Thursday, May 6, 2010

William Shakespeare- Troilus and Cressida

While Troilus and Cressida is certainly not one of Shakespeare's better known plays, I learned a while ago not to presume that means it's not one of his best. I loved, for instance, the relatively obscure Coriolanus, but I'm not a big fan of the wildly popular King Lear.

Unfortunately, Troilus and Cressida is no Coriolanus.

The title characters are involved in a rather rushed and unimpressive love story while most of the play involves the other Trojans and the Greeks who, instead of an all out war, put all their energies into getting a couple of their guys to fight one another.

If it weren't for the quips and repartee that he does so well, it would have appeared Shakespeare didn't really care about this play. There are no standout characters, the plots struggle to find a foothold, but at least there are witty put downs. Shakespeare never fails at those.

But is that it? Did I miss something? Scouring the Internet for some insight, I came across an essay by Joyce Carol Oates, who would clearly say that yes, I missed something. According to her, I, as a modern reader, should consider this "a contemporary document-- [with] its investigation of numerous infidelities, its criticism of tragic pretensions, [and] above all, its implicit debate between what is essential in human life and what is only existential." Uh. Sure. Or maybe Oates isn't ready to admit that Shakespeare wasn't infallible.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Katherine Paterson- The Master Puppeteer

(Though it did win awards when written in 1976, I think The Master Puppeteer is mostly overlooked nowadays. Paterson is better known for Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved.)

This is one of those rare cases where I take full responsibility for not having enjoyed a novel. While the writing was, I suppose, fine, there were a couple reasons I didn't appreciate it as well as I should have:

1. Poorly chosen as a read aloud to my daughter. Earlier this year I'd mistakenly followed the advice of my wife Debbie who suggested not to read Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia to our 6 year old. She didn't remember much about it except that she believed it may have been "dark" and that it's usually read in grade 5 or 6 classrooms. I went ahead and read it by myself but afterward I wished I had shared it with my daughter. It was somewhat on the slow side, but she's not usually put off by that, the story was pretty straightforward, and while there was a tragedy, it was nothing she couldn't have handled emotionally. Trying to make up for this past decision, I thought that reading her another Katherine Paterson book was in order. The fact that this one was set in Japan was just perfect. Since we were going there in a week or so, more exposure to the culture would be a perfect way to learn about where we were headed and would only help build our excitement. (That Paterson is not Japanese never bothered me or made me question its authenticity, as she did live there for some time and has written other books about the country.) But, it turned out that the Master Puppeteer was probably too advanced for a 6 year old. Not only was it darker than Bridge to Terabithia (while very loosely described as a Japanese version of Robin Hood, there's a lot of violence including maiming and murder) but it also has a more intricate plot and vocabulary that went way over her head. While she didn't want me to quit reading altogether, I could tell she'd lost interest or missed half of what was going on.

2. Poor timing. As I said before, we began this book about a week before heading off to Japan. At only a chapter per night, we'd hardly made a dent in the book by the time the big trip came. While the 10.5 hour flight from Vancouver to Tokyo sounds like a long time and a perfect chance to catch up with reading, we did little on the way there. For one, the novelty of "inflight entertainment" was too much for the kids and the AstroBoy movie was tough competition. Then there were the meals, and of course, sleep. While we were in Japan itself, most days were spent sight-seeing so by the time we got back to the hotels we were either too tired to read or our minds were still racing from all the excitement we'd had that day. The attention paid to the Master Puppeteer was minimal. While we did get to Osaka, where the Master Puppeteer was set, we didn't get to see any banraku (Japanese puppet theater) which probably would have directed our interest back into Paterson's book.

I won't say that the Master Puppeteer was boring, but it wasn't able to hold the attention of a 6 year old girl and her father while vacationing half way across the globe. But I doubt Katherine Paterson had that in mind.