Category Archives: Literature

Those books that you probably had to read for English class at some point

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I just noticed I tend to read a lot of books that were movies first or movies now. I suppose it’s my mixed obsession with cinema and literature–the two go together forever and forever and shall not be divided now.

Princess Bride is one of those unexpected books. William Goldman is, among writey-things; a screenwriter, playwright, and a fantastic novel scribbler. From the  beginning, where he tells you how his father read him The Princess Bride when he was ten and how he thinks that the book is a lesson about the unfairness of life, to the end, where he lets the whole thing close on a down note with Westley and Buttercup quarreling and the Prince pursuing them for the rest of their lives – Goldman delivers a really wonderful fairy tale of humor and irony.

Everyone has seen the movie. Everyone over the age of 25 anyway. We all know Miracle Max and Inigo’s famous catchphrase (which I will not even repeat here since its been worn to death) but the book has the happy extras that the movie doesn’t. It tells you about Inigo’s childhood, and his father’s unfair death at the hands of the six fingered man, and how he trains to become the best swordsman in the world…which then makes him depressed when he can’t find the six-fingered man to kill him…and then makes him bored being the best swordsman in the world, so he becomes a drunk.

Philosophical thought; Perhaps all drunks are just really the best something or other in their worlds, seeking revenge for old hurts and worn out by it

The book gives you the history and the motivations of each character; Fezzik’s strength, Vizzini’s brains, Miracle Max’s disgrace, Buttercup’s parents who constantly quarrel, and the King’s mumbling. There are scenes in the book, like the Zoo of Death and a lot of stuff concerning the Dread Pirate Roberts, which are fan-nnn-tastic, but not in the movie. That alone makes it worth reading.

It reminds me a lot of The Last Unicorn. Unicorn is written with tongue -in-cheek and so is Bride; a satirical fairy-tale. There are references to modern-day things, even though the whole thing is set in Renaissance-era. Goldman’s introduction is fictional. His creation of the fictional author S. Morgenstern is a literary device to add a layer to the novel. He uses the name again to write a second novel called The Silent Gondoliers (which I haven’t read yet, but looks interesting) None of the autobiographical stuff in the book is strictly true, although there is that overlay of truth mixed into it.

So basically the book begins with a list of the most beautiful women in the world. One by one, they all drop off and Buttercup, who starts out as barely in the running, grows and improves daily, until she falls in love with the farm boy, Westley, and it skyrockets her into the top five. When he goes to seek his fortune, he is captured by pirates and Buttercup (and I love this) speculates about how he may have been killed, then goes into her room and shuts the door. A month later she comes out and, because of sorrow, is now the most beautiful woman in the world. But she doesn’t give a damn.

The prince Humperdink tells her she will marry him and she asks him to kill her instead, but he doesn’t. Instead he explains that he needs a gorgeous wife to improve his social status and popularity and she will do nicely. He doesn’t care whether she loves him or not. So she agrees.

The prince cleverly plots to make the people love Buttercup, and then have her kidnapped and murdered, inciting war with the neighboring country- because the Prince is fond of two things; war and hunting.

Enter the trio of the giant, Spaniard and the dwarf, who kidnap Buttercup. Enter Westley, disguised as the Man in Black, and pretending to be the Dread Pirate Roberts. The rest of the book follows pretty much as the movie suggests. There’s a great more detail about Miracle Max, and why he got fired, and how pissed he is about it. There is a lot of interjections by William Goldman and ‘S. Morgernstern’ to explain things or comment on a particular passage.

At one point, there is even the suggestion that the reader write the publishers a letter and ask for the ‘love scene’ between Buttercup and Westley when they reunite. William Goldman explains that ‘S. Morgernstern’ declined to write a love scene because he thought people – even characters in a book – deserve their privacy. So Goldman wrote one, but his publishers argued that he couldn’t go around sticking his own words into a book written by someone else. I did a little research to see if I could find some info on the website http://www.princessbridebook.com and, sure enough, here is what you get when you put in your email address:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for sending in and no, this is not the reunion scene, because of a certain roadblock named Kermit Shog.

As soon as bound books were ready, I got a call from my lawyer, Charley–(you may not remember, but Charley’s the one I called from California to go down in the blizzard and buy The Princess Bride from the used-book dealer). Anyway, he usually begins with Talmudic humor, wisdom jokes, only this time he just says “Bill, I think you better get down here,” and before I’m even allowed to say a ‘why?’ he adds, “Right away if you can.”

Panicked, I zoom down, wondering who could have died, did I flunk my tax audit, what? His secretary lets me into his office and Charley says, “This is Mr. Shog, Bill.”

And there he is, sitting in the corner, hands on his briefcase, looking exactly like an oily version of Peter Lorre. I really expected him to say, “Give me the Falcon, you must, or I’ll be forced to keeel you.”

“Mr. Shog is a lawyer,” Charley goes on. And this next was said underlined: “He represents the Morgenstern estate.”

Who knew? Who could have dreamed such a thing existed, an estate of a man dead at least a million years that no one ever heard of over here anyway?

“Perhaps you will give me the Falcon now,” Mr. Shog said. That’s not true.

What he said was, “Perhaps you will like a few words with your client alone now,” and Charley nodded and out he went and once he was gone I said, “Charley, my God, I never figured–” and he said, “Did Harcourt?” and I said, “Not that they ever mentioned” and he said, “Ooch,” the grunting sound lawyers make when they know they’ve backed a loser.

“What does he want?” I said.

“A meeting with Mr. Jovanovich,” Charley answered.

Now, William Jovanovich is a pretty busy fella, but it’s amazing when you’re confronted with a potential multibillion-dollar lawsuit how fast you can wedge in a meeting. We trooped over.

All the Harcourt Brass was there, I’m there, Charley; Mr. Shog, who would sweat in an igloo he’s so swarthy, is streaming.

Harcourt’s lawyer started things: “We’re terribly terribly sorry, Mr. Shog. It’s an unforgivable oversight, and please accept our sincerest apologies.”

Mr. Shog said, “That’s a beginning, since all you did was defame and ridicule the greatest modern master of Florinese prose who also happened to be for many years a friend of my family.”

Then the business head of Harcourt said, “All right, how much do you want?”

Biiiig mistake.

“Money?” Mr. Shog cried. “You think this is petty blackmail that brings us together? Resurrection is the issue, sir. Morgenstern must be undefiled. You will publish the original version.” And now a look at me. “In the unabridged form.”

I said, “I’m done with it, I swear. True, there’s just the reunion scene business we printed up, but there’s not liable to be a rush on that, so it’s all past as far as I’m concerned.”

But Mr. Shog wasn’t done with me: “You, who dared to defame a master’s characters are now going to put your words in their mouths? Nossir. No, I say.”

“It’s just a little thing,” I tried; “a couple pages only.”

Then Mr. Jovanovich started talking softly. “Bill, I think we might skip sending out the reunion scene just now, don’t you think?” I made a nod.

Then he turned to Mr. Shog. “We’ll print the unabridged. You’re a man who is interested in immortality for his client, and there aren’t as many of you around in publishing as there used to be. You’re a gentleman, sir.”

“Thank you,” from Mr. Shog; “I like to think I am, at least on occasion.”

For the first time, he smiled. We all smiled. Very buddy-buddy now.

Then, an addendum from Mr. Shog: “Oh, yes. Your first printing of the unabridged will be 100,000 copies.”

* * * *

So far, there are thirteen lawsuits, only eleven involving me directly. Charley promises nothing will come to court and that eventually Harcourt will publish the unabridged. But legal maneuvering takes time. The copyright on Morgenstern runs out in early ’78, and all of you who wrote in are having your names put alphabetically on computer, so whichever happens first, the settlement or the year, you’ll get your copy.

The last I was told, Kermit Shog was willing to come down on his first printing provided Harcourt agreed to publish the sequel to The Princess Bride, which hasn’t been translated into English yet, much less published here. The title of the sequel is: Buttercup’s Baby: S. Morgenstern’s Glorious Examination of Courage Matched Against the Death of the Heart.

I’d never heard of it, naturally, but there’s a Ph.D. candidate in Florinese Lit up at Columbia who’s going through it now. I’m kind of interested in what he has to say.

–William Goldman

P.S.

I’m really sorry about this, but you know the story that ends, “disregard previous wire, letter follows?” Well, you’ve got to disregard the business about the Morgenstern copyright running out in ’78. That was a definite boo-boo but Mr. Shog, being Florinese, has trouble, naturally, with our numbering system. The copyright runs out in ’87, not ’78.

Worse, he died. Mr. Shog I mean. (Don’t ask how could you tell. It was easy. One morning he just stopped sweating, so there it was.) What makes it worse is that the whole affair is now in the hands of his kid, named–wait for it–Mandrake Shog. Mandrake moves with all the verve and speed of a lizard flaked out on a riverbank.

The only good thing that’s happened in this whole mess is I finally got a shot at reading Buttercup’s Baby. Up at Columbia they feel it’s definitely superior to The Princess Bride in satirical content. Personally, I don’t have the emotional attachment to it, but it’s a helluva story, no question.

Give it a look-see when you have a chance.

–August, 1978

P.P.S.

This is getting humiliating. Have you been reading in the papers about the trade problems America is having with Japan? Well, maddening as this may be, since it reflects on the reunion scene, we’re also having trade problems with Florin, which, it turns out, is our leading supplier of Cadminium, which, it also turns out, NASA is panting for.

So all Florinese-American litigation, which includes the thirteen law suits, has officially been put on hold.

What this means is that the reunion scene, for now, is caught between our need for Cadminium and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

But at least the movie got made. Mandrake Shog was shown it, and word reached me he even smiled once or twice. Hope springs eternal.

–May, 1987

* * * *

Use of this excerpt from _The Princess Bride_ by William Goldman may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1973, 1998, 2003 by William Goldman. All Rights Reserved.

So there you have it. A sample of his writing and saucy imagination. Now go read the book.

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Filed under Children, Fantasy, Literature

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

“A mortal who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes invisible permanently…”

~Tolkien

These books of mine are worn to tatters. Of course, since the movies came out, everybody knows the story, but for me, I am of the superior group that discovered Tolkien long before Peter Jackson took hold of the books and gave them his vision. Not saying anything about his vision; which was very good and reasonably true to the story, but I read these over and over from the time I was eleven and Tolkien’s initials are tattooed on my back mainly because I consider him a genius and I enjoy having geniuses initials tattooed on my person.

In other words, I love him best, but not for reasons you might think.

His writing style is ver’ ver’ British, of course. He hems and hahs his way through the story using lengthy dialogue and even lengthier description. Modern audiences usually find him a trifle dull. Truthfully, Fellowship is the dullest book of the series. Not a lot of action goes down for the first 300 or so pages, but it sets up the story so we know whats going on after Bilbo takes off and Gandalf discovers the true nature of the Ring and Gollum’s history.

I really like it when Tolkien is describing the subtle changes that are slowly touching on the Shire. Strangers are passing through, Elves are leaving Middle-Earth, all the evil creatures are gathering, and Mordor is rising from the ashes.

This is why I love Tolkien. He is king of tension and drama. Fellowship is the book which gave the movie all of its best lines. I wish it need not have happened in my time, says Frodo and, I will take the ring, though I do not know the way. Every time I read this book I am quite abruptly transported to a true master storyteller’s world. I do not use that phrase lightly. Master. Storyteller.

Before Tolkien, I’m not sure there really were master storytellers who could invent a story, base it cleverly in mythology, and then spend the rest of their life perfecting it. John Ronald did spend most of his life creating Middle Earth and telling himself, then us, its history and legends. Are there writers like this any more? In our world of NYT’s cheap bestsellers and so much fantasy fiction that just seems over-dramatic, clapped together without much thought, and fails to touch us — to send us — in any way.

I don’t read much fantasy fiction, which some of you might find surprising. But the snobbish truth is because I find so much of it lacking. Tolkien was Master, the others that came after him could never emulate him, no matter what the publicists say. There are others, sure, like Robin McKinley and Gregory McGuire, who re-work fairy-tales and blow everyone out of the water with their originality and wonderful language. And I love them. I do. I love Robin McKinley’s books so much it amounts to an obsession. But not in the same way. I admire a lot of different kinds of writers, but let’s just say that what I have read after JRR, when it comes to a stab at epic fantasy, I might enjoy on a surface level, but I would never get the author’s initials tattooed on me.  We’ll leave it there.

My favorite legend of Tolkien goes as follows:

Tolkien spent most of his life putting the story of Beren and Luthien into different forms. The story goes that Beren is a mortal man who falls in love with Luthien, an elf-maiden. Her father disapproves and sends Beren on some impossible tasks. After many difficulties, the two lovers are united and live out their lives as mortal.

Tolkien made it into an epic poem that he never finished. He wrote the story of it into the Lord of the Rings. It was the central part to his life; he based it on many things; Welsh legend and Norse mythology, and his own love story.

Tolkien and his wife’s headstones read as follows:

Edith Mary Tolkien, Luthien, 1889-1971
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973

I suppose, when I think of Tolkien as a genius, and when I worship him as a master storyteller, it’s really the idea of him having such a place to write from; a story that grew and developed until it consumed his world and he became it. It’s what separates him from other writers. I know that fantasy writers tend to half-live their works. It is necessary to spend some time in your dream world, so that you can translate it for the people who dont speak the language. Tolkien had a passion for his world that carried over into this one. That’s why he’s great. That’s why he speaks to us, decade after decade. It’s why I class him as the Master, like his Tom Bombadil; Master of wood and water, but JRR Tolkien was Master of the Imagination and the Pen.

“Just say it,” said Spencer Tracy to a young actor: “Just SAY the words.” In other words, don’t say the lines-say the sentences. It was the key to his acting. Tracy was considered one of the finest actors of all time because he understood the crucial thing about acting…and not only understood it, but could do it as well; Speak the lines as if you thought them first. As if the lines were your words and no one else’s.

Tolkien is kind of like that, with his writing. He just tells the story. Just tells it, as if he knew it, before he knew anything else; as if it were imprinted on his heart.

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Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Everyone remembers the movie where Bambi’s mother dies. Cute little deer who mumbles ‘Bird’ and hangs out with an adorable rabbit. His mother is his whole world and then Bang!

She never comes back. Poor Bambi wanders around alone for the rest of his life. Leaving every kid slightly traumatized and all us grown-up kids kinda’ uneasy when they re-released this movie recently on DVD. (Do we really like this movie? I mean come on, no, not really.)

But I like the book. Maybe because it is written for a grown-up audience. I particularly love Felix Salten’s name. I don’t know why. Salt-en. Fe-lix. Like salt-lick…and salt-licks attract deer…for hunters to shoot, which, again, is not what this book is really about.

There is that element, of course, as with every book about animals living in the wild, but for the most part, the book is simply a compelling look at life from an animal’s perspective.

There is the overall theme of man vs. nature: man is literally the smoking demon in this book. He reeks of death and terror. The deer smell him and are frozen in horror. Man is portrayed as the enemy, the hunter, the savior, and the master of all.

Until another hunter shoots him, then he is just another victim like everyone else.

That, my friend, is the key to the story. Who is the Grand Master of us all? Salten seems to be indicating that it is Mother Nature and Her Scheme of Things.

Salten is taking a look at the circle of life in this book. He is getting his readers to examine stuff like: growing up, differences, survival, changing seasons, death and isolation. Through his simple portrayal of the woods in cruel winters and gentle springs, in harsh storms, and drowsy summers, Salten is able to successfully create complex moods and emotional response to his animal characters.

I think that my favorite part was always the chattering blue-jay and magpies. I liked the way they scream and fight over nests and trees. Salten’s gift is giving voice and interpretation to the natural habits of birds and animals. Salten gives a human-voiced explanation for whatever the animals do or whatever takes place in the woods; from the way the deer step carefully out onto a meadow only at certain times of the day, to two leaves, turning yellow in the fall and discussing how ugly and old they have grown.

As an educator, I could and will do a lot with this book. I could easily use this in several ways to discuss the environment, differences and prejudice, death, life-cycles, animal life etc etc. The possibilities are endless. Not only that, but its exceptionally well-written with a Hemingway style to it.

Plus, maybe if I use it in the classroom, the new generation being introduced to Disney’s Bambi won’t be quite so traumatized as we were.

Instead, my students will confidently say: Oh, yes, his mother dies, but she has to die, you see, so that Bambi can hang out with his father and become wise and grown up. Also, her death has a larger indication of man versus nature, particularly compelling when looked at from a the view of the animal.

Middle schoolers being so articulate and all.  :/

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Fascinating, smouldering, dark gypsy, orphaned, Heathcliff who only has Cathy to love him. From the second he is brought to Wuthering Heights, the audience gives him their complete and total sympathy.

Well. At least I did.

Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights as the adopted stray of Mr. Earnshaw, and immediately he is singled out as unmanageable, resentful, foreign (which is a bad thing…in 19th century England), and, what the 21rst century might call, ‘in need of anti-psychotic drugs.’

Alas, Heathcliff does not have the access to the meds he might have had had he been born 160 years later, so he goes along, getting more and more unruly and wild. Of course, he is very badly treated by the son of the house, who sees him as a threat. (I always rage silently at Hindley for being a little jerk in general and feel secretly glad when Heathcliff gets revenge on him later.)

The story begins with the new tenant, Lockwood, who’s living at Thrushcross Grange – great names for houses in this here book – wandering over to Wuthering Heights for a friendly chat with his new landlord. What he finds is a very, very dysfunctional and unhappy family living there and nobody seems at all enthused over his visit. The ruling master of the house is Mr. Heathcliff; all scary anger and disdain and a tad crazy. He scares our new tenant, but, trapped by a snowstorm, poor Lockwood has to spend the night.

This part always creeps me out completely and I can’t read it if it’s nighttime. Shudder. I can barely write about it right now, cause it’s dark. So Mr. Lockwood falls asleep in this old, dusty room and in the middle of the night he hears tapping on the window. Thinking its a branch, he opens the window and finds his hand grasped by an icy cold hand. He hears a woman crying and pleading to let her in and, terrified, he drags the hand across some broken glass to get free of it. It lets go and right then Heathcliff rushes in and demands to know what Mr. Lockwood is doing in that room.

(Shudder, shudder. I can’t handle it. But that says something about a novel doesn’t it? I mean, if a passage like that can scare the bejeezus out of you 160 years after it was written…that’s some damn good writing. Ugh…ok…disembodied hands aside.)

Lockwood stumbles home and the housekeeper, who used to be the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, tells him the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, which turns out to be one of the greatest love stories you will ever read.

Heathcliff loves Cathy, and the two grow up together. Then Cathy becomes a teenager and starts feeling a little snobbish about Heathcliff being the adopted boy, and a little resistant to the fact that he’s so into her. Woman-like, she can’t decide if she wants to carry on as she is, wild and childish, or grow up and become a lady.

In this mood, she gets carried away by the neighbor boy’s attention. Edgar Linton is all well-mannered and refined and everything Cathy envies. Her home is disorderly and chaotic, while his is peaceful and respectable. She flirts with him, and when he proposes, she accepts.

But she still feels like it isn’t quite right – and the best scene in the whole book happens- where she talks about how her love for Linton is like “the foliage in the woods; time will change it” and her love for Heathcliff is like “the eternal rocks beneath; a source of little visible delight, but necessary.’

Heathcliff, who is eavesdropping, only hears her say she could never marry him; that to marry him would degrade her even though, “he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is a different as moonbeam from lightning,or frost from fire.” (He doesn’t hear this last bit, even she says it right after the degrading part…like, without a pause for breath…and I always picture Heathcliff plugging his ears and running away…even though he just gets up and calmly leaves the room.)

He takes off for new horizons. Cathy is horrified that she drove him away, but she marries Linton anyway and moves to Thrushcross Grange. The years roll by and Heathcliff comes back. He’s now wealthy, educated, well-traveled, and bound and determined to get revenge on everyone who was ever nasty to him – including Cathy – even though he’s still mad about her.

Literally.

He marries Linton’s sister, then basically ruins her life by being horrible to her. He tortures his old enemy, Hindley, who’s now a drunk and a gambler. He lurks round Cathy’s house and marriage and does his best to disrupt them both.

But for all this, you can’t help but admire him. I mean, it’s revenge in its most enraged and vicious form.

Then Cathy dies – of some unknown cause – which always bothered me slightly…I think she’s supposed to be dying of a broken heart because Heathcliff married her sister-in-law, but maybe it’s consumption.

When Heathcliff finds out she’s dead he gives the best speech ever written in any love story ever.

“And I pray one prayer – and I repeat it ’til my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you – haunt me then!  Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God, it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

Then he bangs his head on a tree until he bleeds.

It’s wicked awesome.

So we have our tale. Heathcliff grows older and gets more bitter and nuts while Cathy lurks around as a ghost…just like he told her to do.

This novel is the perfect gothic horror novel; all dark and windy, lonely moors and passion and ghosts and drama all over the place. It’s startling when you think that it was written by 29 yr old Emily Bronte, who had had so little exposure to the outside world. She and her sisters were reclusive (putting it mildly) and essentially they only knew anything about the world through their reading. Emily died before her only novel was fully credited for the genius work it is.

“Stronger than a man,” wrote her sister Charlotte, “simpler than a child. Her nature stood alone.”

Sort of like Heathcliff.

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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The story of King Arthur, but with a twist. The story is told – at long last – from the woman’s point of view. All I can say about that is, it was about time.

The book is huge. I once had it open on the bar and a bar patron came over, leaned his nose close to the page for a moment or two, looked up at me, squinting, and said seriously: “Is that the Bible?”

It is not. But it does cover three generations. Morgan Le Fay(really named Morgaine) the bad girl of the Arthur legend, is our heroine. As she navigates her way from child to woman to High Priestess of the Holy Isle of Avalon, she tells the story of King Arthur and his knights from her perspective. The story is one of a King put on a throne by the scheming of Avalon. In Avalon, they worship the Goddess, but in Christian Britain, the gradual spread of the worship of only one God is seen as a threat.

The Merlin (he’s always called ‘THE Merlin”, not “Merlin”, because apparently, Merlin is the name for the High Druid of Avalon. There’s a High Druid and a High Priestess. Got it? Good.) So the Merlin and the High Priestess, Viviane, arrange for Ingraine (mother of Morgaine) to meet Urther Pendragon and the two of them get together and create Arthur; daughter of the Holy Isle and the King of Britain bearing a child to rule both lands equally…that’s the idea. And a fine idea it is, until the fates take a hand and everything goes terribly caterwampus.  I think what the real key of the book might be is that Ingraine’s first marriage is something of a mistake, and therefore Morgaine is sort of the bane of the story. If she hadn’t been born, Arthur would not have become the legend he turned into. He would have been beloved and all that, but probably just died of old age, with no complications about religious principles. So focusing on Morgaine, you really see why the story went the way it did.

But Ingraine did get married at fifteen to the Duke of Cornwall, and as a result, Morgaine is Arthur’s half-sister and eventual prime foe in the matter of the Christian God versus the Goddess. It all kicks into gear whenViviane comes to Ingraine and Arthur’s court and discovers that Morgaine has the Sight…the old Scotland second sight….and she takes Morgaine back to Avalon to start training her to eventually become High Priestess. Arthur is put in the care of a foster family, to protect him from unsavory people after the throne, and the sister and brother don’t see each other for years.

It’s in Avalon where you learn that the road to being a priestess is not particularly fun, but all in all, it’s better than being married or in an convent. (The only two options for women in those days) Morgaine learns all about the Mysteries, gets painted with a half moon on her forehead, and just when she’s feeling secure about her future as Lady of the Lake, she meets Lancelot, Viviane’s son, and falls in love with him.

All the women fall in love with Lancelot. It’s like bowling pins dropping, one after the other. But here’s the rub, Lancelot is two things: He’s a warrior, first and foremost, and has no desire to settle down and have kids, and he’s sexually confused. Although he runs off with Guinevere – ASIDE: She’s a pill. She’s the most annoying character in the whole book and you basically want to sock her about every other chapter. All she does is pray, cry, and have miscarriages. She’s a shut-in. She’s afraid of everything. She has absolutely no spine. She gets kidnapped and raped and even that is boring. She’s so freakin’ useless. Basically, she’s just in the way from start to finish and you keep rooting for her to just resign being Queen and go join a nunnery or something. But she waits until she’s ruined everything, and then she goes off to her convent. Ironically, this is when you really start to like her – when she has gained some life experience and finally starts questioning some of her neurotic beliefs. The most frustrating thing about it is that it’s not even her fault she hangs around ruining everything. She’s a pawn in the story, along with the rest of the helpless females.

What was I saying? Oh yes, Lancelot. He does run off with Guinevere, but just ’cause by that time, he’s forced to (the two get caught in bed and it’s either stay and be hanged or run away) but all along, his one true love is Arthur – his besty. So he’s gorgeous and perfect and all that, and he breaks hearts right and left, but deep down he’s all conflicted because he’s gay gay gay.

So begins the long, lurid tale of sex, kings, religion, paganism, and more sex.

Unknowingly, Morgaine is given to the Beltane fires…a ritualistic ceremony where she plays goddess to some guy they are crowning King…they had a lot of little Kings in England, so she didn’t think much about it. Plus she hadn’t been out of Avalon in like, ten years. To her intense horror (and the reader’s) in the morning she discovers she has slept with her own little brother, Arthur.

Viviane tells her its all good and somehow rationalizes it like, “He’s your HALF-brother, and you were the GODDESS,” or some crap like that, but Morgaine is at first furious at being a pawn in Viviane’s plan, and then traumatized to find herself pregnant. This is what Viviane was hoping for… to create a royal bloodline from the two of them to eventually rule England. Creepy. But true. But Morgaine won’t have it. She leaves Avalon and goes to live with her Aunt Morgause in the North Country. While she’s there she has the baby, a boy, and then, feeling conflicted about the fact that he is both her son and her nephew, she leaves him to her Aunt’s care and goes off see what her brother is doing as the new King of England.

Bradley took ten years to write this book. Her research on early Britain is astounding. All of it is historically accurate. Well, the Roman, Saxon, Britain bits, anyway. She mixes in the legend of King Arthur, and old Welsh legends, and expands on it. Brilliant woman. Brilliant writer!

The novel touches on the depths of belief. In the end it asks: How much of what we believe is subjective to our own experience? The answer, of course, is like all answers to that question: It is subjective to our own experience.

Basically Morgaine spends her whole life fighting for the equal representation of the Goddess alongside the Christianity that is overflowing Britain. Many of her allies end up quietly giving up, as Christianity shows no signs of receding. Essentially its the story of ‘the times they are a’ changin'” and most people are willing to change with it, but Morgaine is a Priestess and its her personal job to make sure her belief system doesn’t die out, and that Avalon doesn’t fade into the mists. In the end, she does not really achieve what she hoped, but she realizes that it doesn’t matter too much. The Goddess will exist whether people believe in her or not.

I really admire the way Bradley leaves you doubting that any of the rituals, mysteries, and God(s) or Goddess(s) are even worth all the struggle and fight that the main characters go through. If it weren’t for her beliefs, Morgaine would not have followed the path she did; running off because she’s pissed at Viviane. Leaving her baby son with that unscrupulous Morgause, and spending all her time trying to fit in at court. If it weren’t for the conflict of paganism and Christianity, Arthur would not have followed his path; trying to please everyone, refusing to put aside his barren wife, etc. etc.

The whole time, while you are reading, you want to tell them all to just get over it already and give it up. (And put that stupid Guinevere in a convent already!) But I suppose that’s why I like the book so much. It sucks you in and makes you feel like you are really a part of the story. I mean, if the characters infuriate you and you want to sit them all down and say “Hey, why all the fuss about this? Don’t you get that it all ends up becoming a myth anyway?” that’s the sign of an excellent novel.

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Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Do I recommend you read this book? Yes and no.

It is not a book for the easily distracted, the person who gets bored by wordiness, the one who needs ” ” to enclose dialogue, or the person who reads fast (i.e. me)

It is also a movie with Jude Law…and that movie is really good and does the book justice – for once.

But despite all of the above I have to praise this novel because I’d be a damn fool if I didn’t. The book is startling in it’s complexity and unusual writing style. It is unlike anything I have ever read.

Actually, that isn’t true. It sort of reminded me of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. Or both. When VW wrote her first novel, everyone freaked out because she was writing in a way that no one had ever thought of before. I think the same thing happened when Joyce wrote Ulysses. No could make heads or tales of Ulysses. For all you less than literate types, it was based on Homer’s Odyssey.

Charles Frazier was certainly drawing parallels between Ulysses/Odyssey and Cold Mountain. The story alone makes that obvious.  But, and this is only in my opinion, while I think he was imitating JJ and VW’s writing styles when he wrote Cold Mountain, he wasn’t copying exactly, so Frazier’s book definitely has the flavor of uniqueness about it.

It’s a gorgeous book set in the middle of the Civil War. It follows Inman, a disillusioned soldier marching across North Carolina, hellbent on getting home to Ada, his pre-war sweetheart who he has not seen in three years. Meanwhile, left alone, Ada, a society girl who hasn’t any idea how to take care of herself in the backwoods of Cold Mountain, is struggling to learn how to farm and hunt and stuff like that.

The two make their way towards each other as the story unfolds; Inman by hoofing it back to her and Ada by learning how to make it on her own. The characters they gather around them are colorful and fascinating. This is where the Odyssey really stands out. Each character has a special purpose to Inman, enabling him to keep traveling homeward. As for Ada, the characters in her world are there to keep her from collapsing in loneliness and grief. They teach her how to take care of herself, allowing her to grow as a woman and a survivor.

Reading the book is a rich experience. The descriptions are enthralling and the storyline takes a variety of twists and turns. If you’ve seen the movie, then you know how it ends.

So yes. The book is a difficult read because of its style. If you can’t get through it, I wouldn’t blame you. I had to sl-o-ooo-w way down to read this book. I also had to read it someplace where I could really focus. But if you pick it up and give it a try, at least struggle through the first three chapters. The first three are the most dense. After that, I swear it gets easier and more interesting.

And yes again. The book is totally worth the time and energy. It really is unlike anything else I have ever come across. It really is the most gorgeous writing. Some of Frazier’s lines are just sheer magic.Below is a sample of one of my favorite parts. Ada is remembering she and Inman’s goodbye before he went off to war.

Excerpt:

Ada lacked experience in having her apologies rejected, and her first thought was to turn and walk down the steps and put Inman forever behind her. But what she said was, We might never speak again, and I don’t plan to leave that comment standing in place of the truth. You’re not owning up to it, but you came with expectations and they were not realized. Largely because I behaved contrary to my heart. I’m sorry for that. And I would do it differently if given the chance to go back and revise.

-That’s not a thing any of us are granted. To go back. Wipe away what later doesn’t suit us and make it the way we wish it. You just go on.

Inman still stood with his arms crossed and Ada reached out and touched where his shirt cuff came out from his coat sleeve. She held the cuff between finger and thumb and pulled until she unlocked his arms. She touched the back of his hand, tracing with one finger the curving course of a vein from knuckle to wrist. Then she took his wrist and squeezed it hard, and the feel of him in her hand made her wonder what the rest of him would be like.

~pg 203

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100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

“I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, or topaz,

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”


His most famous Sonnet XVII, and the one that most people recognize.  South American poet, Pablo Neruda, wrote these sonnets and dedicated them all to his wife, Matilde Urrutia de Neruda . Although Neruda was known for his political poems in the 1960’s and gained popularity among North Americans for this reason, his sonnets are the poems I like best.

For me, sonnets explore human passion, and the style of them is simple and direct. The standard definition of a sonnet is a poem made up of fourteen lines written to express emotion or contemplative thoughts. I prefer sonnets to any other kind of poetry.

Neruda’s sonnets are beautiful. He talks about lightning, wood, water, sea, fire – always comparing his wife – her skin, her eyes, her hands, their love for each other, to the earth and earth’s elements. His wife is his universe, and I am not sure there has been a muse more celebrated in modern-day poetry.

Cien Sonetos de Amor is divided into four sections; Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night. Neruda uses each section to describe a bit of Matilde.

Heres the rest of Sonnet XVII

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
So I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

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