Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

WARNING - SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
It is hard to come to a book when you have been told it is the most boring book in the series, hard to get through, and said by many to be their least liked book to read. Those are the usual descriptions I read or hear when fans discuss the fourth installment of A Song of Ice and Fire titled A Feast for Crows. I felt a bit overwhelmed when I first started reading. It wasn't just the negativity that surrounds this book that weighed me down but the very idea that I knew I would be reading a great deal from the character perspectives that were new and unfamiliar and others that I outright disliked before they became a POV character. And I think my concerns are valid and have something to do with why many view this book poorly. But I think there is another factor at play that ultimately decides how fans would interpret this book and that is the book's predecessor, A Storm of Swords.
A Storm of Swords was jam packed with action, realizations, and events that made us fans squeal with glee. The guys we wanted to die were dying and they were epic deaths for the most part. There were surprising twists we hated but loved the dramatic robes they wore. There were prophecies and explanations to long unanswered questions. It seemed that 75% of what we hoped was happening and as for the 25% we didn't want to happen, it only made George R. R. Martin more bad ass. Needless to say, it is hard to top that. You see entertainment falling for this scenario all of the time. Creators releases something epic and when a sequel is announced, the journalists all ask the same question - can they do it again?
Journalists asked these questions with the Harry Potter books and Pixar films. They asked it with Zelda video games and spin off TV series like Girl Meets World.  And I'm inclined to think they must have questioned A Song of Ice and Fire. People are used to a pattern in entertainment where a series gets better and better with each new installment and perhaps A Feast for Crows let them down because it takes a whole step down from A Storm of Swords. I don't say "step down" to mean the book stepped down in quality or content, though many may mistake it for that. I say "step down" to mean Martin took a step back with this fourth book and decided to take a rest and reflect on the things that happened in the third book.
A Feast for Crows is indeed a reflective novel and what it lacks in action is made up for in mystery and wisdom. It is this book that has revealed to me the true nature of this series. I read from perspectives I could care less about. I had to deal with Cersei's bitching more than I cared to deal. And yet I became engrossed. I watched as characters I loved like Arya and Sansa as they had to learn to lose themselves in order to survive and I think there is something to be taken away by all of it. This isn't the book we necessarily wanted but it was necessary - such as life.  We didn't want to see Arya hide Needle or Maester Aemon die or Cersei get her way but it was all necessary. Too often authors are giving us what we want instead of harboring in on the reality of a situation. And I think the reality of this series is that no one is the focus. Instead, it is the world Martin has created that the story revolves around. One reader may be upset that Tyrion has no chapters but guess what, this isn't a series about Tyrion. Sure I missed his narration and yes he is a huge part of this story but he is only a stem of a bigger tree. Martin is known to be a lover of history and it definitely comes across in his narrative. He has not only managed to create a new fantasy world but he has created situations and characters that are fit to be in our own history books. The job of a historical writer is to present an unbiased look at history via the eyes of those involved. So we have Cersei who is clinging to the throne and doing everything in her power to ruin Margery Tyrell because of a prophecy. We have Jaime who is loyal to his Lannister name but questioning the loyalty he holds toward his sister. There is Arianne Martell who seems like a foolish girl looking for simple revenge for the Red Viper but wants to give Myrcella Lannister to the throne that should be her's.
All of these characters hold an important piece to the story and Martin uses them to beautifully illustrate the complexity of human existence. Martin's series depicts a world which very much mirrors our own, literally and metaphorically, and beautifully conveys that humans are their own worst enemy. While Cersei clings to the throne and tries to prevent a prophecy, she always wants no harm to come to her son. While Jaime will fight for his family and holding their titles, he only wants to protect the realm in the end, just as he did when he killed the Mad King. And while Arianne tries to sit Myrcella on the throne she is entitled to, she only wants what is right and for there to be peace in the end. It is the deepest desire in all of us to long for harmony and for others to understand us...to understand our way of thinking. Yet even though these characters are all essentially routing for the same thing, they fight for blood, old family ties and grudges, and stories they have heard from the grape vine and want to believe are true. If they just learned to let things go and forgive, they could end this war and their suffering. But it doesn't happen and Martin is touching a very universal piece of wisdom - we are our own worst enemies. Perhaps this points to putting trusting something bigger than ourselves, but this is not the volume to discuss such things.
If this novel is a reflection on world history and the human psyche than I can't call it worse than the previous three. They all do the same thing. They validly depict a war in an unbiased fashion. I can't discount this one for being a little less action packed as it's predecessors. This book captures the world Martin has created so perfectly. And the ironic twist midway through reading was that I began to enjoy Cersei's chapters! I still don't like her and was very happy with how Martin ended her storyline for the book by finally sending her to a cell and having outsiders see her for what she truly is - a monster. But what I really enjoyed about her chapters was seeing in her mind and why she wanted to hang onto the throne. The fact that her every action is based on preventing a prophecy is so Shakespearean and very much mirrors Macbeth and I love it. I also loved learning about the different religions in Westeros. I would be very interested to read a book talking about the biblical wisdom of these books, biblical influence, and what the various religions of Westeros are based off of.
Another thing I loved about this book, that sort of ties into biblical influence, was Sansa and Arya's chapters. I've always loved both of these characters and their journey's throughout this book always excited me, especially Sansa's. If you are wondering what makes their stories biblical, I believe it is the changing of their names. It isn't as apparent in Arya as in Sansa but often in the Bible name changes mean a person is being made new or reborn and I think Sansa is definitely growing and becoming a new woman. I can't wait to see where her story goes!
All of that being said in defense of this book, I can't say all of it wowed me. Chapters that focused on the iron born people were the worst parts of this reading experience. Nothing made me care about them. Sure their religion is fascinating and the priest was semi-interesting, but I can't get behind their cause when there really is none to be had. All the iron born's want to do, it seems, is fight to fight.
Overall this was a really solid addition to the series and I found myself pleasantly surprised after hearing so much negativity surrounding this book. It is not the boring and petty book people label it as but it is a soaring accomplishment on the part of Martin and his publishers. This book must have been a risk to release by it's very nature but I'm glad no one wavered on doing what Martin wanted to pursue his overall goal. I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Wisdom of Pixar by Robert Velarde

Pixar has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up with the movies and can appreciate them as artistic films as an adult. When I was in high school, I became very fascinated with entertainment and the connections with Christian spirituality. Being a teenager and still very inexperienced in many aspects of life, I didn't quite have the vocabulary to state what I felt and saw, but I continued to have an interest and learned a lot since then. I now know I'm not the only one who sees these connections. There are books and books discussing entertainment's connection with faith as well as psychology, philosophy, history, etc. I have read quite a few of these books and want to write one of my own someday. The Wisdom of Pixar by Robert Velarde is one these awesome books and it does a great job of analyzing these films and forming connections that the viewer may not have noticed before.
If you aren't aware, I am a host on a Disney podcast called Talk Magic to Me. Disney is a big part of my life and I have always felt a strong connection with their movies. That is why I am on the podcast, to discuss my love for Disney in a community based way. Our summer theme is Pixar and I figured this was as a good a time as any to start reading this book. A big plus to being on a podcast is that I contacted author Robert Velarde himself and had a chance to interview him! How cool is that?!
I'm going to state right away that this will be a five star review. I'm telling you this early because I don't want you to think I'm giving the book kudos just because I interviewed the author. Nope, not the case. I genuinely really  loved this book. While the title of the book doesn't overtly hint at any faith based analysis, it is primarily focused on Pixar films and their connection to Christian faith and spirituality. Wisdom itself is a biblical virtue after all. I find it a bit ignorant when I see people reviewing this book with one or two stars just because of it's Christian worldview. Every book has a worldview so why start getting picky when there is a Christian one? Velarde doesn't shove the theology mindlessly down our throats. He meets us in the middle and is very straight forward...here is a movie, this biblical virtue exists within that movie, this is what we can learn and take away to apply to our own lives. Velarde makes it clear that he isn't saying Pixar intended to make their movies as biblical metaphors.  But as John Green states, "Books belong to their readers" and this saying isn't limited to books but all entertainment. What you get out of a film, TV show, painting, or video game is equally (if not more) important than the author's intent. This phrase has always been bittersweet for me because as a writer and creator I want my intentions to be known yet as a reader I have interpreted texts and art in a very specific way that has helped me grow as a person but not everyone gets.
The book is split into chapters in order of Pixar movies, starting with Toy Story and ending with Up. Each chapter has a different focus on wisdom such as love, humor, technology, justice, etc. and how the piece of wisdom ties into the movie of focus (with an occasional look at other Pixar films that also incorporate the same aspect of wisdom). The chapter will use biblical examples to make things clearer. Velarde does a great job at breaking these films down and analyzing them in a simplistic way. He reveals the depth within Pixar that many choose not to see since they label it as kids entertainment. David Beagley, a professor at La Trobe University once said in a lecture, "Children's literature is not simple. It's as complex as adults. It's the audience that is different, not the literature." The same can be said about any other medium. Of course with film this idea is hard to see since so many companies only make kids movies for money and use stupid dialogue and easy humor that suggests no adult will ever enjoy these movies at all! Luckily Pixar is not one of those companies, nor Disney...or at least most Disney movies don't adhere to that standard but there are exceptions. Ironically enough, David Beagley also stated in his lecture that he hates Disney which made me die a little inside because I really respect him and hoped some scholar would see the good in Disney but so many don't.
Pixar is the perfect example to show that not all "kids" movies are simple. They hold a lot of weight! What is cool about being a 90's kid is that I grew up in arguably the greatest era of Disney...the Disney Renaissance, good Disney channel programming, and of course the birth of Pixar. These films have really shaped me as a person. I'm not saying my entire being is all thanks to Disney/Pixar but you get my point. I was able to enjoy these as a kid and now can still enjoy them as an adult but in an academic way which is really awesome!
The book was excellent. I really enjoyed Velarde's writing style. He wrote as if you were on the journey through Pixar movies together. He has a lot of important things to say about these movies and the biblical imagery within them that should be taken more seriously by Christians and entertainment lovers alike.  It was thought provoking and written well. If you love Pixar, you will really enjoy this book. As I said, I will be giving this 5 out of 5 stars. If you want to check out our interview with Robert Velarde, visit www.talkmagic2me.com on July 23rd which is when the interview will be released.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

There are many classic novels that are referenced in college courses and podcast discussions and lectures and I always find I am adding new books to my "to-read" list. Treasure Island is one of these books. My initial reason to pick up the book was to do a character study of the ambiguous Long John Silver but being pressed for time, I found a free audiobook on iTunes and started listening at work. I always feel like I am cheating on books when I listen instead of reading, but I excused myself this time. As I began listening to the book at work, a sense of excitement took hold of me. I felt like a young reader again and wanted to drink up every ounce of Stevenson's words. After listening to the first two chapters of the audiobook, I stopped listening and checked the actual book out of the library later that week. The narration was fantastic but the language was even better and I couldn't help but wish, as I listened, that I was reading the words on a printed page.
Treasure Island is a typical adventure story. It is also where many pirates tropes originated. I couldn't believe how much the Pirates of the Caribbean films borrowed from this book! The films certainly carry a similar spirit that makes you want more and more and more! Our main character is Jim Hawkins who runes an inn with his parents by the sea. He lives an ordinary life until a pirate named Bill arrives and Jim's life becomes extraordinary. When a group of pirates raid the inn, Jim and his mother must flee. Before they leave they find a mysterious treasure map. When Jim shows the map to some comrades, they make haste to find a ship and set sail to Treasure Island!
This book was very exciting. It had a lot of twists and turns and was very different from the various adaptions I have seen via the big and small screen. As the story moved forward I grew more and more tired of the...story. I really loved the beginning but the end felt very rushed but perhaps that was because I was reading faster to try and finish the book. Long John Silver is definitely an interesting character though I really love our main character, Jim. I can imagine many young boys inspired to have adventures and bravery like him when this book was first published. The writing was impeccable, there is no denying that. Overall, it wasn't the amazing book I had expected but it was a good read and I'm glad that I have finally read it so that I will hopefully notice other works that borrow from the tale. I will give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

I did not know the meaning of this book's title when I bought it. To be truthful, the reason I even came across it was because of an image on Tumblr (below). Someone had taken a photo of a page from this book and I happened to glance over the text when I suddenly saw two familiar names: Elsa and Anne(a). My mind quickly went to Disney's newest movie, Frozen. I went to Google and this book popped up so, naturally, I bought it. The title means hello sadness in French. It is such a simple idea yet carries a lot of weight. It is as if the novelist is greeting sadness as an old friend. The brilliance of this is only scratching the surface. Let me take things to another level for a moment and tell you that this book was written by a 17 year old and published when she was 18! I can't begin to say how awesome that statistic is! When I was 17 I was writing my own novel yet I hardly had the maturity nor the experience to write a great novel. Francoise Sagan, however, makes the art seem effortless.
Hello sadness, says the novel's title, and right away the reader can sense the sadness within main character Cecile as she vacations with her father and his mistress at a house on the beach in France. Everything seems picture perfect at first though the narration, while complex, gives off a sense of emptyness. Yes Cecile and her father have it all...but do they really? The mood takes a sharp turn when an old friend of Cecile's late mother comes to visit. The old friend is Anne, an educated, type A woman who steals Cecile's fathers heart. His mistress, Elsa, leaves when she discovers their affair. Struck with jealousy, abandonment, and annoyance, Cecile makes it her goal to get rid of Anne. But the task isn't easy. Cecile is torn between her love for Anne and for the life she once had when it was only her, her father and another woman.
Cecile's story and narration are sophisticated yet are still able to capture the mind of a seemingly silly teenage girl. Many adults do not take teens seriously because of their rash decisions and their ignorance. They take these two things and label teens as stupid. But teens aren't stupid, just inexperienced and this novel does a fantastic job at portraying this. Sagan handles Cecile with a complexity that most popular novels about teen girls fail to reflect. Cecile is young, doesn't want to study and is blooming into her sexuality with a boy named Cyril.
I sympathized with Cecile. She was so caught up in little luxuries that pushed her to do big things with big consequences. Cecile's father was a good character as well though he desperately needs to commit and Cecile just won't have it. Then there is Anne, the woman who longs to have control and fix things. I loved Anne's character and the drama her character brought to the story, but I don't like Anne the person. She just walks in and starts conducting everyone around her as if they are puppets and she holds the strings. She won't let Cecile bloom into her own personality but limits her to only her studies. The fate of Anne, however, really haunts me and takes the story to an even more hollow place than it was before.
Sagan's writing is full of brutal but beautiful honesty. When this book was released, many people (mostly Christian) denounced it and some even said it was written by the devil. It pains me to read that honest writing is seen as a demonic force. Sagan's simple sentences hold so much power and precision that don't come natural to every teenager who aspires to be a published author. Her talent should not be condemned but should be celebrated!
The book was a wonderful read. I felt very classy while flipping through it's pages and so thankful that I happened upon a few sentences on Tumblr. It really is a brilliant book and while you'll only hear praises from me, it didn't hook me enough to give 5 stars. I will instead give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reading Rainbow

I love seeing all the projects online that encourage learning, conversation, and helping one another. A few weeks ago, a Kickstarter launched that I believe will top all things awesome and that Kickstarter is...Reading Rainbow! You remember that show, right? It's the one with LeVar Burton as the host. It has a theme song that will remain stuck in your head for weeks. It was shown to you probably in elementary school and if you were like me, you loved the concept but may have gotten bored once or twice. Yep, Reading Rainbow is back and prepared to take on the modern age of technology.
Reading Rainbow was big in the 90s. This was a time when children weren't really reading yet were taught that reading is fun. But how could they read when Disney was dishing out hit after hit and the golden age of TV cartoons was booming? How could they read when Nintendo had awesome games like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country? This was a time when PBS was cool and Reading Rainbow was the most popular show. Visual media was so good that kids didn't need to read. Then Harry Potter came out and a new found passion for reading blossomed.
As modern technology has become more and more of a lifestyle, reading has changed. A lot of people are reading from screens instead of thinly sliced bark from trees. Kids aren't in a golden age of TV or videogames. They are in an age where everything is accessible just by the click of a button. Kids are watered down to silence and stillness in our media obsessed culture and then accused of having A.D.H.D. when they can't sit still in the classroom. Teachers, parents, psychologists, and more have tried to fix this issue. But Reading Rainbow is meeting with the issue, right in the middle.
The goal according to their Kickstarter is to bring reading to every school in America! That is something cheer about! Finally, no politicians making empty promises. Finally, no special school is pretending to be something they are not. Reading Rainbow's first achievement was simply using Kickstarter! They have come humbly to regular people. Their project isn't funded by major advertising or big billionaires who want publicity. The project is funded by us, real people who are passionate about bringing reading back to the fore front and helping out schools.
Reading Rainbow plans on using modern techniques to reach kids. They are releasing new episodes on DVD, making apps for phones and tablets, and even making a computer program for teachers to use. How amazingly awesome is that?! Technology is no evil. It is how we use the technology that can be dangerous. Reading Rainbow is spinning negative into a positive. Parents will want their kids to use the Reading Rainbow app! And hopefully the app will work on another level to make kids actually shut the app off and read, preferably from a physical book but to each is own I guess. And what is super great is that with all of the money they have earned, they can provide their program to schools for free. Do you know how incredible that is? That meas that wealthy schools get Reading Rainbow, average schools get Reading Rainbow, and poor schools get Reading Rainbow. The fact that this is equal opportunity shows that Reading Rainbow has embraced education better than most politicians and educators!
The awesome thing about this entire Kickstarter is that nothing about Reading Rainbow is manipulative. It is authentic and real. They aren't manipulating us for their gain but for the gain of kids. If that isn't something to cheer about then I don't know what is. Click here to give them some money and become a backer. Only one week left!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

When Stephen Chbosky, the author of the Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Emma Watson raved about this stunning new book called Love Letters to the Dead, I knew I just had to buy the book and read it for myself. The title seemed interesting - a good combination of darkness and poetic style - while the cover art looked simply flawless. Reviews were posted on my twitter feed for weeks saying the book was stunning and has already been signed to be made into a movie. It was also said to have the same style of Perks (no wonder Chbosky loved it), which is one of my favorite books. In a nutshell, I really expected this to be another book I could soon add to my favorite book shelf. But did it live up to the hype? Let's find out. Warning, spoilers ahead!
The book is written in a journal entry format which is not an easy format to pull off. Our main heroine is Laurel, a freshman in high school whose first English class assignment is to write a letter to a dead person. Instead of turning in her letter, Laurel continues to write letters to the dead and begins revealing her deep, dark inner thoughts. She makes two new friends who are in the midst of romantic self discovery and has her own romance with a mysterious boy named Sky. She writes to certain people who's story reflects her current reality and forms a close friendship with their memories. It is her letters to the dead that help her cope with the spontaneous death of her older sister, May.
This book had it's powerful moments but they were fleeting. There were some fancy sentences that stayed with me and certain celebrities that I grew close to with Laurel. My favorite people she wrote to by far were (and in this order) River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and Amelia Earhart. The author did a good job of developing Laurel and reflecting her inner reality via the dead people she wrote to. It definitely felt a bit like Perks and even seemed reminiscent of the Lovely Bones...except both of those books are better than this one.
I went into this book expecting it to be a favorite by the time I shut it but my expectations weren't met...meaning I expected more. While there were some really high points to this novel, there were way too many more low points. One of the things I found annoying was that this has been one before except this book seemed to be the watered down version. It got really close to being great but then would shy away. The concept is really awesome but the execution was sometimes poor. I found the Sky storyline to be a huge, cliche drag. It felt like I was reading New Moon all over again when he broke up with Laurel and I think that has more to do with the fact that we don't know two things: A. That Laurel was molested when she was 13 and B. How May died. I think the novel would have been stronger had we known why Laurel was so traumatized, besides knowing that her sister died. I also found the ending to be predictable and too wrapped up in a cute bow. Laurel's letter to May made me happy but I expected it to happen. I hoped it would happen but at the same time when I turned to the last chapter I had to say, of course. The ending with Laurel being with Sky again and Hannah and Natalie being confident with their sexuality just seemed to happen very fast and too good to be true. Which brings me to my next point. While I was not a huge fan of Sky, it was Hannah who I truly could not stand. I can't explain why she bothered me so much but she had an air to her of accepted ignorance. I don't think likeable characters are what make a good story but rather what makes a good story are characters I can get behind and sympathize with. I felt for Hannah but her attitude bothered me so much and reminded me of the girls in my high school who were often jerks and rude to others for fun. Since this book is being compared to Perks, let me say that in that book Charlie's two friends weren't picture perfect but they were good - good for him and good in a way that reflected the nature of friendship, love and high school. Plus, they took Charlie in and raised him in a way. That relationship worked. Of course, a story can be very different when the narrator is of a different gender but I still think Perks did it better.
Overall, this became a guilty pleasure read for me. I enjoyed it but have read way better books of this calibur. That being said, I won't deny that this is a strong debut novel. I hope to see more from this author in the future. I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

I'm not going to be one of those people who starts out my review by saying things such as, I now see the light! Why did I ever watch the Disney movie adaption?, or, I knew going into this that Disney probably ruined the story and I was right. I will say the opposite. I still really love the Disney movie and consider it one of their best films. There, I said it. Now the literary internet community will start to throw pitch forks at me and stone me which equates to nasty GoodReads comments and lots of thumbs down on my review. I will state right away that I am aware that I am a walking oxymoron sometimes and this may be one of those times. How many English majors say they love Disney? In my experience, not many. But I digress. I will come back to Disney's adaption later in this review.
I went into this book knowing I was in over my head. I knew the writing would be magnificent but challenging. I knew all my previous experiences with the story wouldn't match the original text. And I knew I would be reading this book for a long time! It took me exactly two months to read this book. You can probably say I was leaping for joy when I finished the book. It's not that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, I found the book to be very beautiful. The writing was impeccable and the story was haunting. Victor Hugo attacks this story with a grace that no other writer could have accomplished. He fleshes out Notre Dame until it becomes overkill, yet you still want to read more of his amazing descriptions.
The story centers on an array of characters, each who has a tie to the gypsy La Esmerelda. There is the obvious character we all know, Quasimodo the abandoned Hunchback who becomes the bell ringer in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Then there is his rescuer, Archdeacon Claude Frollo who descends into wickedness after failing to properly raise his orphaned brother and Quasimodo as he envisioned. He is also known for his lust for La Esmerelda. Then there is La Esmerelda herself, a beautiful gypsy girl who performs with her goat Djali. Then we have Pierre Gringoire, a philosopher and playwright who is saved by La Esmerelda and is her "husband." Next we have Phoebus, the handsome captain who saves La Esmerelda but doesn't truly love her. And there are many other characters I will name but not flesh out like Sister Gudule, Jehan Frollo, Clopin Trouillefou, and Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier. All the characters have one thing that unites them and that is the cathedral of Notre Dame. The ancient and historical structure is a character unto itself. In fact, Hugo spends an entire section (at least 40 pages) describing the cathedral and the land surrounding it. It was one of my favorite sections of the book though I had to read it twice.
The story itself starts out slow and doesn't really move until the last hundred pages...maybe last two hundred, give or take. The plot excelled before that but was constantly interrupted by back story. Hugo would often insert little sentences to say something along the line of, I don't need to tell you this but I am telling you anyway. That got a bit old but for the most part, I admired him for his brave narrative style. I don't know much about French literature so perhaps his style was similar to others of his time.
Another part of the novel I loved was a chapter titled This Will Kill That. Over ten pages full this chapter and the entire focus is Frollo's observations on the power of the printing press. Many of us don't think of books or printing as technology but the printing press was a technology for it's time. "The book will kill the edifice," Frollo states. What amazes me about this book is Hugo's ability to describe Notre Dame the way he does. As I previously stated, he spent an entire 40 pages describing the city and the cathedral. He states that the cathedral is not simply one type of architecture but several as there have been many "improvements" made by other generations. This, according to Hugo, is the decline of architecture and modern fashions are more silly and grotesque. This ties into the chapter about the printing press as it comments on modern amenities substituting the original and therefore defacing it. Frollo speaks of the written word and claims this new technology will kill the Church. He then goes on to say that the printing press will kill the power of the architecture which ties back to the 40 pages I previously described to you. I read an awesome blog about this chapter so if you are interested in learning more, click here. Anyway, my point is that Hugo, like many classic novelists, seems to be way ahead of his time and is asking questions similar to what we ask today. Just look at how people question the power of cell phones or e-readers vs. the physical book. Hell I participate in those debates! It is really fascinating.
I now want to talk about the title of this book and tie it back to the Disney film. You may have noticed that I did not title this review with the English translated title but the original French title. On the back of my copy of the book it stated the original French title of the book and apparently Hugo hated the English translation and I personally don't blame him. The tile The Hunchback of Notre Dame suggests that the book is a story that focuses on Quasimodo, the hunchback. But that is not the case in this novel. Quasimodo is a focus but not the main focus. I would argue that La Esmerelda is the main character but I also could say each character is a side character and the main character is the cathedral. For this reason I believe the French title should have remained because it suggests a story about the cathedral. The English title, however, does suite the Disney film because in the adaption Quasimodo is the main character. Disney took a lot of liberty with this film which they tend to do with every one of their movies. But what I love about Disney is their ability to change something and make it good not just as a story but through the music and animation and color choice, voice actors, etc. Hunchback is by far the darkest Disney film ever made and they have never attempted to go as dark since then. I won't go too deep into why I love the movie (I will save that for my Disney podcast) but I do want to mention my favorite aspect of the film and that is the theme that questions monster vs. man. This is a brilliant example of ring composition being used in Disney movies. In the
opening song, The Bells of Notre Dame, the narrator Clopin sings "who is the monster and who is the man?" and the movie ends with the Reprise of the same track and Clopin sings, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" to tie the story up and also ask a really important question. This question is continually asked throughout the movie, most specifically when (La) Esmerelda sings God Help the Outcasts and sings, "Still I see your face and wonder, were you [Jesus] just an outcast too...I thought we all were the children of God." The movie is questioning organized religion in the most beautiful way and I love it! Plus, the music is incredible! After reading the book, I can understand why some would be upset with the Disney movie but I view the two works as two separate entities. Many are mad because they fear people will watch the film and think that is how it happens in the book and sure, people may think that but that isn't Disney's fault. If people care enough they will pick up the book themselves.
So I am not going to hate on the Disney movie nor will I hate on the book. I think both are ruch and beautiful in two different ways. But now let's move back to the book. As I have already said, the story and characters and writing are brilliant. The book was a tough read but a good one. I do have one complaint about the narration though. There were times during heavy description when Hugo would say things on the lines of, "I don't need to say this but I'm going to," or, "I know you won't want to hear this but I'm going to tell you anyway," and he would then continue with his thoughts. That was a bit of an annoyance. It didn't bother me to the point where I was super annoyed every time but it did stand out to me. Other than that, I don't really have anymore major complaints. It was a great read and definitely challenged me which is always welcomed. I would recommend this book 100% even if you love the Disney movie (and vice versa) and I will give it 4 out of 5 stars.