In honor of Shakespeare, some actor’s sharing of taste of his genius.
“. . . humanity walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses.”
I’d never heard of Arnold Bennett or his novel The Old Wives’ Tale till my friend chose it for us to read and discuss. The Old Wives’ Tale focuses on two sisters in Northern England in the fictional “Five Towns” area. The oldest Constance is a practical, predictable yet strong woman, while Sophia is a vivacious beauty who pushes all the boundaries.
Their mother is much like Constance and faithful to conventions. Their father is bedridden, which means the family’s welfare depends on the mother running the business, a drapery store.
The story starts with the girls in their teens. Despite their different personalities, they get along for the most part. Sophia yearns for romance and excitement, while Constance is satisfied with working in the family store and living a standard middle class life. When their father dies and Sophia runs off with a dapper traveling salesman, the story takes off.
A keen observer, Bennett fills the novel with insights that make readers think, “Yes, people are like that, even today.” Although there are many stories of bourgeois life or of the prodigal who runs off, Bennett’s characters experience surprises till the bitter end. His characters, even minor ones, are alive and worthy of respect and sympathy. I’m happy to say I’ve found another author I’ll read more of.
The second book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra chronicles Edwin Ransom’s journey to Venus, a.k.a. Perelandra. Ransom settled back into life in Cambridge after his trip to Mars. Suddenly, Oyarsa (God) calls on Ransom to go to Perelandra. Excited for more space travel, Ransom accepts the mission.
After his trip in a ship that’s like a frozen coffin. Ransom’s told to travel in the nude and that clothes aren’t needed on Perelandra, a planet with land that moves like waves and the flora is a wide range of vivid colors. I can’t do Lewis’ descriptions justice.
Ransom soon meets the green-skinned Queen, one of the planets two inhabitants. The Queen has the innocence of a child because on the new planet she is one. Perelandra is like Eden with its sole pair of inhabitants, its sole prohibition, i.e. “Don’t sleep on the ‘Fixed Lands'” and its serpent, i.e Weston, Ransom’s nemesis who plays the serpent in this tale.
Maelidil is the creator who teaches the Queen all about life, but he disappears once Ransom arrives. The Queen also never sees the King and the story’s almost over by the time Ransom finds him.
Most stories feature a young, strong hero who lacks wisdom, which he acquires by the end. Here our hero is educated and wise, but lacks the usual brawn. Ransom battles Weston with wits trying to prevent Perelandra’s Fall, but he realizes that one day Weston will wear the Queen down. He figures out that he must beat Weston physically. Thus Lewis takes gives us a middle aged scholar as a hero who must win by a great physical test. How original!
I found the story compelling and clever. Lewis gives us a setting similar to Eden, but not quite. We may expect a certain outcome, but Lewis shows us that things could have been different. Perelandra was a fun read that made me think.
In fact, I’ve I’m not a big science-fi fan. I rarely read the genre, but I loved C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve already ordered book two in this tragedy.
In Out of the Silent Planet, average Joe, Dr. Ransom, happens upon and old schoolmate Devine and Devine’s new evil scientist buddy Weston. Ransom had been tramping around the countryside and, as a favor to a woman he met, went to this house to see why her son, a servant there was late and her mother was apprehensive. It turns out that she had good cause. When Ransom arrived, the two men were fighting, physically, with the boy. In the end Weston and Devine were in the process of abducting the boy. In the end the boy is freed and Ransom, when he comes to after being knocked unconscious. Ransom realizes he’s hurtling through space kidnapped by Weston and Devine.
Ransom overhears Weston and Devine. They’ve been to Malacandria, the planet they’re heading to, before and were returning to offer up Ransom to the aliens there. They’re hoping to load up on valuable resources and hand over Ransom to the sorns, a species of aliens on Malacandria.
Ransom’s forewarned and planned to escape. He manages to run off though a bizarre environment with pink sticky earth, odd food, three homo sapien species that can see angels and that get along with each other. As a philologist, Ransom is quickly able to learn the aliens’ language. (Well, one of them, as it turns out each species has its own language and one shared language.)
As Ransom evades and eventually is captured by the aliens, he learns to look at life in a completely different and wise way.
This is a book I relished. Lewis has such a gift for language and made me want to improve the book I’m working on currently. The themes are related to Christianity, but even if that’s not your faith, it makes you think about human life and our foibles.
I read that C.S. Lewis once criticized sci-fi because in most stories the writer takes you to the end of the universe, but everything is basically the same with the substitutions being basically the same as what we now have. For example, here we have guns while in outer space in most stories they just use lasers and use them in the same instances we would. In Out of the Silent Planet, the aliens’ philosophy and approach to life is just about completely different from humans. They’re quite impressive on the whole.
“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”
“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.”
“But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now-now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.”
When Sally Nichols inherits a fortune and leaves New York for a much dreamed of trip to France. She’s finally come of age and can use her inheritance. She’s the sort of girl every man falls for, through no fault of her own.
Soon she winds up in in London and gets roped into helping her hapless brother Philmore, who’s constantly bungling into financial difficulty whether it’s through a disastrous theatrical production or some hare-brained business venture. She meets red-haired Ginger, who falls for her, but whom she keeps at a distance prior to discovering that her fiancé has married. Shortly after unconsciously winning Ginger’s love, she meets his grouchy uncle on a train and he’s soon smitten. The story goes on to follow the ups and downs of Sally’s financial and romantic life. It’s a pleasant, witty story that had me laughing out loud.
I was a worried that I wouldn’t enjoy a P.G. Wodehouse book without Jeeves, but while I think the Jeeves stories are of a higher order, I did enjoy The Adventures of Sally.
I listened to the Jonathan Cecil’s narration and highly recommend that audiobook.
“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”
“Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.”
“It seems to be one of Nature’s laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess.”
Here’s a short video I made introducing the ideas of John Stuart Mill culled from his work “On Liberty.” Mill was a big champion of free speech.
I think more people should read this book. Project Gutenberg has it for free here.
by William Shakespeare
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest,—
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,—
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
When mercy seasons justice.