Tag Archive | classic literature

A lesson from Bilbo

treeofgondor“But this is terrible!” cried Frodo. “Far worse than the worst that I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

                                                                                                        – ch 2, The Followship of the Ring

Never had I pondered Bilbo’s relatively healthy mental state before upon the beginning of The Fellowship. Considering he had been in possession of The Ring for decades, there was little evil effect upon his soul by the time he does give up the ring to Frodo. The Ring had wielded such power over Isildur in times gone by, Sméagol in more recent times, and others, who had not even come into contact with The Ring. So why hadn’t it proved to be such a powerful evil once again, manipulating and affecting the mind of a content little hobbit after it had finally slipped away from the grubby Gollum and back into the world for its chance to reach Sauron once again?

As the wise Gandalf tells us – it’s because of pity. Pity can be translated into empathy, empathy to mercy, mercy to love. The pity Bilbo had in his heart for the pathetic existence of the creature Gollum is a character defining trait. Gollum was a trickster, an evil spirited being with no more moral compass then a snake. He was prepared, and even fastening a plan during their exchange, to kill Bilbo right then and there. And yet, when Bilbo had the upper hand, he showed this vile creature mercy. The first life and character altering decision Bilbo made when in possession of the ring was one of pity, of mercy, of love for a fellow creature. It is exactly as Gandalf says: Bilbo begins his ownership of The Ring with pity, with mercy, with love. Because of this very first decision he makes with such power within his grasp, evil is held at bay, it doesn’t consume him the way it did Sméagol – who, we know, made the opposite decision, and killed his cousin Deagol for the ring, which ultimately leads to the killing of any humanity within him. Instead of becoming an unrecognizable creature, Bilbo remains the same, save for his prolonged age, and definite desire to keep the ring in his possession.

The last decision Bilbo made with the ring – to leave it to Frodo – is connected to his very first decision. How, after so many years, was he able to (reluctantly, sure) able to leave it, to walk away from it? His very first decision regarding the ring was made out of love. Undoubtedly the decisions we make in life affect our later decisions. Selfish decisions encourage more selfish decisions, selfless decisions encourage further selfless decisions, giving into temptation once makes it harder to avoid the next time, just as standing strong against temptation makes it easier to stay strong the next time. His very first decision made out of love, against such an evil (an evil so strong it fills a pleasant hobbit mind with murder within minutes of touching it), would have given such strength to Bilbo’s soul. Despite decades of possessing the ring, he was still able to draw from that strength, courage, love, to leave the ring when he knew it was time.

Like Bilbo, we can also propagate strength through the good decisions we make, or propagate evil through the bad decisions we make. With every strong & good decision made against our human weaknesses, we gain graces, making it easier to choose good the next time. Likewise, every time we fail to make the good decision, we are pulled further down, making it that much more difficult to make the good decision next time. A seed can easily be dug up, drowned out, eventually lost and forgotten among a sea of weeds. Or, with tender and consistent fostering, it can grow into an oak tree, producing more fruits itself.

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2018 Book 1: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

51a00fea23e922cf227b03116753aaa7--pirate-art-black-sails I’m rather certain I’d never read a novel about pirates until now. Not having seen the old ‘Treasure Island’ movie since I was very young, I didn’t actually remember any of the story. I only knew there was a scary pirate villain with a peg leg whom I was terrified of as a kid. But that’s rather obvious for, possibly, the most well-known pirate tale of all time.

Young Jim Hawkins is thrust into an adventure of a lifetime when old pirate Captain Flint dies in the Hawkins family inn/tavern. Brought on board the Hispaniola as cabin boy, he and three other respectable men, Dr. Livesey, Squire Trelawney, and Captain Smollett, set out with a new crew, including ship’s cook Long John Silver, to find buried treasure, following the map of the infamous and deceased Captain Flint. Some time into their journey, Jim happens to overhear a conversation between Long John Silver and another hand, understanding their plot of mutiny and murder once they reach the treasure. Bringing this to his friends attention, all four, together with a very few other faithful crew members, begin a long and treacherous adventure, fighting for their lives. We also meet Ben Gunn, a marooned crew member from Captain Flint’s crew, who joins Jim and his friends in their quest for treasure, safety, and out-smarting the mutineers.

The rest I’ll leave to you to find out, if you are like me and hadn’t read this young reader’s classic. Reading pirate lingo conversation was a new experience for me, but it was fun, and a few times I put the book down smiling with anticipation over what the next chapter would bring.

2017 Book 10: Sense & Sensibility, by Jane Austen

 

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2008 BBC version. Arguably the most beautiful “finally!” on screen love moment

Confession: I had never actually read S&S before now. Shocking, I know. But now I have.

Since I’ve seen both versions of the movie countless times, I initially visualized certain characters as the different actors portrayed (which is always a con of watching movies before reading the books – your imagination is stumped by the movie). But I found the further in I read, the more my own imagination took over the various characters and now it’s basically a separate story from the movie, which I am happy about.

Let’s talk characters, since we pretty much all know the story and I don’t feel the need to give a plot outline.

Miss Lucy Steele: Ugh. She’s awful. The movies portray her as a slyly friendly and somewhat bratty young woman. But she’s actually so much worse. She is manipulative and nasty, with the façade of being sweet and innocent. She is probably what many good men fear – a beautiful woman being more focused on his money and her own desires then truly loving him. Lucy uses Edward very badly – they rashly become engaged at a young age, and despite his obvious indifference now, she holds him to it, feigning ignorance to his indifference, and in fact playing up their “deep love”. She treats Elinor with contempt, layered in a thick coat of familiarity and friendship. Yet ever-good Elinor is nothing but patient and accepting of this.

Mrs. Jenkins & Sir John: Austen does love her ridiculous characters. But what I do appreciate in these two (along with Miss Bates in “Emma”) is their utter and complete desire to treat their friends kindly and do everything they can for said friends. Yes they try Elinor & Mariann’e patience at times, embarrass them, and have a jolly laugh at their expense when it comes to teasing about men. But they always mean well, even if they don’t perceive how they are trying their friends. There is no reason to dislike these two characters, save for their being overly accommodating to the point of frustration (which is in fact NOT a reason to dislike someone).

Mrs. Dashwood: Oh that more of the world had mothers like Mrs. Dashwood! She is all feminine tenderness, motherly affection, and earnest love for her family. She has her faults, which include allowing her sensibilities too much freedom. But she loved and relied on her husband, who, based on references toward him, I gather, was her counter-balance in that regard. She does all she can by her daughters in kindness, love and concern.

John Willoughby: Scoundrel. (Ever so slightly comforting that he did fall in love with Marianne during the time he was simply amusing himself with her, which he wasn’t expecting. It doesn’t change that he’s a scoundrel, but at least he is the worse off between the two, since he knew he would long for her years after she’d forgotten about him).

John Dashwood: Pathetic excuse for a brother and man. I’d sock him a good one if he were my brother. Thankfully my brothers are men. The only redeeming quality about him is that he has a genuine concern for his sister’s well-being – even if he’s incapable of doing anything worth while to make it come about, or man-up against his wife.

Fanny Farrars Dashwood: Worst sister-in-law ever. Selfish, snobby, the sister-in-law equivalent to an evil-stepmother.

Marianne: Sensibility. Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve, takes and gives everything as it is. She is innocent, if naïve, and assumes the world is the beautiful, perfect place she assumes it to be. She lacks prudence in discerning the characters of others, and follows Willoughby’s lead in being uncharitable in thought and word against Colonol Brandon, whom she finds boring and stiff. (I would note that Willoughby finds fault in Colonol Brandon only on account of Brandon’s over-all goodness and seeming severity. Hardly things to be considered faults in such a virtuous character – might Willoughby feel animosity towards Colonol Brandon because of the inferiority he feels when around the Colonol?). Marianne means well in all she does, though she lacks the sense and discernment that Elinor has.

As a side note, in Austen’s day, “sensibility” meant something quite different then it’s current meaning today. In Austen’s writings it refers to one being strongly affected or lead by one’s emotions, or one’s actions being emotionally influenced. “Sensitivity” would be the world we use nowadays in place of “sensibility”.

Colonol Brandon: Ahh, what a man. Perhaps he is seemingly severe in his quiet and strength. But his genuine care, attention, and kindness to his friends (and even friends of his friends he has never met) is an humble and unassuming virtue. He has loved and lost, but holds true to love as it expanded to a child in need of him. He is upright, thoughtful, generous, and unshakable in his character. Would that any Marianne’s of the world be given a man such as Brandon.

Edward Ferrars: Oh Edward, you dear, you. The poor man was badly done by, at the hand of everyone who should have been caring for him. The kind, genuine and uncomplicated young man spent so much time in Plymouth because he found a tutor and friends who appreciated him, and whose company he enjoyed more then his own dreadfully stuck-up family. Naturally, with a mother and sister such as his, he would be starved for female affection, and easily fell for the steely Lucy (please take a moment to appreciate my witty pun, for puns are not my forte). But alas, his young age quickly matured and he realized his mistake. For he had, in fact, engaged himself to a dame just as cold as his mother and sister. Elinor’s friendship is precisely the female companionship his gentle, honourable self was in need of. But, his honour, or rather, attention to Lucy’s honour, holds him to his engagement. As awful as Lucy is, it’s the same awful in her we dislike that brings her to transfer her “affection” from Edward to his brother Robert, and she breaks off the engagement with Edward herself. Bravo! Our hero will finally be free to marry the one woman he adores for her virtue. The two are so well suited.

Elinor: Sense. I gathered that Elinor’s character was similar to her deceased father. She was “her father’s daughter” it would seem. After his death, she is the strength of the family. She holds her mother and sisters up, she is the sense and leadership in a family of women desperately in need of their patriarchal leader. (That’s right, I just used the words ‘need’ and ‘patriarch’ in the same sentence.) Her wise, sensible, balanced, and kind approach to life helps her mother to make more balanced decisions, encourages her sister to higher virtue, is the draw of a friendship with kindred spirit Colonol Brandon. These are also the very virtues that enkindle such a true love from our virtuous hero Edward. I appreciated that the book contains a less perfect Elinor, we read her faults – her personal anxiety and frustration with Lucy Steele – but we also read her unshakable kindness and patience with Lucy in public and when speaking of her to others, even during the most trying social times. Elinor must be one of the most virtuous fictional female characters who’s story I’ve read.

And now that I’ve finally read Sense & Sensibility, my mind is slightly more at ease in the classic literature department. And doubtless, I’ll read it many more times in future. But seriously, Colonol Brandon though.

 

 

 

 

2017 Book 9: Tess of the D’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy

Oh where do I even begin!? This is quite likely the most tragic of novels I’ve read.

***SPOILER ALERT***

tess1.jpgThe story begins with a beautiful, virtuous, innocent girl of 17, and ends with a broken, beaten down spirit of a woman who once was. Tess is a victim from the start. Her misery is sparked by a few regular ever-day actions which lead to a mis-hap, killing the family horse. Since the horse is the means of her family’s income, Tess feels it is her fault/responsibility to make up for the lost income and well-being of her family. Her mother’s idea to marry her off to a supposedly distant family member by sending her to work on his property where he will obviously fall in love with her, is the first phase of her life long misery, the beginning of her detriment.

Alec D’Uberville is a villain if there ever was one. Smooth talking and persistent, he takes advantage of Tess’ sweet and vulnerable nature, quite literally leading her through the forest, manipulating her emotions, and when she is exactly where he wants her, he takes what he wants. Claiming love from the start, Alec persists, during the three months following, that he wants to marry her. Tess is forever pushing him away, verbally, physically, emotionally. But to her he is somewhat of a viper, tranquilizing her into eventually being unable to avoid him any longer. Knowing him to be evil, Tess packs up and leaves when she realizes she is with child. Despite knowing how wretched Alec was from the moment she met him, Tess somehow feels that she is to blame.

Tess goes back to her parents home in shame, but her mother, knowing that she should have been more considerate towards Tess’s innocence, takes her back without qualms. A few months later Tess gives birth to a little boy, and lives the next year in her childhood village as an outcast, where she toils day by day with her child on her back. Her pride as well as her disdain for him keeps her from asking Alec D’Uberville for anything. Tess often has mixed emotions towards her child, though she loves him unconditionally. He is the only beam of sunshine her sad life contains. But after a year, her little joy becomes ill, and despite every effort Tess makes throughout the night, he dies. She had the minister called during the night as her little one fought for his life, and requested a baptism. She didn’t want him to suffer the sins of his father, she wanted him to rest in peace. But the minister refuses to baptize her son, claiming that children born of sin have no place in heaven. By dawn her little one takes his last breath, but not before Tess herself baptizes her son. Again, her son isn’t granted a place in the cemetery, and one night Tess goes out into the dark and buries her little boy alone, leaving a cared for but nameless grave behind her.

Tess leaves her parents home for a job as a milkmaid at Talbothay’s farm, where her story isn’t well known and may only be heard through rumour or speculation. She tries to make a clean start of life. But instead of living a secluded, hidden life, she meets Angel Clare. Angel is an apprentice farmer, having walked away from potentially living the clergy way of life. He and Tess have a certain chemistry between them that the other girls admire and pathetically mourne for. Angel is seemingly exceedingly good and forthright, an honest and hard working man. For as long as she can Tess keeps him at a distance despite her growing attraction and love for him – “for his own sake” she claims, due to her past. She believes herself unfit for such a man, that he would despise her once the truth is known of her (through no fault of her own) impurity. But Angel continues in persuading her, claiming that nothing she could possibly have done would ever warrant the removal of his love for her. Eventually Tess’s heart over-rules her head, and she accepts his proposal.

Tess and Angel marry. The day is pure bliss for both of them. But they each had a secret they didn’t want to divulge to the other. Once Angel has secured her in marriage, he feels the need to come clean. Angel admits to Tess that he was once with another, by his own choice and actions, and begs her forgiveness. Once Tess hears this, she feels compelled to tell Angel about her own past, with sure hope that he will forgive her as readily as she forgives him, and they can continue this new life in openness. But nope. Angel is stunned into silence by her story, and says he needs time to think things over. SAY WHAAT!!!??? He literally just says “hey babe, I slept with this girl one time, but I didn’t love her, and I love you, I was young and foolish, can you forgive me?” And of course Tess’s heart forgives this love of hers, because it was in his past, and isn’t who he is today. Then Tess says “since we’re on the topic, I was raped a few years ago by a horrible man, had a baby, my baby died, and then I came here.” And Angel’s response is “wow, you’re not as pure and good as I thought. I’ll have to think things through, this sort of changes all the vows I just made to you five hours ago.”

Angel decides to go away for a spell, across the ocean, where he had originally been thinking of taking Tess to farm with him. He leaves money at Tess’s disposal so that she might not want for anything while he takes time to think and just be far away from everything he knows. Tess humbly and quietly accepts this, returning to her parents home for the time being, dreadfully unsure of her future, and for some reason still believing that she is completely to blame for Angel’s change of tune towards her.

At this point of the novel, I had to put it down for a while. I picked up some “Anne” books instead because, to be honest, this story was just too tragic and depressing for me to handle. Both men made me nauseous. Tess’s lack of gumption when it came to telling both men off drove me insane. Her humility is admirable, but I also found it too much. There is virtue in humility, no doubt about it. But there is also virtue in strength and will power for justice’s sake. And Tess allowed these two men to take terrible advantage of her. Yes she was done a horrible disservice by her mother, who kept her in the dark when it comes to the world of men. And I don’t necessarily think anything she could have said or done would have changed either of these men’s actions. But had her character responded differently,  I think she could have stirred something in each man that would have made them feel disgust for their behaviour as well as remorse and a proper way of dealing with things afterwards. The tragic circumstances and lack of immoveable goodness in every single character of the book (except Tess) was just too much. I had to put it down for a spell.

The rest of the story continues in just as much tragedy. Now Tess is forced to live a life of toil, since she won’t use any more of the money her husband left for her and is determined to find her own way, while being committed legally and emotionally to a man who has more or less deserted her. It’s horrible. Then Alec comes back on the scene, and he is smooth and disgusting and she is fighting to be rid of him. She FINALLY feels anger towards Angel when she realizes she can’t hold Alec off much longer. The man she loves – who loves her – has left her to be swallowed up by a fiend, without so much as a backward glance.

Eventually she does give in. Alec uses his wealth and her fatherless family’s situation to manipulate her into – quite literally – a life of sin. Fully aware that her strength is weakening, Tess writes a hostile letter to Angel; first accusing him, reproaching him, and finally imploring him. But by the time Angel receives her letter, months have gone by, Tess is trapped, and Angel has already realized his injudiciousness.

Angel hunts Tess down, and after seeing him, it sets something off in her that crazes the mind of one who has been badly used by too many people for far too long. She sends him away in a cold manner. She returns upstairs, and ends up stabbing Alec to death after an argument. She runs after Angel, and they spend the next six days in compete bliss, hiding from the world for as long as they can. Tess doesn’t actually feel remorse for her crime. She feels a sort of freedom, even though she knows she’ll face death once she is found. And yet she is at peace with it. She expects it to come, and simply wants to enjoy the few days she has with her love before she is arrested and sentenced.

The morning before her arrest, Tess convinces Angel to take with her younger sister after she is gone. Liza-Lu – who is most similar to Tess of anyone else – is the only creature in the world “good enough” for him, Tess claims, and Tess couldn’t bare for Angel to be alone once she is dead. Liza will be a consolation to him, she claims. And it would put Tess’ sole ally in the care and protection of the only man Tess ever loved and trusted. Even after everything Angel put her through, Tess is good enough to be considering his welfare after she is gone. Certainly he is undeserving. But Tess is that virtuous.

Angel and Liza-Lu watch Tess’s execution from afar. They turn, hand-in-hand, away from their pure and loving wife & sister.

The only consolation in the ending of this story is that Tess is free from the horrible injustice and abuse she received throughout her life from the hands of all those around her.

I knew I would be reading a depressing story in Tess of the D’Ubervilles. But I didn’t realize it was THIS tragic.

2017 Book 8: The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

Image result for the blue castle      The past few weeks have found me absorbed in Anne of Green Gables. Feeling the need to take a break from a rather sad novel, I was propelled towards the happiness of the Anne series. So I re-read a few of them once again, and I’ve been in an entirely Anne mode the past few weeks because of it. Keeping with Montgomery’s style, I picked up a copy of another one of her books, “The Blue Castle”, recommended by my sister, Library.

Valancy Stirling is 29 years old, unmarried, and living under the strict thumb of her mother and aunt. She has never had a beau, she has never traveled, she doesn’t even have friends. She spends her time in obedient dullness, forever holding back her real thoughts, opinions and desires, due to her snobbish, mundane, and difficult family clan. Her only happiness is escaping to her “Blue Castle” in her fantasy world.

But one day, Valancy receives the fatal doctor’s note, informing her that her recent heart flutters are signs of a bigger problem, which will one day claim her life – most likely within the year. Valancy doesn’t fear death, but rather, she fears missing the life she should have lead. Out with propriety and in with her true self, she allows herself to say exactly what she thinks, and ends up leaving her mothers home to nurse a socially cast-out acquaintance – another young woman, closer to death then Valancy herself.

In her new position of nurse, housekeeper, friend and companion, Valancy finds purpose. She finds joy and meaning in the serving and nurturing of others. She also meets Barney Snaith, maverick of the town, who lives alone on a little island, keeps mostly to himself, and drives around in his old big loud car. A wide range of speculations assumed to be truth by the town say Barney is a criminal, murderer who fled from justice, a cheater, a liar, a psychopath. Valancy defended Barney to her relatives before ever having met him. Somehow she instinctively knew none of this to be true about him. When she does meet him, she discovers she was right. Friends with the old man & his daughter whom Valancy lives with & works for, Barney quickly becomes a regular presence in Valancy’s new life.

We get to know Barney through Valancy’s eyes. He is good, honest, doesn’t speak much about himself besides the tales of his various adventures around the globe. He is thoughtful, always stopping by and asking what she needs from town before heading there himself. And he’s protective, driving the distance to an “up back” party he was told Valancy would be at, but which he knows will be unsafe for her – and gets there just on time to pull her out of a harmful situation. And yet, there is so much mystery surrounding Barney Snaith – we know nothing about his past, why he is the way he is (until you keep reading, that is).

When her companion dies, Valancy finds herself clinging onto this new life she’s made. One day Barney comes upon her in the garden, and Valancy asks if he will marry her, knowing full well that he doesn’t return her love, and assures him it won’t be for long, since her life will be claimed by death, most likely before a year has passed. But Valancy can’t bear the thought of returning to her mother’s house and living once again in the prison of propriety, the childish obedience demanded of her, and spinster-hood. Barney agrees. He acknowledges that he doesn’t love her, but likes her well enough, and would be quite content to bring her along to his island, if that’s what she truly wants.

When Valancy first sees the little house amoung the pines, she sees her Blue Castle, in real form, for the first time.

…there’s more to the story… but I won’t give any more away.

Barney’s character is one I really appreciated in this story. It was evident to me from the start that there was deep hurt in Barney’s heart, that he had somehow been on the receiving end of severe unkindness in his earlier years, hence the living in seclusion. But his naturally kind, gentle, thoughtful character, remains. Despite his past (which we know leaks into his psyche from the occasional cynical remark, and his emotional reservation) his soul thrives on the good, the beautiful, and he never fails in his goodness. In some respects, his character doesn’t change from beginning to end – he is always constant, dependable. But in others, he does. Being on the receiving end of love, being cherished and respected by one he also cares for, allows his character to develop in a way it yearned to in his younger years. It unlocks the natural joy in his heart, he is finally, in a way, set free.

I also appreciated that Valancy finds purpose in a life of service for others. Never being allowed “idle time” in her mother’s house, she spent countless hours sewing, quilting, keeping her hands busy, but all with fairly superficial things that were simply stored away up in the attic for future use. She may have been using her hands and skill, but it was idle in another sense, in that there was no food for the soul coming of her work. But when her hands go to cooking, cleaning, caring for others in need, she begins living with a type of vigour, satisfaction, and joy, that only comes from serving others, where you know you are needed.

This book is another treasure, to be kept on the shelf, and pulled down when some warmth to the heart is needed by a good book.

 

Nota Bene: Although it may seem like this is pretty much the whole story, it isn’t. This is only some of the first half, and there is detail, character development, and over all beauty in this story that can’t be captured through a re-cap. So it’s definitely worth a read!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Cranford

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pretty much exactly what I imagined while reading the book

If you’re looking for a witty English novel to read, Cranford is your book. It is the simple telling of all the goings-on in a mid 19th century small English rural town. It is narrated by a frequent visitor and friend of a main character, Miss Mary Smith, who, when she is not in the town, is kept up to date about it’s happenings by letters. The town is want of men, and is primarily composed of hoity-toity elderly ladies of “position”, whose prime interest is keeping Cranford free of all change, and keeping all those they admire out of the terrible plight of marriage. Different events take place, characters are introduced into the town, and the whole place buzzes with excitement from it’s own small events.

Each chapter is a different little event that goes on, so to give any more detailed plot would give too much away. The main characters are rather silly (in the old British sense of politeness and snobbery), but their vices are redeemed by their virtue. If you’re looking for a chuckle, or even a “laugh-out-loud” funny, pick up a copy of Cranford – granted you understand and appreciate British humour, because this book is certainly full of it!