Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Tales - 2017

The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, is seldom referred to with its subtitle: The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. It was published in 1844, a year after A Christmas Carol, and a year before The Cricket on the Hearth.

I loved it. It is a bit reminiscent of A Christmas Carol as it involves some specters who nudge a poor lost soul onto the path of joy. However, in this case the soul is a kind and loveable chap, vs a Scrooge. The Chap is Toby (Trotty) Veck, nicknamed Trotty as he is a porter for hire, and often seen trotting here and there on his errands. Work is scarce though and Toby is down on his luck.

Toby waits for work adjacent to the church where when the chimes ring. He hears messages in their music – usually of hope for better days. Hence, Toby is a poor, but generally cheerful chap – until some wealthy and ungracious employers cause him to doubt his very right to exist – him being such a burden on society.

But then the chimes sing a new song to Toby one haunted night – most likely just a dream – they bring him neither riches or comfort, just his hopeful disposition.

I read The Chimes for Dickens in December (hosted by Fanda Classiclit) and A Literary Christmas (hosted by In The Bookcase).

For A Literary Christmas, I also read The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol. This is the first time I’ve read Gogol – and now I know I must read more. What a hoot! It is about a pious young blacksmith, Vakula who is love with the village beauty Oksana.

But Vakula is not very popular with a neighborhood devil – like ya know, a devil, horns and tail, all that – because Vakula, who is also a talented artist, made a painting for the church that was not at all flattering to the devil.

So, the devil decides to steal the moon, in attempt to foil Vakula’s dreams. It’s a bit complicated how that was supposed to work. I recommend you read the tale. The dark of the moonless night unleashes a series mishaps that finds, the devil, Oksana’s father (who didn’t approve of Vakula), the village deacon, and a village official all tied in coal sacks. Each one in succession, devil included, was paying a not very honorable visit to Vakula’s mother – who was also, unknown to anyone a witch – a real no-kidding witch which flies about on a broomstick. They each had to hide, when the next one came to call.

It’s a farcical comedy of errors.

Do you know the Christmas Song, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? I remember it sung by Andy Williams, but I’m sure there have been others. There is a line that goes…there’ll be scary ghost stories of Christmases long long ago.

I used to think that line a bit absurd – There was after all, only ONE scary ghost story about Christmas. I was wrong. There are actually quite a few. So far, most are pretty fun, but I think, in the right setting, they could be a bit scary.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (91 down, 9 to go)

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

(translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin)
...a work of art is the only means of regaining lost time.
~ Marcel Proust from Remembrance of Things Past

Guinness recognizes Remembrance of Things Past as the longest novel in the world: over 9.6 million characters. In my version, that equates to 3,165 pages.

It took me around 100 hours – “lost time” I will never get back. I have never been more relieved to finish a novel.

The unnamed protagonist and narrator is the only child of an upper class French family, late 19th and early 20th century. He is a sickly, aspiring writer, dilettante, idler, and heir to a comfortable fortune (semi-autobiographical). He has keen insight into the thoughts and hearts of others, but is himself incredibly double minded.

I was not invested in the narrator. He is not likeable, but neither is he unlikeable. Like his name, he is a blatant nullity. The numerous other characters are similarly uninspiring. They are flawed – vain, duplicitous, arrogant, snobbish, ambitious, hypocritical, fickle, insecure, suspicious, and perhaps above all ridiculously pretentious, but in spite of these foibles, they were largely uninteresting.

The plot is a remarkable nothing as well. I believe it is intended to be a philosophical treatise on memory, cyclical patterns in our existence, and the meaningless of life. I think it is also commentary on the vanity and decline of French aristocracy. In 3,000+ pages, there are numerous minor themes such as the arts influence on society, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and the Dreyfus affair that divided France at the time.

The prose is complex, possibly suffering in translation, but not without truth or beauty:
For my intelligence must be a uniform thing, perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates, towards which each of us from the position of his own separate body turns his eyes, as in a theatre where, if everyone has his own separate seat, there is on the other hand but a single stage. 

…it has indeed been said that the highest praise of God consists in the denial of Him by the atheist, who finds creation so perfect that it can dispense with a creator.
Some have called this “…the most respected novel of the twentieth century” or similar hyperbole. I’ve read numerous commentaries asserting the greatness of this novel, but very little explanation of what makes it great. I know it’s terribly presumptuous of me, but in my opinion it’s the emperor’s new clothes.

I may just be very simple; don’t trust my opinion. Read it yourself when you can spare a couple months.

My Rating: 1 ½ of 5 Stars

The title: À la recherche du temps perdu, has received different English renderings. Today it is commonly known by the literal translation – In Search of Lost Time. However, in the earlier translation that I read, Moncrieff and Kilmartin took poetic license from Shakespeare to render the title Remembrance of Things Past.

When I originally came up with my list of The 100 Greatest Novels, I did not realize the two titles were one and the same novel. Consequently, I did a disservice to the author. This novel should have been ranked #39 vs. #91. It’s complicated, but if you are curious as to why, read my explanation of my rankings HERE.

And now, I’m taking a brief break from my quest to read a couple SHORT Christmas Stories – emphasis on SHORT.

Other excerpts:

Then a new light arose in me, less brilliant indeed than the one that had made me perceive that a work of art is the only means of regaining lost time.

I had lived like a painter climbing a road which overlooks a lake hidden by a curtain of rocks and trees. Through a breach he perceives it, it lies before him, he seizes his brushes, but already darkness has come and he can paint no longer, night upon which day will never dawn again.

I had a feeling of intense fatigue when I realized that all this span of time had not only been lived, thought, secreted by me uninterruptedly, that it was my life, that it was myself, but more still because I had at every moment to keep it attached to myself, that it bore me up, that I was poised on its dizzy summit, that I could not move without taking it with me.

If at least, time enough were allotted to me to accomplish my work, I would not fail to mark it with the seal of Time, the idea of which imposed itself upon me with so much force today, and I would therein describe men, if need be as monsters occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the restricted one reserved for them in space, a place, on the contrary prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant period they have lived through – between which so many days have ranged themselves – they stand like giants immersed in Time.

Proust makes NUMEROUS references to other authors and literature. Sometimes by naming the author, sometimes by naming the book, other times by referencing characters (Capulets and Mantagues). I probably missed some references, but I know he referred to:

Gustave Flaubert
Jonathan Swift
Émile Zola
Miguel de Cervantes
Henrik Ibsen
Thomas Hardy
Nikolai Gogol
A Thousand and One Nights
But most ironically, Proust referenced The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, which is next up in my Greatest Novels Quest.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dickens in December

Dickens in December is a reading event hosted by Fanda ClassicLit and the name pretty much describes it – read something by one of fiction's greatest Christmas authors.

A few years ago, I started a tradition of reading several short Christmas stories in December. In 2015, I read Dickens’ most famous Christmas short – A Christmas Carol. In 2016 I followed it up with The Cricket on the Hearth. This year, and for Dickens in December, I will read the third of his best known Christmas stories – The Chimes.

Feel free to join the event and pass the word along.

Have a very merry and blessed Christmas – God Bless us, Everyone!
(see what I did there?)

The Wanderer