August 5, 2007

A Journey To The Streetcar Named Desire

This entry will contain reviews of two stories I recently finished reading: a novel and a play.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth was written by a not-so-obscure author named Jules Verne. I actually read it by my own will, not against it. It seems most people may only read classical literature if assigned to by one of their English professors. But as a budding novelist myself, I feel that I should be familiar with most of the writings by the pioneers of my trade. Now there's no requirement for any writer to read the classics, and by no means am I being forced. The reason these stories earn the distinction of "classic" is because they're still heavily regarded today because of their quality. And most, if not all, of the more celebrated pieces of literature have already been made into movies of differing value, some even more than once.

A Journey was written in 1986. Wait, that was the date of the First Signet Classic Printing. It was actually penned/penciled/inked in 1864. Truth be told, I actually hated Verne's writing style after attempting to read a couple of his books in school, 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea being one of them. I guess my brain hadn't fully developed, because when I recently started A Journey I could hardly set it down and understood it all. Well, except for a lot of the scientific explanations. You see, it's been documented that Verne likes to explain the science in a lot of the missions and devices seen in his works. I see the value in this, as it brings an air of logic to his story, even if it is fictional, but it would most likely turn off readers nowadays with short attention spans that require non-stop action to be thrown at them. The scientific musings are shared between...

The main characters: Professor Hardwigg, his nineteen-year-old nephew Harry, and their Icelandic guide Hans. The story opens in their house in Germany, with the Professor boasting about an old book he purchased and an encrypted message that was found within. After about a day of both Harry and his uncle trying to decipher the code, it's Harry who accidentally discovers the translation. Immediately, Hardwigg plans for the expedition to the portal into the Earth's interior as described in the note. Jules Verne supplied the characters very brilliantly with the necessary provisions to survive such an arduous trek. The story becomes more addictive when the characters finally make it inside the Earth, because you want to know what they'll find within. Despite the fact the narrator (Harry) tells us that the book is an account of his journey after he returned from it, there are many times you wonder if he's going to expire anyway.

My favorite character in A Journey is neither the Uncle Hardwigg or nephew Harry. It's actually Hans, their hardworking guide during their tour of the bowels of this big crazy rock we call home. As long as he receives payment every week, he'll do his job without complaint. He is silent through most of the journey, usually only speaking a word or two in his native tongue to inform the Professor of what to look out for. Silent, resourceful, all business. Kinda like myself.

There's a point towards the end of the book where Harry is referred to as "Henry" for quite a few pages, although it reverts back to Harry by the finish. An error is editing, or a pet name given to him by Hardwigg?

My next foray into reading was going to be Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Foretopman, but the problem that prevented me from enjoying Verne's works in the past now affects me in the present. Though written in English, it's all too foreign to me. To make matters worse, it's full of words which seem to have fallen into disuse over the years. Even my spell checker is telling me that it doesn't believe "foretopman" is a real word. But I guess one thing I would have in common with my literary predecessor is that we invent words without telling anyone and slyly pass them off as real, convincing those who read them that they are "high level" words, only used by the Masters of English.

So I gave up on Billy Budd after the second chapter. That's when I looked through my father's old book collection he acquired for his school years and found another classic called A Streetcar Named Desire, the play by Tennessee Williams adapted into book form. Williams also wrote Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, but not Fiddler On The Roof. It was written, or at least copyrighted, in 1947. It's also where the famous line "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" originated. I'm pretty sure most of you only know this story as being "performed" on The Simpsons, but that was only a parody. A Streetcar contains twelve active characters, the main ones being Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (no relation to Killer). Blanche, a wilted Southern Belle, is trying to escape her old life by moving in with her sister and brother-in-law in their house in New Orleans. Stanley is a chauvinistic blue-collar worker whose personality naturally clashes with Blanche's. He also tends to hit his wife Stella when he gets angry, then apologizes profusely for his behavior which always brings her back to his stable. I'm just glad this is only a work of fiction and a situation like that couldn't possibly occur in real life. The story also contains undertones on homosexuality and pedophilia, two subjects which I thought were never referred to back then.

I finished the whole book... or should I say play... in a day, starting on my lunch period at work, continuing when I got home, and then finishing it before going to sleep. Fun fact: the original play featured a then-unknown Marlon Brando as Stanley, who didn't even get top billing.

I'm now reading another play adaptation called Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. This ancient tome is priced at ninety-five cents, which should probably give you an idea of how old this edition is. The pages are also falling out, and they have that aged pulp stink which will make this story hard to read on an empty stomach during lunch.

Tennessee Williams. Could I get away with calling myself Rhode Island Gannon?

And that's just the way it is.
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