Thursday, October 31, 2019

CC Spin #21: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Previous Classics Club Spin has introduced me to an interesting book – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest - which I have dreaded, but glad (more relieved, actually) that I have read it at last. This time the spin brought me another surprise - a book I regarded as a romantic adventure of an ape man (I remember watching Tarzan on TV when I was a kid), but rather different than last year's, this book appeared to be more serious than just a teenage lit. Here is why…

Heredity theme

Regular readers of my blog must have been familiar with my 'obsession' with Émile Zola, and the heredity and evolution theme in his monumental works: the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Thus you can imagine how excited I was when realizing that Tarzan of the Apes is more than an entertaining adventure/love story, it is also an interesting (more interesting even, perhaps, than Zola's) analysis on the theory of heredity and evolution. A gentleman by birth, but an ape by education, Tarzan is. It is thoroughly exciting to see how he begins to realize by instinct his superiority compared to his peers, how he learns cunning tricks, how he starts making calculations and strategies, and of course, how he teaches himself to read and write, by help of books in the cabin - John Clayton's library.

Self learning

Tarzan taught himself to read and write from a shelf-full of books, which John Clayton has, thankfully, brought with him, when he and Lady Alice decided to sail to his new post in British West Africa. I can imagine, how little Tarzan spent hours in the little cabin, diligently memorizing words and syllables from picture books, until he could fluently structure sentences, though he have never heard the pronunciation. The first proof of his study was the note he stuck on the door of the cabin which was found by the group of Professor and Jane Porter, signed by "Tarzan".

Frankly speaking, this signature was where I have detected the first flaw in Burroughs' heretofore genius scientific facts in the story. Immediately I thought: if Tarzan was the name Kala and the other apes called him in their 'tongues', and he has never heard before English words pronounced, then how could he write his name as T.a.r.z.a.n ? You know what I mean? But, if it is a flaw, it is of no significance, compared to how much Burroughs has influenced and impressed us with a touching, humorous, and adventurous stories.

Man vs animal

"Being a man, he [Tarzan] sometimes killed for pleasure, a thing which no other animal does; for it has remained for man alone among all other creatures to kill senselessly and wantonly for the mere pleasure of inflicting suffering and death." How much truth there is in this sentence! How often do we boast of human's superiority from animal, that we might forget that we, human, often behave even worse than animal - above quote is the proof.

People are often picking animal for an insult or verbal abuse, or even for bullying others. So, next time someone does that to me or my friends, I'll remind him/her using above argument. Man could be worse than animal, when he chose to do so. Tarzan, as a man-beast, highlighted the good sides and bad sides of human beings. The conflict in Tarzan, between wanting to self-develop himself and being disgusted at moral corruption of his kind, is what eventually shape him to a noble character. So, real nobility is not what man is born into, but what man decides to be, when he has choices to be other than that.

John Clayton, the Lord Greystoke, and his wife Lady Alice, were the embodiment of the true nobility, and Tarzan, while being educated as and to be an ape, he also inherited this nobility from his parents. On the other hand, though he inherited human's cunning way of views from his biological parents, yet he grown up in the nature, and so, by combining these two aspects in him, he evolved to be an almost perfect human being.

Back to Nature

Tarzan is one reminder, thus, to the world, that man should have intimate relationship with the Nature to better himself. I believe that spending much time in the nature enables us to reflect on the simplicity of God's creation, and to remind us of what we were created to be, in the first place.

This book has been an easy and entertaining read, but at the same time, an unexpected one.

4 to 5

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is often considered Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece. It's a perfect Halloween read - beautiful yet haunting. I have read it for R.I.P. XIV, and loved it. As most likely you all have read it, I’m not going to take the pain of summarizing it (and it’s difficult to do so without throwing spoilers – if you haven’t read it – anyway), so, here are my thoughts:

It begins with the end

If you hate spoilers, you might dislike this kind of writing style, in which the characters told you what have happened in the past that they ended up in their situation today. For me, it provides sort of certainty of how the story might end, which I prefer, rather than always worrying whether this will end tragically or happily. By knowing how it would end (except for mysteries, of course), I can read slowly and calmly, savoring every moment of it. In the end I found it much more satisfying. And so it was with this book. The heroine told us that she and her husband have survived from a tragedy - something which has happened to their lovely mansion: Manderley, and which they both desperately tried to forget.

It's about a woman without name, and a name without the woman

I was rather annoyed, in the early chapters, as it seemed nobody ever mentioned the name of the narrator! But in the end I think du Maurier did it purposely to highlight the contrast between her and Rebecca - whom everyone talked about, found everywhere, heard everywhere, though she was dead years ago.

Yvonne (let's give the narrator a name, at least in this post, as I hate a nameless character!) is timid, introverted and insecure young woman, working as companion to a wealthy woman. Rebecca is her opposite in everything! She married the owner of an estate, rich, bold, beautiful, sociable, powerful. Those were the outside qualities any outsider would have perceived. But as a husband, Maximilian de Winter knows better. Inside, the two women are also the David and the Goliath in their hearts and souls. Rebecca is also wicked, selfish, cruel, and without love. She reminds me of Cathy in East of Eden

[credit: Gardenvista]

Yvonne is sweet, loving, innocent, kind, and tender, if only you know how to love her, because she is, again, insecure. I can totally relate to her, because I understand how to manage insecure people. My dear mom is one. What they need, on top of everything, is love - they need to be sure that they are loved. When you love them, and protect their privacy (because that's what we, introverts, need most of all!), we'd see a brave woman underneath the fragile appearance. Unfortunately the world still love outside appearances better than inner qualities. And that's why introverts and insecure people tend to be disliked and misunderstood, just because they aren't sociable. They forget that these people, if you are willing to understand and respect their silence and timidity, you'll see that their capability to love is much bigger than the extroverts.

In this story, only Maxim and Frank, the agent, it seems, who could really see Yvonne's qualities, and understand her. From the very beginning I have had certainty that Maxim married Yvonne purely for love. That he, alone, could see underneath the plain appearance of this girl - while others would never, or with difficulty, understand.

[credit: Gardenvista]

Intelligence vs innocence

What struck me is, that the so called 'dim-witted' Ben could see the cruelness beneath Rebecca's superficial charm, while others who were more intelligent, failed. Apparently, being intelligent does not always prevent one from being shallow and vain. On the other hand, I think innocent people use their feeling more than their mind, in judging others' character. That's why Rebecca's charms never deceived poor Ben.

And I loved how du Maurier put Maxim's faith in Ben's hand. But, isn't murder still a murder, be it done to good people or villains? Well, sometimes, evil can only be stopped by violence. It's still wrong, of course, but I'd probably do the same if I have had a soulless person like Rebecca - or Cathy - as a spouse.

The wicked housekeeper

No, I'm not going to analyze Mrs. Danvers' character here. She's purely as wicked (and more sick, perhaps) as her mistress. It's only that every time I read about her, it was Downton Abbey's Mrs. Hughes face that popped up in my head. I know that Mrs. Hughes is kind and wise, so different from Mrs. Danvers, but do you remember her face when she looked at Mr. Green (the valet how 'attacked' Anna Bates)? It's full of cold hatred and disgust; and it's that face which I imagined was on Mrs. Danvers' every time she saw Yvonne. Yeah, a Gothic castle which is haunted by it's evil mistress, and kept by a wicked housekeeper... there's enough of Gothic element there to make it a favorite Halloween read!

It has been a delicious read for me, and I think I would love to return to it in the future!

4,5 of 5 - because I still hate any writer who doesn't name his/her narrator! :)