Friday, September 13, 2019

Icy Wastes, Peril at Sea and Gold at Rainbow's End

The Worst Journey in the World was one of my father's favourite books. It is an epic account of a polar adventure.
Cherry-Garrard’s memoir of a miserable Antarctic expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, was ranked number one on National Geographic’s list of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time. “As War and Peace is to novels, so is The Worst Journey in the World to the literature of polar travel: the one to beat,” wrote the magazine.

While you can dip into the book using the cover picture above, you can also listen to the book here.

And, if you're in the mood for more, here is a drama documentary based on the book.

This is a book that is worth adding to your bookshelf, even one that is virtual.

While you build up the courage to face that longer read, try a short story about a kayaker’s peril at sea:

He swings the fish from the water, a wild stripe flicking and flashing into the boat, and grabs the line, twisting the hook out, holding the fish down in the footrests. It gasps, thrashes. Drums. Something rapid and primal, ceremonial, in the shallow of the open boat.
Fact and fiction aside, poetry has always celebrated adventure and has even created fantasy worlds that draw the imagination on and colour drab reality with magic hues:

Listen to Poe's El Dorado, composed to music: 

From reviewing books I return to a strategy I've adopted earlier: showcasing readings under various themes - I'd appreciate your feedback, dear reader. Does this kind of enterprise please you?

Visit next week for a look at some writings that were considered for banning. 

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

Jealousy and Revenge - How a Count Counters Conspiracies

As a young girl, I was enchanted with Alexandre Dumas' Le Comte de Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo remains one of the few works that I read in French. It is, basically, a tale of revenge.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, some say. Though the story is old, the relish remains fresh. Read the story to enjoy the recipe - the link also provides an audio version. I'm sure you will enjoy it as the tale has fared well across time, even made and remade as movies and TV series across the world.  

At his happiest moment in life, a young man is thrown into prison by a jealous rival. And that is it, in a nutshell. Of course, there is the second course - the hero emerges from the depths of a dungeon to avenge himself bitterly and mercilessly. Jealousy and revenge - as old as mankind.
The story of Edmond Dantès is inspired by the real life story of François Piçaud, an innocent man denounced as a spy and jailed for seven years. Similar to Edmond, a prison friendship led him to acquiring a great fortune, and upon his release, he sought revenge on those who'd accused him. In Alexandre Dumas's fictionalized version, the innocent Edmond escapes from prison, finds a fortune his dying friend tells him about, feigns the identity of a wealthy count, and sets about the business of a thousand pages worth of revenge.

How Revenge and The Count of Monte Cristo Capture Our Eternal Need for Closure

Apparently, that's not the only connection with historical incidents and people:
Dumas’ appetite for action-packed tales led him to the 1838 publication Memoirs from the Archives of Paris Police, a collection of true crime stories arranged by author Jacques Peuchet. Among the accounts featured was the particularly macabre tale of Nîmes-born shoemaker Pierre Picaud, who was framed for treason by three men who lusted after his wealthy fiancée.

But it was not all taken from the darkness. According to another account, there was a scientist Who Inspired the Count of Monte Cristo.

There is also the fact that the novel has inspired all sorts of research. One such explores the Geographies of Vengeance: Orientalism in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Not far from port of Marseille (France) this castle built in an island became famous because of Alexandre Dumas's novel "Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. Philippe Alès [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
And another that examines Cerebrovascular disease in The Count of Monte Cristo. If that is all related to the past, we also have an article about What the Count of Monte Cristo Can Teach Us About Cybersecurity.

So I do hope you will read the story and perhaps watch the upcoming New Version of ‘Count of Monte Cristo’.
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

By the Will of the Pike!

One of my favourite books when I was a child was Vasilisa the Beautiful: Russian Fairy Tales. I enjoyed most of the stories in it but I still remain fond of Emelya and the Pike. Please read it quickly so that I can go on to tell you why I like it so much.
Аткинсон, Джон Огастес Public Domain
What most captured my fancy in the story was the stove on which Emelya lies all day long. At that point in time I had not even seen an oven nor even a tandoor. And it's not only that Emelya spends his days dozing on the stove, he also uses it to go hither and thither!

Emelya falls into the famous anti-hero category found in many tales from around the world. For the Russians it is normally Ivan the fool. There's even a Tolstoy Ivan the Fool story - one that I like. 

Michael Sevier (illustrator) [Public domain]

Emelya's story also falls into the wish granting fish category. Of course, you can see that Emelya's pike is a much better wish granting fish than the one the fisherman found. The lack of 'moral of the story' only serves to make Emelya and the Pike a much more enjoyable story. Sometimes, it's only by resorting to extreme absurdity that we can fight limiting superstitions.

In the fisherman's tale, he is granted three wishes and, with the last wish, he's back where he was. The story is bitter and pointless given we're never going to find magic things which grant us our wishes. When we're anyway going into the realm of fantasy, why not just go with the flow?

Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, 1876-1942 [Public domain]

And that is what Emelya does. He goes with the flow in letting his sisters-in-law send him fishing. Note that he also does agree only when promised bribes of new clothes and such. In that sense, there might be a moral to the story: passive and reluctant obedience can bring rewards. 

Here's a movie version. It's in black and white and has no subtitles but it's still very enchanting!

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