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Who is your favorite character?
September 15, 2011

I love the human aspect of fiction, the characters who are created in the author's mind, then turned loose on paper to interact with the other characters in a plot. So, I decided to formulate a short list of my favorite fictional characters. This will probably change as I remember forgotten characters and read new books, but for the moment, my favorite fictional characters are:

Male:

Natty Bumppo, from the Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper, as an all-round lovable character with sterling integrity, amazing modesty, and spectacular skills.

Peterkin Gay from The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters by R. M. Ballantyne, as an outrageously hilarious, absolutely splendid fellow.

Female:

Jeanne from In The Reign of Terror by G. A. Henty, as a sensible, clear-headed, sturdy girl who can also be affectionate and loyal.

Esther Summerson from Bleak House by Charles Dickens, as a sweet, mature girl, with many similarities to Jeanne.

Who are your favorite fictional characters?

Posted by John Horn at 04:53 PM |

Pride and Prejudice
September 05, 2011

Yes, that's right, Pride and Prejudice, the adored, despised, glorified, belittled, and controversial Regency romance. I recently read it as part of my literature study, and decided to share a few of my thoughts on the classic beloved by generations of swooning girls.

I opened P&P's pages with a bit of my own prejudice, and was pleasantly surprised to find large quantities of vivacious dialog, instead of the blocks of fashion-centered, dress-describing description that I dreaded. The story moved well. The plot was intricate enough to stretch the mind, but not as wound and bound in a honeycomb of subplots and additional characters that writers like Dickens employed. (Not that I'm complaining about Dickens.)

Opinion on Select Characters:

Elizabeth Bennet: (Main character) Not particularly memorable. It's easy to relate to her situation, but she has neither the sagacity of Jeanne in The Reign of Terror, or the vivacity of Diana Vernon in Rob Roy. In Elizabeth's defense, she is refreshingly different from her other sisters, and quite the opposite of her vulgar mother.

Mr. Darcy: (Main character's eventual love interest) For some reason, Mr. Darcy has been idolized as the woman's "perfect man," and I expected him to be dashing, cheerful, gallant, etc. He turned out to be a pretty good chap after all, who starts out being quite prideful and gets a much-needed dose of reality. He was properly passionate about his love for Elizabeth at the end, without degenerating into mushy sentimentality. (For an example of annoying male melodrama see Jasper in Cooper's The Pathfinder.)

Jane Bennet: (Elizabeth's older sister) A good type of girl. Rather naive, but modest, loyal, and feminine. It's easy to wish her happiness in life.

Mr. Wickham: (Most villainous character) Jane Austen did an excellent job of creating a three-dimensional villain. He was vindictive, knavish, and unscrupulous, without being the glowering squint-eyed fellow with an evil laugh that villains are often portrayed as.

Mr. Bennet: (Elizabeth's father) Probably a realistic portrayal of a Regency father, but woefully neglectful of his daughters' training and relations with the world. I do give him great lenience due to his marriage with Mrs. Bennet.

Mrs. Bennet: (Elizabeth's mother) Annoying and vulgar. P&P would have been more satisfying if she had been punished in some way for her ridiculous and insensitive ways; something after the fashion of Silas Wegg in Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.

Mr. Collins: (Elizabeth's cousin) Delightfully annoying. A very enjoyable caricature. One of P&P's most memorable characters, in my opinion.

My favorite quote from P&P relates to Mrs. Bennet.

Mrs. Bennet to Mr. Bennet: "You have no compassion of my poor nerves."

Mr. Bennet to Mrs. Bennet: "You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."

Summary Opinion

Pride and Prejudice was more interesting than I expected and gives an excellent perspective on Regency England, but is not deserving of the idolization it has received.

Pride and Prejudice in 34 words:

(I can't resist having this bit of fun)

Mr. Darcy: I am giving you the honor of marrying me.

Elizabeth: I abhor you.

Months later. . .

Elizabeth: Do you still want to marry me?

Mr. Darcy: Of course!

They live happily ever after.

Tueri a vulnere,

John

Posted by John Horn at 09:57 AM |

R. M. Ballantyne and J. M. Barrie
August 03, 2011

J. M. Barrie J. M. Barrie

J. M. Barrie

J. M. Barrie wrote dozens of books and plays, but he's best known for his creation of Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up. There is some controversy about Barrie and his works, but I'm not an expert on either, as I've only recently become interested in the Scotsman. I'm not necessarily recommending Barrie's books, but there's no question that he has had an influence on modern culture.

The character of Peter Pan, through literature, dramatizations, movies, and even videogames, has produced hundreds of millions of dollars and has been internalized by tens of thousands of people. Disney, in 1953, and Steven Spielberg, in 1991, found the cocky little fellow and his peculiar friends very successful in convincing movie-goers to part with their sweat-earned cash. Picture books, costumes, room decorations - an entire franchise has been built around Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys. Who was it that aided to inspire these? R. M. Ballantyne.

Ballantyne's Influence on Barrie

Peter Pan plays the pipes Peter Pan plays the pipes

The Coral Island did not contain boys in tights, obnoxious fairies, or ticking crocodiles, but it did take place on an island. In his preface to a 1913 edition of The Coral Island, J. M. Barrie wrote: "To be born is to be wrecked on an island."[1] The creator of Never Never Land seemed to like islands; "Many writers of romances have had romantic notions, but you can't do better than wreck your hero on an island. To this day I could not pass a book by in which there was a desert island."[2]

I've written before about The Coral Island's influence on Stevenson's Treasure Island and Golding's dark Lord of the Flies, but there is no doubt that it also inspired Barrie and the fantasy of Peter Pan.[3] Barrie placed the adventure of Ralph, Peterkin, and Jack, above even that in The Swiss Family Robinson,[4] declaring that it was his favorite book as a boy.[5]

Barrie claimed inspiration from some very familiar authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, and W. H. G. Kingston, to name a few, but of these Ballantyne ranks near the summit. He once wrote, in an article about boys' books, that "I used to think that [Ascott] Hope (or else Ballantyne or Marryat) ought to be made King of England."[6] Considering England's list of unsavory kings, I don't think he was far wrong.

Captain Hook in Walt Disney's version Captain Hook in Walt Disney's version

So there you have it, without R. M. Ballantyne, there quite possibly might be no Peter Pan. Would that have been a bad thing? Perhaps not, but since the little fellow was created, we can further trace RMB's influence on the world of boys' books. And remember, the boy is father of the man. We must all grow up some day.

Tueri a Vulnere,

John


1. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Anne Hiebert Alton, pg. 380
2. Two of Them by J. M. Barrie, pg. 199
3. Encyclopedia of British Writers by Christine L. Krueger, et. al. pg. 17
4. Chamber's Journal, Vol. 75, by William and Robert Chambers, pg. 718
5. Reading Boyishly, by Roland Barthes et. al. pg. 178
6. Two of Them by J. M. Barrie, pg. 197

Posted by John Horn at 10:15 PM |

Jules Verne
February 08, 2011

Born On This Day 183 Years Ago:
Jules Verne; The father of Science Fiction

Hurrah for Jules Verne! One of my all time favorite authors. Since today is Verne's birthday, I thought I would give a short review of my top 5 favorite of his books.

~ Michael Strogoff
I've always enjoyed Michael Strogoff for Verne's ability to paint verbal pictures that give such clear and accurate description of the times. I also really loved Strogoff's extremely good plot. (Weeell I must admit, the N.C. Wyeth illustrations and my part-Russian background may have had an influence as well.)

~ Around the World in Eighty Days
About 7 or 8 years ago, Dad read Around the World in Eighty Days out loud to the family. So it has been a family favorite for a long time. Verne really did a great job of portraying a humorous, and sometimes serious, journey of Phileas Fogg, the unique nobleman bachelor of London, and his newly valet, Passepartout, as the try to go around the world in 80 days.

~ The Mysterious Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The father of Science Fiction The Mysterious Islands/20,000 Leagues Under the Sea/Capt. Grant's Children Trilogy is definitely one of the greatest adventure trilogies ever. No wonder so many stories, books, shows, films and games have been based off them. (Heh, and you wonder where we got our film title from...)

Many people wish there was more information about the life of Captain Nemo in the series. However, it appears that Verne was trying to illustrate a larger character map throughout the trilogy. There is also a lot of speculation about whether or not Verne was creating a larger "puzzle" story through all of his books... Who knows, either way, he was still brilliant.

~ Paris in the 20th Century
As for Paris in The Twentieth Century, both the history of the book itself and Verne's foresight while writing it are incredible! He really had an amazing ability to look to the future throughout all his works. There's a reason he made it to Google today.

Speaking of Google, today the website posted a really neat Happy Birthday to Verne blogpost on the Google Blog. I really enjoyed Ms. Hom's post so I've included part of it here and you can go here to read the rest.

Happy birthday from 20,000 leagues under the sea

It wasn't very difficult for something to spark my imagination when I was a child--whether it was a pile of leaves or a couch of stackable cushions, just about anything could jump-start my creativity. My first encounter with Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, however, sent my imagination into hyper drive.

I first found the novel while browsing through a random aisle in my local library. The cover was dark, murky and a little worn--but it was the most spectacular thing I'd ever seen. A pair of old-fashioned divers drag their feet over the ocean floor, watching a school of fish drift by. They don't seem to notice the twisting silhouette of a monster inching toward them.

The cover alone pulled me in, but I didn't want to spoil all of the possible story lines by actually reading the book. Looking back, I realize that what fascinated me most was the unknown: a creative spark and the imaginative exploration that followed. Since then, I've become more familiar with his work and still believe that exploration is the essence of Verne's novels. His stories pull the readers into a world filled with infinite potential--be it in the clouds, on land or under the sea...

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 01:18 PM |

Quote of The Day
July 31, 2009

<center>Walt Disney</center>
Walt Disney



"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates loot on Treasure Island, and best of all you can enjoy these riches every day of your life!" - Walt Disney



Posted by Joshua Phillips at 10:55 AM |

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