Exploring where life and story meet!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A sequel to Shakespeare?

I have long known that Jane Austen's beloved works have spun off a dizzying array of sequels, what-ifs, and stories about minor characters, but until recently I have only read one and it was quite traumatic.      However, now with a scribd account, I have access to several of her self-proclaimed heirs and it has been interesting to peruse some of their works.  As one might expect, there are 'the good, the bad, and the ugly,' among them.  There can no more be another Jane Austen than there can be another Shakespeare, but it is amusing to read what might have happened.  None can ever recreate her wit or even recreate her world, as she wrote about the world in which she lived whereas her heirs all live a century or two afterwards.  What surprises me is the people who write 'in the style of Jane Austen' yet completely miss the whole point of her stories yet claim to be her heirs.  I will not wander into the strange world of the Jane Austen meets the undead as I have not read those particular books nor have I any idea how Jane herself might respond.  Will she be vastly amused as the writer of Northanger Abbey, or dismayed at the desecration of her beloved stories?  I hope no one adds the like to my writing two hundred years from now!  In the words of the Queen, I imagine her saying, 'we are not amused,' but who knows what she would say.

Returning to firmer ground, there are some sequels that contain rather lurid romantic interludes, as if one were peeking through the bed curtains at the newly wedded Darcys, Jane would no doubt be appalled, as I certainly was!  Write what you will but do not call something an Austen sequel when it contains something to mortify the poor author, not to mention her beloved characters!  Other books seemed to miss the point that Miss Austen's works were considered 'a comedy of manners,' basically a humorous look into human behavior, social interactions, and why people act the way they do.  Some of the sequels tend towards a more 'historical' view, seeming to think Austen wrote books like Middlemarch and North and South, rather than Pride and Prejudice.  The originals contain very little in the way of historic, political, or social commentary about the place and time they were written; they focus on the lives of their characters and therein are content whereas some of the sequels delve into the Napoleonic wars, the industrial revolution, slavery, etc.  This is fine if one wants to read a novel dealing more with history or social upheavals (which is a laudable past time), but it is not in the style of Miss Austen.  Others are poorly written, containing obvious errors, bad grammar, or worse, a more modern slang.  Some have plots depending too much on adventure, intrigue, and tragic events, which again is not a feature of Jane Austen, who used such events sparsely in her stories and focused more on her characters response to such situations and how they grew (or not) in the process.  Lydia ran away with Mr. Wickham, but we only hear news of it second hand rather than sitting in the carriage during the 'infamous elopement' and are heartened or saddened or amused by the reactions of the various characters to Lydia's foolishness.  It is not the plot itself but rather a tool of it.  A few of the sequels or 'what if' novels even go so far as to take a beloved character and twist them into someone other than his or herself.

All in all, there are several very good sequels and many passable ones and some that should not even be mentioned.  I will try and compile a list (in no way exhaustive) of a few of them and we shall see what comes of it.  All in all, it has been an interesting study, yet one wonders how to even begin to follow in the footsteps of such an esteemed and beloved author?  It is a great undertaking and not all of the results are without merit, but some should never have been branded as heirs to this great author's works.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The strange joy of self torture

In the Song of Songs, the biblical version of a romance novel, a word of caution is twice repeated, 'do not arouse or awaken love before its time.'  Basically, the setting is a man wooing a woman, and the woman is being advised not to stir up her physical and emotional desires until the time is appropriate, namely, after the wedding.  This is good advice, regardless of whether you are pursing romance, a career, a family, a fortune, an awesome car, owning your own home, an education, or what have you.  For some reason, the modern psyche thinks it necessary to continually pine and mourn over what ever idol we so desperately need at the moment and cannot possibly live without and we are not happy until it is ours but once we have it, our  hearts then long for the next 'necessary' thing.  We are not content to do our part in seeking it, pray about, and then wait patiently, content with whatever is to come, but rather we complain constantly to our real and virtual friends, we read about it constantly or watch TV or whatever indulges our anticipation, and it is ever and always before and there is no peace in our hearts or joy in our lives.  I am as guilty as anyone in this respect, wanting desperately to start a family and everyone you know is pregnant is an awkward and painful place to be.  Constantly reading parenting books, baby magazine, and visiting baby websites only rubs salt in the wound.  Rather, I should have focuses my time and attention elsewhere, used it for the benefit of others rather than indulging in my own vain mourning and impatience.  There is much wisdom in the statement, 'godliness with contentment is great gain.'

Learning to be content wherever we are and whatever we have (or lack) is one of the great secrets to peace and joy.  Learning to trust in the One who has promised to give us all needful things (though whether His idea of what we need and ours coincides is another matter entirely) is what this mortal life is all about.  The sooner we learn to trust, the sooner we will find that, 'peace that passes understanding.'  I am not saying to sit idle, pray, and hope all things will work out, but neither should we despair of gaining what our hearts truly desire.  Do what you know should and can be done (fill out an application, start the adoption process, whatever), but do not drive yourself crazy pining away for something that in the end, really will not make you as fulfilled and happy as you think.  While you wait you will find peace in your heart and joy in other things, and in the end, either you will attain the desire of your heart and be able to enjoy it and appreciate it as a true blessing or you will discover that you can live quite happily without it, finding other joys and blessings besides.  Even Jesus endured this strange mortal affliction, begging the Father, that if possible 'that this cup might pass from Me,' but in the end, 'Thy will be done.'  And as Paul states, 'he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.'  The good news is, we shall never be asked to die to save all humanity, but God calls each of us to die to ourselves that we might truly live.  Giving up our mortal hopes and desires, at least giving up making them the focus of our lives, is part of that 'dying to self' process.  And He will give us strength and joy to fulfill whatever it is He truly wants us to do with our selves and our lives; His plans are far better than anything we could even begin to imagine.  So this Easter, cast down your idols and follow the example of He who died that we might live.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Passion of Legolas?

Besides for the sporadic Tolkien movie, I hardly ever get out to the local theater (yes we have one, it plays one movie a week and you can still afford the popcorn) as my idea of a good story and Hollywood's are fairly inconsistent.  We found a babysitter and went the other night to 'Son of God,' which was overall, fairly well done.  I haven't seen the Bible miniseries so this was my first exposure to the work of the people who brought scripture to life.  My major complaint is that Jesus is way too pretty, he looks like he could be an elf in 'Lord of the Rings,' or at least do toothpaste commercials.  They found the ugliest, grumpiest dude I have ever seen on screen to play Pilate (he does a great job portraying the indifferent villain) and most everybody else looks like they might actually be from first century Palestine, though anyone named Mary looks like she just left the beauty shop.  The violence was no worse than 'The Passion,' and actually I think less intense, but it was shocking, horrifying, and disturbing all the same, which is silly to think a movie about one of the worst forms of execution ever invented should be happy, enduring, and 'an instant classic.'  The improvement over 'The Passion' was that it actually had content before and after the crucifixion, making it a more interesting and gripping story.  Overall, it was a good Eastertide experience, to remind oneself exactly what Christ suffered for the likes of me and my fellow men.  Not a movie to watch often, but often enough to remind ourselves that 'we were bought with a price,' and hopefully we will start living like it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Can a modern audience comprehend Austen?

I am on something of a Jane Austen binge lately, or perhaps I should say suffering from post-Austen withdrawal.  What does one do when one has read all the works of this lovely authoress?  Read the sequels of course.  There are approximately seven hundred million sequels to Pride and Prejudice alone, some of them quite good, others scandalous, and a few apparently written by people who haven't read anything Austen or so it seems.  One thing I have discovered in my search for the heirs of Jane, is that there are many books written that completely miss the whole flavor of Austen and seem directed at an audience that would die of boredom reading the original.  What with lurid bedroom scenes and the undead running about, one hardly has time to drink tea, exchange witty dialogue, or languish over needlework, wondering if one will die an old maid.  I do not like knowing if I will turn a page only to turn scarlet after accidentally walking into the midst of too much information.  I do not need to know the precise details of what happened after the wedding, thank you very much!  If Jane would not have written it, it has no place in a supposed sequel to one of her esteemed works.  Miss Austen might find the inclusion of vampires, zombies, and such in some of her classics an odd affectation, she might almost find it droll, but I think she would be appalled to find the vulgar modern adaptations touted as true heirs to her crown.  Perhaps they need a rating system on books as they have for movies!  One might be good literature and the next is little more than a verbal orgy, but that is perhaps the only language modern minds understand.

I saw the most recent theatrical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and came away dissatisfied, thinking the plot would make little sense to our jaded modern virtues.  Why was it a scandal for Wickham to run off with Lydia?  Quite confusing, really, unless you understand the so-call 'traditional' mores.  Who cares about morality, when we can have a steamy bedroom scene?  Or maybe we can sneak in a commentary on women's rights or vegetarianism.  These are the ethical standards of today.  Any restrictions on sexual behavior whatsoever are downright Victorian, as long as we can read about it (in minute detail) who cares?  With this mindset, how is anyone to appreciate Austen?  We have become a culture of hedonists and have lost more than our virtue.  We have also lost our cultural heritage and our ability to appreciate the greater things in life.  I think Miss Austen would weep for that more than for the denigration of her stories.