Genesis 25-42 #2018BibleRBR

Reading the Bible as Literature

Week Two: Genesis 25-42

This second week of reading Genesis continued to provide rich history and rich stories of characters that turn out to be more than they appear. Last week, I mentioned my annoyance with the Bible writers’ propensity for listing lineages in quick succession. This practice has always bothered me because it seemed indulgent and unnecessary – we never even hear many of these names again, anywhere in the bible (okay, maybe one time, a name gets dropped in Jeremiah or something, but seriously). For that reason, I have always read for the fun and fascinating parables and stories, like those of Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob wrestling the Angel, Joseph and his coat of many colors, and Joseph’s interpretation of dreams. All of these occur in this portion of Genesis, but a closer, researched-based reading this time has also revealed much more.

Repeating Storylines: Have you noticed that there is a lot of repetition in the bible stories? In last week’s reading, for example, we learned about the family lines of Cain and Abel. If we look closely, their ancestors are very similarly named. In addition, this week’s reading demonstrated a repetition of the “overpopulated land” story. In this case, Esau and his family leave because the land won’t support both his and his brother Jacob’s families; we saw this exact issue with Abraham and Lot. These are just two examples of something that happens quite frequently, even in retelling from perspectives (i.e. the biblical narrator telling of events, for example, and then one of the biblical characters re-telling the entire thing, nearly word-for-word, to another character). So, why does this happen? History explains that there were actually three early versions of Genesis, one each (E and J) as written by the two Israeli tribes (northern and southern), and another (P), written later by priests. In an effort two coordinate the E and J texts, the writers (editors) of the P text often duplicated material in an effort to explain (in reverse chronology) some important historical features that were “priestly concerns,” such as record-keeping, major historical events, geography, etc. They also edited the two earlier text with additional legend to explain some of that history. (The earlier texts were once thought to have been written by Moses, hence why the KJV still lists the first 5 books—known as the Pentateuch—as “Books of Moses,” but now there seems to be consensus that these were written much later, and by many people, during the time of the Jewish exile.)  

People As Places/Tribes: Another fascinating feature, related to the above editing traditions, is the fact that names, especially of important and first-born individuals, or familial relations (e.g. sons and brothers), often represent much more than just a single character in the story. This begins right away, in sections of last week’s reading. For example, the word Elohim, translated, means “gods,” not “God,” and a translation from the Hebrew word for “Adam,” means “mankind,” rather than “man.” So, what we now think of as “God created Man,” because of the tendency to translate this way, might actually work better as, “the gods created mankind” (or, when god brings the animals to Adam to be named, might more accurately be: “the gods brought all the animals to humankind.”) So, how did one man and one woman populate the earth? Well, if we are really talking about “womankind” and “mankind,” then it makes much more sense, and is more historically and biologically accurate.

The names Cain and Abel probably represent the relationship between the tribes of Elam and Sumeria. The names of Noah’s sons probably represent the geographical tribes of Arabia, Persia, Assyria, etc., and their languages (semitic or not). In this week’s reading, we see similar historical naming as representative of tribal affairs in the story of Jacob and Esau. The story of Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) is one in which the younger brother (Jacob/Israel) usurps the role and benefits of the elder brother (Esau/Edom), despite tradition and with god’s blessing. Similarly, the Edomites, historically, rose to power and became a strong civilization first, but the Israelites, a younger tribe, would eventually rise and displace the Edomites. In this way, and in many other examples too numerous to outline, the Priest’s edition of Genesis seems to personify, in biblical characters, entire histories of civilizations, including their rise and fall, as well as natural disasters (such as the flood, which likely did happen but may have been borrowed/adapted from other cultures: see the Epics of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis).

OTHER INTERESTING BITS:

Chapter 27: Jacob tricking his father to bless him, rather than Esau, demonstrates both Isaac’s devious personality (allowing him room to “grow up” and accept god, which he later does) and represents the cultural histories of two tribes, the Israelites and Edomites.

Chapter 28: Jacob is “blinded” ironically in the situation with Laban, just as Jacob took advantage of his blinded father. This is perhaps when Jacob begins to become a better person, worthy of the blessing/covenant bestowed upon him.

Chapter 32: Jacob wrestles with a man, whom is taken to be an angel or some version of god. This seems to represent Jacob’s life-long struggle with god, after which he becomes “Israel” and also a better man, accepting god and the struggle, rather than fighting it any longer.

Chapter 37: Why is Joseph so favored, in such a large family? He is Jacob’s 11th son, and yet Jacob treats him with great favor, even giving him a “coat of many colors.” It’s important to remember that Jacob was Rachel’s first-born (Gen 30:22), and Rachel was Jacob’s favored wife (the one for whom he gave up 20 years of his life in service to Laban).

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Genesis 1-24 #2018BibleRBR

Reading the Bible as Literature

Week One: Genesis 1-24

Genesis is one of the most interesting and rewarding books of the bible. There is a whole lot going on, and a lot that precedes/prefigures events that come later, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Sure, there are some dull moments, where we get into things like the “Son of _ ; Son of _ ; who lived until 800 and _” nonsense, but mostly, the stories are fascinating, the people are familiar, and God is beginning to demonstrate the kind of deity he is. Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Noah. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Ishmael. Babel. Sodom & Gomorrah. I mean, this is just a wild beginning to any book!

Speaking of which: what is up with this God? I remember when I last read the bible through, about 3 years ago, I kept thinking, “man, this guy is a real jerk!” He seems to overreact to every little human flaw (or attempt at greatness), and to “test” (sic: “tempt”) his most devout followers in the most absolutely ridiculous way. Upon this reading, though, I’m wondering about the “lessons” behind God’s actions, rather than focusing on the actions themselves. Let’s take two, for example:

First, after Eve and Adam eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. In my recollection, and in many modern-day references, it is only this post hoc ergo propter hoc (cause and effect) that is the focus. They disobeyed God, so he gets rid of them. But I think this misses an important piece: God says in Genesis 3:22 that they are being expelled before they can eat from the Tree of Life. In other words, it is not just that they disobeyed God and are now tarnished with the knowledge of good and evil (which essentially makes their innocence null & void and will cause them to know sin), but that if they stay, they may also become immortal. If they are “all knowing” and immortal, then they are much too close to being god-like; or, in God’s words, they would become “like one of us.”

Second, after the flood and re-populating of the Earth, Noah’s descendants begin to spread and to form different tribes, occupying different lands (nations). Eventually, many generations later, the tribes come together to build a ziggurat, a massive tower that would reach toward the heavens. This is the Tower of Babel, and it was meant to be mankind’s shining achievement, proof that men could work together toward a common goal, and succeed. But for some reason this angers and disturbs God. Why? Why wouldn’t he want his children to come together and learn and grow, and communicate? Well, as with the Tree of Knowledge, Genesis 11:6 tells us God saw their work and thinks, “nothing will be restrained from them,” if they are all of one language and one purpose.

In other words: these two glimpses at God’s methods seem to me to reveal a deity who is concerned, like much of ancient mythology (Greek & Roman, anyway) is concerned, with man’s hubris. Go too far, strive for too much, believe one’s self too important, and you are surely to fall and fail, hard. Is it possible, then, that the underlying message, here, is one of a compassionate God who must do some extremely shady things in order to guide mankind toward humility?

Other Interesting Bits:

  • Genesis 3:15: seems to be the first prophecy of the coming of Christ.
  • Genesis 5:22-24: notes, “Enoch walked with God; and he was not; for God took him.” Why is his death different from all the others? Is it because he is a seventh son?
  • Genesis 14:21-24: Abraham refuses the spoils of war because he doesn’t want to be indebted to a potentially corrupt king. (This I’m noting only because it reminds me of a stoic philosophy, which is another journey I’m on).
  • Genesis 15: God’s covenant with Abraham relays the act of cutting animals in half and lining them in an aisle for the men to walk down, to “cut the deal.” This practice of cutting animals in half and walking together between them, symbolizing an important agreement between two parties, is literally where that phrase, “let’s cut a deal” comes from.
  • Genesis 16: The story of Sarah and Hagar = the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Genesis 19:1-29: The story of Sodom & Gomorrah. As it turns out, this does not seem to be a direct condemnation of homosexuality; indeed, there is no shock or disgust expressed at the idea that the men want to have sex with the new arrivals (identified as men, although I’m interested in reading earlier untranslated texts to see what the actual pronouns are; angels are traditionally non-gendered, so more investigation is needed). Instead, what upsets God about their actions seems to be a confluence of attitudes: lust, violence, rage, covetousness and, perhaps most importantly, refusal to respect that Lot has placed the visitors under the protection of his household, which is an ancient and sacred custom in multiple cultures and mythologies.  

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Thoughts: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

12127810House of Hades by Rick Riordan
Final Verdict: 3.7 out of 4.0

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable

The House of Hades is Book 4 in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.  This series follows the five-book Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, but it incorporates the Roman mythology alongside the Greek.  In this adventure, Percy, hero of the Greeks, and his team must join forces with Jason, hero of the Romans, and his own team in order to stop Gaea and Tartarus from rising and destroying the world.  The awakening of these ancient gods is causing an identity crisis, of sorts, among the “new” gods (like Zeus).  It is essentially blurring the lines between Greek and Roman mytho-worlds, so that at any given moment a god might switch personalities.  Needless to say, these split-personalities leave the gods relatively helpless, so the demi-gods, their half-human/half-god offspring, must take charge. In this fourth installment, Gaea and Tartarus have opened the Doors of Death, which means hundreds upon hundreds of monsters are slipping out of the underworld.  Percy and Annabel are in the underworld, while Jason and the rest of the gang are fighting their way to the Doors of Death, as the team must work together to close the Doors from both sides, or else certain doom awaits the planet and all life as we know it.

Characterization:
3.75 – Characters very well-developed.

One of the criticisms I have for the Riordan series’ (including Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, and this one) is that the character depth is always a bit lacking – although the books typically cover about a year (though sometimes quite a bit less, as has been the case with this particular series), still there is little growth & development for any of the major or minor characters.  This is a “Middle Grade” series, so perhaps character depth isn’t too be expected, but in any series that spans a certain amount of time – a few years or more- I would hope to see some.  Riordan has taken steps in this one, though, and as many have noted, even makes quite a bold decision (one I have been waiting for, for years!) to reveal personal information about one of the cross-over characters from the Percy Jackson series.  In addition, many of the other characters, such as Jason, Leo, and Frank, all face crucial turning points in this book, moments of decision which will help to define them possibly for the rest of their lives.  This attention to characterization and willingness to allow these characters to grow beyond their cookie-cutter “action/adventure hero” roles thrilled me quite a bit and truly makes me feel that this is possibly the best book of all three mythology series’ thus far.

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Rick Riordan’s books are so easy to read, partly because they are fun and entertaining, but also because he knows how to construct a fast-paced, logical, episodic storyline.  In The House of Hades, Riordan’s heroes are constantly meeting new friends and foes, mythological deities, monsters, and creatures of all sorts, from the Roman and Greek worlds.  All of this could be confusing and overwhelming, if not for Riordan’s adeptness at giving his readers just enough new information at manageable intervals, while advancing the story and also allowing his primary characters, those who have been with us since Book One, enough page time of their own.  Many have said this book left them breathless because of its pace, and I agree that it is certainly one of the more action-packed installments of his always action-packed series’.  It is hard to stop reading, hard to quit even after finishing a character section (the books are broken up by character perspective, each character getting about 4 chapters from their point of view, before moving on to another main character).  Ultimately, though, despite the whirlwind ride this book can sometimes be, it manages to remain consistent – going just far enough and just fast enough, without falling apart.  There are natural breaks, places where a reader can logically pause and step away, but the problem is – you won’t want to!

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

What I always love about the Riordan books is how slyly educational they are.  Readers will learn so much about ancient Greek and Roman mythology (or Egyptian, if you’re reading The Kane Chronicles), without noticing they’re learning anything at all.  This is because the mythology, the original stories and the original characters, are re-imagined so brilliantly, revisited so expertly, in this modern setting.  Gods using cell phones?  Demigods eating fast food?   Sure, that’s all current – but the events that take place, the rivalries that exist, the personalities of the heroes, the gods, they remain wonderfully true to the original epic stories of Homer, Ovid, and others.  Believe it or not, I can credit Riordan’s books, this particular one as well as others, with helping me to enjoy James Joyce’s Ulysses.  This is because, though I have read Homer’s Odyssey, revisiting the old tales through this contemporary lens has helped me to keep in mind the original epic and the string of events, the gods helpful to or antagonistic of Odysseus, which are paralleled in Joyce’s Irish epic. In addition, in House of Hades especially, Riordan takes some steps which have been made in young adult and contemporary literature, but which have been left relatively unexplored at the MG level.  J.K. Rowling allowed certain things to happen but which were revealed only through unspoken allusion; here, Riordan allows one of his characters, Nico di Angelo, to develop fully and completely, and exposes the raw nerves that come with it – it is a breath of fresh air for the popular fantasy genre and for this reading level.

Suggested Reading For:
Age Level: MG+
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult, Action/Adventure.

Notable Quotes:

“Magic is neither good nor evil. It is a tool, like a knife. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is evil.”

“I figure the world is basically a machine. I don’t know who made it, if it was the Fates, or the gods, or the capital-G god or whatever. But it chugs along the way it’s supposed to most of the time. Sure, little pieces break off and stuff goes haywire once in a while, but mostly… things happen for a reason.”

“Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work- It demands everything from you- especially the truth. Only then does it yield results.”

“I’m not choosing one of your paths. I’m making my own.”

“It’s natural to feel fear.  All great warriors are afraid. Only the stupid and the delusional are not.”

“It is a costly thing, looking on the true face of Love.”

“The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.”

Thoughts: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

15819028The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

Helene Wecker’s historical fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni, was a pleasant surprise for me.  It had been much-hyped, before and after publication, and my experience with “those” kinds of books has tended to be less than wonderful.  I am thrilled to say, though, that The Golem and the Jinni, not only lived up to expectations, but exceeded them (mine, especially).  The story is about two mythological creates whose paths are fated to cross.  The first, Ahmad, is a gorgeous, fiery Jinni who has been bound to a wicked master for generations; the second, Chava, is a uniquely gifted Golem, created to serve a specific purpose but now lost without her master who died at sea shortly after she was awaken (born).  The two creatures meet in New York city, thousands of miles from their middle eastern homelands, at the turn of the century (1899).  Although they are quite different – differently skilled, with wildly different temperaments – they develop a strange friendship, the strength of which their own fate, and the fate of the world, might depend on.

Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

It is rare to read a fantasy story about two inhuman characters who read as so very human.  Each of these creatures is awoken in a time, place, and situation which calls for them to be essentially born anew.  They must learn the ways of the world, the languages and customs of the new world, in order to survive and to protect those who they have grown to care for, if somewhat begrudgingly.  The Jinni, a creature of fire and air, learns to hone his skills with metalwork and artistry, all the while longing for freedom from his bondage and for his homeland, the deserts of the Middle East.  The Golem, more intelligent, inquisitive, and lifelike than any other golem before her, struggles to navigate such a populated place; living in New York is difficult for someone like her, because she can sense and feel all the thoughts and emotions of those around her.  Interestingly enough, while they both learn much about humanity by living amongst humans, it is the friendship that develops between them, the bond that only two non-humans can share, which teaches them the greatest human lessons of all – faith, love, and sacrifice.

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Wecker certainly has a talent not just for storytelling, but for story-crafting. The story of Ahmad and his master, which is central to The Golem and the Jinni, is one which spans centuries of time, and numerous countries; yet, Wecker manages to weave the jinni’s sparse memories so fluidly into the main story that we hardly realize how much history has unfolded before us.  The lives of the characters and their stories interconnect effortlessly, right up to the conclusion, which is stunning in conception and delivery.  Her prose is simultaneously deep and delicate, romantic and bare.  The marriage of style and story reminds me of the great gothic Romances, of Robert Louis Stevenson and Mary Shelley – Wecker has somehow recreated one of the most sentimental, exploratory literary movements in a contemporary novel that is set in the past.  She provides just enough suspense, just enough romance, just enough magic, and just enough reality to make it all work seamlessly.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

What the great gothic Romances, like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde did was to tell the story of humanity through a supernatural lens.  What can we learn about ourselves, about our desire for power, knowledge, control, by exploring the cause and effect relationship between who we are and what we create?  Wecker revisits this question, she asks, again, what does it mean to be human, to be capable of creating great and terrible things, to be gods among men?  Much of today’s literature, with the exception, perhaps, of those like DeLillo and Vonnegut, forgets to question this power, forgets to wonder about the cause-and-effect relationship between our scientific, technological advances and our moral centers.  Wecker does this, in the original form.  She reminds us to think about how far we go, to question the value of our creations, to wonder about our humanity, and to reevaluate ourselves and our impact on the world – our dasein, as Heidegger would put it.  Above everything, she reminds us that the world belongs to all of us and that the best we can do with our lives is to love and to learn.  The Golem and the Jinni was one of my favorite reads of 2013.

Suggested Reading For:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Historical Fiction, Witchcraft, Romance.

Notable Quotes:

“A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You’ll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts.”

“Sometimes men want what they don’t have because they don’t have it. Even if everyone offered to share, they would only want the share that wasn’t theirs.”

“I look at what we call faith, and all I see is superstition and subjugation. All religions . . . create false divisions, and enslave us to fantasies, when we need to focus on the here and now.”

Thoughts: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

the-alchemyst-book-cover

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 4

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott is book one in “The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel,” a YA fantasy series often likened to Harry Potter. Sophie and Josh Newman, teenagers and twins, have spent most of their lives moving from place to place. Their parents are architects who are always on the move, searching for that next big find. Because of this, the twins have become used to instability and are rather adept at adapting. This is fortunate because, one day, the strange bookshop owner who Josh works for, Nick Fleming, is attacked by a powerful and legendary magician, Dr. John Dee, and his golem minions. Immediately, Josh and Sophie are swept off by Fleming, torn from their family and told that they might just be the two people who will become responsible for saving the world, as the prophecies say. The twins are thrust into an underworld filled with ancient legends, dark and powerful gods, bitter rivalries, and the many varied forms of magic, alchemy, sorcery, and science – and, soon, their own powers are to be awakened.

While many people have told me that this is their second favorite fantasy series, after Harry Potter, I am not quite as convinced or enthralled. I do plan to read the next book in the series, and hopefully finish the entire thing at some point.  However, one of the weakest elements for The Alchemyst was, in my opinion, its characters – and characters/characterization is always an important story element for me. The main characters, Sophie and Josh, are thrown into the major plot so quickly; there is little time to learn anything about them. Then, as things continue to happen, we do see certain elements of their personalities (mostly told, not shown), such as Josh’s potential jealousies, Sophie’s insecurities, and the fact that they have learned to love & protect each other as a result of not just being siblings, but also having absent parents who move around so much. Still, there was so little depth to them, and even less to the secondary characters. Nicholas Flamel’s love-story with Penelope is interesting, but not entirely relevant. I wish the pace of the story would have slowed down so that the characters could have had more time to interact and so that the narrative itself could have told us more about them, their histories, and their motivations. Maybe this will happen in later books – but as a stand-alone examination of this first book, I must say I was disappointed.

That being said, the book is largely an action-fantasy or fantasy-adventure story, and the prose and structure are certainly fitting. The language and vocabulary are appropriate for the reading level, and the pages definitely turn (which is both a pro and a con, in this case). In addition to a strong style, there are many historical and mythological elements of the book which are interesting and educational, something I enjoy quite a bit in fantasy stories of this level (the reason why I love the Rick Riordan books so much – they are fun and they teach us things). I particularly enjoy the exploration of “auras” as a type of power and individuality.  Still, I felt that much of the time, Scott was throwing his mythological characters into the story for the sake of having them and to show off just how much he had researched about these ancient tales. The gods (Elders) pop-up all over the place, as do the immortals, mythological beasts, etc. There is a whole lot happening all of the time, which is fine for keeping one occupied, but upon reflection, I realize it left me with a sense of time spent pleasantly, simply, but unsatisfactorily. This first book, I felt, was interesting and fun. It has some great historical/mythological foundations to pull from, and the Author’s Note at the end of the book, which tells of Scott’s research into Flamel, is fantastic. But, ultimately, it was a bit of a shallow reading experience. If you are looking for a fun fantasy tale that won’t necessarily leave you thinking about it afterwards, this might be a good book for you.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG/YA
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Alchemy, Siblings, Twins, Family, Absent Parents

Notable Quotes:

“[Humans] barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk. That makes up for the lack of use of their other senses.” (149-50)

“Once begun, change cannot be reversed.” (225)

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 37


Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Nick Carraway, our “honest” narrator, is a small-town, Midwestern boy who once spent some time in New York with the greatest man he has ever known, Jay Gatsby.  To Nick, Gatsby is the embodiment of the American Dream.  He is rich, powerful, attractive, and elusive.  Gatsby is surrounded by an aura of mystery and illusion, not unlike L. Frank Baum’s Great and Powerful Oz.  And, like the wizard of Oz, Gatsby and all that he stands for turn out to be nothing more than carefully crafted, delicate constructs.  Gatsby is the dream of a man who does not exist, living in a world where he does not belong.  Although Nick, at first, understands that Gatsby is far from being who pretends to be, it does not take long for Nick to give in to the dream and to believe wholeheartedly (or to willingly consent to suspend disbelief) in the ideals that Gatsby represents.  Ultimately, Nick falls in love with Gatsby, or at least with the fantasy world that Gatsby champions; and, a romantic at heart, Nick helps Gatsby to preserve his dream and to pursue his one primary quest: Daisy Buchanan.    


Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, is perhaps the most interesting character in the novel.  He is simultaneously the one person who seems to see through Gatsby and to understand the facade, but also the person who most adores Gatsby and who cherishes the dream that this man represents.  Carraway must continually lie to and deceive himself, while attempting to reassure the reader of his honest nature and unbiased intentions.  Gatsby, or James Gatz, is fascinating in that he represents all aspects of the American Dream, from the tireless pursuit of it to the actual embodiment of it, and also, tragically, the loss of it (or realization that it does not really exist).  The other characters, Daisy & Tom Buchanan, Mr. Gatz (Gatsby’s father) Jordan Baker, and others are all interesting and important in their relationship to Gatsby.  We see Daisy as the traditional Jazz Age “flapper” – a woman interested only in beauty and riches; she returns Gatsby’s interest only because he is so materially advantaged.  Tom is the representative of “Old Money” and its condescension to but vehement dislike of the nouveau-riche.  He is racist, sexist and wholly unconcerned for anyone but himself.   Jordan Baker, the artists, and others represent the various unspoken but ever-present notions of sexual exploration, individualism, and self-gratification that are indicative of the period.  


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

What typically draws readers to this book, whether or not they come away with the traditional understanding of the novel (a love story, a censure on the American Dream, etc.) is its strikingly beautiful prose.  There are moments of description in this narrative which nearly take one’s breath away, particularly as they often come unexpectedly.  Fitzgerald’s brilliance lies in his ability to undercut his every thought, showing both the positive and negative arguments of a situation within the very same paragraph (or sentence, even).  This is perhaps best demonstrated in the final page of the novel, where the beauty of the dream that is Gatsby is contrasted with the disillusionment of those pursuing the dream.  Fitzgerald explores the power of the American Dream, the heart-pounding, soul-shaking evocation of those early American immigrants who looked upon the new shores with such hope and longing, with such pride and eager determination, only to be crushed by the never-ending struggle to achieve the unattainable; to be trapped in a timeless, ageless, persistent dream that never amounts to anything but the dream.  Fitzgerald’s prose and construction somehow manage to capture all of this, as the actions and events of the story itself do.  It is a wondrous sight to behold and perhaps the primary reason why so many consider this to be the greatest American novel, and certainly Fitzgerald’s magnum opus.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is quite possibly the most widely-read piece of American Literature.  But, while it is read by many, it is understood by few.  For the majority of readers, The Great Gatsby is a love story.  Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are the 1920s American Romeo & Juliet – two star-crossed lovers whose destinies are intertwined and whose fates are tragically sealed from the beginning; however, the love story is a facade.  Does Gatsby love Daisy?  Sure, but only insomuch as he has built up the idea of Daisy in his mind.  Does Daisy love Gatsby?  Not in the least – he was a whim for her when they were young, and he is desirable to her because of his wealth when they are older.   Other readers find the novel to be a depressing critique of the so-called American Dream, one which, perhaps, can never truly be reached.  Similar to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, this story predicts a bleak fate for America.  No matter how hard one works or how much one achieves, the American Dreamer will always want more – satisfaction & contentment can never be achieved.  This, in my opinion, is closer to the true nature and purpose of The Great Gatsby, but not quite all.  This is not a love story, nor is it strictly about one man’s striving for the American Dream.  Instead, it is a story about a restless nation.  It is a story about wealth and the disparity between “Old Money” and “New Money.”  Fitzgerald, through his narrator, Nick Carraway, has created a dreamy, illusory vision of a society of dreamers – shallow, unfilled people who are rising too fast, consuming too much.  Their children are neglected, their relationships disrespected, and their spirits crushed beneath the weight of soulless riches.  This is the story of The Lost Generation and the lies they must tell in order to continue living every day when they are so sad, lonely, and disillusioned.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Modernism, American Mythology, Idealism, Jazz Age, American History, Prohibition, Unreliable Narrators, Anti-Semitism, Racism, Class/Wealth in America.


Notable Quotes:

“What foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

“That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.”

“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Review: The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 14 


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

The Last Enchantment is the third book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy (which later became the Arthurian Saga, with the inclusion of a fourth book, The Wicked Day).  This portion of the trilogy concerns the waning of Merlin’s power, the fulfillment of his final prophesies, and the rise of Nimue as King’s enchantress.  Like its predecessors in the trilogy, this book reinvents some of the major elements of the Merlin legend, such as Merlin’s entombment in the crystal cave, Morgause & Mordred’s lives, and Arthur’s betrayal by Gwenevere and Lancelot (Bedwyr).   


Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

What this installment of the series does better than its predecessors is that it allows for growth and development of the characters.  King Arthur’s leadership style and personality are given more attention and some of the minor characters (such as Gwenevere and the lesser Kings) are also clearly drawn, though in a subtle, understated way.  The greatest achievement in this regard is with the character Merlin.  This, his final phase, is both sad and noble.  The relationship he builds with Nimue is touching and heartbreaking.  As Merlin’s early prophecies about his own demise begin to come to fruition, the reader cannot help but hope for Merlin’s success, though it would ironically prove him a failure.  


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the story.

Stewart is a good writer and satisfactory storyteller.  The book is constructed in such a way as to progress the story fluidly and rapidly, without it seeming rushed or impatient.  Most of the chapters are short, though there are lengthier portions where more time must be spent on a single subject – these choices are made consciously, however, and prove necessary to appreciating and understanding the more important aspects of the overall plot.  The only downfall for this edition of the novel is that it is littered with proofing errors.  There are multiple instances (particularly nearer to the end of the book) where words are missing or incorrect (“if” instead of “of”, for instance).  These grammar and proofreading issues should have been caught prior to publication, so it is no fault of the others and does not necessarily take away from the reading experience (except for OCD English majors such as myself). 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

How does a man of power and consequence deal with the waning of that power and stature?  How does a man of supernatural gifts grieve their loss and find a new place for himself in the mortal world?  This final installment of the Merlin trilogy deals with the rise and fall of magical and godly powers, yes, but its message resounds with the common reader just the same.  This is a story about the circle of life, one which takes us from birth and discovery of the many wondrous, seemingly inexplicable things around us, to coming of age and learning to question what we see and what we think we know; it leads us to explore the power of healthy manhood and the wisdom that comes with elder years, then forces us to confront old age and a new dependency on others.  This is a story about love and friendship, war and peace, land and spirit – it is a story about mistakes made, lessons learned, and the very personal meaning of magic.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Merlin lore, Arthurian Legend, History, Ancient British History.