Classic Remarks: L.M. Montgomery Recommendations Beyond Anne of Green Gables

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Tell us about your favorite L. M. Montgomery work, aside from any of the Anne of Green Gables books.

Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

I love just about every book L. M. Montgomery has written, but I have always had a special place in my heart for Pat of Silver Bush and its sequel Mistress Pat.

Anne Shirley is famously imaginative and garrulous. Emily Star (from the Emily of New Moon series) has a reputation for being a bit odd; she has “flashes” and borders on interacting with the supernatural.  Pat Gardiner, in comparison, is one of Montgomery’s more “average” heroines–and I love it.   She’s quiet and fond of her home and her cats and somewhat adverse to change.  In short, she sounds like someone I might actually know.  And someone whom I would like if I did.

Montgomery can’t help but add some of her romantic touches, however.  Housekeeper Judy is Irish and firmly believes in fairies and the wee folk, and she’ll probably make you believe a little bit, too.  And then there’s the romance. I talked about why Jingle is one of my favorite Montgomery heroes in a previous Classic Remarks, so I won’t rehash it at length.  However, he’s friendly and earnest and kind and all the great things a strong love interest should be.  And he has an adorable dog.

Pat is sometimes overlooked because she’s quieter than Anne, but she is definitely worth knowing.

If you are participating this week, please leave us your link in the comments!

Briana

Classic Remarks: Is Dante’s Divine Comedy Still Relevant Today?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What relevance does a medieval text like The Divine Comedy have for readers today?

Dante’s Divine Comedy can seem intimidating and antiquated to contemporary readers.  A lengthy poem in three books narrating Dante’s physical journey through hell, purgatory, heaven, as well as his spiritual journey from sympathy with sin to a recognition of the wisdom and love of God, the Divine Comedy does not immediately strike many as interesting.  Indeed, its concern with the spiritual state of its protagonist and Dante’s belief that individuals have free will and can commit wrong are troubling to many who believe that truth is relative and that they cannot sin.  Distaste for the Catholicism that Dante embraces also causes some readers to want to give Dante as wide a berth as possible.

However, embracing or agreeing with Catholicism is not a perquisite to reading and appreciating Dante’s work.  At its heart, the Divine Comedy is about free will and the choices individuals, societies, and institutions make.  It is concerned with questions such as what the role of an artist is, how love and lust are distinguished, and how far an individual should pursue knowledge.  And it fearlessly engages troubling questions such as whether upright individuals who were not baptized should go to hell, how individuals who are kind and serve their city might still damn themselves, and the confusing nature of God’s mercy, which allows an excommunicated murderer like Manfred to be in purgatory on his way to heaven and the pagan Ripheus to be in paradise, but keeps Virgil in Limbo.  Dante’s struggles with the nature of choice, the seeming unfairness of life, and the attraction to behaviors that he understands to be wrong, are struggles contemporary readers still face.

Plus, the Divine Comedy is just great entertainment.  It is highly political, leveling criticism at the corruption of Florence and boldly chastising the Church for its greed.  Dante places familiar figures in his world, cheekily assigning his personal enemy Pope Boniface VIII to hell for simony, but also allowing readers to see and interact with other famous names from history and literature.  His imagination is stunning and though most readers focus on his inventive punishments in hell and the contrapassos (the punishments fitting the crimes), the terraces of purgatory are also richly drawn.  And the journey through paradise is a rather trippy adventure that has Dante travelling through the spheres, meeting the just rulers in Jupiter (who arrange themselves in aerial patterns much like marching bands today during sports events), being questioned by St. Peter about the faith, and approaching God Himself.

Dante’s ideas are far from outdated.  Rather, Dante engages with the puzzles and the problems that continue to engage readers today.  From concern about political corruption to musings on the nature of love, Dante restlessly probes the underpinnings of his world, seeking to understand them.  His restless mind and his devotion to seeking truth can continue to speak to and inspire us.

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Classic Remarks: Recommend an Obscure Classic

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What’s a somewhat obscure classic you wish more people would read?

I always love a good swashbuckler full of intrigue, action, and romance–all of it a little melodramatic and sometimes predictable, but always ultimately satisfying.   The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony delivers on just these swashbuckling promises and, better yet, it has a sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, to continue the fun.  The plot of the first book follows Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll as he vacations in the fictional country of Ruritania, only to find once there that the future king Rudolf, Rassendyll’s distant cousin, has been kidnapped by his evil brother Michael.  Rassendyll must impersonate the king at the coronation, woo his future bride Princess Flavia, and find a way to free King Rudolf all without anyone catching onto the switch.  Let the drama ensue!

The Prisoner of Zenda is not entirely obscure.  There are many movie versions and Rupert of Hentzau has also been adapted to film and ran as a TV series in the 1960s in Britain.  There is even a subgenre known as Ruritanian romance.  However, I have not ever seen a blogger mention the book.  But fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, or The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas may also find these books entertaining.

Classic Remarks: Changes from Book to Film in LotR

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Discuss one of the changes Peter Jackson made from the book while adapting The Lord of the Rings.  What did this change add to or take away from the story?

Below are spoilers for The Lord of the Rings--book and films!

“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”  –Faramir, The Lord of the Rings

So Faramir, captain of Gondor, repudiates the One Ring and its tempting offer of unlimited power.  Faramir understands that he cannot clam for himself the ability to rule over others through force.  He understands that, even if he took up the One Ring for a noble cause, the unlimited power it offers would ultimately corrupt him.  And he understands that the ends cannot justify the means.

Faramir also understands he does not want to win a victory through gaining control over the minds of others and bending them to his will because such a victory would be empty.  What then would he have been fighting for?  He explains to Frodo that he does not, as Boromir does, delight in the arts of war for themselves: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”  He defends the freedom of Minas Tirith and its people.  If he overthrew Sauron to save his city only to become the next Dark Lord and to subjugate his people to his will, then he would have won nothing.

In his book, J. R. R. Tolkien juxtaposes Faramir and his strong sense of morality with his brother Boromir, who initially falls to the lure of the One Ring, only to repent of it before he dies.  Boromir shows us the weakness of man–of every person, even though his failings have made many a reader dislike him–and how easy it is to be seduced by the prospect of power of control.  Boromir is not inherently a bad person.  He is a valiant man who cares about his city and wishes to relieve his people of the fear and the suffering they endure under the shadow of Sauron.  He desires the Ring for a noble cause.  He unfortunately allows that desire to consume him, and to lead him into dishonorable actions.  Readers are meant to identify on some level with Boromir, who wishes to do right but does wrong–but who can still acknowledge his guilt and seek forgiveness before the end.

But Faramir is not necessarily a character readers identify with–he is a character readers can look up to and admire, and hope to emulate.  Faramir shows the possibility of moral strength and integrity of character.  He shows that not all people are weak like Boromir, but that some can train themselves in discipline and in wisdom, and so pass the test when it comes to them.  Faramir and Boromir comment on each other and reflect two distinct paths individuals can take when confronted with temptation.  Faramir is, in many ways, what Boromir could have been, and should have been.

Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s story radically changes Faramir’s character, however, to make Faramir less admirable and more relatable.  His Faramir initially claims the Ring to bring to his father to save Minas Tirith.  His motivations are weak–he desires the approval of his father, who only ever had eyes for his more militant son Boromir.  And so movie-Faramir takes Frodo and Sam on a pointless and roundabout journey to Osgiliath only to realize there that he has taken on more than he can handle, that the Ring is bad, and that the Ring really ought to be destroyed.  So he release Sam and Frodo after taking them far out of their way and delaying their journey by some time.

Because movie-Faramir is acting much like book-Boromir, Jackson thus has to transform movie-Boromir into a more dislikable character.  In Jackson’s version, Boromir appears at the Council of Elrond as rather unintelligent and maybe bordering on the boorish.  He talks clearly out of turn to indicate his desire for the Ring, to insult those who are not fighting on the front lines, and to question Aragorn’s authority.  From the start he seems unwilling to accept the Council’s decision but joins the Fellowship to make sure his country is represented (either to gain glory in the history books or keep an eye on it–his motivations are somewhat ambiguous).

This depiction of the character is in contrast to the book where Boromir initially arrives to seek Elrond’s wisdom on the matter of a dream, does not initially respond to the revelation of Aragorn’s identity but later desires Aragorn’s help (though he is a little doubtful he is really seeing Elendil’s heir–which is hardly unwarranted as Aragorn himself seems to understand), graciously defends the valor of the men of Rohan, and judiciously asks for more information about the ring he is seeing (Galdor and Frodo agree more information is needed).  His eyes “glint” at the mention of the One Ring.  But it takes him awhile to suggest that the Council use the Ring and he does not claim it for himself or for Gondor: “Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!”  At this moment, he seems concerned about defeating Sauron and not himself, and perhaps as if he does not understand the Ring’s power fully or what is at stake with its use.  He also agrees to the Council’s final decision.  On the whole, book-Boromir is rather more restrained, more generous, and more noble.

But Jackson does not stop there with his transformation of Boromir.  In the extended films there is even a scene in which Boromir blithely picks up the shards of Narsil (the sword that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand) despite its being an ancient and honored artifact.  He then clumsily drops it when he notices Aragorn in the room.  There is also an added scene is which victorious military Boromir joins with Faramir in a nice brotherly moment while also seeming maybe a little too find of alcohol.  Jackson is building up the idea that audiences should not like Boromir, an apparently somewhat dumb military man, too much.

In making these changes, Peter Jackson’s films change the meaning of Boromir and Faramir’s presence in the story.  Faramir is no longer a character who gives us hope through his integrity but a man who chooses to do wrong because he lacks self-confidence thanks to his strained relationship with his father.  And Boromir is no longer a flawed human readers can recognize themselves in, but a somewhat distasteful one they may prefer to distance themselves from.  But not all characters are meant to be relatable.  Further, a relatable character need not be morally weak or unsure to be relatable (witness how Jackson also changes the character of Treebeard so that he does not initially support the overthrow of Saruman but must be tricked into it, and the character of Aragorn so that his doubts about taking up his responsibilities as king are highlighted throughout the films).  And not every flawed person must also be dislikable–the point is that we all have some room for improvement and that Boromir is not alone in sometimes being weak.  But neither is he alone in being capable of redemption.

Jackson’s changes suggest that unselfish motivations or sacrificial love are rare, perhaps present only in his story in the actions of the Hobbits rather than in a number of characters.  And his changes suggest that those who are weak and fail are not wholly deserving of our sympathy.  But Tolkien’s message is so much greater.  Tolkien’s story suggests that good people exist, that temptations can be overcome, and that the world is not wholly devoid of kindness and wisdom.  Tolkien’s story suggests that hope can be found in the unlikeliest of people and places.

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Classic Remarks: Is Paradise Lost’s Satan a Sympathetic Character?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Do you think Satan from Paradise Lost is at all a sympathetic character?

Paradise Lost

Whenever I see someone comment that Paradise Lost‘s Satan is a sympathetic character, I think they must be referencing the fact that Satan is given interiority in the text, that readers are presented with the rationale Satan uses when he decides rebelling against God is a good idea–justified, right.  After the invocation, the poem opens with a scene of Satan in Hell, rousing the fallen angels who followed him, and promising them great things and a chance to regain Heaven.  He explains that he is powerful too and that to repent now that he is banished would be a disgrace:

“To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power,
Who from the terror of this arm so late
Doubted his empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall” (111-116)

Satan can make moving speeches when he wants to, though he often appeals to negative emotions like hatred.  Readers, to some extent, get to see things from Satan’s perspective, and perhaps that is what some people refer to as “sympathetic.”  However, it’s clear that readers are not actually supposed to be on the side of Satan or think him in any real way wronged by God.  Readers are shown the steps of reasoning that Satan took to make his choices; they are not supposed to ultimately agree with him that they were good choices.

The opening invocation asks: “Who first seduced them [humans] to that foul revolt?” and answers “Th’ infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind” (31-35). These are harsh, judgmental words, and they set the tone for how the narrator and God Himself speak of Satan throughout the text.  Satan is a deceiver, full of pride, sinful.  There’s no “trick” in the text here.  Readers are not supposed to consider the narrator unreliable or question whether God is right.  It is sometimes difficult for modern readers to take religious texts as seriously as the authors and contemporary audience did, but the veracity of God is taken for granted in this text.  Satan is given motivations in the poem, but he is not exonerated from his transgressions because of them.  I don’t think he is a sympathetic character.

If you are participating this week, please leave a link to your post below.

Briana

Classic Remarks: Graphic Novels

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Tell us about your favorite classic graphic novel.

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir  Persepolis recounts her life growing up before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  In the introduction she notes that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of the individuals who fought against oppression.  Her account is particularly powerful because told the through the eyes of a child, who does not yet understand.

The story opens memorably with the introduction of the veil.  At ten years old, Marjane has never had to wear the veil before, but the Islamic Revolution now makes it mandatory.  It also segregates her previously co-ed school and rewrites the textbooks.  Marjane struggles to understand why the veil is necessary since before it was a choice.  And she does not  hesitate to question the changing teachings of the textbooks, to the horror of her classmates and teacher.  As a child, she is dangerously outspoken and irrepressible.  She is saying what many adults are thinking, but cannot speak aloud.

The disconnect between youth and history continues throughout the story.  We see Marjane delight in the knowledge that her relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for political causes.  She romanticizes the struggles and imagines such information will make her cool among her peers.  Her understanding of what is happening is simultaneously clever and knowledgeable, and all too innocent.  This is truly history through the eyes of a child.

But throughout Satrapi celebrates the resilience of the people of Iran, highlighting their bravery and and their dedication to freedom.  She truly has given us a different perspective, a side of the story that often goes untold.  It’s a story worth listening to.

Bonus: I’m not sure it’s yet considered a classic, but Sean Tam’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival illustrates the strangeness and loneliness of arriving in a new land.

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: Should We Adapt Classics for Children?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What do you think of adapting classics for younger readers?

In many ways I’m a literary purist. I often bristle at movie adaptations that aren’t faithful to the original novels, and I’m not afraid to grump about people disrespecting masterpieces with all their silly changes. (Shudder.)  As I grow older, however, I’ve come around..a little bit…to the idea that sometimes changes are necessary or good–that maybe something that works in writing doesn’t work as well in film and needs to be tweaked. Or maybe, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter whether the protagonist’s sister’s teacher’s daughter has the correct color hair.  However, no matter the medium, I’m still a purist where it comes to the spirit of a text, and my greatest frustration with children’s adaptations is that they often make great literature less in order to make it more accessible for younger readers.

When I say the literature is made “less,” I refer to all manners of changes, but all have the consequence of diluting the story.  Sometimes children’s adaptations cut material to make the book shorter.  Sometimes they simplify the prose. And sometimes they remove material because it’s not “suitable for children.”  The ultimate goal appears to be making the novel “easier to read.”  I suppose an idealist would say the goal is to introduce children to great literature, but my complaint is that with these adaptations the reader isn’t really getting Jane Eyre or The Count of Monte Cristo or Hamlet or whatever.  The reader is getting an editor’s interpretation of what’s most valuable about the original text.  And it’s often less interesting, less complicated or nuanced, than what the author originally wrote. What’s the value in that?

So, yes, I bristle that great literature is being watered down and important pieces are being lost.  I also have a practical objection, however: I think that, instead of making readers more interested in classics, these adaptations could make children less likely to read the original.  I remember receiving children’s adaptations to read when I was a child. Half the time, I was confused by whether I was reading an adaptation or not, since it often isn’t clear from the way the book presents itself.  I thought I was reading the actual text, and it never occurred to me that in five years I should graduate to reading the “real” version.  The other half of the time, I considered my job done.  I had read some version of Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe or whatever. I knew how the story went, and I therefore had no interest in reading it all over again in a longer version.  These adaptations discouraged me from reading classics because I felt I had already read them.

I’m a firm believer in letting readers read books whenever they feel ready for them, not in altering the books to try to meet the reader halfway.  I don’t have an issue with children reading “adult books” (I did it all the time), but the fact remains that the target audience is adults.  The issues presented and the way they are handled are not meant for children.  Artificially trying to make them resonate with children (or simply comprehensible to younger readers) isn’t a worthwhile goal, particularly if the means of doing this is just hacking away at scenes to make the book shorter.  Omitting a sex scene from a novel isn’t automatically going to make a book about love, loss, and divorce speak to a child the same way it would speak to a reader who was older and had actually been in a romantic relationship.

I’m sure there’s someone in the world who enjoys children’s adaptations,  but I have never been one of them.  I wouldn’t be sad to see this trend disappear.  I’d rather see children read full classics when they’re ready and interested in them.

This Week’s Participants:

Briana