“Martin Chuzzlewit”- The Dark Horse of Dickens?

swirl-divider4Described by Dickens as “in a hundred points immeasurably the best of my stories”, we come to the 7th of his novels, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” Unfortunately, the general public didn’t seem to agree about it being the best, so it has always remained low profile.

You can argue it’s  natural and typical-an author’s pride, joy and dear baby never seems to be appreciated by others quite as much as they themselves do. So we can feel for Dickens.

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Mr Pecksniff and old Mr Chuzzlewit

1) The themes explored in the novel include murder, satire, deception, selfishness, selfishness and more selfishness. (some are not very nice people).

2) The protagonist Martin travels to America to a colony situated in a swamp, he becomes very ill,  is at the brink of death and sinks into a period of ruin and despair. Despite his hardships, he becomes much improved by the time he returns to Britain, with the aid of his very optimistic and jolly friend Mark Tapley.

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3) It illustrates Dickens’s turning point towards the darker threads of human nature and refinement of his writing style, comparing the satire and humour of “Nicholas Nickleby” against his later novels such as “Tale of Two Cities”, “Our Mutual Friend”, “Great Expectations” and “Bleak House”. 

4) Dickens portrays America in a poor light; “deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag, pollute it star by star, and cut our stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier.” Offensive to many of his American readers? It seems the novel and its characters are quite biased in regards to Dickens’s first visit to the country. He must have had a really bad experience….

Our Mentionable Characters:

  • Mr Pecksniff and his hypocrisy. He is a character you are itching to strangle. Even the online dictionary has an entry in his honour. Pecksniffery/Pecksniffian: adj- affecting benevolence or high moral principles.
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Martin, Mr Pecksniff with his two daughters and Tom Pinch

  • The admirable Tom Pinch who puts others needs before his, humble and loyal. Everyone’s friend. You want to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him safe. But without the juxtaposition of other villains and the unfair trials Tom must bear, his positive qualities cannot shine through.
  •  Martin is not the focus. He is weak minded, sometimes fickle and lacks a commanding personality despite his improvement later in the novel. An interesting question is how he is comparable to Dickens’s other protagonists?? Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, even Nicholas. (yes it has come to a point where I am on a first name basis with him)
  • Mrs Gamp. Described as a “drunken and verbose” nurse, she provides much comedic relief to the story. Honestly, the things she says hardly makes sense, but she is reliable and does her job well. That’s all we need to know.
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Mrs Gamp immortalised on a stamp

5) Perhaps you need to be a die-hard fan to be motivated to finish this novel. It is quite wordy and so dedicated reading is a must, to pick up from where you left off. Maybe one day I will give it another chance from the beginning! Though it took me a lot longer to complete, nevertheless- I did enjoy it and will be sad when my collection of Dickens is finished! I console myself that there is yet “A Tale of Two Cities” to go…

Wind On Fire Series & Book signing!?

20140828_154226For us 90’s kids, this will bring back memories. Memories of fantasy trilogies, memories of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials”

William Nicholson came to my secondary school for a casual book signing in yr 9- it seemed not many people had heard of him at the time and around 6 people showed up. (Me being the book nerd even then) I figured I was in the minority. He didn’t become my favourite teen author until some time after, so in hindsight, boy am I glad I went ~ Fan girl moment!~

 

20140828_154214Each book in the trilogy is so different. They can exist independently, or as one long story. They leave you with a strange, dreamy feeling. It takes place in a world that could be our own. In an unknown country, a society tucked away; a city within a city, people so like us and yet live in under such different circumstances. It is this which is so appealing. William Nicholson has an amazing way of establishing a premise for his novels, a world with its own lore that provides a perfect escapism for the reader. In fact, reading the second novel “Slaves of the Mastery” you may think it shares many similarities with Gladiator, with the shadow of a coliseum, fights, spell binding dances and hard weary travelling through dusty terrain. And there’s a reason for this. Wait for it….the author is actually the screen writer for “Gladiator”, “Les Miserables” and “First Knight”.

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So not only is he a screenwriter, but he’s also a playwright and novelist! However, something I wondered about- the trilogy was never made into a film. Though the books had the potential to be made for the big screens, I’m glad it wasn’t. There are so many books ruined by films that even the authors themselves have come to despise all that their hard work, sweat and passions had gone into. Of course, this isn’t ALWAYS the case.

So what happens in the books? Read on to find out…

windsinger“The Wind Singer”

In the walled city of Aramanth, exams are everything. When Kestrel Hath dares to revel, the Chief Examiner humiliates her father and sentences the whole family to the harshest punishment. Desperate to save them, Kestrel learns the secret of the wind singer and she and her twin brother, Bowman, set out on a terrifying journey to the true source of evil that grips Aramanth.

They go underground and meet mud people, have desert battles aboard fierce ships swept by the winds, defeat an army of beautiful and captivating Zars bent on destroying all in their path, all the while trying to escape old children whose touch will turn them old and frail. So, a lot happens.

There is a five years gap between the first and the second book, and the twins (of about 10 or 11) are kids no longer…

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“Slaves of the Mastery”

“When the ruthless soldiers of the Mastery strike, the city is burned and its people are taken into slavery.” The twins Kestrel and Bowman are separated and she vows revenge. Kestrel is a spirited character, bold and energetic- a kid who never does what she’s asked and a bit of a trouble maker (as shown by the first book!) whereas her brother is quiet and reflective, and has astounding abilities of empathy. (and later, mind reading)  The characters have grown up, and are no longer children and you as the reader follow them on this journey. As action packed as the first book was, the second is on a larger scale, think Lord of the Rings with epic battles…

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“Firesong”
Now we get to the final instalment which is perhaps my favourite, though the most frustrating. The characters are in search of their homeland through ice – to face starvation, blizzards and kidnapping by bandits as well as encountering mind control. This book is a coming of age story, the young, happy go lucky kids in the first book are young adults now, who face very adult fears and concerns. Fear over losing a parent, of unattainable goals, of illness, death and sacrifice. They must all make important decisions.
It made me feel a range of emotions. When I first read it I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, it made me angry. But I think that’s the point of it. To make you feel a range of emotions, happiness, sadness, fear and anger; to think about your own life. The ending wasn’t perfect, and it took me a while to realise that was okay. That’s real life.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The most important thing I learnt from the ending was about faith. Bowman has a blind, almost spiritual faith to guide them to the homeland, a faith in the good of humanity and that good will defeat evil. Kestrel on the other hand, a sceptic from start to finish often has opposing views. She feels helpless and isolated when her brother slowly starts to distance himself from her.

So what initially confused me, is what does happens to Kestrel? It seems each character has a part to play and Kestrel realises she must sacrifice herself, in order to purge the world of the Morah- the evil that spreads across the land. It is through faith in the greater good. But, there is a part of her that lives in the mind of her twin brother, Bowman. I always had the idea that Kestrel and Bowman would remain together- they understood each other and were each a part of the other, with the ability to communicate without speaking. For some reason, the idea of them separating was heartbreaking, and at the time I didn’t understand why they would have to go through life independently, or even, why one had to go away.

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The plot lines are extremely memorable and unique, and very imaginative. SO much happens and yet it all links together perfectly and manages to maintain its simplicity. I imagine the books to represent the elements. The city of Aramanth in the first as earth, the second as fire and destruction, the third air and ice.
They are one of those books that become part of your childhood, growing up with a story that contributes to your concepts and your ideas and if powerful enough- actually form the basis of who you are/will be as an adult.

That’s why children’s and teen books are so important for providing a positive message.

So let me know what you thought of the books, if you have read them or would like to.

If you had 5 minutes with the author, what would you say, or ask?

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“Nicholas Nickleby”: A Tale of Satire

swirl-divider4“I shall never regret doing as I have—never, if I starve or beg in consequence.”

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens is a story critics have until recently, found fault in. But it has remained one of the general public’s favourite. Why?

Sure it has aspects of the theatrical and flamboyant. Though critics have found the characters “one dimensional and the plot too episodic”, it had immediate success upon publication. There is something about Nicholas that makes him worthy as Dickens’s male protagonist. He has a mixture of naivety, innocence, optimism and youthful gallantry- the people’s champion through his indignation towards injustice.

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Let’s look at a summary: “One of Dickens’s most flamboyant and theatrical novels, Nicholas Nickleby is the story of an impulsive young man who, forced to make his way in the world encounters human life in all its variety: the tyrannical headmaster Wackford Squeers, the tragic orphan Smike, the  ridiculous Mantalinis, the hilarious thespians Mr and Mrs Crummles and their daughter, ‘the infant phenomenon’. Nicholas Nickleby is fired by outrage at cruelty and injustice, but is above all a work filled with riotous, life- affirming comedy.”

Wow. So all that said and done, what did I think after reading it?

1. Sticking to this ‘outrage at cruelty and injustice’, the best example of this is through his punishment of the tyrannical Yorkshire schoolmaster Wackford Squeers. Taking up a situation as mentor/teacher without real knowledge of his situation, Nicholas witnesses the unjust treatment, starvation, illness, violent beatings and the shoddy education the headmaster preaches. In fact, Dotheboys Hall is not a real hall at all but a house with a sort of farm shed used for teaching the boys. Dickens portrays the horrors of many Yorkshire boarding schools for unwanted children (we are also brought to the attention the cruelty of “evil step parents” who sent their kids to boarding school to get them out of their lives)

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The thrashing of Wackford Squeers, immortalised on a Royal Mail stamp

2. What makes Nicholas’s punishment of Wackford Squeers of Dotheboys Hall so satisfying is that he is not under obligation to Squeers. Nicholas is old enough to take matters into his own hands and make his mark in the world- if he chooses to. He can be impulsive and rash, but essentially he represents the voice and mind of the reader through his indignation of injustice and in this- he never fails.

3. Nicholas Nickleby is Dickens’s third novel after “Oliver Twist”. There are comparisons that can be made in his writing style and focus at the time of publication, to his later works.

4. Nicholas befriends a poor orphan named Smike- a truly tragic and heart breaking character who becomes his fast friend, escaping with him from the boarding school. Smike follows him on his journey throughout the novel.

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The internal economy of Dotheboys Hall

5. Like many protagonists, Nicholas is under obligation to someone or another (may it be morally or financially). After his father’s death he becomes “the man of the family”, yet as a country boy in a large city and still ignorant of the ways of the world, must rely on the goodwill of others. Upon his arrival, he and his small family (consisting of mother and sister) are under obligation to his uncle. Well, we can guess how that turns out….

6. The villains in the novel are as bad as those iconic of Dickens. The cynical, miserable Uncle Ralph takes a disliking to his nephew and schemes to undermine and break him- even using his sister Kate as bait. Ralph Nickleby is a man consumed and destroyed by revenge, in which nothing can appease him.

7. The other notable character is Wackford Squeers himself. He is a deplorable and morally perverse character but the reader is often disappointed at how little he appears. The novel naturally follows Nicholas and save from various chapters where the narrative of Ralph takes over, Squeers fades into the background.

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8. It has become a part of course really, the more I read of Dickens, for the summary to refer to each “book in question” to be the most SATIRICAL and contain Dickens’s MOST realised and comical characters. Each book claims this and well, there is truth in it. It just wouldn’t be a Dickens without them. As a writer, I only wish I could have even half the range of character development as he does…

9. Halfway through the book, Nicholas’s luck changes and so does the pace and structure of the narrative. You are still anxious for Nicholas as his enemies try to outwit and close in on him at every corner, but I found it harder to commit myself, and it took me longer to get through the book.

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9. I found myself getting bored with some of the events (his pursuit of Madeline Bray). In my opinion, there were characters and events taking place in “Our Mutual Friend” that kept the plot going far quicker. I can’t say I was disappointed exactly, because I was still satisfied with the ending, and how events turned out. However, some of the things in Nicholas Nickleby seemed a bit superfluous and failed to grab me like some of the other books.

10. I saw the BBC series of Nicholas Nickleby once upon a time, and it did influence my image of Nicholas, (softly spoken, tall, gentlemanly) so this was going round in my mind while I was reading the book. Dickens doesn’t actually describe his physical appearance or even his character in detail, so it is up to us; the reader to form our own opinions. But this does not desist from the point that it is almost impossible not to love such a, dare I say it; faultless character. He will remain in the vault, as one of Dickens’s most memorable protagonists to date.

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Nicholas Nickleby 2002 film adaptation

“Our Mutual Friend” Dickens


Finally, I have found time for a Dickens Review! I put these in small bite 20140804_144457sized chunks, for easy viewing…so here begins;

  • Summary as taken from the blurb of Our Mutual Friend: “Dicken’s last completed novel and one of the greatest books about London, ‘Our Mutual Friend‘ is a dark, enigmatic portrayal of a city corrupted by money.When a body is pulled out of the Thames, it is presumed to be John Harmon, drowned under suspicious circumstances before he could claim the fortune his father made from rubbish heaps. This mystery impinges on the lives of the naiive, hardworking Boffins, the riverside scavenger Gaffer Hexam, his beautiful daughter Lizzie, the mercenary Bella Wilfer and the doll’s dressmaker Jenny Wren, in a story of greed, death and renewal.”16

1. A dark story, it is considered one of Dicken’s most “sophisticated works”, though perhaps, one of his least well known.

2. The novel has a vast array of memorable characters which, through his wit and humour; you soon grow attached to.Though the language is less straight forward compared to his earlier novels, don’t be put off. The narrative is very well thought out and incredibly complex with intricate and unexpected plot lines. Compare the layers to an onion…

3. Death, intrigue, mystery, romance – it has everything. You are fooled along with a great number of characters along the twists and turns of a very complex narrative.Very satisfying as characters get their just rewards and no evil deed goes unnoticed, or unpunished. For me, the reading experience has to hold a variety of things, just like my favourite films. Action adventure mixed with fantasy and a bit of romance. It’s great how though Dickens manages to portray the worst of human nature in squalid London and the boundaries of social class- there is a particularly heart warming scene between John Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer that I always find myself going back to and just melts my heart (yup, I’ve bookmarked the pages)

OMF-Lodger-and-Daughter4.Like each of his books, there are some great characters- no matter what shape or form they take, from the devilish and hideous dwarf Quilp in “The Old Curiosity Shop” who delights in playing tricks on others and getting the better of them, to the one legged and villainous Silas Wegg who circulates the pages of “Our Mutual Friend.”

5.However one thing about Dickens most people notice, is that his female characters are often under developed. They either hold supporting roles, as spinsters, the frugal or the vain and frivolous, or proud mothers. Young females are all dignified, elegant, pretty who undergo some tragedy or suffering which make them all the more beautiful and heroic; sought after and admired by men of all ages.

6. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed. They really bring the characters to life and gives that something bit extra to your reading experience.

177.The novel exemplifies on the corruption money can bring, the greed it excites, and how it effects the lives of those it touches.

8.After finishing the book, I thought up a hierarchy of wealth of all of the characters in the novel, taking into consideration their fluctuating social position. This may seem a bit time consuming and superfluous, but the story made me think long after I had closed its pages,(often as I was lying awake at night) and it was my way of sorting through the vast array of characters in the novel. I don’t want to give away spoilers by laying it out in all its glory. So I will let you read it first…

(Follow for more bite sized reviews on “Barnaby Rudge”, “Nicholas Nickleby” and other Charles Dickens novels.) 

The Narrative Voice of Death: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

liesel-libraryThe narrative voice, as one who unravels a story to the reader; is interesting to explore as it bring a unique perspective to the novel. In this case, the narrative voice of Death acts as a director of the lives he witnesses, a storyteller masking the misery during the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jews during WW2 through the simplicity of storytelling. “The Book Thief” takes the form of a Meta-fictional style, the act of writing becomes the subject; of which the character of Death capitalises on the “truth” blending fiction and reality through irony and self reflection. In the text, the narrator reflects on the capability of humanity and mankind’s ability to be simultaneously beautiful and destructive; characteristics which often puzzle and surprise Death. 

Death is an omnipresent and omniscient force whose job is to collect souls; it is humanised and displays a vulnerability and sentimentality of spirit. The question is put forth to the reader; what if Death can possess the ability to feel and care for the lives of those it witnesses?  As the narrator itself claims, “the human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I am always finding humans at their best and worst.  I see their ugly and beauty and wonder how the same thing can be both.”(p.491) It is through the narrative voice which brings our attention to the nature of mankind and teaches us to observe what we as humans are capable of; and the possible consequences of our choices in life.

f992718582e6ba92d30f06f6a156840cIt points out it is often misconstrued as a stereotypical being, a Grim Reaper figure with a cloak and scythe. Cynically, it continues, “You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” (p.307) Though this is metaphorical, it brings to the reader’s attention how Death is within all of us, our fears, hopes. The concept is all around and part of us, it is something we should not be afraid of. So what shapes our view of Death? Is it shaped by what we see in the media, as shown by the vision of the Grim Reaper, or by our experiences? From an early age, our first experience of Death is perhaps through the loss of a pet. If a pet dies, parents struggle with how best to share this information in a way which will not horrify or scar the child, as it is something which will remain in their experiences for years to come. For us all, death is equated with sadness and pain so it is no surprise we are scared of it. “Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready.” (p.532) The narrator, though direct and frank in its choice of words; illustrates to the reader the familiarity it has with humans, like meeting a close friend. There is a comfort in that, it is familiar with its occupation and therefore imparts to the reader the lessons and inevitability of life to soften the transition.  

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“The Book Thief” (2013) Liesel and Rudy race each other

Death often refers to Liesel as the “Book Thief” in the novel. The title of the novel is dedicated to her. So what is the significance? The reason for this is her love for stealing books. In the case of Liesel, not only is stealing a representation of a girl’s defiance against adversary and the influence of the Nazi regime but she is taking her education into her own hands.

So is it acceptable to steal something if it is abandoned, or left to burn? As children we are taught to treat books with respect, to assign value to words. Nowadays we live in a society which relies predominantly on technology. In the West, there is still a focus on reading for pleasure, yet less and less children have the motivation or desire to read storybooks, especially ones that do not contribute to schooling. So how do we encourage kids to read and share their love of reading with others? Like Liesel it can be a very special and personal experience. For her, it is the thrill of stealing something back- everyone has their own motivation, the conscious act of choosing their first book and their sense of achievement when they finish it. Through a Russian Doll effect, of a story within a story, the narrator Death has a unique ability to reignite the passion to read, the act of picking up a book and feeling its spine, the letters on the cover. Each book is different, just like each individual in the world. Perhaps it is this love and treasuring of words that makes Liesel’s actions more acceptable to the reader; after all, Death does not judge Liesel for her acts of stealing but regards her determination with pleasant surprise.

Liesel in the neighbour’s library

A history lesson

Death can be considered a very unlikely narrator giving a history lesson to children in the text. Comparable to the autobiography “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” from a Jewish girl’s perspective, “The Book Thief” focuses on a German girl’s point of view. Though this is a novel, many children today live similar lives to Liesel; orphans, homeless, starving in the backdrop of war. Death serves as the omnipresent and omniscient voice that as a reader, we do not doubt, focusing on children and how war impacts on them. The world is watching events unfold in the past, yet do we learn from our mistakes? Is history repeating itself? The narrator wishes to highlight on this important point, encouraging the reader to think and, as mentioned above to form their own opinions on what is right and wrong. In fact, the narrator believes: Living a good or bad life is its own reward or punishment.

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“The Book Thief” (2013) Liesel & Hans

Language to convey meaning

Another point to discuss in relation to Death’s narrative voice is the understanding of the structure of language to convey meaning, “the words were on their way and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds and she would wring them out; like the rain. (p. 85)” It is the unexpectedness of language and the unique way Death offers information. It explores everyday and common aspects such as rain and clouds but describes it in a way which seems unique and different to the reader; as if they are seeing it for the first time.

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“The Book Thief” (2013) The Hubermanns’ at home

The narrative voice of Death is a teacher, a guide and storyteller. Death transcends time and place, encouraging us to think about topics in a way we are unaccustomed to, allowing the reader to learn about themselves through the narrative. It is a process with no definitive outcome. It is the punishment and reward of living, a story of hope and the beauty of mankind despite humans ability to perform such horrors and destruction.Essentially the novel is a universal book because it appeals to our human psyche, our compassion and our sense of right and wrong; of injustice. No matter our background, our situation in life or where we come from, there is undeniably something for everyone in the novel. May it be the love of books, of music, of singing or reading and drawing. Of friendship and family and laughter, the narrative voice of Death cements all together through its brilliant storytelling.

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 (Review on “The Book Thief” 2013 film will follow shortly…)

Copyright © 2014 by Kate W J White (All Rights Reserved)

Bookilm Day 1: The Spirit of Robin Hood

 

Most people remember the outlaw Robin Hood as robbing the rich to give to throbin-hood-clip-art-10e poor. Yet this is only on the surface. In fact, the earlier ballads told of him doing no such thing. It was only at the beginning of the 19th Century that he has become known for this, his skill at archery- his ability to shoot arrows from a great distance to land its target and being good with the sword. Though originally he is shown as a Yeoman, (a commoner who cultivates the land) later on Robin is portrayed to have lands and position as Earl of Huntingdon, which have been snatched from him by the eager and cunning hands of the Sheriff. In the versions that followed, it is said that Robin went on the crusades to fight in the Holy War for King Richard the Lionheart. His acts of courage and battle hardy skills are all contributing factors to appoint him the leader of the outlaws.

So what do we know about Robin Hood? At first glance he is considered loyal and brave;a good leader. He would lay down his life for his men, and they for him. He does not harm women or children and always comes to the rescue at his own peril, to save those about to be executed; or hung or amputated.

No honour among thieves? Seems there is- he punishes the corrupt and is saviour of the oppressed.

In this way, Robin typically signifies a ‘concept’, a martyr of the people, those who are too weak to look after themselves and are taken advantage of by those in power and authority. The stories tell of his adventures as he one by one recruits his men, from Little John, to Allen a Dale, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck and Much to name but a few, not forgetting his childhood sweetheart and heroine Maid Marian. In the retelling, their adventures often involve a fight in each chapter and the scrapes they get into, but Robin Hood and his merry men clad in Lincoln Green always triumph over injustice and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

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Marian

The character of Marian is depicted a spirited and outspoken lady who, not only is good at fighting herself, but often disguises herself as a man in order to avoid detection in and out of the castle. She is seen helping those in need and acts as spy for Robin and his gang in Sherwood Forest whenever there is need.

It is interesting to see the changes made in the adaptations of the original ballad, from modern day TV series to films that tell of Robin Hood and his merry men. There have been countless adaptations which have featured the happy outlaw and cater for a modern audience.

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Robin & Marian (Robin Hood BBC TV Series)

For Saturday night viewers, those who remember the ‘Robin Hood’ series starring Jonas Armstrong (before ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ & the results show)- it is a family show that caters for a younger audience. Robin is in his mid 20’s, with the attractive Marian who, along with the presence of Richard Armitage as the sneering leather clad Guy of Gisbourne, was one of the main reasons I watched the show. When she left, the show introduced a variety of meaningless characters with a plot bordering on the ridiculous. They were there for the sake of being evil, but nothing could bring Marian back, and shattered all hopes of Robin and Marian being together like they should be. The show only lasted three seasons before it ended.

To act as a further comparison, later films (including Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the popular legend and ‘Prince of Thieves‘) reveal a mature Marian and Robin, supporting a different take on the ballad. A more accurate portrayal, in my opinion, of the stark and brutal reality during Robin Hood’s lifetime.

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“Prince of Thieves” 1991 film

There is no denying there has always been comedy in Robin Hood. From the fierce yet frustrated sheriff who is always duped by Robin, to the adventures of the merry men whose presence it can be argued; is to provide comedic relief; there is something to make it light hearted and enjoyable for all audiences.

The fluctuation of character portrayals can be quite amazing. Let’s take Guy of Gisbourne for example.

In Howard Pyle’s “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”, he appears as a stranger in the forest who is killed within a chapter by Robin in a duel. In the 1956 version by Roger Lancelyn Green, he is the right hand man of the Sheriff of Nottingham, who tries to woe Marian and pursues her any chance he can get. In the 1991 Kevin Costner version (of which the sheriff is played by Alan Rickman and Richard the Lionheart by Sean Connery) Guy of Gisbourne is portrayed as the Sheriff’s cousin, whom he subsequently stabs to death when he fails to succeed in the capture of Robin.

 

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Ridley Scott’s 2010 film

Now we come to the the most recent film directed by Ridley Scott. Guy of Gisbourne does not even appear in this, and the Sheriff is portrayed as a snivelling and power hungry lacky of Prince John who hardly makes an appearance more than three times in the entire film. Perhaps this is due to the vast number of villains, with Prince John holding a prominent role, along with the new character of Godfrey.

Ultimately, whether Robin Hood existed or not matters little. The ‘idea’ of him has transcended time- a hero to represent and defend the people against corrupt lords and the law of the land, inspiring others with his spirit, to address the balance between the rich and the poor; issues which are important to this day.

The World of Edgar Allen Poe

Some of you may have heard of him, some of you may not. However, it is hard not to come across something he has influenced.

So why is Edgar Allen Poe so famous?

Firstly, he is said to be the inventor of detective fiction, inspiring young readers today with his portrayals of the gothic and horror genre. Secondly (and importantly for us writers), rather than to deliver a message, he believed a poem’s “first obligation is to create beauty through rhythm, rhyme, and visual imagery.” Not only are his stories eerie and terrifying, but they reach into the deepest recesses of the reader’s sub conscious and into the darkness of human nature.

His works explore the juxtaposition between madness and sanity, the dead and their power over the living, of love versus all consuming hate, as well as the inner exploration of the self. Perhaps Poe’s most famous poems include “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”, and short stories such as “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Murders at the Rue Morgue.” He was able to create such a variety of poetry and prose, appealing to a universal reader. They are dark, unsettling and macabre and it is hard to find another author who quite writes like he does.

“The Raven”

 

Perhaps my personal favourite is “The Masque of Red Death”. It is intriguing, captivating and rich with colour and imagery. While the plague rages on in the country, Prince Prospero locks up his castle and invites guests to enjoy themselves at a grand masquerade ball, a retreat away from the death outside his walls. We are introduced to an enchanting setting, where everything is opulent, gaudy with aspects of the grotesque. Each room is a different colour, decorated with silks and damask, under the rule of the selfish Prince. Before long, the red death is revealed by the figure of an unknown masquerade character, who having brought the plague into the walls of the castle and causes Death to all present; simply vanishes into nothing.

There’s something about it that reminds me of the “Phantom of the Opera”, of which there is a similar masquerade scene…

“Phantom of the Opera” (2004)

 

“That which you mistake for madness is but an over acuteness of the senses.” Many of Poe’s characters profess their “sanity” despite the cruelty of their actions- actions which are strategically planned and carried out, such as in the story “The Tell Tale Heart” first published in 1843.

Ranging from melancholy to despair- there is a certain mystery that surrounds his works, and an equal mystery associated with his death in Baltimore. Yet there is no denying it, there is something haunting about his writing, something that stays with you; a long time after you have turned the last page…

Fun Fact: If anyone is familiar with the film “Holes”, you will notice there is a scene where Kate Barlow is reciting a poem to her pupil. The character of Sam overhears it and starts to quote…

“I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea;

But we loved with a love that was more than love-

I and my Annabel Lee-“

 

You got it! It’s Poe once again-

Do you have a favourite of Poe’s work? Have you seen the film adaptation called “The Raven”?

Beautiful Books Review

LeatherBound Classics

The Leather Bound classics collection are like something out of a dream. They are something you would find in Belle’s library in the Beast’s castle, the smell of leather, as you sit curled up in an old armchair by the fire. The pages are thick and of good quality, not only is the binding immaculate with a great front cover design but there is a matching silk ribbon to hold your place.

I can’t stop staring at them.

Did I mention they change their shades under different lighting? You will have to see for yourself…

Dracula

Cover aside, the first thing that surprised me reading it, was how it was completely unlike the film, or what the modern day audience associate with Dracula.

IMG_20140622_204322The narrative is in the form of journal and diary entries and interestingly enough, the character of Dracula, whom the book is named after- only appears a few times in the novel. It’s about the lives of the others he touches, much like ‘Oliver Twist’, that are the main focal point. At the start, the narrative is unsettling, as if you are running in inescapable circles in the castle of Count Dracula trying to find your escape.

We are introduced to characters such as Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter and trust me when I say this- nothing about the book is sexually explicit, that the films are so keen on portraying. Count Dracula is an all powerful being that can bend the elements to his will, turn into any creature, scale up walls like a giant crab, transform into sand and float through keyholes, appear as mist, and influence the minds of animals and humans alike. He feasts on his victim every night while they are asleep, returning to the same victims until, eventually, so drained of blood they die, turning them into second generation vampires. Though they have the fear of garlic and stakes through the heart, killing a vampire seems much harder if they are blessed with super strength, cunning and have thousands of years of knowledge on how to survive. Much like an immortal superhero villain.

Terrifying huh?

The Picture of Dorian Gray

If you have read Oscar Wilde’s short stories such as “The Selfish Giant” and “The Happy Prince”, you assume The Picture of Dorian Gray will be similar in writing style – it’s not.

20140619_122102 dorian gray

Though the sentimentality is there, the novel takes on the whimsical reflections of the author, often philosophical which might put many readers off at first glance. For me, it is the concept which draws me to the novel. You get sentences which really resonate such as; “he watched it with that strange interest in trivial things that we try to develop when things of high import make us afraid”- a feeling that I for a long time tried to express into words but failed. They apply to a universal reader and often I found myself thinking, ‘ah yes, I agree!’

I first saw the film adaptation of this, before I read the book. Possible error? Maybe not. First of all, Ben Barnes is great in the role of Dorian Gray. He captures the character’s youth and inexperience, but also the darkness of the character’s gradual change throughout the novel brilliantly. As the actor reflects; it is “a morality tale about eternal youth, ageless beauty, self indulgent pleasure seeking and the pitfalls you might fall into if you pursued them so relentlessly.” Dorian Gray depicts human nature and the danger of this ‘pleasure seeking’ which ultimately leads to self destruction.

Though I would suggest to read the book first, in this case; you couldn’t go wrong with reading & watching the film together. They go hand in hand to bring visuals to life which otherwise might be hard to imagine from the book alone. However, like most film adaptations, there are events that do not correspond with the novel and if you want ‘accuracy’ it is best to take it with a pinch of salt.