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Caroline Galwey "pedantic romantic" (Essex, U.K.)
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Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
Edition: Paperback

10 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the thing they're not saying about Gone With the Wind, 13 Jan 2008
This review is from: Gone with the Wind (Paperback)
Yes, it's gripping, thought-provoking and well researched, but I find it incredible that only one of these reviewers of Gone With The Wind seems to have noticed the most obvious thing about the book - its breathtaking racism. Margaret Mitchell was not blind to the defects of the Old South, especially the restricted position of women, but in 1000+ pages she never faced up to the basic, ugly fact of humans being owned as property. While she was writing, blacks in the South were being lynched with impunity for such 'crimes' as an inappropriate look at a white person, yet she unblushingly presented the Ku Klux Klan as a league of gallant gentlemen, and freed slaves as a sinister menace. 'How can they hang a nice boy like Tony just for killing a drunken buck...?' Readers, how can you enthuse about this book and still look your black friends in the face?

That's not the only morally dubious thing about it, either. It preaches a nasty, sentimentally sugar-coated version of social Darwinism. To be approved of by the author, you have to be ruthlessly selfish and never let a principle get in the way of your material interests - like Rhett Butler - or, if you insist on being kind and generous, then you must do it wholly by instinct, without ever becoming conscious of your own or anyone else's mental processes - like Melanie. You must never think, or try to act honourably against your inclinations. That's what Ashley does, and, clearly, consciousness makes him impotent. It's extraordinary how many American novels of the inter-war years, those of Hemingway and Walter van Tilburg Clark on the highbrow level, or 'My Friend Flicka' as well as 'Gone with the Wind' in the popular bracket, are full of this distrust of consciousness, reason and imagination, this conviction that those who think can't act. Perhaps it was a historical moment, the Depression and the rise of totalitarianism, that brought on this malaise. Perhaps it's a more lasting weakness of Americans in particular: see Ursula Le Guin's brilliant essay, 'Why are Americans afraid of dragons'? Whatever the cause, it's dangerous, anti-civilisation, and just plain wrong, and it is as important to fight it now as ever. Don't let it slide down your throat as a hidden ingredient in the potent emotional cocktail of Gone With The Wind. Of course it is buried under a mountain of inconsistencies. Scarlett is always having generous emotional impulses - protectiveness towards her little son, fellowship with Melanie - that run counter to what we are generally told about her self-centred nature, though she is never allowed to learn from them. Rhett is not immune to the occasional quixotic, non-self-interested action, like joining the Confederate army in defeat after the siege of Atlanta. Mitchell knew full well that, as characters, they'd be simply unbearable if they lived up to her professed standards of amorality, but she did not alter her standards on that account.

Finally, an editor should have taken a red pencil to the manuscript with a will. If you try reading the book aloud, you soon find out just how full of unnecessary verbiage it is, never saying anything once if it can say it three times.

And yet, the characters have life and lots of it, or they could not have embedded themselves in popular consciousness the way they have. As art, Gone With The Wind is at least successful enough to plunge one into that familiar conflict between moral judgment and the instinct to revel in the sheer richness of life, invention, being. Three stars for that - just don't forget the other.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2009 1:03 AM BST


Young Bond: SilverFin: A James Bond Adventure
Young Bond: SilverFin: A James Bond Adventure
by Charlie Higson
Edition: Paperback

2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The nicest Bond ever?, 21 Mar 2007
If Horowitz, Higson & co. succeed in winning young boys' tastes back from horror, porn and psychotic video games to good old adventure, they'll be doing our civilisation the best turn for decades. If we must have man-eating eels, let's at least have them eating the bad guys too. No matter if the plot is a bit amateurish in places, it all helps with the jolly old British atmosphere.

But will it work? Perhaps this Bond is a bit too obviously a role model for growing boys, rather than (like his adult self) a fantasy figure for boys who never grew up. The soul of honour, he's already too fully formed to develop the seriously mean streak we see in the adult Bond - and he has too many good women in his life to account for that full-fledged misogyny. No trace of later Bond's unconscious snobbery and obsession with status symbols, either. What a disappointment the boy turned out so badly.

Basically, despite the carefully constructed 1930s setting, the values are 21st-century; it's young Bond who has grown up since the time of old Bond. From a literary point of view this may be nonsensical, but socially it's rather heartening - it suggests that we have made some progress. Totalitarianism has lost the historical argument, and thus its seductive power; it's now just a bogey to provide the excitement in children's stories.

Totalitarianism may have lost, but thuggery in its various forms is still alive and well and ready to suck young males into its vortex. Books like this are a sign of the new realization that you can't just tell the thug tendency to go away - you have to somehow moderate it and harness it in the interests of society. Has Charlie Higson set up his pitch a little too far to the respectable side, or just right? I hope it's just right.

Meanwhile here's the best joke in the book - young James arriving at Eton:

'You, boy!' barked a voice and the boy looked round...

'What's your name, boy?'

'Bond, James Bond.'
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2008 7:22 PM GMT


The Last Of The Wine
The Last Of The Wine
by Mary Renault
Edition: Paperback

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it, all aspiring historical novelists, and take note, 15 Feb 2007
This review is from: The Last Of The Wine (Paperback)
In the slew of wordier, more hyped fiction about the classical world that is engulfing us at the moment, I hope some readers are prompted to go back to Mary Renault. Her books are an object lesson in what you can leave out. It's not about research, it's not about pages of painstaking archaeological description leavened by sword-slashing and peplum-ripping, it's about the kind of imaginitive immersion in an ancient culture that can enable the author to present it in its own terms, without explication, but so that the perennial dilemmas of the soul that were present then as now leap across to the modern reader, defamiliarised and sharpened by their alien setting.

The Last of the Wine is about Athens in the time of Socrates, but is above all an Oedipal tragedy of the starkness that you would expect in a culture where fathers had the power of life and death over their children. Alexias finds out that his father never meant him to survive and this knowledge blights their relationship and his whole life, successful and adventurous though it is on the surface. In a bitterly poignant moment, when the father lies dying, he tries to ask forgiveness but Alexias thinks he only wants to be told all over again that he was right; it is symptomatic of how Alexias, unlike his lover Lysis, is too emotionally scarred to escape from the conventions of his doomed society - but Lysis dies (as does Socrates), and Alexias survives, bereft, disillusioned, revealing much more as a narrator than he has understood himself.

For the combination of page-turning narrative brilliance with psychological insight, no one rivals Mary Renault. Read it, read all her other books on ancient Greece, The King Must Die, The Bull from the Sea, The Mask of Apollo, the Alexander trilogy, The Praise Singer. Mouth-watering, stomach-filling writing, the kind of meal one remembers years later.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2012 9:58 AM BST


Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Children's Edition (Harry Potter 6)
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Children's Edition (Harry Potter 6)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the weakest but still stronger than the opposition, 14 Feb 2007
I was disappointed at a first reading of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Mainly because not a lot seemed to happen: the magical number of seven books had to be filled, but you got the feeling that this one had little raison d'etre. At the end of Phoenix everything seemed to be in place for a final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, but pretexts are found for putting it off, and too many of the pages (mercifully fewer than in Phoenix) are filled with unnecessary back story which JKR could have written in her sleep - or fans could have written for her - while key characters like Ron, Hermione and Hagrid are left with almost nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Perhaps most infuriating of all, a key character for whom we had felt more and more interest and sympathy in books 1-5, wondering which way he would eventually jump, turned out to be unequivocally a bad guy. How boring is that? I trust and hope that this isn't Rowling's final word on Professor ... (supply name), but for the moment, things don't look good.

Still, with the tremendous pressure on her to deliver, I feel nothing but sympathy for JK Rowling, and would defend her to the last against the snide army of reviewers (some of whom can't even spell) who are keen to lump her together with cynical purveyors of dumbed-down mass culture, just because her books have made her a lot of money. May I remind everyone who calls the Harry Potter books production-line bestsellers that the first book in the series almost didn't find a publisher and became a success by word of mouth, not hype. The Harry Potter books fall into the same category as The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down as the work of true individuals who have reached deep down inside themselves to produce their visions, not just glanced around at what the crowd seems to want. It is for this very reason, I like to think, that they have struck such a tremendous chord - and it is for this reason, too, that the intellectual establishment hates them so much; it has staked its credibility on cheering on the end of western civilisation, and can't stomach popular art that is neither superficial nor despairing - that takes a moral line and carries a message of hope.

Look at how Rowling constantly deepens and toughens her moral outlook - even mighty Dumbledore's strength fails him, he meets disaster because he trusts too much, but the fact that he fails doesn't make him wrong.

And the sheer exhilaration of the way she plays with her material, so that points raised in the earlier books find new explanations or are seen in a new light, and you can never be sure whether it's pre-planned or she's having second thoughts and improvising, like a supremely talented jazz musician - this is something that emerges more clearly with repeated readings.

If horror is your thing, if all-action story-board-like adventure is your thing, even if perfection is your thing, go elsewhere. But if you want true, unique, individual creativity that doesn't mind wearing its flaws on its sleeve, stick with Harry Potter.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Theatrical Edition Box Set) [DVD]
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Theatrical Edition Box Set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Offered by Shop4World
Price: £12.85

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great achievement but don't let's forget the books, 18 Jan 2007
The films turned out better than I, as a Tolkien fan, had expected, but, the way one does, I immediately started wanting them to be better still. I think what got under my skin was how many of the hard things Jackson's team got right, only to get easy things wrong.

The technically difficult things were a triumph. The monsters, the battles, the scale problems, above all the computer-generated character of Gollum: I can't imagine any of these handled better. The things that were difficult in narrative terms, like the huge amount of back-story, the way the different story-lines diverge, the shortage of character development, were all coped with intelligently by the scriptwriters. Above all, Peter Jackson held his nerve and gave us the `heroic seriousness' and Romantic nostalgia of the Rings wholeheartedly, without irony. The fact that his films won a huge fan base by doing so may come to be seen as a slight but seismic shift in the whole direction of western popular culture, away from triviality and moral relativism, towards a fusion of entertainment and serious purpose.

The actors deserve their share of the credit. Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf was generally praised, but then it's a safe role: Gandalf always has a twinkle in his eye. Christopher Lee's Saruman was great, too, but villains are easy. Far harder were the big straight roles: Frodo, Sam and Aragorn. The honesty and humanity that Elijah Wood and Sean Astin brought to Frodo and Sam made their characters more sympathetic and interesting than they ever were in the book. But even they had the advantage of being the `little guys', and thus winning some instant sympathy. Aragorn, the hero king, was always going to be the acid test. Insecurity about this character in particular has dogged every illustrator and dramatiser of The Lord of the Rings; a diffident, unfocussed voice in the radio dramatisation, a yobbish travesty in the Ralph Bakshi cartoon, virtually absent from the Alan Lee and John Howe illustrations. The whole notion of the Hero, the Leader, had become such an embarrassment that we couldn't even imagine what he ought to look like. So many times in history this ideal has led those who pursued it to disaster. Yet now that the refusal of responsibility has become an even greater problem for us than the lure of power, perhaps it is time for the hero to return. Viggo Mortensen's role in the films took all this background on board, and he threw himself into it without preening or debunking, in a performance that may come to be seen as iconic. (And the significance of which is only enhanced by the woeful failure of the leading men of the other mythological epics which quickly followed LOTR's success: Troy, King Arthur, Alexander and the like.)

So many difficult hurdles crossed, then, but the downfall of these films was a problem that could easily have been avoided: exaggeration - making things too obvious. One of Tolkien's great strengths is his ability to root his fantastical story in reality. He is careful never to let his characters face completely impossible odds. His monsters work by veiled menace rather than by overwhelming force.

Unkind connections could be made between Peter Jackson's early career in splatter movies and his lack of subtlety in this respect. Why does it follow that, if ten thousand Orcs against two thousand men of Rohan is exciting, 10,000 against 300 is that much more exciting? If the Ringwraiths, instead of being shadowy insubstantial figures, have spiked iron boots and hefty steel swords, Aragorn's ability to chase off a whole pack of them goes beyond breathtaking to absurd. In the book, the Eye of Sauron the Dark Lord appears only as a gleam of red through the clouds, its menace felt rather than seen. Who thinks it's more effective to depict it as a huge disembodied eyeball, suspended between two metal prongs and swivelling from side to side like some kind of organic radar?

Examples multiply. It's not enough for Gandalf to recall King Theoden to his true self: we have to watch Theoden's decrepit make-up being scoured off frame by frame. It's not enough for Denethor to send his soldiers to their doom: we have to see their slaughter intercut with him dribbling fruit juice like blood from a vampire's fangs. Vulgar, obvious, cardboard, cartoonish: why invite these insults when you obviously have enough intelligence and know-how to avoid them?

Underlying these embarrassments was a slight but uncomfortable sense that, for the film-making ensemble as a whole, it was the dark side of Tolkien's vision that absorbed them, rather than the bright side; that they were just a little more interested in his monsters and grotesques than his visions of radiant beauty. Moria and Mordor were most convincing infernos, the Orcs were lovingly detailed; Rivendell and Lorien were unreal and faded by comparison. You never got to see how good the Elves could be at enjoying themselves. The hobbits, yes, the Elves, no. Tolkien believed and felt that good was both more substantial and more interesting, more mysterious and alluring, than evil. To present it as such was a challenge which the film-makers just failed to meet.

It will be a pity if the existence of the films results in children and teenagers paying less attention to the books. These films are wonderful, but they are only one interpretation of The Lord of the Rings; the great thing about Middle-Earth is that everyone can build their own. It's every reader's personal, as well as shared, vision. Let Peter Jackson & Co. lead you there, but don't let them limit you. It's the last thing they would have wanted.


My Little Pony the Movie [VHS]
My Little Pony the Movie [VHS]
VHS

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars more than a plastic toy, 25 Nov 2003
Little girls love anything to do with ponies, especially if they're long-haired, pink and glittery, so this film would have done well even if it hadn't been any good. But it is. What other reviewers haven't mentioned yet is that it's packed with excellent songs - far more than a Disney movie has - just for the fun of it. The best characters are the brilliantly funny witch, Hydia, and her two daughters, who just aren't evil enough to be a credit to the family. Wait till you see the scene where Hydia threatens the girls with the ultimate punishment - making them eat ice cream. I'm so glad this video is still available from Amazon.com. We hired it in Australia when my daughters were tiny, and have been overcome by a smooze-like wave of nostalgia on finding it again.


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