Monday, December 28, 2015

A Review of The Force Awakens

Erin: There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
Anna: Yes. Let's write a post about it.

Introducing The Wood Between the Worlds' review of

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Image result for the force awakens

"That's one hell of a pilot!" Within the first few minutes of the film Anna had already decided that Poe - the resistance pilot - was her favorite character - possibly because he had an awesome x-wing, more likely because he was extremely attractive. It was especially cool when he tried to shoot Kylo Ren. It may have seemed like a rash decision - why blow his cover, but he had already sent BB-8 away with the map, so that wasn't in any danger. But think about it, he may not even know this guy who gave him the map - we really have no idea but since it seems like no one that important really lives on Jakku it's safe to say that he's never met this guy before now, and yet he's willing to risk his life to save him. Something else great about Poe was his acceptance of Finn - their somewhat brief friendship was a great part of the film. Of course, every Star Wars film needs a good x-wing pilot - maybe Poe will replace Wedge Antilles. Erin liked his spunk, and relationship with BB-8. 

"The droid . . . stole a freighter?" BB-8 was adorable - we liked that he had a strong personality even though he was a droid. For instance his interaction with the powered down R2D2 was the cutest. 

"Not anymore. The name's Finn. And I'm in charge. I'm in charge now, Phasma! I'm in charge!" Finn was cool because he had a different background than the typical Star Wars character. There was quite a few things that mirrored the older films, but a storm trooper going rogue was unprecedented. One of the things that made us like him was how much he cared about Rey and how eager he was to impress her. At the beginning of the film Finn is super freaked that he will have to return to the first order, but by the end of the film he volunteers to go back to the Star Killer with just Han and Chewy to rescue Rey. 

"So, who is the girl?" The question on everyone's mind. Erin noticed that every time someone asked who Rey was, the scene immediately switched. So, who is Rey? We have some ideas about that, and they aren't all logical. 
          1) Luke is Rey's father. 
                  For: The force is strong with her. She has an x-wing doll and helmet - which looks an awful lot like Luke's helmet. Luke's lightsaber called to her - a lightsaber that has been passed from father to son. Everyone seems to know who she is except for her. 
                  Against: It seems too obvious to be true. 
          2) Rey and Kylo Ren (Ben) are twins.
                  For: Kylo was very interested in her, and even offered to train her in the ways of the force. Han and Leia seem to really like her and know something about her. 
                  Against: If Kylo was sent to train with Luke, why was Rey abandoned on Jakku? If Han or Leia knew that Rey was their daughter they would've made a bigger deal out of it. 
          3) Rey is Wedge Antilles' daughter.
                  For: She knows a lot about piloting a ship, and has an x-wing helmet. Wedge was a very devoted member of the rebel alliance and made it through all three movies, he also isn't an obvious choice for Rey's father. 
                  Against: We just really like this theory.

Rey was a very strong character. She not only took care of herself - but she was smart and impressed all the people around her. Daisy Ridley did a fantastic job of portraying the force awakening within Rey. She had a very can-do attitude - and didn't plan on waiting for anyone to come save her - this is probably a result of surviving for so long on her own on the harsh planet of Jakku. 

"You're a monster." Uncontrolled and animalistic is a good way to describe Kylo Ren. He kept losing his temper and slashing things with his lightsaber when events didn't turn out as he would have liked. In the fight scene with Rey and Finn he kept hitting his side where he had been shot which was quite disturbing. Kylo's lightsaber mirrored his anger - it was very violent not only in color but in static. The lightsaber was constantly spitting energy, unlike Rey's which was calm and straight. 

Erin was impressed with little things throughout the movie which pointed back to the original films. For instance, she liked the random alien head that popped out of the sand to gawk at BB-8, as well as the scene transitions in the style of the old trilogy. That being said, there were moments that felt a little repetitive - like when they blew up the death star for the THIRD TIME. Erin's only criticism of the movie was that it felt a little too repetitive at times. But it was still great. 

Anna had no criticisms. Besides that Wedge Antilles wasn't in it - he's kind of her favorite character. (We don't know why . . .)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas

Just something to get you into the Christmas spirit. A Star Wars review might be on the way, but in the meantime, enjoy these highlights from Smeagol's upcoming Christmas album, with special appearances by Gollum:

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Winter - A Brilliant End to a Beautiful Series


Title: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Published: November 2015
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Goodreads Summary: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

What I thought: This book was a great finish to a fantastic series. I adore fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. I don't especially like dystopian novels, but this doesn't read like your typical dystopian novel. The fairy tale elements and the writing style lift this book above the others, it stands out. Meyer somehow introduces new characters each book, and still gives them all enough screen time and development to become main characters, and that's no easy feat with nine main protagonists. 

From this point on there will be spoilers.

Something I loved in this story was how much the characters had grown from when we first met them. Cinder accepts her identity and isn't ashamed of it, sometimes she even forgets she's a cyborg. Kai has gone from a prince to an emperor and understands what it means to lead. Scarlet has found bravery and courage after she thought she lost everything. Wolf has thrown off social prejudices and customs to be his own man. Cress is beginning to understand people and sacrifice, and what it means to put others above yourself. Thorne has learned he can be more, and that he does deserve love. Winter has found someone who loves her for who she is, crazies and all, and she has learned not to be ashamed of herself. Jacin is finally happy, and free to do as he pleases. Iko, has grown past her faulty personality chip, she isn't just an android, she's a person. 

One of the most fantastic things about this book is that it's not a glossy happily ever after for everyone. I mean, yeah, the main characters get their love interests, but they don't get out scott free. The final battle gives lasting scars. While Cinder gets off pretty well, this is probably because she is cyborg and most of her parts can be easily fixed, while others are not so lucky. Thorne is now missing two fingers which were shot off by Cress, and as a pilot that's not really something he can ignore. Cress was severely injured by Thorne, which has to give her some major trust issues and nightmares. Kai was forced to witness Levana's cruelty first hand. Winter has crazies that go to a whole new level, and Jacin has to deal with said crazies. And then there's Scarlet and Wolf. I'll go into more detail about them later. 

So, Levana's death was fan-freaking-tastic. Like that psycho needed to die. I was super happy when Cinder finally became queen, but even happier when she decided to make Luna a Republic. I think this really shows the authors grasp of politics and rulers. Cinder being the progressive that she is, would naturally take it one step farther, and help the people, because she herself understands what they feel. Living as a cyborg in a country that treats them as lesser citizens, and having seen the terror of the plague and outer sectors first hand, I think she understands that the people need to learn to govern themselves, no one should have power over an entire planet. 

Okay, now I would like to focus on a few characters. First Scarlet and Wolf. Not particularly sure why, but I find these two some of the most intriguing characters in the story. I love their connection and just the overall awesomeness of Scarlet's courage and determination. One of my absolute favorite parts of the book was Scarlet's interaction with the wolf-soldiers. Yes, she's terrified of them, but she's also an alpha and she knows what that means. One example of this was when a wolf-soldier growled at her, and she growled back. And then by the end of the whole plague fiasco she had them respecting her. All this because back in France she was able to see through the rough exterior of Wolf and treat him like a human. Okay, now to Wolf. Oh Wolf. He may be my favorite character, so the further genetic mutation he was subjected to almost killed me. I may have actually screamed out loud. I was horrified how could they do that to him, and then when Levana used him as her own puppet, my heart nearly broke. Here was a man who had lost everything as a child and been made into an animal, living only to do as his leader commanded. Until one day he met a fiery girl with red hair who thought he could be something more. And somehow he took back his humanity. And they took it all away again. Made him more of a beast than he had ever been before, instead of just on the inside, now it was the outside too. In the chaos of the battle he attacks Iko, shredding her outer skin and tearing through wires. But, no matter what they do to him, he still recognizes his pack. Somehow across the blood and terror he sees Scarlet and something clicks. Within moments of reaching Scarlet - his alpha and pack - his humanity returns. The link with the queen is broken because love and respect will always be stronger than fear. And Scarlet doesn't care that he's no longer handsome, or even human, because inside he's still wolf, and he still loves tomatoes, and he's still her pack. There was something truly beautiful there, maybe that family doesn't give up on you, and you can always count on your pack to be there. 

So, now (briefly) to Jacin and Winter. Wow. I LOVED Winter. She was fantastic. Her hallucinations were incredibly real to her, and really mirrored the state of Luna. The bleeding walls showed how corrupt and dead everything on Luna really was. The ice showed how breakable she felt, and how fragile the government really was. I really could connect to Winter, not because I have hallucinations, because I don't, but because I have anxiety. And to me, when it gets really bad, it seems real. It really feels like I'm going to explode, or die or catch fire. And I know it isn't, but sometimes that gets forgotten when things get tough. Just like Winter, sometimes I actually believe I am a girl of ice, and that this next breath may be my last. But there is always that person, or people that can just touch you and things are alright. For Winter that person is Jacin. The moment he's there, her hallucinations begin to fade, maybe not totally, but she is able to focus on something other than herself, and her own broken mind, and that is what changes things. But it's not just that Jacin brings her back to reality, it's that he understands who she is, and doesn't need her to change, he respects the choice she has made to resist her powers and instead be trapped in her own mind. He loves her for who she truly is. That doesn't mean that she won't ever have hallucinations again, just that it will be more bearable. I can relate to that. Being with family helps with anxiety, but that doesn't mean that it's gone, just that it's easier to bear when you have people on your side who don't treat you like you need to be cured, but who understand that this is who you are, and work with it.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mr. Holmes

Title: Mr. Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Jeffrey Hatcher, Mitch Cullin
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan
Release Date: 24 July 2015

Length: 104 min
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Watch: Amazon Instant Video
Buy: AmazonGoogle shopping

What IMDB has to say:

An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes, deals with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. He also befriends a fan, the young son of his housekeeper, who wants him to work again.

What I have to say:

I knew it was going to be a great movie when I heard about it. The premise was Ian McKellen meets Sherlock Holmes, and what could be more perfect? But I could never have predicted the seamless, moving piece of artistry that is Mr. Holmes. Moving along with an easy grace aided by paradisaical scenery and a wonderful score, Mr. Holmes delves into the regions of memory, reality, human relationships, and loss. The main character may be the remarkable Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but the story told by the film is universal, and the chords it touches exist in every heart.

First, the aesthetics. The film is perfect. With masterful cinematography, a score that is light but warm and never intrudes into the story, and a subtly clever script, the plot moves along seamlessly with a grace that is almost breathtaking. The transitions are so smooth they feel like a continuation of the story and the viewer is hardly surprised, and the pace moves slowly but steadily on with a measured step that feels natural and uncalculated. The acting is brilliant on all counts but never overdone. And pervading the whole film is a quiet warmth that grows slowly but steadily on with the story, and over and through everything is a soft but thoughtful sweetness. When the film ends, the viewer breathes out a sigh of contentment.

Next, the content. Thinking back over the themes of the film, I am awestruck at the way in which the filmmakers weave these strands through the story and bring them out the other side completely changed in the eyes of both the characters and the viewers. And yet the way in which they bring this change about is so subtle and gradual that the change doesn't come as a surprise and, in fact, you hardly notice it at all. It's only thinking back over the film afterwards that I realize all that changed from the beginning of the film to the end. There are also so many subtle little echoes throughout the film, one or two of which I noticed in the moment, but most of which I didn't notice until I found myself thinking back over the film later.

Memory. The film plays on memories in so many ways. The premise of the movie is Sherlock Holmes struggling with memory loss near the end of his life as he tries to remember his last case. Gradually, the memory begins to unfold, and each time Holmes remembers a little more. Along with Holmes, the audience sees the memory a length at a time, and we are frustrated along with Holmes by his inability to remember. At first, we are shown very little - a face, a word, or a scene - in short flashes, the way someone might remember an event that occurred many years back; but gradually, the flashbacks lengthen, until the whole memory is revealed, piece by piece. Holmes's inability to remember the story of his final case is echoed in Roger's inability to remember the stories his father used to tell him before his death in WWII. The dilemma of an old man struggling with memory loss at the end of his life finds an echo in the dilemma of a young boy unable to recall early memories of his father. And that brings us to the theme of loss.

Many characters in the film are forced to deal with this theme. Ann deals with the loss of her unborn children; Holmes deals with the loss of his friends, his profession, and his memory; Umezaki and Roger deal with the loss of a father; and Roger fears losing his way of life, while his mother worries about what will happen when Roger loses Holmes. The theme of death and loss finds a gentle metaphor in the bees kept on Holmes's property, which keep dying unaccountably, and reaches a dramatic crescendo when Holmes views the aftermath of the atom bomb in Japan. Each loss seems interconnected, and subtle visuals throughout aid this intricacy.

In a short scene that only afterward takes on importance, Holmes and Umezaki watch a Japanese man perform a ritual to commemorate those he has lost: kneeling on the ground in a circle of stones, the man raises his arms to the heavens. Umezaki tells Holmes that the stones represent the people the man has lost. The man's ritual stands out boldly against the black and barren landscape. Later in the film, Ann erects tombstones for her two children and another for herself. Finally, in the final scene of the film, Holmes reenacts the ritual he witnessed in Japan, forming a circle of stones in the grass to commemorate those he has lost: Ann, Watson, and others. The visual backdrop of Holmes's ritual - a fertile green hillside overlooking the ocean - contrasts sharply with the black, barren backdrop of the Japanese man's ritual; Holmes's act of grieving signifies the beginning of a new life in which he will find long-sought healing, peace, and perhaps even joy. When Holmes and Umezeki find the small prickly ash plant at the site of the atom bomb, Umezeki's comment that the plant's presence shows life reasserting itself seems to foreshadow Holmes's healing at the end of the film, and finds echoes in his friendship with Roger; after devastating loss, life begins anew.

Holmes's ritual at the end of the film comes as no surprise; it occurs as the natural culmination of the process he undergoes throughout the movie, but considering his state of mind at the start of the film, Holmes has changed drastically. Early on in the story Holmes remarks that he doesn't mourn; he uses logic instead, which leaves no room for emotion. The remark is consistent with the character of Sherlock Holmes, coolly making deductions while others succumb to hysteria; but no one is ever done learning, even at age 93, and even Sherlock Holmes still has a few things to learn. Perhaps it is because of Holmes's refusal and - dare I say - inability - to mourn that Ann's death so completely defeats him. After learning of Ann's death, Holmes is defeated, broken, and utterly unable to function. His famous logic has finally failed him and Holmes is crushed in the rescind. His self-imposed rule of never succumbing to emotion has left him unprepared for such a blow. He has developed no coping mechanism for grief, because he has never allowed himself to grieve. It is only Watson's fiction which eventually pieces Holmes back together.

Fiction. This is seriously one of the most epic elements of the film. It'll blow your mind.

Almost at the beginning of the movie, Holmes tells someone that if he ever writes a story, it will be to correct Watson's fictive embellishments. When Umezeki's mother asks Holmes about his deerstalker hat, Holmes replies that he hardly ever wears the deerstalker; that was just one of Watson's embellishments (though he admits later to wishing he'd brought the hat if only to accommodate her). Similarly, at other moments in the story, Holmes shows the high value he places on fact, and the disdain he feels for fictionalizing the truth. When Umezeki tells Holmes about his father, Holmes shows no restraint in giving Umezeki the cold hard facts about the case: Holmes never met Umezeki's father, who clearly lied to his son in order to conceal the fact that he was abandoning his family. Umezeki is visibly upset by Holmes's frank declaration, though he cannot fault Holmes for delivering the truth. His father's lie was a way of softening the reality, as Holmes grasps, though he fails to understand why such softenings are necessary.

When Holmes at last sets out to write his true account, he discovers painfully why fiction is sometimes preferable to fact. The true story of his final case is hard to live with, and embedded within this realization (the movie is like metaphor-inception) is the realization that had Holmes lied to Ann instead of confronting her immediately with reality, her suicide may have been averted. In some cases, fiction succeeds where fact cannot. From this realization comes an unraveling of Holmes's long-held ideas and a reweaving in a different pattern. Holmes writes to Umezeki to tell him that he has suddenly remembered having encountered Umezeki's father and this means that Umezeki's father did, in fact, tell him the truth (work that one out!). For a moment, the viewer is uncertain as to whether Holmes's letter is a true record of an actual event, or a fictive account designed to soothe and heal the recipient. It's a moment of pure genius on the part of the filmmakers. But the viewer soon infers that Holmes's story is anything but true.

Holmes writes the letter to Umezeki at a desk in his room, and the only thing that would make this moment even more genius would be if the desk he sits at is Watson's old desk, which, as the viewer discovers earlier in the movie, has remained with Holmes ever since Watson's marriage and sits in his room throughout the film. I regret to say that I wasn't paying close enough attention at the time to be able to tell you which desk he was sitting at, but next time I watch the movie (and there will be a next time), I'll watch for it. If he is in fact writing the letter from Watson's desk, then the symbolism is complete and the process too: Holmes has converted to Watson's viewpoint concerning fiction and fact, and now sits at Watson's desk, fabricating stories about the great Sherlock Holmes. [After watching the movie a second time, I am pleased to report that Holmes writes the letter to Umezeki while sitting at Watson's desk.]

At the center of Holmes's turn-around is the realization that fiction soothes and heals where fact cannot. When Holmes is devastated after Ann's death, Watson brings Holmes healing by changing the details of the case, writing a fictive account which later serves as the basis for the movie Holmes watches and finds humorous (for all the wrong reasons).

"You shouldn't say everything you think," Mrs. Munro tells her son Roger. And in her simple yet deep motherly wisdom, she understands what the great Sherlock Holmes does not: forbearance is wise, and fiction has its value. And as the audience, we sense that, although Mrs. Munro's observation is couched in a mother's reprimand to her son, she means it in another sense as a check to Sherlock Holmes, who never could resist a plain deduction.

Inherent in Holmes's turn-around regarding fiction and fact is the filmmakers' subtle but effective statement about the value of fiction in society and human life.

Finding that his metaphorical wrestling has renewed his strength, Holmes emerges a changed man. And one of the first ways it shows is in his free expression of grief for a sudden and unexpected tragedy in his life. When Holmes breaks down and sobs in response to Mrs. Munro's accusation that he doesn't care for anyone, Mrs. Munro is visibly shocked - and for good reason. Is this the Sherlock Holmes who, only a short while ago, declared that logic cancels out grief? It is this act of grief that binds the two characters, previously at odds, together. Acting in concord, Holmes and Munro set fire to the wasp nest, destroying once and for all the source of death for the bees; and the act feels cathartic, much like Holmes's sobs. It's as if the two survivors have united to face and destroy once and for all the cause of all their losses and heartache. Maybe the torched wasps' nest, flames rising into a black sky, parallels the act of destruction caused by the atom bomb in Japan. Or maybe it mirrors it, closing the cycle out. Or bringing the circle around again because once more, life begins anew after destruction.

When Roger hands Holmes a stone to use in his mourning ritual, Holmes asks who it's meant to represent:

"Me," Roger replies. "You." Because sooner or later, we lose it all; it's just a part of life.

"Well," says Holmes. "Not yet a while, surely?"

"Did you finish what you had to do?"

"Yes, I did. My first foray into the world of fiction. One shouldn't leave this life without a sense of completion. You can use this in one of your stories. A glass, a bee... and Roger."

Roger will go on telling stories the way his father used to, and Holmes, perhaps, will take up writing stories the way his friend John Watson used to. We tell stories to make sense of the world, to cope with heartache, and to find the will to go on. And if the story we're trying to tell turns out perfect, it might just be Mr. Holmes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Birthday C. S. Lewis


Chances are if you've read any one of the posts that I've written for this blog (or if you've just looked at the title of the blog itself) you've noticed my overwhelming prejudice in favor of C. S. Lewis. The very first of his books I ever read was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that book, Aslan the lion returns to Narnia and breaks the spell laid upon it by the White Witch. But when I read that book, it cast an enchantment on me, and the spell has never been broken. C. S. Lewis' work remains the most heartfelt and truly real of anything I have ever read, and C. S. Lewis himself the most observant, gifted, and sincere of any author I have ever had the good fortune to discover.

Sunday marks the anniversary of C. S. Lewis' (or Jack, as he preferred to be called) birth in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898. If he were still alive, he'd be 117 years old. Sadly for the world, he died in 1963 in Oxford, just seven days before his sixty-fifth birthday. But he left behind a prodigious amount of writings: his lasting gift to us.

Writing this post, while listening to the film score of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (of course), is a tender experience for me. I am filled with wonder and with gratitude for this amazing, humble man who had such a deep understanding of life and the ability and courage to share it with the world. Words cannot express my debt to C. S. Lewis, so it seems vain to attempt it. In the end, I find all I can say that seems to me to truly resonate is, "Thank you."

Happy Birthday, Jack.

Take this quiz to show off how many C. S. Lewis books you've read; and/or comment below about the first C. S. Lewis book you read, or the C. S. Lewis book that first made you fall in love with his writings.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My poetry addiction

I get high off poetry.

Anyone else?

It's more potent, more lasting, and, in the long run, more dangerous, than alcohol, marijuana, or any other type of stimulant.

To prove to you the full extent of my condition, allow me to point out the fact that I wrote a poem to describe my addiction to poetry, the first stanza of which reads: 

I have been drunk with poetry
Reeling from a villanelle's symmetry
Stumbling through sonnets in ecstasy
I have been drunk with poetry
Things are that bad.

It's always exciting when I stumble upon another addict - usually between the pages of a book because, let's be honest, people don't talk about their poetry addictions in public. The event usually occurs much the same way: I suddenly go very still. And then a thrill runs slowly down from my head to my toes. I'm alive and all at once, I feel it. I'm quickened. I'm in love. And I'm rediscovering poetry - for the first time.

I recently ran into one of these old friends I'd never met before in the pages of A Shropshire Lad. The poet: A. E. Housman, born 1859, Bromsgrove, England, died 1936, Cambridge. And what a conversation we had.

C. S. Lewis said that friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, "What? You, too? I thought I was the only one!" If that isn't the definition of poetry, I don't know what is. Often, when I read a good poem, I feel sure that the poet knows me, impossibly and intrinsically. In A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman pours out, measuredly and eloquently, his soul. But as he confides his dreams, his longings, his sorrows, frustrations, and yearnings - the reader grows more and more certain that she's reading about herself. This is the paradox of poetry.

I picked up my copy of A Shropshire Lad in a rather impressive bookstore in Ashland, Oregon. For $3.50 I purchased the record of the poet's soul. The small, orange, hardback edition looks fairly old, but contains no copyright date, so I'll never know exactly when it was published. The penciled inscription on the inside of the cover reads, "To Kelly, on her 19th birthday, Tom Nash." I read Housman's poems every night before bed for about a week - maybe less - adrift on a sea of poetic delirium. This is poetry, pure and simple. It soothes and aches. Housman got it right.

The only downside to reading Housman is that it makes me despair of ever writing anything comparable.

To return, for a moment, to C. S. Lewis, the Narnia author quotes Housman in a passage about his (Lewis') experience with Joy - "Into my heart an air that kills / from yon far country blows." Whom C. S. Lewis quotes is worth reading.

One of the poems contained in A Shropshire Lad serves as an accurate representation of the collection. The poem embodies the major themes of the slim volume: beauty, youth, the brief nature of human life and the inevitability of death, with the determination to make the most of what little time we have.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide. 
Now of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more. 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

In the first line of the second stanza, the poet is referring to a biblical verse out of Psalms, which reads, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten" (Psalm 90:10). As you can figure out if you do the math (but who wants to do math when they're reading poetry), threescore years and ten add up to seventy years total.

This has been Poetry Appreciation with Erin. Thank you for joining me. If you or someone you love is struggling with a poetry addiction, please comment below.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

[Not] Here at the end of all things (or WHY DID THE LAST EXTENDED EDITION HOBBIT FILM HAVE TO BE RATED R???)

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may have guessed that I like Tolkien a bit.

You would be right.

Of all my posts on this blog, I think the one subject I've written the most on is Tolkien - his life, his work, and adaptations of his stories - especially the Hobbit movies.

Ah, the Hobbit movies.

I speak disparagingly of them but I have a rather fond affection for the films, even while I question some (or most) of the choices Peter Jackson and team made with them.

Parts of the films were fantastic.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may also have noticed how closely I've followed the Hobbit movies, from the first trailers to the films themselves and extended editions thereafter. Despite my disappointment with the films, I've faithfully attended theaters (twice at midnight) to view Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies, always returning in spite of previous disappointments.

I psyche myself up until I'm super excited, go to the theater, watch the movie, come home feeling let down, mope around the house for a few days, and end up buying the extended edition.

All things considered, I think I'm a pretty loyal fan.

Imagine my reaction, then, when my brother called to relay some shocking news related to the final extended edition Hobbit film.

It's rated R.

I didn't believe him.

But when I did an online search and saw from multiple entertainment news sources that the extended edition of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will, in fact, be an R-rated film, I had to believe it.

So why is this such a big deal? (You may ask.)

I don't watch R-rated films.

(Why not?)

For religious reasons and as a matter of principal, I choose not to view things that are significantly disturbing or inappropriate. This has led to a degree of disappointment over the years as I've heard time and time again about a movie that sounds exciting only to find out later that it's rated R. 

But I never thought the day would come when I'd have to skip out on a Lord of the Rings movie because of an R-rating.

I feel betrayed. 

Peter Jackson made three wonderful movies out of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, none of which were rated R. He proceeded to make three less wonderful but still enjoyable movies out of The Hobbit. None of these were rated R. Now, on the absolutely final movie - with the absolutely final release of that movie (the one thing I still could look forward to even though the official trilogy had come to an end) he pulls out an R-rating. "Disappointed" doesn't even cover it.

Yes, I could go see the movie anyway. After all, no one's holding a gun to my head forcing me not to watch R-rated movies. And I'm old enough to make these decisions for myself. But I've already made my decision, a long time ago, in fact, and I've only cemented it over the years. Here, at the end of all things, is one Tolkien movie I won't be seeing.

I wonder what Tolkien would say - but that's speculative and therefore irrelevant.

Thank you, Peter Jackson, for some wonderful movies and a fun (if rocky) ride. I'm sorry I can't be there at the end of all things. But I'm also sorry that you had to prevent me from coming. I'm sure we can still be friends.

My reaction on hearing that the extended edition of Battle of the Five Armies will be rated R

If you've finished reading this little complaint, I very much want to know what you think about the last extended edition Hobbit movie being rated R. Do you feel miffed with me? Or do you find my viewpoint rather extreme? A shire-farthing for your thoughts.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo

Title: The Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Original Date of Publication: 1844
This Edition: May 27th 2003 by Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 1276
Original Language: French
Translator: Robin Buss
Purchase: AmazonBarnes & Noble (ebook)ebayAbe BooksThe Book Depository

What Goodreads has to say:

'On what slender threads do life and fortune hang'

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas' epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s.

Robin Buss' lively translation is complete and unabridged, and remains faithful to the style of Dumas' original. This edition includes an introduction, explanatory notes and suggestions for further reading.

What I have to say:

(warning: subtle spoilers)

The Arrest

On August 24, I began reading The Count of Monte Cristo. On September 30, around 11:00 pm, I finished The Count of Monte Cristo. This means that in the space of about one month I lived through 29 years. And they were epic.

If you're looking into reading The Count of Monte Cristo for the first time, I cannot recommend highly enough Robin Buss' translation. As the owner of the bookstore where I bought the 1276 page novel informed me, Buss grew up speaking both French and English in his household, so clearly he knows what he's doing. I found his translation lively, poetic, and moving. And don't even bother reading the unabridged version - seriously, who does that? - be a hipster and read the whole thing.

In reviewing Dumas' masterpiece, I first want to make it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and gave it four stars on goodreads. The compelling nature of many of the characters and the fast-paced plot kept me up reading the book for days on end and often late into the night - and when that happens with a book published over 170 years ago, you know there's something good there. So if you get the sense further on in this review that I'm criticizing Dumas and his novel, please know that I hold the author in very high regard and loved the novel very much.

The Trial

First of all I want to talk about the characters. I anticipate this will be the longest section in my review - because, let's face it: there are over 40 characters in this book. That doesn't mean I'm going to get through all of them (don't worry - it won't take you longer to read this review than it will to read the actual book). But I do want to look at some of the main characters - from the most compelling to the most pathetic.

Eugenie Danglars

Basically, she's boss. Half the characters in The Count of Monte Cristo suffer from arranged marriages, but while everybody else is suffering and lamenting, Eugenie sits her father down and tells him in effect: "You didn't consult me when you arranged this marriage. We're not living in the era of arranged matches anymore. I don't want to get married. I'm not going to." When her father makes it clear that they'll both be bankrupt unless Eugenie marries the wealthy Prince (he's not a real prince - see the book), Eugenie shrugs and runs away with a woman. Like I said, boss.

The main reason Eugenie's character comes across as so strong is precisely because she knows what she wants and is going to get it - despite what anyone else thinks she can or can't do. Some of the other characters start to seem rather pathetic about mid-way through the book. Albert doesn't want to get married to Eugenie, but the match has already been arranged and he doesn't want to upset his father, so he'll marry her. Valentine is passionately in love with Morrel, but her father has arranged her marriage to Franz, so she'll resign herself and marry him. Morrel loves Valentine and wants to marry her but figures he can't so he'll just kill himself. You know, whatever. In the midst of all of this, you can probably understand why, beside the paragraph when Eugenie outright tells her father she won't marry Cavalcanti, I wrote in pencil,"Eugenie is the best character in the whole book." 

Albert de Morcerf

I love Albert. In fact, he and Eugenie may be my favorite characters, though I also like Mercedes, Noirtier, and Franz, among others. Albert is so simply lovable. He's a sincere person. When he loves someone, such as the Count or his mother, Mercedes, he says so openly. And when someone upsets him, he tells them so openly. He's brave, honest, and simple in character - in the sense that he's a very straightforward person with no deceit and little complexity. You can almost always tell what he's thinking - usually because he'll just tell you. And he's unfailingly loyal. I love Albert.

I think Albert as a character may be the one that the reader connects with most easily on an emotional level (with the possible exception of Mercedes) - he seems to go straight to your heart, and when bad things start happening to him, your heart just breaks. I was aghast when he challenged one of his best friends to a fight to the death - and even more aghast when he challenged his best friend, the Count. His naive love for the Count is touching when, suffering acutely under the influence of a rumor that threatens his father's honor and that, unbeknownst to Albert, has in fact been propagated by the Count, Albert's friend suggests that they go and see the Count of the Monte Cristo in order to cheer Albert up. "Yes," Albert replies readily. "Let's go see the Count. I like him."

Albert may also be one of the characters in the novel that experiences the most profound change throughout. Introduced to the reader as a lovable, if rather simple, Parisian dandy whose deepest anxieties are over the stylishness of his clothes (or lack thereof) and whose greatest longing is to have a romantic adventure in Rome, the Albert shown to us in the novel's final chapters is quite a different character. He's always been brave, but now he finds the courage to uphold his inherent sense of honor by abandoning his wealth and manifold comforts and supporting himself and his mother entirely on his own. I suppose you could say that Albert grows up.

Valentine de Villefort

Valentine is in many ways Eugenie's foil. Both girls find themselves in a similar situation: their fathers have arranged a marriage for them to a man they do not love. Where Eugenie stands up and kicks butt, however, Valentine sits down and faints. Dumas juxtaposes the two girls several times, pointing out Valentine's gentle, feminine nature beside Eugenie's bold, more masculine nature. One of Albert's friends compares Eugenie to Artemis, the chaste huntress from Greek mythology. If Eugenie is Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt, then Valentine is her softer counterpart, named for the saint who gives his name to Valentine's Day, and thus representative of traditional feminine love. This juxtaposition is interesting and holds a lot of promise, but in all other respects, Valentine is an uninteresting character. She's a bit like Cinderella, but without the spunk. A dutiful daughter - there's nothing wrong with that - Valentine absolutely refuses to stand up for herself and instead allows herself to be coerced by the men in her life - whether that's her father, her grandfather (but let's face it: her grandfather is awesome so there's no problem there), or her melodramatic and somewhat pathetic lover whom I'm not even convinced she loves. When her star-crossed lover (we'll get to him in a moment) tries to persuade her to run away with him, Valentine is adamant about the fact that she will not stand up for herself. Only when he threatens to kill himself upon her marriage does Valentine agree to run away with him, but with the stipulation that they will wait until the positively last second. And, in the event, they don't actually go through with it.

The only reason Valentine survives the novel is the Count of Monte Cristo, but her character won't survive long in memory.

Maximilien Morrel

Maximilien and Valentine are two peas in a pod: uninteresting, uninspiring, and not at all overbold. The first time I met Maximilien, I was inclined to like him - he was brave and morally upright, and the scene with his father was touching. To top it all off, he was kind to the Count - that was nice. But after his meeting with the Count, Maximilien's character set off on a downward spiral. The more I saw of him, the more uninteresting he became. In the final chapters of the novel, he managed to redeem himself by being so melodramatic and pathetic that he became humorous. Thus when he and the Count enter Marseilles and the Count asks if Maximilien had something he needed to do in town, Maximilien replies, "I will go weep upon my father's grave." I picture the Count rolling his eyes when Maximilen's head is turned. At another point, the Count is engaged in telling Maximilien the unfortunate story of a young man who was sent to prison and abandoned by his friends (hint: the young man is the Count but Maximilien doesn't seem to pick up on that, probably because he's too busy weeping over his father's grave) and Maximilien finds it hard to believe that this other young man has suffered more than he has. He starts comparing his own plight to that of the man in the story. But did that man consider killing himself? he asks, to which the Count replies in the affirmative. But did he lose his father? asks Maximilien. His father died of starvation while his son was imprisoned for 18 years, the Count replies. "Oh," says Maximilien.


Mercedes is the heart of The Count of Monte Cristo. Motivating all her actions are a mother's love for her son and a woman's love for her husband (or the man who would have been her husband had he not been sent to jail for 18 years and then been presumed dead - it happens). The moment that stands at the heart of the book is that when Mercedes accosts the Count as Edmond Dantes and begs him to spare the life of her son. She kneels before the man she once loved - and still loves - and will always love - to plead for the life of the son who is more precious to her than anything else on this earth. It is a moment of deep emotion, heart, and intensity - and the most thoroughly moving scene in the entire book:

The stranger looked all around her to make sure that she was quite alone then, bending forward as if she wanted to kneel down, and clasping her hands, she said in a desperate voice: "Edmond! You must not kill my son!"
The count took one pace backwards, gave a faint cry and dropped the pistol he was holding. 
"What name did you say, Madame de Morcerf?" he asked. 
"Yours!" she cried, throwing back her veil. "Yours, which perhaps I alone have not forgotten. Edmond, it is not Madame de Morcerf who has come to you, it is Mercedes." 
"Mercedes is dead, Madame," said Monte Cristo. "I do not know anyone of that name." 
"Mercedes is alive, Monsieur, and Mercedes remembers, for she alone recognized you when she saw you, even without seeing you, by your voice, Edmond, by the mere sound of your voice. Since that time she has followed you step by step, she has watched you and been wary of you, because she did not need to wonder whose was the hand that has struck down Monsieur de Morcerf."
Perhaps it is only too appropriate that, as the character with the most heart in all of the novel, Mercedes' ending is the one that seems to the reader the most tragic and undeserved. Carried away on the wings of the happy ending which comes after so much heartache, and the Count's final, transcendent words, echoed by Valentine, the reader touches down only for a moment, and that only to repeat a single name, questioningly - the name of the woman loved by Edmond Dantes for so long, and who loved Edmond Dantes even longer. We ask of Fate, or the Count, or God, or Dumas - for we are uncertain which of these fatalistic forces we should hold responsible for the outcome of her story - what of Mercedes? And we are left without an answer: Fate, or God, or the Count, or whoever it is we should ultimately hold responsible, are overwhelmingly silent on this point.

I can understand why most adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo depart from the original ending to grant Mercedes her happily ever after; not only is the outcome of her story almost unbearable, but it feels like a splinter in the novel. There is a falling out or falling apart that occurs when the Count takes his final leave of Mercedes, and from that point on, the book feels less like a cohesive whole; at the end of it, the characters pair off and go their separate ways. And even though some of these characters seem perfectly happy and there is nothing to convince us that they are otherwise, we have doubts and hesitate to concede to them their happy ending. For how can Edmond Dantes be truly happy without Mercedes at his side? Having the Count reunited with Mercedes at the end of the story just feels more whole. But perhaps Dumas never intended to write that kind of a story.

The Verdict

After that tangent which wasn't really a tangent, I feel like there's probably nothing left to say and you wouldn't even read it anyway. I could talk at length about the Count, but I don't really want to, which seems like a cop-out in a review of The Count of Monte Cristo, but enough has been said about him in any case; Mercedes' is the story that begs for more attention. I could talk about Haydee, Father Noirtier, Villefort and his crushing defeat at the hands of the Count, or Madame Danglars' gently tragic ending and the fact that I liked her more than I ever had before the last time she ever appeared in the novel. I could glory in the shape of the book and the closure gained when Edmond revisits Marseilles, Chateau d'If and Monte Cristo in the final chapters, or I could revel in the beautiful serenity of the moment near the end of the novel when the Count meditates over a quiet ocean and a star-filled sky. Had we but world enough and time, I could talk to you about all these and a host of other things. But why delineate them for you here? The best and surest way for you to experience them is to read the book yourself - so do. I think you'll enjoy it. Then, if you feel inclined, we can talk about The Count together.

Release (or not)

After reading the novel and seeing an immensely disappointing stage adaptation of it, I have resolved to embark upon a Quixotic venture and watch every film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo that I can get my hands on. I will find the one (or at least watch them all before admitting defeat). When I have done so, I will report my conclusion. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on The Count of Monte Cristo. Have you read it? Seen an adaptation I should explore? Which characters moved you, and which left you feeling somewhat less that satisfied? Just because you (yes - I am talking to you) have never commented on this blog before doesn't mean I will give up on you. After all, as Dumas reminds us, "until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words, - 'wait and hope.'" That's not a bad motto.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Happy Hobbit Day Once Again

Mae govannen (well met), dear readers!

You may have  noticed that this blog kind of dropped off the face of the earth for several months. I can offer no sufficient explanation for this silence, so I won't.

Today we celebrate the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo, International Hobbit Day, and the two-year anniversary of this blog. Hooray!

Let's celebrate in true hobbit fashion - with humor, song, and, of course, food. 

Firstly, humor.

Impress your friends with these hobbit-related jokes:

"Why didn't Bilbo want to go to Laketown?"
"He preferred cities with less Smaug."

"How many hobbits does it take to screw in a light-bulb?"
"Some hobbits changed one before, but I'm not Shire how many it Took."

"An elf walks into a bar. A hobbit laughs and walks under it."

"I would make another Lord of the Rings joke, but all the good ones Aragorn."

(I cannot take credit for any of these jokes: I found them online. I am sincerely sorry not to be as clever as you thought I was.)

Secondly, a song.

Warm your hearths and ale with this traditional hobbit walking song:

Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet,
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
Let them pass! Let them pass!
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
The world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed. 
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!
A classic.

Thirdly, (and most importantly) food.

If you're wondering what to make for your Shire party, this website has a variety of recipes for dishes featured in Chapter 1 of The Hobbit. If seed cake, mince-pies, apple-tart, cheese, biscuits, eggs(ses), and chicken sound good to you, then you're set. (And don't forget po-ta-toes - boiled/mashed/stuck in a stew).

And, finally, as an added bonus, a piece of shire wisdom:

“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usally find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” 
Happy Hobbit Day. May the hair on your toes never fall out.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Shakespeare & Sons

A few years ago I discovered this really great group called Mumford & Sons. I was awed by the blue-grassy sound to their music and the fact that they were so popular; I love music that has a blue-grass/folk sound to it, but generally find that that isn't what gets played on the radio. Being the avid Shakespeare fanatic that I am, I immediately connected the title of their debut album Sigh No More with the song "Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more" from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. I wondered if the reference had been intentional, or if Mumford & Sons had just hit on the name themselves and the album had nothing to do with Shakespeare.

However, in a recent performance of Shakespeare's play that I attended, I recognized the line "man is a giddy thing" as being quoted in the title track of Sigh No More. After that I returned to the song, convinced now that Mumford & Sons had been fully intentional in quoting Much Ado. What I found this time around was very exciting for the English Major in me: The song "Sigh No More," after which their first album is named, quotes about six lines from Much Ado About Nothing. And it gets better. Mumford & Sons quotes lines from other Shakespeare plays in at least two other songs on the album. At this point, my literary analysis brain had gone into fifth gear and my esteem for Mumford & Sons had gone through the roof. It isn't everyday you find out one of your favorite bands quotes Shakespeare in three separate songs. I don't know how many people have noticed this; maybe I'm just a latecomer to the party and everyone is laughing at me right now because they all figured this out years ago. But I'm going to assume that the average casual listener hasn't noticed this trend in Mumford & Sons, so join me, if you feel inclined, as I delve a little more deeply into the content of Mumford & Sons' poetic masterpiece Sigh No More.

The opener: "Sigh No More"

Firstly, consider the first stanza of Shakespeare's poem of the same name, which appears as a song in his comedy Much Ado About Nothing:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.
(As a side note, we might ask ourselves how the Mumford & Sons' song would have turned out differently if the band had decided that the line "hey nonny, nonny" was a must have.)

A little background

This is not the time or place for an in-depth summary of Much Ado About Nothing, but the play centers on two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters, Beatrice and Benedick, who have forsworn love and engage in witty and insulting repartee whenever they meet. At one point, Benedick exclaims that marriage is like "thrust[ing] thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it and sigh away Sundays" (1.1.). As you've probably already guessed, the two end up falling madly in love and declare their intent to marry each other at the play's conclusion. When his friends tease him for entering into marriage after he has spent his whole life bashing it, Benedick protests that "man is a giddy thing" or rather, man is changeable, and his past opinions should not be held against him. (5.4.)

The song

Mumford & Sons' "Sigh No More" opens with the line "Serve God, love me, and mend," a direct quote from Much Ado About Nothing. About mid-play, when things are at their darkest, Benedick asks Beatrice how she is holding up. When she replies that she is "very ill," he replies, "serve God, love me, and mend" (5.2.). 

The rest of the verse proceeds:
This is not the end
Live unbruised we are friends
And I'm sorry
I'm sorry
 In the final scene of Much Ado, Benedick and his best friend, Claudio, make up after having been set at odds through a miscommunication. Benedick tells Claudio that he would have beaten him if the duel they previously scheduled had taken place, but as it is, he tells him to "live unbruised." The two have a bit of sporting repartee after which Benedick exclaims, "Come, come, we are friends" (5.4.).

Though I'm not sure that any of the characters in Much Ado ever utter directly the line "I'm sorry," it applies to at least half of them and is implicit in many of the things they say in the play's final scenes. This apology could be that of Claudio and Don Pedro, who suspected the innocent young Hero of being untrue to her fiance; or that of Benedick and Claudio to each other after a turn of events renders their previously scheduled duel irrelevant. Possibly Benedick and Beatrice speak it to each other when they agree to put their history of quarreling and insulting behind them. There are multiple other characters who stand in a position to apologize as well, but the point is that the line is very fitting where it stands in the song.
The second verse runs:
Sigh no more, no more
One foot in sea, one on shore
My heart was never pure
You know me
You know me 
The first two lines may sound familiar, and if you take another look at the Shakespeare poem I've quoted above, you'll see why:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
 Obviously, the first two lines of this verse borrow from Shakespeare's poem. But I think the lines that follow are also very apt in the context of Much Ado. I like to think they could be spoken by Benedick to Beatrice - she knows him well, and in knowing him perhaps knows that his heart was never pure. As Benedick says to Beatrice in the play, "Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably" (5.2.).

The song continues:
And man is a giddy thing
Oh man is a giddy thing
Oh man is a giddy thing
Oh man is a giddy thing
Continuing the theme of the preceding verse, this line isolates and calls attention to the changeability of man and his opinions, "to one thing constant never." If the speaker is the same as that of the previous verse, he seems to be apologizing for his past behavior, citing his fallible nature - which was never wholly devoted to one thing - and man's tendency towards inconstancy. And, of course, this line comes directly from the play (Act 5. Scene 4.).

But the line "man is a giddy thing," standing as it does at the crux or turning point of the song, could also signify the speaker's changing attitudes towards love, especially since this line transitions us from a tragic apology to a more upbeat celebration of love. "Man is a giddy thing" might mean that man is capable of changing his behaviors and attitudes; hence this line moves us out of the speaker's apology for his past behavior and into a declaration that he is now putting all that behind him.

If you were wondering when the song was finally going to pick up - it's now. We have the characteristic Mumford & Sons decisive plucking of a chord followed by a slow upward swing in tempo, and that moves us into the chorus, or climax, of the song:
Love will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you
It will set you free
Be more like the man
You were made to be.
There is a design
And alignment to cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love
As it was made to be.
I think the subdued but heartfelt opening of this song followed by the exuberant climax makes this possibly Mumford & Sons' most rousing song. And by rousing I mean it takes the listener on a journey that begins in fallibility and regret and ends in jubilation and freedom. At least, it has that effect on me; call me melodramatic if you like, I don't care. If we return to Much Ado for one final moment of analysis, we might note that the song's climax mirrors Benedick's and Beatrice's transformation in the play. Though initially scorning marriage and fearing that it will "enslave" or "betray" them if they give it rein, the lovers find in the end that love, far from enslaving them, has set them free.

Other tracks on the album

Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic when I figured all this out, but that's just a beginning. I'd long suspected that the title of the song "I Gave You All" on the same album was borrowed from Shakespeare's King Lear, but I couldn't find any other lines from the play in that song (I'm still hopeful - I just haven't found them yet). However, when I discovered a direct quotation from Macbeth in another song on the album, I figured I had proof enough to decide that "I Gave You All" was in fact a reference to Shakespeare.

"I Gave You All" is, with the exception of "Dust Bowl Dance" - which can be truly scary and always seems to come on whenever I'm in a particularly stressful situation, or maybe it's just that the song renders everything stressful (don't get me wrong I love it) - the most "angry" song on the album. But it's not just a screaming rant; it's a brilliantly crafted song that moves the listener through a series of emotions and leads her gradually up to the song's high point and then back down, and it ends with a low moan of loss and betrayal. The song's lyrics and structure seem to echo Shakespeare's great tragedy King Lear, in which the title character divides his kingdom up between his two older daughters, who proceed to misuse, abuse, and abandon him. Exasperated, Lear cries to his daughters, "I gave you all!" (2.4.) When his daughters refuse to invite him into the house in the wake of nightfall and a coming storm, Lear rages upon the heath in the midst of thunder, lightning, and rain. The scene upon the heath seems suggested by several lyrics in Mumford & Sons' song, such as the opening, "Rip the earth in two with your mind," which seems especially apt since Lear begins to lose his sanity at this point in the play. The song thus draws from the tragedy, anger, and bewilderment of King Lear in order to tap into the play's moments of darkness and tempest and achieve a deeper sense of loss. One final observation: the line "your tears feel warm as they fall on my forearms" from the song seems to echo the moment when Lear, towards the end of the play, awakes to find his young and faithful daughter Cordelia at his side. In the initial confusion of waking, Lear states, "mine own tears / do scald like molten lead" and when he recognizes his daughter Cordelia he asks, "be your tears wet?"

The quotation from Shakespeare's Macbeth appears in the song "Roll Away Your Stone" on the same album (Sigh No More). In Act 1, Scene 4, Macbeth, the title character, states, "Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires." Similarly, Mumford & Sons' song states, "Stars, hide your fires / These here are my desires / And I won't give them up to you this time around." The rest of the song, with its emphasis on darkness and man's inner character, or soul, seems particularly relevant to Macbeth.

The rest of the songs on the album are spectacular, but I have yet to discover any more Shakespeare lyrics in them, and I don't think there are any on the band's second album, Babel, which is, nevertheless, brilliant. I'll be on the lookout, however, and if you happen to find any, let me know! Their newest album, Wilder Mind, was just released earlier this week, so there's plenty more opportunity for analyzing Mumford and Sons' lyrics.

Thanks for taking this ride with me, and here's to lots more Mumford & Sons listening - and Shakespeare reading/watching - in the future!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Middle-Earth (sort-of) Romance for Valentine's Day

“Farewell sweet earth and northern sky,
for ever blest, since here did lie
and here with lissom limbs did run
beneath the Moon, beneath the Sun,
Lúthien Tinúviel
more fair than Mortal tongue can tell.
Though all to ruin fell the world
and were dissolved and backward hurled;
unmade into the old abyss,
yet were its making good, for this―
the dusk, the dawn, the earth, the sea―
that Lúthien for a time should be.”  
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

So, for Valentine's Day, I was going to write a post about the romance of J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith, but then I found this Wikipedia article that says everything I wanted to say and even has some awesome quotes that I never would have found on my own. It is very interesting. If you've read the story of Beren and Luthien in the Silmarillion but don't know the "real" story, it's definitely worth reading. I think you'll enjoy it. It's like something from a romantic idyll or from this one book I read that had this story of these two people who fell in love but they couldn't get married right away because one of them was an elf and one was - wait, that was the Silmarillion.

So how about this (since it is Valentine's Day) : Instead of writing up the facts in prose, seeing as Wikipedia has already beat me to it, I will render them in poetry. Everything's better in poetry, right? I mean Tolkien himself taught us that (see my post on Tolkien's poem "Mythopoeia").

For better or for worse (and entirely avoiding any thoughts on what Tolkien would say about it), I submit "Beren and Luthien":

In the spring of the world when you danced

Time stood still within my breast

Your eyes were bright as the sea of white stars

That swirled around your feet

But your hair was as dark as the valley of death

And filled with innumerous shadowings

I thought upon the days of our youth

When routed from my mother's house

Heavy with the scent of death

I came upon you sorrowing

Our tender hearts, o'er eager for love

Met once for all beneath the leaves

Long I sought you wandering far

As ever nearer out of reach

I chased your hem by the light of stars

We found each other all for once

And to each one clung quivering

You cast away your other life, to be but mine forevermore

We passed through dark and out of day

In woods of nightshade morrowless

And once we met in the valley wide

Amidst the war-death clamoring

And then it was my heart stood still

When you danced in the white stars sorrowless

When I returned from fog of war

We met again beneath the leaves

To cherish our eternity

And raise our children by the light of stars

And though your eyes were not as bright

As when you danced in the white sea-foam

My love for you could never dim

Our hearts danced once across the years

The story has gone crooked now

And I cannot plead to the moon-high gods

But into the stone of forevermore

I carve this word as immense as the sea

For me it contains the spring of the world

Held fixed in a clearing of white snow-flowers

As bright as the light that stood in your eyes

And your hair all shadowed with stars