Friday, March 28, 2008

"That is one good thing about this world. . .there are always sure to be more springs."

-from Anne of Avonlea
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Masterpiece Theatre: Emma

I must make a confession. I have never read Emma, nor seen any adaptations of it (until last Sunday night). I know, I should probably be as intimately acquainted with Miss Emma Woodhouse as I am with Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March, but unfortunately I am not. I hope to remedy this in the not too distant future. This makes me very uncomfortable in giving this review. As with Persuasion and Mansfield Park, I shall have to attempt to review this program for it's cinematic value, and then follow up once I have read the book.

My overall verdict is that...I liked it. I knew enough about the story to know that Emma is not the sort of person that you warm up to immediately, so I went into the program with an open mind.

Kate Beckinsale is a lovely actress, and I think that she played Emma with the right balance of pride and charm. While she did say and do some rather mean things, she seems to be rather clueless about it and once it is pointed out to her, she seeks to change herself.

I also enjoyed Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley. I have read some reviews that label him the "Angry Knightley", and sometimes his indignation can seem a little over the top (as in the haircut episode). But I think that this also allows us to see how much he really loves Emma, in that he tries so hard to correct her faults when no one else has the guts to. One of my sisters was a little weirded out by the age difference (mainly the "I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old" line), but I have grown rather accustomed to age differences in literature, so this didn't really bother me.

Some of the other characters/actors that caught my eye were Samantha Morton as the sweet, yet rather naive Harriett Smith, Prunella Scales as the constantly talking Miss Bates, Ray Coulthard (btw, he portrays Young Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol) as the dashing Frank Churchill, and the lovely Olivia Williams as the accomplished, yet shy Jane Fairfax.

This adaptation was lovely. My only regrets are that it wasn't long enough and it probably could have used a bit more humor. Anyway, it has definitely made me want to read the book, which makes any film a success.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

The legend of Robin Hood is now as much a part of English history and tradition as kings, fox hunting and tea. For centuries, the stories of this remarkable character have been sung of in ballads, written of in books, and put on the screen in films. As time has gone on, Robin Hood has evolved, with each generation adding its own touch to the classic tales. In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle compiles many of the most famous tales and puts his own touches on them.

The Plot:

This book follows Robin Hood from the time of his becoming an outlaw to his death. Many of the famous stories are here, including "Robin Hood and the Tinker", "Robin Hood Seeks the Curtal Friar" and "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne". While each chapter is it's own adventure, they are all beautifully woven together to flow as a single plot.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Many of us know the basic story of Robin Hood, but Pyle took many of the ballads and changed the details around a little to make them more suitable for children. He has Robin resort to trickery rather than to murder. He also changes the stories so that instead of stealing all of the traveler's money, Robin lets them keep a third and gives another third to the poor. The term "Robin Hood" used to be given to the blackest of criminals, but Howard Pyle worked to make Robin the hero that we think of today.

Pyle also worked to really develop many of Robin's Merry Men. Characters like Will Stutely, David of Doncaster and Arthur a Bland who only appear in one or two ballads become fully developed people, each playing an important role in Sherwood Forest.

Some of the more famous elements of the Robin Hood story are missing though. Maid Marian is only mentioned once and nothing seems to come of whatever romance might have been between her and Robin. Prince John is also lost in the main story. He appears not as a usurper in King Richard's absence, but as King after Richard's death (which is more historically accurate).

Overall, this is a great book. The stories are exciting, funny and well-written and Robin Hood is definitely portrayed as a hero worth looking up to. The only thing that might throw you is the use of King James English, but even that can easily be worked through. I greatly enjoyed these stories and look forward to sharing them with my own children someday.

The Movie:

This is another story that has been done numerous times for the screen, each one with the same basic plot, but different twists.

Robin Hood: This is the classic Disney animated version. Enjoy it for the beautiful animation, great songs and simple story. Other than that, it is not the best representation of the classic Robin Hood tales.

The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men: This is the Disney live-action version and probably my favorite. It stars Richard Todd, Joan Rice and James Robert Justice and incorporates many of the famous ballads while still weaving a cohesive plot. The story is great, the costumes and sets lovely, and Richard Todd is superb as the hero. This is definitely the version that I would recommend.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. "

- C. S. Lewis

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Remains of the Day

Regret is something that anyone who has lived any length of time has. We all experience moments of what ifs, moments when we look back and wish that we might go back and change our experiences for the better. But that is not possible, so we have a choice to make. Either we continue to sit and wonder what might have been, or we look to the future and try to make the best of what lies before us. It is this decision that is at the heart of The Remains of the Day by British author Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Plot:

Our story begins in the 1950s when Stevens, the long time butler of Darlington Hall, is given the opportunity by his new employer to take a motoring trip through the English countryside. He accepts this proposal, and sets off to the west. Stevens also decides to mix business with pleasure. Just before he sets out, he receives a letter from a former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. She seems to indicate in this letter that she might be willing to return service at Darlington, so Stevens decides to stop by and see if this is indeed the case. He is also very interested in seeing Miss Kenton again for his own pleasure (though he never admits to that).

As he travels, Stevens begins to reminisce about the past, especially that time in the mid 1930s when he (and Darlington Hall) were at their height. At first, Stevens congratulates himself in that by serving a great man (his former employer Lord Darlington), he has served humanity for the better. But as certain instances come to his remembrance, he begins to question just how great a man Lord Darlington was, and also the many wasted opportunities between himself and Miss Kenton.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Stevens is the quintessential English butler and he takes his job very seriously. He is consumed with the meaning of "dignity" and is always trying to be the best butler possible. In fact, the only time that he ever sheds his role as butler is when he is completely alone. We know that he is human (Miss Kenton catches him reading sentimental love story), but he never lets anyone see his true feelings, not even his own father. This is one of the regrets that Stevens has, that he was not able to open himself up to those he loved. He could not shed a tear over his father's death, and when he discovers Miss Kenton sobbing, the best he can do to comfort her is to remind her of a small task that needed doing. It is, in fact, his relationship with Miss Kenton that suffers the most because of this. It is pretty obvious to us that Miss Kenton loves Stevens, and though she is good at her job, she often lets her emotions show through. This is where Steven's frustrates her (and us as well). She can't get past that shell that Steven's wears, and is never quite sure what his feelings are for her. Consequently, she eventually gives up and settles for a life with a man she knows loves her, rather than to wait forever on the man she loves whose feelings she is unsure of.

The other major regret that Stevens has concerns his former employer, Lord Darlington. It is the mid 1930s. Nazi Germany is beginning to grow restless and the world is unsure of how to deal with Hitler's growing power. Lord Darlington begins to hold mini-international conferences at Darlington Hall to try and figure out the best way to handle the situation. At first, Stevens feels that since he was able to serve Lord Darlington (who was striving for world peace), he has indirectly served humanity for the better. But as Stevens remembers more of what exactly went on, he begins to see many of the consequences of Lord Darlington's actions. Lord Darlington's thinking is "Peace for our time" and, like many of the British aristocracy of the time, he hopes to avoid another Great War by appeasing the Nazis. But by not crushing Hitler the moment he began to break the Treaty of Paris, a war far worse than any other was brought about. Stevens now wonders if he should have actually researched the matter instead of blindly trusting his Lordship's opinions.

Ishiguro could have ended the book here, with Stevens mulling over his regrets and what ifs, but he chooses not to. Instead he gives a bit more of an optimistic ending. Stevens sits on the western shore of Britain, and he is amazed when the crowd around him cheers as the boardwalk lights are turned on. An older gentleman who is sitting next to him explains that evening is their favorite time of day. The work is done, and while they are able to reflect on the accomplishments and failures of the day, they are also able to look forward to the remaning hours of the day, and the possibilities that now await them. Stevens decides to adopt this attitude. He chooses to learn from his past failings, but to also look forward to the possibilities that lie before him as a butler and as a man.

This is one of the better modern books that I have read. It is simple yet very reflective. It is not an action packed story, so if you are more of an action-oriented reader, this may not be the book for you. But it definitely has many thought provoking themes, and I recommend at least giving it a try.

The Movie:

A film based on this novel was released in the early 90's and stars the amazing Anthony Hopkins as Stevens, Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton, Christopher Reeve, and a very young Hugh Grant. It follows the story pretty well, though the ending is not as nicely wrapped up as in the book. It is a very well made movie, but I recommend reading the book first, as otherwise it could be a little confusing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up, flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights."

-from Moby Dick by Herman Melville