Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Richard II by William Shakespeare

Richard II by William Shakespeare 


The Life and Death of King Richard II commonly referred to as Richard II is a historical play written by Shakespeare, late 16thCentury and concerns King Richard II who ruled England from 1377 to 1399.

Richard was the son of Edward the Black Prince, who in turn was the son of King Edward III. The Black Prince was in line to be King Edward IV, but he died before his father, therefore Richard became King Richard II* age of 10, at the death of his grandfather the King.

I mentioned in my review of Edward III that I liked the Black Prince more than King Edward III, and thought it a pity he did not succeed to the throne. Unfortunately, his son, King Richard II does not earn the same respect as I held for his father.

However, these opinions are based on only a very short segment of their lives, and that based only on Shakespeare’s plays, which although historical are not truly history and not completely reliable. Still, there is a general opinion among historians: King Edward III – not so great, King Richard II – ditto, Edward the Black Prince – a model of chivalry and knighthood.

So, what were Richard’s shortcomings? He was indecisive, impetuous, arbitrary, and aloof – not qualities for the making of a great king. They all led to his being deposed and eventually murdered. 

At the outset of the play, the King is called upon to settle a bitter dispute between Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and Henry Bolingbroke, son of the Duke of Lancaster, cousin to the King, and grandson of King Edward III.

In short, the King makes a very bad show of it all. First, he cannot decide (indecisive) and defers to have the dispute settled in battle. At the day of the battle, he stops the proceedings at the last moment (impetuous), and banishes both from England – Mowbray for life, Bolingbroke for 10 years later reduced to 6 (arbitrary).

I especially liked this dialogue between Richard and John Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, who is understandably distraught by his son’s banishment. This takes place some time later. The Duke is on his deathbed when Richard visits. The Duke foresees that the King does not have much longer himself to live.
     Gaunt: Since thou dost seek to kill my name in me,
     I mock my name, great king, to flatter thee.
     King: Should dying men flatter with those that live?
     Gaunt: No, no; men living flatter those that die.
     King: Thou, now a-dying, say’st thou flatter’st me.
     Gaunt: O, no! thou diest, though I the sicker be
     King: I am in health, I breathe, and see thee ill
     Gaunt: Now, He that made me knows I see thee ill

When the Duke of Lancaster dies, Richard seizes the Duke’s land and fortune (aloof) – which of course was rightfully to fall to Bollingbroke. Word of this outrage reaches Bollingbroke who returns to England, in spite of his banishment, to reclaim his own.

The King is not exactly conciliatory, and Bolingbroke easily wins more noblemen to his cause. Richard is deposed and Bollingbroke becomes King Henry IV.

I enjoyed this play. It is the third of Shakespeare’s historical plays that I’ve read. I’ve noticed two things: 1. Shakespeare gets easier to read the more I do it, and 2. In spite of the limitations I mentioned earlier, I am still learning a bit of English history. Richard II is the first in a tetralogy of Shakespeare’s plays, sometimes called the Henriad, because all include either Henry IV or Henry V (Richard II, Henry IV part one, Henry IV part two, and Henry V).


Modern day colloquialisms from Richard II:

A leopard cannot change its spots – from Act 1, Scene 1
     Richard: …lions make leopards tame
     Duke of Norfolk: Yea, but not change his spots: take but my shame

To seek shelter from the storm – from Act 2, Scene 1
     Earl of North Umberland: But, lords, we hear this fearful tempest sing,
     Yet seek no shelter to avoid the storm


* Regarding numerical designations of the Kings. You probably know this, but I feel compelled to explain. The numbers following the King’s name, (Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV), are not the same as for us commoners. If I had a son named Joseph – he would be Joseph Jr. If he had a son Joseph – he would be Joseph III, etc. However, for the Kings it means something different. King Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt, was simply the fourth king of England named Henry.

.



Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Oak Openings by James Fenimore Cooper (novel #132)

The Oak Openings or The Bee Hunter by James Fenimore Cooper


In dat day, my heart was stone. Afraid of Great Spirit, but didn’t love him. ~ Chief Onoah

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: a classic from a place where I have lived

This novel is set along the banks of the Kalamazoo River, where I spent the first 24 years of my life. I lived in the city of Kalamazoo – which took its name from the river. The name is of Native American origin, Potawatomie to be precise, but the literal meaning is lost. I also lived in Cooper Township, part of Kalamazoo, which is named for James Fenimore Cooper, who never lived there, but who invested in the area. It may have been Cooper’s objective for writing this novel – to create interest for his investment which did not pay off in his lifetime. Oak openings, were unusual geographical features, natural to parts of Michigan and Ohio, that were much like prairies, but with widely spaced oaks (i.e., there are openings between the oaks) vs the dense woodlands early pioneers were more accustomed to.

I think the alternate title; The Bee Hunter is better. The main character is Ben Boden, (Ben Buzz to the natives, le Bourdon (the drone) to the French), a professional honey hunter who lived along the banks of the Kalamazoo. The novel opens at the outset of the War of 1812. Boden, his newly formed love interest Margery, her brother and sister-in-law, a Methodist missionary, and a lone soldier are all caught in a precarious position. The only significant settlements, forts at Detroit, Chicago, and Michilimackinac are all taken by the British. The predominant tribe, the Potawatomies, align with the British, leaving the six Americans nearly friendless and surrounded. They have two allies: Pigeonswing, a Chippewa brave who Boden once rescued from certain death, and Onoah, a mysterious Chief of no known tribe, who describes himself..
Onoah go just where he please. Sometime to Pottawattamie, sometime to Iroquois. All Ojebways [Chippewas] know Onoah. All Six Nations know him well. All Injin know him. Even Cherokee know him now, and open ears when he speak.

But Onoah is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It’s a captivating and exciting adventure. I loved it partially for the attention given to my native land, and even though I never knew the Kalamazoo in its unspoiled state, I could picture it as Cooper described without the cities, towns, and industry that now line its banks. Very nostalgic for me. But the appeal goes well beyond my own personal identification with the topography. I enjoyed it very much regardless of the physical setting. 

My rating: 4 1/2 of 5 stars


This is the last of Cooper’s wilderness tales, following the more well-known Leatherstocking Tales. I’ve read a couple of those [The Deer Slayer, The Last of the Mohicans], and I didn’t love them. The hero Natty Bumppo, who is better known by epithets the natives gave him, Hawkeye or Deerslayer, seemed too good to be true.

The bee hunter, not so much. He is still the hero, admirable and brave, but he is flawed – downright foolhardy on a few occasions – and much more believable. In fact, that is part of what I loved: all of the characters are complex, conflicted, and believable.

The Native Americans – apart from using terms not politically correct today (redskin, savage, and Injin) Cooper did not paint with too broad a brush. His Native American characters could be savage or sagacious, wise or foolish, deliberate or impetuous, honorable or duplicitous, determined or conflicted, almost always strong and brave. I’m sure some will disagree, but I feel Cooper admired Native Americans and treated them with respect.

The Soldier – brave, faithful, somewhat arrogant and ethnocentric, but no fool.

The Women – sympathetic, brave and sturdy, occasionally naïve, but also no fools.

The Villain – Onoah, also known to some as Scalping Peter plots for the death of all white men, to include women and children, yet somehow, he is not depicted as a blood-thirsty savage. His hatred is nearly defended by Cooper as a natural outcome of the injustice done his people and the unending encroachment of their birthright hunting grounds. He is wise and thoughtful.

The Missionary, Parson Amen – and the most exciting part of this story. The missionary, is sincere and virtuous, a bit tender, a little foolish, but no hypocrite.

SPOILER ALERT

I usually try to avoid spoilers, but the ending was so glorious, I feel compelled to go into it just a bit. Scalping Peter plots the extermination of all white men, women and children. But slowly, through the kindness of Margery, and the honor of Boden he is softened and intends to dissuade the natives from killing these two. When he fails to convince them, he shrugs and accepts their fate. But then he witnesses the execution of the missionary, who prays for those about to kill him. Peter has heard of this doctrine of Christianity – to pray for one’s enemies – but he disbelieves it is ever done or can be done, until the missionary, in fearless Christ-like fashion, prays for his murderers.
The missionary uncovered his head, knelt, and again lifted up his voice in prayer. At first the tones were a little tremulous; but they grew firmer as he proceeded. Soon they became as serene as usual. 

Peter cannot spare him, but he is himself profoundly changed.
…for the first time in his life, was now struck with the moral beauty of such a sentiment.

Never before was the soul of this extraordinary savage so shaken.

And there is still a daring and dangerous escape via the Kalamazoo River.

I’ve only read the three works by Cooper. This is easily my favorite.

Other excerpts:

But Buzzing Ben loved the solitude of his situation, its hazards, its quietude, relieved by passing moments of high excitement; and most of all, the self-reliance that was indispensable equally to his success and his happiness. Woman, as yet, had never exercised her witchery over him…

In this particular Parson Amen was a model of submission, firmly believing that all that happened was in furtherance of the great scheme of man’s regeneration and eventual salvation.

.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Yellow Face – a Sherlock Holmes short story

The Yellow Face – a Sherlock Holmes short story


Also known as The Adventure of the Yellow Face* by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a Sherlock Holmes short story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection. According to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, it was Holmes 17thcase.

It is also one of the few cases, wherein Holmes fails to correctly solve the mystery. Watson explains
…it is only natural that I should dwell rather upon his successes than upon his failures. And this is not so much for the sake of his reputation, for indeed it was when he was at his wit’s end that his energy and his versatility were most admirable, but because where he failed it happened so often that no one else succeeded, and the tale was left for ever without a conclusion. Now and again, however, it chanced that even when he erred the truth was still discovered.

It is a touching tale, revealing soft spots in both Watson – not entirely astonishing – and Holmes himself.

Additionally, it reveals a commendable sentiment in the author. When the mystery is solved, no thanks to Holmes’ power of deduction, central to the case is the interracial marriage of an Englishwoman – now widowed and remarried – and her long-kept secret of her mixed-race child. Doyle treats the situation with respect and tenderness. Nothing very laudable by today’s standards, but pretty progressive for late 19thCentury.

The case takes place in Norbury – which is only important in understanding the following quotation and lines of this story, when Holmes speaks to Watson before turning in:
“Watson” said he, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

It’s different, as I have explained, from most of Holmes’ exploits. I enjoyed it very much.


*Many of Doyle’s short stories, that were originally published with titles such as The Yellow Face, had the titles changed to THE ADVENTURE OF the Yellow Face, when the stories were collected into volumes such as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Original Cover Art for The Once Lost Wanderer

Original Cover Art for The Once Lost Wanderer


Hopefully, you have noticed the new image on The Once Lost Wanderer. It was created by my son, who does some free-lance art work. You can view more of his work at: Jonathan F did an Art on Facebook.

About the image – he’s sort of lost see…wandering…nose in a book…map in his pocket. Hopefully that’s obvious, but I didn’t want you to miss it.




There are five allusions to classic literature in the drawing, most of them pretty obvious, one is rather subtle. Do you get them all?

I wanted an allusion to Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, and perhaps The Little Prince as well, but my son and I couldn’t come up with anything simple and subtle…open to suggestions.

Cheers
The Wanderer

Live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (novel #131)

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


…history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn.

Hanging Rock is a real place in Victoria, Australia.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is fiction, though in forward note, Lindsay casts some doubt on this point. Hence, the story has become legend and the novel is an Australian classic comparable to Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in the U.S.

For me, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a perfect argument for rereading. I didn’t like it when I first read and reviewed it, four years ago. In fact, I felt cheated.

The story, set in Southern Australia, 1900, concerns the mysterious disappearance of three girls and one teacher from an all-girl boarding school, during a Valentine’s Day picnic to Hanging Rock (Down Under remember, so the height of summer). One of the girls is found, nearly a week later, barely alive, but even though she eventually recovers, she is unable to shed any light on the mystery.

Maddening! No one who ascended crags and crannies of the Rock could seem to remember ANYTHING. So, it’s a mystery. The first time I read this I was hooked, fascinated, obsessed, reading it entirely in one setting, anxious for the solution to the maddening mystery.

And then…Nope! No solution, no clue, mystery unsolved – Cheated!

As I’ve hinted, I had a different reaction with this reread. Two reasons: First, I was not obsessed with getting to the end and was able to appreciate Lindsay’s characters, settings, and dialogue. But, more importantly (still reason #1), when reading the all-important chapter 3 – last scene before the girls disappear – I was reading more deliberately and noticed a few marvelously subtle clues that did after all give a hint to an explanation.

Just the slightest hints…that there was something unworldly afoot. This was a wild-eyed, oh my goodness, no it can’t be moment for me, and I would probably doubt it still, if it were not for reason #2…

There is a missing chapter that confirmed my suspicions. It was in Lindsay’s original version, but excised by the publisher with her consent. I was very pleased with myself that I did not learn of the excised chapter until after I had formed my hypothesis. The 18thchapter, also known as The Secret of Hanging Rock, is available online along with some interesting commentary.

I enjoyed Picnic at Hanging Rock much more with this reread. The 18thchapter is quite bizarre and rather inharmonious to the otherwise realist style of the novel. That was probably Lindsay’s intent. It might even work better, as published without the 18thchapter, and just the subtle hints, but for me – I just had to know if my suspicion was correct, so I’m glad to have the final chapter available.

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars



I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: a classic of Africa, Asia, or Oceania.

And in an odd bit of synchronicity, on the very day I would later finish Picnic at Hanging Rock, I was driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains, when my route took me through Hanging Rock West Virginia.

Excerpts:

Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowerings breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.

To take a sword and plunge it through your enemy’s vitals in broad daylight is a matter of physical courage, whereas the strangling of an invisible foe in the dark calls for quite other qualities.

It is probably just as well for our nervous equilibrium that such cataclysms of personal fortune are usually disguised as ordinary everyday occurrences, like the choice of boiled or poached eggs for breakfast.

.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Recap of Novels 121-130

Recap of Novels 121 – 130 


Average rating of novels 121-130 – 3.6 stars (out of 5)


121.  ★ ★ ★                 The Ox-Bow Incident
122.  ★ ★ ★                     Wise Blood
123.  ★ ★ ★                     Papillon
124.  ★ ★                      Candide
125.  ★ ★ ★ ½             In Cold Blood
126.  ★ ★ ★ ★                The Old Man and the Sea
127.  
★ ★ ★ ★                The Valley of Fear
128.  
★ ★½                      Gargantua and Pantagruel
129.  ★ ★ ★½                  The Shadow Over Innsmouth
130.  ★ ★ ★ ★                The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Favorite: In Cold Blood
Honorable Mention: The Old Man and the Sea

Least Favorite: Gargantua and Pantagruel

Best Hero: Tom Sawyer
Best Heroine: I hate to say it, but not one heroine in the group

Most Villainous: Perry Smith from In Cold Blood

Most interesting/Complex character: Papillon

Best Quotation: Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones. ~ Art Croft, first-person narrator of The Ox-Bow Incident

Best film adaptation: The 1973 version of Papillon starring Steve McQueen as Papillon and Dustin Hoffman as Dega is very good. As is the 1958 version of The Old Man and the Sea starring Spencer Tracy, and the 1942 version of the Ox-Bow Incident starring Henry Fonda.

Worst film adaptation: I didn’t watch any, but I know there are some awful renditions of Tom Sawyer out there.


.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (novel #130)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Finn by Mark Twain



Who knows, he may grow up to be President someday, unless they hang him first! ~ Aunt Polly regarding Tom

I read this as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: A Classic from the Americas. 

Well, you don’t get much more classic, nor more American than Tom Sawyer.

As I did in my review of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I will refer to the novels as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and the characters themselves as Tom and Huck.

Tom Sawyer comes before (not properly called a prequel) Huckleberry Finn. I think Huckleberry Finn is considered Twain’s greater work, but not for me. I enjoy both, but if forced to choose, I like Tom Sawyer better.

It’s more fun. Huckleberry Finn is fun – but it’s also important. Tom Sawyer is just fun. And once in a while, “just fun” is better than fun and important.

If that doesn’t make sense – I sort of feel sorry for you.

Another reason I like it so much, is I identify with Tom much more than with Huck. I lived a pretty carefree, barefoot in summer, fishing, swimming, and playing cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, or soldier, much like Tom. Like Tom, and unlike Huck, I was also loved and nurtured.

Tom is a wild, mischievous, but good at heart boy growing up along the banks of the Mississippi River in the 1840s. I don’t believe Twain ever gives his age, or grade. My guess is about 12.

And, did I mention this? It’s just loads of fun. Tom has adventures with his friends Joe Harper and Huck Finn, he falls in love with Becky Thatcher, blows it by being a jerk, then redeems himself by taking blame, and a whipping, for Becky. He runs away and becomes a pirate, witnesses a murder, saves a convicted criminal, finds stolen treasure, and attends his own funeral.

What fun.

I know; there are some who think this book is inappropriate today. I understand and I disagree.

This at least the third time I’ve read Tom Sawyer. It doesn’t get old. Well, I mean it is old, but I don’t get tired of it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 


Excerpt:
“What's your name?"
"Becky Thatcher. What's yours? Oh, I know. It's Thomas Sawyer."
"That's the name they lick me by. I'm Tom when I'm good. You call me Tom, will you?"
"Yes” 

.