Fans anxiously wait for the finale of “Game of Thrones”. Why has this fascinating mythological story captured the world’s interest? Why listen to a book of fiction; particularly when freighted with supernatural events? Michael Sullivan offers an answer in “Age of Myth”.
It is the thrill of discovering a good story with characters one likes, or reviles. Tribal bravery, cowardice, betrayal, honor, and morality are crystallized in each chapter of Sullivan’s story.
Sullivan begins and ends “Age of Myth” with battles. The beginning battle introduces Raithe, a killer of false gods (aka, the god killer). The god killer becomes protector of Persephone, the leader of a Rhune tribe. Persephone is introduced as the former 2nd chair of Dahl Rhen (a Rhune village). She is the widow of the deceased ruler of Dahl Rhen.
The ending battle produces Gryndal, a wielder of the black art. Gryndal is First Minister to the Fane (the Fane is leader of the Fhrey tribe). Gryndal can harness the forces of nature to destroy all that block his path to power. Gryndal’s obstacles are removed through guile, deception, and force.
Sullivan’s characters represent a fundamental conflict in life. He describes an age of tribal war with all against all. Mysteries are explained while Sullivan tantalizingly ends the first book of the series. In this tribal age, Sullivan offers a slender hope for freedom and equality of all living things.
“Birds Without Wings” is a fictional account of the rise of the Turkish Republic after WWI. The author, Louis de Bernieres chooses a setting for his story in a village in southwestern Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast. The village is populated by different ethnicities and religions at the time of Turkey’s transition from Ottoman Empire to independent state. What makes the novel interesting is it comes from a recommendation of a Turkish Tour guide.
There are many, many characters in de Bernieres’ novel. The story’s attraction is marred by its leisurely pace and manifold characters. However, threads of de Bernieres’ created lives come together in its last chapters. Each character offers a novelist eye view of cultural disruption, conflict, and resolution in Turkey’s journey to statehood.
The village of Eskibahce (presumed to be Kayakoy, Turkey) is peopled by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Greeks, and Turks who live under Ottoman rule.
It is not a cosmopolitan village with wealthy merchants and productive industry. It is a small community of sheepherders, subsistence farmers, one Pasha, one successful entrepreneur, and two religious leaders.
One wonders about the purpose of a Tour guide’s selection of this book. Is it to offer a better understanding of Turkish culture or to give an opinion on the current state of affairs in Turkey? The story illustrates how cultural, and religious differences influence and often repeat history. The author shows how the past is always present.
It is troubling that this cultural novel is written by an Englishman because of England’s pre-WWI, and postwar history with Turkey.
Is the writer being objective? One is reminded of an astute analysis of American Democracy by a Frenchman in 1835.
In WWI, the Turks (as part of the Ottoman Empire) are by treaty compelled to join the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria) against the Allied powers (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Portugal,and the U.S.)
The Village is relatively quiescent until war is declared and Turkey is compelled to take sides. As the Allies defeat the Central Powers, the former Ottoman Empire is divided by the victors. In spite of the Central Powers defeat, Turkey demands independence and heads toward authoritarian dictatorship.
In de Bernieres’ novel, Mustafa Kemal is shown as an accomplished military leader who evolves into a secular President who nominally endorses democracy.
Though Kemal professes support for a democratic government, he remains an autocrat during his reign. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became the 1st President of an independent Turkey (1923-1938). He dies at age 57 in 1938.
What makes the novel interesting is its depiction of rural life in a small multi-cultural village on the Mediterranean coast. The influence of culture and religion is revealed in de Bernieres’ vignettes of Village life.
The author shows how Greeks and Turks live in the same community before WWI. They live in discord but measured acceptance. Women can be stoned to death but saved by the religion that dictates such a punishment. Written rules of conflicting religions and cultural differences co-exist in a diverse community.
Christians and Muslims intermarry. Both a Christian Father and a Muslim Imam show compassion for residents of the Village. Christian and Muslim youths are as close as brothers.
A Greek Christian Father is considered irascible and judgmental by many in the village but he is a source of education for illiterate villagers.
A Muslim’s son joins the Ottoman army in WWI and writes a letter to his mother.
The letter cannot be read by the Muslim family because it is written with Greek lettering. Though the father of the Muslim son dislikes the Christian teacher in the village, he goes to him for help in reading the letter.
The son’s letter is translated by the Christian Father. This Christian taught the Greek alphabet to Muslim children, and showed them how to read and write Greek lettering. The letter is beautiful and poignant. It explains how much his mother meant to the writer as a boy in the Village. The Turkish father is deeply grateful for the gift of hearing what was written in the letter. He praises the Christian Father for teaching his son how to read and write. The letter is a precious gift for the family.
In another story, a political leader and the richest man in the village is profiled by the writer. His name is Rustum Bey. His wife has a lover. The lover is discovered by Rustum Bey. Partly from defense and partly from rage, Rustum Bey murders his wife’s lover and places her in front of a mob of locals (of all faiths) who begin stoning her for adultery.
The Village Imam stops the stoning and rescues the adulterous wife from the enraged mob.
In continuation of this vignette, the author tells of Rustum Bey’s guilt for placing his wife in harms way. The adulterous wife recovers from the stoning but is compelled by Village ostracism and Muslim belief to live the life of a prostitute. Rustum Bey never divorces his wife. He shows remorse for having put her in front of a mob, and regrets her having to live the life she lives. To Rustum Bey, it is not a matter of forgiveness but of understanding.
In Rustum Bey’s loneliness, he purchases a concubine to become his companion. He presumes the concubine is Muslim. However, she is Greek. The two grow to love each other but circumstances of history compel his concubine to leave.
Rustum Bey’s concubine chooses to leave when Ataturk orders all Greeks to leave Turkey. Though she has not revealed her true nationality to Rustum Bey, she chooses to return to the country of her birth.
As a result of Ataturk’s command, in a mass exodus, Greek men, women, and children are turned out of their homes and forced to leave the Village. They leave by foot, mule, or boat with just what they can carry. Some are old, crippled, and without food for the trip. Many homes are left locked and unoccupied because they cannot be sold. The village begins to look like a ghost town.
Kayakoy, Turkey today–
Obvious hatred exists in Eskibahce (aka Kayakoy) for events that occurred in the past and are reminded of in the present. Greece once ruled the area of Smyrna in Turkey. Greeks committed many atrocities in their rule. Those atrocities are compounded in various WWI’ battles.
Greece’s occupation of Symrna 1919-1922.
The horror of war is dramatically described by de Bernieres.The author writes of the stink of dead corpses, the vermin that infest the living and dead, and the rape of innocents. These historical events live in the minds of those who survive.
In another story, the author describes the betrothal of Ibrahim (a Turkish Muslim) and Philothei (a Greek Christian) at age 13 and 12 and how their love ends in tragedy.
An Ottoman Betrothal
WWI lives in Ibrahim’s memory with such horror that he cannot return to Eskibahce’s peace to marry Philothei. Ataturk demands deportation of all Greeks from Eskibahce. Philothei must leave unless she marries a Turk.
Ibrahim is still dealing with the memories of war and is unable to understand Philothei’s pleas. They argue near a cliff where Ibrahim is tending sheep. Philothei trips and falls to her death.
These and many stories are told of life in early twentieth century Turkey that seem reminiscent of the same conflicts that exist today. Is the current President of Turkey like Ataturk? Have old conflicts between religion and culture changed or are they the same? Hopefully, a traveler to Turkey will gain some answers, or at least, insight to what it means to be a Turkish citizen.
The Island of Dr. Moreau is an apocryphal story; i.e. it raises many human’ issues—like morality, ethics, meaning of life, and the boundaries of civilization.
The original story is mired in 1896’ science but the story remains relevant for 21st century cloning and genetic manipulation. Wells envisions a brilliant physiologist who finds a way to meld the physiological characteristics of man with beast. This extraordinary feat is not technically revealed which diminishes the sense of suspended belief but the idea opens a Pandora’s Box of evil that is only mitigated by hope.
Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, uses CRSPR to modify the human genome in 2018.
Dr. Moreau’s demented intent is to civilize the animal kingdom by
creating “humanimals” that offer opportunity for animals to talk and resist thoughtless
instinctive actions. The idea is crazy
on many levels–not the least of which is the evil that lurks in human’ minds
that compel equally animalistic instinctive actions; but, Wells tells an
apocryphal and believable story about science run amok.
In the 21st century, science advances to the point of cloning and creating an identical living animal. “Dolly”, the sheep is cloned in 1996. Science is on the edge of creating new life forms, if not human copies. The only obstacle appears to be politics; political resistance to the idea of creating life in a test tube.
Dolly (Born in 1996, dies in 2003 from lung disease and severe arthritis. Her 6 year life span compares unfavorably with the 10 to 12 years of most sheep.)
Political resistance to cloning is weakening as evidenced by the first clone of a man’s leg cell and a cow egg in 1998. The embryo is destroyed after 12 days but a level of viability is proven. (Coincidentally, Wells includes a bovine human in The Island of Dr. Moreau.)
In 2008, a biotechnology company created five mature human embryos
from the nucleus of skin cells planted into a human egg. The embryos are allowed to mature to a viable
inner cell mass called a blastocyst which is an early structure of mammals. They were destroyed at that stage but the
experiment shows viability at a later stage of human cloning than in 1998. In 2013, scientists successfully cloned adult
It is possible to create duplicates of living animals, and human’ cells; add to that the potential of modifying genetic material–a feat achieved, but politically reviled by most scientists and the general public. For science, “humanimals” seem a viable and potential human creation.
“Humanimals” is a mad-scientist idea. The seductive interest in this science is that cloning and genetic modification offer opportunities for regeneration of damaged nerve cells, medical cures, organ and limb replacements; etc. Fear accompanies this avenue of research because the “thrill of discovery” seduces scientists’ into pursuit of knowledge without philosophical, moral, or ethical consideration of consequence.
A host of moral and philosophical conflicts are raised as science advances toward the creation of life. When does life become life and what right does a living human being have to end or create life? One might answer–society already has laws which allow life to end life; so why not create laws that allow creation of life. There lays the restraining influence of politics; i.e. not all agree with life taking life, right to choose life, right to choose death; so on and so on.
Politics mitigate the consequence of mad science. However, money, power, and prestige motivate the good and bad of humankind.
Growth of skin cells save a 7 year-old’s life by replacing 60 percent of skin loss from disease in 2015.
Doctor De Luca cultures skin cells from a portion of the boy’s body that is not diseased.
Ray Kurzweil suggests the future of human beings will involve a merger of human’ DNA and micro-technology. The Island of Dr. Moreau may be re-titled “The Island of Dr. Anonymous” with island earth populated by “humanimals” and “humotics”.
Like Well’s hero, Edward Prendick, surviving humans may have to leave island earth if they want to remain “only” human. The fable of Pandora explains that “hope” is the politics of the possible. It may be all that is left at the bottom of the box.
Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” exposes false notions of equality in America and reflects on the human frailty and strength of men and women.
Edith Wharton lived through the turn of the 19th and 20th century in America. She lived an adult life of luxury in New York, and later in France.
Wharton writes about American society; i.e. she exposes New York’s “upstairs, downstairs” snobbery in the early 20th century.
Newland Archer is engaged to be married to May Welland when a childhood friend comes to visit relatives in New York.
In telling the tale, Wharton sharply defines the battle of the sexes, duplicity of romance, and folly of youth. Though writing of a sliver of wealthy American’ society in the early 20th century, Wharton’s story rings as true about men and women today as it did when she won the Pulitzer Prize.
A childhood friend is Ellen Olenska, a 30-year-old married countess that left New York in her youth. Newland begins to question his love for May Welland. His reasons for questioning are not clear to himself. Wharton infers the reasons are idealized romance and lust.
Archer idealizes Olenska. His idealization comes from unrequited lust. Olenska is a married woman. She is not available.
Archer knows May is committed to him and takes her for granted. Archer’s lust for Olenska conflicts with Archer’s morals. The nature of unrequited lust is that the thought or idea of sex is perfect. In Archer’s mind, Olenska becomes an objectified sex object (a perfect fantasy), and May will never be good enough. Archer is psychologically prepared to abandon May and pursue a “perfect” relationship with Olenska.
Olenska, in one respect, is Archer’s alter-ego. She views Archer as a perfect companion because Archer is not available. Archer is committed to another woman. Olenska lusts for Archer but with better insight to the truth. Her life experience tells her to resist infatuation. She knows that once lust is satisfied, social reality returns.
Archer views May as a complacent woman that will make a boring
wife. In contrast, Wharton shows May to
be a perceptive woman that understands Archer’s and Olenska’s relationship. May correctly diagnoses Archer’s false
idealization and subtlety maneuvers Archer to quash the burgeoning affair with
In the end, Wharton shows Archer to be morally shallow. Archer chooses to keep his innocent memory; i.e. his deluded vision of romance, commitment, and love.
May and Olenska are shown to understand the difference between lust and romance; commitment, and love. Archer never does. Archer never gets over “The Age of Innocence”.
“The Three Musketeers” is a character driven story loaded with romantic heroes and riven with specters of evil. In the context of today’s “me to” movement, it is a female bashing and debasing tale wrapped in a male chauvinist delusion.
“The Three Musketeers” reinforces histories’ misshapen view of women’s rightful place as hero and/or villain.
In “The Three Musketeers” women are the cause of war, heart ache, and most maladies of humankind. In that view, Dumas joins the pantheon of writers that demean women.
On the other hand, Dumas creates a female character that is an equal to diabolical protagonists in other famous novels. There is no villain more devious, complicated, and scarily drawn than Milady de Winter.
Alexandre Dumas is one of France’s most well-known writers. At the risk of being identified as a fellow misogynist, “The Three Musketeers” is a fiction writer’s tour de force and a joy to listen to when narrated by a master story teller.
Meeting d’Artagnan for the first time and learning about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, his three gallant and inseparable friends, is a guilty pleasure. There are no male heroes more brilliantly defined than Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan.
Dumas writes the story of d’Artagnan, a 19 year old romantic that leaves his homeland with a letter of introduction to Monsieur de Treville, the Captain of the Musketeers. The hero, d’Artagnan is unknowingly pitched into the middle of a jealous rivalry between the French King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s competing cadre of French protectors.
Dumas cleverly interlaces facts of history with stories of Musketeer bravery, hi-jinks, and romance that reminds humans of their best and worst qualities.
Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642).
England and France are on the verge of war in the early 1600s. The jealous rivalry of the King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s nationalists roil the relationship between the King of France and its Cardinal.
The Musketeers walk a fine line between their support of the King and Queen and Richelieu’s defense of the country.
Queen Anne of Austria (1615-1643, Louis XIII’s wife).
Richelieu is painted as a powerful French nationalist and a venal schemer who lusts for Queen Anne.
Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628).
The dastardly Cardinal goes to great lengths to expose the Queen’s affection for the English Duke of Buckingham; partly to save France from England’s covetousness, but also (in Dumas’s fiction) to break the relationship between King and Queen.
Dumas suggests Richelieu’s plan is to soil the Queen’s reputation with an already jealous King.
King Louis XIII (1601-1643).
A principal cause for the war between England and France is purported to be the Duke of Buckingham’s immoral advances toward France’s Queen Anne and Queen Anne’s suspected cuckolding of King Louis the XIII.
Women are unceasingly characterized as fickle, conniving, gullible, or duplicitous.
Dumas describes d’Artagnan’s infatuation with the married Constance Bonacieux. It is not unlike Richelieu’s alleged lust for Queen Anne. Dumas adds d’Artagnan’s dalliance with Milady de Winter, a wily protagonist, and her sometimes associate Richelieu. Neither men nor women seem entirely chaste in Dumas’s tale, but women are characterized less gallantly.
Listening to Vance’s narration of “The Three Musketeers” is an addictive pleasure in spite of Dumas’s fickle characterization of women.
The words from Milady de Winter vividly portray human nature at its worst. Both the Cardinal’s, d’Artagnan’s, and Milady de Winter’s virtues leave much to be desired. Generally, women in “The Three Musketeers” are characterized as objects, more than equals to men. How much has changed since the 19th century?
Nevertheless, “The Three Musketeers” ending is thrilling and satisfying to many deluded misogynists among us.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man By James Joyce
Narrated by John Lee
James Joyce (1882-1941, Irish novelist, poet, teacher, and literary critic.)
James Joyce gives us a picture of Catholic Ireland in the early 20th century. He describes an Irish home; i.e. riven with Catholic guilt and ambivalent beliefs about God and Ireland’s place in the Gaelic world.
Joyce’s main character, Stephen Dedalus, is born into an upper middle class Irish family that falls on hard times. Dedalus graduates from a Jesuit school and moves on to college but his life steers away from God and Ireland in his journey to manhood.
Stephen chooses his own path in life but like all humankind he carries the genetics of family and circumstance that compel life’s decisions. Like his father, Stephen is drawn to agnosticism, bordering on atheism, because of worldly pleasures and pains. The pleasures of sexual adventure and the pains of Irish conflict (about religion and statehood) drive Stephen’s escape from Catholicism and his father’s fall from grace.
The fragility of the Catholic Church is evident in James Joyce’s “…Portrait…” Dedalus is portrayed as a top of his class student that is coveted by the Church hierarchy that wants Stephen to become a Jesuit priest.
The strength and allure of the Church at that time is clearly evident in Joyce’s description of the Catholic Priesthood’s power to attract the best and the brightest of its brethren. However, Dedalus, after a day contemplating the Church’s offer, chooses to pursue a broader life.
Even though the Church offers a vocation of prominence and security, Stephen rejects it. The irony of the rejection is that Stephen’s Catholic guilt propels him away from a life of Catholicism. Stephen realizes that he cannot resist worldly temptation.
To Stephen, the mechanism of Catholic forgiveness of sins seems formulaic and inadequate for the purpose of cleansing one’s soul.
The prescience of Joyce’s insight is fully realized in today’s Catholic Priesthood and its failure to protect Catholicism’s children.
Stephen Dedalus is cast adrift. He is a
teacher and poet; highly regarded by most of his peers and recognized by many
as an intellectual superior. He wishes
to escape Ireland;
to see the world. This is “A Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man”.
one sees Stephen Dedalus as a burgeoning Humanist; at worst, a hedonistic life
traveler. A great read; well told by John Lee.
By Chet Yarbrough
Life of Pi
By Yann Martel
Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Yann Martel (Author, Spanish-born Canadian)
Symbolism is a part of “Life of Pi” but it makes little difference to a reader or listener who is looking for an enjoyable fictional adventure. Most listeners will be fascinated and absorbed by Yann Martel’s writing and Jeff Woodman’s narration.
Pi’s father sells his business. He owns a zoo in Mumbai. By ship, he is transporting his family and the zoo animals to North America when disaster strikes.
Martel successfully suspends disbelief in a story about a boy from India who survives a ship wreck in a life boat with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orange orangutan.
As with all ship wreck and life boat stories, the immediate concern is food and water for survivors, of which there is only Pi and four zoo animals.
Survival of the fittest becomes a suspenseful part of the story. The orangutan’s name is Orange Juice. Names for the hyena and zebra fall into the fog of a listener’s memory. The tiger’s name is Richard Parker.
This odd menagerie winnows down to the boy and the tiger but, along the way, one learns something about truth and relationship.
Martel describes Pi’s early life as the son of a zoo keeper and owner in Mumbai, India before a fateful voyage to Canada. By telling of Pi’s early life, Martel creates a background that makes Pi’s successful management of his crowded life boat believable.
Pi is born a Hindu but becomes interested in Christianity and Islam to the extent that each allows him to love God.
Pi’s concatenation of faiths is a foretelling of how Pi handles the loss of his family, survival in a hostile environment, and tolerance for life’s ambiguities.
Fascinating tales of survival of the fittest are followed by an equally interesting story of how Pi gains respect and control of an increasingly hungry and thirsty tiger.
In the course of the story, Richard Parker and Pi find an island populated with meerkats and flesh eating plants. They eventually escape the island, and–well, you have to read the story.
Pi is obviously rescued–after all, he is telling the story.
The Japanese government interviews Pi to determine what happened to the ship that was lost and how Pi survived 227 days on the high seas. Pi tells an incredible story. Naturally, the government officials disbelieve him.
Pi creates another less interesting story. This new story becomes the official record. A listener is left to believe Pi’s story, or not. Pi’s story is like every report given by one person to another when there are no witnesses.