families, that she is returning to hers.  When they protest (they have been with her for ten years after all) Naomi says;

“Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?  Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?  Tuyrn back my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband.  If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown?  Would you therefore refrain from marrying?  No my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord as gone out against me”.

Orpah leaves then to return to her Moabite family.

Ruth states;

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you.  For where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you”.

Naomi accepts Ruth’s insistence and they return to Naomi’s people.  There they are reliant upon others for sustenance.  Naomi sends Ruth to the fields of a kinsman, Boaz.  Boaz views Ruth with kindness and allows her to do even more gleaning than is typical.  In these times, people could follow threshers and glean leftovers that had fallen for sustenance.  Naomi tells Ruth to go lay at Boaz’s feet.  She does.  Naomi has her husband’s property for sale.  Boaz goes to a man, who (even though not identified as such) is a relative of Naomi closer in genealogical terms than Boaz and offers the property to him first.  Then when the man says yes, craftily informs him that it includes Ruth, the widow.  The man demurs, not wanting to mess up his own inheritance line.  Boaz then agrees to buy it and take Ruth as wife.  The bargain concludes (as they did in this time) with the man handing Boaz his sandal.  (Yes, I know.  Next time you strike a bargain with someone, a sock might be a nice touch! 😀 ).

The literary standpoint:  This is actually a story that could easily be fleshed out into an entire novel.  There are all sorts of plot devices, and as evidenced by the fact that you still hear it in all sorts of literature etc, the whole “For where you go I will go” speech is obviously a very well written statement.

My Christian standpoint:  I believe that the book of Ruth gives us instruction on how we should be with our inlaws.  Many of us do not like them.  However, as our spouse’s family that raised him, they deserve respect.  We should treat them as Ruth treats Naomi, by refusing to leave her and like Boaz treats Ruth before he falls in love with her (I assume this is what happened after she laid at his feet).  I can’t articulate better what I mean, but all those petty things that make us want to slap our in-laws?  We have to stop that shite.

Interesting side note:  It just hit me how Ruth’s behavior also parallels Chinese culture.  A woman in historical China (I assume not today but I could be horribly wrong) would leave her ancestral home and when she did, she became a full part of her husband’s family, with her allegiance to her mother in law.

Second interesting side note:  Most of you that aren’t familiar with the Bible have heard of David (of David and Goliath fame).  David was part of the ancestral lineage of Christ.  Per the genealogical end of Ruth, Ruth & Boaz were David’s grandparents, making Ruth also an ancestor of Christ.

The Book of Esther:

The book of Esther never mentions God.  In fact, Esther is a story (however, one based in history) about a woman who was Jewish and living among exiles in Persia.  The Queen at that time, refuses to *cough* entertain the King.  And he is told by an advisor; “…let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.  And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she”.  This advice pleased the King.

The King’s young men who attend him let out a cry; “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the King!  And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai, the King’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women”.

Well no wonder King Ahaseurus was so pleased with the idea of deposing Vashti, that upstart queen.

Anyway, Esther is one of the beautiful virgins.  She is an Israelite, whose cousin is a man named Mordecai, who is raising her.  He tells her to keep the fact that she is Hebrew a secret.  So she does.  Of course the King picks her (I doubt the book would be named for her or the story told if this didn’t happen).

Now the King had a bad  man serving as his very top right hand man, Haman.  Haman hates the Jews.  Mordecai won’t bow or pay homage to Haman.  So Haman vows to destroy all the Jews.

So Haman gets an edict sent out with instructions “…to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods”.

Mordecai contacts Esther in the palace when he finds out about this.  He asks her to intercede.  She replies.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the King’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.  But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days”.

(My theory is that he was out enjoying the hundreds of other virgins that probably got shoved into his harem).

Esther finally sucks it up (sorry to those of you that find this blasphemous, but I’m just summarizing in my own words) and on the third day approaches the king in her royal robes.  He holds out the scepter to Esther.  Then asks her what is it, what is her request.  He tells her he will give her anything, even to the half of his kingdom.

“If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.”

So the King summons Haman, and they both are at the feast.  After, when they are drinking wine the king asks Esther what her wish is, and what’s her request?

“My wish and my request is:  If I have found favor in the sight of the King, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said”.

Haman leaves all full of joy thinking that Esther loves him (not in that way! yeesh folks!) and that he is making even more inroads with the King.  And as a reward, he decides he will hang Mordecai.  He builds a gallows even (apparently, hanging Mordecai will be a great stimulant for his appetite for the feast in the morning).

The king can’t sleep that night, so asks for the book of memorable deeds.  They were read to him.  (I always enjoy a good chronicle of memorable deeds before bed myself).  Well he discovered where Mordecai had told about two eunuchs who had plotted to kill the King.  The King asks what distinction had Mordecai been awarded.  He is told that nothing has.  The King asks Haman when he comes in what should be done to a man whom the King wants to honor.  Haman of course thinks the King is speaking of him.

“For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.  And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials.  Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city proclaiming before him:  ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor”.

So the King turns to Haman and gives him his robe and tells him to take it to Mordecai and to do all that he said should be done.  With nothing left out.

Mordecai goes to the King.  Haman goes home crying (well…”mourning and with his head covered”).  His wife Zeresh and his wise men state “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him”.

He goes to the feast with Esther and the King.  On the second day of the feast, again while drinking wine, the King asks what is it that Esther wants.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request.  For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.  If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction Is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

The King asked who dared do such a thing and where are they.

“A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!”.

The King angrily strides off (well…”the king arose in his wrath”) and Haman begs for his life to Esther.  The king returns and sees Haman falling to the couch where Esther is.  And the king thinks he is assaulting Esther.

A helpful eunuch, Harbona, in attendance on the king (I think maybe Haman was a bit rude to Harbona at some point)

“Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.”

Of course, we all know where this is going.  Haman is hanged on the very gallows that he built.  Then the King’s wrath was abated.

Esther still has to beg to the King to reverse the decree that went out, by writing a new order to revoke the letters devised by Haman.  The King basically gives Mordecai carte blanche;

“Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews.  But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked”.

So, Mordecai sent out decrees stating that the king allowed the Jews to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them…and to plunder their goods.

So in the 12th month, the month of Adar, on the 13th day when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, the Jews gained the upper hand over all the masters that had hoped and dreamed of their destruction.

And, so they did.  They took their own revenge, and plundered and annihilated etc. etc.

And so Purim was born (per the Biblical text of Esther).

Literary note:  If you can’t see how amazing a story this would make, or a movie or a play…well then I would assume you had no sense of imagination at all.  This has all the notes of a great drama.  Beaten down people, one man in power bent on revenge against another, beautiful virgins, the powerful man being hung on the gallows he himself built.  Wow.

Biblical note:  Even though God is never mentioned, due to the other books of the Old Testament, it is known that nothing happens to the Israelites that God doesn’t know about.  And that in the past God has given others the means to rescue his people (Moses.  David.).  So, I believe God is in fact all over the book of Esther.

The end.  Thanks for tuning in.  Sorry for the length.

 

 

Les Miserables! Finally!

Ok, so I finally finished Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.

I know some of you have probably been looking askance at my posts about the length and how long it has taken me to read it.  However, I have one thing to say that sums up how I feel about this book.

Wow.

While reading the book, you will have moments when you wonder what Hugo was really doing.  Was he telling a story?  Or explaining French history to us?  Was he detailing and painting characters with a fine nuance?  Or was he using fiction to deplore social conditions in France in the mid 1800s?

I think he was doing both.  I think Hugo had a lot to say and poured most of it into Les Miserables.  He had published prior books, but the length of time it took him to write this shows how much heart he put into it.  I can’t imagine having to write it all by hand!  Which he had to.

Chris Bohjalian was the author that picked Les Miserables as one of his top ten.  And thinking of the books I’ve read by him, he also uses fiction to make a social statement.  He’s a bit less obvious about it than Hugo, but almost two hundred years can make a big difference in narrative styles and techniques.

I cursed parts of this book to Dave over the last few weeks.  Sometimes, I felt a little cheated.  I’d be reading this great story and be really into what was happening.  Suddenly I’m in a forever long section about Waterloo and Napoleon.  Now, I do enjoy histories, however I don’t enjoy them when they’re slammed down in the middle of a book, with the sole purpose seeming to be the introduction of two characters who then really don’t become relevant for another 500 pages.

But, the thing that saved this book for me, and that makes me extremely happy that I’ve read it, is simply the story that Hugo tells.  How he builds his characters and how invested you get in them.

Hugo follows these characters for years.  Jean Valjean is a released prisoner, who simply can’t find anyone that will accept him.  A bishop (whom Hugo spent chapters describing him, for the sole purpose of his role for Jean Valjean) accepts him.  And through that Valjean finds religion, finds peace in Christ.  He goes on to change his identity and basically save a town from complete ruin, in the process becoming very rich even though he has the tendency to give away large amounts of money.

The book details the beginning and descent of Fantine, a young woman who gets pregnant with a rich nobleman’s child, a rich nobleman who thought it would be funny to take her out on an outing, then just walk away and have a waiter deliver a note awhile later with the essence of “Been fun, gotta run”.  She has the child, but can’t find work.  As she leaves to go to a town, she finds a woman outside an inn with two of her own children.  Fantine asks if they will watch her daughter, named Cosette, that she will send money for the upkeep.  The woman agrees.  And in comes the Thenardier family, Thenardier ending up being the reprehensible evil character.  The story then goes on to describe Fantine’s descent all the way into prostitution and Valjean’s saving her.  She makes him promise to get her daughter.

There is a detective in the story, Javert, who believes the mayor is Valjean (it is), which would make him a criminal of the worst sort.  Now, you think Javert is a bad guy.  However, he is just built in a very uncompromising manner.  In the end, this manner takes him to his demise.  Javert comes to arrest Valjean while he’s at the hospital with Fantine.  Valjean goes.  Fantine dies.

Time passes.  One day, into the Thenardier inn comes a shabby looking old guy.  Cosette has been mistreated by Mrs. Thenardier for years, and Mr. Thenardier has used the money he did receive before Fantine’s descent into poverty and death for his own purposes.  Cosette is a scared little girl.

Then lots of time passes.  Marius and his grandfather are introduced.  They become estranged, as Marius discovers his father was a Napoleon guy and becomes utterly devoted to his father, after his father dies.  His grandfather is a man who believes in the sanctity of royalty.  Marius goes off on his own.

He & Cosette fall in love.  They are parted.

A revolution, a street one, of 1831 occurs.  Marius’s friends lead a movement, where they block off a tavern and fight.  It all ends horribly wrong.

I don’t want to give the ending, as it will ruin the experience of reading it for yourself.

However, Jean Valjean is a pitiful hero.  And I don’t mean that in the usage of pathetic that many do.  I mean, you really have to pity the man.  He has so little happiness in his life, and everytime he does, it gets ripped away.  In the end, he only has the faith that the Bishop inspired and the love that Cosette showed him he had (oh yes, he rescues her from the Thenardiers).

The Thenardiers remain evil through and through, and the only surprise with Mr & Mrs is the depravity they have.  Their daughter Eponine though?  She surprises you.  She starts out as someone you think of as definitely a Thenardier to the core.  However, love changes her.  In the end she makes a huge sacrifice that she knows will come to the worst possible outcome.

Javert…well he is a man of unbending principles.  He has prided himself all his life on this, and has lived his life by these principles.  Hugo shows the effects that life events can sometimes have on people like this.

Cosette, she is flighty.  But her love for Valjean and for Marius is inspiring.

Marius, is noble in a way.  During the whole time he was estranged from his grandfather, he lived in poverty.  He very rarely borrowed money.  He is the one who almost comes out as the “hero” in this, as he is the opposite of Valjean.  For most of his life, he has good happen to him.  When bad does happen to him, and he is miserable, good suddenly occurs.  I like how he is almost opposite of Valjean, like almost mirror like.

These are the main characters.  However, Hugo has filled in chinks of the story with more minor characters that sneak into the chinks of the story and cement the whole.  The urchin, Gavroche, (who is the unloved son of the Thenardiers so he lives on the streets) is one.  Marius’s friends who stage the revolution in the inn are others.  He paints even the most minor characters in huge detail.  For instance, Cosette & Valjean’s serving woman, has very little said about her.  However, Hugo brings her to life.  She stutters.

I can definitely see how this would make a great show.  I have never seen the Broadway play…but want to.  I also really want to see the movie but made myself wait until after reading the book.  I think that is best in this instance.  Otherwise, you’d expect the book to move like the show or the movie, which considering it’s over 1500 pages, it simply cannot.

Please, don’t let the size of this daunt you.  It would be a great book to read a few pages of in a night.

However, just skim the pages about Argot.  It’s hideously boring and I think Dave agrees with me, if anything could have been cut from Les Miserables and not have it hurt the story line…it’s this section.

Please be sure to check out Sage Magazine, where I talk about Peony In Love by Lisa See.  It’s an amazing book, and I’d definitely put it up there in my favorites.  It’s also a much shorter book haha.

 

This was supposed to be Les Mis. Then it was supposed to be Charlotte’s Web. However, it is in fact The Lorax

Disclaimer:  I am currently attempting to watch the 2011 Jane Eyre since I’ve had the netflix dvd for 3 days now and would like to be able to get my next dvd, I will do my hardest to not confuse Jane Eyre with The Lorax.  If I suddenly wonder if the Once-ler is haunting Jane Eyre’s happiness, you will understand I am sure.

Now…the reason for my title.  Originally, I was attempting to read Les Miserables.  Then Saturday, Amelia woke with a cough.  No big deal.  Called the doctor’s office to be sure, but we all felt it was an upper resp infection.  4 hours later, my daughter is laying semi-conscious on the couch laboring to breath, panting in short breaths with a fever.  Another nurse call was made, this one telling me to get to the er after steaming Amelia in the bathroom first.  This was my first time in almost 5 years of needing to go to the ER for Amelia.  As you can imagine, this caused a great amount of fear and stress on Greg and I’s part.  We were sent home with an inhaler and super duty amoxicillin.   And we spent the next 3 days in a haze of medicine giving (ibuprofen alternated with tylenol for fever, amoxicillin twice a day, her inhaler every couple of hours and benadryl from time to time for relief of some of the symptoms) and random demands for a piece of toast.  Exhortations to eat, drink.  Getting her to rouse from the couch for a bath.  Basically my brain allowed me to the joy of watching tv as it was too tired to do anything else (I became oddly addicted to Gordon Ramsey’s Hotels from Hell and Hoarding during this time).  So, there went Les Mis finishing.  Then I decided, well I can do Charlotte’s Web, Amelia’s better enough for me to be able to read Charlotte’s Web.  I began it.  One chapter or two into it, Amelia in a burst of unforeseen energy ran it into her pit of do….um room and I have been unable to retrieve it.  There went Charlotte’s Web.  Luckily! I was able to track down her copy of The Lorax and read that for today.  Technically I have read it before, but not as a kid, only as a parent reading it to her child.  And I can assure you, there is an actual difference between reading a story to your child for their enjoyment and reading it to yourself for your own review.

The Lorax is a favorite of Lydia Millet.

I’ve heard that many state that Dr Seuss wrote The Lorax as an eco statement.  That might be the case.  The thing I love about Seuss is that he never talks down to kids.  I grew up reading ALL the time, and as such ran across more than one “morality” tale for kids.  The plot usually was “Little Jane is bad and doesn’t listen.  Little Jane gets sent to horrible orphan….oh wait sorry that’s Jane Eyre 😛 haha jk.  Honestly though, the plot usually was some kid be bops along and is generally a good kid.  But they don’t listen to the well meaning adults in their lives or the goody goody friends they have and DIRE CONSEQUENCES OCCUR.  But then some good grown up comes along and rescues them from themselves and they learn THE IMPORTANT LESSON OF LISTENING TO YOUR ELDERS.  Or some such crap.  Seuss never made me feel that way and still doesn’t as an adult.

The thing I look for in any story is _the story_.  I love any sort of narrative device, any sort of genre, IF THE STORY IS GOOD.  I don’t care about the fact that some author uses some fancy narrative trick, if there isn’t a good story behind that trick, the book is crap.  Seuss fulfills my good story love quite well.

The “nonsense” words he uses helps.  Thneeds are what the Truffula trees are used to make.  The Once-Ler comes and sees an idyllic place with beautiful Truffula trees and beautiful creatures cavorting around.  He manages to make a Thneed (the thing everyone needs!) from a Truffula tree and begins mass producing Thneeds, cutting down Truffula trees.  A little round mossy looking guy named the Lorax comes to warn him.  But the Once-Ler doesn’t listen.  Until the very last truffula tree falls.  Then the Lorax leaves a rock with the word Unless inscribed on it and disappears.  The way Seuss makes it a story that needs searched out by a young boy going to a house on the outskirts and paying with a variety of things including a nail, then the story itself with the nonsense words that end up being very lyrical when reading aloud.  When it comes off my tongue while reading to Amelia, it has a feel of a fairy  tale, not just a story book.  I loved having the experience of both reading this to a child for the first time and reading it individually as an adult.

I also am really happy that Dr Seuss ended up on these lists, even if it was just once with one book.  I think people forget about Dr. Seuss when listing favorite books.  I mean, they’re _kids’_ books right?  The literary devices and language that Seuss uses though, make him an author whose books shouldn’t be forgotten merely because one now can read War and Peace.

Happy New Year! And Lord of The Rings

For this week, I read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I had dreaded attempting this one again, as I had already tried to read this several times and never made it past the first chapter.  It just seemed so…boring.  It actually made me a little sad, as I adore all three movies (though I’ve only seen them all like 3 times as watching them involves a major time commitment LOL).  This time though, since I was reading it to report back on it, I persevered.  And found past the first chapter, a treasure.

For all of you following along with what authors like what books when Dave and I write about them, Lord of the Rings was listed in the top ten for Chitra Divakaruni and Richard Powers.

As most people are familiar with the movies by now, I won’t go into too much plot recounting.

Basically, in The Hobbit (which I have yet to see the first one released in theaters), Bilbo Baggins lays hold of a ring.  He carries it back to the Shire, where all the Hobbits live (well most of them, LOTR goes into detail about where hobbits live, and let’s say that all the “normal” and “socially acceptable” ones live in the Shire).  Life is peaceful for oh, around 60 years or so.  Then it all begins to go dark.  Bilbo leaves the Shire and leaves the ring to his nephew Frodo.  And still things go on quietly for awhile longer.  Then all hell breaks loose.  It comes about that the ring is the one thing that can make Sauron victorious completely over the world again.  Frodo and others (The Fellowship) set off to attempt destruction of the ring.  Through it all, wars, battles, elves, Gollum, humans wanting the ring etc etc, Frodo carries on towards Mordor to destroy the ring.

The Lord of the Rings has so many things in it.  I think that explains it’s constant appeal throughout the decades.  There are heroes.  There are clear cut villains.  There are people who are neither good or bad.  There are people that are mostly good but do bad things and mostly bad but do good things.  It’s a tale not only about good triumphing evil, but about redemption.  There are battles, which Tolkien manages to suffuse with adrenaline, so that people don’t feel they are just reading a history account of some long ago battle.  There are elves, oh the elves, with their endless fascination not only for men in the series but for all of us that aren’t in the series.

I’m really not going into this very much, because Jackson’s movies have made the stories of LOTR so universal and so many others have commented countless times on the stories in the last decade that I don’t find much left to say.

HOWEVER!

I find it endlessly fascinating that the stories sprung out of Tolkien’s just wanting to make up a language, and writing stories about this world he just created.  It took him years and years to finish the book, and while people repeatedly attempted to find parallels between it and World War II which had just recently ended, Tolkien repeatedly denied that any one character represented any figure from the War (i.e. Saruman or Sauron representing Hitler).  Parts of it were written before the war, parts were written during the war.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Dave & I started this blog in May.  In May, we both each read one book, making 2.  In June, we both read 2 books each, so 4.  In July, Dave read 2 books and I read one, so 3.  In August, I read 3, and Dave 2, so 5.  In September, I read 1, Dave 3.  In October, I read 3 and Dave 1, so 4.  In November, Dave read 3 and I read Genesis, the beginning of the Bible, so um..we’ll say 3 🙂  In December, Dave read 2 and I finished Genesis and wrote about non book stuff, so 2.  We’ve read 27 books so far (which I might have gotten the math wrong so Dave can correct haha).  I remain very happy to have begun this project and can’t wait to see which books I discover that I really should have read before in my life in 2013.

Genesis–Part 2

I have divided Genesis into 3 parts.  Though not as long as some books, it does take awhile for me to read sections of the Bible.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I present the reasons of Thanksgiving and all night Black Friday shopping.

For a list of which authors listed the Bible as one of their top ten, and why it’s important in the realm of literature, see my original post.  In this blog post I’ll talk about the following:  the story of Abraham and Sarah,  the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Lot and his family, Isaac and Rebecca, and Esau and Jacob.

Abraham was originally called Abram.  Sarah was originally Sarai.  Sarai was barren.  She made Abraham take her maidservant Hagar.    Sarai was very cruel to Hagar, so she ran away.   An angel of God came to Hagar and asked why she was running away, she replied that she was running from Sarai.  The angel told her to return to Sarai and serve her.  He promised her  “I will increase your descendants that they will become too numerous to count.  You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael.  for the Lord has heard of your miser.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.  And so Islam was born.  Then God came to him “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God”.  Then the covenant of circumcision was born, as God required that as Abram’s end of the covenant.  He pronounced that Abram (99 years old) was to get circumcised, as well as all of the males of his household.  He said any male at eight days old was to be circumcised.  At this point, Ishmael was thirteen.  Arabs, those of Islam faith, consider themselves descendants of Ishmael, so circumcise when the boy is thirteen.  He promised Abram that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.  At this, Abram wondered, as his wife, Sarai was quite old.  They were both nearing 100.  God promised him though, renaming Sarai, Sarah.  Time passed.  Sarah was still barren.  God told him he would have a son, and name him Isaac.  Sarah laughed upon hearing the repeat of God’s promise by God outside of their tent.  God replied “Why did Sarah laugh and say ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son”.  Then the angels and God were to go to Sodom, to destroy it, as it was completely infested with sin.  Abraham pleaded for Sodom asking if God was to find x amount (he started at fifty and worked down to ten, possibly in an attempt to save his nephew Lot and his household) would he save those people even as he destroyed Sodom.  God replied He would.  He and his angels came into Sodom and the men captured the angels and wanted to do very very bad things to them, the things that often happen in all male prisons nowadays.  Lot pleaded that the men of Sodom (as he had recognized the visitors as God’s angels) to take his (Lot’s) daughters instead, virgins, and that the men could do what they wanted with his daughters.  They then told Lot that they would treat him worse than the angels, as he was an outsider who had moved to Sodom.  The angels told Lot to take his family and flee.  He told his family, but his sons-in-laws (which confuses me and my self study Bible doesn’t explain, if Lot’s daughters were virgins, how did they have husbands?  My only thought can be that they were fiancees who were already called sons-in-laws, or else Lot’s daughters were very special virgins indeed), laughed at him.  The angels grabbed Lot’s hands, those of his wife, and those of his daughters and led them out of the city.  The city was then destroyed.  Lot’s wife, disobeying the angels of the Lord, looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Apparently, the southern end of the  Dead Sea, even today, salt formations exist that are reminders of her fate.  Lot and his daughters end up hiding in a cave.  The daughers are scared that their line will die out, so get their father drunk and force him into sexual intercourse.  (Note; this is where the promised incest in the last entry is).  The older bore Moab, the younger Ben-Ammi.  The narrative then goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who are in a foreign land.  Now, Abraham liked to lie and say that his 90 year old attractive wife was his sister.  The ruler became upset with Abraham as Sarah was very desirable and men wanted her, but to lay with Sarah would have been a great offense, since she was Abraham’s wife and not his sister.  (Abraham would say this out of fear for his own life, that she would be desired and he would be killed in order for a man to have her).

Skipping ahead to Isaac and Rebekah.  Abraham on his deathbed, makes his servant promise to go back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife (the Lord had told him to not find one for Isaac in the land they currently lived).  The servant prayed that when he got to the town, the woman meant for Isaac would offer him and his camels water.  Rebekah did.  They went back to her home, and when her father heard, he willingly gave Rebekah.  She was Abraham’s great niece.  She wed Isaac in Sarah’s tent.  Abraham died and left everything to Isaac, but gave the sons of his wives after Sarah died, gifts.  Ishmael’s sons are also named, and the last part of that section says “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers”.  Rebekah became pregnant with twins, who began fighting even in her womb “The babies jostled each other within her”.  She asks the Lord why is this happening?  This was the response; “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated;  one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger”  (in direct contradiction of the rules of the time that said the eldest inherits and the younger serves the elder).  The boys come from the womb and Esau is hairy and redhaired from birth.  Jacob, smooth and not redhaired from birth.  When the boys grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, Jacob a quiet man, staying among the tents.  Esau was Isaac’s favorite, Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite.  When Isaac was on his deathbed, he told Esau to go hunt two animals down, fine specimens, and to bring them back for Isaac, and he would bestow his blessing on him.  Rebekah heard this, and conniving little liar that she was, called Jacob to her.  Isaac had gone blind.  She told Jacob to go find two young goats and to slaughter them.  He wondered how Jacob would mistake them as Esau was so hairy and he so smooth.  Rebekah attached goat hides to Jacob’s hands.  Isaac was suspicious when Jacob went to him, but bestowed the blessing anyway; “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness–an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers and may the soons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed”.  Jacob leaves.  Esau comes and Isaac is upset, saying that he already gave his blessing to Jacob.  Esau begs for a blessing, even one, from his father.  He gets “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.  You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.  But when you grow restless you will throw his yoke from off your neck”.  Jacob flees to Laban, out of fear of what Esau will do, having been warned by his mother.  Before he goes, Isaac Isaac tells him to not marry a Canaanite woman, but to return to where Rebekah lived, and to take a wife there from the daughers of Laban, Rebekah’s brother.

Jacob goes to Laban.  Laban has two daughters.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but she has an older sister, Leah.  After a month there, Laban asks Jacob what he would like his wages to be.  Jacob states that he would work for Laban for seven years, and then would like to marry Rebekah.  Laban tricks Jacob and gives him Leah instead.  The day after the wedding night, Jacob is understandably upset and goes to Laban “What is this you have done to me?  I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me?”.  Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work”.  Jacob agrees, loving Rebekah like he does.  Laban gives him Rachel right away, after Leah’s wedding week is over.  Leah bears Jacob sons, including Levi, whom the future priests, or Levites descended from.  As well as Judah, who was the ancestor of David and ultimately of Jesus.  Rachel becomes jealous of Leah’s fertility, as she is barren at that point.  She tells Jacob “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  Jacob asks her “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”.  She then gives him Bilhah, her servant, so he can sleep with her to bear children that Rachel can claim.  Leah stops having children so has Jacob lie with Zilpah, her servant.  Leah keeps having children.  Then finally God remembers Rachel; He listens to her and opens her womb.  She names her son Joseph.  Jacob works a deal with Laban to build a herd by taking the spotted and marked goats from his flocks.  Laban, showing his brotherhood to Rebekah, takes all those animals out of his herd and spirits them away.  Jacob begins to have the herd drink from water with branches from poplar, almond and plane trees that he marked with stripes.  The flock that drank from these became spotted.  Jacob eventually flees from Laban, having had his wages changed ten times and having served Laban for twenty years.  Rachel steals Laban’s idols before leaving, showing that she hasn’t quite given up her pagan ways.  Laban chases down Jacob, demanding why he felt the need to steal from him.  Jacob is confused and tells Laban to search the tents, and if he finds the idols, Jacob will kill the person that has them.  Rachel, showing that family’s deceptive streak (Jacob does too), puts them under her saddle.  She tells her father she has her period so cannot climb down.  He believes her and idols are never found.  And this is where I leave you in the narrative.

Faith standpoint:  For me, all these stories are important.  Even before Jesus comes and saves us, all these people in Genesis were making big mistakes.  The Ten Commandments weren’t around yet, but they lied, mated with their daughters (though the daughters were more to blame than the father in this endeavour), they did not trust in God (Sarai and Hagar).  Oh!  Forgot the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham, though of course he didn’t want to murder his promised descendant for a sacrifice, obeys.  God intervenes at the last moment, telling Abraham that because of his faithfulness, He is sparing Isaac.  This isn’t something done wrong, but rather right, but since I forgot that story wanted to get it in there.  This sacrifice, this instant, predicts the future sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus.  Also, back after Adam & Eve are cast from Eden, God makes it pretty clear that He intends for women to become of one flesh with their husbands, thereby dictating that a man should have only one wife.  Obviously, from above, you can see that they didn’t exactly listen to that.  They were fornicating everywhere.  Also, there is doubt of God’s promise, when Sarah laughs at God’s promise.  Anyway, it’s a hopeful thing to me, that all throughout the Bible, there are people messing up, and God still considering them as His.  There are times when it hits me, how much of a sinner I am.  I think this is important to understanding the grace of God and Jesus’s death.  It always bugs me when I go to a church where there is no confession of your sins (in Protestant churches, this takes place as a group confession, with the belief that you can go directly to God with your personal sins instead of the confessional).  I don’t like churches that only focus on grace, that make you believe and feel that you are perfect once you are “born again”, as the death of Christ only promises that you will continue to be forgiven, but that you still want to endeavour to lead a godly life.  I dislike churches that _only_ focus on God’s love.  I believe that one can’t truly appreciate the complete grace and understand it, without understanding the complete miserableness that sin makes us.  /end rant.  Also, for me, there is the beginnings of the promise of Christ that help me to understand the eventual events leading up to that sacrifice.

Literary standpoint:  The stories are fascinating to me.  I mean, you have conflict everywhere, you have people fighting, lying, fornicating.  It’s a very engaging read, even with the brevity of each story and the lack of detail as to how the sand got in their eyes and their hair, etc etc.  Also, I think it was Wally Lamb, in “This Much I know is True” (if I have misnamed the title, forgive me) who reference Jacob and Esau.  I find references all the time to the above stories in both classic and current literature.   With the amount I read, I see it all a lot.  I’m sure Dave can also attest to the recurrent themes that began from day 1.  There is a story coming up in the last part of Genesis that I can directly correlate to a classic novel, but I will leave you in suspense until next time to find that out.

Tune in next time to hear about sibling rivalry, selling your siblings into slavery, dream prophecies, and of course the famed multi colored coat.

Bereshith! (Or as we like to call it in English…Genesis)

So.  One of the books in the Top Ten is the Bible.  Dave gladly gave me the opportunity to read it and blog about it.  Now all of you know, the Bible isn’t a short work by any means.   Which means, there will be multiple entries by me on parts of the Bible.  (which I know, might take us to like 12.5 years of books, but hey, the Bible is LONG.  I’ve been reading from it for most of my life and I can say I’ve probably only read about half of it and in piece meal).

A lot of the books of the Bible are shorter, so can be read multiple ones at once.  Genesis is not one of those books.  In fact Genesis has so much happening that I’m splitting it up into two (translation:  I got caught up in the footnotes and sidenotes in my study Bible, so ergo did not finish the entire book of Genesis) parts.  I’ll put up the 2nd blog about Genesis in the next couple of days, Dave will then be back next Thursday with another book.

I’m not sure if I will just keep with the Bible until done with it, or if I’ll read parts, then read something else to blog about and return.  Just letting you know that in advance.

The Bible has six authors that listed it in their top ten.  Andrew Hudgins, Haven Kimmel, Erin McGraw, Richard Powers, Robert Pinsky and James Salter all listed it in their top ten.

I know you’re probably wondering why the Bible is even important to you if you’re not Christian.  Why it’s something that as a book lover, you should even be interested in.  Andrew Hudgins wrote about this in The Top Ten.  He points out that the Bible is a great story itself, also “The Bible is also the source of great stories, by geniuses from Dante to Dostoevsky, Faulkner to Thomas Mann, and the poetry of the Psalms echoes through great poetry from William Blake to Walt Whitman to T.S. Eliot”.  He also says “”the greatest story ever told”, in the majesty of its telling and the power of its message, has taught an entire culture how to think about love, suffering, and transcendence, and it has fundamentally colored the language by which we talk about everything.”  And this is why it’s important, even if not a believer. 

My whole lead in above is also why I’ve split Genesis up into two blogs (I know, it sounds handy, like I’m just making sure that it sounds more planned, but I would have done it whether I had the entire thing ready to talk about or not.  None of y’all came here to read term papers).

Genesis has strongly been held throughout the centuries to have been written by Moses.  It is the first book of the five books that the Jewish religion called “the five fifths of the law (of Moses)”.  Genesis truly is about beginnings, starting with the story of creation, but also of sin and redemption, of blessing and cursing, of society, of marriage and family.  And really, Genesis also is instrumental in understanding the rest of the Bible.  The promise of Christ begins when God curses the serpent and his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”.  ( Sin and the serpent were crushed by Christ’s death on the cross, but in the doing so, Jesus was mortally wounded).  And all through the book of Genesis and the Old Testament itself, the promise of Jesus’s coming and salvation go through it.

Genesis is a prose style book.  It’s divided up into ten “accounts”  (the sections start with the word account somewhere in there, Gen 2:4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.)  There are a few poetic moments in the book.  There is a lyricism to Genesis, and it is rich.  Read it aloud sometime or listen to it read aloud and you will see the lyricism.

First is the creation.  In the Bible it takes six days.  I do not have the interest nor the time to debate about each particular point as I go through here, I am reporting what the text says.  You are free to think the days were actually six 24 hour periods, that each day means a million years, that the story is merely a story.  Some of what I write will be directly related to my own faith, but please remember that mostly I am commenting on the content of the books, much like I would with Madame Bovary or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   (Sorry.  After the election I just don’t have interest in debating anyone at the moment.  Check back with me in a month or two…or with the way the election was maybe even six.  I might feel more up to discussing potentially contentious items.)  If you have questions, let me know, that’s fine 🙂

Then God makes man.  He has man, named Adam, name all the animals while looking for a suitable helpmate/companion.  Surprisingly, Adam doesn’t find a suitable companion…or not so surprisingly.  Either the animals don’t interact well with humans or they fling poo like the monkeys…haha.  So God puts him into a deep sleep, removes his rib and forms woman from it.  Names her Eve.  They of course, are happy as larks running about.  Interesting note, God already starts talking about marriage in Genesis 2:24, after creation of woman “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother an be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.  The serpent comes along and tempts Eve to eat from the tree that God forbade Adam from eating.  Eve eats it.  Adam eats it.  They realize that they are naked and cover themselves.  God comes and finds them hiding.  Of course, beginning the history of people evading responsibility for their actions and blaming others; Gen 3:12 “The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  V. 13  “Then the Lord God said to the woman “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate”.

They get cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Then comes along Cain and Abel, their sons.  Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd.  They brought offerings to God, Cain just “some fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord”.  But Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”.  Now, before you carnivores out there all start stating that this shows God wants us all to EAT MEAT URRGGHHH.  God wasn’t upset that Cain brought him some fruit and vegetables.  He was upset because Cain brought “some fruits of the soil”…doesn’t sound very special does it?  Compared to the fat portions from some firstborn of the flock (pretty high quality stuff there).  So Cain gets mad and jealous.  He kills Abel.  Buries him.   Genesis 4:10 “The Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!   Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand”.  Abel’s voice crying from the ground where he was buried, sounds like plot twists and themes in many books I’ve read.

Cain is cast out to wander for all his days, he decides to build a city and has a few children of his own.  His family line doesn’t amount to much, and as you will soon see, eventually is drowned out.  Adam and Eve have another son, naming him Seth.

The second “account” begins.  Genesis 5:1  “This is the written account of Adam’s line”.  A genealogy follows, with the refrain of “and then he died” after each person.  Here’s another literary device.  There is an impact here, that makes the one different line stand out “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away”.  Basically, Enoch so pleased God that he was taken away without suffering death as the rest of his ancestors and heirs did.  The line ends with Noah.  Then chapter 6:9 “This is the account of Noah”.

Most people know about the flood, and the ark, and the two of each animal being crowded onto the ark.  Basically God is so displeased with the wickedness of all of mankind, except Noah that he decides to destroy his entire creation.  There is some debate amongst different theological groups as to whether angels had come down and began to mate with women Gen 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown”.  All of Noah’s family and all the animals get in the ark, and the flood waters take them afloat.  Months later, the waters finally start to recede and Gen 8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded”.  God then makes a covenant with Noah, where he blesses Noah and his sons.  He states that they need to get busy to repopulate the earth and from Genesis 9:11  “I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all ife be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  He then names the rainbow as the sign of that covenant  v16  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth”.

Then we have Ham observing his father in the throes of drunkeness (Noah’s youngest son).  Noah, upon waking, curses his son and states that his descendants will be slaves to his brothers.  (However, it can’t be used to justify the slavery of different skinned people since those cursed were Canaanites who were Caucasian).

And that’s where I leave you.  Join in next time for some good old incest, brothers attempting to murder other brothers, and potential sacrificial offerings of sons.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Happy Banned Books Week to y’all!

I was originally going to talk about Clockwork Orange today, but for reasons I will save for a future entry, it wasn’t the easiest thing to read.

So I grabbed Huckleberry Finn, since I was one of the only Americans to not at least pretend to read this book at some point.

I think this was probably my favorite book to read so far from the Top Ten.  This book was listed by the following authors:

Lee K. Abbott

Kate Atkinson

Russell Banks

Madison Smart Bell

Chris Bohjalian

Fred Chappell

Clyde Edgerton

Percival Everett

Arthur Golden

Barry Hannah

Kent Haruf

Carl Hiassen

Haven Kimmel

Stephen King

Walter Kirn

Wally Lamb

Bobbie Ann Mason

Joyce Carol Oates

Robert B Parker

Jonathan Raban

Louis D. Rubin Jr

George Saunders

Cathleen Schine

Scott Spencer

Susan Vreeland.

 

I listed them this way, to highlight how _many_ of the authors picked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  Obviously, I am in good company with loving this book.

Huck Finn has been banned countless times due to the use of the word “nigger”.  They (the ignoramuses who ban it) obviously are unable to critically read a book and to see past the usage of the word “nigger”.  They say it’s racist.  However, anyone who has read Huck Finn with half a brain can see it’s actually the opposite of racist, and is actually a criticism of slavery.

It reminds me of a time in college (a conservative school) where the literary magazine published a poem about and against suicide that had the word fuck at the end.  They banned the literary magazine as “offensive”.  It was a case where the poet had used the curse word to underscore his point as to why someone shouldn’t commit suicide, and the poem was about God’s love for us as creatures etc.

Much like that, Huck Finn is the story of a “pre-teen” boy who runs off to get away from his drunkard dad who is attempting to get 6000.00 that Huck Finn received as a result of the happenings in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  He runs across his benefactress’s slave Jim in the process, who has run away as he overheard talk that he was to be sold “down river”.  Jim and Huck Finn go on the run together, rafting down the Mississipi.  They have a variety of adventures and throughout the book, Huck has attacks on his conscience about aiding and abetting a runaway slave, but then he remembers how Jim helped him, how Jim would take his watch at night and let Huck sleep, how he tells Huck that he’s his only friend.  So he keeps deciding to not turn in his friend, that maybe Jim is more man than slave (Huck doesn’t actually say this, this is my own analysis).  Twain spends time fleshing Jim out into a full character, instead of a caricature.  The following is just one example of how Twain does that.  Jim is telling Huck about an experience with his little girl who had just recovered from scarlet fever and was 4 years old.  Jim told her to close the door and she just stood staring at him and smiling at him.  He tells her again.  And she still just stands there.

“En wid dat I fetch’ her a slap side de head dat sont her a-sprawlin’.  Den I went into de yuther room, en uz gone ’bout ten minutes; en when I come back dah was dat do’ a-stannin’ open yit, en dat chile stannin’ mos’ right in it, a-lookin’ down and mournin’, en de tears runnin’ down.  My, but I wuz mad!  I was a-gwyne for de chile, but jis’ den-it was a do’ dat open innerds-jis’ den, ‘long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam! en my lan’, de chile never move!  My breff mos’ hop outer me; en I feel so-so- I doan’ know how I feel.  I crope out, all a-tremblin, en crope aroun en open de do’ easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof’en still, en all uv a sudden I says pow! jis as loud as I could yell.  She never budge! Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en says ‘Oh, de po’ little thing!  De Lord God Amighty fo’give po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fo’give hisseff as long’s he live!’  Oh she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plum deef en dumb-en I’d ben a-treat’n’ her so!”.

Admittedly, much like Gone with the Wind, there are characterizations of Jim as being a good “nigger” and how slaves liked their masters and were a little simple-minded.  However, Twain does show that Jim has brains, even if he’s not book smart or even smart in the way Huckleberry is.  The thing to remember when you run across things like this is when the book was written.  Even if someone was against slavery, certain ideas prevailed about how a black person would act or behave, just as it does today about different ethnic groups.  How many times has someone cracked a joke around you about “Mexicans all living in a one bedroom, ten of them”?  I’ve heard it at least a dozen times in the last decade.  Twain does a great job in my opinion of making Jim into a character to love and a character to respect.  His comments by other characters in regards to the general temperament of Jim shows the attitude of the day, not a purposeful attempt to be racist.  If the same book was written today, yes, the author would be going for the shock value of racism.  However, Twain’s era meant that he actually wrote quite an enlightened book for the time.

Another thing I loved about this book is that I spent most of a chapter giggling and laughing outright.  Tom Sawyer and Huck are going to rescue Jim from captivity (he was recaptured).  Tom has all kinds of grandiose ideas about how to rescue Jim.  The following exchange happens during this chapter:

Tom is asking Jim to allow some rattlesnakes to stay in there with him while he and Huck are digging the hole to get Jim out.  Jim has an obvious issue with this.

Tom: “Blame it, can’t you try?  I only want you to try-you needn’t keep it up if it don’t work.”

Jim: “But de trouble all done ef de snake bite me while I’s a-tryin’ him.  Mars Tom, I’s willin’ to tackle mos’ anything’at ain’t onreasonable, but ef you en Huck fetches a rattlesnake in heah for me to tame, I’s gwyne to leave, dat’s shore”

Tom:  “Well then, let it go, let it go, if you’re so bullheaded about it.  We can get you some garter-snakes, and you can tie some buttons on their tails and let on they’re rattle snakes and I’ll reckon that will have to do”.

JIm:  “I k’n stan’ dem, Mars Tom, but blame’ ‘f I couldn’ git along widout um, I tell you dat.  I never knowed b’fo’ twas so much bother and trouble to be a prisoner”

Tom: Well, it always is when it’s done right.  You got any rats around here?”

Jim: “No, sah, I hain’t seed none.”

Tom:  “Wll, we’ll get you some rats.”

Jim:  “Why, Mars Tom, I doan’ want no rats.  Dey’s de dad-blamedest creatures to ‘sturb a body, en rustle roun’ over ‘im, en bite his feet, when he’s trying to sleep, I ever see.  No, sah, gimme g’yarter snakes, ‘if I’s got to have ‘m, but doan’ gimme no rats; I hain’ got no use f’r um”.

Tom:  “But Jim, you got to have them-they all do.  So don’t make no more fuss about it.  Prisoners ain’t ever without rats.  There ain’t no instance of it.  And they train them, and pet them and learn them tricks and they get to be sociable as flies.  But you got to play music to them.  You got anything to play music on?”.

 

And Jim is good tempered and allows Tom to try out all his ideal prison escape ideas on him.

Another thing I loved about Huck Finn is I felt Mark Twain was giving us a glimpse into the actual society during this time.  The characters that Huck and Jim run into all seem to come from types of people that were really around at that time.  Not Twain thinly fictionalizing people he knew, but more instances, tales and people he met around over the years.  I felt like that was another theme of the book actually.

Really, people that want to ban this book should listen to what the author himself has to say as the very first part of the edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says;

“NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.  By ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance”

That more than anything suggests to me that Twain might have been just mainly telling a story in his head and not trying to write an allegorical tale about the evils of society at his time.

 

Grimms Fairy Tales Continued

I know, technically today is supposed to be Dave’s book, but as I was unable to complete my task of reading the fairy tales last week, I am continuing for this week.

So, last week, I know I promised to tell you the tales that Disney didn’t want you to know, but there were really no other Disney tales left, only Rapunzel was left.  As some of you may know, a few years ago the movie Tangled came out, which was a retelling of the Rapunzel story.  The woman that kept Rapunzel locked up was painted as a  selfish, vain woman who wickedly keeps Rapunzel to herself, lying etc etc.  In the original, Rapunzel’s parents are not kings and queens as in Tangled, but just simple folk.  They live next door to a witch, who grows a garden behind her wall.  The pregnant woman, gazing into the garden, sees rapunzel (a type of plant) and desires and craves it so much and will die without it.  Her husband sneaks in and steals some.  The wife eats it and then craves it again.  When the husband sneaks back in to steal more, the witch catches him.  She agrees to give him the rapunzel but only if she can have the child if it’s a girl.  It is a girl, the witch takes her, and to keep her safe from the world puts her in the tower.  Years pass, and a prince going by hears her singing (Rapunzel not the witch) and figures out how to climb her hair.  They fall in love and he comes in the night since the witch comes during the day.  Here’s where the story has a couple of different versions before Disney changed it more…in one, Rapunzel complains about her dress getting tight and the witch realizes she is pregnant.  In the other, she says something one day about how the prince gets up there so quick and the witch so slow.  The witch then casts her out to wander the world, and cuts her hair.  She lures the prince up and shoves him out the window, where he pokes out his eyes with brambles and is blind.  Then Rapunzel & he find one another and her tears give his sight back and she had twins during the interim.  Cue the happily live ever after.

I think it is interesting how stories do change over the years, as evidenced by the cleaning up of the too tight dress to the remark about climbing speed.  In Grimms, many stories have same elements, some having the same character with similiar events, but still fairly different.  I assume it’s because over the years different regions developed the same story different.  I like to imagine someone moving from one village or town to another, then telling the tale and as the decades pass the tale changes, thereby creating two very different tales.
Three of the major types I found as I read through them were the animal ones, where animals were all the main characters or where the animals are the ones that save the hero or heroine (the human is often kind to an animal and then later given a heroic quest that must be achieved to either win the princess or to keep their life) and the animal returns to assist.  These ones also follow into the next subset, the hero quest stories, which the hero, usually some young guy who doesn’t want to be at home anymore, wanders off, and hearing of a task a king has set for anyone to achieve and marry his daughter, goes and takes the task.  They complete the task, but the king actually doesn’t want said commoner to marry his precious daughter so continues to give tasks.  The clever lad completes all and wins the girl.  There are also the ones where the girl is the clever one.  Another set is the one where one girl or one boy is unselfish and giving and because of that gains untold riches and gifts.   Their sister, friend, brother, father or mother are not unselfish and attempt to obtain the same riches, only to be killed, forced to have frogs fall out of their mouth every word they say or their eyes pecked out (the Germans must have been very afraid of eyes being pecked out).  There was also the religious category where tales sprang up around the apostles, God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  They were often morality tales.

As I was reading through, I often felt like I was listening to someone tell a tale.  Like getting a whiff of old campfire smoke or old fireplace smoke, I seemed to get a whiff of the old times, where there was no tv and these tales were the tv of the night.  Or the tv of the day while people did their work.  That right there made it worth my time to read them all, I felt a sense of history.  However, they are also entertaining.

I read my two favorites from when I was little, that I had forgotten until I read them again.  One is Rose Red and Snow White, in which two beautiful daughters of a simple woman are close as close can be.  There is such a playful humor to the tale that I think that is partly what captivated me as a child.  I still loved it when I reread it.  The other one was Six Swans (which I could find nowhere to link to for it), which shows a youngest sister of 6 brothers sacrificing her voice and her ability to defend herself for six years, until such a time as she was about to be burnt alive and the years ended and she was able to defend herself.  It is a lyrical almost haunting tale to me.  I recommend if you have a copy of them look this one up.

I would definitely recommend to anyone reading this, irregardless of whether they have children or not.  But these also would make a great gift for a young child, girl or boy above the age of 6 (it’s not illustrated so with whatever reading skill they are at).

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!

 

 

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.