Monday, June 30, 2008

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In L. Frank Baum's introduction to the story, Baum suggests that this story will be different from other fairy tales as it doesn't deal with the grim horrors of life (or contain the gruesome details) of the fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. The purpose of the story, or "wonder tale" is solely entertainment. Any intrinsic moral value, since morality was taught in the schools at the time (I'm not sure it is so much today), is the creation of the reader. And from the reviews I've read, this particular story can be rather gruesome itself.

At the beginning of the story the narrator points out the dreary greyness of Kansas. The house is grey, the fields are grey, even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry possess a grey quality. The greyness comes from the uninterrupted beat-down of the sun, frying everything its rays touch. Odd, though, that dried grass should be grey and not brown. Maybe the grass dries differently in Kansas than it does in Indiana.

Baum is clearly setting up the transition (via the cyclone) from the natural world into the supernatural world (yes, we are back to the Hero Journey once again). What other reason is there to go on at length to make sure readers understand that the setting is only one color? I am going to use my prior knowledge here and say that clearly Dorothy, our heroine, hits her head. You're outside the cellar when the tornado comes by and you get knocked around a bit. How do you not get knocked out. It's the same way I see Alice in Wonderland. Except that I think Alice is suffering from heat stroke when she hallucinates. Or she's high. One of the two. (Please note here that I have not yet finished the book, and am quite aware that there are somewhere around 14 books in the Oz series total and Dorothy does reappear in Oz.)

Nevertheless, Dorothy and her house and dog are dropped in the middle of Munchkinland, the savior to the people over whom the Wicked Witch of the East was tyrant. As a reward, she receives the witch's silver shoes. If I had to guess, and I'll go look it up at some point, I'd guess that they changed the silver shoes to ruby slippers because the red stood out better on film. Gregory Maguire deals with the change from silver shoes to ruby slippers, possibly in an effort to bridge some of the gap from the novel to the film. In Maguire's Oz the silver shoes are given to a crippled (she was born with no arms) Nessarose. When Glinda charms the shoes so that Nessarose will be able to stand on her own, the shoes take on a red hue.

Color symbolism is clearly important in this novel. Baum spends time setting up the color contrast between Kansas and Munchkinland. The good witch from the North (whose name wasn't mentioned) was dressed solely in white, while the Munchkinlanders were dressed in blue. Dorothy chooses a frock, after she washes up and is ready to head to the Emerald City, that has blue and white checks. Boq, a Munchkinlander who is kind enough to put her up for the night comments that she must be an okay person since her frock contains blue, the color of the Munchkins, and white, the color of the good witches. The Wicked Witch of the West is, of course, green. The green of evil, the green of rot, the green of death. Maguire offers reason for the Wicked Witch of the West's hue as well. In the beginning of the story, Elphaba is seen playing with a green glass bottle--
Have another drink my dark-eyed beauty
I've got one more night left here in town
Have another drink of green elixir
And we'll have ourselves a little mixer
Have another little swallow little lady
And follow me down...
--something to do with a tinker who happened across the house of the local minister and his lonely wife. Use your imagination.

That's it for now, back more later. Maybe they'll be more photos in future posts. I believe if you click on the picture, it'll take you to its source page. If it doesn't, at some point I'll come back and fix it so it does.

Librivox & Project Gutenberg

I previously forgot to mention that in my Stumbling that I have also come across Project Gutenberg and Librivox. Project Gutenberg has a larger selection of eBooks than Planet eBook, though they're not all available in PDF format. Personally, I prefer the formatting from Planet eBook, but that's just me. I'm not discriminating against Project Gutenberg for their formatting.

Librivox is literally translated from Latin as "free voice." That being said, it's a catalog of free audio books. The selection is quite varied, but all of the books are, like Planet eBook and Project Gutenberg, those that are in the public domain.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Introduction to Oz

In the midst of reading The Chosen, which is a wonderful book, I've decided to attack a Wizard of Oz project as well. I have one week before summer classes begin and I will be bogged down with the reading of educational materials. With this week, I want to examine as much of L. Frank Baum's Oz as I possibly can, ending the week with a rereading of Gregory Maguire's Wicked from a new perspective. It's one thing to read the Maguire and love it, it's another to know the story he draws from. For example, I listened to the first five chapters of the first book this morning only to find that there is a Munchkin character Dorothy stays with for a night called Boq. In the Maguire, Boq was a Munchkin who had a thing for the "Wicked Witch of the East," Nessarose. He was turned into, I believe, the Tinman by the Wicked Witch of the West (fondly called Elphaba... now where did Maguire come up with that name, I wonder).

Now I can't get Kristin Chenoweth's voice out of my head. I've seen the stage version of Wicked and let me tell you that Chenowith and Idina Menzel are mind-blowingly fantastic.


I want to conclude the week with a viewing of The Wizard of Oz (both with and without Pink Floyd, which I've never done before), and a viewing of Tin Man, starring Zooey Deschanel, who I love (her sister, too. Hooray for Bones.)

Love What You Read

Today, I StumbledUpon another possibly helpful website for those people who are struggling with what to read next. It's called Put in a book that you've recently read, review it, and the website will generate a list of books that you might like to read. Or, find the title of a book you've recently read, click on the recommendations button, and the website will generate a list of books that you might be interested in reading. Fairly neat concept, if you ask me. Interestingly, so I could see how it worked, I typed in The Chosen and it generated a list for me. Among those was Flowers for Algernon, which I highly recommend that anyone read. It's one of those heartbreaking books, like Where the Red Fern Grows. That was one of my favorite books as a kid. One that I probably won't read again any time soon since it made me cry. Same thing happened with Million Dollar Baby. I can't imagine seeing that film again, but god, if it wasn't powerful. I digress. Check out if you're looking for something to read.

The Chosen: Book Two

At the beginning of this section of the book, the narrator's father describes the origin of Hasidim. It originated with a guy who walked through the woods and meditated on ideas. He came back, enlightened and taught the people. A cross between Jesus and Buddha. I think Rufus got it right when he said that the problem with religion is that we took a good idea and built a belief structure on it. Generations took Hasidim and it changed. The position of rabbi in the communities is hereditary. But the rabbi is the link between the people and their god. Do they believe that God is such an entity that the lay person, one who has not been to rabbinical school, is not capable of talking to God? It was said that God hears them when they study the Talmud. Maybe the answer to my previous question is the affirmative. I can't imagine being part of a religion where I am not seen as fit to converse with my own deity.

One of the problems, it seems, with being a Hasidim is that while they are experts in the Talmud and it's interpretations, they have little knowledge of anything else. They are pure, in a sense. Danny wants his world to be bigger than just Judaism, which I can understand. And Reuven can't figure out why it's such a bad thing to be worldly. Honestly, I don't understand either why reading is such a bad thing. Although, for many people it's hard to see how religion and science can reside in the same mind and one not take precedence over the other. Since the way people view the Bible and possibly the Torah (I'm not going to make a blanket statement here because I don't know) is as law. One can't believe in science and be religious because the science negates religion. Minus the fact that a myth is a story to explain something that cannot be explained -- and there is scientific evidence that supports the theory of evolution. The book is the end-all-be-all and any other suggestion is sacrilege. Maybe that's why Danny's father is so upset that Danny is reading philosophy.

The Bible is merely a suggestion, a guide if you will. Its word can't be law because then its law is contradictory.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Chosen: Book One

The reputation of this book, and Chaim Potok, should precede this post. All of the reviews scream its praises. Through the first book, it seems to be a fairly easy read. A fair choice for summer vacation. It has piqued my interest in Judaism. It had not occurred to me, rather naively, that Judaism might have factions and religious animosity toward other people of the same faith, just as many other religions do. But then the only Jewish people I ever came in contact with lived in the same community as my best friend, and hung out at the Jewish Community Center along with many of my cousins.

The interaction in Book One of The Chosen that caught my interest, as most likely intended by the author, was that between the narrator, Reuven and a boy of another branch of Judaism called Hasidism, Danny.

As a front, Danny professes religious domination over the Orthodox Jews, calling them apikoros, someone who denies revelation and the prophecy, or someone who's essentially a heretic. The term is meant as an insult as both baseball teams (oh, yeah. They're playing baseball.) come from yeshivas, or Jewish schools. Long story short, Danny hits a baseball at Reuven's head which causes Reuven's glasses to break and a piece of glass to become embedded in his eye. There was already hatred brewing from the name-calling incidents, and the fact that these two teams were rivals. We find out later that Danny's enmity was so strong that he wanted to bash Reuven's head in with his baseball bat.

It is not overly interesting that Danny came to apologize to Reuven in the hospital. And it is not surprising that Reuven gave Danny a tongue lashing for the incident. What did interest me is that Danny came back the next day. His hurt was not in the fact that Reuven was mad at him, but in the fact that Reuven had not given him the opportunity to speak his mind. It is over this that the two boys become friends. The Talmud says that if someone comes to make amends, one must listen and forgive.

I think it is the act of listening that many people have forgotten. Conversation is so much about waiting for ones own turn to speak, that no one hears the entirety of what someone else says. So Danny and Reuven share a special gift in Reuven's misfortune. Danny speaks and Reuven listens and asks questions accordingly. Who does that anymore?

I wanted to say more on this, but since the post was abandoned, then readdressed, I have forgotten the points I waned to make. If I remember, they shall appear in a subsequent post about the book. I promise.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jane Eyre, Chs. 1-3

Right away, instead of filling the role of soothing the savage beast of man, Jane seems to bring out that feeling in her cousin John, who beats her, then throws a book at her. There is no apparent reason for his attack except maybe his resentment that she gets to stay on at Gateshead and he's been sent away to school.

Perhaps she will turn out to be the antithesis of the ideal woman. She isn't completely submissive. Because she's threatened with the poorhouse, she doesn't react to John's tauntings as she would like, but for the first time she struggled against her punishment. The beginnings of stirrings against the station of women? This book was published under a pseudonym...

The discussion of Jane's plight and what happened to her parents reminds me of Burnett's The Secret Garden. In that novel, too, it is suggested that if the girl were better looking or more agreeable that people would take more of a liking to her. Unlike The Secret Garden, however, in Jane Eyre we can't be completely certain that she isn't disagreeable since Jane is the narrator and sometimes narrators are unreliable.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Ideal Woman

As my next long-term project, I'm going tackle Jane Eyre. I say long term becasue I downloaded the eBook from Planet eBook, and sometimes things take longer to read when they're on the computer. My guess is it has something to do with the chair. I was looking at EDSITEment earlier and one of the lessons talks about Jane Eyre and the ideal woman.

The simple review of Victorian women:

The Victorian ideal woman was domestic and pure. She was motivated to serve others, and her main role was to "soothe the savage beast" within the Victorian man. Victorian society viewed women as "the weaker sex," suggesting that they should be nurturers. In all actuality, women in the Victorian age had few educational opportunities. Women, particularly those who were married, had no rights. Only 1/3 of all workers were women, but women made up 90% of domestic servants.

More to come.

Percy Jackson's Hero Journey Part II: Characteristics of the Hero

So before we can talk about Percy's journey, we also have to talk about what makes Percy the archetypal hero. Now, not all heroes have all the qualities, but many of the heroes have many of the qualities. I used Harry Potter to explain the journey, but I'll use Percy Jackson to explain the qualities of a hero.

And away we go.
  1. The hero has mysterious origins.
    1. In the case of heroes from Greek Mythology, more often than not, one parent is of divine origin. For Percy, his mom is a mortal and his father is Poseidon.
  2. The hero is vulnerable. He can be killed, maimed, wounded, what have you. But he goes anyway.
    1. The camp directors didn't want to give Percy the quest since they knew that he hadn't been trained properly. He also has every monster from Greek mythology coming after him. Oh, no. What if our hero gets killed!?
  3. The path of the hero is dangerous and confusing.
    1. And it doesn't help for Percy that someone stole Zeus's lightening bolt, blamed it on him, and Ares keeps getting in the way.
  4. The hero is essentially solitary, his friends don't share his sense of purpose.
    1. Percy is trying to clear his name. He's also one of the children that's not supposed to be, so his friends can't really identify with the fact that everyone wants to kill him.
  5. Hero has a mentor/teacher/guide
    1. Percy's guide/mentor/teacher is Chiron, the centaur. Unlike other centaurs, who are known for being wild, Chiron is civilized, and works with demigods at Camp Half-Blood.
  6. Hero has a magical weapon that only he or she can use. It is given to the hero by the mentor.
    1. Percy wields a sword given to him by Chiron. The first time Percy uses it, it's to kill his math teacher, one of the Furies. His sword is disguised as an ink pen and returns to his pocket whenever he loses it.
  7. The hero has to go on a journey/quest to find something. He has to complete impossible tasks, battle monsters, etc. in order to either be a role model or save civilization as the people know it.
    1. Percy has to save Camp Half-Blood from the friend that becomes an enemy. In the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy has to find Zeus's lightning bolt to prove his innocence and to convince the Olympians not to kill him.
There are actually more elements to the hero journey. The most interesting graphic representation of the hero journey is found at the Monmouth Website, ORIAS, UC Berkley. The journey is set up counter clockwise, and if you hover over each element, it explains what each piece means to the hero's journey.

Percy Jackson's Hero Journey Part I: Characteristics of the Journey

The archetypal Hero Journey is one of the most commonly used formulas in both books and movies. After I describe the parts, go back and look at movies like Meet the Robinsons, Cars, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Akeelah and the Bee, Shrek (it's backwards) and many more and you'll see this formula applied to entertain us.

The hero journey is like a 12 step program. A circular 12 step program. I will use the ever familiar Harry Potter for brief examples before I delve into explaining the hero journey in terms of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The 12 steps are as follows:
  1. The hero's journey begins is the NATURAL WORLD. This could be where the hero comes from (e.g. Little Winging in Harry Potter).
  2. The hero receives a CALL TO ADVENTURE (e.g. Harry's letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry).
  3. The hero doesn't want to answer the call (in the case of Harry Potter, he had no idea what the call meant).
  4. The hero meets his MENTOR/TEACHER/GUIDE (we can argue for both Hagrid and Dumbledore in the role of Harry's teacher, but in the case of the journey, let's call this one Hagrid. Hagrid, we meet when Harry's still in the NATURAL WORLD; he knocks down the door of the boat/cabin).
  5. The hero crosses the THRESHOLD into the SUPERNATURAL WORLD. Sometimes something will happen that will move the hero to accept the call. (The THRESHOLD in Harry Potter is the barrier at Platform 9 3/4, at this point, Harry moves from the NATURAL WORLD to the SUPERNATURAL WORLD).
  6. The hero is TESTED. Here he meets both friends and enemies. (This spans a couple of scenes... First Harry meets Ron and Hermione, then Harry meets Draco and rebuffs him.)
  7. The hero enters the INMOST CAVE, the source of the item he seeks. (Harry doesn't know it at the time, but he runs across the Mirror of Erised [interestingly, "desire" spelled backwards] long before he knows it will contain the Philosopher's Stone.)
  8. The hero comes to the HEART OF DARKNESS (no, not the Conrad story). Here, he almost dies, and almost finds what he seeks.
  9. The hero finds what he's looking for. (Harry finds the Philosopher's Stone in his pocket).
  10. The hero embarks on the road back (or wakes up in the hospital wing).
  11. The hero experiences RESURRECTION (this is extremely obvious in the 7th Harry Potter book more than the first).
  12. He returns home, to the NATURAL WORLD with the knowledge that he's saved society.
One of the reasons Harry Potter works so well with the idea of a circular hero journey is because he embarks on this journey multiple times, moving from the NATURAL WORLD of Surrey to the SUPERNATURAL WORLD of Hogwarts. That, and he's continually fighting the bad guy.

The end of the wickedness

I wish I posted more as I read... this is something I must work on. It might come from reading so many books at the same time. I don't know.

Anyway, yesterday I finished Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think towards the end I was getting as impatient as I was at the beginning, waiting for the story to end. Personally, I liked Fahrenheit 451 better. That could be because of my enjoyment of Utopia/Dystopia type novels. I will admit, however, that on the heels of seeing the movie The Strangers, this definitely didn't help me sleep at night.

The lesson: don't fear old age and death, and don't want to grow up prematurely. That's what enticed the people to come to the carnival and ride the "free rides". But nothing is free. Didn't they know that? Isn't that something everyone knows? "There's no such thing as a free lunch." At least Will and Charles Halloway got the resolution they were looking for. Bradbury does well at setting up their estrangement at the beginning, using Charles's age as a reason. Everything comes full circle. Charles comes to terms with his age, and strengthens his relationship with his son, using his knowledge of the library and research. What I think is interesting about that particular character is that he didn't recognize that he could have bridged the gap with his son by talking to him about the books that he was reading. Common ground. But who am I to judge?

This one is a solid 7, I think.