"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Monday, May 27, 2013

Favorite War Films as Personal Evolution

My Boyhood Favorite: Kelly's Heroes

This film is an action comedy set during World War II. The war serves as the backdrop for a treasure hunt. Sprinkled between sequences of farce and swashbuckling adventure, there are a few moments of touching drama. With the exception of a single tank officer, all of the German soldiers are disposable. Kelly's Heroes never lets the realities of war get in the way of maximizing entertainment value. The flick remains a personal favorite of mine, but not as a war film.

My Favorite as a High School Graduate: Gettysburg

Looking back, I am embarrassed at how infatuated I became with this movie and with one of its main characters. But in hindsight, I must also give it credit for jump-starting my interest in non-fiction history books. There is much to be commended in this film's pensive treatment of individual officers. But in its depiction of battles, it errs on the side of stately and statuesque. One can debate whether or not Gettysburg is guilty of glorifying war. It is unquestionable that many of the movie's fans--myself included at the time--are guilty. Historical fiction has an intoxicating effect. And, to adapt a sentiment from General Robert E. Lee, when we grow too fond of its characters, we may also become too fond of their wars. 

My Favorite War Film as a 30-Something: The Deer Hunter

It may be more proper to call this a wartime film rather than a war film. There are no full-scale battle depictions. The titular image of the movie is a deer hunter not a soldier. Like Kelly's Heroes above, the war is only a catalytic device for a great work of fiction. I see The Deer Hunter as an allegory that hinges on a game of Russian Roulette. 

So asks the allegory: What does war do to a person? What does it do to his friends and family? What does it do to his community? So answers the allegory: drop one to three bullets into a revolver; spin the cylinder to invoke chance; point the gun at your head; pull the trigger. You have a six in six chance of finding out what war does.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One 'Inferno' Begets Another

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"... had already revealed his proclivity for collaborating with the masters and modifying great works of art to suit his needs."

The above quote from Chapter 58 of Dan Brown's Inferno depicts the protagonist Robert Langdon coming to a realization about the novel's villain. Intentional or not, I believe it is also a case of the author realizing something about himself. Like the stitches Langdon discovers in the back of his head at the tale's outset, something kept irritating me all the way to the last page.

The thematic heart of this novel is neither Dante Alighieri nor his epic poetry. They are like special guest stars brought in to pump up ratings for a sitcom. It's incredibly fun to have them around, but strictly speaking their presence is not indispensable, not with regard to generating compelling literature anyway.

There is no ancient conspiracy in Brown's Inferno, just a Bond-style supervillain with a Dante fetish. This is not to say Brown fails in his use of Inferno imagery. As a thrill ride, this new Inferno delivers. However, a plethora of working vacations failed to provide the author with an organic plot line or cohesive geography for this book. The villain must resort to graffiti and text manipulation to get the right symbols on the right works of art so that Langdon and his hottie sidekick of the day will venture down the right tunnels.

Still, as I closed up my beautiful hard bound edition after midnight, donning earbuds and listening to my favorite theme from Hans Zimmer's score to The Da Vinci Code, I was forced to admit Brown succeeded with this novel. He effectively fertilized his work using Dante's poetry and legacy. More importantly, he got into my head and made me think.

Brown's Inferno asks serious questions about humanity, its potential and its flaws. Not only are these questions serious, they are the right questions--ones we should be asking not only of dead artists and living power brokers but of ourselves. As both Dante and Brown indicate, damnation can be found in avoiding a serious discussion of humanity's flaws. And if the only venue in which we are willing to grapple with the big issues is a pop fiction novel with an average chapter length of four and a half pages, then we are as much the problem as any Brown supervillain could hope to be.

A central idea of this novel is the viral aspect of humanity. Brown is not the first to explore this facet of our species. As just one other example from good fiction, I am quite fond of Arthur C. Clarke's and Stephen Baxter's Time Odyssey trilogy. Non-fiction works by accomplished scientists are in need of more readers as well.

Speaking personally, I found this to be the least fun of the Langdon novels, and that is a legitimate criticism because I read Brown's novels to have fun. Yet, I also regard Inferno to be his most compelling work with regard to the fictionalization of real world issues. By way of recommendation, my Dan Brown policy remains the same. If you want to try out his novels, start with Angels and Demons. If you enjoy that one, three more Robert Langdon adventures await.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blah, Blah, Blah, Snake

Busy, busy. Two short stories. One submitted. The other needs a new draft. Just picked up my copy of Dan Brown's latest: Inferno. He didn't even try to come up with an original title. Not promisingNo time for blogging. Here is a picture of a snake I met in Waterloo Recreation Area.