The Lord of the Rings

33.jpgThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: ★★★★★ // nothing compares. 

Opening Line: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

Review:

This summer my book club took on The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to re-read my favorite book series of all time. I think this was my second time reading the whole thing, I have read the first book maybe four times, and the second a few times, but for the whole series one after the other, this was the second time, and I have to say it was amazing.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

There are so many reasons why I love this series: the characters, the plot, the setting, the mythology, the chivalry, the good vs. evil battles…seriously I could go on for so long, but I’m not going to spend time talking about the character or plot because everyone knows those things, and it would be way too long of a blog post. What I want to talk about first is the historical world of Middle Earth, and second I want to quickly talk about a neat writing trick Tolkien used.

The world of Middle Earth has such an extensive history and documentation that when you are reading it and when you read other books by Tolkien, it is really easy to forget that this is not true story. I know this is extremely nerdy to say, but I’m a nerd so here it goes, when I read The Lord of the Rings, I have such a hard time believing this world didn’t actually exist somewhere, somehow, and this is solely because of the genius that is J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

– J.R.R. Tolkien

One thing that stuck out to me when I was rereading this trilogy was all of the implied history and tales that were told throughout the book–they almost take up as many pages as the plot does. I can’t think of many books where the backstory takes up so much space and is treated as important as it is in this book. So why did Tolkien do this? My theory is that he wanted to show us that this story, the story of the Fellowship and the destruction of the Ring of Power, is only just one story in the world of Middle Earth. I mean, think about it, why would he go through all this trouble to write stories, some of which have no direct impact on the plot? I think it was to show that this one of many stories worth being told.

Now, of course, this was a pretty important story, they saved the world from being controlled by a evil master, and after it took place, it was probably seen as the greatest story, but to the characters at the time of the story, they doubted they would even be remembered in future tales. It was kind of their fantasy to be in a tale as wonderful as the ones they were told as kids. Tolkien reminds us over and over again that this story is not alone, which, in its own way, shows us how important the story is. Hear me out, when reading this, or any, book, and we keep hearing about “the stories of old” within the plot, we start to connect the old great stories to the one we are reading about, making us realize that this story is equal to those, even if the characters do not recognize it to be so.
While many books have fantastic back stories and make you really fall into the world created  with those backstories, there are few that actually have all those physical stories written down like a history book. Tolkien wrote close to 20 separate works on Middle Earth and only 4 of those have anything to do with the Ring of Power. He created a universe, not just a story.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”

The second, and last, thing I wanted to mention about why I love this trilogy so much is that, while it is long and very detailed, it really isn’t confusing and the reader is not constantly questioning what is going on, which is very helpful in a book like this. Sometimes cliff hangers are very important, but in this book they do not play a large role, and this is mainly thanks to Tolkien’s style of almost always telling the story from the point of view of the character who knows the least. For example, when the hobbits are with Aragorn, the view point it from the hobbits perspective because they are the reader in the situation, they are the ones trying to figure out what is happening and so when they learn something, we learn something. This even happens when Gandalf and Aragorn are speaking (arguably the two smartest characters in the fellowship), Aragorn is constantly asking Gandalf to further explain what he is talking about, giving the reader all the information they need to know.

These are just two of the many things I noticed when I re-read this trilogy, but I thought they were very interesting points about how Tolkien wrote and grew the world of Middle-Earth. Tolkien created something that has yet to be matched when it comes to the extensive amount of information and the details of the world. He was truly a genius and I have no doubt that he will never go out of style.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

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Love & Friendship and Lady Susan

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At last, I have found my favorite Jane Austen stories. Ok, I wasn’t really looking very hard, but I found them nonetheless!

I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan, but I also have only read Pride and Prejudice before reading these two beauties. P&P didn’t suite me, and so I kinda stayed away from Austen, assuming (probably incorrectly) that most of her novels are similar. I did resolve to read some of them, and they are high on my TBR, but somehow I keep looking over them to the next book…oops… But now, after reading Love and Friendship and Lady Susan, I am more inclined to pick up some Austen books because these two short works are so fun.

Love and Friendship

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Love and Friendship is a collection of letters written by Jane Austen before the age of 16 (allegedly) for the entertainment of her family. The story unfolds in an exchange of letters and, as was Austen’s intent, seems to poke fun at the traditional romance novel.

This book is hilarious. The women highlighted are absolutely ridiculous, and they are constantly scheming, dramatizing everything, and fainting at every possible moment. Austen’s humor shines much stronger than in her longer novels, because she really goes to lengths to exaggerate every detail of these woman’s lives. If they had a bad day, she makes it the utmost worst day anyone had ever experienced. If someone insulted them, she made it an insult that had embarrassed them so greatly they were forced to faint on the spot…everything is the worst or best.  This, of course, helped show Austen’s point that romantic novels are nothing more than dramatic women making things more dramatic.

The quotes in this book are so so fantastic. For example, her is an excerpt from one of the letters.  Upon having a shock, “Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground – I screamed and instantly ran mad. We remained thus mutually deprived of our senses, some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate situation – Sophia fainting every moment and I running mad as often.”  This, fainting and running mad, is quite a common trend in the book, and every time it happens it’s more comical then the rest.

There were other comments that were just hysterical, e.g.:

“She was a widow and had only one Daughter, who was then just seventeen–One of the best of ages; but alas! she was very plain and her name was Bridget. . . . . Nothing therefore could be expected from her–she could not be supposed to possess either exalted Ideas, Delicate Feelings or refined Sensibilities–.”

Um…what? I actually really like the name Bridget…ok, Austen. It’s comments like this that make the stories ridiculous and therefore hilarious.

Austen is pointing out the flaws of romantic novels, and perhaps writing things like this was her inspiration to fix romance novels in the future.

Without the knowledge that Austen wrote these letters in order to entertain her family and to make fun of romance knowledge, this story would seem annoying and extremely juvenile…it would almost be expected of a 14-year-old to write. However, knowing that Austen was only 14 while writing them, and she did so in order to mock the common way women, love, and friendships are seen in books, makes you realize the true genius of the writing, and how advanced Austen was.

If this story teaches you nothing, or if you thought it was complete rubbish, at least take this from it:

“Beware of fainting-fits. . . Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution.”

 

Lady Susan

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I want to be Lady Susan. Ok, not really, because she is not a good person, but Austen makes her so deliciously bad, you just want to have her confidence and cunning nature…even though she really is bad.

“[Lady Susan] does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.”

This book takes about 2 hours to read (maybe fewer), and it’s really worth the sit down. Plus after you can watch the movie adaptation on Netflix, which is confusingly called Love & Friendship. Why they decided to call the movie the same title as a different Austen book, I do not know, but I do know that the movie is very well made, and it follows the book decently well.

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Ok, so Lady Susan is another book that is told through a series of letters. These letters are much more sophisticated than those written in Love and Friendship, and they tell of a much more sophisticated plot. Lady Susan, our anti-heroine, is a widow who basically goes around flirting with any man she can find, and making the lives of everyone around her miserable. She is a terrible mother, a two-faced friend, and believes toying with the emotions of young men a suitable and enjoyable way to spend the day (ok, she may have a point with that last one..).

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

I don’t want to give the main plot away, because this one really should be read by all Austen fans…it’s so entertaining. The great thing is that with every letter denouncing Lady Susan’s actions, you have two letters from her praising her own actions, and even though you know she is crazy, you find yourself believing her and pitying her, even though she deserves no such pity.

***

Both these stories are just fantastic and so much fun to read. I won’t go on, because I’ll could just ramble on and on about how funny they are, but seriously, if you are a Jane Austen fan or a fan of classic romantic novels, give these two a read; I promise you will be entertained!

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

tragedy-of-hamlet.jpgHamlet by William Shakespeare

Rating: ★★★★★ // so. much. goodness. (and killing). 

Favorite Line: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Review:

Am I allowed to review Shakespeare? I don’t think I am…I’m just a mere peasant, after all. Well, this will be a mini-review then, with limited critiques, mainly because I couldn’t find many things to actually criticize.

Why have I never read Hamlet before? Well, probably because I’m a punk and I assumed it was overrated. Also, I already knew the story, so I figured there wasn’t really a reason for me to read it. As it turns out, there is a reason to read it and the reason is because it’s awesome.

“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.”

Hamlet, for all you other non Hamlet readers, is the Prince of Denmark. The play picks up right after the marriage of his mother to his uncle, which takes place only one month after Hamlet’s father, the King of Denmark, is killed. Hamlet is in a foul mood, for obvious reasons, when he meets the ghost of his father, who tells him he was murdered and must be avenged. This sends Hamlet deeper into madness, and he devises a plan to trap his father’s murderer and take his revenge. He’s also in love with Ophelia.

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

The plot of Hamlet is terrific. While I had known the general plot before reading, it really takes a shape of it’s own, and is much more intricate in the play. Obviously in a play the narrative is the main way of moving the plot along, and the way it is done in this play is brilliant (this is Shakespeare, after all).

I always forget how funny some of Shakespeare’s characters are. Even in a somber mood, he frequently seems to bring in the sarcastic, or at least the witty, friend to lighten the mood, or to bring the character back to his senses. Another thing I really liked about this play is that the wisdom, much of the time, comes from insignificant characters. There is a conversation between two gravediggers, I think in Act III, and they are just laying down solid philosophy the whole time, all while telling riddles and jokes to each other. So here we have a play full of royals and scholars, but some of the most intelligent conversation comes in jest between two gravediggers. It’s a great way for Shakespeare to make his point without making it too obvious.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The quotes alone are worth the read in this one. This is where the “method in the madness” saying comes from, the “be true to yourself” quote pops in there (of course, it’s in rhyme in the play), this is where the famous “to be or not to be” speech is found, and there is also the amazing line, “get thee to a nunnery!” which is, of course, fantastic.

“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.”

Ok, so spoiler alert up ahead for any of you yet to pick up this play, but it’s my only criticism and I want to talk about it. Why did Hamlet have to die? I mean, I assumed it would happen from the beginning because in these plays everyone dies, but it was really unnecessary. The only reason I can think of is that he had no one else to live for, but c’mon man, you’re like 25, you will find another Ophelia and you’ll probably be King of Denmark, so just stay alive. That’s my only real criticism. I really hated that Ophelia died too…she was so sweet, but that one I understand because her life really fell apart fast. 

 

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”

I definitely want to read this one again, because it really is so rich and full of wisdom. So, is Hamlet overrated? Well, to quote Hamlet, Act III, Scene III, line 87, “No!”.

 

Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (mini-review)

13622161.jpgThree Blind Mice and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

Rating: ★★★★// same Christie, just in bite-sized stories

Favorite Line: “She had often been alone in the house before—but she had never before been so conscious of being alone in it.”

Review: 

Agatha Christie not only gave us mystery novels, but also mystery short stories! That’s what we got here in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories. While much shorter than her usual tales, these stories still keep up all the excitement and charm of a classic Christie mystery.

Three Blind Mice is the primary and longest story in this collection, and it is quite wonderful. The best part of Christie novels is knowing that the guilty party is one you would usually least expect, so you begin to accuse pretty much everyone, and yet, you still find yourself surprised at the end. This story finds us in a classic scenario: stranded in a Bed & Breakfast with many strangers, in the middle of a snowstorm…and then, of course, murder.

The other stories all involve murder in some way, but we get to revisit the classic sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

One of them, The Third Floor Flat, involves and unintentional break in which leads to the discovery of a body. Another, Strange Jest is a fun inheritance treasure hunt. Tape-Measure Murder sends the whole town into frenzy when the seamstress is found dead. Four and Twenty Blackbirds has us wondering what on earth made the old man order blackberry tart, plus more stories to keep you reading though the night.

They are really fun and allow you to have some Christie magic, just in smaller portions.

Till We Have Faces

18716966.jpgTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Rating: ★★★★★ // A retelling in a classic fashion 

First Line: “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods.”

Review:

Till We Have Faces is C.S. Lewis’ final book, and, allegedly, was his favorite of all his written work.

Summary (via GoodReads)

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

If you are unfamiliar with the myth of Cupid and Psyche, I’ll give you the short version. There was a girl, the youngest of three daughters, Psyche, who was so beautiful, that people started to pay homage to her instead of to Venus, the goddess of love. This upset Venus and she asked her son Cupid to take care of the issue. Instead of doing what his mother asked, he fell in love with Psyche and took her to be his wife, however he kept his identity a secret to her and only came to her in the dead of night. The sister’s learn of this mystery husband and convince their sister to bring a light into the bedroom and shine it upon her husband, therefore learning his identity. Cupid flee’s the scene and Psyche is left to wander the wilderness, searching for her long lost love.

Now, that was a very short version of the story, but you can go and read the long version, or you can do what I did and just read Lewis’ retelling of the story…which is what I highly recommend (I then went back and reread the original because I wanted to see what he altered or added).

Lewis’ version comes from the point of view of the Psyche’s oldest sister, who acts like a mother to the beautiful child, as their mother died shortly after Psyche’s birth. This sister is neither beautiful or charismatic like Psyche, but instead clings to her studies to give her comfort in life.

“Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.”

The story continues much like the myth does, but if goes further, and tells of what happens to the older sister after seeing her sister fall into ruin. She becomes the ruler of her land but is continuously reminded by the fate of Psyche and she is always questioning whether or not it actually took place.

Like all of Lewis’ books, the philosophy is rich in this book, but the incorporation of the myth make it read like a classic fantasy book.

I don’t remember why, but I stopped halfway through this book and left the second half unread for about a month before I picked it back up. Once I did, it was finished very quickly. I really don’t know why I did that, because I did really enjoy the first half, I think it was just a natural point to stop and I got sidetracked. I will say, I enjoyed the second half more than the first, which is odd because the first half is they myth half and the second half is the aftermath, and I would think the first would appeal to me more.

Till We Have Faces was written much differently than I expected it to be, and the incorporation of the myth into a normal society was fascinating. There was this constant battle between understanding reality and believing in the gods that kept the myth alive, while at the same time doubting that it could be true. This puts the reader in the position of the eldest child, Orual, but we, the reader, still feel compelled to believe the impossible, which is the story Psyche tells us.

“I saw well why the gods so not speak to us openly, nor let us answer…Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I was surprised how well Lewis told the story from a woman’s point of view. There are many times that male authors talk of women in an exaggerated way, but there were so many times where Orual or Psyche said things that I felt came from my own mind. He is such a talented author that he can even perfectly describe a mind that he has never has of his own. This is true talent.

As seen with my five star rating, I highly recommend this book. It is a lesser known C.S. Lewis novel that deserves much more attention. I read  Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis as a part of The Classics Club Book Challenge. To see my complete challenge list of classics books, click here.

 

 

The River (mini-review)

“The River” by Flannery O’Connor

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Rating: ★★★★★ // my heart hurts. \

 

Opening Line: The child stood glum and limp in the middle of the dark living room while his father pulled him into a plaid coat.

Review: 

This is perhaps the saddest story I have ever read. I’ve read it three times and it still breaks my heart.

This story follows a young boy, Harry, who goes for the day with Mrs. Connin, an older lady in town, because his mother was too sick to take care of him. Mrs. Connin takes him to her home, and to the healing preacher down by the river. There the preacher learns Harry has never been baptized and so the preacher told him if he get’s baptized “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life.” After baptizing Harry, the preacher tells him three words he had likely never heard in his short life “you count now.”

The rest of the book shows the consequence of a young child hearing the phrase “you count now” for the first and only time….and it’s heartbreaking.

I find myself thinking of this story multiple times a day since I read it. It was written with characters who are real, shocking, and infuriating. The plot, though short, brings the reader into the lives of these people in a way that makes you think you’ve been reading about them for years.

If you have read this, I would love to discuss it in the comments, but I don’t want to go too deep in the review because of spoilers.

I read this as a part of The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner. I’m reading this as a part of The Classics Club Book Challenge. To see my complete challenge list of classics books, click here.

A Good Man is Hard to Find  

As part of my Classic Book Club Challenge, I’m reading The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. This book is quite large so I’m taking it slow and reading only a few stories at a time.

Flannery O’Connor is a American author, who was born in the 1925 and died at the young age of 39. During her short life she wrote multiple essays, 2 novels and 32 short stories. Her Complete Stories won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Here is my review of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” found in The Complete Stories. All my reviews are based off my initial reaction/thoughts, however I do think O’Connors work needs and deserves more reflection and study because they are loaded with further meaning.

AGoodManIsHardToFind.jpg“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Rating: ★★★★ // wow. I tell you what, wow. 

Opening Line: “The Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.”

Review:

I have a friend who describes O’Connor’s stories as “a normal day in a normal life and then somebody has a gun,” which, in fact, is the exact plot of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” This story follows a grandmother, her son, and his family as they from Georgia to Florida. Along the way normal “road trip” activities ensue until they have an accident and are approached by an escaped convict.

This story, if nothing else, shows us the corruption of people, especially those who feel they have been mistreated or misunderstood their whole lives. The criminal claims he never knew what he did to be put in jail, and he doesn’t think his punishment fit his crime. This belief turned him evil, he no longer cares about choosing good because, in his mind, what’s the point?

The second point I gathered from this (and as I said before I should read some articles and reflections because there is probably so much more to gain from this story) is that in order to be good we must choose to be good. This is an obvious point, but one that is much more active than we usually think. Every decision we make is a good or evil decision. Yes, some may be a good or a not as good decision, but if we constantly make the not as good decision we will soon find our selves choosing the evil choice and not even realizing it.

At one point we see this in the convict. The grandmother tells him that if he prays, Jesus will help him, and he responds by saying he is sure Jesus would, but he doesn’t want his help, he doesn’t want to be good. The convict has gotten to the point where he is no longer capable of choosing the good because he has chosen to be evil.

I enjoyed this story mainly because of the moral discussion it brings up. The narration is strong and the story is concise without leaving out anything important. The characters are believable, and even in the short time ellapsed, the reader is able to feel connected with the characters.

Before reading it, I know O’Connor was a gothic writer, but I did not expect it to be as dark as it was. I also didn’t expect to be blown away by 25 page story, and yet, I was.

***

To learn more about the Classics Club and to start your own list, check out their blog!

 

The Tempest

5e9f81972e2873f12c2288ff880a5c13.jpgThe Tempest by William Shakespeare

Rating: ★★★★★ // The Bard at his finest 

Favorite Line: “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.”

Review: 

Reviewing Shakespeare feels a little absurd. I sadly have not studied his plays enough to really grasp all that he is saying, but I hope one day to say that I have. All I can really say is if I liked they play or if I didn’t like the play. When it comes to The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s last plays (many believe to be his absolute last), I really enjoyed it.

Summary (via GoodReads)

In The Tempest, long considered one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, Prospero—a magician on an enchanted island—punishes his enemies, brings happiness to his daughter, and comes to terms with human use of supernatural power. The Tempest embodies both seemingly timeless romance and the historically specific moment in which Europe begins to explore and conquer the New World.

Its complexity of thought, its range of characters—from the spirit Ariel and the monster Caliban to the beautiful Miranda and her prince Ferdinand -its poetic beauty, and its exploration of difficult questions that still haunt us today make this play wonderfully compelling.

The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skilful manipulation. The eponymous tempest brings to the island Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio and the complicit Alonso, King of Naples. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s low nature, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.

I sometimes struggle when reading plays, so I almost always read and listen at the same time. This helps bring the verse to life, while putting the words more firmly into my mind. This version had a little more of a positive impact on me because the lead role of Prospero was performed by Ian McKellen, who is a tremendous actor and he really only needs to voice to perfectly portray the emotion of the character.

The play brings a serious situation into play, but has fun characters to offset the seriousness. It has a bright romance, which blooms a little too quickly for my liking, but after all, it is Shakespeare. Despite the quickness of the romance, I thought the romance was sweet, and it added a nice aspect to the story.

Overall the story is of revenge which ultimately turns into forgiveness after redemption, but like many of Shakespeare’s plays, it explores the supernatural and the physiological aspects of humanity.

What is really unique and beautiful about this play is the epilogue. There, breaking character, Shakespeare has Prospero address the audience. Through Prospero’s voice, Shakespeares talks of his own retirement and of setting his gift of verse free.

I’m going to have to read this play a few more times before I really understand all the different dynamics it has, and maybe then I can write a more intelligent review about it, but as for now, I will just leave you with Shakespeare’s fantastic end:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

*I read this book for my Classics Club challenge. To see my entire list of my challenge Click Here, to learn more about the Classics Club challenge, Click Here

Top Ten Tuesday: Moms in Classic Literature, the best and the worst.

Another Tuesday, another Top Ten list brought to us by The Broke and Bookish blog. This week we have a freebie on “Mother’s Day.” I already wrote a couple of posts about mother’s day, but I didn’t want to skip this week, so I did a mix of my favorite and least favorite mom’s in literature. I stuck with classic lit. for this list, because, well, I like classic lit.

I found this list was a little tougher than I expected, as parents are much more rare in classic lit. than they are in modern stories. If they are portrayed, they usually take a minor role. However, there are some prominent mother’s in literature and some really stuck out to me.

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The Best.
  1. Marmee March (The Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)
    • She’s kind to her children, loving to her husband, firm in her beliefs and morals, understanding toward failure, yet persistant that all try their best. I think it would be hard to arguee that she is the best image of a great mother in literature.
  2. Katie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith)
    • Hardworking and determined, Katie Nolan gives her children the opportunities she never got to have. Katie spends most of the book trying to scrape together just enough food to keep her children alive, and yet the kids grew up thinking they were rich as kings.
  3. Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery)
    • Strict and harsh at first (and at times later), Marilla grows into a loving and wise mother to the orphan Anne. It takes her time to adjust to the spirit of Anne, but when she does, she becomes her biggest fan and confidant.
  4. Ma Ingalls (The Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder)
    • Tough to the core and hardworking, Ma shows us what it meant to be a mother in the tough times on the prairie. She is kind, but stern, encourages individuality in her children but demands obedience. To her husband she is supportive and a clear advisor. She set the standards for her children and her husband to live by, and by golly they followed them.
  5. Fantine (Les Miserables, Victor Hugo)
    • Perhaps the most tragic mother in literature is poor Fantine. This is a case where intention shows the heart of the woman. Fantine does all she can to give her child a good home, even if that meant giving her up. Leaving her child behind broke her heart, but she truly believed her daughter would be better without her. Then, due to the cruelty of others, she worked herself to death to provide for her child. She embodies the selflessness that mother’s have when caring for their children.
The Worst.
  1. Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
    • Many people have a soft spot for Mrs. Bennet, and I guess I can understand that, but overall, I really dislike her. She’s ridiculous.
  2. The Stepmother (Hansel and Gretel, The Brother’s Grimm)
    • So all stepmothers in Grimm’s fairy tales are pretty bad, but this one is the worst. She convinces their father to leave his children in the woods because she wants more food. She’s terrible.
  3. Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    • Did you forget that Daisy had a daughter? Don’t feel bad because apparently she did to.
  4.  Jocasta (Oedipus Rex, Sophocles)
    • She’s bad in the sense that she ends up marrying her son after killing her husband. It was all a big misunderstanding, but still.
  5. Mrs. Wormwood (Matilda, Roald Dahl)
    • Encourages her brilliant daughter not to be brilliant…yeah, she’s pretty awful.

Life Lessons from the Musketeers

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I wrote this review a few years ago on my old blog, but I thought I’d repost it because I really loved this book. 

After years and years of trying to convince myself I didn’t need to read this book because I already knew the storyline, I finally buckled and picked up this timeless classic….I was blown away.

I do admit, it took me a long time to finish this The Three Musketeers. It’s a story I knew so well before I picked it up, so I thought it would be a piece of cake, but this book is so long and is has so much more depth than the “main” story.

I went in waves while reading, I had periods of being completely hooked for days, using every spare moment to read another paragraph, page, or chapter, only to then slump into a dry spell of not wanting to pick up the book and having no interest at all of what happens to our four bold protagonists. When this happens to me, it’s usually because the author goes off the plot and gives long explanations of history and background of the area and I loose my motivation to continue, but here it was different because Dumas does not do that often, and when he doesn’t it’s not for an extended amount of time–for the most part, he stays on plot. The only logical reason I can think of for my on-again, off-again, relationship with this book, is that since it is such a long book, and it has a very complex plot with many different crucial players, it takes a long time to read it right, and after going a couple of weeks with the same story, and then realizing I had only made a small dent in the book, I needed to give my brain different type of entertainment for a couple days before getting sucked into the book again.

Now I can proudly say I have conquered this book, and I am so happy that I can honestly say that I love the story of The Three Musketeers. 

I will not go through and bore you with a critic over the whole book, and frankly, I don’t think I could give it a proper critic after only reading it once, especially since I read it leisurely and not educationally. There is so much going on that it would take a couple reads to analyze all the different moving parts and how Dumas weaves them perfectly together. However, what I will do it take a few of my favorites quotes from the book and tell you briefly why they stood out to me.

1.

“Oh, I see you prefer peregrination. That’s well madame; and there is an old proverb that says, ‘Traveling trains youth.’ My faith! you are not wrong after all, and life is sweet. That’s the reason why I take such care you shall not deprive me of mine.”

This quote is said by Lord de Winters to the infamous lady known throughout the story simply as Milady. She is truly evil. Lord de Winters says this as he is holding Milady captive in England and giving her the choice of exile or a trial. Now, she has quite a past, so a trial would mean the worst for her, so if she has the choice, she would choose exile, even if the thought of that is as bad as death to her.

I like this quote because it could have been said by a number of characters in the book and still be relevant. All the characters either grow tremendously in the storyline or we learn of their past growth that led them to where they are when we meet them, and they all hold true to the proverb Lord de Winters speaks of, “traveling trains youth.” Furthermore, this book is all about self-preservation in the most direr of situations, so the second part of the quote rings true to most of the characters, “That’s the reason why I take such care you should not deprive me of mine.”

Putting the plot of the book aside, I felt personally attached to this quote the moment I read it, because I saw it as a justification of the life I’m living now. “‘Traveling trains youth.” I’m constantly asked why I took a year in Europe, why I travel so much, what I’m planning on doing with my life, and why I made the “unorthodox” decision not to get a career right out of college, and more often than not my answer is rewarded with a sigh or an eye role. Even when in Europe or on my travels, I find many people who think my year as an Au Pair or my job as a nanny, as a waste of time. What I wish people would understand is that I’m still young–I look young, I think young, I act young…I’m young. I didn’t take a year in Europe to run away from a career, I went there to take advantage of my youth, to do things that I can’t do when my youth leaves me, and as Dumas puts it, I went there to train, and I continue to train in my travels. Train for the rest of my life, give me experiences that I could never have unless I put myself out there, on a limb, in a place I had only dreamed of going before.

2.

“Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen you again, madam–even if I have to overturn the world.”

This is said by the Duke of Buckingham to Anne of Austria, the Queen of France. This love affair was one of the saddest because it was doomed from the start, yet the Duke, truly infatuated with the Queen, never abandoned his love for her, nor did he ever do anything intentional to harm her, politically or emotionally. Yet, this quote,  like my first one, could be said by many different characters in the book and no one would doubt it’s sincerity. This book continues to go back to the theme of doing anything and everything for the one you love. If nothing else remains true in this novel, the truth of undying love remains solid through the entire thing.

When I started reading this, I didn’t think it would be as focused on love as it was. I mean, I knew it had romantic sub-plots, but I did not think the plot would focus primarily on the love affairs of the Musketeers and their close companions. I think it can be argued that love is as great of a theme as friendship, even though I believe most would categorize this book in the “power of friends” category quicker than the “power of love” category, especially with the whole “all for one and one for all” thing the Musketeers have going on.

While many of the relationships in this novel revolved around an affair of some sort, the love remained beautiful to the reader because of the way the characters truly still believed in love, and the purity of love. It was clearly a different time and culture when this story was placed, and in the novel marriage was definitely more of a political and social relationship then a romantic one, but the the idea of love was still strong and Dumas did a beautiful job of portraying the power that stands behind it.

3.

“You are young,” replied Athos; “and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances.”

This is the last line in the book, before the epilogue, and I found it to be a beautiful ending to this tragic story. I don’t want to ruin any of the details, but this book doesn’t have the happiest of endings–it’s not completely sad, but it’s also not a Disney ending. But this quote, spoken by the always wise Athos, pushes away the sadness and allows room for the reader to see the potential of a happy future–what a beautiful thing to do for your readers.

I guess I can add this to my reasons for holding onto my youth: giving myself time to change bitter moments into happy memories. As Athos says this, the reader understands how much he desires to have this time back–time to change all the hurt he suffered into, at least, a memory less painful. But we, as readers, also understand that Athos is unable to do this, and even though the cause of his unhappiness is gone, he will never fully recover from the hurt and pain put upon him. He is unmendable. His friend, however, one he views as a brother and life-long companion, still has time to put all that has happened behind him and forgive, and Athos, being the eldest of the group, wants to make sure his brother does not fall onto the same bitter path that he chose many years prior to the story.

The theme of forgiveness is not as visible as the theme of vengeance in the book, but the final advice from Athos seems to lean more towards it than towards anything else. He is a man who held onto his hatred and his pain as tightly as he held onto his bottles of Spanish wine. He was unable to let go of the events in his past and they tore him apart emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He understands this pain eats him alive, but unwilling to forgive, he allows it to consume him. While, on the outside, he is the strongest (mentally) of the musketeers and their unofficial leader, he knows he is too weak to fight his own pain.  Nevertheless, his final advice, his final warning, gives the reader a shed of hope that his younger, fresher companion will not follow in his footsteps of living in the past, but step forward, forgiving and refreshing his past, so it becomes a power to push him forward, instead of a weight keeping him in behind.

All of us, young and old, can benefit from this final quote from Athos, remembering that life keeps moving and we can either stay bitter and angry or we can move forward with “sweet remembrances.”

The Three Musketeers is timeless. While not as fast paced as most modern day novels, it packs a punch that is full of every theme a reader could ask for. Dumas adds humor to a drama, and romance to a sword fight, and while there are many new adventurers to admire in literature, there aren’t many who compare to the classic characters of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan.

 

*This is not technically apart of my Classics Club challenge, but it definitely works with the theme. If you want to see the other books on my challenge list, click here. If you want to learn more about the classics club, click here