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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-14 08:54
Birth of the Boy Book
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson,Patrick Scott

Despite this book being the progenitor of pretty much all of the pirate books of the 20th Century, as well as being an influence of many of the adventure and 'boys' books that came afterwards, I found this book rather dull. Maybe it has a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm for 19th Century English novels (which does not include [author:Jules Verne], since he is French). In fact, I can't really think of any 19th Century English novels that I would actually jump up and say 'this is brilliant'. Personally, I really don't know what it is that makes me find much of the literature of the 19th Century boring, but generally I do (though I probably should make a note of the fact that Stevenson is actually a Scot).


Anyway, this is a story of a boy, Jim Hawkins, who stumbles across a treasure map and then goes and shows it to a mutual acquaintance, Dr Liversey. Together they hire a crew and go and look for the treasure on Treasure Island. However, while they are hiring a crew, they bring on board a cook, Long John Silver, who then goes and hires the rest of the crew. As it turns out, Long John was the cook on the ship of Captain Flint, the pirate who buried the treasure originally, and the crew he hires were all pirates on that same vessel. So, when they arrive at Treasure Island, Long John and his men take over the ship, and those still loyal to Hawkins and Liversey, manage to escape. However, to cut a long story short (not that Treasure Island is really all that long), they outsmart the pirates, get the treasure, and all return to England happy men.


Now, this was Stevenson's first novel, he wrote travel narratives before that, but this book was his first foray into the realm of the imagination. Further, his adventure into this realm pretty much changed the scene of the novel ever since, and many of the 'boys books' of the 20th Century can all look back to Stevenson for inspiration. It is not that Stevenson wrote the first adventure novel. Such stories have been floating around for eons. What Stevenson did is that he constructed it so that that appealed to the modern reader. Not only is it supposed to be exciting (I didn't find it all that exciting) but it was also short and easy to read. It is aimed at a young audience, though many adults have read and come to appreciate it (me not being among them).


Now, the best character in the book by far is Long John Silver. I always expected him to be a pirate captain, but he is much more sneakier than that. The fact that he escapes at the end of the book goes a long way to show this character's shrewdness. However, he also has a sense of morality (one which almost gets him killed). When he had captured Hawkins, the other pirates wanted to kill him, but Silver intervenes (and in the process almost gets himself killed). Silver, while being the man with the plan, demonstrates that it is not easy to take charge of a gang of pirates. He planned on taking over the ship, but the pirates ended up jumping the gun, as they do most of the way through the book, which in the end sows the seeds of their failure.


However, the character that I found the most out of place would have been Jim Hawkins. He is a seven year old boy who is looking after his sick mother after his father dies, and he simply runs off on an adventure to find a lost treasure. Granted, one could argue that he went off after the treasure to support his mother, but considering the time it takes to travel, and the fact that the adventure would take at least a year, if he is lucky, then it really makes no sense. However, this is a 'boys' book which means that the character is one way to appeal to boys.


The other interesting thing is to notice all of the pirate jargon and paraphernalia in this book. Phrases such as 'pieces of eight' and 'shiver me timbers' as well as the Jolly Roger, all find their birthplace in this book. While I may consider the book, and the story, somewhat dull, one cannot help but admire the influence that Stevenson's writing has had upon the literary world.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/220453075
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review 2016-12-19 12:29
King Arthur's Death - Anonymous,Brian Stone

You certainly have to love the occasional lyric poetry, especially when it is about the end of everybody’s favourite legendary English king, Arthur Pendragon. Actually, I’m not sure if that is actually his last name, though it seems that this guy, and the legend that surrounds him, is much like Robin Hood – he may have existed, he may not have, but a huge legend has arisen around them while there doesn’t actually seem to be any consistency in these legends. In fact, this particular book contains two contrasting versions of his death, though the common feature is that he was killed by Mordred (though whether Mordred was his son or not is also up in the air because one of them suggests that he is, while the other suggests that he is just naughty lord).


Anyway, these two poems contain literally everything, and it is no wonder that the story of Arthur has been picked up by so many authors and film makers, and the stories that come out of it are vastly different in nature. For instance there was a film from the eighties called Excalibur which focused much more on the fantasy elements, with Excalibur, Merlin, and a tragic end as he searched for the holy grail. Another version (named King Arthur), was set during the times when the Romans pulled out of England, and Arthur was basically a Knight from the other side of the empire and was fighting to stop the Picts from overrunning the England.


There was also this book I remember called The Mists of Avalon, which I remember seeing as a kid, but never getting around to reading it, probably because upon looking at it I came to the conclusion that it was the thickest book ever written – in fact it was huge. Mind you, there are probably much, much thicker books these days, but that one still sits in my mind as being pretty thick. Oh, and we cannot forget to mention this all time classic.


As I previously mentioned there are two versions of the story, both of them dealing with Arthur’s death, so there is no mention of Merlin, nor of the sword, nor of the Lady in the Lake (or the test to remove the sword from the stone). In fact both stories seem to eschew the fantasy elements and come across much more historical. Anyway, the first story deals with Arthur going on conquests across Europe and coming to blows with the Emperor of Rome. He eventually defeats the emperor, however discovers that back in England Mordred has taken the throne for himself. Mind you, after going to war with Rome, Arthur has actually lost a lot of men, but with the handful of men he does have he returns to England, confronts Mordred’s much larger army, and defeats Mordred while dying in the process.


There are a couple of things that come out of this story, one of them being the plot where the King is abroad and the person keeping the throne warm decides to name himself as king. This is something that has happened a number of times in history, but the one event that comes to mind is that of Richard II (of which I have written two blog posts, the second being here). Mind you, I would hardly equate Arthur with Richard, particularly since if it wasn’t for Shakespeare’s play he would probably be little more than a footnote in history – Arthur is a legend. Mind you, it is noticeable that both die, because we can’t have Mordred defeating Arthur and giving us an evil laughter and riding off into the sunset. Mind you, even in Shakespeare’s tragedies the bad guy eventually gets it in the neck. In a way it seems as if you simply cannot have a situation where the bad guy wins, and the good guy simply cannot come back and eventually win the day – it is almost as if it is anathema in literature.


The other thing is how Arthur pretty much conquers Europe. This is taken directly out of History of the Kings of Britain, and seems to attribute the barbarian invasions of Rome to being an invasion let by Arthur. Mind you, Monmouth puts Arthur around 700 AD, which is sometime after Rome collapsed, but it is interesting how we have no record of any legendary king carving out a huge empire in Europe. However, it should also be noted that this is one of those empires that exists only on the personality of a single man, and it appears that after his death the kingdom pretty much disintegrates. Another thing that I have noticed is that Bede seems to have a gap in his Ecclesiastical history right around the time Monmouth has Arthur appear. That’s not to say that I am suggesting Arthur existed because, other than Charlemagne, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a king establishing an Empire on the Continent, especially one where the throne was in England.


Mind you, this whole thing reeks of nationalism, yet it is interesting that England did have an identity as far back as the 10th century. Monmouth also suggested that two English Kings were responsible for crossing the channel in around 400 bc, conquering Europe, crossing the Alps, and sacking Rome. Obviously what is happening here is a medieval version of ‘Fake News’, though it is probably better described as being ‘fake history’ (though the Romans seems to have a lot of problems with this fake history) – this is history that really has no substance to it, and no archaeological support. Mind you, writers of history back in those days really didn’t take the academic and scientific approach that we do today (though all history is still tainted by opinion), but rather wrote from the legends that were in vogue.


The second story is pretty much the same (that is about how Arthur died), however it’s focus is more on the love affair between Lancelot and Guenevere. In fact, this affair could be considered one of the greatest affairs in literature (okay, there are probably others, but I really have no interest in stories about love affairs – I would call them forbidden love but it sounds so clichéd – still, something that you can’t have always seems much more desirable than something that you can). Whereas the first story has a lot more action and large scale battles, this one has a lot more intrigue where people are being killed, and then the murder is being covered up, and there is adultery, poisonings, duels, and finally King Arthur’s death.


In a way this is an incredibly painful episode to watch because we all know how it is going to end – badly – especially since Lancelot is one of Arthur’s most trusted knights. However, this episode is set mostly in the court of Camelot, and doesn’t even have any mention of wars and expeditions to foreign lands. Actually, come to think of it there is always the story of David and Bathsheba in the Bible – that’s a pretty well known love affair, but I digress. Anyway, it seems as if the story of Arthur is a story of betrayal, with his wife and best friend having hanky panky behind his back, and Mordred going off and stealing his throne (and dying in the process).


Anyway, before I finish off, I probably should end with this cartoon, especially considering the state of politics these days:


System of Government

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1834226533
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-26 02:10
The Rise and Fall of a Conquerer
Tamburlaine - Christopher Marlowe,Stephen Marlowe

I was going to have a look at both of these plays as a whole, but it appears that both of these plays are in fact a ten act play divided into two parts. This seemed to also be something of a debate with some of Shakespeare's plays, however the ones that are in two, or three, parts (actually, there is only Henry IV in two parts, and Henry VI in three parts, and it could be argued that all of these plays form one continuous play from Richard II to Richard III) seem to have their own internal consistency, of which this play seems to lack. In some cases it could be argued that some of the acts are superfluous as it appears that they are simply a bunch of kings making a stand against Tamburlaine, claiming that their army is bigger than his army, and then getting resoundly defeated by Tamburlaine, and thus starting all over again.


However, it could be argued that both of these plays do have an internal consistency, with the first play looking at the rise of Tamburlaine's power, which concludes with him standing on top of his conquests claiming to be prepared to move out and conquer the rest of the world, and part two dealing with his demise, as he becomes more and more caught up in his own sense of pride and self worth that he steps over the line by burning a copy of the Alcoran, and making mockery of the Muslim god by claiming that if he existed, why did he allow Tamburlaine so many victories.


The play was based on a real person named Timur, and you can read about him here (on Wikipedia). Timur is probably not one of the best known of the conquers (unlike figures such as Napoleon, Hitler, and Genghis Khan) and that is probably because he did not pose mush of a threat to Europe. In fact his war against Bayezid the Turk, who was attacking the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe (though Constantinople was still in the hands of the Byzantines at the time), is probably why Timur is considered a popular figure in European History. The other thing about Timur (or Tamurlaine) was that he was from central Asia and was only attempting to follow in the footsteps of Genghis Kahn (of which he failed, when you consider the extent of Genghis Kahn's territory and Timur's territory). He was also seen as being responsible for basically returning Persia, and much of the Middle East, to the stone age, as well as pretty much wiping out most, if not all, of the Nestorian Church (though you must admit that the American adventures in the Middle East in recent times have also assisted in that task).


Anyway, this is a map of Timur's empire:




and this is a picture of Timur himself:





It is interesting though how certain characters are seen differently under a different light. Here Tamurlaine is being painted in a light that is not all that bad, though we must also remember that Marlowe's version does not necessarily have Timur portrayed in the light of a hero, but rather as a conquerer that inevitably overstepped the natural boundaries, in relation to believing he was better than god. Also note that Marlowe uses the Alcoran as the means of his downfall as opposed to the Bible, despite Islam being considered an alien, and in some cases an enemy, culture to that of the Europeans. While this is a broad generalisation, remember that for a period of around four hundred years Europe were sending troops to the Middle East in an attempt to capture Jerusalem, and while the first couple were, to an extent, successful, they began to wane in popularity and effect as time drew on (probably because most of the capable fighting men had been killed off in the first couple of invasions, and also probably because the inhabitants of the Levant had become more prepared in the face of further crusades).


As for the play, and this is the case with many of the plays around this time, the story has been borrowed either from legend or history. Marlowe is doing the same thing that Shakespeare would go on to do with his great tragedies: take a little known character and little known story and turn it into a great play. Notice that it is Hamlet and the Scottish Play that are his most famous, and while they are based upon historical characters and events, they are such minor occurrences that most of us would not realise that these plays have actually been inspired by true stories (in the Hollywood sense of the phrase, of course).


The Ascension of an Emperor (Part 1)

This first part documents the rise of Tamburlaine from a simple goatherd from the plains of Scythia to becoming the emperor of the Middle East. The play opens with the king of Persia being declared Emperor after his army had just sacked India, however one of the reasons for this is because Tamburlaine was a part of his army. However Tamburlaine, who is a cunning general, ends up turning on the emperor of Persia and defeating him and taking his place. However, he is not satisfied at simply taking Persia and moves west to capture Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Arabia. The play then ends with him standing victorious, but looking further West with the dream of conquering and becoming Emperor of Europe.


The thing that I remembered about this play is that there are scenes (I think about two acts worth) where the emperor of Turkey is being carted around in a cage, as if he were an animal. However, I suspect that there is some idea behind this in that what Tamburlaine represents is a reversal. He is a goatherd become emperor, and the other kings, the ones that have arrayed against him, as they are defeated the situation is reversed so that they go from being emperors to little more than animals. In fact, in once scene we have the emperor of Turkey bash himself to death against the cage, and another scene has a king commit suicide at the fear of going from a powerful monarch to a prisoner.


We see this even in our world as well, such as the suicides that occur when there is a stockmarket crash and a billionaire is turned into a destitute. This is the idea of the bankers throwing themselves out of windows in 1929 because they had lost all of their money, or the German millionaire who threw himself in front of a train because he could not handle the idea of living penniless. In a way it goes to show how much of an idea wealth and power can being when somebody will actually commit suicide when that idol deserts them, and in fact when they realise that all of their hopes and dreams were built on nothing more than shifting sands.


The Folly of Pride (Part 2)

I have noticed that there seems to be a lot less reviews of this play than there are of the first one – actually on Goodreads there is only one. Maybe it is because most people either read the two plays as a unity, or maybe they did read both plays, but if they wrote a review, they would have simply written it on the first one. This I can understand because it seems that there is little difference between the two plays with the exception of one act, that being act 1 in the first play (where Tamburlaine first comes onto the scene) and act 5 in the second play (where Tamburlaine finally takes one step two far and ends up dying of a disease).


The reason I say that is because the first play seems to, after the first act, simply have another group of kings appear making statements as to how their army is superior to Tamburlaine, and then they go to war with Tamburlaine and end up losing, and the kings are either captured and reduced to animals, or they end up killing themselves so as to retain at least some form of self respect (in the Ancient World, the act of suicide was seen as an honourable action, especially if it was a choice between poverty, imprisonment, or death – which in many cases is probably still the same today), and then it repeats itself in the next act.


A part of me was hoping to see that what this play encompassed was Tamburlaine's fall, but instead it seemed to have him becoming more powerful and, to put it bluntly, more cocky. In this play we have a number of kings who are defeated in battle, and by the end of the play are pulling Tamburlaine's carriage as if they were horses. Also it seems that we have Tamburlaine extending his kingdon into Egypt, the Levant, and Turkey, and even crossing into Greece and the Balkans, however, near the end of the play, he suddenly decides to turn around and make a path towards Babylon.


This I found rather odd because one would have expected that if he had been conquering the lands off to the west, why would he leave a fortress in the middle of his empire undefeated. Most, if not all, generals worth their salt would at least attempt to make an alliance with them, but would not leave them standing because capturing it would have been a little too hard. This was the case with Tyre and Alexander the Great, and as it turned out, capturing Tyre was not all that difficult anyway, despite the fact that it had been moved onto an island just off shore after Nebucadnezzar had successfully defeated them about three to four hundred years earlier.


However, as I have suggested before, and will continue to suggest, and that is that this play is, to an extent, about the fall of Tamburlaine, despite the fact that most of this occurs in the last act. Here he has finally captured Babylon and is in the library ordering the books be burnt and he is brought a copy of the Koran (written in this play as Alcoran). When presented with the book Tamburlaine mocks the religion upon which it is based, claiming that if Allah had any power whatsoever then he would have intervened and prevented Tamburlaine from conquering all of the said territory (despite the fact that the real Tamburlaine was actually a Muslim and this event would probably not have happened).


It is interesting that Marlowe takes this approach, namely having Tamburlaine mocking a god and the having the said god step out and demonstrating his power by inflicting Tamburlaine with a disease. It is true that the Bible says 'God shall not be mocked' but we see a lot of Bible burning and god mocking in our society (at least towards Christianity) and I must admit that we do get the same statements directed against Islam, and we do not see hordes of god mockers succumbing to disease, though I must admit that in the end everybody dies.


I guess the idea that comes out here is how, in many cases, people like Tamburlaine will, in many cases, end up overreaching and becoming overconfident in their abilities. We see that at the end of the first play where Tamburlaine had already dreamed of taking over the world, and at the end of this play, as he lies on his deathbed, looks at what he hasn't conquered, and then anoints his son to continue where he left off. It is interesting how when we review our lives, many of us look at what we have not accomplished, and actually forget what we have accomplished, and regret what we haven't done rather than look at what we have done.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/818912908
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review 2016-11-03 04:17
Father Brown: The Worst Crime in the World by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown has plans to meet his niece in a picture gallery, but before he finds her, he encounters lawyer Granby who wants his opinion.  Should he trust a certain Captain Musgrove enough to advance him money on his father's estate?  The estate is not entitled and it is not conclusive that Musgrove Jr. will be the heir.  Upon the arrival of his niece, Father Brown learns that she is planning to marry the same Musgrove and meets the young man himself.  Musgrove invites both Father Brown and Granby to his father's castle, but then bows out of the trip at the last moment due to an arrival of a couple of shady characters in the background, but encourages the men to make the trip without him.

After they arrive at the castle (having to leap the moat due to a rusty, disabled drawbridge), they meet Old Musgrove, who assures them that his son will inherit, yet he will never speak to him again, due to the fact that he perpetrated the worst crime in the world.  Granby returns to town, secure in his knowledge, but Father Brown remains in the village, determined to discover the details of this dastardly crime.  Will he be able to discover the truth in time to save his niece from the clutches of a villain, or is the old man merely playing with him and there is nothing sinister about his son?  You will only find out, if you read the full story which can be found here:  The Worst Crime in the World - G.K. Chesterton

source Wikimedia Commons

I love Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries and this one does not disappoint.

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review 2016-10-30 12:16
A Tale of Forgiveness
Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare

When I was recently in London I picked up a box set at The Globe containing a collection of plays that they had filmed and kindly decided to release. As such when I sat down on the train and began reading this play I half expected to be able to then go and watch it at a later date. As it turned out one of the plays that wasn’t included in the box set was this one, which was a real shame because when I was at the Globe I did see a number of plays that weren’t included that could be purchased alongside it (which I had done with Merchant of Venice). Before I continue I probably should make mention that The Globe is one of the most uncomfortable, and annoying, theatres that I have had the displeasure of visiting. When the seat is labled as ‘restricted view’ the view is actually really restricted (I was sitting in front of a pillar). I’m not going to go as far and say that it is ‘the most uncomfortable’ theatre since there are some in Greece (such as the Theatre of Dionysius, though that isn’t actually used, but the Theatre of Herod Antipas just down the road is) that are probably somewhat more uncomfortable.


Theatre of Dionysius



Anyway, you are no doubt going to hear me harp on about how uncomfortable the Globe is again, which does surprise me a little because they still seem to regularly sell out their plays. I ended up waiting too long to purchase tickets for A Midsummers Night Dream (namely twelve weeks before the show I wanted to see) only to discover that there were no longer any available. That meant that I had to put up with just seeing Macbeth, which really isn’t one of my favourite Shakespearian plays, but still, it was at the Globe, and it was Shakespeare done well, so I’m not complaining about that (though I am complaining about the hard seats and the pillar that was in front of me).


Enough of my experience at the Globe because I’m sure you are more interested in my take on this play. The problem is that like many of the other plays that I have read I would have really liked to have seen this one performed (even if it is on screen) because it actually seems to be one of those really cool plays. One of the things that I particularly like about the version that I read is that it contains essays on the play itself at the end, and these essays can be really engaging. Anyway, the thing about this play is that there are so many Christian allegories in it that it doesn’t actually seem to be very Shakespearian. For instance we have the main plot of the Duke going on a holiday and handing over the rulership of the city to Angelo, who then begins to rule it with an iron fist. We also have the concept of forgiveness permeating throughout the play, and not the form of forgiveness that we see in the Tempest where Prospero decides that he has had enough fun with his captives, reveals himself, and says all is forgiven, but rather more Christlike forgiveness where the guilty party is forgiven without any form of revenge being taken out, and not deserving it one bit.


You have probably guessed the story already, but as I mentioned before the Duke decides to go on a holiday (well, not really, but that is what he tells everybody) and appoints Angelo in his place. However Angelo is a bit of a purist and realises that Vienna is a pretty sleazy place and decides to clean it up a bit (actually a lot). The thing is that it isn’t as if the sleaze is permitted, it’s illegal, it’s just that nobody particularly cares (or at least the Duke didn’t). So, he basically decides that since the laws are on the books they should be enforced, which creates a few problems because Claudio, another protagonist in the play, has got his girlfriend pregnant, which is a big no-no, and he has him arrested and sentenced to death. Mind you, it isn’t as if Angelo is all that pure either, namely because he ended up dumping his fiancee because her dowry was lost when the ship that was carrying it sunk in a storm.


The parable of Jesus that automatically comes to mind is the parable of the vineyard where the master goes off on a journey and leaves his plantation to his servants, and the servants basically run amok causing all sorts of problems. However this is slightly different in that the duke doesn’t actually go anywhere, he just disguises himself as a monk and watches to see what happens. Also, Angelo isn’t actually running amok, but rather he is trying to clean the place up. However there is a little catch – it seems as if there is actually an ulterior motive – get rid of Claudio and thus marry Isabella. This was the plot in the original story. However they decide to get around the problem by executing a pirate instead and passing it off as Claudio, and then having Angelo’s old flame pretend to be Isabella.


In fact now that I think about it it seems as if Angelo is playing the hypocrite in this play – while he is insisting that everybody live moral and upstanding lives, he himself is doing the complete opposite. Sure, maybe it was well within the law to execute Claudio for being a little randy (and it is interesting that it is the man that is being punished here as opposed to the woman because it seems that in our day and age the holier than thou lot seem to want to punish the women), but the fact is that Angelo wants the opportunity to be randy himself, and almost gets himself into no end of trouble in doing so. The thing is that he effectively gets away with it in the end, which some have found to be a little unsatisfactory – here we have a guy that is pretty much throwing his weight around and executing people for minor indiscretions and effectively getting away with it, while commiting those same indiscretions himself.


In the end I guess it is one of those plays that we need to sit down and chew on a bit, and one that I would like to visit again in the not too distance future, though this time I would like to see it performed as opposed to reading it in a book. At least there is a modern, non-BBC version on Youtube (I really don’t like the BBC performances – they were so dry, dull, and completely lacked any life).


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1798034036
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