Saturday, November 21, 2009

Captain Blood

"Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater."

When we are first introduced to Peter Blood, he seems to be the last kind of man who would be destined to have some of the most fantastic adventures. But that is exactly where fate is leading him. He is about to be whisked away from his quiet life into a life of slavery, of piracy, and of romance.

Rafael Sabatini's 1922 classic Captain Blood made him an overnight success, and continues to delight young and old with the story of a man falsely accused who finds both freedom and revenge on the high seas.

The Plot:

After years of soldiering in Europe, Peter Blood has retired to quieter life as a small town doctor. Though he no longer concerns himself with politics, the times he is living do not allow for much neutrality. After the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion, Blood is accused of aiding a rebel and is sold into slavery in the West Indies along with many others. He is purchased by Colonel Bishop, a ruthless man who treats all of his slaves horribly. Because of his skill as a physician, Blood enjoys a slightly higher standard of living, including a budding relationship with Colonel Bishop's niece, Arabella.

During a raid on the island, Blood and many of the other rebels/slaves escape, but having nowhere to go, find safety and freedom in piracy. It is not long before Captain Blood is the most famous pirate in the Atlantic, becoming extremely wealthy off the booty of French, Spanish, and English ships. And though he is a pirate, Captain Blood is also a gentleman who treats his men and his victims gently and fairly. But there are many men who would like to see him swing from the yardarm (including Colonel Bishop and a Spanish Admiral) and he begins to realize that all the glory and wealth of piracy are nothing compared to a home and a love.

My Review (Caution-Spoiler):

There are few things that I like better than a swashbuckling adventure. And that is exactly what this story is. From beginning to end, Captain Blood is thrown into one hair-raising escapade after another, and we are along for every second of that thrilling ride.

The best part of this story is Captain Blood himself. As a character he is so vivid that he seems to leap right off of the page. He is dashing, vain, brave, handsome, intelligent, and extremely witty. All in all, he ranks right up there with Alan Breck Stewart of Kidnapped when it comes to unforgettable characters. In fact, Captain Blood is so vivid that other characters (hero and villain) tend to pale in comparison.

The writing itself is pretty quick-paced, with many wonderful moments in it. The relationship between Captain Blood and Arabella Bishop is an interesting one. It is a romance, but if you are looking for a romantic novel, this isn't it. The focus here is on the sword fights, the nautical battles and the ever changing politics of the time.

I really can't do justice to how great this book really is. So many fantastic scenes pop into my head every time I think about the novel, like when Colonel Bishop is forced to swim back to shore from his own ship, or when Don Diego is strapped to the mouth of a cannon, or when Colonel Bishop is introduced to the new Governor of Jamaica. This book is for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson or anyone else who enjoys adventure, pirates, and dashing leading men. Absolutely something that Everyone Must Read Before They Die!

The Movie:

Though you could say that movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean take many cues from Captain Blood (and they do), there is only one movie version of this classic novel so far.

That is the 1935 version starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It follows the plot most of the time, though it is probably a bit more "romantic" the the novel. If anyone can get the swashbuckling side of Captain Blood, it's Errol Flynn. A fun, exciting, classic film that deserves to be watched. Check it out!

Trivia: Both Flynn and de Havilland were unknowns in Hollywood until Captain Blood made stars out of them. They would go on to be one of Hollywood's leading screen couples, making 8 films together.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-42: Podcasts for Book Lovers

...share with us a podcast you love, preferably book related, but not necessarily so. Give us the link, of course, and share with us details about that podcast and why you enjoy it so much. If you have a couple or three favorites, share them all!

Then, as the week goes on, check out every one's suggestions, find time to listen to a few, then come back and let us know what you discovered, and if you've found a new favorite podcast.

I don't have many podcasts that I listen to. In fact, I only have one. But, it is definitely a good one. The Classic Tales is a podcast by B. J. Harrison. In each weekly episode, B. J. reads a short story by a classic author. The range from the well known like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Nathaniel Hawthorne to lesser known authors like Guy de Maupassant, H. P. Lovecraft, and H. Rider Haggard.

There are a lot of things that I love about this podcast. First off, B. J.'s reading voice is great. Not only is his style stimulating, but he is also great at character voices and accents. I love how he really gets into each individual character. His passion for the stories really shines through in every episode.

Secondly, B. J. takes the time to engage with his listeners. He sends out newsletters that give lots of background information on each story, and he also has a message board where listeners can discuss the various stories as well as request some of their favorites.

Finally, it's free. F-R-E-E. FREE! Like the majority of people, I'm not made of money. So it's always nice when you can find an enjoyable pastime that costs nothing.

Right now, B. J. has just wrapped up "Classic Monsters Month" with "Olalla" by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here are some other highlights from the past:
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Kiss by Anton Chekhov
  • Legeia by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
  • Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest by P. G. Wodehouse
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • The Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
And though I haven't yet listened to this, B. J. also has a Classic Novels podcast where he reads full length (complete and unabridged!) novels. So far these novel include Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. These do have to be purchased, but they are priced really well. By the end of each story, you have a full length audiobook for about half the cost.

Another one that I have thought about subscribing to is Penguin Classics On Air. Here, the publishers of thousands of classic novels along with experts in the literature field, discuss various works of literature and their impact on today's society. So far they have discussed why we still love Jane Austen, the Swedish Gone With the Wind, and why vampires have endured in the world of literature.

I hope that this has sparked some interest in you. Please share any other classic lit podcasts that you might know of.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday To:

Fyodor Dostoevsky
November 11, 1821

"There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all. Whereas by shifting your own laziness and powerlessness onto others, you will end by sharing in Satan's pride and murmuring against God."

-from The Brother's Karamazov

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Girl of the Limberlost

"If I am a woman at all worth while, it will be because I have had such wonderful opportunities," said Elnora. "Not every girl is driven to the forest to learn what God has to say there."

We tend to think of education as time spent in a classroom, pouring over books and listening to a teacher. But though these things are important, so is time spent in the world of nature and real life. In this sequel to her novel Freckles, Gene Stratton-Porter introduces us to a young woman who, though lacking in formal learning, has nevertheless gained a wisdom and maturity from the wild and lonely world of the Limberlost.

The Plot:

Elnora Comstock has had a hard life. Her father drowned in the Limberlost Swamp the night of her birth, and her mother has blamed her ever since. Consequently, she has been neglected and deprived of a mother's love her entire life. Her only solace has been the Limberlost, and more importantly, the many butterflies and moths that live there. Having "inherited" Freckles' flower room, she spends much of her time roaming through the swamps and soaking in its beauties. When she enters High School in the local town, she is faced with ridicule both from the prissy town girls and from her mother who sees book learning as worthless. But through it all, Elnora confidently faces her detractors and relies on her own strength and knowledge to see her through.

In the second half of the book, a young man named Philip Ammon comes to the Limberlost to recover from an illness. He spends his days helping Elnora hunt butterflies and moths. As the days pass, he is more and more taken with the intelligent and beautiful young woman. The problem is that he is already engaged to a spoiled socialite in Chicago. Now, Elnora must face her toughest challenge that no education could have prepared her for: an affair of the heart.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Though this is technically a sequel to Freckles, there are only a few hints of the previous story. Freckles and the Angel do make an appearance in the last part of the book, you can read this book before reading the others and still enjoy it.

this novel, Gene Stratton-Porter further explores the effect that time spent in nature can have on a young person's life. Elnora's life isn't as bad as it could be, simply because she has the Limberlost to turn to. It is there that she gains many of the qualities that make her such a wonderful character. Her patience, her confidence, her strength, and her knowledge all stem directly from the time that she spends wandering the swamps.

I have to say that I prefer this novel over Freckles in many ways. First off, Elnora herself is, IMO, a much more complex and interesting lead character. She has so much more depth and comes off as such a real person. The overall story itself has many more dimensions, and the romance is pulled off better as well.

I think that what I liked best was how Elnora is so different from that day's (and today's) social norms. She never attends college, but she is still extremely intelligent. She isn't stunningly beautiful, but she has an inner beauty that really shines through. She is not from an upper social sphere, but she has a grace and dignity that is very attractive. She has no plans of setting the social scene for her husband, but her simplicity makes her desirable to Philip as a wife.

This story has a magical quality about it. Whether it is Stratton-Porter's description of the beauties of the Limberlost, or the inspiring strength of Elnora as she faces life's difficulties, it is full of bewitching moments. This is a book that I wish I had read at 12 or 13 rather than 17 or 18. So if you have a young girl who is looking to break into the classics, this is a wonderful place to start.

The Movie:

There are at least 3
movie versions of this novel. There is a 1934 version and a 1945 version. I have only seen the 1990 version starring Heather Fairfield, Annette O'Toole, and Joanna Cassidy. This version only follows the first half of the novel, so all of the romance between Philip and Elnora is missing. It can give you a rough idea of the basic plot, but the book is better.