Books

The “Carton Effect” (or, self-sacrifice in literature)

We all know the fictional ‘trope’ of “self-sacrifice.” It’s what Aslan, Harry Potter, Timothy and Jesus have in common.

I’ve recently been musing on a specific type of sacrifice ‘trope’ (for want of a better word) which seems to crop up again and again in literature. I’m calling it….

“The Carton Effect”

Sydney Carton, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, is often expounded as a heroic example of self-sacrifice. Let’s analyse his actions.

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In defence of Fiction

This post was written in response to someone who dared to suggest in my hearing that non-fiction trumps fiction. (Don’t worry, we’re still on speaking terms!)

My defence of fiction (firstly, let’s make sure we’re on the same page)

Firstly, we cannot include the Bible in this debate. I believe that the Bible stands alone as the Word of God, a sacred text, written by the Divine. It is Truth embodied.

Secondly, we can’t say one is better than the other. To do so is to misunderstand the debate. They are both literary genres. Neither is the exclusive bulwark of Truth, although both embrace it. Non-fiction does not have the exclusive rights to ‘objectivity,’ to ‘practicality,’ or to ‘clarity’. Neither does fiction alone protect the last vestiges of ‘creativity,’ of ‘beauty,’ or of ‘refreshment’.

Fiction fulfils a different purpose to Non-fiction, but it is of equal importance, and thus deserves equal attention. This is my proposition. These, then, are my arguments:

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Thinking Fiction: Why we like characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side

I’m forever on a quest to discover why I like what I like. This is part of my foray into ‘types’ of fictional characters and why we as readers like them.

Who or what are ‘characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side’?

I’m not sure if this is a universal ‘like’, but it’s certainly one of mine. I really enjoy reading a book or watching a TV series in which a character has to hide their true allegiances from others.

These characters appear ‘less than’ noble, ‘less than’ dependable, and at times downright villainous to most of the other characters, yet are actually working for the side of ‘good’. If they are the protagonist they are likely striving to ‘help’ society or a faction thereof, if they are not the protagonist, they are often an undercover champion for the protagonist’s cause.

An extreme example of this is when an individual the protagonist believes is ‘evil’ is revealed at the end of a series or novel to have been working for ‘good’ the entire time.

This is an extreme and difficult example to plot for three reasons:

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a year in reading 2018

A year in reading 2018

Happy New Year everyone! Following the tradition, here we go!

Books read 2018: 70

Trends:

  • Number of books is increasing (67 in 2017, 56 in 2016, 55 in 2015)
  • I am ‘reading’ more audio books
  • I am also reading far more e-books than paper
  • This year I included (for the first time) in my list novel-length works of fan fiction (but not in my summary here).

Ratio:

49 fiction/21 non-fiction

37 e-kindle/11 audio/22 paper print

Longest paper book:

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Shortest paper book:

The Importance of being Ernest – Oscar Wilde

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Thinking fiction Why we like socially disadvantaged characters

Thinking fiction: Why we like socially disadvantaged characters…

I’m forever on a quest to discover why I like what I like. Join me on a foray into ‘types’ of fictional characters and why we as readers like them.

Who or what are socially disadvantaged characters?

Socially disadvantaged characters are those who are oppressed by their society. They have little power to change the (sometimes horrific) world they live in. They are often children, poor, slaves or people of a marginalised race.

For all this, these socially disadvantaged are often the heroes of their tales. In ‘rags-to-riches’ narratives the reason for this is obvious, but there are many other stories where they play central parts – so why are they so popular?

Examples of socially disadvantaged characters

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Sherlock Holmes vs. Shakespeare

“Here, though the world explode, these two survive.”

(Vincent Starlett, “221B”)

Sherlock Holmes vs. Shakespeare: which will last the ages?

If you’re at all familiar with the ‘English speak’ of High school English classes, you’ll know that a common phrase is “enduring appeal”. Shakespeare always has it. It grants the text an ability to transcend time and culture. It means that a story can still entertain an audience and challenge critics hundreds of years after it was first written.

Such is the case with Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet – they were enjoyed, are being enjoyed, and doubtless with continue to be enjoyed in the future.

I’d like to argue that the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories have this sort of enduring appeal. No other literary character has been so consistently appropriated, updated and represented. The collection of tales reluctantly written by a struggling medical doctor have spawned numerous books, poems, films and screen-plays – not to mention museums, monuments and societies.

The brilliant but eccentric detective and his humble but loyal biographer have permeated their way into popular culture, and demonstrate no sign of leaving anytime soon.

Why? What is it about this cannon of works that has generated such enduring appeal?

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I idolize Bravery – a realisation and defence

“Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity.” (Sherlock BBC)

I am attracted to bravery

I have often wondered what it is that causes me to dub some fictional characters as ‘my favourite’ even if I do not necessarily admire their inherent goodness.

Recently I have come to a conclusion, which is to be my working hypothesis until disproven: I admire brave characters.

I have long known that bravery is one of the traits I admire the most. It is the reason I feel drawn to the “Invictus” poem even though I disagree with its theology.

It’s the reason I was obsessed with the television series Merlin as a teenager even as I rolled my eyes at the suspension of disbelief required, read the ‘Pagan’ chronicles under my bedsheets even though I flinched at the anti-Christian elements, and the reason I find myself at the age of 23 coupling drawings of Severus Snape with suitable quotes to post on DeviantArt.

I am invariably attracted to bravery.

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A Year in Reading 2017

Following the tradition, I thought I’d share the books I enjoyed reading this year – my tiny contribution to the online world of books and reading, of which I am mostly a silent consumer (but pay my dues once a year in the form of a blog post!)

Books read 2017: 67 (my goal was 57, so this was exciting)

Ratio:

48 Fiction/18 Non-fiction

21 audio books/38 paper print/8 kindle digital

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A Year in Reading 2015 & 2016

“What do you like doing?”

“I read.”

“What do you read?”

“Ermm…books?”

Two years ago I was sick of replying “Ermm…” when people asked what I liked to read. To be honest, I had no idea what the true answer was. What genre did I like? What sort of books did I gravitate towards? Don’t ask me. I didn’t analyze, I just read.

Two years ago I decided to start analyzing. The results were interesting. Last year, I continued analyzing. It’s 2017, and I’m still analyzing.

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