Archive for the ‘Classic favorites’ Category

back to the classics2014

As described in the preceding post, I will be participating in the Back to the Classics challenge, this year hosted by Karen at Karensbooksandchocolate. In addition to the six mandatory categories, there are five optional reads:

magnificent ambersons An American Classic. Written by Booth Tarkington, and published to great acclaim in 1918, The Magnificent Ambersons won a Pulitzer Prize.

From Goodreads:

Set in the Midwest in the early twentieth century—the dawn of the automobile age—the novel begins by introducing the richest family in town, the Ambersons. Exemplifying aristocratic excess, the Ambersons have everything money can buy—and more. But George Amberson Minafer—the spoiled grandson of the family patriarch—is unable to see that great societal changes are taking place, and that business tycoons, industrialists, and real estate developers will soon surpass him in wealth and prestige. Rather than join the new mechanical age, George prefers to remain a gentleman, believing that being things” is superior to doing things.” But as his town becomes a city, and the family palace is enveloped in a cloud of soot, George’s protectors disappear one by one, and the elegant, cloistered lifestyle of the Ambersons fades from view, and finally vanishes altogether.

A brilliant portrayal of the changing landscape of the American dream, The Magnificent Ambersons is a timeless classic that deserves a wider modern audience.

mistress of mellyn A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller. The Mistress of Mellyn was published in 1960 by Eleanor Hibbert writing as Victoria Holt. Victoria Holt was a pleasure of my youth, and it’ll be fun to reread on of her classics.

From Goodreads:

Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned…But what bout its master–Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.

TreMellyn’s young daugher, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered. But it was the girl’s father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfimiliar sensations and turmoil–even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha’s life.

Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets–as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning. But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love–and the freedom to find a golden promise forever…

game of kings A Historical Fiction Classic. Published in 1961, The Game of Kings is the first of Dorothy Dunnet’s Lymond Chronicles. This has been on my TBR list for years, and I’m glad to be able to finally get it moved up into the soon to read pile!

From Wikipedia:

Living mostly by his wits and his sword-arm in 16th-century Scotland, Francis Crawford of Lymond is a charismatic figure: polyglot scholar, soldier, musician, master of disguises, nobleman—and accused outlaw. After five years exile, Lymond has recently returned to Scotland, in defiance of Scottish charges against him for treason on behalf of the English and murder. He has assembled a private band of mercenaries and ruffians who follow his ruthless, despotic leadership. The reader only gradually learns that Lymond has returned with a single goal: to prove his innocence and restore his name, he must find the man who framed him and condemned him to two years as a French galley slave before he managed to escape.

The novel is constructed as a clockwork mystery: an intricate web of many moving parts, punctuated by set pieces of adventure, high comedy, or intense drama. The suspense is as to whether Lymond will prove himself innocent, die in the attempt, or be captured and hanged. The mystery is “who is Lymond?” Dunnett reveals only gradually, with tantalizing hints and small details, Lymond’s motives and his true relationships with the other characters. Lymond leaves no one indifferent to him: some of the key characters—such as Richard Crawford, third Baron Culter and Lymond’s older brother, and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox—are one-time friends or intimates who become his mortal enemies. Betrayals and double-crosses, both potential and actual, abound. The pieces of the mystery only fit together late in the story as revelations at a trial.

As an established part of the minor landed aristocracy, the Crawfords cannot avoid becoming entangled in the complex politics between England and Scotland, the Anglo-Scottish wars and Scotland’s alliance with France, or in the conflicts among the residents of the Borders region between the two kingdoms.

A number of historical persons appear in the novel, many as important and well-developed characters. They include members of the Scott clan — Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, his wife, Janet Beaton, and his son William Scott of Kincurd, who becomes Lymond’s second-in-command in his band of outlaws; Mary of Guise, the Queen Dowager of Scotland and her young daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots; and members of the Douglas family—including Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, his brother Sir George Douglas, his daughter Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (niece of Henry VIII who was the brother of Margaret’s mother Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV, and mother of James V), and Margaret’s husband Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, a potential claimant to the Scottish throne in case of the death of the young Mary, Queen of Scots. The English military leaders responsible for prosecuting the war of The Rough Wooing, Sir William Grey and Lord Thomas Wharton, also have prominent, and often comedic, roles.

the enchanted april A Classic That’s Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series. The Enchanted April was made into a movie starring Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Jim Broadbent and a number of other fine British actors in 1991. It was originally published in 1922.

From Goodreads:

A discrete advertisement in The Times, addressed to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine,” is the prelude to a revelatory month for four very different women. High above a bay on the Italian Riviera stands the medieval castle San Salvatore. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs. Arbuthnot, Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the gentle spirit of the Mediterranean, they gradually shed their public skins, discovering a harmony each of them has longed for but none has ever known. First published in 1922, this captivating novel is imbued with the descriptive power and lighthearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnim is renowned.

Extra Fun Category: Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4.


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Peter Pan was written by J.M. Barrie, and was published in 1911. I read the Penguin Classics version, which includes Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This post doesn’t address that story at all, as I have not read it.

So, Peter Pan. Is there anyone who doesn’t know the basic story of the boy who never grew up? Walt Disney adapted it for his famous animated feature of the same name, and the play is frequently performed by Children’s Theaters throughout the U.S. Cathy Rigby made a career of playing the eternally youthful Peter. I had never read the original, and was excited when it was chose for a group read in one of my goodreads classics groups.

J.M. Barrie’s use of language is exceptional and delightful, and his imagination is incredible. There are a few aspects of the book that are jarring, especially his treatment of Tiger Lily and the Native Americans, which he often refers to, derogatorily, as “pickaninnies.” Were he writing today, I am sure that he would write these sections differently. This part of the story also jars a bit when watching the Disney version.

Barrie does pull his punches, but he also doesn’t shy away from danger and death, as in this passage:

The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.

Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremor ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

Peter Pan is, above all, a book about childhood and imagination. Barrie’s children are childlike, but they are not necessarily idealized, being occasionally savage, self-centered and heartless. The three Darling children leave their mother and father without a backward glance. Wendy is christened the “mother” of the Lost Boys, and Peter assumes the role of “father” but they are clearly doing nothing more than playing a game. There is an odd, slightly discomfiting, tension between Peter and Wendy. Peter, as the boy who will never grow up, has rejected growth. Ultimately, he is the only character who makes this decision not to grow, not to progress, and to remain as he is forever.

Wendy was grown up. You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.

All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth while saying anything more about them. You may see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine driver. Slightly married a lady of title, and so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door. That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.

Leaving aside the beloved status of Disney’s Peter Pan, the 2003 Peter Pan starring Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Sumpter is much truer to the book. Much of the language and narration contained in that version is taken directly from the book. I highly recommend this version for fans of Peter Pan – it is worth finding and watching.

The book ends with the following paragraph, which is bittersweet and lovely:

As you look at Wendy, you may see her hair becoming white and her figure little again, for all this happenned long ago. Jane is now a common grown-up, with a daughter called Margaret; and every spring-cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for Margaret and takes her to the Neverland, where she tells him stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and so it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

Peter Pan has provided inspiration for many, many retellings. As part of our group read, we decided to read some of them. I am hoping to read (posts to follow):

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The Hobbit was initially published in 1937, and was subsequently revised in 1951 – with some significant changes – to bring it into consistency with the events that occur in The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was my introduction to Middle Earth, an introduction that occurred approximately 34 years ago when my mother read it aloud to me and my brother. I remember that I loved The Hobbit, but I didn’t fall in love with Tolkien and Middle Earth until years later, when I read The Lord of The Rings.

I am a self-described Tolkien nerd. I have read the Silmarillion, and I have listened to Professor Corey Olson’s podcasts on Tolkien and his works. I know a lot about Middle Earth for a 46-year-old married mother of two. I love the Peter Jackson movies, and am unashamedly excited about the adaptation of The Hobbit that is scheduled for release on 12/15.

In honor of that release, I decided to re-read The Hobbit. Since I had previously read it aloud to my daughter, my son, Nick, previously mentioned in a post about or reading streak, had to be persuaded that we should read it together after finishing Harry Potter. He was a pretty easy mark, though, to be honest.

So, my most recent re-read of The Hobbit was a read-aloud. It took about a month for us to read it. In preparation for writing this post, I asked him a few questions about it.

Me: So, did you like The Hobbit?

Nick: Yes, I liked it a lot.

Me: What was your favorite part?

Nick: The part where the dragon got killed!

Me: Which character did you like the best?

Nick: I liked Bilbo, but I thought that Gandalf was really cool. I wish I could do magic.

Me: Would you rather hang out with elves or dwarves?

Nick: Dwarves. Because Thorin was the king under the mountain and they had lots of treasure.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the dwarf answer, since I’ve always considered the elves to be clearly superior (I suspect that Tolkien did, as well). But, I suppose it makes sense for a 12-year-old boy to be attracted to a short, bearded, axe-wielding dwarf as opposed to the pretty-boy elves who shoot arrows and sing. He did like it, though, even the parts where I sung Tolkien’s songs to my own, undoubtedly terrible, tunes. He provided back up drum sounds, which may in fact have been intended to drown out the singing. He’s not telling.

Anyway, I hear that there are people out there who haven’t read Tolkien. Start with The Hobbit. It is a wonderful story, full of wonder and beauty, some vanquished trolls, a shape-shifting bear, goblins and wolves, giant spiders who will suck the juice out of a man, harrowing adventures, narrow escapes, great battles, and a dragon who sleeps on a bed of gold and jewels. Seriously, who wouldn’t love that?

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