I recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and found the book just as good, if not better, than the previous four in the series. I’m enjoying the pace at which the story is darkening. If you’ve ever found yourself in an argument with me about Star Wars, you’ll know that if there’s no Sith action in the movie (or book), I don’t really want to see it (or read it). I mean, sure, I’ll sit through it, but I likely won’t be my enthusiastic self during the process. Really – what’s a Star Wars story without the Sith? That’s where I and so many others with like mind find the mystery and intrigue. The concept of the Sith is like an invisible background energy that glues the entire narrative arc together. If you’ve decided somewhere along the way that the Sith don’t appeal to you, try pretending that the Jedi don’t exist. It’s with that empathy you’d understand how boring the multiple trilogies would be for the rest of us. It would be like writing the Harry Potter books with no Lord Voldemort. Or Severus Snape, for those of you who haven’t already looked ahead to see who the good guy is. Star Trek with no Borg. Batman with no Riddler. Whatever. How did I start writing about this?
I tried to read a book that featured just Luke Skywalker and Han Solo once and it didn’t work out. I think I had to abandon it a few chapters in. Total snooze-fest. And by the way, I chose to use the word argument above because one doesn’t simply discuss Star Wars. One argues about it. That’s the only way to do it right. Whether it be by himself as I’m finding myself doing right now or with others.
Anyway, the Harry Potter story is a good one, as I’m sure you’re already aware. I’m confident that I’m the last person on the planet to have read it or watched it. I’m finding it just as detailed and entertaining as my favorite partially written fantasy series called The Kingkiller Chronicle. Within the The Kingkiller Chronicle series, there are already two books written with the final having been promised to us for approximately a decade. The first two books are entitled, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. If I had to offer a very brief comparison between the Harry Potter series and The Kingkiller Chronicle series, I’d say that while both are coming of age stories that captivate the reader, the latter is simply more beautifully written. I’m not sure the comparison is fair because the stories are so different and perhaps target different age groups, but while the Harry Potter series is endearing and fast moving, the Kingkiller Chronical offers the reader quotes like these:
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
“It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.”
These books seem to offer something to the reader who is just slightly older than those who might read Harry Potter. None of this is really very important as all of the books in these series are excellent and I’m glad to have read and to be reading them. I will tell you that I am nervous about the third book of the Kingkiller Chronicle to be released though. I’m not sure anything can measure up to the first two.
Since I’ve finished up the most recent installment of Harry Potter and since I generally take a break between books, I’ve moved to a collection of short stories contained in a literature text book that Laura saved from years back. She must have purchased it for one of her college courses and it somehow managed to keep itself hidden throughout all of our moves. It’s fairly heavy, so I’m fairly certain that if I had known it was tagging along as I was hauling our belongings to Florida and back, I would have tossed it in the garbage at a rest stop or gas station in Pennsylvania or Virginia. I’m actually glad we kept the book though because it gives me a chance to read what so many authors have decided to share with the rest of us. So many excellent short stories. I’ve already made it through W. Somerset Maugham’s The Appointment in Samarra, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Godfather Death, Chung Tzu’s Independence, John Updike’s A&P, William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, Katherine Mansfield’s Miss Brill, James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. While all of these short stories were outstanding, I have to say that I enjoyed Sonny’s Blues the most. While it began a bit slow, it picked up toward the end and the writing was just superb.
“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”
“I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.”
It’s strange because I’ve already read Sonny’s Blues. It was about ten years ago. While I can’t remember ever saying anything negative about it, I don’t recall it as being memorable either. Two nights ago though, as I put the book down and switched off my nightstand light, I thought about how the story made me feel. When Sonny’s older brother described how Sonny was playing the piano and interacting with the audience and the other players, I don’t know, something must have changed. The arrangement of the words somehow meant something more to me than they did previously. And this isn’t to mention how wonderfully crafted they were. I couldn’t help but think of how I’d enjoy taking a freshman literature class all over again. This time, I’d do it the way it’s supposed to be done. I’d actually read the assigned stories and participate in class. The professor would absolutely fall in love with me. Yes, I’m sure I’d be a rewarding student to have the pleasure of experiencing.
The stories I mentioned above were contained in a section of the book called Point of View. All of the stories are arranged in such a way as to have the student focus on one particular area of writing. When I previously read these stories, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was reading or why, but this time I am. I’m taking my time and I’m attempting to learn how to better write than I ever have. Every time I’ve given something a go, I’ve just wung it. Or winged it. Or whatever. Basically, I simply wrote what I felt and what made sense with neither focus nor strategy. As I’ve aged (gracefully and like a fine wine), I’ve come to pick up on subtleties that I’ve missed in the past. And it’s these subtleties that make a story memorable and worth sharing with others. Perhaps my goal in life should be to write one of these things. Something memorable. And short. I’ve come to love the short story. As Steven King has said, “A novel is a quagmire that many younger writers stumble into before they’re ready to go there.” Not that I’ve ever wanted to, considered, or would ever consider writing a novel. I don’t have the patience or skill for something like that. The short story though, now that’s something I could get into. I adore the idea. So does Steven King, a man who’s assembled a collection of short stories and who’s called the collection Just After Sunset. I admire his appreciation for this type of work.
Getting to the point of this post; at the end of the first section in the book I referred to above is a Suggestions for Writing area. Contained within this area are quite a few brief challenges, or assignments, for the budding writer. One of them asks the budding writer to take the position of a story’s character that wasn’t fleshed out or given much attention. While the character may have played a critical role, they may not have spoken or had what the author of the text book refers to as a point of view. They’re the unknown. Their position can only be assumed. The challenge is to place your brain into the character’s skull to tell their story.
Now, I’ll let you know that I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve always written in first-person. From my own perspective and from my own experiences. I suppose that I can treat this as a first person assignment because I’ll be expressing the character’s point of view. I can simply pretend it’s mine. If I were asked to weave this character’s perspective into the rest of the story somehow, I’d encounter difficulty. I’m certain of it. I’m hopeful that I can learn that technique and I’m sure it’ll be addressed later on in the text book. For now though, I’ll do my best at expressing to you how the old man in Edgar Allen Poe’s story entitled The Tell-Tale Heart felt while lying in bed. If you’ve read this story, you’ll know that the old man’s point of view may have been addressed briefly, but it truly wasn’t given its due.
What? What was that? The noise. Again! For seven nights. And now the eighth. It’s always the same. The nearly soundless creak. The slow groan. The hours lasting motion of my bedroom door. Opening. Opening. Creaked open. Second by second. Inch by inch. Of being watched. Of being intruded upon! Why? Who was there? Why would someone bother me while I sleep? They haven’t done me any harm, but why would someone confront me while I lie in bed? Was it an angel? The angel of death? Was he coming for me? I spied the glimmer of light stemming from the hallway past my bedroom door and I spied the faint glow coming from the angel’s lantern. My senses were sure of the intruder, but my waking mind couldn’t and wouldn’t conclude what he might seek. Perhaps to protect me. To sit with me. To keep me safe. I’ll accept him for what he is. He has been friendly thus far.
My nerves began to calm. The noise on the eighth night was most discernible which made me quickly rise from my rest. I watched closely as my intruder or protector entered my room. He stayed quiet and I decided he was the protector I had waited for my entire life. My time must be up! Death must be here to guide my way. I won’t fight it. I’ll sit and watch and wait for the time to come. My instinct was to scream for my servant, but I knew that would only prolong the process of my demise. In any case, my servant had been so good to me through all his years. He need not see me this way. I have admired his service to me. His fashion. His aptitude. I watched over him closely for such a length of time. Viewing him as a son. The son that eluded me as my own. Our relationship had grown and I had come to love my servant deeply. I cared for him as that son and I would not want my son to witness the angel of death taking me away. Witness my final breath. Witness the last beating of my heart.
My heart! There was such movement. I was startled! The angel came close to me so fast. I wasn’t expecting his speed. He moved toward me after hours of waiting quietly and I was surprised at his swiftness. I felt pain. I felt it in my head and I slumped over. I felt the angel’s hands on my legs and then my ankles. He was pulling me off my bed onto the floor and then beneath my bed. Why was he doing this? This isn’t what I had expected. I felt pressure on my chest. I was having trouble breathing. I couldn’t breath! My bed was pressing against my chest and my heart began to beat much more forcefully. More loudly. I could feel it beating out of my chest! I imagined a cold breeze. I felt icicles penetrate my skin. The darkness above me went black and that black surrounded me. Enveloped me. I began to shiver and sweat. I moistened my night gown to such a degree that I felt as though I was lying in a pool of liquid. Of crystal cold liquid. I continued to freeze until my heart beat one last time. I felt it stop and I lay staring into the black. The darkness that surrounded my body. I was alone. More alone than I had ever been.
I wondered if my servant would find me this way. What would he think? Would he mourn for me as his father? Knowing my servant would care for me put my mind at ease. After all, I loved my servant deeply.