books (variously)

First: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was satisfying. It was enjoyable. I liked it. I do not deny that the Harry Potter books are good. Better than Lemony Snicket, in fact. Better than a lot of kids books and with very wide appeal. Still, I don’t fully see how the craze occurred.

Anyway, today I just finished The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander, the third book of the Chronicles Prydain. One last shot at Harry before continuing: Many say, and I agree, that the last 200 pages of Deathly Hallows are so good you want to read them all in one go. Deathly Hallows is 606 pages long. The Castle of Llyr 206 pages long, and the whole thing has about the same effect — in other words, J. K. Rowling wasted 400 pages (not really, but it’s a fun thing to say).

In the Prydain books, there are enchanted objects. One could possibly say “magical”, but having read Harry Potter and other fantasy books, I’m not sure that’s really the word I want. The objects of Prydain are different. Well, not all of them. The Black Cauldron, the Cochren (sp?), is the sort of thing one bends to one’s will, like so many magical objects. A lot of magical objects are manipulated to the user’s will, that all a person needs to do is learn the trick, or the right ephrase, or whatever, and the object will oblige. In Prydain, such is not necessarily the case. Often, the “trick” has more to do with one’s inner quality or virtue than it does shaping the object to the will of the user. Rather than forcing the world around us into our mould, we must learn to adapt ourselves to the world around us, to discover the virtues necessary to survive.

I am also a firm believer in redemption. I know that Rowling wasn’t writing “that kind” of book, but I’m always bothered by the fact that Voldemort is irredeemable. I accept that Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is, because Sauron is more like the Devil than he is like Hitler or some other fallen human being who has committed horrific evils. Voldemort is a Sauron-type villain with the past of a Saruman. But even Saruman, if not redeemed in the end, I believe had his chance of redemption.

In Prydain, there is always hope of redemption. Of life over death, even for the wicked in the hope that they can change their ways. And this is as it should be, for people are people, regardless. Yes, people do wicked things. Perhaps some people are wicked. And these books do not deny evil or shiftlessness, they do not explain it away, and they do not condone it. Evil is condemned. But people — people are different. The incompetent can become heroes. The heroes can become wicked, but their heroic past is enough to accord them honour in death. The selfish can become selfless. The wicked, therefore, should be given the chance to live in the hope of their redemption.

There is more I would say, but I have a friend who’s racing me to the end of these books (I’m in the lead, by the way). Although I believe that the plot is not all there is to a good book, it is necessary. And part of the joy of reading a novel is the discovery of the story within. So I won’t go around ruining that experience for someone else.

Next, I think I’ll read either the last two books of Prydain, or else start Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

But what would Matthew’s reading list be without some sort of nonfiction entity, most likely Classical or Christian?

Well, back at Christmastide, while lurking about Chapters in Thunder Bay, I saw a book with CAESAR emblazoned across its front cover. Not only that, it had the author listed: Adrian Goldsworthy (who has an Internet Movie Database entry!). I immediately wanted it, liking both Caesar and Goldsworthy (although I’d never want the former for a friend).

I’m sure Goldsworthy has his critics. I am not Classicist enough, nor have I read enough of his work, to be one. All I know is the following: He was one of the guest lecturers at the University of Ottawa in Fall 2006. He was funny, and went with the flow when a few slides were upside down, as well as slipping in a few jokes, including cracks at the USA. His oratory style was easily followed, and his presentation about the Roman army on the frontiers was fairly balanced — Dr. Goldsworthy is a military historian.

He also has great ideas about Classics as a field. He thinks we need to present a more balanced view of the field, to not get caught up in useless controversies that only scholars care about (at least, he seemed to be saying this), and really get into the period and how it was and present what we know. According to Goldsworthy, archaeologists ought to communicate with historians who ought to communicate with linguists who ought to communicate with the people who study the literature. Social historians should consult with military historians who should consult with political historians. The Classical world was one whole thing. We should make use of the knowledge available from our colleagues in other specialities in the field.

And I agreed.

Thus, I wanted his book.

His hardcover book.

His $40 hardcover book.

His book that was still too expensive with my employee discount.

And then it came out in paperback for less than half the price.

So I bought Caesar: The Life of a Colossus.

It’s about the same length as the new Harry Potter book, only it’s a higher reading level, so it’ll take longer to finish. But I’m liking it so far — putting Caesar in his context, giving the Late Republican background, discussing what life was like for an aristocratic Roman child. I like it.

Here’s a good Cicero quote from it:

For what is the life of a man if it is not interwoven with the life of former generations by a sense of history?

Sorry this post is too long. Maybe it should have been two . . .


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