Monday, 9 April 2012

Top 5 Classic Reads

Here are 5 classic titles that I recommend to read this Autumn. The great thing about this Top 5 is that some of them impacted on the genres to a degree, and others to a great degree:

The earliest Gothic novel published
1) Interestingly enough, The Castle of Otranto was published pseudonymously in 1764 and became the earliest and most influential of the Gothic novels. This book is where the Gothic novel began, and since its publication there have been many variations on the genre. I prefer to read books right from the source, and this book is a must read, be it for study, personal interest, or illumination on the beginnings of genre types. I am always keen to know what kinds of tales these groundbreaking books have to offer.

Looking at story, it is a dark tale of a Steward hoping to wed his son to the heir-descendent of Castle Otranto, and from which unseen forces strive to thwart him. The Gothic element is surprisingly fresh and modern, and one can see Mr. Walpole's influences with Shakespeare within the text, particularly of Macbeth, with its protagonist on the edges of his sanity.
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Written in the 16th Century during the Ming Dynasty
2) Monkey was written during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Specifically during the 16th Century, Wu wrote Monkey at a time when trade was booming in China, where the country became involved in a new global trade of plants, goods, animals, and food crops, which was known as the Columbian Exchange. Towards the end of the Dynasty however, the flow of silver into the country diminished, undermining state revenues that caused problems with agriculture, and was combined with natural disasters, calamities, crop failure, epidemics, etc. which caused a challenge Ming authority.

This tale is a fictionalised account of the legendary pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk, Xuanzang. Within the story he has four protectors in the form of disciples who, as an atonement for past sins, have agreed to help him obtain sacred texts (sutras). This task was given to them on instruction from the Buddha to Guanyin, an enlightened being. This story represents the journey of individuals towards enlightenment. The popular Monkey Magic TV Series are also based upon this awesome book.
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The origins of Buck Rogers
 3) Armageddon 2419 A.D. We all know of the famous Buck Rogers, who became a serialised phenomenon after its original publication in the 1920's. The character of Buck was first called Anthony Rogers, but changed to Buck during its TV and film serialisation (he was also called William Rogers at one stage too).
The adventures of Buck Rogers in comic strips, movies, radio, and television became an important part of American popular culture. It introduced Americans to outer space as a familiar environment for swashbuckling adventure. But this is only after it became serialised. The original story does not involve outer space at all. It's about a man called Anthony who enters a cave filled with toxic gas, falls unconscious, and awakens in the 25th Century. He realises that he cannot return home and must help the future human race fight the evil Han. It is interesting to note Mr. Nowlan's take on 25th Century technology and how they're used and practiced. You will be surprised.
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A wonderfully spontaneous tale
4)  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. This story illuminates through beautifully spontaneous nonsense and meaning. As a reader, one is caught in a world of narrative distortions and nonsensical explanations. To try and find some meaning involves pleasure and pain, simultaneous and separate. I guess we are like Alice, plunged into Carroll's world, hoping (and trusting) him to a considerable degree.
 Reading this book, I found that people of all ages can glean their own knowledge from it and keep it. I tend to be the reflective type that tries to understand meaning within all aspects of the narrative. I guess there are two types of readers of this book: the one who thinks that most of what Carroll talks about is absolute nonsense, and the other who would find meaning within the nonsense. Nevertheless, this tale is wonderfully inventive and a definite read for anyone interested in 19th Century spontaneity.
Also, the word "chortle" was coined by Carroll, being a combination "snort" and "chuckle", which is in Through the Looking-Glass (part 2 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland).
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Winner of the first World Fantasy Award

5)  The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Although this is not technically a classic in terms of being very old like the novels above (it was published 1974), I still felt that it should be mentioned as a classic, because this book won the first ever World Fantasy Award! It definitely deserved to have won, because you will find a simple, dream-like tale of a girl called Sybel, who lived her life alone upon Eld Mountain.
 Sybel had an extraordinary gift: to call and communicate with fantastic mythical creatures from all over the world, creatures that others fear, such as the dragon Gyld, and Cyrin the mythic boar. She dwelled within a great dome of crystal, caring nothing for the society of humans until she is forced to raise a baby at age sixteen. This baby complicated her simple life and melted her stubborn heart and brought her joy.
The man who brought the baby to her returned years later, and they fall in love and reluctantly she lived with him far away from Eld Mountain and her wonderful creatures, where her powers could be exploited for political gain. It inevitably drew her into a struggle that could turn her against the very child that she raised as her own.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. There is a kind of quietness and calm that can be felt in the narrative. It left me contemplative and thoughtful when I finished it. One really does experience a calm through the pages, not too far removed from staying at monasteries or humble abodes.
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  1. Amin, this list of classic reads in quite eclectic and intriguing. I've gone through Carroll of course, but I'm ashamed to say I've only read criticism about Walpole and homages to him. So his work and the other texts you've discussed I'll have to look into. Cool beans.

    1. It's great stuff. Walpole was a suggested book to read while I attended an English Prep Course with CCE some years back. Dr Fiona Morrison recommended it highly.

  2. Thanks, Amin.
    I very much loved The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. McKillop is a fairy tale writer of the highest calibre.
    I look forward to reading more of your reviews and recommendations.