Classic Remarks: My Favorite Jane Austen Adaptation

Which Jane Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?

I am again at a disadvantage. My familiarity with Regency-era literature is so poor that my only Austen novel is Emma. I do have a general understanding of Pride and Prejudice, however, and it happens that the only Austen adaptation I have fully seen is one of that novel. And I must admit I like it a lot.

It’s a very…streamlined production. Lower-budget than most, and far from anything Hollywood would produce. Certainly it fails to capture the breadth and texture of Austen’s work. Nevertheless it wears a charming directness that manages to get to the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Using a clever modern-day framing device, it makes the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy immediately relevant to young people of our day. With a nicely balanced mixture of gentle humor and disarming sincerity, it manages to entertain while still driving home the story’s moral. Additionally, its severely abridged nature and short length directs the interested viewer to the source book.

Which adaptation is this?

I speak, of course, of the Wishbone adaptation.

wishbone

This was one of the best children’s shows produced by PBS in the 1990s. In it Wishbone, an adventure-loving Jack Russell Terrier, accompanies his boy, Joe, through adventures in middle school and literature. Whenever Joe faces a particular situation in his life, Wishbone will find a similar situation in a work of classic literature and relate the story to the audience. The audience gets to see Wishbone’s own imagination of the classic story interspersed with Joe’s modern-day story playing out in parallel. The result was a children’s show that was highly literate, thoughtful, and empathetic to older kids, and just happened to star a cute and energetic dog.

Wishbone DarcyThe episode entitled “Furst Impressions” is no exception! It’s truly the only Austen adaptation I’ve seen all the way through, so I can’t argue that it’s among the best. But this isn’t completely a joke answer. While the half-hour show only has about fifteen minutes to spare for the Austen sections, it boils the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship down to its essentials, and then takes those essentials quite seriously. Despite the ever-present humor of seeing Mr. Darcy being played by a Jack Russell Terrier, Austen’s story itself is never made fun of nor spoofed.

wishbone-dog-ep-1-furst-impressions-youtube-2012-05-15-22-14-23We see Elizabeth and Darcy both make snap judgments about each other and allow themselves to believe false rumors. In time, through humility and honesty, they sort out their prejudices and discover their mutual love, and end up happy and healthy. Parallel to this we get a story of Joe and his friends, Samantha and David, who are agonizing over a school dance. False rumors set Sam and David against each other, and it looks like the chance of a fun, drama-free dance is gone. Feelings are hurt, tempers flare, and Joe finds his two best friends are unable to be near each other without shouting and accusing the other of lying. Finally, honesty and humility bring about forgiveness and understanding, and their friendships are restored. And just as in Austen’s book, the source of the rumors can be traced to an envious socialite who ends up lonely.

Far from the most nuanced or complete adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Wishbone episode “Furst Impressions” nonetheless entertains with a direct, honest paraphrasing of the book’s most essential relationship. By showing Austen’s story side-by-side with a situation any modern kid can relate to (and adults too), it gives its audience a wise message of forgiveness and honesty, while quite possibly arousing interest in the source novel.

And it also stars a cute, energetic Jack Russell Terrier!

What’s your favorite Jane Austen adaptation? And did you ever watch Wishbone or read the Wishbone book series?

Next up on Classic Remarks: What children’s classic couldn’t you get enough of as a child?

Classic Remarks: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic?

Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Courtesy of IMDbUgh, this guy.

Let me be upfront: my judgment is on Joel Schumacher’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. I haven’t seen any other film or stage version, nor have I read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

I believe I was in high school when I first saw the movie. It struck me as rather weak overall, and particularly infuriating in how it seemed to romanticize the abusive, creepy, criminal Phantom.

Oh sure, he has a tragic backstory to explain his deformed appearance and antisocial behavior. Although, if you ask me, the movie’s version of these “deformities” are less severe than I’ve seen on several other real-life people who nonetheless live their own lives with compassion, healthiness, and a fair bit of normality. Likewise many people have overcome far worse abuses than he is said to have suffered and live functional, non-murderous lives. Still, this is the reason the story gives us as to why he tends to murder people out of vengeance, or, you know, if he happens to see them during a ballet performance he really doesn’t like (R.I.P. poor stagehand). He’s given passionate songs with passionately creepy lyrics to sing, and I guess some people are impressed by the rose he leaves on Christine’s tomb nearly fifty years after the whole affair. Honestly, I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

This is a fellow who:

  • Uses a young, naïve woman as a tool to get revenge on society, despite the fact that the specific people who harmed him in the past won’t be affected by this revenge (making it not really revenge, but mere criminal actions)
  • Uses said woman to vicariously live a life of musical fame denied to him by his deformity, criminal activity, and general hatred of other people
  • Tries to seduce said woman with various techniques designed to strip her of her ability to make informed decisions, including:
    • lying about his identity and intentions
    • hypnotism
    • threats of violence against those she cares about
    • physically holding her captive
    • physically holding captive the man she actually loves
    • forcing her to wear a wedding dress and commanding her to marry him
    • blatant emotional manipulation in general
  • murdering an innocent stagehand
  • threatening terrorist acts upon the theater if they don’t do what he wants

At the end, he shows some remorse for his actions, and he does leave Christine and Raoul in peace for the rest of their lives. But he’s never brought to justice for his crimes, and his crimes are in no way romantic. It’s all the worse because the film musical never seems able to acknowledge the severity of his sins or the sort of repentance he really needs in order to be redeemed. I felt that it paints him as tragic, but sweet and impressive in his devotion and dramatics. I find him kind of disgusting.

It also hurts that he dresses so very similarly to the heroic vigilante of my own fiction for which this very blog is named. But that at least is without his control, and so I will try not to hold that against him. I like his dramatic style, but not his morals or actions.

Seriously, do an image search of “phantom of the opera unmasked” to compare the 2004’s deformities with the far more severe portrayals in other adaptations.

Classic Remarks: What to read after “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”

What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

3306190There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.

597790But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.

Happy reading!

Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic

“I hardly saw any other children; only one was my friend, and my blackness did not keep him from loving me.”

Recommend a diverse classic. Or you can argue that a diverse book should be a classic or should be included in the canon. Or you can argue that the book should be a classic, but that you don’t want to see it in the canon.

A diverse classic? That’s an extremely vague phrase which could technically be interpreted in countless ways, but I get the gist. In the English-speaking world, the standard literary classics almost entirely come from Europe and the countries which developed from European colonies. It can also be argued that the most famous, mainstream works tend to deal with similar subjects, perhaps from similar or familiar perspectives. This is a chance to discuss a book that either comes from a different cultural milieu or deals with subjects or perspectives that are rare or unique in the Western literary canon. Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic”

Classic Remarks: Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?

Because I don’t believe Shakespeare to be a true misogynist, I am reluctant to call his play misogynistic…

Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?

Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Once again, I am at a disadvantage. I have not read the play in Shakespeare’s own words, and am mostly familiar with it in summary, by reputation, and by…the 1953 MGM film Kiss Me Kate, which I gather is a fairly loose adaptation. I have skimmed the Sparknotes document on The Taming of the Shrew, but admit that this is hardly a firm foundation from which to pass substantive judgment. So please forgive me if I seem over-cautious in my answer. If I say something which seems contradicted by the text, forgive me my error and kindly correct me in the comments! Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?”

Classic Remarks: Is Susan’s fate in C.S. Lewis “The Last Battle” sexist?

Lewis’ message is that we should all look at Susan, see ourselves, and shuddering turn from folly to wisdom.

Susan Pevensie’s fate in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle has been criticized for being sexist. Do you think it’s sexist or is Lewis trying to do or say something else?

[Obviously, there will be SPOILERS for the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, and by extension for some of the previous volumes.]

lewis-last-battleThe scene in question comes at the end of Chapter Twelve of Lewis’ Last Battle. Our heroes—Tirian the last King of Narnia, the Earth-children Jill and Eustace, and a few loyal friends—come unexpectedly face-to-face with the most legendary visitors to Narnia: Diggory and Polly, who witnessed Narnia’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew, and the original Pevensie children from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—minus the oldest sister, Susan. Aslan had told them all at the end of previous adventures that they would never again come into Narnia, for they had grown too old. The reason for their apparent return is revealed in later chapters, but at the moment they are merely glad to be back. But Tirian immediately has a question for High King Peter:

“If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”

“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly, “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that way. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Is Susan’s fate in C.S. Lewis “The Last Battle” sexist?”

Classic Remarks 3: Is “Romeo and Juliet” a tragic love story or ironic comedy?

Is Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story or an ironic comedy? Should we take the play seriously when its protagonists are so young?

Having not the time to read the play again and do the sort of long, hard analysis I used to struggle over in college, I beg you to accept my quick thoughts on this matter, jotted down in the subjective and haphazard way that memory brings them to me.

I have always taken Romeo and Juliet as a tragic love story, sharpened and livened with both comedy and abundant irony. I do not view it primarily as an ironic comedy. That is, I do believe we are meant to take the story seriously.

The tragedy is certainly very serious, ending as it does in several unnecessary deaths and provoking enough sober reflection as to end a long and bitter feud between two callous and political families. And the love story is deadly serious to the lovers, whatever we may think of their immaturity and age. Indeed, their immaturity and age are what allows them to act so single-mindedly on their passions, for better and for worse. The better leads them to forsake the hateful feud between their families; the worse leads them to have too little thought for the consequences of their actions, leading to the deaths of some of their friends, and eventually of themselves.

Continue reading “Classic Remarks 3: Is “Romeo and Juliet” a tragic love story or ironic comedy?”