Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Short Stories

“A Study In Scarlet”

As I mentioned earlier, I’d never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The character is so omnipresent in our pop culture, however, I felt like I had. 221B Baker street, Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty, the pipe, the violin - it was all familiar to me(being a huge Star Trek fan helps, what with Data’s Holmes adventures).

Reading the story, it was very interesting to see how the world was first introduced to these characters. Some of it was shocking: reading that Holmes was unfamiliar with the concept of a Copernican solar system, I was astounded as Watson was. That quirk quickly establishes Holmes’ nature, though, as a man who has no use for anything that doesn’t aide his quest to catch criminals.

As is often the case with pioneers, what set Holmes apart is not readily apparent to a contemporary reader: his use of deduction and the scientific method is so commonplace today, I had to keep reminding myself of how novel the idea must have all seemed to someone reading the story in 1887.

Something I didn’t expect was the sudden backstory of the murderer, especially since it took place in America. That was the main draw for British readers at the time - a story set in an “exotic” locale, which to an English reader in the 19th century apparently meant Utah.

Doyle describes the wilderness of the American West as barren, lifeless, almost alien and inhospitable - and it’s new, utlra-religious inhabitants must have seemed just as alien to his readers. That’s right, the chief villains of the story are Mormons. As Doyle paints it, Mormons’ are a ruthless, brutal cult, killing anyone who dare speaks out against the church. Transgressors basically disappear, and never heard or spoken of again. Doyle actually compares the Mormons to the Spanish Inquisition, and the Inquisition loses!(which I’m guessing no one expected1). Bringham Young himself makes an appearance.

So the America West is basically a barren, desolate place whose only prosperous (white)peoples are bloodthirsty Jesus freaks. This could not have made any Englishman eager to visit the former colonies.

1I realize I’m going to hell for this joke.


“Harrison Bergeron”

In the future, world peace and equality has been achieved. Finally, right? The only cost is handicapping the intelligent by blaring noises in their ears until they are unable to think, crippling the strong by forcing them to carry heavy weights, and hiding the beautiful behind hideous masks. All is going smoothly until the title character, a man-child who cannot be held back by any handicapping, threatens the order of society.

This was classic Kurt Vonnegut. It was disturbingly funny. I was laughing at a horrible dystopia; at humankind’s dark side taken to absurd extremes. I can’t wait to read the rest of the collection, Welcome To The Monkey House.


“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”

Two years ago, my friend Jamie made me watch the Shawshank Redemption. I hadn’t seen it, and I wasn’t keen on seeing it - as far I was concerned, I’d seen Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, so I was pretty solid in the movies from 1994 department. It was a knee-jerk reaction that, for some reason, I was sticking to.

But Jamie was right. The movie was amazing, and so was the short story.

Stephen King is an author whose works will still be read long after the Grishams, the Pattersons and the Browns of the world have been forgotten. The academic-elites, whoever the fuck they are, don’t like him. That’s because, to borrow a term form Chuck Klosterman(who also borrowed the term), King is too “advanced” for them to understand.

The basic thinking behind “Advanced Theory” is that when a genius does something that appears to suck, it might mean that he is just doing something you can’t understand, because he has “advanced” beyond you.

Of course, we could qualify David Foster Wallace as “advanced” as well, and the literary academics love him. I think the difference is that Wallace is advanced in way people who take Literature very, very seriously can understand, while King is advanced in a way normal people(especially when his stories make the transition to film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) understand. Which, in the end, makes King infinitely more important1 and is why Shawshank Redemption will be on Top 50 films lists and rerun on TBS until the end of human existence, while the “Brief Interviews WIth Hideous Men” movie directed by Jim from The Office has never actually been seen by anyone2.

But ANYWAY, “Shawshank” was a great read. Of course, it was impossible to picture the characters without picturing Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, despite the fact that Andy Dufresne is described as short and Red is Irish. I don’t know what drove me closer to a stroke, trying to picture Robbins as a short man or Freeman as white.


I didn’t make it to the Salinger story yet, or listening to an album. Moving plus a lot of extra work at the office has me stretched a little thin these days. I will get to those, however, and hopefully next month I’ll get to the violin, imitating Holmes in my free time, at my new apartment.

1Though not necessarily more talented; Wallace does acrobatics with the English language that are so dazzling they demand constant rereadings
2If you have seen it, be honest, you might have been dreaming

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed Sherlock, I love 'em stories. I cannot believe you had to be convinced to watch Shawshank, tsk tsk. Thank god you saw it. I have to read that story sounds really interesting, didn't know it was based on a short story.

    And as always TNG links are ALWAYS appreciated!