King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

I read this for the Time Travel Challenge.  Yeah, I’m not adhering to my list.  TOO BAD.  I’m making King of Shadows part of a time travel mini-challenge that I call the Books I Like Because They Contain Time Travel and in Spite of Having Been Written by Authors I Do Not Like as Much as My Big Sister Does Challenge.  I shall include Time Cat in this mini-challenge too, because I can do that.

Nat Field, a twelve-year-old with a tragedy in his background, comes to London as part of a company of boys to perform at the newly constructed Globe Theatre.  One evening he feels slightly ill, goes to bed, and wakes up in 1599.  There he is recognized as actor Nathan Field, come from St. Paul’s to play Puck in a special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Shakespeare plays Oberon; back in 1999, a young actor called Nathan Field is treated in a modern hospital for bubonic plague.

I never cared for Susan Cooper.  I didn’t like all that Dark Is Rising business, and I could have lived without The Boggart too.  But King of Shadows packs a hell of an emotional punch.  My eyes are filling up with tears right now, just thinking about it.  It’s difficult to tell why without giving away the whole plot of the book, but I will say that Susan Cooper writes the loveliest darling of a Shakespeare you ever encountered, and his relationship with Nat is genuinely touching.  She’s spoiled me for all productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m afraid.

This book may have faults, objectively speaking.  The plot may be predictable and the subplots insufficiently explored.  You read it, and let me know.  I can’t see any of those problems, because every time I read this book, it breaks my heart.  Read it!  If you do not love Shakespeare, this is still a good read; and if you do love Shakespeare, well, then, it’s like an extended edition of the best Shakespeare dream you’ve ever had.

Because it’s not just me, right?  Y’all dream about meeting Shakespeare too, right?

Other reviews:

Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Miss Erin
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Did I miss yours?

On another note, this is a video of three Supreme Court Justices in 1987 hearing evidence over whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays.  When I discovered that they had done this, it made me love John Paul Stevens even more than I used to, but then I discovered that he thinks the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  STEVENS THINKS THE EARL OF – I don’t even care if he resigns now!

(I do actually.  I love Stevens and want him to stay, and he’s the only Protestant on the Court right now.  If he goes, and Elena Kagan gets appointed, as she is favored to do, it’ll be all Jews and Catholics.  I mean I like Jews and Catholics, but I think we should have some representation of other faiths too.)

Review: The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

Metafiction.  That’s another challenge I should invent, if there isn’t one already, a metafiction challenge.  I always expect to love metafiction passionately, and when it lets me down, I feel hurt and betrayed.  Like the book of The Princess Bride.  Why did you be so lame, book of The Princess BrideAtonementWicked after they left school, but particularly after, um, a certain event?  That I don’t want to say because some of you maybe haven’t read the book yet?  Slaughterhouse FiveGiles Goat-Boy.

And then sometimes it is great, like The Unwritten, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Ella Minnow Pea, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, or Fire and Hemlock, it is exactly what metafiction should be, and I feel satisfied with myself for choosing to love metafiction with all my heart.

And sometimes it’s good enough, but I am tortured by the thought of how much better it could have been if only X, Y, and Z.  Like Baltimore, or The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (I know!  Everyone loved this book!  But I did not.).  Fables actually falls into this category too, because although I love it and it’s fun seeing the fairy tale characters do all sorts of decidedly un-fairy-tale-like things, I always wish the characters were more fully realized.  But Fables has the advantage of having pretty pictures, whereas The Eyre Affair, which suffers from a more serious version of this characters problem, does not.

All of this to say, The Eyre Affair is all cutesy meta references and very little heart.  Literary detective Thursday Next encounters supervillain Lex Luthor Acheron Hades when she becomes involved in a case to track down the stolen original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit.  Thereafter Hades gains access to a device that allows real people to get into books, and vice versa; he steals the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps Jane herself.  If his demands are not met, he threatens, he will take Jane out of the manuscript permanently, effectively destroying Jane Eyre for all future generations.

Don’t get me wrong.  The cutesy meta references can be charming, enough so that I checked out the second book in the series in the hopes of its improving.  Fforde has produced some delightful details about his book-obsessed alternate England.  Automated machines recite several lines of Shakespeare when you insert a coin.  Thursday and her ex-lover Landen attend a production of Richard III in which all the actors are drawn from the audience, and the audience participates in the play through call-backs.  But the characters, though duly supplied with backstory, are cardboard, and there are long stretches where not much is happening by way of plot.

If this seems uncharacteristically harsh, you can put it down to two things.  One, I don’t buy Fforde’s versions of Rochester and Jane, or in several cases his characterization of the plot of Jane Eyre, and I don’t appreciate people messing with Jane Eyre if they’re not going to do it right.  Two, as you may know, I love it that Shakespeare was some nobody from Stratford and yet wrote these most magnificent plays, and I am not at all interested in theories that suggest otherwise.  So.

Other reviews:

The Zen Leaf
the stacks my destination
books i done read
Regular Rumination
Rebecca Reads
Eve’s Alexandria
A Striped Armchair
Necromancy Never Pays
S. Krishna’s Books
The Written World
Sam’s Book Blog
Medieval Bookworm
1 More Chapter
The Printed Page
Piling on the Books
25 Hour Books
So Many Books So Little Time
Reading and Rooibos
Miss Picky’s Column

Did I miss yours?

Review: Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare

They cut my head off in Titus Andronicus.  When I write plays, they’ll be like Titus…I liked it when they cut heads off, and the daughter mutilated with knives.  Plenty of blood.  That’s the only writing.
–John Webster character in Shakespeare in Love

Oh, Tom Stoppard.  You are so great.  I wish you would write screenplays for thousands of movies.  I wish you would have your own television show, and it would be called Tom Stoppard Is Not Ha-Ha-Funny But Everybody Loves Him Anyway, and on it, you could make wry comments about hermits who read newspapers and John Webster and the history of aviation.

Why am I talking about Tom Stoppard when I am meant to be talking about Titus Andronicus?  Because ever since I started this project of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order, I have thought a lot about the chats Shakespeare and I are going to have in heaven; and I am afraid that I have been too negative about him as a young writer, and he will remember it and be upset with me.

Me: But you were young!  The pressures of being a writer for the Elizabethan stage were many!  You had to give the people what they wanted!
Shakespeare: Those considerations didn’t deter you from employing the phrase “racist, poorly plotted, bloodbathy crap”!
Me: Bloodbathy isn’t even a word!
Shakespeare: It would be if I had used it.  Now run along and bother somebody else.

Or maybe he’ll say, I didn’t write it!, and we can spend a happy hour abusing its real authors as well as the fools who ascribed it to him.  That’s the better outcome.  Either way, like apocryphal George Washington, I cannot tell a lie.  Titus Andronicus is racist, poorly plotted, bloodybathy, and crap.  All the characters are perfectly hateful, though none is as hateful as – can you guess? – the black guy!  Aaron the Moor likes his son, but his only regret as he is led off to be executed, is that he hasn’t done ten thousand more wicked deeds than the deeds he actually did.  His soul, you see, it is as black as his skin.

Dreadful.  Absolutely no excuse for it.

Have you ever seen Titus performed?  Is there any excuse for it?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Review: The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare

Here’s what you should understand before reading Comedy of Errors.  My boy Shakespeare, he’s funny.  He’s all about being funny; he’s got funny down pat.  If you don’t believe me, I can only assume that it’s because you have never seen one of Shakespeare’s plays performed by actors with any hint of comedic timing.  He can do it in many different ways – he can do slapsticky visual gags, he can do puns, he can do wry little digs and situational irony and gallows humor.

And when he’s not being funny, he’s still being clever.  Nearly always!  He makes his words work hard for their money – if a word has a double meaning, Shakespeare will not let it pass unnoticed.  If two people are arguing, they’re not doing a half-assed job of it.  Read Richard III and you will find that Shakespeare could already, at the age of 27, crank out some whip-smart stichomythia that would make Aaron Sorkin cry like a little girl.

By the way, I just sat here for ten minutes conducting major excavations in my memory for the word stichomythia, and I eventually dug it out without the aid of the internet, and I am rather proud of that fact.  I took eight years of Latin and majored in English literature, and the result is that I have lots of dorky love for literary devices.  Like litotes?  I am not unfond of litotes (see what I did there?).  Cicero used them to great effect in his First Catilinarian Oration.  I like zeugma too because the word sounds exactly like the sound Ad-Aware makes when it’s finished finding bad files on your computer.  Chiasmus and transferred epithet and ascending tricolon, each in its own particular way is dear to my heart; and though it caused me some difficulties in Latin translations, I admire the elegance of periodic structure.

But back to Comedy of Errors.  It is not wholly without merit.  It has many funny lines; the two Dromios and the two Antipholuses get a couple of good riffs going between them.  The reason I have just spent some time defending Shakespeare and his ability to write comedy is that Errors is not his finest hour, plotwise.  It’s about two sets of twins (a set of master twins called Antipholus and a set of servant twins called Dromio) who were separated in a shipwreck, and as coincidence would have it, one of each set took his twin’s name as an homage.  Now the set that lived in Syracuse has come to Ephesus (risking death, because nobody from Ephesus can visit Syracuse and vice versa).  People in Ephesus get the twins mixed up.  That’s the whole plot.  It gets old after a while.  Mistaken identity humor is the kind of humor that’s difficult to sustain.  I am interested to inspect the ways in which Shakespeare manages his mistaken identity humor over the years.

Seriously, though.  I cannot wait for Twelfth Night.  That whole thing with Malvolio?  CLASSIC.  Do you have a favorite Shakespeare comedy moment?

Love

Go watch “The Waters of Mars” and then come back here so we can have spoiler-filled comments about all how bleak and scary and crazy it all was, and how excited we all are that John Simm is coming back again.  (I am very very excited.  I would even go so far as to say very very very excited.  I love me some John Simm.)

You may think that you have seen David Tennant put on some crazy eyes previously, but in fact you have never seen David Tennant do crazy eyes until you have seen “The Waters of Mars”.  I recommend you get on that as soon as possible.  Russell Davies does his best work when he’s not afraid to get dark with it (see also Midnight).  Although the premise of humans exploring space nobly, causing the Doctor to want to hug them and bury them in a cairn of compliments has been done before on this show, it’s never been done this well.  The monsters are scary and the Doctor is – well, he’s the Doctor, as he gets when there’s nobody around to stop him.

On my scaryometer, I would rate this probably on a level with “Silence in the Library“, which is to say, a bit less scary than “The Empty Child“, less scary than “Midnight” by a comfortable margin, and nearly half as scary as “Blink“, Scariest Single Episode of TV Ever™.

David Tennant, presently my favorite actor of all the actors, is starring in an NBC pilot about a lawyer with anxiety problems.  As anxiety problems of various kinds hold synchronized swimming competitions in my family’s gene pool, I am pleased about this whole idea.  IF they can write a therapist that’s any good, which is something I’ve noticed films and TV shows struggle to do.  Is it because all screenwriters have crappy therapists themselves?  Is it because they need the therapists to be idiots in order to allow the characters to carry on being dysfunctional?  Is it because the media hates social workers?  I DO NOT KNOW, but I yearn for David Tennant to come make his crazy eyes on American network television.

Plus, this.  My mum introduced us to Shakespeare with the films of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing; and that seems to have worked, because I love Shakespeare like I love my family, and I have renewed my long-abandoned Shakespeare reading project.  Previously I have disliked Hamlet A LOT, but I feel like, come December of this year, all that could change.

Review: Henry VI, Part 3, William Shakespeare

Okay, I did actually forget all about my project to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but DO NOT WORRY.  I have remembered it now and I shall carry right on with it.  I just finished reading Henry VI, Part 3, which is nice because I’m all done with Henry VI and can move along to my boy Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Remember how I said Part 2 was more like it than Part 1?  Not exactly like it, but more?  I regret to report that I can’t say the same thing of Part 3.  It’s all, Okay, now Edward is the King!  No, Henry!  No, Edward!  I know that’s how history went, but sometimes history is silly.  Sometimes when you are making a story out of history, you have to make it more cohesive than it actually was, and run the risk that history buffs will shriek THAT IS NOT HOW IT HAPPENED at you the next time they see you at a bear-baiting.  Shakespeare does not manage to do this, and indeed makes the story even sillier than it has to be.

You may recall that a character in Part 1 wished that he could shoot his eyeballs at another guy’s face.  In Part 3, Warwick says this:

I had rather chop this hand off at a blow,
And with the other fling it at thy face.

Now, is that the kind of thing a Kingmaker would say?  He wants to chop off his hand and fling it at Edward VI’s face.  All because Edward married the widow Woodville and made Warwick look like an idiot in front of the King of France.  Some people are grudge-holders.

Then at the end of the play, it’s suddenly Richard III: The Prologue.  I now expect that Richard III, which I have never read, will start out with, Previously, on Shakespeare’s Version of English History.  Richard (not yet the Third) gets down with the evil monologues; he murders Henry VI and starts chattering about how evil he is and how many other evil things he’s going to do.  He’s going to kill his brand-new nephew, and both of his brothers, because he is just that wicked.  (This doesn’t count as a spoiler, by the way, because none of that ever really happened.  Bah.)

There was this one line I liked, though.  They’re talking about whether to kill Queen Margaret, who has managed to be the most consistently bad-ass character in this trilogy of mediocre plays, and Richard says, “Why should she live, to fill the world with words?”  I love this as an acknowledgement of how dangerous this woman can be.  Why should she live, to fill the world with words?

Okay, I did actually forget all about my project to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but DO NOT WORRY.  I have remembered it now and I shall carry right on with it.  I just finished reading Henry VI, Part 3, which is nice because I’m all done with Henry VI and can move along to my boy Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Remember how I said Part 2 was more like it than Part 1?  Not exactly like it, but more?  I regret to report that I can’t say the same thing of Part 3.  It’s all, Okay, now Edward is the King!  No, Henry!  No, Edward!  I know that’s how history went, but sometimes history is silly.  Sometimes when you are making a story out of history, you have to make it more cohesive than it actually was, and run the risk that history buffs will shriek THAT IS NOT HOW IT HAPPENED at you the next time they see you at a bear-baiting.  Shakespeare does not manage to do this, and indeed makes the story even sillier than it has to be.

You may recall that a character in Part 1 wished that he could shoot his eyeballs at another guy’s face.  In Part 3, Warwick says this:

I had rather chop this hand off at a blow,
And with the other fling it at thy face.

Now, is that the kind of thing a Kingmaker would say?  He wants to chop off his hand and fling it at Edward VI’s face.  All because Edward married the widow Woodville and made Warwick look like an idiot in front of the King of France.  Some people are grudge-holders.

Then at the end of the play, it’s suddenly Richard III: The Prologue.  I now expect that Richard III, which I have never read, will start out with, Previously, on Shakespeare’s Version of English History.  Richard (not yet the Third) gets down with the evil monologues; he murders Henry VI and starts chattering about how evil he is and how many other evil things he’s going to do.  He’s going to kill his brand-new nephew, and both of his brothers, because he is just that wicked.  (This doesn’t count as a spoiler, by the way, because none of that ever really happened.  Bah.)

There was this one line I liked, though.  They’re talking about whether to kill Queen Margaret, who has managed to be the most consistently bad-ass character in this trilogy of mediocre plays, and Richard says, “Why should she live, to fill the world with words?”  I love this as an acknowledgement of how dangerous this woman can be.  Why should she live, to fill the world with words?

Booking Through Thursday

I like this one:

This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

So here are my fifteen books that will always stick with me, more or less in the order in which they entered my life:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre
, Charlotte Bronte
Emily Climbs, L.M .Montgomery
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
Macbeth
, William Shakespeare
The Chosen
, Chaim Potok
The Color Purple
, Alice Walker
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
, J.K. Rowling
Greensleeves
, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard
I Capture the Castle
, Dodie Smith
Showings
, Julian of Norwich
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie

These are all books that left me breathless.  Is that what we were after?

I will try not to squeal like a little girl

But the Royal Shakespeare Company is making a DVD of David Tennant’s Hamlet!  YES THEY ARE.  A DVD.

And, okay, yes, Hamlet is not historically my most favorite one of Shakespeare’s plays.  I have been known to say that Hamlet needs to for God’s sake DO SOMETHING ANYTHING EVER; I have been known to quote Oscar Wilde about critics of Hamlet; I have been known to tell the story of how my senior English class drove any possible liking I might ever have had for that play out of me by spending days and days and teacher-sanctioned days discussing whether Hamlet was contemplating suicide.  However, if anyone could make me like Hamlet it is David Tennant, I really do think.  So we’ll see how it goes.

Henry VI, Part II, William Shakespeare

Ah, this is more like it.  Not – you know – exactly like it, but more.  Much more political intrigue than fighting battles, and that always makes for a jollier play.  It’s all about the political machinations going on around Henry VI’s rule – everybody wants to rebel against everybody else. Gloucester wants to carry on being Lord Protector but the queen and her lover don’t want that because they want to be the power behind the throne.  The Duke of York and his pals want Henry deposed, because they feel that their claim to the throne is superior – which, in case you’re interested, it really is. Everyone is doing evil things, and it ends up with York sending King Henry running back to London. I know nothing good is coming for King Henry.

Once again, this play isn’t as together as future plays will be, and that could have to do with its being a history play.  Maybe Shakespeare just didn’t feel comfortable leaving out John Cade’s rebellion, given when it happened, so he had to stick it in and use it as comic relief even though it didn’t really fit with a lot of the other stuff that was going on.  I should read some of his later history plays and see how he does with those.  It was interesting to see shades of later plays here – cryptic prophecies and Gloucester’s power-hungry wife are clearly going to grow into Macbeth, the changeability of a rebellious crowd is much like Coriolanus, which I recall not liking as much as I liked Henry VI, Part II (though to be fair I read Coriolanus when I was depressed, so it may be better than I thought it was).

Holy Mother of God, King Henry is such a Victorian maiden auntie in this! He’s all, Oh, nobody could ever possibly do anything wrong, and when something bad happens, you know what he does, do you know? He passes out! Excuse me, swoons. The man swoons. I’m not even kidding. He swoons because he’s Miss Drusilla Clack. Oh, and then when he revives, he’s all weepy and hysterical and he’s all like Nobody talk to me, okay, I’m having my sad time right now! And when people try to talk to him he’s like LEAVE ME ALONE LEAVE ME ALONE LEAVE ME ALONE. What a wuss. No wonder the Plantagenets took over.

But parts of this play were so, so funny. Like, like when Warwick is accusing Suffolk of killing Humphrey, and Suffolk’s really angry about it, and he says (I’m paraphrasing here) Your mother was a big slut!, and Warwick gets angry back and says (again, I paraphrase), That would make me angry if I didn’t know that the real truth was that your mother was the big slut, you bastard son of a great big slut. Hahahaha, they got into the your-mama jokes. Classic.

Oo, and the bit where John Cade (he’s a Commie rebel from Kent) was doing his demagogue thing, and there were all these comments from the peanut gallery while he’s giving his speech, and then he knights himself – it’s obviously comic relief and everything, but all the bits with John Cade in are very funny. Did you know this is the play from which we have “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”? I did not know this.  Here is part of the John Cade bits:

It can be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear … Away with him, away with him!  He speaks Latin.

Teehee.  But there were also some lines I really liked – “Let him shun castles” is oddly haunting for something so short, and I found this quite creepy:

Patience, good lady; wizards know their times;
Deep night, dark night, the silence of the night,
The time of night when Troy was set on fire;
The time when screech-owls cry and barn-dogs howl,
And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves,
That time best fits the work we have in hand.

There were others but I’ve just spent ages copying them all down in my commonplace book, and now I am too tired to write them all over again here.  You will just have to trust me when I tell you that Shakespeare?  He is hitting his stride.

Update

Henry VI, Part II, is so much better than Henry VI, Part I.  I just wanted to mention that.  I’m not done with it yet but it’s way, way, way better than the first part.  I’m not saying it’s the best play I’ve ever read, but I’m enjoying it, and I can envision a future in which I might read it again just for fun sometime.  There’s so much political intrigue!  Plus, shades of future plays – particularly Macbeth.  Gloucester’s wife is extremely ambitious, and there are prophecies that are rather cryptic.  One contains the line “Let him shun castles”, which for some reason I really like.  Let him shun castles.

But soon I will review the whole thing.  Also the sixth Harry Potter book.  I’m just at the bit where Scrimgeour comes to visit, and Harry’s all, “If you’re smart, you won’t mess with Dumbledore” and Scrimgeour’s all “I see you’re Dumbledore’s man through and through” and Harry’s all “Yes.  That is right.”  Oh.  This makes Dumbledore teary, and me, too.