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Harry Potter Series: The Order of the Phoenix

In this fifth book of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling broadens the central story and develops more characters. Certainly a more mature novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is shrouded in the anxiety of Voldemort’s return and displays the very real risks and grief that accompany war.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling

Originally published: 2003, UK (and US)

870 pages

The cover of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Click on the cover image to view this book on Amazon

 

Rating: 4 = Recommended Reading

 

What Worked:

  • Story deepening

With this novel, Rowling has even further expanded the world in this book series. As the bounds of the world expands—from Hagrid’s journey to the Giants to the Order of the Phoenix’s secret hideout in the middle of Muggle London—the complexity of the issues of this world deepen as well. As the wizarding world debates whether or not Voldemort has returned, Harry and his friends are swept up in the fear and anxiety of what they see as an impending war. Against this backdrop, Harry learns more about the First Wizarding War in which his parents lost their lives. The reader, of course, learns as Harry learns and comes to understand more of what will be at stake for Harry and his friends. The prophecy—a big focus of the book that isn’t revealed until the very end—is a huge plot point for the series as it speaks to the role Harry will have in the war to come. Rowling is able to make the larger world of the series deeper and more complex while still keeping it age-appropriate and contained.

  • Rising secondary characters

Having only watched the movies before starting this book series, I was very interested to read more about some of my favorite secondary characters Neville, Luna, and Ginny.

Neville’s development in The Order of the Phoenix is phenomenal. He is the overlooked underdog you always want to root for. In this novel you get a glimpse of his parents, get to meet his grandmother, and get to see his success as a developing warrior. Neville is a deeply loyal character who, like Harry, is also working through issues in his childhood left over from the First Wizarding War. He is transforming here from a meek, unconfident student into an important player in the upcoming war.

Luna is an odd character. Rowling seems to have gone out of her way to make her as strange as possible, but she is still surprisingly believable. Truly marching to the beat of her own drum, Luna is unflinchingly honest, loyal, and understanding. These traits equip her to be an excellent friend for Harry during this year when he is anxious, confused, and angry (SO angry).

Ginny is another character I’ve been excited to see more of in the books. She is bold, intelligent, and tells it like it is. She is unfazed by the wizarding community’s ever-changing perceptions of Harry, continuing to talk to him plainly and truthfully (and sometimes a big harshly). She is a girl who is coming into her own easily and powerfully—a good role model for self-esteem and confidence, really.

  • War and grief

Although the rest of the wizarding world isn’t truly convinced of Voldemort’s return until the end of the book (thanks, Ministry of Magic), for Harry, Dumbledore’s Army (a group of students Harry teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), and the Order of the Phoenix, the upcoming war is quite real. There is an anxiety amongst Harry’s community about how the war will progress, how bad it is going to be this time, and what Harry’s role will be. Rowling shows unsurprising confidence here in meeting the dark elements of war head-on. She has not shied away from making her evil characters really evil in the past, so the reader can expect the events of the novel will get darker and more violent before they get any better. I was glad to see that when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Ginny venture into the Ministry of Magic they are not only in grave danger as Death Eaters try to kill them but that no one is left without injuries (and some of them are quite bad).

Like the blunt, realistic oncoming war that Rowling describes, Harry’s grief toward the end of the novel is depicted believably. He experiences denial and anger as he deals with the reality of death after a grueling year psychologically with Occlumency lessons and his psychic link with Voldemort. It is again not surprising that Rowling does an excellent job here showing realistic emotions since she did such a great job with Harry’s psychological state at the end of the last novel, Goblet of Fire.

 

What Didn’t Work:

  • Pacing

I feel like this is one of my main complaints of this series so far, but Order of the Phoenix also has pacing problems. This novel is longer than it needs to be because the pacing of the story is so slow. Harry’s dreams about the mysterious door and rooms, which begin at the very beginning of the novel and are explained at the very end, become annoying as the book progresses. On the one hand it is good to remind the reader of this eventual important plot element, but it is strung out so long the reader (or at least this reader) started to lose interest in the mystery. I almost didn’t care how it resolved as long as it did so soon. Similarly, the politics and issues of Order of the Phoenix at HQ dragged on. I am getting so tired of Harry’s hatred of Snape and his extreme fluctuations in his trust of Dumbledore. While there is a need to depict three-dimensional characters, repeating Harry’s visions or his mysterious, explosive anger over and over again isn’t the way to do it.

  • Relationship with Sirius

As a reader, I felt like I was told more often by Rowling how to feel about Sirius than I actually cared about Sirius. Rowling spends quite a bit of time telling the reader that Harry sees Sirius as his only family and how much Sirius cares for Harry, but their interactions in this book are few and mostly non-eventful. Sirius does tell Harry some more about the Black family, but he also spends more time moping around the Order’s HQ than really spending quality time with Harry. If Rowling wanted me to care more about Sirius, she should have included more Harry/Sirius bonding. Perhaps Sirius could provide more insight into Harry’s parents (you know he’s curious and yet he asks so few questions about them)? He could talk more about the First Wizarding War. Although the reader understands Harry’s connection with Sirius, it could have been constructed so that the reader shared some of this emotional connection, deepening their love for Sirius.

 

Film Bits:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the second shortest film in the series at 138 minutes run time (narrowly beating out the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 at 130 minutes). Since the book is nearly 900 pages, it is clear that editing the material down is the big challenge. While many good decisions were made like more montages-style transitions between events (like getting the thestrals to go to the Ministry or Umbridge’s teacher evaluations), this issue was certainly helped by the film being more thematic rather than strictly faithful to details. Umbridge’s tenure at Hogwarts, for example, kept some of the factual highlights but also sacrificed others to maintain the underlying tone of fear and repression. Overall, the movie was true to the book thematically, which makes it an important link in the film series.

I would have liked to see some details added or some parts expanded on since there was the time to do so. I was a bit disappointed in the Ministry battle which depicted the Death Eaters as more organized than they were (capturing a student or Order member each while standing in a perfect circle, for example) and reduced the violence so that the students seemed to come out physically unscathed. The role of the centaurs could have also been easily explained, especially if less time had been given to Trewlany’s showy dismissal. Additionally, I would have liked to see a few small details that would have taken little screen time to explain, like Ron and Hermione becoming prefects and Fred and George’s escape (including the ingenious swamp). I suppose these were difficult editing choices to make, but this is probably the first film in the series where I feel like viewers are missing out by not reading the book.

 

Overall:

Although this book is a bit bloated, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix excellently broadens and deepens Rowling’s wizarding world and sets up the impending war with plenty of realistic anxiety and fear.

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Faulkner’s Challenging Classic: The Sound and the Fury

Widely regarded as a literary classic, William Faulker’s The Sound and the Fury tells the story of a Mississippi family between 1910 and 1928. Fallen from their aristocratic pedestal, the Compson family members struggle to realize their identities and to deal with the challenges life presents them. Between uncompromising Quentin, promiscuous Caddy, the perpetual child Benjy, and controlling Jason, the Compson children must navigate the world with only their experiences and their parents—cynical Jason and hypochondriac Caroline—and Dilsey, their servant, to inform them. Along the way they will deal with marriage, illegitimacy, selfishness, maturity, greed, castration, and suicide: truly human dilemmas.

 The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

Originally published: 1929, US

320 pages

*Note: I read the Corrected Text version of this novel.

 

The cover of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

Click on the image to view this book on Amazon

Rating: 4 – Recommended Reading

 

Summary:

Set in a fictional Mississippi town, The Sound and the Fury tells the story of the Compson family who have fallen from their aristocratic background to struggling in all aspects of life. The novel covers select parts of about 30 years in their lives, and the story is told in four sections from three of the family members and an omniscient narrator. The first section is narrated by Benjy, a mentally delayed man who is reliant on the family for care. His brother Quentin narrates the next section. He is a freshman at Harvard but is struggling with depression and is haunted by the memories of his childhood, especially of his sister Caddy and her disgrace. The next section is narrated by Jason, the son who still lives in the family home and struggles with his responsibilities to the family he sees as a barrier to his success and wealth. The last section is told by an omniscient narrator but focuses on the Compson’s main servant, Dilsey, and the fates of the Compson family members.

 

What Worked:

  • Stream of consciousness form

Faulkner famously wrote using a literary form called stream of consciousness, and The Sound and the Fury is an excellent example of that style. Stream of consciousness was not new when Faulkner used it—with some examples going back to the 18th century—but he was part of an explosion at the beginning of the 20th century with James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse as contemporaries. This style allows for fluidity in chronology and a realistic blending of emotions, thoughts, memories, and actions. The narration attempts to express the internal monologue of the character so that the effect is as close to the reader actually being that character as possible. This creates a unique way for the reader to relate to the characters that moves beyond simply understanding them and creates the ability for the reader to really empathize and feel as if they know the character well. In The Sound and the Fury, Faulker uses the stream of consciousness form uniquely as he plumbs the depths of not just one character but three throughout the course of the novel.

  • Memorable, rich characters

Due in part to the stream of consciousness style, Faulker has created characters in this novel that are fully fleshed out, real, and complex. By allowing the reader inside the mind of three of the characters—Benjy, Quentin, and Jason—Faulker is able to build characters from the inside out; the reader gets to know their minds before they know how the characters interact with others and change over time. But Faulkner did not stick to safe, universal characters in this novel, he took on the challenge of exploring the minds of a mentally challenged man and a suicidal man as narrators.

Benjy’s chapter is the first one, and although his mental state does make it repetitive to read, there is a rhythm to Benjy’s narration and a child-like innocence to his telling of events. I tried reading this chapter aloud and found myself lulled into Benjy’s rhythm of narration and at the same time feeling like I was losing my mind a bit. It’s brilliant. I can’t remember having ever felt that transformed as a reader. Faulkner truly captures Benjy’s unique voice.

Quentin’s chapter is intriguing in a very different way as he is highly intelligent but caught up in the past and being led into the immediate future by his depression. The only thing similar I could think of is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s own stream of consciousness exploration of Raskonikov, the philosophical murder who experiences dreams and madness in the wake of his actions in Crime and Punishment. For Quentin, his current troubles and his past memories overlap with increased frequency until the real chronology becomes difficult to distinguish. Faulker does an excellent job of depicting Quentin’s psychological state for the reader.

  • Perspective use

With the use of multiple narrators and nonlinear storytelling, The Sound and the Fury’s plot is something that the reader learns rather than is told. The reader works on connecting the plot points as the novel progresses and is given different perspectives and pieces of events from each of the characters. What is very interesting is that it is only the three brothers of the family who are given a direct voice. Caroline, the mother of the family, is relegated to a supporting player who is mostly depicted as crazy and, honestly, the most annoying character in the novel. Caddy, whose actions are the focus of most of the story, is hardly present and is remembered differently by each of the brothers; she is not given a voice of her own. Miss Quentin, Caddy’s daughter, plays a major part in Jason’s narrative but is also unable to explain herself. This blanket treatment of the women of the novel does not make their characters invisible, but it does show the focus of male control in this family and this time period. Complicating this idea of an overwhelming patriarchy is the Compson’s maid, Dilsey, who is not given a voice but is a big focus of the omniscient narrator in the final part of the novel.

 

Confusing Bits:

While I enjoyed the challenge of this novel’s style, there are some common complaints about it that I wanted to include here.

  • The difficulties of stream of consciousness

While stream of consciousness offers a multi-dimensional version of a character it can also be difficult to read. Since this style involves mixing actions, memories, and feelings, these elements can all get a bit jumbled making it difficult parse out past and present events. It is inherently difficult to spend time in another person’s mind without confusion. Also, this style unavoidably makes characters seem unreliable since all you have is their perspective of events. To help this problem, Faulkner only focuses on three characters’ points of view. But, while there are some facts the reader can determine really did happen, there are many things that the reader is unsure about (or doesn’t trust the narrator about). People who enjoy stories with characters who are clearly good or bad, trustworthy or liars, will have a difficult time with the gray areas many of these characters inhabit.

  • Skipping chronology

Readers who enjoy stories that are told in order from beginning to end will be frustrated by Faulkner’s nonlinear storytelling in The Sound and the Fury. The first two chapters—narrated by Benjy and Quentin—are easily the most nonlinear, and are complicated by the mental and psychological difficulties of the main characters. The last two chapters are much more straight-forward in terms of plot and are interrupted less often by jarring memories. At least in Benjy’s chapter, Faulkner originally thought about using different colored inks to separate the chronological shifts Benjy makes between three periods of his life. While there is an edition that does this, most do not and the reader must rely on italics and the identities of Benjy’s caretakers to root them in time. For the reader who prefers to be guided along by the story and not having to be constantly aware of where they are in time, this book will certainly be a challenge.

  • Dialect

This book is set in rural Mississippi and Faulkner has given many of the characters realistic dialects, mostly the characters who belong to the lower class. The Compsons, with their history of aristocracy, do not speak in dialect though they do have Southern vocabularies and speech patterns. Some of the characters’ dialects are easier to understand than others.

“You sho done it now. I’ll declare if you aint. Shut up that yelling” (21).

“‘Dis here ti’ aint got no air a-tall in hit,’ the negro said” (305).

Depending on how familiar the reader is with reading dialect, they may have to slow down at parts to figure out what is being said, but it gets easier as the novel goes on.

 

Overall:

Truthfully, The Sound and the Fury is a challenging book with its nonlinear storytelling and variety of stream of conscious narrators, but it is a rich story full of the big emotions and shared struggles of humanity wrapped up in one tragic Southern family. If you are up for the challenging style of this Faulkner novel, you will be rewarded.

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Gaston Leroux’s Melodramatic Phantom of the Opera

DUUHHH!! DUN DUN DUN DUN DUUUUUN…

The opening strains of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera are likely the most famous aspect of this work based on Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name. This gothic story grasps our imaginations because of its secretive and murderous villain, dramatic love story, innocent victim, “ghost stories”, and flair for the dramatic. While Lloyd Webber’s musical transforms these aspects into an entertaining musical, the same cannot be said for Gaston Leroux’s original novel which, although darker, is too melodramatic for modern audiences and features unrelatable characters and an unbelievable romance.

 

The Phantom of the Opera

Gaston Leroux

Originally published: 1910 (1909-1910 serialized; 1911 in English), France

270 pages

The cover of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera

Click on the cover to view this book on Amazon. At the time of posting, the Kindle version was only 99 cents!

Rating: 2 – At Your Own Risk

 

Summary:

Christine Daáe is an up-and-coming opera singer who gets her big break at a performance at the Paris Opera. In the audience is her childhood friend Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny who falls in love with her. But, upon visiting Christine’s dressing room after the show he finds a nervous, scared girl who laughs at the childhood memory he brings up. What has brought about such a change in her? Through his observations of Christine, Raoul suspects that the “Angel of Music” who has been tutoring her is related to the rumored “Opera Ghost” who has been causing havoc at the Paris Opera. As Raoul dives headlong into this mystery, blinded by his love for Christine, he faces the dangers of the opera house, meets an ally, comes face-to-face with the Opera Ghost, and tries to escape with his own life as well as Christine’s freedom.

 

What Worked:

  • Gothic to the core

Although it is melodramatic, Leroux has crafted an interesting gothic novel, in which he holds to many of the classic elements of gothic fiction. The setting, though not a castle or religious building per se, is the Paris Opera House, and it serves much the same function by being a character in itself. The opera house is home to Erik, the Opera Ghost, and has secret passageways, rooms, and traps. As the Opera Ghost, Erik also fulfills the haunted nature of this gothic and even gives instructions to other characters in his ghost capacity. There are strange happenings that are attributed to the ghost like the “suicide” of a man and the grand chandelier falling during a performance. Christine is the innocent, virginal girl who Erik, the villain, wants to possess. Erik himself has a tragic back story, which even includes a foreigner (bonus points!) known only as the Persian. Raoul takes the role of the valiant hero who wants to save the girl, and there are even some comical characters in the bumbling opera managers and policemen. All of these elements are wrapped up in the dark, gloomy, and sometimes horrifying setting of the opera house which includes in its walls a torture chamber, lending the novel the important aspect of terror. While I may have other issues with this novel, there is no denying that it firmly belongs in the gothic genre with its blend of horror and romance.

  • The Persian

I mentioned the Persian, and he is easily my favorite character (though I would have liked to know Erik better, also). The Persian knew Erik before the opera; after Erik was disowned by his family and ran away with the gypsies, he ended up in Persia. While there, Erik spent time in the company of the sultana and created the architecture of the torture chamber. With this history, the Persian knew how dangerous Erik could be as well as some of his tricks. By including the character of the Persian, Leroux was able to explain some of Erik’s backstory, making him a more three-dimensional character. This effect was helped along by Leroux’s choice to have the Persian narrate five chapters of the book. The tone of his chapters are more even and explanatory rather than overly emotional. These chapters were the easiest to read as well. Overall, it was easier to relate to character who is a foreigner in a strange land (a bit like the reader in this sea of melodrama) who is trying to make everything work out with the fewest number of deaths, like the reader wants it to. Without the Persian, the last part of the book may have become unbearable.

  • Torture chamber

One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel for me was Erik’s torture chamber. An architect, Erik designed and built this chamber that showcased real evil. While the novel is full of threats, pranks, kidnapping, and some murder, the torture chamber is the most sinister, well-described, and truly evil aspect of the novel. It is not melodrama. The torture chamber is based on a design that was familiar to the reader at the time in exhibitions: a hexagonal room lined entirely with mirrors. Often an object, like a column, was placed in the room to create the illusion of hundreds of columns surrounding anyone standing in the room. Erik took this concept but replaced the column with an iron tree—to create the illusion of an iron forest—and he added a hatch for viewing in the high ceiling. The victim, or victims, would be shut up in the room as Erik would adjust the temperature and create noises. The idea was that eventually the victim would hallucinate, go mad, and take advantage of a length of rope left on the ground near the iron tree. Pretty evil, right? There is another torture crafted for Christine where she must choose between statutes of a grasshopper and a scorpion, but the torture chamber is by far more evil and brilliant.

 

What Didn’t Work:

  • No relatable character

While an argument could be made that the Persian is relatable, there are no other characters in the novel for the reader to get into. Raoul and Christine are either in ecstasy or abject misery throughout the entire novel, with no real middle ground. The reader starts out with hope that Christine will be relatable since she is an aspiring opera star who finally gets her big break, but when she actually speaks it is obvious that she is paranoid and manipulated by her invisible Angel of Music. Raoul, as the hero-lover, is madly in love all of the time and fluctuates between righteous indignation, brash “heroic” gestures, and melancholy. Even finding out some about Christine and Raoul’s childhood friendship does not help to make them any more likable. Erik is at least a well-rounded character—thanks largely to the Persian’s stories—but he’s really too evil and obsessive to be someone the reader truly understands (plus, he’s clearly the villain). Phillipe, Raoul’s brother, is someone the reader barely gets to know but who they can feel sympathy for; however, he is not really relatable either. Although, Phillipe may be the most accurate stand-in for the reader as he watches Raoul basically lose it, attempts to be a voice of reason, and ends up dead by accident.

  • Difficult romance to get behind

Along with unrealtable characters, the central romance of the novel is difficult to understand or really appreciate. While the childhood relationship of Raoul and Christine is straight forward, what is their adult relationship based on? Raoul happens to see Christine perform and they begin talking again, but the big shadow of Erik’s influence on Christine makes it difficult for them to continue to meet. When she finally does open up to Raoul in a scene on the opera house roof, Christine appears more rational than anywhere else in the novel, but there is not enough information for the reader to understand the relationship. They play at being engaged—when Christine has already pretty much been forced into an engagement with Erik—with their “play” consisting of writing each other overly sentimental letters and whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears. Their engagement play is most like children playing house: a sham of something real and deeply important. With all of the melodrama, it is difficult to know what Raoul and Christine really mean to each other. Is she just something for him to possess? Is he simply a way out of her desperate situation? Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel like true love.

 

A Note about Adaptations:

The poster for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera musical

The two most popular adaptations (at least for now) are the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and the 2004 film version of that musical. Both stick to roughly the same adaptation of the novel, so I’ll talk about them together.

Trailer for the 2004 film The Phantom of the Opera:

 

The adaptations have a lighter tone. While still solidly gothic, they have removed the torture chamber and Christine’s choice with the insect statues, which were probably too outright evil for the audience. The basic plot and main events of the novel are kept intact, though the plot is flattened, of course. The adjusted plot removes some of the weird coincidences and focuses less on the opera managers and policemen. Some aspects are certainly added like the monkey music box and the frame story with an aging Raoul at an opera house auction. Overall, I think it is easier for audiences to put up with all of the melodrama of the novel when it is presented in musical form. We’ll forgive more in a musical where singing characters create a sense of fantasy anyway. And, with Erik’s evil downgraded, the audience can feel more sympathy for him. Raoul and Christine’s romance also seems more believable when they are singing about their love in beautiful ballads.

 

Overall:

If you have some desire to read the original text (or just love gothic novels), go ahead and read it; otherwise, stick to the musical and film adaptations to be entertained by this melodramatic gothic love story.

 

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5 Reasons Why You Should Read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez, a Nobel Prize winning Latin American author of magical realism fiction, died recently in April 2014. Having remembered enjoying his writing style, I was inspired to pick up his famous One Hundred Years of Solitude to re-read. What I remembered from reading it for the first time several years ago was a single impression: the feeling of reclining on a bench in a beautiful garden on a sunny day with a cool breeze blowing. Hailed as one of the greatest novels of all time, One Hundred Years of Solitude focuses on seven generations of the Buendía family in the city of Macondo. This novel should be on everyone’s “to-read” list for its unabashed depiction of humanity.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez

Originally published: 1967 (1970 in English), Colombia

417 pages

The cover of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

Click the link to view this book on Amazon

 

1. Macondo as a Character

Having a city depicted as a character is nothing new in fiction, but with Macondo García Márquez has created a unique place to serve as the novel’s setting. Both realistic and mythical, Macondo draws diverse people to it, drives some of the central Buendía family away from it, and becomes a political hotbed during civil unrest.

Macondo is a fictional city founded by the first generation of the Buendía family, José Arcadio Buendía and his wife Úrsula, during their search for a better home. García Márquez follows seven generations of Buendía family members as they grow up and grow old in Macondo. The home that José Arcadio and Úrsula build becomes home to some of each of the seven generations. Large and constantly changing to suit the needs and desires of the family members, the home comes to represent the Buendías and predict the fate of Macondo.

Macondo becomes a very important main character in the novel. As a character, Macondo is a bit of a hermit, choosing a slow, easy life—unless it is beset by surprising outside forces like the military or a banana company. Macondo does have clear childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age phases as the generations pass and it grows old. The city prefers to remain detached from the rest of Colombia and act as a haven for all who live there. Macondo seems to possess mystical powers that provide its inhabitants with long life, escape from the world, and peace when they need it most.

 

2. The Cyclical Nature of Life and Family

One of the big themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude is that there is something cyclical about family generations. Aside from the tradition of naming offspring with the same repeated names as their fathers, uncles, and mothers, many of the family members share the same traits and fates. There is a workshop in the house set up by the first José Arcadio that a few of his male offspring inhabit at different times in their lives. Some share his obsessive nature as they pour over indecipherable manuscripts left by a passing gypsy, while others share his interest in chemistry and try their hand at changing metals or reviving alchemy. Úrsula warns against incest within the family and declares that the product of such incest will be born with the tail of a pig. This warning is repeated over and over as nephews fall in love with aunts and the mysterious origins of some of the Buendías cause lovers to not know if they are related or not.

With the repetition of personal natures within the family, García Márquez explores the question of whether there is something important—and perhaps even inevitable—about being born into a certain family. Would the fate of your grandmother impact the way you experience life? Would sharing a name with your great uncle change the way you interact with the world? In the ethereal, but still very real, Macondo, the cyclical way life moves within generations of a family is depicted as inescapable fate.

 

3. Magical Realism

Magical realism is a style of fiction in which the everyday world is infused with magical elements. García Márquez, as a Latin American author, comes out of this tradition, and he has inspired others to take up this fiction style (like Salman Rushdie). Magical realism is one of my favorite fiction sub-genres, and García Márquez does an excellent job of creating a place where reality and magic combine that is fully believable and enjoyable to read.

What makes this genre fascinating for me is the way that García Márquez is able to make the events of the novel seem realistic, even when they are clearly magical. I attribute this to his tone, which presents all information as though it is happening or has happened—similar to the way a storyteller tells tall tales. If you have not experienced magical realism before, be prepared to suspend your disbelief and let the story take you along.

 

4. The Spectrum of Love

Bound up with the theme about families and fates, One Hundred Years of Solitude also probes into the spectrum of human love. While some of this love is certainly passionate and sexual, there is also an array of examples of familial love, even between those who are not directly related. García Márquez writes about love as the most natural thing we do as humans but is also not afraid to show examples of the corruption of love. There are love affairs that are void of substance, those that break families, and those that are kept secret out of fear.

Probably the best thing that García Márquez is able to do is to present each experience of love in a non-judgmental way. Sure, other characters may have opinions about the relationships, but the narration does not try to privilege this one or that one as the greatest, best or purest love. García Márquez recognizes the complexity of people and the variety of relationships that they experience throughout their lives. The same even tone that does not distinguish between reality and magic is also employed when describing the actions of the characters—events happen because they did and characters act as they will.

 

5. Reading as Exploration

What I found, especially after reading this book for the second time, is that García Márquez has made the reader an explorer. Certainly one of the reasons people read is to gain knowledge, but with fiction the purpose is commonly entertainment. While One Hundred Years of Solitude includes fantastic stories and magical happenings, the core of this book is exploring humanity through the example of the Buendía family. Through the stories of the generations the reader is able to experience the variety in and the connections between families and, to a larger extent, all of humanity.

García Márquez does not specifically call for the reader to wonder about their own life or their own history, but one cannot help doing just that as they walk around the Buendía home for years with this family.

As I re-read this novel, I did feel the sensation again of sitting in a garden on a warm summer day, and I know that it is the Buendía’s garden I’m imagining because their home, their family, and their city of Macondo have become woven into my life too. We have shared humanity together and explored what that means.

I highly recommend, for the 5 reasons I’ve mentioned, that you give One Hundred Years of Solitude a try. It may seem odd in the beginning with the magical realism and the stark tone, but by the end the Buendía family and Macondo will feel like home.

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Space Travel with C.S. Lewis

After H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, around the time of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and the science fiction movement of the late 1930s, C. S. Lewis, a professor and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, published the first book in his science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. In it, an unsuspecting traveler finds himself on another planet and must choose how he will react to his strange surroundings, the planet’s inhabitants, and his murderous travel companions.

 

Out of the Silent Planet

C.S. Lewis

Originally published: 1938, UK

158 pages

Cover of C.S. Lewis' novel Out of the Silent Planet

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*Fun Fact: The idea for this trilogy was born out of a shared distaste of modern literature with Lewis’ friend J.R.R. Tolkien. They agreed that Lewis would write a space novel and Tolkien would write a time travel novel.

 

Rating: 4 – Recommended Reading

 

Summary:

After finding shelter with an old colleague during a walking tour, Ransom finds himself waking from a drugged sleep and on board a spaceship moving quickly away from Earth. After overhearing his companions’ plans to sacrifice him to aliens upon arriving to another planet, he plots escape as soon as they land. Ransom runs into the wilds of the planet, Malacandra, and must learn to survive, which he is only able to do by befriending a hross, one of the native species. Through his journey, Ransom learns a great deal about Malacandra. When he unexpectedly meets up again with the men who brought him to the planet and is then summoned to the planet’s leader, he does not know what to expect. Will he be punished? Sent back to Earth? And how will he explain this planet if he returns?

 

What Worked:

  • Descriptions

Having read a fair bit of C.S. Lewis’ other writings, I was not surprised at the beautiful descriptions in Out of the Silent Planet. The reader experiences the plot through the main character, Ransom. What impressed me more than the descriptions of Ransom’s experiences on Earth, was the evolution of the descriptions of Malacandra as Ransom begins to understand the planet better. When he first lands on the planet, Ransom’s descriptions of it are vague, and as he tries to understand his surroundings he compares them to what he knows—Earth. As Ransom travels around the planet and gets to know the planet’s inhabitants, however, his descriptions of Malacandra become clearer and more accurate. Lewis’ beautiful descriptions aid the reader in not only relating to Ransom but in sharing in his experience as a human on a strange planet.

  • Ransom

The novel’s main character is Ransom, a philologist and an everyman character. When he is brought to Malacandra against his will, he reacts very naturally and is afraid for his own life. However, when Ransom later encounters a Malacandra inhabitant called a hross, he is curious about the creature and much less afraid of it than he had been of the humans. Ransom has a natural curiosity, supplemented by his interest in languages, which makes him relatable to the reader as well as the perfect vehicle for the reader to come to understand Malacandra. While some find Ransom to be a hallow everyman, I think that Lewis’ choice to make Ransom a more generalized person helps the reader to better adapt to and learn about Malacandra. Also, Lewis is known for including these types of generalized characters in his fiction to help guide the reader through unfamiliar settings like this one.

  • Guide Character

Much like Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia series, Lewis includes a guide character in this novel who serves to explain this new world to the main character, and therefore the reader as well. In the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia (in the original publication order, not the current chronological order), The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy is the first to discover Narnia in the wardrobe and is introduced to this new world by a faun named Mr. Tumnus. Although his motives are questionable, Mr. Tumnus does explain to Lucy and the reader what Narnia is and a bit about the situation there. Likewise, Ransom finds his guide in Hyoi, a hross he meets during his flight from his captors. Like Mr. Tumnus, Hyoi helps to teach Ransom about this new world he finds himself on and explains the setting and offers some background. Also like Mr. Tumnus, Hyoi is a character the reader doesn’t know for long until tragedy strikes. I actually had to put down the book for a couple of days when Hyoi’s event happens because I suddenly found that I cared about his character more than I had expected.

  • Mythos

One of the big focuses of the novel is on how Malacandra works, or the mythos of the planet. Lewis is known for his theological writings, and a great deal of his fiction also includes theological themes (like the supposal of The Chronicles of Narnia). Out of the Silent Planet and the rest of the space trilogy are no exception; however, Lewis does a good job of not creating an obvious allegory, and the book feels more like science fiction than theology. The elements of space travel and understanding a new culture, society, and world help secure this novel’s classification science fiction. Malacandra does, however, include somewhat of a spiritual (or at least, mysterious) side; there are beings that barely exist in this dimension who have power over the way that the planet functions. The main one is called Oyarsa and the others are eldil who are not given individual names. There are connections between Oyarsa and the other planets, including Earth, as well as questions about a higher power, but it is all described the way a religious system would be explained to a traveler. The mythos of Out of the Silent Planet is complicated and interesting and is further discussed in the rest of the trilogy.

 

What Didn’t Work:

  • Action Pacing

Some readers may become frustrated with the unbalanced pacing of the action in this novel. Although there is an air of mystery from the beginning, there isn’t really any exciting action until the kidnapping of Ransom. This is followed by the space journey, which is more about the science of the ship and the journey than any real action. There is a bit of peril when they land in Malacandra, and then a lot of description of the planet and the creatures. Actually, most of Ransom’s time on Malacandra is spent learning about the language, the inhabitants, the planet’s history, and the connections between this planet and others. Really, the big action sequences are towards the beginning and the end of the novel. While the unbalanced action of the plot makes sense—because really this is a novel about cultural ideas and philosophies—it may bother some readers looking for a science fiction adventure novel.

 

Overall:

Out of the Silent Planet is a very C.S. Lewis-style novel. Don’t expect a typical science fiction novel and be open to ponder the reasons behind our human actions, and you’ll really enjoy it.

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Harry Potter Series: The Goblet of Fire

The Harry Potter series takes a notably dark turn in this fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As Rowling continues to develop as a writer, her main characters become deeper, the series’ primary antagonist comes to life, and the politics of the wizard world become even more complex.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

J.K. Rowling

Originally published: 2000, UK (and US)

734 pages

*Fun Fact: This is the only Harry Potter novel to win a Hugo Award.*

The cover of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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Rating: 4 = Recommended Reading

 

What Worked:

  • Voldemort

Voldemort is a character that I have been waiting for all series. Rowling hints at him and shows him in various states of life in earlier books, but in this fourth book the series’ antagonist finally becomes flesh and blood. I admire Rowling for having the maturity and patience to wait until the fourth book of seven to give life to Voldemort; his previous forms and all of the whispering about him built up an appropriate amount of suspense and anxiety about his character. When he emerged from the cauldron, he was exactly who I wanted him to be: broken, revenge-driven, pure evil, and powerful. I didn’t mind that he talked and talked before doing anything about Harry because after all this time I was ready to hear about the past from his point of view. Voldemort is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in the series, and I’ve really only just met him.

 

  • Realistic 14-year-olds

As teenagers in what would be that awkward transition into high school, Rowling handles the development of Harry, Ron, and Hermione well.

Ron’s anger and squabbling with Harry is fairly realistic, although the way they are angry at one another reminds me more of girls their age (this is further exaggerated in the movie, holy cow). All the same, Ron’s anger and jealousy of Harry’s popularity is pretty spot-on. This is the age of changing friends, after all.

Harry shows his selfishness through the realization that he has never once even thought about Neville’s parents in the four years he’s known Neville. While this realization does seem to hit Harry pretty hard, he does not really reflect on it enough to change anything about himself—pretty on par for his age.

Hermione begins to become swept up in the romantic side of things with the Yule Ball and her friendship with Viktor Krum. While this is more played up in the movie, it is not terribly far off from the details in the novel.

 

  • Past and Political Intrigue

One of my favorite aspects of this book is all of the information about Voldemort’s first rise to power. Not only do we learn more about Voldemort and some of his victims, but we also learn about his followers, the Death Eaters, and Barty Crouch, Jr. At the end of the novel, lines in the sand begin to be drawn for the upcoming wizard war with Voldemort gathering his supporters, Dumbledore making his own preparations, and the Ministry of Magic burying their collective heads in the sand. The end of this novel sets the stage for the future, and makes me excited to see how everything works out as they progress (I’ve watched the movies, but I mean all of the little details in the books that will be new for me).

 

  • Harry’s Psychological State

By the end of the novel, Harry has experienced many things for the first time: someone being killed in front of him, witnessing Voldemort’s return, getting into a duel with the Dark Lord, learning of a complicated transfiguration, transporting a dead body, and almost getting killed himself. What I like about Rowling is that—unlike some other fantasy writers—she allows Harry’s psychological state to suffer accordingly. Harry goes through shock, exhaustion, and anger as he comes to terms with all that has happened to him. He is left with psychological scars in the form of dreams and flashbacks of the traumatic events he has gone through. Rowling’s bravery at showing her main character’s psychological damage is impressive and important.

 

What Didn’t Work:

  • Some Hollow Characters

Between the international students visiting and stories of the past, this book is full of secondary characters. With so many characters, some of them are not fleshed out and developed enough to really be memorable or perhaps useful. While this book is long enough, there was little development of the international students including the Triwizard Tournament competitors Fleur and Krum (although, they are more developed in the novel than in the film). Rita Skeeter was also glossed over and I’m not entirely sure what her storyline added to the book, honestly.

 

  • Pacing Issues

My big issue with the series in general is that it often moves a bit too slow or involves too much repetition, and I certainly felt that in this novel. With all of the added detail, no wonder the books are getting longer. There were certainly places to cut down on (Quiddich World Cup, some of the school things) and focus on character development instead. Also, a bit of a side note, but why are certain characters always described with the same adjectives? Snape’s hair is always “greasy” and his eyes “beetle black”, for example. Frustrating.

 

Film Bits:

The film has an excellent and appropriate dark tone, enhanced by Harry’s dream visions. When I watched the movie before reading the book I was a bit lost sometimes by the transitions and the hints at things. I think this is a symptom of how much of the story the film director and producers had to remove in order to create a film with a reasonable run time. While they made clear choices to focus on Harry’s central plotline (removing the house elves, details about the Crouch family, Ludo Bagman, etc.), I was sad to see the politics of the Ministry of Magic once the Dark Lord was declared to be back omitted. The Ministry’s lack of acceptance of Voldemort’s return was the most interesting part of it to me, as was Dumbledore’s rallying the troops for the inevitable wizard war.

 

Overall:

The last few chapters of this novel make most of the faults of the rest of it fade away. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a solid novel that transitions into the dark tone of the series and the character’s middle teenage years well.

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