Friday, September 28, 2012

The Seven Basic Plots

Photo Credit
I never went through a formal literature program in high school.

My family questioned if I really needed it.


"My epic," said Emily, diligently devouring plum cake, "is about a very beautiful high-born girl who was stolen away from her parents when she was a baby and brought up in a wood-cutter's hut."
"One av the seven original plots in the world," murmured Father Cassidy.
"Nothing. Just a bad habit av thinking aloud. Go on."
"She had a lover of high degree but his family did not want him to marry her because she was a woodcutter's daughter--"
"Another av the seven plots--excuse me."
"--so they sent him away to the Holy land on a crusade and word came back that he was killed and then Editha--her name was Editha--went into a convent--"
Emily paused for a bite of plum cake and Father Cassidy took up the strain.
"And now her lover comes back very much alive, though covered with Paynim scars, and the secret av her birth is discovered through the dying confession of an old nurse and a birthmark on her arm."
"How did you know?" gasped Emily in amazement.
"Oh, I guessed it--I'm a good guesser."

(Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery)

I can relate to Father Cassidy. ;) I had Bleak House pretty much down and docketed when I met each character--granted, not everything, but with Dickens you can always expect a few surprises. Not only Dickens, but Haggard, Trollope, and many others.  And each new movie I watch, I can generally guess the character's hidden secret within about twenty seconds (or less) of meeting them.

It doesn't spoil the fun. After all, when you've read pretty much every day of your life for years and years,  you can start guessing after a while.

In fact, you know that a book's really good when it surprises you completely.

But one of Father Cassidy's comments has intrigued me ever since I read it--and that was three years ago. I never bothered to look up the answer until last month. What are the seven original plots? Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't know, but I thought it would be good fun to look at them today. :) In fact, let's take it up a notch and include the seven basic conflicts as well. The titles I include below are ones I have read and enjoyed.

The Seven Basic Conflicts
According to Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary, conflict is "Struggling with difficulties; a striving to oppose, or overcome."  Every story needs conflict to resolve a situation. In some instances it is to right a wrong; in others, it is to prevent wrong from being done in the first place, in others it is to better something that may not have been bad, but simply lacking.

1. Man v Woman
Generally, when there are gender differences coupled with mankind's depravity, it's easy to hit some tense situations. Husband and wife, brother and sister, father and daughter, mother and son. This conflict is used all to often in egalitarian propagandist literature to prove that women can do anything a man can, but it can be used biblically and with great effect to show that men and woman are complementary--both equal, different roles. It may not be the main conflict, or the only conflict, but it is there all the same.

Example of Man v. Woman: North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

2. Man v Nature
The book in which a person is cast on a desert island with nothing but money, and has to find a way to survive.

Example of Man v. Nature: The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne

3. Man v Environment
This is generally where you'll find war stories. For instance, a man is about to marry when he is drafted to fight in World War II. Or it could be a boy growing up in a non-Christian home. Or someone fighting a tyrannical political system. It's conflict with atmosphere that affects, and sometimes limits, the choices the character can make, later on moving to the character overcoming the atmosphere. 

Example of Man v. Environment: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas

4. Man v Machine
Jules Verne is a classic example of Man v. Machine. While some weird stuff has been written with robots and whatnot, a better conflict is found in men trying to develop new scientific discoveries,  or a new kind of gun threatening to wipe out an entire village.

Example of Man v. Nature: The Begum's Millions, by Jules Verne (It's been a while since I read this one. I remember it as being good, but proceed with discretion.)

5. Man v The Supernatural
This is a tricky one, but it can be done well.  Basically, this plot needs to take the character out of his normal sphere and place him at warfare with demonic influences. This needs to be handled very carefully to conform to the standards of God's Word, but written with tact and care it can be done. To be done correctly, I think authors need to be very careful not to make up their own supernatural powers, but portray the ones that already exist--namely, angels and demons.

Example of Man v. The Supernatural: The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

6. Man v Self
This is where the character has a physical or mental weakness that must be overcome. A missing limb, a difficult childhood, a struggle with alcohol, or a past sin that keeps coming and tripping him up.

Example of Man v. Self: Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter

7. Man v God
The man pits himself against God to try to overcome him, or the man has a hard time accepting something that God has decreed to take place in his life. Examples of this include trying to be master of the fate of others, or of one's own life events.

Example of Man v. God: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

The Seven Original Plots
There is some amount of literary debate as to the number of plots that actually exist. Theories postulate one basic plot all the way up to thirty-six. But that would be a long blog post, so we're going to stick with seven.

1. The Quest
This plot is where a person must achieve an almost impossible goal to overcome evil. A quest to better himself or his people.

Example of The Quest: The Brethren, by H. Rider Haggard

2.Voyage and Return
The character is transported to another world, often having to resolve conflict there, which in turn resolves a conflict in himself or his own world. This is similar to the quest in that it is a journey.

Example of Voyage and Return: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

3. Rebirth
The protagonist is limited or harmed by something withing himself or others around him. Someone else must reach in to help him overcome his limitations, and he is "reborn" to a new and better character. The born-again Christian is the ultimate example of rebirth.

Example of Rebirth: St. Elmo, by Augusta Jane Evans

Comedy is not humor, according to it's original definition. According to this source, "In the classic definition of Comedy plots the characters are thrown into a state of confusion, darkness and bewilderment where resolution can only come when these constricting factors have been played out to their extremes.

Example of Comedy: Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

The character makes a decision that brings about his own downfall.

Example of Tragedy: The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

6. Overcoming the Monster
The character must overcome an evil person or a dark power that is controlling his world and preventing goodness.

Examples of Overcoming the Monster: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (My reviews: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

7. Rags to Riches
The character is suddenly taken from poverty to riches, and in some cases (but not all) loses his riches again along the way, ending by valuing his original humble position.

Example of Rags to Riches: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

So there you have the seven basic conflicts and the seven basic plots. Do you have any examples to add? I would love to see them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Essence of Autumn

It hurts to say goodbye to summer.

The wash of waves on giant inland lakes, the scent of grilling hot dogs, the bright green of leaves and grass, the fun of mosquito bites during weekend picnics.

Um, maybe not the last.

But however much it hurts to say goodbye to fall, I dearly love to welcome autumn to my little corner of America. The crackling crunch of warm fall leaves as I take brisk autumn walks...warm slices of apple pie dripping with cinnamon...favorite wool birthday season...In former years it brought the thrill of brand-new school textbooks and the blank lined pages of notebooks soon to be filled. But it doesn't this year. It's rather funny, but you have to say goodbye to things twice in life. I said goodbye to formal education in December, but now I'm saying it again as the new school year starts for many others of my acquaintance.

In this season, when my sadness at saying goodbye to some things is mixed with my gladness at saying hello to others, I most enjoy L.M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill. Many people know Montgomery for her Anne series, which I also enjoy, but Jane is her best book ever written, and the epitome of hope.


The Story

Jane has lived in Toronto with her mother and her grandmother all eleven years of her existence. Or so she thinks. She's as happy as anybody can be living in dreary old 60 Gay Street, with a spiteful grandmother and the knowledge that her Mummy isn't happy. Not really happy, in spite of the little smile wrinkles around her eyes, and the laugh as clear as the ring of a bell. When a malicious classmate tells her what she never knew--that her father is still living, and her parents separated soon after she was born--she understands the bitter spark in her grandmother's eyes, and her mother's hopeless little ways. None of the Kennedy's liked Andrew Stuart, and a marriage that went south only served to cement their opinion of him.
Then, out of the blue, Andrew Stuart writes to say that he would like to get to know his daughter, and she is to come to spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. Jane is absolutely sure she will hate everything about it, and him.

But the moment she looks into his impish laughing eyes, she knows she has found a kindred spirit: Dad. With a full summer meeting Islanders--the Jimmy Johns, Step-a-yard, Polly Garland, and the Snowbeams--Jane comes into her own, and grows in confidence and happiness. The love that she shares with her father in a dream of a little cottage, with the cats First Peter and Second Peter and a dog named Happy are the dearest days she has ever had.

Winter comes, and Jane ticks off the days that must pass before she can go back Home to the Island. Her grandmother is furious, and her mother is very sad, but Jane is determined that she will return to the place where she can be real and loved. The only teasing worry that she has is the attraction between her father and a Miss Lillian Morrow, egged on by her sweet Aunt Irene.

Another delightful summer passes, in which Jane is little housekeeper for her father. Gradually she begins piecing together the reasons for he parents' separation, and a small, tenacious hope grows in her heart that they will return to each other. Both her parents warn her that it can never be, but she refuses to give up.

Then, when Jane turns thirteen, her father finds some success in his writing, and Aunt Irene convinces Jane that he will seek a divorce and marry Miss Morrow. Incensed at the thought of such a tragedy, Jane determines to find out the truth from the only one who can tell her--her father.

My Thoughts
This is a beautiful story of a daughter who honored both of her parents in spite their differences. Full of dreamy little bits of life--fat doughnuts and twisty pine trees, and the salt spray of the ocean-- Jane of Lantern Hill will enchant you. I loved her mother's pretty dresses and the hilarious episodes with Persian cats and soaking codfish. Full of delightful descriptions from the eyes of Jane, you will laugh and cry as you befriend her forever. Each Autumn as she says goodbye to her father, and returns to a house where she does not feel at home, I can relate to her feelings myself as I say goodbye to places I love every summer. It's the sweet pathos of parting with hope for the future. 

Perhaps Jane's relationship with her father struck a chord with me because of my kinship with my own father. Though I do not know the pain of separated family, I love how that they treasure each other's hearts, and find such kindred pleasures. Every girl should know the love of a father. Whether or not you know the love of an earthly one, I pray that every daughter who reads this knows the love of her Heavenly Father--who promises to be a father to the fatherless, when our earthly fathers are not there for us. And I hope that every daughter from a broken home will know the hope of Jane Stuart, and find it abundantly fulfilled.

Take a few moments to relax, and settle down with a thirteen-year-old girl from the race that knows Joseph. May you love her at first sight as much as I did.

Lady Bibliophile

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Another Birthday and Two Book Reviews

After the sweet humiliation of being hacked by my younger sister (thank-you, Junior B!) I have recovered enough to think about giving you all a hobbit's birthday. As you know, the birthday hobbit gives presents to all his guests, and I shall happily provide a group present of an extra post this week. ;)

Before We Begin
Before we return to our normal book review, it is my pleasure to wish Mr. Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit) a very happy birthday. I enjoy knowing that his is the day before mine. :) Check out my review of The Hobbit, in which Bilbo is mainly featured, here.

In celebration of his birthday, I have posted the first verses of his poem The Road Goes Ever On, and a brand-new trailer for Peter Jackson's upcoming movie adaptation of The Hobbit.

The Road Goes Ever On

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

And now, back to our regular scheduled programming. :)

The Review

Since My Lady Bibliophile launched earlier this year, we've reviewed many books--fiction and non-fiction, Christian and secular. Most were ones I have read and recommend. A few were ones that I found lacking. Some of them are casual favorites I enjoy upon occasion, while others are very close to my heart.

Today, in celebration of my birthday weekend, I would like to review a couple of books that are very dear favorites of mine. They have to be reviewed together because they are companion volumes, and more than that, they belong to each other. They embody the very spirit of the Scots, and the very heart of God's love: in the form of a simple fisherman, young Malcolm MacPhail.

I introduce to you The Fisherman's Lady and The Marquis' Secret, by George MacDonald.

Griselda Campbell had been a little-known and even lesser-understood enigma who had lived the past twenty years of her lonely life as a virtual recluse with a distant relative. Her passing in the very prime of life was greeted by those few who knew her not so much with mourning as with curiosity. Griselda's life was shrouded in mystery. But hers was not the only past kept carefully shielded from would-be intruders. As she had long ago withdrawn into the seclusion of her inner thoughts, so had several others. And now it seemed the secret which bound them all together would go quietly to the grave with poor Griselda. For she alone had held the missing piece to the puzzle without which none of the others would ever know the full scope of the truth...

The Fisherman's Lady
 Malcolm MacPhail is a strong and simple fisherman, supporting his blind grandfather in the coastal town of Port Strathy. A lover of God and nature, his is a kind and simple existence, full of helping those weaker, and seeking to know more about his Maker. When the laird of Port Strathy comes to visit his estate with his beautiful daughter, a new realm opens to Malcolm--the realm of nobility and love. After a misunderstanding between the laird and Malcolm's piping grandfather, he and Malcolm  come to  an understanding of each other, and the laird hires Malcolm as the part-time skipper of his new little yacht. Somehow, with the coming of the laird, his life becomes more complicated, and he is soon navigating the tricky waters of station and birth. When his supposed grandfather confesses that Malcolm is no relation to him at all, Malcolm is thrown back upon the realization that he has no idea who he is. He even teasingly suggests to his grandfather that he may be of the race of the terrible Campbells, that murdered Duncan's relatives in the massacre at Glencoe. As the story unfolds, Malcolm persists with Christian character as he finds out who Duncan is, who he is, and how this will affect his lady-love Florimel. With added mystery from the mysterious midwife Bobby Catanatch and threatened shame to Malcolm at the hands of Lizza Findlay; a mad and disfigured man who roams the Port Strathy beach, and a horrible woman who claims to be Malcolm's mother, his past may be more disgraceful that he had ever feared.

The Marquis' Secret
Upon the laird's death, Malcolm vows to protect the Lady Florimel any way he can.  But that's no easy thing to do. She goes to town with some rich cousins, and though she accepts him as her groom, she has a much cooler attitude towards him than she had when her father was alive. Malcolm watches her blunder over the love of a poor painter in favor of a scamp of a laird, and eventually determines to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his fellow fisherman and a friend of Florimel's he persuades her to spend some time away from her cousins at a friend's little estate by the sea. There he and the Lady Clementina discuss many spiritual matters while Florimel sits by and listens. But she is unaffected, and when they all return to town, Malcolm realizes that more must be done. Added to this is the fear that he may never see the blind piper again, for when the old man finds out who Malcolm's family is, he disappears leaving no trace behind him. When the midwife Bobby Catanatch tries to poison him, and Florimel sinks deeper into the clutches of the young laird, Malcolm implements a bold scheme that, if successful, will rescue her and enable him to take up his destined position. But Florimel remains unmoved, and if he cannot persuade her, he may lose a woman very dear to his heart.

My Thoughts
Full of gentle drama and classic humor, both books are excellently written by the Scottish preacher George MacDonald. Read it for the tale itself. The moral lessons will sink in along with the gentle wash of Port Strathy waves and Malcolm's Scottish brogue. The first book contains dozens of laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are occasioned by Duncan's stubborn Scottish logic. With tender poignancy, The Fisherman's Lady and The Marquis' Secret  drift through quiet mystery and gentle romance that you will not want to miss.
Those who love Spencer's Fairy Queene (which I have not read) will enjoy MacDonald's tribute to his work in The Fisherman's Lady with the name of Malcolm's love interest, Florimel.
I do use white-out here and there.
I read these books about every year and a half, they are such favorites of mine. This week I am enjoying them to the gentle lap of waves on the shore, and the bright scent of pine trees while our family takes a vacation together. I count Malcolm as an old friend of mine, and delight to spend a week of comradeship enjoying his adventures. George MacDonald writes  with a combination of the gentle sentiment of Gene Stratton-Porter, and the all-out drama of Charles Dickens. His stirring adventures twine themselves around your heartstrings and deepen your faith in a loving Creator. Two wonderful books to read when curled up with a cup of tea or cocoa, in the darkness of an Autumn evening.

Lady Bibliophile

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Well, the elves have been very busy lately. On Sunday Lady Bibliophile celebrates her 18th birthday! Junior Bibliophile has concocted a very special surprise guest post and she hopes you will enjoy these birthday wishes.


Lady Bibliophile has been such a blessing. As far as books go, she has helped Junior grow to love them. Junior has been introduced to many treasures in her ever expanding library.  She is very obliging when Junior asks, "What shall I read next?"  "Oh," says Lady B, "You're welcome to look on my shelves." Off trots Junior to find yet another treasure on those shelves. If it wasn't for Lady B's persistence, Junior wouldn't be reading half as much as she does now. But sometimes when Lady B says, "What an epic novel!!!" Junior reads it as well.

Unfortunately, Junior can't tell you what Lady B's favorite book is, because there are too many she likes. However, Charles Dickens is Lady B's favorite author. And if a person's favorite author is Dickens then she is a fully bred bibliophile. ;)

Lady Bibliophile likes to leisurely read through a novel, while Junior gobbles up  the book and has a stomachache afterwards.  (Lady B sighs, "Really, Junior.")

Lady B. and Junior have had so many memory making times together. Whether it's kittens or story excerpts we have had some of the best times together.


Empire Bluffs, Michagan


Sister, you have been such a blessing to me and our family. As you enjoy your 18th year may the Lord bless you and cause His face to shine upon you. You are the best sister. You will always have a special place in my heart. I love you!

Love and blessings,

Junior Bibliophile

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Difference Between Classic and Cliche

I  was sitting at my computer, drafting a blog post, and trying to explain to my readers that I was taking a break from blogging. It was really so traumatic that I instead decided to spend the time drafting my posts for the next two weeks, which I am spending on vacation and at a writer's conference.

That was much easier.

One of the questions I have often had in my reading is this: how do I tell the difference between classic and cliche books? On the surface, it doesn't seem like a big deal. But when you dig a little farther, it's the difference between TV dinners and homemade cooking. It's a matter of what's healthy, and what's processed. Believe it or not, some of the literary offerings today are so processed that I'm surprised they don't say "contains methyclorisothiazolinine" on the back. I've probably been guilty of reading some of them (haven't we all eaten Ding Dongs from time to time?) But in today's post, I hope to include some helpful pointers for discerning between the two, so that, if you do choose to indulge, you'll do so with your eyes open.

Let's start with the cliche:

A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel -Wikipedia

This is cliche:

(Oh, how I wish I could find Volumes II and III!)

Cliche is trite sentiment--the couple swearing undying love and then having a marriage crisis in the next book. The beautiful young lady who has a stereotypical prejudice against the handsome young man, before he saves her life. (Not talking Pride and Prejudice here, more like The Exiles.) The pauper who becomes a prince because he saves the life of the king. The half-human half-angel who must save her colony on Mars.

This editorial review expresses it perfectly. (Note: all identifying names have been removed, but the original source is here.)

 Here, with his coauthor and daughter, the Christy Award winner once again dashes off exactly the type of formula fiction that is the bane of the literary crowd and the joy of his devoted readership... The protagonist of this first volume, [ female name removed], encounters catastrophes that unfold relentlessly: neglect by a gambling, adulterous father; the accidental death of her mother; the supposed death of a sibling; a dashing but unworthy suitor who loves her for her money; an indifferent stepmother; a shoot-out in the bayou; and, of course, romance with a boy-next-door type. Along the way, [she] discovers that Catholicism does not offer her the hope of her [boyfriend's]Protestantism, and she predictably converts. The years pass quickly (approximately 20 years in less than 300 pages), which makes for sketchy character development. Like cotton candy, this novel's substance is thin, the plot line is treacly and the dialogue is sometimes stiff. Yet all the elements of successful light adventure romance for evangelical Christian readers are here, and M's faithful following will likely devour this new series. --Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
They said it perfectly. Cliche is the cotton candy of modern fiction. And historical works, for that matter. The King's Blue Ribband is over a century old, and horrifically shallow.

But hang on a minute, here. Before we start looking with guilt at all our old favorites, let's talk about classics. It's easy to mix the two up, and we don't want to be throwing out the homegrown organics  in our search for excellence.


The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality. --Wikipedia

The prince saving the king can be a shining example of classic literature. A couple's struggling marriage isn't all that cheesy when you're in the midst of it yourself. A battle won, a savior to his people, the love between a man and a woman--these can all be very classic things indeed.

Kidnapped is a classic, because it shows the struggle of oppression against tyranny. Pride and Prejudice is a classic, because it shows a man and woman overcoming prejudices about each other. The Hobbit is a classic because it's a lovable adventure with a bunch of relatable characters.

So How Do We Tell Between The Two?

1. Cliche is politically correct. Classic is timeless principles.
The whole point of cliche is that it doesn't stand the test of time. Classic principles are found in Scripture, and can be used time and time and time again without wearing thin. Cliche principles are trite and shallow, and don't really stick when the going gets tough.

2. Cliche is selfish. Classics are selfless.
 Cliche is all about satisfying each of the characters. Classic is about leaving some unfinished threads, some disappointed expectations, some endings that are not completely happy.

3. Cliche is Hollywood. Classics are real.
Cliche romances get to marry the movie star and live in the Bahamas. Classic romances get the real husband, who will be true "until death do us part." Cliche gets the big house, the fancy car, the beautiful girl, the life of his dreams. Classic has his dreams shaped and refined as the Lord moves him to a deeper understanding of His purpose for him. In classic, some dreams have to die. In cliche, every wildest dream is fulfilled.

4. Cliche is entertainment. Classics are tools.
 Cliche is there to make the big bucks. There's a reason why they're touted as beach reads, ones you can polish off in an afternoon. Cliche will give you the satisfying moment with the processed aftertaste about an hour later. Classic will move you, will impact your life, will change you for the better, and inspire you to advance the Kingdom of Christ whether or not the author is a Christian.

5. Sometimes Cliche is Classic and Classic is Cliche.
Some books blur the lines. Otherwise I wouldn't have reviewed a Davis Bunn last week. Some books are definitely cliche, but their impact is classic. Some books are definitely classic, but their impact is cliche. There is no hard and fast rule to hold up a book too. In the end, God will show you personally what's worthwhile--classic-- for you to keep re-reading. I read a few cliche books that are really classics in my life.

Are Cliche Books Bad?

Will processed cheese kill us?

Cotton candy is fun to eat once in a while, and cliche books can be quite entertaining upon occasion. It's not a sin to read cliche books. The whole point of cliche is that it was originally--original. It's been overused a time or two, but that doesn't make it inherently bad.

Just don't get your healthy physical protein from processed cheese, and your healthy mental protein from processed books. Save them for special occasions (they're great to read when you're sick, or on holiday) and don't feel guilty for enjoying them once in a while. Relaxation has benefits of it's own, and is certainly not a waste of time, when used properly.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on classic and cliche--are you a "classic only" or a mixture of the two?

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bleak House


I've continued to celebrate Dickens' bicentennial all year long. :) It's been a good year, fellow bibliophiles--in the book realm at least. Having just finished all 900+ pages of Bleak House, I thought you all might enjoy a review. Let me not hear any muffled mutterings, for Bleak House, whatever it's name, is the least bleak element of the story.

And it was fearsome fun.

The Story
 The Court of Chancery has dragged it's feet over the years until the Jardyce and Jarndyce case has become a laughingstock in London society. Ever since the old gentleman who wrote two wills has left his headaches to his kinsfolk, the question of who gets the money has wreaked merry havoc amongst his surviving descendants. Maybe not merry, come to think of it. There's been more than one suicide over the whole affair. We join in the hunt when elderly John Jarndyce, who will have nothing to do with the case, takes in two of his younger cousins, both wards of the court. Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, both orphans, are in need of a loving home, and being a loving fellow himself, he delights to take them in. For Ada's comfort, he employs a young woman as a companion, namely Esther Summerson, who's mysterious past has not prevented him from providing for her ever since her aunt died. It is from Esther's perspective that we hear his half of the story, and a dear sweet narrator she is, too--always doing her duty to make others happy. These congenial companions make their home at Bleak House, which doesn't live up to it's name, and settle into a steady life as they await Richard and Ada's coming of age. With visits from the childish Harold Skimpole, who is too innocent to be bothered about money, to the bluff old Boythorn, both friends of Jarndyce's, the first part of their existence is a very happy one indeed.

Lady Dedlock is bored to death--bored to death with her house, her husband, and her society. Not bored enough to do anything shocking, mind you, but wishing that life would not be so utterly insipid as to force itself upon her notice. She's another suitor in the Jarndyce case, but an indifferent one, as she's well enough off not to need it. Her husband Sir Leicester Dedlock dotes upon her with all the courtly grace of the aristocracy. He's much older than her, but that's beside the point. Suddenly her life takes a turn that is not so boring after all. The ruthless family lawyer, Tulkinghorn, brings in a piece of paper that causes her to faint upon seeing the writing. He sets up a cat-like watch upon her, absolutely determined to find out what would cause her to be disturbed. Upon the death of a mysterious copyist, a little London sweeper named Jo leads Lady Dedlock in disguise to the place where the copyist is buried. Tulkinghorn finds out, and picks up the trail.

It's time for Richard Carstone to choose a profession, but he's rather indifferent to any of them, as he hopes to come out well in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and be set up for life with an inheritance. For love of Ada and a desire to procure a means for them to marry, he takes up medicine, law, and the army, each failing one by one. John Jarndyce refuses to allow the engagement to continue, and Richard immediately breaks off the relationship with the kind old gentleman. A friend of Jarndyce's, a young Doctor Woodcourt, visits them often while they are in London, and someone begins to fall in love with him--don't worry, you'll know who. ;) Jarndyce proposes to Esther, who upon consideration, resolves to do her duty and love him as he has been so generous to her.

Esther falls ill with smallpox from coming in contact with the street boy Jo, and loses her beauty completely. Woodcourt returns a hero from abroad, though none the richer, only to find his lady-love engaged to someone else. Tulkinghorn discovers Lady Dedlock's secret and tells her he will expose her to Sir Leicester and she will be publicly shamed throughout London. Richard persists in staking his whole life on the Chancery suit, gradually falling into debt and decline.

Caught between all of this, Esther's loving heart is forced to watch as those around her make irreversible decisions that will affect everyone around them. Determined to bear her lot cheerfully, and love and serve those around her, she endeavors to be a shining beacon of hope to Richard and Ada, her guardian, and even Lady Dedlock, in order to prevent them from ruining their lives completely.

But the cruel claws of despair and pride have their hold. Will it be too late to extricate them?

And will Esther and Jarndyce find the path to happiness?

The Movie

I have not yet seen the 2004 adaptation of Bleak House; I will let my readers know when it is available for review. I have decided to include the trailer, as it is quite an intriguing introduction to the book itself, but I cannot recommend the movie one way or the other. Note that there is a brief view of Tulkinghorn and the deceased copyist at 0:28.

For more information regarding the movie, check out the official website here.

My Thoughts

Oh, yes. This is Dickens.

Hilarious caricatures of legalistic missions-work, heart-stopping drives through fog enshrouded London, constant fighting between life and death, never-ending tension. A must-read for any Dickens fan. I would recommend that you read Great Expectations and Little Dorrit before trying Bleak House, as it's some of his heavier stuff, but if you enjoy the former, then you'll love to continue on to his tirade on the Court of Chancery. It's bittersweet and definitely satisfactory.

Dickens contains a little language here and there, which I use correction tape on.

Esther is the best heroine I have ever found that does her duty without dragging the reader through despair while doing it. She does it humbly and cheerfully, and Dickens pulls off her first-person narrative with brilliant mastery. Esther alone makes it worth the read. John Jarndyce also deserves a round of applause for his fatherly love and Christian nobility. With his Growlerys and his gentle persuasion and his sacrificial guardianship of all three young people, he wins the hearts of all who read about him. My favorite secondary character was definitely the detective Bucket. I know I'm not supposed to like police-inspectors who ferret out everybody's past, but there you have it, and it can't be helped. I think he was of the race that knows Joseph, and I could feel his spirit of comradeship.

I appreciate how much life Dickens breathes into each of his characters. Every one of them has a different personality and a different plot, and you couldn't do without them. From the slimy little Guppy to the dutiful Prince Turveydrop to the delightfully disciplined Bagnet family. Honestly, I love them all so much that it hurts to leave any out, and there are a lot more I wish I could have included.

Dickens also threw in a couple of moral dilemmas that were biblically handled, much better than I've seen in other literature. (Orczy's Lord Tony's Wife was one of them. *shudder* Badly done indeed.) Esther often receives secret confidences, and gives out such wise and helpful advice that I was refreshed. Take the case of Caddy Jellyby wanting to keep her engagement secret. Bravo, Esther.

Those who listened to me discuss Bleak House while I read it might have a different impression than I meant to give. After long reading sessions, I would come out and say  "Lost another one today" or sometimes two or three, as the case might be, with my little twisty drama grin on. Needless to say, you won't end with everyone you started with.

With Dickens, there are no guarantees.

Bleak House wins a hands-down Lady Bibliophile approval, and I recommend that you read it for yourself to celebrate his 200th anniversary.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rare Earth

Perhaps some of my friends and fellow bibliophiles remember a tag I participated in earlier this year. One of my questions on the tag was "what are three benefits to modern fiction?"

"Because they are set during current events."

The person who thought up that answer--two people, actually--really answered brilliantly.

Think about it: Dickens wrote modern fiction. Gaskell wrote modern fiction. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote modern fiction.  John Buchan wrote modern fiction. Oh, granted, it's old and historical to us, but to them it was real and current. Real historical fiction is the stuff of George MacDonald and H. Rider Haggard--but Dickens and Doyle were London Times Bestsellers. (ahem!)

Gives pause for thought, doesn't it?

I enjoy a piece of current fiction every once in a while. Granted, I haven't found many, but every once in a while I find a gem.

One I enjoyed reading last Sunday was Rare Earth, by Davis Bunn.

Bunn is a conundrum in the writing world. He's one of the authors that I've watched grow in his writing talent, and seen improve greatly. Once he found that his genre was political thrillers rather than modern romances, he really took off, and I was intrigued to check him out further. He's travelled all over the world, so he really knows the places he writes about. And he's gone from laying the emotions all out on the table (i.e. Hullo--here's a girl. Let's have a wedding!) to making his love interests much more subtle and realistic. I don't like all his books, but here and there I find one worth a re-read. Rare Earth was one of them.

A Word Before I Begin
Rare Earth is the sequel to Lion of Babylon, which I read, enjoyed, and recommend. While both stories can stand alone, they are best read in sequence.
Bunn writes in fast-action style rather than slow psychological revelations. He's a fun read to knock out in a entire day, and especially good when one needs something lighter to read after just finishing Dicken's Bleak House. In other words, while I wouldn't center my whole reading diet around Davis Bunn's style, he's a nice filler read to bridge the gap between one heavy read and another.

The Review
Marc Royce has returned from Baghdad with purpose. (Lion of Babylon) He's not quite sure where his life is headed, but now that he has healed from the passing of his wife, he has come to a crossroads. Is he ready to move on? Can he take the risk of committing again, and watching part of his life slip away from his control? He's not sure.

But he's tired of being a bookkeeper in an official Washington corporation, and something needs to happen soon.

Then his employer, Ambassador Walton, calls him to a secret meeting with a UN official, to talk about a dangerous situation in Kenya. With the country fractured by recent volcano eruptions, and tribes trapped in refugee camps, the opportunity for corruption and bribe is begging to be taken. An independent UN security provider, Lodestone Associates, has increased turnover tenfold in ten months, and no-one understands why.On top of that, one Israeli doctor, Serge Korban, has gone missing from a refugee camp. With Lodestone security forces on the ground in Kenya, and profit pouring in to their company, top Washington diplomats suspect illegal operations going on.  But they have no idea what or why. So they send in trained and talented Agent Royce to discover what's really going on. And to do that, they find him a place in the Lodestone company.
When he arrives at the Kenyan Refugee camp where Serge Korban worked, he meets Korban's sister Kitra, a nurse who worked with her brother among the suffering Africans. She is convinced that Lodestone is behind her brother's disappearance, and will have nothing to do with Marc when she finds he is working from this same company. But with his love of Christ and quiet diplomacy, he gradually restores order to the chaotic mass of people, and wins the respect of the camp elders. Then he makes Kitra tell him what she knows. With his job well executed, he catches the eye of the UN administrator of the district, Fredrick Uhuru, who promotes him to the position of making sure three camps are supplied with necessities instead of one. And he bases him in Nairobi instead of the refugee camp. The two men who transfer Marc to Nairobi are Lodestone employees, both seemingly good men, and giving indication that they can find the information that Marc needs.

With official permission from Walton, Marc lets Boyd Crowder and his aide in on his secret investigation. Together, they discover that something much bigger than kidnapping is going on. In Marc's investigations in Nairobi slums, tribe elders tell him of UN officials who evacuate whole camps and send them off of their tribal inheritance. The evacuations are in random places, and obviously taking place under fraudulent UN sanction.

Then Lodestone catches wind of his investigation, and transfers him immediately. He has 72 hours of leave to conclude his mission. It's not enough, and he buys a little more time with a fake passport.

Slowly the pieces pull together. But questions remain. Why did Kitra and Serge come to Africa? What is so valuable about the land these officials are seizing? Will Marc be able to rescue the kidnapped Israeli?

And what will he give to preserve a miracle amongst the African people?

You'll have to read Rare Earth to find out.

My Thoughts
Bunn's plot is terse and concise, with better character development than you'll often find in the current writing market.  Royce's inner struggles build up with good momentum and proper intensity, climaxing with a conclusion that is not cliche. I appreciate his character--thought there is light romantic attraction, it's not dripping with physical drives, and they have to love each other in actions and in truth.
Though Bunn's main protagonists are pretty much the same in their penchant for self-defense moves, they are likeable enough to draw you in to their adventure. Most of his plots are similar to each other, but the different countries and personalities give it the necessary variety. After all, each author has his fingerprint, and Dickens is pretty much the same too if you read enough of him.
Bunn's grammar leaves a little to be desired. He hasn't yet overcome the choppy sentences found in earlier works. But when I come away with a quotable line, I'm willing to compromise on a few incomplete phrases. After all "He just walked out with third-degree burns covering his entire ego" isn't something you run across every day.
Most of his characters are men, with a couple of female government employees here and there. While I would make the point that our society needs to return to the biblical roles of men and women, Bunn has a fair portrayal of  what a man working in today's marketplace would face.
You may find a few phrases here and there that are influenced by politically correct ideas of politics and society, but nothing major. Bunn's central focus is on uniting divided cultures in the name of Jesus Christ, and his stories always put the main focus on the power of the cross.

He keeps me coming back, because he has more than I'll usually find in today's bestselling authors. Well-executed emotional conflict and male/female interests that are delicately implied rather than saturating the text are laudable parts of Rare Earth. It's a great book to relax with, and I do anticipate the sequel.

At least, I assume there will be one. I really need to find out what happens with...

But I'll let you read it for yourself. ;)

This book was provided to me for free by Bethany House blogger program. I was not compensated for this, or required to give a favorable opinion. I have given my honest opinion of this book in the above review.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, September 7, 2012

Elsie Dinsmore Meets Jane Eyre

I wanted to do something nice and old-fashioned for this blog post.

Something dramatic.

Something fun.

So I went to my little literary corner,where the books are neatly stacked right now, and lovingly scanned over my titles. I looked over Elsie Dinsmore, I looked over Journey to the Center of the Earth, I looked over Sherlock Holmes.

They'll all come later. ;) But for today, we have St. Elmo, by Augusta Jane Evans. Jane Eyre fans, prepare yourselves. This is almost an exact counter-part, minus all the delicious Gothic bits, and right down to Mr Rochester's foreign collections. Let me be the last to accuse anyone of plagiarism, but Jane Eyre was published in 1847 and St. Elmo was published in 1866. It really is startling how much resemblance they bear. But not quite. The heroine herself strongly resembles Elsie Dinsmore, and as Martha Finley, Charlotte Bronte, and Augusta Evans did all exist together for a couple of decades, I can imagine Finley and Bronte strongly influencing Evans works. Granted, that's my unscholarly little suspicion, but as Evans was well known to be a great reader, I can imagine that she enjoyed both these ladies' works.

St. Elmo was Augusta Jane Evans most popular book by far, and took the country by storm. Houses, boats, even a  cigar brand took after the book, and it was adapted into a silent, black-and-white motion picture in 1914. It was also adapted into a play. Schoolgirls loved it for its romance: who wouldn't enjoy a dark and handsome hero that bites the head off of anyone who comes near him? Coupled with a good and highly virtuous heroine, you have a win-win situation, where there can only be one outcome--or can there?

The Plot

Little Edna Earl lives in Tennessee with her grandfather, a happy twelve-year-old orphan girl. One day her innocence is shattered when she witnesses a duel between two young men, in which one of them dies. The survivor is fixed forever in her head as cruel murderer. When Edna's grandfather dies sitting in his chair one evening, she determines to go to Columbia, Tennessee, to earn wages at a factory and get book-learning. The train crashes when just before she arrives, and amidst the wreckage, a kind, rich lady learns of her plight and takes her home to recover.
When Mrs. Murray hears of Edna's plans she offers to educate her and bring her up--with the sole stipulation that she will not adopt her, nor consider her as one of the family--until Edna reaches eighteen. She accepts the offer, on the condition that she may pay for it when she is old enough to earn the money.
But before Edna is quite recovered, Mrs Murray's son returns from abroad, and is absolutely incensed to find the little girl there--especially a "pious" little girl. He is dissolute, unhappy, and constantly travelling to amuse himself. He stays for a few months, and he and Edna quickly antagonize each other when she recognizes him as one of the duellists in Tennessee. But as he leaves to go abroad again, he stops his sneering long enough to give Edna a key that he bids her to keep secret, even from his mother.
Years pass. Edna forms new acquaintances, one of which is a sad old minister, who gives her lessons while mourning the loss of his beautiful daughter some years before. As she grows older, she begins to receive attentions from a young man in the neighborhood, but she does not like them, and prefers to use her spare time in the pursuit of her long-cherished dream--that of becoming an authoress. She ransacks St. Elmo's library for literary gems, and learns many of his books by heart. And gradually, she pieces together a beautiful story that is the pride of her heart.
St Elmo returns from abroad to find how she has kept her trust, and though they do not easily agree, they invigorate rather than incense each other. Scholarly repartees mask Edna's growing tenderness towards him, and with the coming of two new females to the neighborhood--Agnes Powell and her daughter Gertrude, St. Elmo Murray's heart is well disposed of.
Edna determines that it is time to leave her temporary home and contracts herself out as a governess. But the afternoon before she leaves, St. Elmo finds her in the church, and reveals his great love for her. She accuses him of inconstancy to Gertrude, and to defend himself, he tells her such a tale of horror concerning himself and Agnes Powell that Edna is dismayed. Following that, he recounts broken hearts and ruined lives to such an extent that she is horrified. But she stands firm, and says that if he has led Gertrude on, he must indeed marry her. Then Murray makes his Rochester-like declaration:

"My precious Edna, no oath shall ever soil my lips again; [thank goodness!] the touch of yours has purified them. I have been mad--I think, for many, many years, and I loathe my past life; but remember how sorely I was tried, and be merciful when you judge me. With your dear little hand in mine to lead me, I will make amends for the ruin and suffering I have wrought, and my Edna--my own wife shall save me!"

Knowing that she cannot be unequally yoked with him, Edna leaves, not with a wild flight, but calmly and quietly taking up her position as a governess, and her ambitions as an authoress. Very shortly she falls ill, and the doctors tell her that she has the same heart condition as her grandfather, and she could die any day. Feeble in body, relentless in her writing, heartsick for her lover, she lives on, determined to be published, and never to see St. Elmo again.

So the question remains--which wins out? Ambition, death, or lover? That, friends and fellow bibliophiles, is for you to find out.

My Thoughts

True to the good old-fashioned style, any language included is blanked out, with the exception of the first and last letter--which doesn't really disguise what it is, but I appreciated the endeavor.
This book shows how several characters coped with disappointment, some in God-honoring ways, and some not. The result in their lives was truthful and convicting.
Edna Earl is a study from several points. How she handles St. Elmo is just as good, and maybe even a touch better, than her counterpart Jane Eyre. Well done.
The only annoying thing about her is her scholar-liness. As one critic says "the trouble with the heroine of St. Elmo was that she swallowed an unabridged dictionary." Not only that, but she swallowed it in Greek and Hebrew as well as English, and who knows what other languages. Scraps of French phrases litter the entire text, and the characters go off into long literary rants of obscure texts from memory--which might be irritating to those of us who have to work for our education. Poetry, dry tomes, the entire geography of the world and other works fill both the character's conversation and the author's descriptive narration, which isn't a deal-breaker, but is rather intimidating to the modern bibliophile. At first it can be irritating, but then it quickly turns to causing a quiet chuckle whenever they start in.
As to how she handled her literary ambitions? Well, I don't know. She was cautioned by several people close to her, commended by others whose opinion she valued, but she pursued with the thought that God had called her, and that no-one else's opinion could sway her from her course. I would have to read the book again to better judge the right and wrong of how she handled it.
Altogether, I would recommend this as a God-honoring and biblical story, a fun and dramatic read, and well worth the time it takes to peruse it.

For those of you who love Elsie Dinsmore and Jane Eyre, you'll meet both combined in St. Elmo. For those of you who don't like Elsie Dinsmore, fear not, for Edna Earl is a lovable heroine that you will enjoy becoming acquainted with. Either way, it's a win-win situation that allows bibliophiles to enjoy quiet grace, steely ambition, and dramatic romance.

You won't want to miss it.

Lady Bibliophile

*credit for some of the information regarding Augusta Jane Evans and the critic's quote goes to the Wikipedia article about her, which you can find at this link.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Five)

Photo Credit

Today, friends and fellow bibliophiles, we are wrapping up our jaunt into the realm of fantasy and magic. While much more could be said, this is all I am ready to say at the present time, and I think it best to stop while I'm sure of myself. But, like all things here, I'm sure we'll be returning to it sometime in the distant future.

Today we've got one final post, in which I promised to discuss allegory.

What is Allegory?

While there may be several definitions of allegory, I found one source which contains a good working definition. Don't worry if you don't understand it the first time you read through it. It's a little complicated, and I'll explain it more fully, so you don't have to catch it all the first time. M.H Abram's Glossary of Literary Terms defines allegory as follows:

"An allegory is a narrative fiction in which the agents and action, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived to make coherent sense on the ‘literal,' or primary level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of agents, concepts, and events."

In other words, let's give this a practical application to make it a bit more understandable. An allegory [Pilgrim's Progress] is a narrative fiction [story] in with the agents [Christian] and action [journey to the Celestial City] and sometimes the setting as well [King's Highway] are contrived to make good sense on the literary level [the story itself] and at the same time illustrates a second story that parallels to the first. [Christian parallels to any Christian, the journey to the Celestial City parallels our spiritual journey to heaven, the King's Highway is a parallel to the Christian life].

So basically, an allegory is one story that has a second story it symbolizes.

You might be questioning why we had to go through all that. But it's very important to separate allegory and fantasy, and to give you a good definition of what it means. Oftentimes allegories are misunderstood and classified as fantasy, and while many allegories have fantasy elements to them, they are not actually fantasies themselves.

So let's further divide allegories into two main types. Returning again to M.H Abram's Glossary of Literary Terms:

 "We can distinguish two main types [of allegory]: (1) historical and political allegory, in which the characters and actions ... represent, or ‘allegorize' historical personages and events" (Abrams 4).

And the second one:

"The allegory of ideas, in which the literal characters represent abstract concepts and the plot exemplifies a doctrine or thesis" (Abrams 4).

Chuck Black is an excellent author to use in illustrating these two concepts: Take his two series: The Kingdom Series and The Knights of Arrethtrae, and you have, in effect, both types of allegory. The Kindom series is the first type, historical and political, in which the characters allegorize Old Testament prophets and rulers. Leinad represents Moses (and a host of others) his father Payton represents Adam, his mother Dinan represents Eve. Every event in the story parallels to an event in Scirpture.
In the Knights of Arrethtrae series, the characters and story represent the second type of allegory: the allegory of ideas. Bentley represents generosity, Lord Ra represents rebellion. Dalton represents both doubt and faith.

Photo Credit
So is Allegory a Good Thing?

Well, Jesus himself used allegory. Many of the parables were allegorical representations for something entirely different. Take the parable of the prodigal son, the wise and foolish builders, the unforgiving servant, the wedding banquet, and the ten virgins. All these are allegorical for our relationship to God, God's forgiveness to us, the wedding supper of the Lamb, and Jesus' Second Coming.

Therefore, an allegory can be a very good thing. Whenever we look at stories to judge their rights and wrongs, we always look to Christ himself--because he spent much of his life telling stories. And whatever He did,  we can be assured that it is wise for us to imitate.

Allegories I can Recommend

Chuck Black--I've already dealt with him in another post, so I will merely give you the link.
The Pilgrim's Progress--Um, believe it or not, I've never read it. But it's a good book....
Hind's Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard--This is a sweet story of one girl's journey to the High Places--which, by the way, aren't Heaven--a beautiful allegory of the Christian walk and also the Song of Solomon, it's a quick and enjoyable read.
The Chronicles of Narnia--magic, fantasy, and allegory all in one. Though I haven't gotten to a full review yet, I enjoy these books as well.

The Final Point

One last point I would like to leave you with, to wrap up this entire series. You can be reading a book with magic in which the author uses it correctly, and comes at it with the right worldview. You can read allegories that are well-crafted, and fantasies embodying the very spirit of Christian virtue that you want to be picking up on. But still, I would caution you, don't make books of these sort the majority of your reading diet. Every fantasy and allegory is at a disadvantage in this one respect: it's an alternate 'reality'. You can't hang around these exclusively without turning the best of books into a pitfall. Read them occasionally, and enjoy them, but make sure that you're spending most of your time with books that show the realities of the present and the past--books that have one meaning, not a double one. Adventures that you can point to, and epic battles that you can glory in, while all the time saying "this really happened" or "this could have happened".

Photo Credit
I fear I must write The End to this series for now. My sister reminded me this morning that I never talked about unicorns. I remembered that I forgot to mention fauns and centaurs. Maybe in a Narnia review someday. While I haven't covered everything, I have given you where I am right now. It's not easy to write a series when you don't have all the answers yourself. Some things I still wonder about. But God will show them to me in His time, and He will show you what to do with this topic as well.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
-James 1:5

And on Friday, I have a hankering for something period drama-ish and nice. Look forward to a book review--(I promise you, it shall be nonfiction. :)

Lady Bibliophile

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