Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Beowulf Reaction

            A deep part of me, some ancestral chunk of my mind, truly wanted to enjoy Beowulf. I thoroughly anticipated to be whisked away by an age-old skald of heroics and valor. There, on the pages before me, was a well-known epic which had always been brought up in discussions. However, as I sank my literary teeth into Beowulf, wanting to savor every word, I realized one thing: Beowulf is not Tolkien.
            My imagination had always played with the concept of Beowulf. Ever since I was young, I had heard brief snippets detailing the deeds of its hero. In Fifth Grade, I had participated in a re-enactment of Grendel’s attack on Heorot. Yet such details were the extent of my knowledge. I always expected more, much more. When I heard the name Beowulf, a fantastic journey, full of intense action and glorious set-piece moments, reverberated throughout my thoughts. I now feel underwhelmed.
            Beowulf in and of itself is not bad. I do not dislike the epic. I also wholly appreciate the work people like Seamus Heaney have put into translating the poem into a decidedly less Anglo-Saxon format. Beowulf’s journey through Scandinavia was a pleasurable experience, through which I was finally witnessing such a cornerstone of English canonical literature. I met Hrothgar, Unferth, Wiglaf, Grendel, and Hygelac. I witnessed the great mead-hall of Heorot, and the notorious dragon’s barrow, and the hideous lair of Grendel and his dam. I immersed myself in the warrior-code which guided all Geats, Danes, and Swedes, and felt the warmth of boasts and victory. But it all seemed so sudden, and so shallow.
            I believe the problem rests in my own expectations and understandings. The former were too high, and the latter were nonexistent.  Of course Beowulf is quick-paced and short. The story was written between the 7th and 11th centuries, composed in a time when novels were unknown. In addition, Beowulf is an epic poem, and is meant to be read aloud as a performance. Few people take the time to read a whole novel in one sitting, at least not to an assembled audience. And, as an epic, Beowulf is a fairly lengthy poetic work.
            Even given the narrative’s limitations, I cannot feel myself completely engrossed by it. I have, I believe, been spoiled by modern culture. Movies and video games have provided engaging stories and intense action, allowing myself to be more greatly absorbed in their material than with Beowulf. In Bethesda’s TES V: Skyrim, I can assume the role of a character who is Beowulf’s equivalent. In Gladiator, I can watch as Maximus abides by his own code of honor and conduct, struggling against immense trials which only boost his fame and glory. Yet, I have been most affected by the literary works of writers like Tolkien, and especially Tolkien, who weaved a rich fabric of history and identity into their text.
            Comically ironic, in this situation, is that Tolkien was heavily inspired by the work of Beowulf. Tolkien desired a mythical history for Britain, his homeland, and the work of Beowulf was a considerable factor in his pursuit. The Lord of the Rings, a cherished fiction of mine, could be seen as a veritable result of Beowulf and its impact on modern English literature. At this point, I must bring myself back to the limitations of the epic poem’s original creation. Tolkien had an abundance of text to draw inspiration from, and likely possessed greater academic insight than Beowulf’s composer, enabling him to create a more immersive and engaging work (the availability of paper is also a major bonus).
`           If I were asked to summarize both The Fellowship of the Ring and Beowulf, I could probably do so in the same amount of time, even the same amount of sentences. The plots of both are manageable and memorable. Ask me to analyze the works, however, and I guarantee there will be a difference of length. While the themes and topics explored in Beowulf are just, I find myself more attracted to the substance of modern fictional creations, such as Tolkien. The Geats may be a proud and noble people, but I will take the Hobbits of the Shire any day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Wuthering Heights Reaction

            Wuthering Heights is a peculiar literary beast. Certainly, there were aspects of the novel I found engaging, or at least enough to pique interest. However, Emily Bronte seems to have successfully created a novel which affects the reader based on their gender. No, I am not trying to make a comparison between Wuthering Heights and Fifty Shades of Grey. Emily Bronte’s novel towers far above that… pile of words. I do, however, mean to make a statement on the somewhat exclusive nature of the novel.
            I have fancied calling myself a romanticist before. Emotion is a sultry temptress, and romance is her champion. Yet I refuse to understand how the characters in Wuthering Heights can have such appeal, nor can I comprehend how women find themselves whisked away by Heathcliff’s devilish, albeit passionate, personality. Throughout my reading, I was increasingly dismayed by the level of foulness which emanated from practically every character. Romance, while wholly existent (I completely agree that Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s relationship is one fraught with lovers’ zeal), is quite disconcerting. The malign and offensive behavior which lines every event in Wuthering Heights seems to outweigh, for me, any endearing qualities.
            Take, for example, Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw (the most obvious example to provide). The two grow fond of each other in adolescence, gallivanting about the moors wild and free. As they reach adulthood, their emotions, and love, become more intense, and they feel as though part of one another (Which, I will agree, is a rather tender sentiment). Yet, when Catherine is bitten by the Lintons’ dog, and she remains with them for an extended period, she comes back to Wuthering Heights with romantic feelings for Edgar Linton. In fact, Catherine is so taken by the Lintons and their more refined society that it dictates her decision to wed Edgar, and Heathcliff is left behind, loved yet unloved.
            In my opinion, Catherine acts rather outrageously in this instance. Her desire for material and social gain (In the moors, of all places; what society is there in the moors?!) causes her to abandon the most passionate lover she knew, Heathcliff, in favor of the more genteel, reserved Edgar Linton. Do not misunderstand me; I rather like Edgar Linton (Perhaps that speaks to my personality). But I find Catherine’s entire conduct during the event to be irrational. Later, Heathcliff goes on to perform equally irrational, and wholly monstrous, acts due to how he has been wronged.
            In commenting on the characters, however, I can bring the topic nicely to an analysis of Wuthering Heights and its themes. Bronte’s novel is very much a work of Gothic fiction. The description of faded, forlorn moors and rustic backcountry certainly portray this (Bronte’s descriptions of the moors are likely my most favorite aspect of the novel). There is a slight undertone of the supernatural (Catherine’s specter and her haunting of Heathcliff), which is also a tool of Gothic writing. Lastly, all the characters possess some manner of sinister quality, or some unappealing trait which makes them very much of the Gothic stock. Heathcliff is, of course, one of the better examples in the text (The man is even likened to a devil. A devil!). Also in accordance with the Gothic style, mystery is abounding, as Heathcliff’s origins and his whereabouts during his prolonged absence are never fully detailed.
            In case you were wondering, Yes, I enjoyed Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte’s novel had several hooks which caught me. No matter how oblivious I shall remain to the appeal of her fabricated romances, I can at least partially understand the emotion. Love is always a welcome topic in literature. Occasionally, however, we possess contrasting opinions on that most fickle of human constructs. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Microstory: “One Question"

            One question killed me. One question destroyed me. One question ravaged my life, my work, and my purpose. One question burned itself into my mind, refusing to be ignored. It was one question which twisted me into the wretch writhing before you, abandoned by the Universe for the sadistic act I committed. One question … and one face.
            A faint lamp sat humming patiently on my desk. Outside the lab, a furious, sleepless city beamed its bright lights and honked its loud horns, drowning out the world. Yet my lab was on a towering floor, resting loftily above the rabble. The only light was from my lamp; the only sound was from its hum.
            In this atmosphere of desolation, I toiled. I slaved and labored over my immense task. Days and nights passed before I could blink. It seemed as though life were holding its breath, had paused in its tracks, anticipating the moment of my work’s completion. A revolution, a change in the fabric of existence, was on the verge of fruition.
            Now all I had to do was turn her on.
            With immense trepidation, I activated the system. Lights, blue lights, coursed like veins across her body. Fingers and toes flexed, arms lifted, legs shifted, all to the symphony of whirring gears and mechanisms. The eyelids flew open, and out poured the intense vision of synthetic life, awe-inspiring and gorgeous. In the abyssal void of my lab, she beamed with the soft intensity of a thousand nebulae.
            I, too, beamed, fueled by pride and power. What sat before me was the first, true artificial intelligence. Her capacities were to be unmatched, her skills unlimited, her memory eternal. My beautiful, metallic Eve was going to alter creation itself.
            But before I could run any protocols, test any software; before I so much as said a word, she said five. Eve turned her blue, innocent eyes on me, and from her parted lips came one unforgettable question: “Do I have a soul?”