Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Island of Dr Moreau - H.G.Wells

The island of Dr. Moreau, part cautionary tale of scientists 'playing God' by intervening with Darwins' 'Theory of evolution'; part moral mirror reflecting the animalistic side within us all.
"Very much indeed of what we call moral education is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained in to courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality in to religious emotion."
Wells reminds us of our deepest fears, what we inherently know to be true, things we see all around us in those that have not been 'adapted' to moral sensibilities of society, that we are all beasts, trained to be 'civil' in polite society, but we can see in others and ourselves, that we are at heart animals and without constant attendance, training and correction, we are all capable of nature reverting us to our more base animal instincts.
However, all is not lost, there is a prescriptive, one of which is to seclude ourselves and surround ourselves with books of wisdom and devote our days to reading. I have found this prescription most efficacious in myself.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Invisible Man - H.G.Wells

"I am invisible, that is not a crime!"

Here we find the crux of Wells', the father of Science fiction, point of the invisible man. Being invisible is not a crime, yet is often treat as a crime.

Through fiction we can talk about things that matter without being branded in any particular grouping, in this instance what is being addressed is a mix of racism and the social exclusion people can feel by being 'different' in some way.

The invisible man, Griffin, is described throughout as a blackman, piebald and half-caste. Griffin even declares he has been working like a nigger!

This may seem strange coming from a 6' Albino, but the social rejection and exclusion is nonetheless the same. Society rejects the unusual, the deformed, disabled, coloured and even the invisible.

The story opens with Griffin entering a hostelry looking for a room to conduct his further experiments, wearing shades and bandages covering his head, he ensures he is covered head to toe to hide his self imposed deformity.

However in a small village, where the yokels like to know everybody's business, he soon finds he has no hiding place.

An experimental physicist he toiled 3 long years on the art of invisibility, finally perfecting it upon himself, urged on by the delights of being able to come and go unseen as he pleases, only after the the event does he realise that unlike the personal utopia he had hoped for, he instead has imposed a prison sentence upon himself.

Even so it is hard to feel pity for this anti-hero, one gets the feeling and the intent is written in the book, that his work was for purely selfish reasons. The possibility of Godlike powers, to steal, pillage, rape and murder without consequence was too much for Griffin's egoistical nature to turn down.

He was driven not out of a sense of altruism, rather one of self gratification, no matter what the cost to his fellow man. After years of social exclusion as an albino he grabbed his chance at vengeance against a Society that was not accepting of someone 'different' from the norm.

Yet this novel has deeper undercurrents, if we look past the veneer of racism we can see that Wells' may well have been writing about himself, his feelings.

As a writer he secluded himself, or perhaps felt secluded from society and in his seclusion wrote many great and underrated works. Also as a professional journalist he would make scything attacks one moment, passing praise the next.

I consider 'The invisible man' one of Wells' most important works, not only for the pace and suspense, nor the short, pointed chapters, but for the meanings imparted the morals and ethics of a society that have learned to shun those that are different from ourselves.

Wells holds a moral mirror to our face and forces us to take an honest look at how we would react.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

I have not read serious fiction since I left school a good 20 years ago, yet when I picked up Goldings' classic 'Lord of the Flies' it was as if transferred back to childhood, a childhood of wonder and amazement, more so a true love of literature, far more than the texts forced upon me by teachers drilling books in to our heads of which we held no interest in reading.

I ask myself why Lord of the Flies, of all the literature out there, the accepted classics of Dickens and other 'must read' books, that mark us out as one of the intelligentsia if you can quote from them; it was the simple, gripping, imaginatively texture rich vocabulary of Goldings' Lord of the Flies that grabbed my attention as the first work of literary fiction for me to read and review in 20 years.

Now I know this book has many levels and each person will look at this book in different hues and colours. Yes it is about the The Hobbesian nightmare of a world without laws, nasty solitary short and brutish. The children given free reign to do as they please literally went 'native' a reversal of civilisation at every turn of the page.

It could also be said to be about the power struggle between Ralph and Jack, their fight for leadership is a classic case of Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' in a very real sense. Ralph leading with rhetoric, compassion and self confidence, while Jack enforces his will upon the others, raised with a military background, strict and brutal. This is shown even more starkly and emotionally grippingly as the book nears it's crescendo of bloodthirsty violence as Ralph is hunted by the crowd.

Which leads to the psychology of the crowd or as some say, 'The madness of crowds'. Exploring how the group falls in line, gets excited as one child plays the role of the pig and the crowd falls upon the pig as a parlor game which almost goes too far, or when they catch sight of the 'beast' and set about it with brutality. The psychological impetus is so great that even the timid 'piggy' can't help but embroil himself in the situation.

What I want to discuss here is the beauty of the writing more than the underlying current of the storyline. It is entirely an emotionally gripping piece of literature that absolutely draws you in, I literally felt my heart beating faster in parts and genuine sadness in others, true emotive context through the power of the written word.

It is the use of adjectives that I love in this book. Used in a way I have not yet came across I absolutely fell in love with Goldings' use of the descriptive noun to really draw you in to the story on an emotional level. There are sentences throughout the book I could read over and not tire of their majesty. Holding some majestic power over my emotions, not only supplying the hook but also reeling me in effortlessly as though the hook was baited with opium.

"His hair plastered to his forehead", "All round him the long scar smashed in to the jungle was a bath of heat". This stuff in the first paragraph absolutely gripped me, my attention was now completely focused, simple yet effective, speed readers may well miss the nuances of the prose, I re-read the first paragraph just to dwell on the craftsmanship of  the written word, structured to make you take notice, to force you to pay full attention or otherwise misconstrue badly what is being said by Golding.

Later in the chapter Ralph uses his arm as a fulcrum to rescue the conch, how many people would describe the use of an arm as a fulcrum nowadays? The phrase I re-read over until fully absorbed "Here the roots and stems of creepers were in such tangles that the boys had to tread through them like pliant needles". If you read that slowly it really fires the imagination, you can 'see' the boys literally threading themselves through the thick stems of creepers, you can vividly picture it, pause for a moment in the text and allow yourself to totally absorb yourself in what the boys are doing, this is certainly a strength of Goldings', yet again only for those that have time to stand and stare, to really enjoy their literature; this book demands that.

Further on they stumble upon a pig, stuck in the vines, high pitched squealing, pain and fear as the pig struggles against it's captor for freedom, incapable of the capacity of thought in escape, desperately crying for help and struggling until either freedom or exhaustion overtakes it, no matter how long it takes.

Merridews' eyes widen in anticipation, a natural if authoritarian leader, perhaps too oppressive and eager to show military prowess, his father being  a Navy man, Merridew pulls the hunting knife from it's sheaf, the blade glinting in the hot overhead sun, arm raised high ready to plunge deeply in to the soft flesh of the terrified animal about to see his last days. A moments hesitation, a thousand thoughts going through Merridews' mind in the blink of an eye, enough time for lunch to escape its binds and live until another day.

Born of frustration Merridew savagely strikes the blade in to the yielding trunk of a nearby tree, scowling at the others that the delay was caused by a decision of where to plunge the blade in to the unfortunate animal, daring his two comrades to question his authority on the topic. This of course is not the first time Merridews' megalomania shows itself, after first appearing on the scene he singles out piggy as the butt of his obtuse wit calling him fatty, to the enjoyment of the other children which simply gives him the perceived authority to keep up the jibes until stopped by Ralph, who unfortunately informs Merridew and everyone else his name is actually 'Piggy', much to the chagrin and unease of piggy himself who is now even more crestfallen after specifically asking Ralph not to tell anyone he used to be called that by 'the other boys'.

This of course is where the emotive mixes with the descriptive. We have piggy, timid and fearful, yet intellectual and wanting to be heard. Empowered by Ralph and more decisively the conch, the speakers tool, Piggy gains confidence in addressing the crowd. He may suffer from 'Ass-mar', rotund from being let loose in a sweet shop and being bespectacled, but his rhetoric is filled with logic and rationality. Simple rules such as keep the fire burning are order of the day, but he is addressing children that simply want to play or are too frightened of the dark.

Ralph being voted the charismatic leader of the group, sticks in Jacks craw. His embarrassment and resentment towards Ralph is self evident in his expressions and body language. Ralph wants fun but he also has a good advisor in Piggy, his conscience, his thinker. Think of it as the coalition along similar lines to the Conservatives and LibDems. Ralph is the charismatic leader but Ralph feels the need to concede certain points to piggy, whom has an emotional tie with Ralph as being together on the island at first.

Again we see emotion intensify as they build a ring round the boy playing a pig, emotion carries them to hurt the boy, fear wells up inside him, he fears for his life and breaks down in tears. Later on the beast is not so lucky, the boys have killed before, they have a bloodlust like a Norse Berserker, filled with the passion to kill, nudged by others in the group, a very emotional scene.

Later as Piggy's head is smashed in half, the conch shattered in to a thousand pieces, we instinctively understand all order has finally broken down. The locals have truly gone native, this is the symbolic end of order, the rule of strongest leads by brutality is enforced. Totalitarian leadership run by fear is order of the day and as Ralph asks why they want to kill him, he has done nothing to them, you realize it doesn't matter any more. They want an excuse to hunt and as Ralph is not part of the group he is no better than a pig to the hunters, something to be hunted for fun and pure enjoyment. The societal structure which Ralph and Piggy attempted to install completely broken down now.

The final scene asks more questions than it answers, at first I was verily disappointed at how the structure broke off, leaving us dead in the water, wanting more, needing more, answers, what happened next?

Ralph broke down, let it all out, yet what about all the children in clay with spears and other weapons chasing him? Did the military have to shoot them or did the sight of adults snap them out of the hypnotic bind they found themselves in? Did they come to their sense and realise the gravity of their actions? Did they also breakdown and cry at how barbaric they had became, the fact that they burned down a whole island in much the same way that humanity has destroyed the earth we live in.

If they were all rescued and we can assume they were, how would they cope back in civilisation with rules, order, laws and structure and most importantly adults? If we are civilised and are broken down to barbarians, can we be brought back to civilised beings as easily?

These are all emotive questions that fired my interest in this book and it may well serve us all to re-read this book many times to think through all the messages that are being conveyed by the author.