mollyringle: (winters jewels)
FINALLY, I saw Les Misérables, the latest film installment. It only took this long because I have kids, and arranging the sitter and coaxing my husband to use our precious date night for this, well, these things take time. (Thank you for being coaxed, dear husband.)

Thoughts in random order!

Evidently, when someone says, "Who goes there?", you should not answer, "French revolution." Doesn't go over well.

Extreme close-ups during singing: a few too many of them. It was like Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" video, over and over. Mind you, it was impressive to know we were hearing the actual singing the actors were doing during those takes. And I found it reassuring that famous beautiful people have pores and little brown spots and other skin imperfections too. Thank heavens.

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway both deserve their Oscar nods. Russell Crowe wasn't as bad as I expected; in fact, he made Javert more endearing than I usually find him. (The bit with the medal he pins on someone else who shall remain spoiler-free-nameless was a very moving addition, though that gesture isn't in the book.)

I love Gavroche, and Daniel Huttlestone did a great job, but must they always have him do an Artful Dodger accent? We are in *France* here, you know. Not London.

You know what I'm going to say I disliked, if you've read my Les Mis thoughts before. Yeah, that's right: the way they condense down the gorgeous, lengthy, super-romantic Cosette-and-Marius relationship from the book into, literally, one day. No one is going to buy it, their being "in love" when they just met a second ago. Why the hell couldn't the filmmakers give them a montage, Marius sneaking in night after night to sit and talk with Cosette in the garden, the way the book has it? In the book, it's Cosette--not Eponine--he's buddies with, Cosette (not Eponine) he sees regularly and talks for hours with and knows really well after a month or so of such meetings. In the book, he talks to Eponine a couple of times. She's obviously into him, and he's awkward about it, and he uses her to get Cosette's address because she's willing, but that's about it. But in the musical, oh no, it isn't enough that they give Eponine the most gorgeous songs; they also have to rob Cosette and Marius of any real, actual interaction that any sane person would feel sympathy for. ARGH. Don't get me started. Whoops, too late.

Give me a second while I calm down from that rant. Seethe. Deep breath. Okay.

Eddie Redmayne at least did save the part of Marius from what all too often becomes blandness and idiocy in many versions. He had the dorky, stammering, happy-in-love thing down, but also showed his noble revolutionary side well.

Favorite surprise-cutie revolutionary: Grantaire, played by George Blagden. Hel-lo! Also, much love for the book-faithful moment in which he opts to die next to Enjolras. (Spoiler there. Sorry. Whatever; no one reads LiveJournal.)

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras was, of course, beautiful. Highly well cast. And I'm so glad they did away with his Adam-Ant gold-barred jacket from the stage version in favor of a basic red one.

Impressive barricade, guys! Coffin in front, looked like. Really sends the message, "Pretty much everyone here is going to die." Oh, but I loved how one of the Friends of the ABC got the tavern mistress's chair by hauling her off it in a big long kiss. There weren't enough smooches in this film, really.

The Thenardiers were almost too lovable. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, despite looking ridiculous, pulled off the parts with surprising subtlety and humor, to the degree that I was glad to see them whenever they showed up. That's not the case in the book; the Thenardiers *are* a bit humorous, but the general reaction of most readers is, "OMFG, I hate these people." But that's okay. The movie benefited from the comic relief.

Elephant statue! Another book-faithful detail. Hurrah.

I managed not to cry in the cinema. I'm good at being stoic in public that way. But if I had this at home on DVD, there would have been waterworks.

"Bring Him Home," from the viewpoint of the book reader, doesn't make a lot of sense. Valjean kind of hates Marius at that point, but he is risking his life to save Marius anyway because it would make Cosette happy. This whole "he's like the son I might have known" stuff doesn't really wash for me, this early on in their acquaintance.

That said, 2 hours and 37 minutes is really not enough to do justice to a story of this depth and breadth. The music is wonderful, and the costumes and scenery were breathtaking, and I'm so glad this movie version exists. But someone needs to do a perfect, lengthy miniseries someday. With all the RIGHT Cosette-Marius-Eponine dynamics, dammit. Shoujo Cosette is doing a fairly good job so far actually, but it's, you know, anime. For innocent kids. With way more giggles and fluffy puppies than Victor Hugo intended.

And may I remind you that I summed up The Brick (that is, the unabridged novel version of Les Mis) with my own attempt at condensing things, so you can see what the musical changed, if you wish.

VIVE LA FRANCE. Au revoir.
mollyringle: (Powerpuff - by Xenia)
I can't talk much about Les Misérables on Facebook anymore because people are starting to make fun of me for it over there. Luckily I still have this LJ, where no one particularly cares one way or the other. So--for those who might care, and for my own records:

This site is both cool and funny. It's a collection of the various illustrations that have been done for print editions of Les Mis over the decades, some pretty, some ugly, some very confusing. The site's captions have been giving me the occasional LOLs. For example:

Cosette dines at the Thénardiers with either the family cat or Gollum
Valjean considers calling the anti-graffiti hotline
and, perhaps my favorite,
Grand Prize Winner, World's Shortest And Least Effective Barricade

I have also lately learned that there is an anime version of Les Mis (Shōjo Cosette or Shoujo Cosette) that runs for like 25 hours (52 episodes) and, as far as I've gotten in it, includes more fluffy puppies than the original Hugo. But it's cute and sometimes oddly accurate and might be a good way to introduce kids to the story. (It probably gets more violent later--barricades and stuff, you know. I haven't gotten that far yet, but I can't see how they'd get around it.)
mollyringle: (York Minster - interior)
A parody of one of my favorite books in the world. Here! Read the unabridged in fifteen minutes!

Les Misérables, the unabridged condensed. If that makes sense.
Originally by Victor Hugo; this abridgement by Molly Ringle.

VICTOR HUGO: *sixty pages on how the Bishop of Digne is a really good guy* Then the real story begins...

TOWN OF DIGNE, 1815

JEAN VALJEAN: I'm a convict! No one'll take me in for the night! Grawr!
BISHOP: Sleep here, sir. In this room with lots of pretty silver that we don't lock up.
POLICE: (next day) Monsigneur, we caught this guy with your silver candlesticks.
JEAN VALJEAN: Which I was, uh, borrowing.
BISHOP: Yes, keep them! And the forks and the spoons and the shirt off my back. There. I have now purchased your soul and stuffed my near-supernatural goodness into it. You have to carry said goodness around for the rest of your life and be forced to act in accordance with it. Haha. Deal with that.

PARIS, 1817

THOLOMYES: Even though Hugo's description of me is repulsive, don't you love being my mistress, and hanging out with my band of sleazy friends?
FANTINE: Oh yes, darling!
THOLOMYES: Glad you had fun. So, bye. (leaves town permanently with no forwarding address)
FANTINE: That's okay, I'll just...manage...with our illegitimate child...and no job...alone.Read more... )
mollyringle: (couple w/ umbrella on street)
My review of Les Misérables, cross-posted to Goodreads:

I can't give this book any less than five stars, even though I know its flaws (which I'll get to in a minute). I become an obsessed melancholy fangirl when I read it--this was the third or fourth time I've read it in my life, and surely not the last--and it kept me up late turning pages time and time again. Notice how I finished it in three weeks, despite turning each of those 1,200 pages. (Well, this time it was on Nook, so it was more like tapping than turning.)

Technically I did read the unabridged, but I skimmed the parts that likely get abridged--histories, monologues, and other flights of dense detail. That said, I think it might be good to choose the unabridged and give yourself the option of dwelling in those historical moments or Deep Hugo Thoughts if you feel like it.

Things I love:
The seriously difficult character dilemmas.
The way you can feel sympathy for every character (okay, not so much the Thenardiers).
The cool adventure.
The totally swoonworthy romance.
The feeling of this being utterly real despite it being obviously dated.
The feeling of wanting to be a better person yourself because of what you see these characters go through.

The flaws:
Really, those wordy chapters that aren't about the main characters do get irritatingly in the way at exciting places sometimes.
Fair dose of Victorian melodrama. ("See Marius angst. Angst, Marius, angst," as a Les Mis forum summarized one section. And the angst is certainly not confined to Marius.)
Too many crazy coincidences. You'd think France was about a mile square with a population of fifty people, the way they all keep running into each other in the darnedest places.

Still, I absolutely love this story, and will surely spend more time with it over the course of my life. Likely I'll begin by writing a condensed parody version of the unabridged, just to make myself smile and allow myself to linger in Les-Mis world.

Random update, from June 25: Note for self and posterity: in the past, in reading this book, I assumed the chapter "A Heart Beneath a Stone" was Hugo rhapsodizing about love, rather than giving us the actual text of Marius' letter to Cosette. I suppose I figured the letter was too personal to share or something. This time around, I succeeded in realizing that "A Heart Beneath a Stone" (http://www.classicreader.com/book/268/246/ ) *is* Marius' letter to her--his assorted heartfelt thoughts that he occasionally scribbled in a notebook, which was mentioned in an earlier chapter, in which he called it "writing to her." Yes, hi, I'm dense. Makes me love Marius that much more, though, if those are *his* words.
mollyringle: (couple w/ umbrella on street)
Whoa. I hadn't quite grasped the extent to which Eponine really is the crazy jealous stalker girl.

...an idea flashed through her mind, to fling herself into that death, as she would have done into any other, and to thrust Marius into it also. ...She died with the tragic joy of jealous hearts who drag the beloved being into their own death, and who say: "No one shall have him!"

In short, she leads Marius to the barricade after *withholding* a letter Cosette tried to send to him. Finding Cosette's house abandoned, he plunges into despair and is willing to die. Which indeed is an overreaction on his part, and Eponine does at least take a bullet for him and finally give him the letter, which I suppose evens out her final tally. But still. Not exactly cool, girl.

How come she gets all the good songs in the musical, dang it? Poor maligned Cosette.

In other news, I love that Victor Hugo is so precise about addresses, because it enables us to Google-Street-View them and peek at what's there today. Cosette and Valjean's house, containing the garden where Cosette and Marius meet in secret for a couple of idyllic months, is evidently at 55 Rue Plumet. Marius lives at 16 Rue de la Verrerie with his friend Courfeyrac. Those streets are both still there, not that they look much like they would have circa 1830. (I could find the Rue Plumet, but not a No. 55, and no gardens resembling Cosette's.) The barricade upon which they fight is in Rue de la Chanvrerie, and that confuses Google Maps, so the name probably got changed.
mollyringle: (couple w/ umbrella on street)
I just re-read the chapters in which Marius and Cosette fall into a mutual adoration of each other from afar in the Luxembourg Gardens, which I love wholeheartedly. As with the whole book, this section is written eloquently and with profound observations about human behavior, but it's also funny and whimsical and charming, and rings quite true. I mean, after exchanging glances with a beautiful stranger, who hasn't arrived at the sudden realization, "Oh my God, my clothes look awful today, why didn't anyone tell me?"

The start of the "grave malady":

---

Marius had thrown open his whole soul to nature, he was not thinking of anything, he simply lived and breathed, he passed near the bench, the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.

What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash.

She dropped her eyes, and he pursued his way.

What he had just seen was no longer the ingenuous and simple eye of a child; it was a mysterious gulf which had half opened, then abruptly closed again.

There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there!

...That evening, on his return to his garret, Marius cast his eyes over his garments, and perceived, for the first time, that he had been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go for his walk in the Luxembourg with his "every-day clothes," that is to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots, black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat which was pale at the elbows.

---

It goes on in equally charming manner for many pages, which I'm refraining from posting in its entirety by serious self-control. Why aren't you reading this novel??
mollyringle: (tea setting)
Amusing moment encountered in Les Miserables--in case anyone ever wondered if cats were always this way, the answer seems to be yes:

Every one has noticed the taste which cats have for pausing and lounging between the two leaves of a half-shut door. Who is there who has not said to a cat, "Do come in!"
mollyringle: (dome - Gothic Choir)
I hadn't read The Hobbit since I was a kid, so, given the upcoming movies (evidently there are going to be two, not one), I felt it was time to revisit Bilbo and Smaug. Having finished it, my review:

Though this was a re-read for me, the first go-round was so long ago that I'd forgotten a lot of the book. (Hey, look at that! A whole passel of giant spiders! And Frodo and Sam thought *they* had arachnid problems.) Tolkien, as ever, excels at his world-building: the landscape and its unusual inhabitants feel totally real, and made me look around with new appreciation at rocks, plants, and streams in my own neighborhood, as if they all might harbor magical beings or properties.

I take a star off because, as with The Lord of the Rings, the pacing is kind of screwed up. They kill the dragon too soon (shot by a guy who barely figures in the story up to that point), then *other* battles happen as the kinda-sorta-climax, and then (as with LOTR) the giant Eagles end up saving the day at the last minute rather than our heroes saving themselves. Also, that Necromancer who Gandalf was off fighting, completely off screen--well, that makes sense if you've read LOTR (oh yeah, it's Sauron), but viewing The Hobbit as a novel on its own, that development is a bit perplexing. LOTR has more human (/hobbit/elf/dwarf/etc.) emotional drama to give it greater merit despite the pacing issues, while The Hobbit feels more like it's meant for children--and that's okay in some ways, as it's also a lot less heartbreaking.

Also, what was up with the silly elves? I said to my husband, mid-read, "The elves in this one are weirdly happy. Like, cracking jokes and being goofy. Maybe later on, the whole Ring situation, and the going-west stuff, was making them grumpier...?" But it still doesn't completely make sense. So I'll be curious to see what Peter Jackson does there. I really cannot see Elrond singing tra-la-la rhymes and dancing merrily. Legolas, maybe, if he had a frat-boy phase. Orlando could totally play that.

All that said, Bilbo is a charming protagonist, and there are lots of gems of scenes in this book. Also some actual gems, like the Arkenstone. Hah.

Incidentally, have you seen Peter Jackson's video blog entries about the making of the new films? Huge fun. I need to go back and view the ones I haven't seen yet.

From The Hobbit I moved straight to a long-intended re-read of Les Misérables. I'm now about a third of the way in, and so far I am annoyed with Victor Hugo for these things:

1) Burying a wonderful, amazing novel among a bunch of extraneous chapters about French history, which dissuades people from reading it. Therefore I recommend you read the *abridged* version--or else get the unabridged, but skim when you find yourself wading through Waterloo or the Paris sewers or someone's needless monologue. I want people to love this novel as much as I do, and they won't if they force the unabridged upon themselves.

2) The title. Jeez, Victor, who's going to want to read this? There's misery in these pages, sure, but the story is much more about love and compassion. And it's even funny or sensual in several places.

3) Creating seriously huge dilemmas for his characters, reaching a point of agonizing conflict which *my* novels may never approach. Example: Ex-convict Jean Valjean has disguised his identity and established a new and benevolent life, in which he's about to do a dying woman the favor of rescuing her little daughter from the slavery she's currently trapped in. However, that same week, he hears that the "real" Jean Valjean has supposedly been caught on a petty theft, and, being an ex-con, is going to be put back in prison for life. So. Save the innocent guy by revealing his identity, and thus get recaptured and be unable to help the little girl? Or save the girl and let the innocent man go to prison for life? I mean, seriously. I never manage to plot stuff this awesome. (Spoiler: Valjean manages to do both of the good things. That's why he's a hero.)

4) Being heartbreaking enough to hurt, but beautiful and romantic enough to keep me obsessively reading. I cain't quit you, Les Mis.

There's an upcoming movie for this too, complete with new and fully heart-rending trailer:



Marius fangirl sidenote: though I liked Eddie Redmayne perfectly well in The Pillars of the Earth, and though he looks lovely in that trailer, he just does not look like the curly-black-haired, marble-skinned Marius described in the book. For me Marius will always look like Rufus Sewell back in the young days. (Rufus also starred in The Pillars of the Earth, as it happens. Kinda why I watched it.)

Rufus Sewell
mollyringle: (autumn leaves & cup)
Over at Jelly Loves Books today, I got to do a guest post laying out my favorite romantic pairings from literature. See who I chose (Cosette/Marius instead of Eponine/Marius? Uh-huh, that's right, I said it!), and enjoy some pretty quotes to go with them.

And at the WovenStrands blog, they're doing a giveaway of RELATIVELY HONEST (ebook format). It's open only another few days, so go get your name in the entry form.

Back to drinking rooibos tea, watching foliage change colors, and pondering my next move toward literary world domination.
mollyringle: (girl reading with moon)
The third trimester, to my annoyance, is feeling a touch like the first trimester lately--fatigue and touches of nausea and too much smell in the world--though thankfully less on the tired/nauseated and more on the heavy/sore. Standing too long makes my feet hurt, so I sit. Sitting too long makes my back and rear hurt, so I stand. Eventually I'm exhausted, so I lie down. Lying down on my side squishes that arm to death, so I turn over. Then the other arm gets squished to death, so I try to lie against a pillow at an angle sort of on my back and sort of on my side--which makes my joints or stomach or *something* hurt. When I get tired of having been in bed all night without getting much sleep, and besides am getting hungry, I get up. Repeat cycle.

Also, the baby kicks like crazy when I lie down, at least for a while. Those little movements are so gentle when you first feel them around 4-5 months; they're like the motions of a goldfish flitting around in a baggie of water. By 7-8 months they're sometimes more akin to those of a cat trapped in a pillowcase (which you are forced to hug against yourself for some reason).

I console myself with knowing I only have 4-7 weeks to go and then I'm DONE.

I also take comfort, as always, in amusing myself in odd ways. For instance...

I'm not a Twitter user--how can one such as I, who so loves to ramble, confine herself to 140 characters?--but I heard this idea of condensing classic novels into 140-character posts/Twitters, and had to try it.

So here's a few...


Les Miserables:
Jailed. Escaped. Stalked by creepy cop. Now foster daughter is dating revolutionary. Everyone I know is going to die. God, I'm tired.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:
Hot widow with kid moved in nearby. Serious man issues. What's up with that? OMG, she let me read her diary! Think I'm in there.

Middlemarch:
Tried to be do-gooder. Married old guy, then he died. Got screwed over by will (because I want Will). Happy ending plz Eliot? Thxbye.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles:
If I get called a hussy one more time I'm going to kill someone just to prove I'm the victim here.

Vanity Fair:
I'm only friending you for your money, lol. No, seriously.

A Room with a View:
Charlotte's wrong, it means nothing nothing nothing that George kissed me in the violets, and...OK fine, it does mean something.

Jane Eyre:
My employer is totally hitting on me. Yummy. Wait a sec, WHO'S living in the attic??

Lolita:
The last few weeks have been amazing. You'll never believe it--I've been...you know what, I'd better not say.

Go ahead, add your own!
mollyringle: (girl reading with moon)
Sayeth the meme...

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read and hated.
5) Reprint this list in your own LJ so we can try and track down these people who've read 6 and force books upon them ;-)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible - (not sure what to do here, since I've read some of it but not all of it, was forced to read some of it, like some of it, and hate some of it.)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (I read it by choice...and sort of hated it.)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (Am tempted to strike-through this one, due to absurdly depressing content.)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I like the ones I'm familiar with, well enough.)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (I can't remember several of them, so I should catch up again sometime.)
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (Isn't this a repeat of #33?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Well, I read about two-thirds of it...)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (Just saw the film. Am a bit in love with James McAvoy as a result. Also want to read the book.)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac (Again, about two thirds of it.)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (Ditto. But with more hating.)
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I like the ones I've read.)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Look at all those boldfaces! They say six? I have read fifty-seven. Hah. See, I told everyone I didn't need an English degree in order to read the "good" books. Point made.
mollyringle: (Minas Tirith - John Howe)
It's kind of interesting to view Amazon's list of best-selling "classics" and see where everything is ranked. It also brings me to an informal poll I've been meaning to do for a while:

1) Which classic do you think is truly great enough that everyone should read it?

2) Which classic do you think everyone may as well skip?

I'd be hard-pressed to answer those myself with just one title each. For #1 do I choose Jane Eyre, Les Miserables (abridged), Middlemarch, or what exactly? If Lord of the Rings counts, I might well choose that. And for #2...well, generally I've seen the merit in nearly all classics I've read, so I don't like to slam anything too hard. But I've found Faulkner very hard going (I think it was The Sound and the Fury; I don't even remember now), and Hemingway choppy and dull (he's better in short form), and I waited 200 pages for a plot to arrive in On the Road before giving up, and I've wanted to strangle the majority of Thomas Hardy's characters, and Stranger in a Strange Land plummeted from a very cool setup to a wanky free-love mess. So there are some possibilities, as to my own answers.

But I want yours instead. And I don't want this to turn into a catfight, so be nice. Every reader's tastes are what they are, and it doesn't make them an idiot. I, for instance, married a very lovely man who owns pretty much every book ever written by Hemingway and won't sell them despite my most sweetly phrased suggestions. (I think Hemingway may be a "guy thing."*) Yeah, so: go ahead, answer!

*Just know I'm going to catch it for that remark. From you folks, not from my husband.
mollyringle: (Gutenberg)
For a while now I've been trying to place what it is that makes me dislike Charles Dickens' stories--or, at least, the few I'm familiar with, from book, film, or stage. What I initially decided was that he doesn't write characters, exactly: he writes caricatures. But today I pinned it down even further. As caricatures, the characters fail the Numero Uno rule (going by modern standards) of what must happen in a story: they are supposed to change from beginning to end. Dickens characters, the ones I've been acquainted with, simply don't.

The notable exception is Scrooge, who, as we all know, changes dramatically by the end. No coincidence, I wager, that A Christmas Carol is Dickens' best-known and best-loved work. (Plus, the 3-ghosts trick is a pretty cool plot device.) Others in the story are exactly the same from start to finish, though that's okay for supporting characters.

But elsewhere...egh. I sat through a dozen performances of Oliver!, in the light booth a few years ago for community theater, so I can safely say I know that story in and out. Oliver Twist, as the protagonist, doesn't really change. His circumstances change, but at the beginning he's a good-hearted, suffering, brave orphan boy, and the end he's still a good-hearted brave orphan boy, but with less suffering since now he has an adopted family. He basically wanders around the story getting batted from one set of adult caretakers to another, without changing as a person. Fagin doesn't change, of course, either. Neither does Dodger. They're interesting as portraits, but they don't quite seem three-dimensional. Nancy almost changes, but dies before she gets too far.

OK, but Oliver is young, and the story only covers a small portion of his childhood. Maybe something bigger? Well, same problem in Great Expectations, which I slogged my way through a couple years back after Amazon kept insisting to me that I'd love it. Pip starts out as a good-hearted, suffering, brave orphan boy (hmm, deja vu), gets his hopes raised, gets his hopes dashed, gets his hopes raised again, gets his hopes dashed again, and ends up a good-hearted, suffering, brave adult. Throughout, he is likeable but frustrating: he keeps waiting for life to change for him; for his "great expectations" to finally kick in and for things to magically improve on their own. Nothing he does makes any difference, and he ends up older, a little wiser, and ultimately not different enough to keep me from closing the book in disgust and vowing to stop reading Dickens.

Now, Miss Havisham, in the same book, makes a very memorable figure out of her habit of not changing. She takes it to such extremes that it's actually interesting. But you can't have all the characters fail to change, and just stand there helplessly while circumstances morph around them. At least, I wouldn't think you could, but Dickens' huge popularity seems to suggest I'm wrong. Maybe if I read Bleak House or something I'd change my mind on this whole thing. You tell me.

Aw, but Molly (you may be saying), back in the early 1800s in England, people's financial circumstances really were out of their control for the most part, and really did dictate their quality of life. You came into money, or you didn't, and your whole lifestyle hung upon the point.

Okay, true. I know that. But one can read other books from that era (or set in that era) and get the same dilemma, while meeting characters who actually do change from start to finish. Take Pride and Prejudice: the Darcy/Elizabeth love story is such a delight because it involves such internal struggle and revision of prejudices for both of them. They go from "You? Why would I want to dance with you?" to "Okay, I've thought it over, and despite your awful family and all the other social difficulties, I've decided I can't live without you; and you know what? Screw the rest of the world." Same case in Jane Eyre, with even bigger social difficulties. Les Miserables is chock-full of characters who undergo tremendous shifts in their world-view. It leads some of them to suicide, some to repentance, some to tragically noble ends, and a select few to redemption, but man, you stand still in Les Mis and wait for your expectations to improve, and you're either going to starve to death or get a cannonball in your chest.

I apologize to stalwart Dickens fans. This is, of course, just one reader's opinion. But I've long tried to place why I groan when I imagine tackling another Dickens novel, but fervently wish someone would uncover a lost Bronte novel; and I think I've come close to the explanation here.

All the same, tip of the hat to Dickens, who managed to write a zillion novels while supporting some dozen children, and who brought the country's attention to the atrocities of child labor and poverty, and is still a household name almost two centuries later. May we all fare half as well in our final curriculum vitae.
mollyringle: (Default)
Thinking about the Phantom of the Opera musical film that's coming out in December has resurrected, in my mind, an ancient debate between my younger sister and me. I was about 15 when I discovered the Phantom musical (and promptly read the book), and she was about 13. The debate went something like this:

SIS: Christine should go with the Phantom [rather than normal love-interest Raoul].
ME: The Phantom kills people.
SIS: Well, everyone has their flaws.

She'd laugh as she said the last sentence, knowing it wouldn't hold up as an excuse in real life for half a second. And that's precisely why I don't support it in the story either: I'm of the realist school of storytelling. I don't mean that everything in a story must be possible or truthful (see my love for LOTR), but the choices the characters make, and the way they react and suffer as they go through the story's twists and turns, must seem real in order for me to get behind it.

The Phantom is, without a doubt, the most interesting character in the story. He's a stylish, talented evil genius, with a tender side for his protégé Christine. He has many sympathetic moments and gets most of the musical's best songs. However. When romantic-minded teenage girls sigh that Christine should choose him, they are conveniently overlooking the fact that he kills people. Not just people who deserve it, either; he kills basically innocent people just to freak other people out. Raoul may not be as fascinating as the Phantom, but he's reliable, loyal, rich, and handsome, and doesn't murder for sport. Any girl who's ever had a stalker-ish, jealous, dangerous jerk of a boyfriend can tell you: Christine is way better off with Raoul.

Having set you straight on Phantom, I turn now to the Marius-Cosette-Eponine love triangle in Les Miserables. Cut for those who couldn't care less. )

Book guys

May. 8th, 2003 06:40 pm
mollyringle: (kodama)
Taking a break from studies: A fun idea for a post, stolen from [livejournal.com profile] kateelvellon. The question was: which men (or women, if you're into that) are the hottest in books or comics? I have no comics experience to speak of, so my answers for the book genre are...Read more... )

Obsessions

Aug. 9th, 2002 08:56 am
mollyringle: (Default)
Ah, DVD is so great. While eating my scrambled egg this morning I watched about fifteen minutes' worth of LOTR, selected from different points in the movie with the easy touch of a button. Chose:

- "Shortcut to Mushrooms" (hobbits, cliff, tumble!)
- "Pass of Caradhras" (Legolas walks on snow--very subtle but true to book; Aragorn cuddles Sam and Frodo, just to keep them warm I'm sure)
- "Bridge of Khazad-Dum" ("YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" *whip-snag*, *fall* "Noooo...!"--that was very Luke-Skywalker of Frodo, wasn't it?)
- "Departure of Boromir" (he's gripping Aragorn's shoulder, then he's not, then he is, then he's not, then he is; is this a film flub?)
- Subsequent near-drowning experience of Sam. I agree with reviewer on Salon.com who suggested that the shot of Frodo's hand plunging into the water and grasping Sam's wrist (and Sam's grasping back, after a moment) will enter the annals of "great and famous film moments."

Anyway, it's clear that Tolkien has catapulted near to the top of my life's obsessions so far, in a mere few months. This got me thinking about what my other serious obsessions have been. And by "serious" I mean that I talk about them way too much, and I sometimes get frustrated and start cursing the stars that I couldn't have been involved in them somehow. (Like the hopelessly enamored city councilman in 'Waiting for Guffman': "It's just so GOOD, I mean did you SEE--aaagh!! DAMN I wish I was in this production!")

So the other obsessions, what were they...Oh, do tell. )

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