Is It Possible to “Hate Classics?”

Is It Possible to Hate Classics

It’s a common statement: “I hate classics.  They’re boring and old and difficult.  I only read [age range or genre].”  However, a classic is not a specific type of book.  It does not mean one written in old-timey language, nor does it mean literary fiction.  A classic is a book that is considered to have stood the test of time.  That’s it.  That means in a few decades The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Divergent could be considered if they last long enough.  We’re all constantly in the act of reading potential classics!

However, since we cannot predict what will be considered a classic years from now, we can still take a look at the wide array of books considered classics.  It’s quite possible that most readers have read and enjoyed at least one of these books–scary classic status aside!

Fantasy Classics

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Science Fiction Classics

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Romance Classics

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • North and South by Elzabeth Gaskell
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

Modern Classics

  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

Adventure Classics and Swashbucklers

  • The Three  Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Mystery Classics

  • Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
  • Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
  • Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie
  • Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene

Children’s Classics

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Conclusion

Classics encompass every time period, country, and genre.  You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that, even if you thought you were a classics hater, you’ve read and loved some of these titles!

 

William Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds

king-lear-hindINFORMATION

Goodreads: King Lear
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2007

SUMMARY

Approaching old age, King Lear determines to divide his kingdom among his daughters.  But is a king still a king when he has given up all the trappings of royalty?  Gareth Hinds adapts one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies.

Review

Gareth Hinds presents what seems to be a scholarly adaptation of what some consider Shakespeare’s best tragedy.  Complete with a preface about variations between the Quarto and Folio versions, a dramatis personae, and endnotes about the changes and excisions made, the work seems poised to save students everywhere from failing their Shakespeare exams.  But the seriousness of the text raises it above a study guide.  It’s clear that Hinds respects his source material and wants to present it in a way that’s both accessible and beautiful.  And he succeeds.

This adaptation does not have the rich colors of Hinds’s Romeo and Juliet, but it’s still in full color and Hinds makes some interesting stylistic choices sure to raise questions in the attentive reader.  The play begins in pastels but will encompass a variety of illustrations, including pages that are mostly white space and scenes shown as negatives.  Black-and-white drawings end the tale.  Each choice contributes a certain mood to the story, even if sometimes it seems like the message is too blatant.  “Bad stuff is happening here!” cry the negative drawings.

Some of the action becomes so cluttered that Hinds unfortunately has to provide lines to show the progression of the story. This, assuredly, is not the best layout option for a graphic novel; you want the scenes to flow without such obvious markers.  I’m not sure if we could argue that even these lines provide some sort of meaning to the story.  We’re all lost and confused like Lear?  We’re directionless without the king?  The world has gone crazy and what used to have meaning no longer does?  I guess we could stretch our interpretive powers, but it seems as if we shouldn’t have to.

Altogether, however, the book does a nice job illustrating the story and suggesting to readers the power the play can have.  Readers new to drama often need time to learn  how to stage the plays in their heads, how to hear the emotions, how to read the stage directions implicit in the dialogue.  The graphic novel brings this life.

3 starsKrysta 64

Movie Review: Ran (1985)

Shakespeare 2

Summary

Akira Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear as the story of  Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging samurai warlord who divests himself of his power and splits his kingdom among his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo.  Saburo protests that Hidetora has taught them nothing but war and that he can expect no loyalty from them once he has relinquished control.  Angered, Hidetora banishes Saburo.  But immediately Taro and Jiro begin vying for power, and Taro’s wife Lady Kaede insists that Taro need no longer show respect to his father, since Taro is now the head of the family.  So begins the end of the Ichimonji clan.

Review

Kurosawa’s adaptation of King Lear  reimagines the titular character as an aging warlord, Hidetora Ichimonji, who spent his life conquering other clans and now plans to retire in peace (but still with the title of Great Lord ) while his sons take care of the kingdom.  Hidetora’s past drives the story.  As his youngest son Saburo points out, Hidetora has taught them nothing of loyalty or the arts of peace; they grew up learning how to betray and conquer, how to take power.  To expect his sons to live in any other way is madness.

Hidetora, of course, ignores Saburo’s wisdom and banishes him along with the one faithful servant who also dares to protest his abdication of power.  Thus he sets in motion the familiar Lear plot of familial betrayal and a mad wandering through nature.  But Hidetora is haunted by his past deeds.  The betrayal here begins at the urgings of his daughter-in-law, Lady Kaede–she married Hidetora’s son Taro and then Hidetora killed her family.  And as Hidetora wanders through the fields he repeatedly stumbles upon the sites of his past conquests and the remnants of the families he broke apart and the lives he took.  Hidetora’s madness is not only the madness of betrayal by his children, but also the madness of realizing that it is all his fault, that he a destroyer of peace and of families as well.

Thus Kurosawa transforms the story into a powerful commentary on war.  Are the gods at fault for the suffering of mankind, or is man himself to blame for never resting content with what he has?  How should individuals respond to suffering and pain?  Is there any way to break the cycle of violence?

The vision is bleak, the misery unrelenting, and the ending, of course, tragic.  Love and loyalty are shown, but only so they can be cut off and destroyed.  It’s difficult to find a moment of redemption in this vision of King Lear.

5 starsKrysta 64

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds (A Graphic Novel Adaptation)

Shakespeare 2

romeo-and-juliet-hindsINFORMATION

Goodreads: Romeo and Juliet
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is a plague upon the city of Verona, where swordfights between the factions constantly break out in the streets.  How unfortunate then that Juliet Capulet should fall in love with Romeo Montague!  Gareth Hinds adapts Shakespeare’s famous play into a graphic novel.

Review

Plenty of graphic novel versions of Shakespeare exists for the teen trying to get through high school or just ace the standardized test.  Many are geared specifically for these types of educational purposes, meaning that the artwork is often secondary to the desire for the creators to offer a legible text, whether that means putting Shakespeare’s words into modern English or otherwise adapting it for simplicity.  Gareth Hinds’ work, while dedicated to teachers, goes beyond mere utilitarian purposes; it is a work of art, not a study cheat sheet.

The artwork alone stands out.  Here you get glorious color, not cheap black-and-white, as well as a nice amount of detail.  The illustrations are layed out thoughtfully to create meaning in the text.  And the depictions of the characters show real emotion, real action.  You can tell there’s thought behind each scene, a real desire to convey the story and to elicit a response in the reader.  The art is not secondary here; it’s a part of the work.

The thoughtfulness of the illustrations actually makes it easier to follow the text even though Hinds doesn’t modernize it like a “No Fear” adaptation (though he does abridge the work).  It mirrors the action one might see on stage, so one can understand that a person is lying or a person is upset or a person is about to draw his sword. If you can’t follow the words, you can follow the art.

The words themselves are layed out thoughtfully.  Often graphic novels like these seem to put all the major speeches in one large block of text on a page.  This does not really work well in the graphic novel medium.  Hinds finds a way to break up the text and still make it clear that it’s all of a part.  He doesn’t lose the power of a speech by trying too hard to highlight that power.

All of this is interestingly part of a work that seems to want to present itself as somewhat scholarly.  It comes with a dramatis personae, with footnotes, with a note about the texts consulted.  It also explains the decision to present a multiracial story–not, Hinds says, to comment on race divisions but instead to highlight the “universality” of the play.  The implication is that this is a work to be taken seriously, even if graphic novels generally are not.

Altogether, reading this adaptation was a treat.  The artwork really makes the story come alive, suggesting the emotions and staging one might see in a theatre performance.  Those who find reading Shakespeare dull because they have difficult imagining the staging themselves might see the Bard anew through the eyes of Hinds.

4 starsKrysta 64

Movie Review: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare 2

shakespeare-in-loveSummary

It’s 1593 and William Shakespeare needs a new play, but he’s feeling particularly uninspired.  He needs a muse.  Then he meets Viola de Lesseps, a merchant’s daughter who dreams of being a player in a time when women were forbidden on the stage.  Shakespeare is in love, but can a married man and an engaged woman find a way to make their romance flourish?  And will his new play, inspired by Viola, impress the queen?

Review

Shakespeare in Love won an Academy Award for Best Picture, but I have to admit I have never enjoyed this film.  It has its funny moments, sure, including a lot of delightful theatre humor and a few “in-jokes” for Shakespeare enthusiasts.  Who isn’t tickled by seeing an anachronistic Stratford souvenir mug in Shakespeare’s room or by watching him practice his signature–an allusion to the various forms of his name that have come to us through the years?  And yet, the Romantic image of Shakespeare espoused by the film has always annoyed me.

The Shakespeare of this film does not refer to historical chronicles, old stories, or the works of his contemporaries for inspiration.  Rather, his adulterous love for Viola becomes his muse and, once he meets her, the words just seem to flow.  Yes, he gains dialogue from some of the other people around him and even gets some ideas from Christopher Marlowe, but the general idea is that we’re seeing the genius serving as the instrument of inspiration.  No hard work here.  No acknowledgment of Shakespeare’s large debt to other authors.  Shakespeare is singular in his greatness, not the guy who reworked another plot to write  Romeo and Juliet.

This Romantic idea of authorship imposed upon an early modern writer is annoying enough, but then the film expects audiences to sympathize with Shakespeare’s love affair.  Shakespeare is, at this point, married with children.  His fictional love interest is engaged to a man of status.  But we’re supposed to cheer on their relationship because, I guess, Viola’s betrothed is a jerk.  Faithfulness and marriage vows are apparently irrelevant.  Chase whatever person captures your fancy at the moment, the film insists.  (We might also note here that Viola’s lot as a Renaissance woman is actually pretty good, despite her impending marriage to man she doesn’t like.  Her obliviousness to her luck in being born wealthy doesn’t make her any more likable as a character.)

I’ll gloss over all the historical inaccuracies because I grant that a popular audience is not likely to care, though I will note that the hopeful ending of Viola having a happy life in the New World at this time period is pretty rich.  And that the idea of Queen Elizabeth ever sitting in a public theatre is absolutely hilarious.  The rest of it is also somewhat horrifying to the soul of a historical purist, but it’s not likely that most people will notice.  In fact, most of them might even be glad that the movie depicts naturalistic acting as existing in the sixteenth century.  Would a modern audience be nearly as moved by watching Romeo and Juliet as it must have been performed at the time?  One wonders.

The idea of re-presenting Romeo and Juliet is, however, an intriguing idea.  It’s a play that’s entered our cultural consciousness, so one does not even need to have read the play to recount the plot or recognize the lines.  Shakespeare in Love tries to make it feel new, like audiences are hearing of it for the first time, watching it for the first time.  We are the audience of the film, the audience who does not yet know how the play will end.  In recapturing the excitement original audiences must have felt, the movie does, I admit, a spectacular job.

But does that make me forget the sappy view of Romantic authorship or the morally repugnant love affair?  Not really.  I still can’t invest myself emotionally in a film about two people cheating on their partners.   Shakespeare may be in love, but I’m sure not.

Krysta 643 stars

Reading Shakespeare Is Easier Than You Might Think!

It’s a complaint that you can hear throughout the halls of high schools and colleges, an aggrieved sigh you can find throughout the Internet: “Why do we have to read Shakespeare?  It’s too hard to understand Old English!”  The irony, of course, is that Shakespeare was writing in modern English.  Early modern English if you want to make fine distinctions.  But the fact is, the words Shakespeare uses are typically not very different from the words we use today.  Some have gone out of style, some have changed or accrued meanings, and some have changed pronunciations.  But, with a little work, you can understand Shakespeare.  If anything is really tricky about his language, it’s often that his need to maintain the meter of his lines calls for him to write in inverted sentences, and students often struggle when the word order is not what they expect.

What many do not realize is that Old English is not simply English that is old–that is, from the past.  Old English refers to a very specific language, the language that Beowulf is written in, the language also known as Anglo-Saxon.  The language that was spoken in England until around 1150.  The average person cannot read the original manuscript of Beowulf.   It’s like reading a foreign language.  You have to learn Old English in order to understand it, just as you might learn Spanish or French.  See the first lines of Beowulf below:

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

 

After Old English came Middle English, which lasted until about 1500 (if you accept the OED’s timeline).   You can read an example of Middle English in Chaucer’s works.  Here’s the beginning of The Canterbury Tales:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour….

You can see that these words are more recognizable than the words of Old English, though still difficult to decipher.  Reading aloud can help.  “Flour” might be…”flower!”

Now consider Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616.  He is writing early modern English.  Here are the opening lines of his famous Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

It’s true that you would not likely hear someone talk like this today.  Words like “temperate” may be unfamiliar to some students and phrases such as “summer’s lease” may initially be confusing.   The inversion in “Rough winds do shake” also may prove troublesome.  However, all these words are clearly recognizable and generally still in use (We don’t say “thou” or “art” anymore, but the meaning is clear). Shakespeare’s language is very different from the language of Beowulf!

So next time you find yourself puzzled by Shakespeare, take a deep breath and remember that learning Shakespeare is actually far easier than learning Old English!

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

bright-smoke-cold-fireInformation

Goodreads: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Series: Untitled #1
Source: Library
Published: September 2016

Official Summary

Sabriel meets Romeo and Juliet in this stunning and atmospheric novel—the first in a duology—from the author of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound.

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .

Review

I loved Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound, but I have mixed feelings about Bright Smoke, Cold Fire.  While I think the novel may have some of the best world building Hodge has done yet, I was not always invested in the characters and felt as if the plot had not really progressed after 430 pages.  I also was somewhat surprised this book has practically no romance, and the focus is really on the action and the world dealing with necromancy and general impending death.

My one complaint about Hodge’s previous two novels was probably that her world building always felt hazy to me; there was always something I couldn’t quite grasp or envision about it, and it frustrated me.  So I was extremely pleased with how concrete the world building in Bright Smoke, Cold Beauty is. Hodge takes a bit of time laying it all out, partially because there are so many many cultures living together in one city, and Hodge has to do the work of explaining all their customs, religious beliefs, feuds with each other, etc.  However, once the information comes through to the reader, it’s clear that the world is gloriously complex, but that Hodge has put thought into the details.  I loved it.

I wish I loved the characters as much.  Things are a little tricky because the book is supposed to be Romeo and Juliet inspired, but mostly I see that in the fact that the two main characters have families who dislike each others, and there are some other somewhat minor allusions. I think the book could have been written without the Shakespeare influence. However, Hodge does go really hard on portraying Romeo as a love-struck fool, which is accurate, but fairly annoying.  The other characters can’t even take him seriously.  On the other hand, Juliet seems uncharacteristically angry all the time, while the girl who fills the Rosaline role is frequently a jerk, if an admirably determined one.  I don’t always need characters to be “likable,” but it was often hard to find someone to root for here.

The plot is interesting, and I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I am mostly frustrated that the overall plot didn’t seem to head anywhere.  After 400 pages, I felt as if things had progressed very little.  There was a moment I might have labelled a climax, but it was completely glossed over, and then the story kind of just stopped. I understand there’s supposed to be a sequel, but I personally like to feel as if I’ve read a full book, not half of one.  After going through so much effort of reading to get so little, I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

I like Hodge’s work, and I love the touches of medieval (or, in this case, early modern) literature that goes into her writing. But I struggled with this one a bit.  I’m interested in what she does much; I’m not really interested in what Romeo and Juliet do next.

3 stars Briana