books, ness talks books, Quotables

Recountings: in memory of the elephants

1168916Take a dash of daring do, throw in a bit of casual racism, a pinch of beautiful prose and a dollop of nail biting tension and what do you have?

King Solomon’s Mines

by H. Rider Haggard

***There Be Spoilers Ahead***

Look, let’s get the ‘casual racism’ out of the way. Yep, I know that it’s a classic and therefore a wee bit antiquated but still … it  yanks my chain to read Allan Quatermain’s condescending attitudes towards those of a different skin colour.

But no amount of beauty or refinement could have made an entanglement between Good and herself a desirable occurrence; for, as she herself put it, “Can the sun mate with the darkness, or the white with the black?”

Saith whaaaaaat? Ohmygosh. Holy bigoted, self-important, inequality, Batman!

“… your book has horrible views on a great portion of humanity.”

I’m not going to rant and rave, though. I’m simply going to say this: however old the book, wrong views are still wrong. Being a ‘classic’ doesn’t make it okay. Mmkay?

Right, and now I’ve vented my chief problem with the story (the other one is elephants. And the killing of them. WHY, Allan? Did you know that elephants walk on tip-toe. Why would you slaughter creatures that are literally charging on tip toe towards you? Me no understand) let’s move on to the rest of this recounting.

The Synopsisking solomon's mines

King Solomon’s Mines tells of the search by Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good and the narrator, Allan Quatermain, for Sir Henry’s younger brother George. He has been lost in the interior of Africa for two years in his quest for King Solomon’s Mines, the legendary source of the biblical king’s enormous riches. The three companions encounter fearful hardships, fierce warriors, mortal danger and the sinister and deadly witch Gagool.

The Intrepid Trio:

First, let me say that Sir Henry is my favourite character by far. I love him. He reminds of Radcliff Emerson and that, my friends, is a splendiferous thing. He’s big, strong and brave and can remove an evil man’s head with ease (it’s an important life skill).

Whilst I didn’t like Captain John Good too much, he still managed to tumble down slopes, nearly die in caverns and escape drowning all with an eyeglass screwed in. And if that isn’t the definition of epic, I don’t know what is.

And also, there’s this:

Whilst we were at Durban he [Good] cut off a Kafir’s big toe in a way which it was a pleasure to see.

… he does what now?

Personally I don’t find toe removal a pleasure to see. In fact, I’d rather avoid it. However, I do find the rest of that passage amusing:

But he was quite nonplussed when the Kafir, who had sat stolidly watching the operation, asked him to put on another, saying that a “white one” would do at a pinch.

Allan Quatermain is … an interesting chap. A hunter, he’s short, proclaims himself a timid sort of man and at the beginning, was annoyingly voluble. (I’m a timid man, he says. But not too timid to make long speeches of drawn out deliberation it seems.)

I warmed to him a little as thing went along, because he was quite an interesting character after all. (And yes, I’ve used ‘interesting’ twice to describe him, but it’s true.) He’s not entirely bland nor entirely bigoted – his opinions, though wrong, are a product of his time. Even his big game hunting was considered fine and dandy back then. (Even though I baulked at the wholesale slaughter of those poor, innocent elephants.) He calls himself a coward and yet still charges into the fray.

While I wouldn’t say, ‘My word, that Allan Quatermain!’ (As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t say that to anyone about anyone. But, ahem, that’s beside the point) he’s okay (mostly – those elephants and those views and that- No. Not going there.)

Also: his internal monologues are quite fascinating to read and this one stood out to me amidst the rest:

Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his monument, remains. His name is lost, indeed, but the breath he breathed still stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he knew are our familiar friends–the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!

Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever.

I feel rather intelligent right now

Moments From The Story:

I’m going to put this into bullet points. Though do be warned – this is not in chronological order.

  • Someone gets ripped apart by an elephant (oh no! They’re fighting back?!)
  • Another gets crushed by a stone door (FATALITYYYYY!!! Too far? Too far.)
  • There’s a huge battle – which to be honest, I didn’t find too exciting. I think between Sutcliff and Henty I’ve accidently lost my love of battles. If I ever had one, that is. From what I recall of Henty he copied and pasted from history books. Or rather it always felt like he did.
  • A ‘will they survive the desert’ period which was so well written it made me anxious.
  • A brutal fight between Sir Henry and the Evil King. Sir Henry escapes with a scar on his face. The Evil King? You could say he was headed for trouble when he started fighting.
  • The above was a terrible pun.
  • A terribly funny pun

In Conclusion

Whilst there were moments I did enjoy, as a whole, I didn’t find this book an easy read. I’m not sure if it’s because I wasn’t quite in the right mood at the times of reading or if it and I just weren’t meant to be friends.

One readolution down, five more to go. I’m not sure I can face Crime and Punishment right now, or Lorna Doone. Nope, for the next book off my readolution list, I’m choosing The Three Musketeers because my thirst for adventure has yet to be quenched.


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via Flickr

In memory of all the fictional elephants slain in King Solomon’s Mines

books, ness talks about life

Readolutions: Head loppin’, Crime and Windmills

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via Flickr

I don’t often read Classics, but as resolutions are commonly made every new year, I’ve made a list of my own.

These aren’t resolutions though, these are readolutions. (And yes, that’s a terrible, terrible pun of which I am inordinately proud.)

Lorna Doone by R.D Blackmore

It’s been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year. No more! I shall dive into this forbidden romance. Or at least, I think it’s a forbidden romance. Does it end happily? I hope it ends happily.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I’ve never read Dickens. In fact, singing ‘Food, Glorious Food’ or ‘Oom Pah Pah’ and quoting ‘More? You want some moarrrr?!!!‘ is almost the sum total of our association.

This ignorance will end (hopefully) this year (probably). Doesn’t this one have a guillotine? Regretfully, I don’t think the Scarlet Pimpernel will be making an appearance.

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevesky

Other than the title’s similarity to War and Peace, I’ve no idea what this is about. Probably Russia, but I’m no expert. I bought it second hand. Perhaps it will improve my mind. Perhaps it will be a glorious adventure.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

I ordered this thinking it would be a quick read; that I could puff my chest out and announce to the mortals about me that I’d read it (‘…and did you admire the way Cervantes wrote that particular passage? No? You haven’t read it? Oh.’)

There is no chest puffing. It came in the post. I was not expecting its … volume. It was very voluminous. It still needs reading. I’ll have a chance at intellectual snobbery, just you wait. (And wait. And wait.)

It would help if I could pronounce the book’s name. (Don Kicks-oaty? Don Key-oaty? No?)

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Meanwhile, those in the know.

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

I might have read this in my Project Gutenberg days – or at least skipped through it. Or was that She? I have dim recollection of something of his works. I didn’t really connect with it, for the leading lady was very mysterious and beautiful. (Read of that what you may).

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

I was going to pop The Count of Monte Cristo here but I’ve sort of read that and to even think of reading another whoppin’ classic after Don Quixote would be quite mad. The Three Musketeers doesn’t look so daunting.

I hope.

Moby Dick is not included on this list because a) I can’t remember where I stopped reading (half way-ish?) and b) it’s always good to leave a little surprise or two.

You never know, I might suddenly put up a joyful little message that Moby Dick and I are through with each other and oh! I’ve suddenly joined a whale conservation society.

Oh well. Wish me luck, I’m rolling up my sleeves and jousting with windmills.

Happy reading!

books, ness talks books

Recountings – Villette: an Adverse Reaction

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Disclaimer: This was, for the most part, written the Day After Reading, when the trauma was still fresh and painful in my mind.

Villette

by Charlotte Bronte

– Here be Spoilers –

Perhaps I should have looked a little more closely at the reviews I read weeks before starting Villette. Perhaps I should have opened the spoilers.

But no, I didn’t. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted this to be a book adventure that was unmapped. After all, I’d read Jane Eyre and loved it – why should this be any different?

Ha. Why, indeed.

While I affectionately – and somewhat irreverently – nicknamed Jane Eyre ‘Foiled Attempts at Bigamy’ I would do the same to Villette: ‘Failed Attempts at Happiness’.

It took two days to read the five hundred odd pages. I’d become attached to M Paul Emanuel. I liked the dark little Frenchman with his moods and great heart. And then … then someone kicked my puppy. Someone took my beautiful strawberry cupcake and stamped on it in a muddy pool.

Villette, it has been said, is a largely autobiographical account of the Author’s life. Poor Charlotte Brontë. How deeply you felt. But this isn’t a recounting of her life, ‘tis the recounting of an adventure I went on in one of her books.

I’m afraid that I can’t be much of an intellectual book lover. Not for me is it to praise the prose or the endless wanderings of unhappiness and ten such gloomy moods. Not for me to relish each paragraph and delight in each beautifully turned poetic phrase.

Oh no.

You see, I reached the end … and I, well, I wasn’t pleased with it. At all.

I’d read Jane Eyre, you see, and I thought that all the misery of Villette would result in a worthy ending. An ending in which all the heartache and loneliness would be soothed by a gleam of happiness and the promise of future peace from pain.

Yeah. About that.

I am a reader who enjoys light heartedness. I can take sadness in a book as long as it is tempered with a little happiness to contrast. I like bittersweet endings. I like realistic ones.

That said, Villette (and its ending) … wasn’t for me.

Perhaps when I am in a dreadfully depressed mood, I will pick the book up again. But otherwise I won’t, for on the contrary, I’m sure it will send me into a dreadfully depressed mood.

I finished that final page and the cleverness of the end was lost to me. I ranted. I raved at anyone who could hear. “Five hundred pages!” I said in disbelief, my voice ringing with a mixture of outraged sorrow and wrath. “Five hundred pages and-“ [Here you must insert incoherent rantings of the troubled mind of a person who had dedicated their weekend to a book which wasn’t quite what they expected.]

I’m sure Villette will continue to be a classic. Well and good. But I have only so much time on this earth and I do not wish to spend it in deep, dark depression reading of nuns in attics or … or … shipwrecks. (That shipwreck!)

It may well be the path of the intellectual to read such books. It may be that the true intelligent reader will revel in the wonder of Villette and bask in the glory of the Brontës.

Reader, I haven’t the heart for it.

I can’t cultivate happiness (as Dr Bretton suggests) but I sure as potatoes can fling a gloomy book across the room.

Look ‘ee here, you too can, er, enjoy Villette – for free here and for your bookshelves here.