Monday, September 17, 2007

The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Baxter family lives and farms in an isolated backwater area of Florida, in the late 19th century. Jody Baxter, the boy, adores and respects his father, Penny Baxter, and his greatest joy is found in going on the hunt with his father and listening to his enthralling tales of previous hunting exploits. Yet Jody, the only boy his age for miles, is lonely and longs for a close friend and companion of his own. When he discovers an orphaned fawn, Jody persuades his parents to let him keep it as his own, and his hungry heart quickly finds joy and satiety in the young creature who accompanies him in his chores and in his frolicking and forest rambling.

The Yearling is a tale of rural life: planting and harvest, hunting, caring for livestock, weathering storms, trading in town, sharing yarns around the fire. My 21st-century mind is amazed at the work that was necessary just to survive! And at what simple things brought pleasure and excitement: storytelling, visiting neighbors, having that extra bit of money to buy that special thing in town.

The Yearling is also a tale of growing up, of the tug between clinging to boyhood freedom and innocence, and desiring to enter the realm of manhood (in particular, creating one’s own collection of exciting tales and exploits). Jody has two examples of grown manhood: his rough-riding, backwoods neighbors, the Forresters, whose tastes run to whisky and shooting at any creature that moves; and his father, Penny, a wise, gentle man with a great work ethic, great hunting skills, and great strength of character. While Flag, the fawn, is Jody’s source of joy, Penny is the pillar of strength and stability that upholds Jody through a year of ups and downs.

The writing in this novel is excellent: from its point of view (believable, consistent, and sympathetic), to its description of the characters and setting (visually lush and detailed), to the heavy dialect of the dialogue (at first difficult to read quickly), to the story arc (gentle and character-driven). All the characters are fully-fleshed, believable, and interesting; even the secondary characters, who have no journey of their own, are real and colorful. Penny Baxter is my favorite character, with his great tales inspiring and his gentle affirmation guiding his young son. There is a sweet irony in Penny, who is physically scrawny, but who has more wisdom, perseverance, iron tenacity, and strength of character than all the burly, dark-bearded Forresters combined.

This 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is masterful in its depiction of a way of life long gone, and in its simple celebration of hard work, family and friendship, and the innocence and ideals of youth.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Can we have POSSIBLY picked a better time to read this book? I think not. Having recently read The Looking Glass Wars and then just having finished up Seeing Redd, I was anxious to read the "original tale" of Alice. Or Alyss. Whichever you prefer. Quite frankly, I now prefer Alyss. Which is probably why purists wouldn't enjoy Beddor creeping in and taking over Carroll's original story.

I've read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland several times previously but this time I found it to be quite the annoying tale. Before, when reading, I saw it as nonsensical humor. I never understood why Carroll carried on the "conversations" in the book in the manner that he did. Exactly why did he choose to go about not making any sense?

However, this time I see sense in it, which is what I find so disturbing. He's describing people and he does it very well. Maybe it's just me and the world I'm currently living in but it seems like I can say one thing and people like to take it and twist it into something I would never have said at all. It's viewed in a somewhat humourous light to play the old slumber party game "telephone" all the time. In every conversation. And that's what Alice is like. You say one thing, I hear another and I see how funny I can make it sound all together. Which might be funny once or twice but by the end of the game, and in life in general, it gets old really, really fast. I frequently feel like Alice:

Alice said nothing; she had sat down again with her face in her hands, wondering if anything would ever happen in a natural way again. (p. 158)

Or here:

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the cat: "We're all mad here." (p. 90)

Now I don't mind quirky but quirky can be overdone and when its unending, its unnerving. I saw myself in several characters this time. I've never identified anything in the book with human traits but they are everywhere. In almost every line you will find something. I was surprised by it all and would really rather not read it again as a result. (Although I think I'm still quite fond of the Disney cartoon version and with the story in general -- as long as I don't have to delve too deeply into it.)

Looking at it from the fiction point of view, and tying it in with the recent Looking Glass Wars craze, I would say Beddor did a really good job of explaining himself in the first book and played off of Carroll very well. Actually, if you think about it, Beddor did to Carroll what Carroll did to all of us. Think about that for a second.

He got what he deserved!