Friday, 22 February 2013

Review: 'Bones Buried in the Dirt' by David S. Atkinson

Bones Buried in the DirtWhen this novel was offered to me for review I was immediately intrigued by the summary. 'Bones Buried in the Dirt' by David Atkinson sounded different to most childhood-related novels I have read before and I can say now, after having finished it, that it is a good thing!
The stories of this novel in story form act together to present the young life a boy named Peter. Ranging from Peter at ages four to twelve, the stories focus on the moments in childhood that get buried in the mind but are never fully absorbed. Unlike most coming of age tales, Peter is never brought forward into adulthood. Rather, though the stories are reflective, the distance is short. Thus, instead of a how an adult became who they are, the result is a becoming–a sonar picture of the person Peter will be.
This novel has an honest cruelty to it that I found very remarkable. Narratives about childhood often either idealize it or tear it to the ground, both to the effect that the reader ends up with an unrealistic image of childhood. 'Bones Buried in the Dirt' manages to walk the thin line between realism and fiction, where normal events are described in such a way they seem universally applicable to every child and yet intensely personal. The people and events in 'Bones Buried in the Dirt' are taken from real life and every person will recognize instances in the novel that make them think back to their own childhood. There is no misplaced sensibility, no covering up of how cruel children can be, and this allows Atkinson's novel to be an honest portrayal of a child growing up. Although I am a woman, I recognized many of Peter's experiences as my own and the question of what kind of a person Peter will be became a rather personal question.

The reader first meets Peter around the age of four and leaves him eight years later. Throughout that time, not only does Peter change, the novel changes as well. As Peter's friendships and relationships develop, the narrative turns from its specific focus on Peter's thoughts to more description and conversations.  As he grows up, things become less clear. Just like Peter, we aren't sure about his true feelings and thoughts, about how what has happened earlier has influenced him. Through Peter's eyes we also meet different characters such as Steven and Joy, who readers will instantly be able to identify as their own childhood friends. Their interaction seems so logical and normal, it is almost absurd how fascinating it still is. In a society where most of us are used to watching people's life unfold in reality shows on TV, it is amazing to see the same thing develop in a novel. 

Whereas some may find the novel's take on childhood raw or challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the first time, I felt an author had dared to simply describe childhood as it is. Our memories are always in retrospect and always clouded by what we know and have become now. By withholding the grown-up Peter from us, Atkinson pulls this comfort away and we are forced to accept that childhood isn't the magical time we might remember, but that it also wasn't as dreadful as we might sometimes think. There were afternoons of boredom and moments of intensity that we were unable to explain at the moment. By not giving us an explanation for some of the occurrences in the novel, Atkinson brings us back to the time when a lot of things didn't make sense and yet others were so perfectly clear and obvious. You will encounter every emotion in this book, happiness, sadness, joy, as you rediscover your own childhood through Peter's story.

I give this book....
4 Universes!

It is perhaps surprising that a novel that described something so average as a normal childhood can be both fascinating and funny, but 'Bones Buried in the Dirt' is a very true and thrilling read. I recommend this book with my whole heart to anyone who wants a stimulating, yet enjoyable read. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Review: 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare

We all know I'm a massive Shakespeare fan. I love that man's plays, even if I don't like all of them. And now it seems I have found a play to add to that 'not my kind of Shakespeare'-list. 
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.
According to some, this is Shakespeare's best play. Of course this si said of many of his plays, but 'The Tempest' seems to have a special place in the hearts of many people and I have to admit, I don't entirely understand why. Perhaps the reason for that can be found in my favourite Shakespeare plays, such as 'Hamlet' or 'Henry V'. These plays have protagonists you can either like or dislike and have a plot that leads to something, that means something. In many ways I found both plot and characters lacking in 'The Tempest'. I did not like Prospero. Many of my reasons to dislike him are reasons why I like other Shakespeare characters. He is, for example, a manipulator. So is Iago, whom I love. In Prospero I saw no honour or loyalty, nothing to truly admire or truly despise. He is degrading to Ariel, but also reliant on her. He loves Miranda, but has no problem using her in his own plans. He despises Caliban, but still claims him as his own. He feels wronged by Antonia, but has done the same to Caliban. 

But then I didn't really appreciate Caliban either. He has much less time on stage than Prospero, which means he is hardly a true antagonist. He is both rebellious and subservient, desires freedom but wants to be ruled. There are almost too many oppositions to make him a complex character and none of the oppositions are explored or explained enough to make them real. And this is where my true problem with the play lies. I was completely untouched by it. Ophelia's death in 'Hamlet' is heart-breaking, Henry V's St Crispian's speech is rousing, Benedick and Beatrice's battle of wits in 'Much Ado About Nothing' is hilarious. 'The Tempest' left me very calm and placid and, dare I say it, bored. The plot did not help. The concept of a storm stranding these enemies onto the same island is great, but since everything is controlled and orchestrated by Prospero there is hardly any doubt as to whether his plan will fail or not. Antonia, who stole his dukedom, is very easily convinced to return it, Miranda hopelessly falls in love with Ferdinand and Caliban drops his new master in favour of Prospero in a heart beat.

Let's return to Miranda for a moment. Shakespeare is often criticized for his female character but I find myself liking most of them. Miranda however is almost a non-entity, a lack of character rather than a character. She has completely accepted the patriarchal society established by her father and is not much more than a tool to him. Yes, Prospero loves her but only because she is his daughter, taught by him. She falls in love unconditionally with the first man she sees on her father's design and has no other role in the play. 

My criticism of plot and character aside, it is still Shakespeare which means I still enjoyed the language and the occasional jokes. Some things were really fun and Caliban's 'The Isle is Full of Noises' speech is beautiful. It is no coincidence that speeches from this play were chosen for the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. Perhaps it speaks to Britain because the play is essentially about love and war on an tempestuous island. I think seeing it live might change my opinion so perhaps I should try to go see it in the Globe next season!

I give this play...


Have you read 'The Tempest'? Did you like it or do you agree with me?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Teaser Tuesday and First Paragraphs

I haven't joined in with any memes in ages, real life was calling, but I'm back, hopefully with a vengeance. Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. I just posted a review for Oedipus Rex (I'd love for you to check it out) so I decided to tease you with two lines from the play.
'Chorus:One thing is clearyears back the Sphinx tested himhis answer was truehe was wise and sweet to the ctyso he can never e evilnot to me.'
Oh, the tragedy, the pain, the beauty of this play! Ready for the next one?
'Jocaste:Why should we fear, when chance rules everything,and foresight of the future there is none;'this best to live at random, as one can.'
Who had expected wisdom to come from the woman who married her own son?

And I also decided to join in with a new meme, First Chapter, First Paragraph, Tuesday Intros is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. I am now reading 'The Dream of the Rood', an Old English poem. Don't worry, I will not harass you with the actual OE, but here's the first paragraph in Modern Day English.
File:The Dream of the Rood.jpg'Listen, and I will tell you the very best of dream which came to me in the middle of the night, while the tongues of men remained at rest. It seemed to me that I saw an extraordinary tree, brightest of all beams, towering up into the air and wound about with light. That beacon was all covered with gold and lovely gems: some stood at its base, fair on the surface of the earth, and five more gleamed above up on the crossbeam. Hosts of angels, eternally fair, kept watch over it. This was no gallows for a common criminal. Holy spirits watched it, men all over the earth and all this glorious creation.'
I really like this poem. In the dream, the narrator is told by the Cross about Christ's death. Christ is much more an Anglo-Saxon warrior type of man rather than a helpless sufferer and I really like that interpretation. They were ingenious, back in the day.

So, what are you teasing with this week?

Review: 'Oedipus Rex' by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex I have always loved classical Greek myths and Oedipus was and still is my favourite Greek hero. He is the ultimate when it comes to the tragically flawed hero. His story is one of fate, murder, incestuous love and loyalty. 
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex has never been surpassed for the raw and terrible power with which its hero struggles to answer the eternal question, "Who am I?" The play, a story of a king who acting entirely in ignorance kills his father and marries his mother, unfolds with shattering power; we are helplessly carried along with Oedipus towards the final, horrific truth. 

Whether I entirely agree with the slightly melodramatic summary (from Goodreads) is a question for another day, I do agree with one thing: this play holds an awesome power. There is a sense of doom that hangs over the play from the very beginning. The Oedipus myth starts out with a prophecy for Laius, King of Thebes, that he will be killed by his son who will then marry his own mother. Oedipus is abandoned in the wild but found and eventually adopted by another royal family. The Oracle of Delphi however tells him he is doomed to kill his father and marry his mother and he abandons his adopted family, thinking he is protecting them. On the road he kills Laius, who travels in disguise, out of rage and then liberates Thebes from the Sphinx. As a reward, he marries the queen Jocaste and becomes King of Thebes. 

The play starts years after this when the city of Thebes is being ravaged by the Plague. King Oedipus marks himself as a great king in vowing to find a solution for the Plague, which turns out to be finding Laius' killer. Blindness seems to be a theme in this play. Oedipus is blind to all the hints that he should drop the search or at least guess at the outcome and fights until the bitter end when all he can do is admit he is at fault. This is Oedipus' 'fatal flaw' or rather his 'failing': his determination to find out the answer, even as it becomes clearer that the answer will not be good. Aristotle's belief was that the fatal flaw was what lead the hero to his doom. Oedipus is, in my eyes, a seperate case. Yes, his determination is what brings him closer to his doom yet there was nothing that he could do about it. It was Fate, it has been prophesied by the Gods over and over again and Oedipus is, after all, merely human. 

I personally love this aspect to the story. Oedipus is tragic, a lost case, and the audience cannot help but wish there was some way for him to survive this, both physically and morally. Although patricide and incest are not condoned, it is almost difficult to blame Oedipus for either. He seems to be the only character kept in the dark, the only one truly unaware of the true way Laius died and his true heritage. In many ways I wished the play would include the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx. It truly shows Oedipus' character developing. He has royalty in his blood and is a good king. He truly cares for his people and loves his wife and children, no matter how morally wrong that might seem to the audience. He punishes himself, blinds and banishes himself and at the end of the play all seems well and truly lost.  

Oedipus Rex is the first part of Sophocles' three Theban Plays. Although Oedipus breaks my heart, it is Antigone that truly steals it. I have a knack for the daughters of tragic Greek heroes, Electra is another one of my favourites. Antigone is a truly heroic and loyal character. Although she has plenty of reasons to despise Oedipus, she is loyal and stays at his side until he dies. In Antigone  she extends the same loyalty to her brothers and dies a tragic death. Both her and Oedipus' life are ruled by Fate and by the Gods and they have no choice but to act as bravely as possible.

I read the play in my Module Reader for Introduction to Drama, which means I read the play in different editions. My favourite was probably W.B. Yeats' 'Version for the Modern Stage'. It is very prosaic and emotional, without becoming too archaic and sentimental. 
'Uplift our State; think upon your fame; your coming brought us luck, be lucky to us still; remember that it is better to rule over men than over a waste place, since neither walled town nor ship is anything if it be empty and no man within it.'
I really like these lines. It shows not only the desire of the characters, and the audience, for Oedipus to succeed and be happy but it also conveys the gloom and doom that are about to hit Thebes. 

I realize this is not much of a review but rather an analysis of emotions and perceptions, but I hope there was something useful in there. I give this play...

5 Universes!!!!

I love this play and think Sophocles was a genius. It is stirring and strong and brings the audience to an impossible place. How can we sympathise with a man who killed his own father and married and impregnated his own mother? Why do we wish he could get away with it or remain unawares? This play is sure to split opinions and there are plenty of people out there who dislike it, but it is a true classic.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Tolkien's Eucatastrophe

I recently read '"Just a Fool's Hope": Tolkien's Eucatastrophe as the Paradigm of Christian Hope' by Margaret Bush, a senior thesis on Christianity in Tolkien's works. I sought out this paper because I was interested in finding out more about this 'eucatastrophe' and realized that in many ways, the eucatastrophe forms the key to the centre of Tolkien's mythopoeia and Christian beliefs.

Mythopoeia comes from the Greek word μυθοποιία, 'myth-making', and is both a genre and an action. Authors such as Tolkien, who coined the term, C.S. Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft are known for creating a mythology and world for their novels. Middle-Earth, Narnia and the Cthulhu Mythos are rife with mythology and stories created by their respective authors in order to offer a background to their primary narrative. For a closer look at mythopoeia, Tolkien is the best example. Works such as 'The Silmarillion', 'The Book of Lost Tales' and the appendixes to 'The Lord of the Rings' are filled to the brink with stories, languages, myths and chronologies, offering the reader with so much material that Middle-Earth seems as real as Ancient Greece. Nothing but stories remain of either and yet Tolkien's tales are so similar to our "original" and "real" mythology, while remaining unique, that they have been raised to the same level by many. 

In his mythology, Tolkien brought together two of his passions: paganism and Christianity. When I write paganism I do not mean men covered in blood sacrificing humans, I mean the culture and beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians, which Tolkien studied throughout all of his life. He was not only interested in their languages, which influenced Elvish and Rohirric, but also their culture and beliefs. For the Anglo-Saxon and Viking common men there was no such thing as an after-life in which they would live blessed lives. The awareness of this, the gloom that comes with it, and the idea of a courageous and honourable death is seen by Bush as the reflection of Tolkien's studies into pagan cultures. The Fellowship in 'The Lord of the Rings' is willing to fight on even after they believe Frodo to be dead because it is the right and honourable thing to do. So where does Christianity fit into this?

This is where the eucatastrophe comes in. Tolkien first coined this term in his essay 'On Fairy-Stories' in which he analysed fairy tales and their form. The eucatastrophe can be anything that happens near the end of the story that saves the hero from doom and turns the story from tragedy to joy. Unlike deus ex machina, the eucatastrophe comes from the story and is not, as such, a divine intervention. In her analysis of 'The Lord of the Rings' Bush sees many occasions in which Tolkien uses a kind of Fate as divine presence. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, just as Frodo was meant to inherit it. Bilbo's mercy for Gollum was his own decision and is what eventually allows the eucatastrophe in 'The Return of the King' to logically happen. Frodo has succumbed  to the Ring and everything seems lost when suddenly Gollum interfers and accidentally destroys the Ring.  Crucial here is Frodo's failure because it differentiates him from Christ, whose Incarnation was, in Tolkien's eyes, our, human, eucatastrophe. 

Frodo's failure sets him apart not only from Christ but also from the heroes of old such as Beowulf, and makes him a common man. Tolkien here shows us that normal people, hobbits, are almost bound to be seduced in the face of such spiritual evil as the Ring. Frodo cannot resist and is not sacrificed, like Christ did and was. He does, however, have his own, personal, eucatastrophe. Again, the seeds for this were sown earlier on, much like Bilbo's previous mercy was the cause for the final eucatastrophe. Frodo's pity for Gollum in 'The Two Towers', that leads him to spare his life, allows him to spiritually survive his failure. 

Bush argues that there is no true eucatastrophe in 'The Lord of the Rings' because the end is, ultimately, not happy. Frodo leaves Middle-Earth as do its Guardians, Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf. But this is where Bush sees Tolkien's focus. He wanted to find a place in God's creation for his own creation. He does not presume to be able to repeat God's Eucatastrophe of sending down Jesus in his own work but rather he gives us a story that shows us human eucatastrophes, of people inadvertently saving the world with a little push from Fate or God, who knows. 

These are my thoughts on eucatastrophes, mythopoeia, Tolkien and many other things. I hope it was somehow interesting and coherent. I definitely recommend the paper to anyone who is interested. If you can't find it, drop me an email and I can send it to you. All thanks go to Margaret Bush for writing down everything so clearly that even I understood it. And I also recommend reading Tolkien's poem 'Mythopoeia' which he wrote after a discussion with C.S. Lewis, who dared to call myths 'lies breathed through silver'. This was the first ever poem I, partly, memorized.