The Little Mermaid – Hans Christian Anderson

Had to get this to get my mermaid head on before reading ‘The Mermaid’.

Han’s Page

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Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

The book that inspired the film, ‘Apocalypse Now’.

I read this book many, many years ago and i especially wanted to read it again before re-reading ‘The Little Paris Bookshop’.   From my long ago memory of Heart of Darkness it struck me that there was something similar going on in the two books so i wanted to re-read both.   More on the similarities in the next review, for this review i’m just sticking with ‘Heart of Darkness’.

So what did i think?   It has the usual politically incorrect Victorian wording and attitude to non-Europeans, which tends towards appalling, even more so than usual as this book is mostly telling a story of the Belgian Congo when the Belgians were exploiting it and its peoples.

There’s a lot been said about this book, both good and bad, and you can read more on the wiki page if you want to know more.

For me, i’d like to see the glass half full with this one.   Yes i understand the other side of the debate, and i most certainly do not condone any colonialism, i absolutely condemn it all, but…

This book was written in the Victorian age and i do feel that if you are going to read Victorian literature then you have to lay aside your modern prejudices, morals, ethics, etc., and understand that the people writing it were victims and hostages of their own age as we are of ours.   It’s not so much politically incorrect as it’s far more politically ignorant.   And for me that is what a lot of this book is about: the political ignorance of the age.

Yes, Conrad uses words that are considered repugnant now, but they were not considered so when he wrote this.   And its the words, i feel, that create the problem for a lot of people, allowing those to cloud their judgement of Conrad’s attitude and opinion.   If you can take that step back and accept the words to be used as they were used in his age by white Europeans, only then can you see what Conrad was really saying ‘when’ he wrote this book.   You really cannot read this book as though it were written by someone in the 21st century for people in the 21st century.   It’s a piece of history written a long time ago, read it as such.

So considering that, from my perspective, Conrad is very clearly appalled with the worse of white Europeans descending upon the peoples of Africa appearing almost deity like — and exploiting that appearance to the maximum — simply due to their modern technology, their equipment, their immaculate white clothes in a hostile environment of sweat and mud.   What chance would any person who has lived a natural life in a completely natural world have of remaining unaffected by the power and influence over the natural world that white Europeans had at their disposal?

Conrad makes clear that he alone, amongst the white Europeans on the boat, can see the humanity in the people’s of the Congo, while others would just consider them wild animals.   How the sounds of the Congalese connected to a part of him, as only a human could connect to another human.

The only white person in the whole of Africa that Conrad wishes to speak to is Kurtz, the rest he seems to dismiss as arrogant fools and idiots who should never have been there.

One also has to remember that Conrad actually did go on this journey on a steam boat up the Congo to one of the inner stations, he witnessed what the Belgians were actually doing there, and he knew very well what Europe was being told about the people that lived there.   The most telling part of this book is simply Kurtz’s last four words… ‘The horror, the horror!’

When Marlow, the protagonist, finally arrives home and meets Kurtz’s fiancé and she asks him what his final words were he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth because he feels it would crush her to know what he did in her name, as Kurtz only went there to win his fortune in order to be considered worthy to be her husband.   One can quite clearly see the metaphor here, that Conrad himself, when he came back from the Congo, didn’t have anyone to speak to of the horror that he had witnessed being done in the name of the progress of European nations at the expense of those they dehumanise.   There seems to me that if we place Conrad in Marlow’s place, we get to realise that when Conrad was in the Congo, he had no one to understand his feelings of horror, that he only wished to find one person amongst it all that he could talk to.   And when he came home to Europe how was he to explain to the people of Europe the horror that was being done in their name by the worse of them that they would send to Africa on their behalf — and would they even want to listen?

So for me, this is what this book is, Conrad’s description of what he’d experienced in Africa that he felt no one would, or could, listen to; that he felt no one he knew would understand.

If only he could have found just one person at the end of his own journey to talk to who understood.

Joseph’s Page

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Margaret Ogilvy – J.M.Barrie

Having just read ‘The Little White Bird’ and ‘Peter Pan’, it struck me that there may have been a little more to the characters than at first appears.

The character of Peter Pan was based on James’ brother, David, who died aged 13 (so never grew up), leaving the 6 year old James having to try and fill his shoes for his mother.   So it made me wonder who Hook was based on.   At first i thought Hook represented the parents but having read this book i’ve totally had a change of mind.

So my thoughts on the matter are thus… I suppose the clue is in Hook’s first name, also James.   The hand that gets cut off by Peter, a metaphor for the part of James’ childhood, and life, that was taken from him the day his brother died.   The hand is then fed to the ticking crocodile that follows Hook around wanting to consume the rest of him because it likes the taste — so is this another metaphor concerning the inevitable ticking clock of life, and that James felt the loss of his brother was continuously haunting and wanting to consume more of him and his family?

Then there’s Wendy, which having read this book cannot be based upon anyone other than Margaret Ogilvy herself.   He mentions in the book how after his brother died, other local women who lost children would come to her to talk.   Again, Wendy and the lost boys — the lost boys representing the children of the other women who went to join his brother David in heaven (Neverland).

But all that aside, this book was a heartfelt view into James’ home life and very much his relationship with his mother — who he obviously cared about immensely — and is an absolute must read for all fans of J.M. Barrie’s writing.   The book also covers James’ early literary career and what made him want to become a writer.   So a very worth while read.

So what’s next?   After 3 books in a row, i’ll be taking a literary break away from Peter Pan, Neverland and J.M. Barrie as i’ve got a load of books on ‘The Pile’ nagging to get read.   But i’ll definitely be coming back to these three topics in my reading in the not too distant future.

Some more ‘Peter Pan and Neverland’ books.

J. M. Barrie’s Page

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Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

I decided to read this after reading ‘The Toymakers’, in which ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ gets more than a passing mention.

I used to think that ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was a children’s book, but how wrong i was.   Maybe that’s the way the establishment wants everyone to think about it, but it really isn’t for children.   It’s an incredible critique/satire of the society at the time, but unfortunately it is just as relevant today as it was back then.   It’s a shame that society took no notice of what Swift had to say and simply condemned this book to a child’s bookshelf as fantasy nonsense.

For example… hypertension, and its complications, is one of the human race’s biggest killers globally, and it is simply caused by consuming sodium chloride (salt).   Swift knew back when he wrote this book that salt was a luxury of no use to humans and that you soon adjust to not using it and realise that you actually don’t need it.   Yet here we are today stuffing our faces with this debilitating substance that our bodies simply don’t need making ourselves sicker than ever…

I was at first at a great loss for salt, but custom soon reconciled me to the want of it; and I am confident that the frequent use of salt among us is an effect of luxury, and was first introduced only as a provocative to drink, except where it is necessary for preserving flesh in long voyages, or in places remote from great markets; for we observe no animal to be fond of it but man, and as to myself, when I left this country, it was a great while before I could endure the taste of it in anything that I ate.

So if you are one of those people who thought that this was a children’s book, then go and read ‘The Toymakers’ and then read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, you may just get a different view of it.

Jonathan’s Page

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Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie

I’m quite confused by this story.

At 54 years old i really don’t remember ‘Peter Pan’ from my childhood days, but i admit that i had the impression from films and things that he was quite a nice character — as was Tinkerbell.   But, in this, the real story behind it all, Peter Pan isn’t really a nice character at all — and Tinkerbell certainly isn’t either.

Most of the time, Peter is nothing but a gloating little spoiled brat who always has to have his way else he spits his dummy out of his pram.   And Tinkerbell, it has to be said, is a complete little bitch.   But then you get moments in the story, in complete contrast, where the 2 of them are bestowed with all manner of wonderful virtues.

Who i did find interesting, however, was the character of James Hook, who was far more complex than the films, etc., would have us believe — frightened and out of his depth, yet somehow always managing to survive — until the end.

Apparently, the character of Peter Pan was based on Barrie’s older brother who died as a child, and therefore never grew up.   So it does make one wonder just what Barrie thought about his older brother and how he was affected by his death and his parent’s attitude to it.   He was 6 when his brother died and then sent away, from home to school, at 8.   Barrie did write a biographical piece about his mother, ‘Margaret Ogilvy’ which maybe would unearth some clues, so i’m going to read that next to find out.

At the end of it, for now at least, i’m left thinking that this is nothing but a critique by Barrie of how his parents handled his brother’s death, and also parenting in general (as seems to be quite a bit of ‘The Little White Bird’).   Although Barrie became a ward of other children, he never had any children of his own, so there is this to factor into these stories.

One of the things that also stands out for me, is how Peter chops of Hook’s hand and feeds it to the crocodile that is always ticking and haunting Hook for the rest of his life.   Is this a metaphor concerning the death of his brother taking a piece of his parents with him and their inability to move on from the tragedy for the rest of their lives, forever ticking away reminding them of their own mortality?   And Hooks view towards the children maybe adds more clues.

At the end of the day, you can read Peter Pan as a shallow, children’s, make believe, bedtime story book, or you can look deeper into what Barrie’s drive was to write these books in the first place.   It’s certainly very different to Lewis carroll’s drive to write the Alice and Wonderland books — less said about that the better, i think.   But whichever way you decide to read ‘Peter Pan’ i think you’ll certainly enjoy it.   It’s a beautifully written piece of Victorian literature that has stood the test of time and will undoubtedly stand up to a lot more time in the future.

As a bonus, this version of Peter Pan has a ‘Classic Literature, words and phrases’ dictionary at the end (which is nearly as big as the book itself).   So a great help for anyone wanting to have a good Vic Lit adventure.

Some more ‘Peter Pan and Neverland’ books.

J. M. Barrie’s Page

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After Alice – Gregory Maguire

Reading other reviews one has to agree that Gregory has a penchant for using words that are far too big and little used.   But then i think one is maybe missing the point…

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ were very much books of the Victorian age and Gregory’s writing in his spin offs from both simply tends to keep with the language of that age and the words used — he is, after all, a Victorian spin off specialist so why be surprised at the Victorian use of words in his writing?   I would definitely say that all the words i had to quickly look up on my Kindle were Victorian throw backs and to be quite honest they didn’t detract from Ada’s story at all for me.   If anything, they brought a genuineness to Ada’s story in the they kept with the upper middle class Victorian world in which this is set.

And i also find it nice to learn a few new (old and forgotten) words to baffle people with.   Pompous as accused by curmudgeons or simply having fun with language?

There are certainly worse writers out there for using overblown language, and they have no excuse at all for doing so as they are writing contemporary fiction, not Victorian spin offs.

If you can’t be bothered with a little, Victorian style language then maybe this book isn’t for you.   But if you can just accept it’s there for a valid reason and deal with it accordingly and enjoy expanding your vocabulary a little along the way then you’re in for a good yarn.

I read this immediately after reading the original 4 books on Wonderland and i felt it flowed really well from those.

Although, unlike the original Alice books this book is certainly not for young children.   It’s definitely aimed at a more mature audience — those who enjoyed Alice in their childhood who would like to revisit Wonderland as late teens and adults perhaps.

The story does end with several loose ends, which i hope means Gregory will be coming back to Wonderland in the future to finish these loose ends off.

I for one enjoy Gregory’s writing and will always be a fan of his books.

Here be some more ‘Alice and Wonderland’ books.

Gregory’s Page

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The Hunting of the Snark an Agony, in Eight Fits – Lewis Carroll

The last of the 4 books in the Alice series.   Although it’s not actually about Alice because Carroll had stopped chasing after Alice Lidell at this point in time because Alice had grown tall.   He had moved onto another young girl, i believe her name was Gertrude.   So one wonders what he alludes to with the word ‘Snark’.

That aside, it’s a great poem, but the layout on this version leaves a lot to be desired.   But it is a free version so shouldn’t really complain.

Would recommend paying a few pence for a version with a better layout if you do wish to read it.

Here be some more ‘Alice and Wonderland’ books.

Lewis’ Page

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Through the Looking-Glass – Lewis Carroll

As much as these are wonderful stories, if we just take them as stories, the tale behind them is, i think, a rather dark and disturbing one.

Who is this written for? Is it to confuse or calm the young girls that Carroll was chasing after?   Or is it Carroll dealing with his demons?   Or a bit of both?

Here be some more ‘Alice and Wonderland’ books.

Lewis’ Page

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

A classic book that will stand the test of all time, for adults as well as children.

Best of all, it’s completely free on Kindle.

Here be some more ‘Alice and Wonderland’ books.

Lewis’ Page

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Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – Lewis Carroll

I’m having an Alice binge at the moment and decided i needed to go back to the very beginning of the story to see how it came about.

This book is great, not just having the original story, but also letters to and from the author at the time.   A very enlightening piece of literary history which puts the whole Alice and Wonderland thing into a somewhat disturbing perspective which i’ll let everyone else make their own minds up about.

Anyway, disturbance aside, i can’t change history, so i’m going to continue the journey and get straight into ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, which is the re-written and added to edition for public consumption of this original which was written purely for Alice Liddell by Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll).

Definitely something all adults should go back and read – and maybe learn not to take things too seriously, or at least, at face value.

Here be some more ‘Alice and Wonderland’ books.

Lewis’ Page

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