Books I Read in October 2014

jean-baptiste-camille-corot-a-girl-reading-1845-50-1369676968_bThe Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Rob Inglis — This is the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It strikes me as a fantasy that takes itself too seriously, making, for example, Strider/Aragorn comes across as oddly superstitious. I also don’t care for some of Gandalf’s morals1. Despite these flaws, the book is impressive and I can see how it gained such a fan base. I didn’t find very many of the characters to be particularly likable. The hobbits are, I think, the least strange of the characters. Sam, in particular, I found to be good-humored and loyal, if a little too obsessed with elves (which I consider the most bizarre of the races inhabiting Middle Earth). I did find Gandalf’s reason for seeking to destroy the ring instead of just trying to hide it admirable: “[I]t is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.” (Book Two, Chapter 2 “The Council of Elrond”.)

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley — Mary Shelley wrote in the Introduction, “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. … Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” This book is interesting because of the ideas behind it. Of itself, however, it has an inflated, sentimental style, bogged down by numerous, lengthy descriptions of scenery. It is no wonder that Frankenstein was so horrified by the deformity of his creation — all of his family and friends were persons of unparalleled, angelic beauty. Frankenstein himself, despite lavish descriptions of his sweetness, intelligence, and sensitivity, comes across as narrow-minded and self-absorbed. Frankenstein has its interest, but is not a particularly excellent piece of literature.

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare — A magnificent play, full of strong imagery. Macbeth and his wife are such wicked people that it would have been a greater tragedy if they had lived, but their terror at what they have done is believable. All their evil deeds begin when Macbeth decides to make the prophecy of three witches come true. The play is full of famous quotations: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, “Yet do I fear thy nature. It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness”, “Out, damned spot!”, “I have supp’d full with horrors”, “It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” &c. &c. Those who have watched ‘Anne of Avonlea’2 might recognize “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased…?”

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Painting is “Girl Reading in Red Shirt” (translation of the German title) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875).

1 I am categorically against torture. I believe it to be immoral. I also think it unlikely to yield accurate information, since an innocent person may confess to whatever he thinks his torturers want to hear, just to get the torture to stop. In the book, Gandalf recounts to  Frodo how he learned Gollum’s story: “I endured him [Gollum] as long as I could, but the truth was desperately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, bit by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling.” — The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Book One, Chapter 2 “The Shadow of the Past”.

2 ‘Anne of Avonlea’ (or ‘Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel’), 1987, directed by Kevin Sullivan. There is a scene in which Anne Shirley (played by Megan Follows) tells Marilla (Colleen Dewhurst) that “Plum Puffs cannot ‘minster to a mind diseased’ or a world that’s crumbling to pieces.”

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