Yesterday was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and I feel that I should note it.
The first book I read on my own, at the ripe old age of 4, was Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!. I must have read it, say, a million times. I read it to my mom when I was sure I could do it. Then I read it to my dad when he got home from work. Then I read it to my sister, who was too young to read or even really understand it at all. She was also too young to escape my reading to her, which my parents gladly took advantage of when they got sick of Marvin.
They were so happy I could read though. Before, I had my parents read those books to me. I think my dad still knows all the words to Old Hat, New Hat by heart, and my mom can still do all the voices she used to do for Are You My Mother?. They read those stories to me hundreds of times. They weren’t all by Dr. Seuss, but all of them were contributed by children’s authors who published at Random House under the umbrella of Beginner Books. Beginner Books was founded by Dr. Seuss, his wife, and Phyllis Cerf.
Even now, I enjoy going back through my Dr. Seuss books when I need a dose of childhood. At Christmas I still visit the Grinch in Whoville. I won’t be going to see the movie, but for the first time in years yesterday I opened The Lorax. My all time favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Sleep Book, is still proudly displayed on a shelf in my room and I read through it every so often before bed when I don’t want to do serious reading or a crossword puzzle to make me drowsy.
But throughout my early years, I read his stories frequently, especially after I could read on my own. I didn’t realize I was reading about racists (The Sneetches), or Hitler (Yertle the Turtle), environmentalism and anti-consumerism (The Lorax) or anything else in this picture:
I suppose I was, and those messages seem quite obvious now, but I didn’t notice them so much when I was young. Not judging people by the color of their skin and growing up to love trees might be a credit to Dr. Seuss, though.
But that stuff is all retrospective. At the time, I had no idea what a racist was, or what a Hitler was. I just liked the books. Yertle the Turtle, especially, amused me endlessly. It really speaks values about my sense of justice and fair play that, even as a kid, I was filled with glee when Yertle became king of the mud. The words in those stories, written mostly in anapestic tetrameter, captivated me as would future words of future stories in future books, but some of the real magic in Dr. Seuss came from the illustrations.
As someone who hasn’t grown up to be an artist or illustrator, I am still floored and awed by the creation of creatures I had never heard of and could never find anywhere else but in my mind’s eye. They helped develop my own imagination.
I used them to bond with my family as well. My family were all brought up on those books…at least everyone under the age of 60. My aunts, uncles, and cousins all read Dr. Seuss’s stories to me while growing up.
When I used to go to my aunts’ huge house in Harrison, 10-15 years before they left for the condo in Somers, I’d go down to the basement and pull out all the books I didn’t have at home and read those. I spent hours and hours curled up on the couch, reading about things like Bartholomew Cubbins’ hats. I have a very specific memory of an evening where everyone was together but sort of doing their own thing, and I was reading about 500 hats. That’s one of several of my early childhood memories of my family – reading with them.
I’m actually missing huge chunks of my childhood. I was literally missing for long periods of time. I must have been. I spent so much time completely engrossed in Dr. Seuss’s works, that while my parents will swear I was sitting in the living rooms of my various relatives, on their various couches, I know that I must have been somewhere else.
I know I was. As a kid, I spent countless hours on Mulberry Street, in Whoville, or with a mischievous cat. 20 years later, and I’m a better person for it. Journeys like that never leave you.
Neither does that cat. He used to visit me quite often when I was young. I don’t see him so much anymore, but sometimes if I glance out the window on a rainy day, I just manage to catch a glimpse of a red and white striped hat zipping out of sight.
Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss, wherever you are.
This story by Ernest Hemingway is frequently regarded as his best, but I preferred A Farewell to Arms.
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.
Throughout this novel, we usually follow the thoughts and experiences of American Robert Jordan, who is a member of an international coalition that opposes the fascist forces of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
Robert ends up working with a guerrilla leader named Pablo who has become reluctant to lead forces into something that would endanger himself and his band. Jordan is behind enemy lines to blow up a bridge and needs their help. In the camp, he meets and falls in love with Maria, a girl whose life has been completely destroyed by the Fascists. Her parents were executed and she was brutally raped. Jordan is suddenly revitalized by Maria. He wants to bring her back to his home and marry her when the war is over.
After another band of guerrillas is killed by the fascist soldiers, the leader of Jordan’s guerrilla band, Pablo, tries to sabotage the operation. After witnessing Jordan’s commitment to his mission, Pablo eventually comes around and the bridge is destroyed, but Jordan is maimed and has no choice but to let the others go on while he lies on the ground, determined to take out as many of the fascists as he can before his inevitable death.
This story took about 175 pages to be interesting, at least to me. I’m a fan of Hemingway’s usual style of simple, sparse prose and short, declarative sentences, but this book wasn’t written that way. The descriptions were long. There wasn’t much dialogue and there was a lot more punctuation than usual. There were big blocks of text that I wasn’t expecting. After that, the story picked up, but then something else happened to me.
Unlike in Hemingway’s other stories, after reading about the death of El Sordo – the leader of the other guerrilla band – I suddenly knew how this book was going to end, with Robert Jordan’s death mirroring that of El Sordo. I hate it when this happens to me. Since I turned 19, I’ve suddenly become rather good at predicting how things are going to go – either I know what events are going to take place, or I figure out the twist early, or whatever. And I can’t un-ring the bell. Once I figure it out, there’s no real way to ignore it, and it takes away some of the enjoyment. I can still enjoy that it’s done well, but the lack of surprise takes a bit of the shine off of the whole thing.
That’s what happened here. So once I knew that Robert Jordan was going to die, I had a lot of trouble getting through the story, partly because I knew what would happen and partly because it wasn’t written in the way I was expecting, which I love.
Death was a huge theme in this book. Robert Jordan knows he will not survive blowing up the bridge, seemingly throughout most of the book, and most of the characters contemplate their own deaths. There’s a lot of friendship in the face of death – it builds camaraderie between the characters in the story, knowing that they could all possibly die at any moment. All the men prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause.
Suicide is also a theme in this novel. Most of the men would prefer the quick death of suicide to being tortured for information if they were captured. Since they’d be executed eventually anyway, they’d prefer to make it quick. Some of the men carry cyanide tablets with them; it might be something else, but I can’t remember what. Robert Jordan also prefers suicide to torture, but he struggles with it, because his father, who he views as a coward, committed suicide. Consequently, he aims to die in his last ambush against the fascists, which will come after he is maimed and unable to travel.
Suicide recurs a lot in Hemingway’s stories. Obviously, Hemingway committed suicide himself in 1961. His father also committed suicide. In fact, it seems like just about everyone in Hemingway’s family committed suicide. At least three other members of his family besides him and his father took their own lives.
Imagery also plays a role in the novel. Automatic weapons – the way they look and particularly the way they sound – take over and are very prominent. Planes that drop bombs are dreaded more than anything else. The best soldier doesn’t win, the one with the biggest guns and best weapons win. It destroys the romantic notion of war – that it’s a sportsman-like competition with honor and rules. Like in A Farewell to Arms, disillusionment becomes a theme. Maria’s parents were heroes, but were brutally executed against the wall of a slaughterhouse along with a lot of other people in front of her, and she was then gang raped. There is no real glory for the soldiers in the field; it only comes in official dispatches that are disconnected from the people on the ground.
There is also frequent imagery of soil and earth. We leave Robert Jordan with his heart beating against his chest on a bed of pine needles, he sleeps with Maria and they feel the Earth move, etc…
There is some negative critical reaction to the novel, stemming out of Hemingway’s use of the Spanish language in the book. I haven’t taken a Spanish class in quite some time, but I did know some of it wasn’t accurate. Wikipedia lists that Hemingway uses archaisms, transliterations, and false friends to convey what’s being said. Because dialogue seems to be a literal translation from the Spanish language into English (that’s the only explanation I can come up with for some of awkward language), the words thee and thou are used to distinguish the formal Spanish (tú is “you” in the familiar Spanish, usted is the formal “you”). Thee/thou is used to convey the usted form. It’s clunky writing.
There’s also swearing in the novel, and while it is used freely in Spanish, it’s translated due to censorship as “obscenity” or “muck.” As Wikipedia reminded me, me cago en la leche occurs throughout the novel, which is translated by Hemingway as “I obscenity in the milk.” By the way, in my internet wanderings learning about this story, I learned that the Wikipedia entry for Spanish profanity is extremely detailed, in case anyone was wondering.
Anyway, in spite of the fact that it could be rather slow and I knew the ending before it happened, and even though I prefer other Hemingway works, I did enjoy For Whom the Bell Tolls. It was a great cultural study of what was going on during the Spanish Civil War (for example, Hemingway, through Jordan, notes that both anarchist and communist factions were both fighting to control the Republican cause implying that this meant it was doomed from the start). I came to love Robert Jordan and experienced real sadness knowing his death was coming. It felt real, and I’d highly recommend it as a moving story about courage, love, and friendship in the face of death.
Finally, for anyone wondering, the title of this story is in reference to a poem by John Donne, an English poet, lawyer, and priest who lived between 1572 and 1631.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Shirley Jackson’s thriller is one of the scarier books I’ve ever read. I read it back in October, as a Halloween “I should read something scary” book.
Originally, I was leaning towards something Stephen King, or rereading Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (which scared me like no other book ever), but I wanted to read something new. My mom had recommended this one to me ages ago, and I happened to find it in our library.
I was hooked after one paragraph.
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
I also like the book’s tagline (as stated on Amazon):
The four visitors at Hill House— some there for knowledge, others for adventure— are unaware that the old mansion will soon choose one of them to make its own.
This one was so good that I’m going to my absolute best not to spoil it.
The Haunting of Hill House tells the story of a woman named Eleanor, who is living a very claustrophobic life. She answers the ad of a Dr. Montague, who studying paranormal phenomena and is looking for companions/test subjects to stay in the haunted “Hill House” with him. Those who end up in the house are Dr. Montague, Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke (the nephew of the house’s owner, who doesn’t live in or near the house).
Nobody in the village where Hill House is located will go near the house, except for the caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, who make sure to clear out well before dark.
Almost immediately, the group starts experiencing supernatural happenings within the house, which intensify and grow over the following few days.
Jackson relies on terror, rather than horror, to elicit reaction from the reader. Terror is fear what you don’t see, and horror is fear of what you do see. There’s lots of terror going on in this book – the main character, Eleanor, rarely actually sees anything going awry in the house.
There is one episode where Eleanor and Theodora are being chased, and Theodora looks back and screams for Eleanor to run, but the book never explains what Theodora saw. In fact, at the end of the book, the reader is left wondering if the house is actually haunted or if everything that actually occurred was in the imaginations of its occupants. Each explanation is reasonable – while Eleanor, Theodora, Dr. Montague, and Luke all experience supernatural phenomena, Mrs. Montague and Arthur (her…butler? Friend? Assistant?) come into the house and don’t experience anything even close to supernatural.
I can’t get hugely into this book without spoiling it, but I really don’t want to spoil it because it was just so good. If you have read it, I recommend reading this bit commentary on it, which provides some good insight. There are spoilers.
The best part about this book is that it leaves you with more questions than answers. Was the haunting of Hill House real, or was it all inside the occupants’ heads?
Of all the books I’ve read/reviewed/not reviewed on this blog, this is the one I’d recommend most highly. It’s pretty short, guys, seriously, read it.
I loved This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as I hated The Beautiful and Damned (also by Fitzgerald).
Fitzgerald’s first novel…uses numerous formal experiments to tell the story of Amory Blaine, as he grows up during the crazy years following the First World War.
…beware, spoilers ahead!
We follow the life of Amory Blaine from childhood until just after college. He spends a lot of time trying to discover himself and we spend a lot of time examining this kid’s ego. Amory’s ego is a running theme throughout the story. He is convinced he has exceptional promise and is an exceptional person. He’s entitled, boastful, and quite conceited throughout the story.
Amory has a strange relationship with his mother – he calls her Beatrice – but she sends him to expensive schools and he befriends a former lover of hers, Darcy, who is now a monsignor in the church. Amory has long conversations with him, mostly about how alike and special they each are. It’s almost as if he’s actually Beatrice’s baby-daddy, rather than Amory’s father.
Mostly, we follow Amory’s romantic and intellectual pursuits as he discovers and makes peace with his place in the world. From his manipulating his way into a first kiss as a thirteen-ish year old at a birthday party through to his failed college relationships, Amory’s focus is always on Amory unless it’s on his latest beloved. He attends Princeton University, and on vacation kindles a romance with the beautiful Isabelle (who reminded me of The Beautiful and Damned’s Gloria). He quickly becomes disillusioned with her, and he goes back to Princeton. From early on in the novel, it’s clear that Amory is both attracted and repulsed by romance with women.
Amory is then shipped out to serve during World War I. One of his friends dies in combat or something, but Amory doesn’t seem particularly bothered by this. In fact, throughout the entire book, Amory doesn’t seem to care when people die much at all. This includes his father, as he’s completely unemotional when his father passes away, and is more interested in the state of his family’s finances and how they will affect him. He’s completely self-involved to the point where it’s actually kind of disgusting, and he only seems affected by having to look at dead bodies, but he never really seems bothered by death. He watches one of his friends die in a car accident, and only really seems bothered that he had to look at the body.
The only time he seems affected by the death of a person is when Monsignor Darcy dies, and that mostly seems like it’s because he and Darcy would sit together and talk about how exceptional they were, and now he can’t do that anymore.
Anyway, the real turning point in his life is meeting Rosalind Connage, a New York debutant. The pair of them are madly in love, but because he is now poor (his parents, mostly his father, irresponsibly lost their fortune), Rosalind chooses to marry a rich man, which devastates Amory.
There’s also a scene where Amory and a different girlfriend play a game of chicken on horses towards a cliff – she leaps off her horse and the horse goes over. Actually, I’m not sure it’s a game of chicken as much as she’s crazy and Amory dumps her soon afterwards. But yeah, that kind of upset me a lot. Poor horse, stupid bitch.
Anyway, at the end of all this, when Monsignor Darcy dies, Amory makes his most iconic statement, after forming an opinion on everything and then un-forming his opinions on everything, he says, “I know myself, but that is all.”
In spite of the fact that Amory is arrogant, self-centered, and kind of smug most of the novel, I do really like him. As he grows up, he realizes more and more that he doesn’t really know anything very well at all. He does fall in love, even if it is a superficial, shallow kind of love a lot of the time (like with Gloria and Anthony in The Beautiful and Damned), and he does think a lot. A lot of the book is his conversations with his good friends about philosophy, art, life, etc…
This novel was particularly interesting because it blends a bunch of different types of writing. Sometimes it’s a fictional narrative, there are poems and things that Amory writes, sometimes written as a play, sometimes free verse, etc… Actually, it was interesting but I did find it a bit irritating. Pick what you want to write and stick with it; none of this switching over from one thing to another.
The whole story is semi-autobiographical – Fitzgerald needed to publish a novel in order to win over his socialite love who wouldn’t marry him unless he made some money (like Rosalind and Amory). A bunch of the characters, including Amory’s best friend, Thomas Parke D’Invilliers, who is the fictional writer of the poem at the start of The Great Gatsby (I looked it up because I remembered the name), are based on actual people that Fitzgerald knew. Beatrice was based on a friend’s mother, and Rosalind was based on Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda.
Amory’s final lament, “I know myself, but that is all,” is the culmination of what has gone on throughout the book. After trying to figure out what has interested him, and formed him, from his mother to losing or discarding love (and abandoning the idea of finding inspiration or love in women after Rosalind), after shunning convention (which he finds he despises), and losing all his money, Amory has finally solved the quest of the book, which is to discover himself.
This book is a bit disjointed. It makes odd jumps in both time and style, and can be a bit unclear. There is an episode where Amory is in New York City with friends and believes he is being chased by some sort of supernatural specter (the devil maybe)? All this happens after an evening of heavy drinking. Amory drinks frequently throughout the novel to cope with physical and emotional pain and it can get quite tedious both listening to his self-indulgent whining and his arrogant conversations with friends. His belief in his own exceptionalism is irritating, and watching someone go back and forth from engaged to apathetic with his own life is downright infuriating.
His love affairs are melodramatic and for someone like me, who doesn’t fall in love easily, unbelievable in a lot of ways. Love at first sight? No. Never love again because you got dumped once as a twenty-ish year old? No. More infatuation than actual love? Definitely.
But Amory is a lot like me, a lot like many people I know, a lot like many people who have been forced to grow up, whether early by circumstance or just the passage of time. He’s got more of an ego than a lot of people, but for the most part, he is a kid who experiences the ups and downs of love, both the desire to be normal and the desire to be different, the pressures of school and a social life, and is just trying to figure out who he is and where he fits in the world.
…And then he grows up.
This culminates at the end of the story, with the payoff being that Amory comes to realize his own selfishness, something a lot of Fitzgerald characters never do. And I loved him, and this book, for it.
I read The Tempest by William Shakespeare after reading the Prospero’s Daughter series - the series is based on the play. I’d seen the play live before but never read it.
One of my favorite things about Shakespeare plays is that I get to read literary criticism and history on them before I review them, so I feel extra smart.
I don’t really feel the need to put “SPOILER ALERT” on a 400 year old play, so here we go.
The Tempest is thought to be written between 1610 and 1611, and is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote by himself. But, like everything else we know about Shakespeare, we don’t really “know” it at all, and scholars contest both these claims.
For a long time, this wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It didn’t meet much acclaim before the “closing of the theaters” (which was when, basically, the Puritans sucked the fun out of life) and after the Restoration (when English, Scottish, and Irish monarchies were “restored” under Charles II - it’s way easier to read the Wikipedia than explain) only adaptations of it were popular. It wasn’t until later on, during the 1800s, did people begin using the original work rather than an adaptation, and it was even later than that, in the 20th century, that the play was re-evaluated by critics and scholars. It’s now considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest works.
Either way, this particular play was written very late, and like some of Shakespeare’s other later plays, is not a strict comedy although it is classified as one. This play, along with Cymbeline, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Winter’s Tale, and Pericles, Prince of Tyre were classified by Edward Dowden as “romances” or “tragicomedies” in his 1875 work Shakespeare: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art. (I have to get a copy of this.)
Romances tend to have certain things in common.
+ A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members
+ Magic and other fantastical elements
…as well as some other things you can read on the Wikipedia page. But these two stood out particularly me.
There were a couple of other themes mentioned in critical essays I’ve read about The Tempest, one of which is that the play is very concerned with the fact that it’s a play. Remember that this is believed to be one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote on his own - one theory is that the “dread magician Prospero” is Shakespeare inserting himself into the story. As Prospero brings about all the events in the story through his magic, Shakespeare brought about all the events in the theater as a playwright. As Prospero decides to give up his magic and return to normal life, Shakespeare decides to give up his role as a playwright.
I rather like this theory, and it’s supported by some textual evidence. The shipwreck was a “spectacle” that Ariel “performed.” There is a connection between Prospero’s “art” and theatrical tricks/illusions, and two of the characters - Antonio and either the Alonso or Sebastian - are “cast” in a “troop” to “act.” The Globe Theatre itself may have been reference by Prospero:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And—like the baseless fabric of this vision —
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. …”
The other theme that seems to run through is magic. Now, from what I remember of my high school history and English classes, in Shakespeare’s day, you could get away with being interested in the supernatural by wanting to study it and understand its causes. If you were interested in conjuring spirits and other occult things, then you could be executed for it. That was going on at that point, particularly close to the Catholic Church, in Italy.
Anyway, Shakespeare very carefully paints Prospero as a “white” magician (furthering the self-insert theory). Most of Prospero’s magic is based on late 16th and early 17th science, and Prospero is carefully juxtaposed with Sycorax, who worships the devil and traps Ariel in a tree when he’s too gentle to perform her dark tasks. Prospero’s magic is described as wonderful and constructive; Sycorax’s magic is supposed to be destructive and dangerous. Prospero uses his magic to set things right and once he does, he gives it all up and frees Ariel.
Usually I love to look carefully at how Shakespeare’s female characters are written and perceived, but in this case it’s almost pointless. Miranda is the only female character, she falls in love with Ferdinand, he loves her, they plan to marry, game over. Miranda seems to have accepted the patriarchal society she would have been in - she is subordinate to her father. Her only duty to him seems to be to remain a virgin until marriage. The other women mentioned in the play - Claribel, Alonso’s daughter, and Sycorax - don’t appear, they’re only mentioned.
We learn everything of Sycorax from Prospero, but he’s never met her. He only knows what he knows from Ariel. There’s one theory from Stephen Orgel, a Shakespearean scholar who teaches English at Stamford University, that says Prospero is suspicious of women and their virtue because he makes and ambiguous remark about his wife’s fidelity. This makes him an unreliable source.
Caliban is one of the more interesting characters in the play. Some scholars think that he’s based on a Caribbean native, called Caribans, by members of Shakespeare’s society. He is more in touch with the natural world but is, in many ways, a brute. He does eventually come to see that the shipwrecked men he meets on the islands are not virtuous or noble masters and he kind of comes around. There’s some post-colonial theories on this that I didn’t read much about, but in the post-colonial view of the colonizer’s (Prospero’s) effect on the colonized (Caliban and Ariel), you could almost say that Prospero “civilized” them, which was a goal of the colonizers back in Shakespeare’s day. As everyone knows from history class, natives of the West Indies were viewed as cannibals and savages who needed to be civilized by white men.
Since I am two book reviews behind at this point, I’m going to end my research here. Overall, I have to say that I truly enjoyed The Tempest, both reading it and watching it performed a couple of years ago.
This was the final book of the Prospero’s Daughter trilogy by L. Jagi Lamplighter.
Prospero, the sorcerer on whose island of exile William Shakespeare set his play, The Tempest, has endured these past many centuries. His daughter Miranda runs the family business, Prospero, Inc. so smoothly that the vast majority of humanity has no idea that the Prosperos’ magic has protected Earth from numerous disasters. But Prospero himself has been kidnapped by demons from Hell, and Miranda, aided by her siblings, has followed her father into Hell to save him from a certain doom at the hands of vengeful demons. Time is running out for Miranda, and for the great magician himself. Their battle against the most terrifying forces of the Pit is a great fantasy adventure.
…beware, spoilers ahead!
These books got progressively better as the series went on. Half way through the first book, Prospero Lost, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue reading the series, but by the end of it, I had to order the next one, Prospero in Hell, right away. By the time I was done with that one, I was disappointed I had to wait six months for the final book’s release date.
These have become some of my favorite books.
This is obviously a quest story, with the ultimate goal of Miranda and her siblings being to rescue their father from Hell. What they learn about themselves and each other along the way makes the whole story really interesting. That said, the whole thing could have been really dull if the characters weren’t so much fun. It was really the characters that made this story worth reading.
Lamplighter did a great job with the Prospero family - their family dynamic, their struggle to figure out their father’s secrets, their witty back and forth, their magic and their own secrets are really what made this series compelling.
I was also happy that Lamplighter answered all the questions posed throughout the series. I hate it when any book leaves you to wonder/infer what had gone on without giving any concrete answers. At the end of Prospero Lost, I was sort of upset that no questions had been answered and I was really afraid a lot of questions would go unanswered. Besides that, there were so many characters, I thought it would be odd if nobody knew the answers to at least most of the questions raised. There are ten Prospero children (Caliban ends up being family), plus their father, plus Mab, plus Astreus, plus all the baddies they meet in Hell. Surely SOMEONE would know the answers.
I also liked the happy endings for everyone…except for poor Cornelius, whose ending was more bittersweet than sweet. I wish the Epilogue had jumped a little bit further ahead, where we’d see how everyone was doing later and if Cornelius was doing better, but it was still a satisfying ending.
There was only one thing I didn’t entirely understand - when the angel Muriel Sophia reveals who is guarding the entrance to Hell from Limbo, Miranda assumes it is Hades, but the angel tells her Hades stepped down long ago and now, the guard was the person who received forgiveness at Calvary and was now looking to make up for past misdeeds. Miranda immediately realizes who the new guard was, but I had no idea.
I thought I was missing some key piece of theology about who was forgiven at Calvary, but after checking with my friend George and my mom, who are two of the smartest, most knowledgeable people I know, I wasn’t missing anything. The other two people who were crucified with Jesus at Calvary received forgiveness from Jesus - one accepted, the other didn’t - but they weren’t exceptionally notable people. I didn’t understand why Miranda would know who it was immediately. Which of those two was it? Later, when the guard saves the Prosperos from The Queen of Air and Darkness, he tells Miranda not to let anyone know who he is, including her family. She doesn’t.
I still don’t know who the guard is. I thought it was a weird thing to not further explain, and that’s why I figured I was missing something. Why would it be a secret to the other characters if it was incredibly obvious to Miranda? And since Miranda is the narrator, shouldn’t it be incredibly obvious to the readers as well?
If anyone knows something about what went on at Calvary that I don’t, I’d love to be filled in.
The baddies in this series were really great too. I liked all the demons and minions and underlords of Hell. Another friend of mine has a complaint that in some ways, we over psycho-analyze villains and that sometimes its more fun when the villains don’t have any motivation except, mostly, that they want what they want. That was pretty great here. The servants of Hell wanted to destroy the Prospero family because the Prospero family kept them from doing whatever they felt like and forced them back into Hell. Simple and fun! Sure, they also want humans to never get to Heaven so that they can be miserable too, but that isn’t as lame as other villains, like Anakin Skywalker.
There was only one part of the book I didn’t particularly like. The part where Lilith was basically saying Hell was responsible for people being lazy, marriage being weakened, abortion, etc… It got just a little too Christian preachy for me. I know Lamplighter is a Christian, and there’s a lot of theology in the books, but none of it had been too in-your-face up until that point. Lamplighter did herself a credit when Mab said, “Demons lie,” and Miranda said Lilith’s words could be a gross exaggeration of the way things really were. Still, it came off as if things would be better if people spent more time on their knees observing and following Christian morals, particularly those handed down by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
This wasn’t enough to ruin my love of the books, it was just a little bit too…this is right/this is wrong my liking. I get that it’s a story and it’s very much a book about a family following orders from Heaven, but up until that point it wasn’t so VoiceOfThePulpit-y. It was more about the family protecting mankind against the powers of Hell (them trying to kill us/destroy us/force us into their service) than it was a vehicle for preaching moral values. I mean, they were wandering through Dante’s Hell, so it’s not like the reader is taking this to be what Hell is really like (assuming it exists and all that).
The story does kind of redeem itself when actual Hell is empty and everyone in “Hell” is actually dreaming and when they wake up and realize they love God and all that. But I admit, I skipped the part with Lilith’s speech when I quickly re-read/skimmed the book.
I liked the trek through Dante’s Hell. I’ve never read The Inferno or anything, but I’ve read summaries, so it was nice to be in depth in that without having to know too much about it, as it was all explained through the characters. The whole series was filled with references to history and literature so that was fun for me. I’m a loser that way.
But I greatly enjoyed this series overall, and Prospero Regained was a great conclusion to the series. We got all the answers and happy endings. It was kind of nice not to walk away from a series being unhappy with how it ended (the most notable series I’ve read in the last year that ended this way was the Hunger Games trilogy).
If this series is ever extended, I’ll be delighted. Given the opportunity, I’d be happy to revisit the Prospero family again.