The Lord Of The Rings: Written Text

J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high fantasy novel, “The Lord Of The Rings”, which has often been divided into three books “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”, was written during WW2 and was published in 1954 and 1955. It has survived several adaptations, ranging from half of an animated film to the highly successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, and has an enormous global fanbase as well as a cult following. It is one of the most-read books on Earth, and appeals to all audiences, although it was primarily aimed at adults.”The Lord Of The Rings” centres on the archetypal orphaned hero – Frodo Baggins – who embarks on a quest to re-right the equilibrium of  Middle-Earth (J.R.R. Tolkien’s intricate invented world) of the evil One Ring, a magical object belonging to the Dark Lord Sauron that would allow him to exert his power over the whole world if it ever came into his grasp. This epic fantasy is the ultimate battle between good and evil, and Tolkien uses paradigms throughout the novel as he constructs one of the most well-known tales of the Western world, creating unconscious feelings and associations in the reader and therefore deepening the emotional experience of “The Lord of the Rings”.

“The Lord of the Rings” is filled with archetypes, who are instantly recognisable characters that symbolise certain things, and are used to allow familiarity between readers and the characters as their roles are made evident via their recognised archetype. One of the most common conventions, the hero, is filled by Frodo Baggins, the child-like hobbit who inherits the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron through his beloved uncle, Bilbo Baggins. Frodo is reluctant to leave his home, the Shire, a defining characteristic of the hero, and only starts his journey under urgency. His story, which is carefully mapped throughout the novel, is a  concept that is used frequently in high fantasy literature, known as The Hero’s Quest. The Hero’s Quest, upon which the main narrative of the novel is based on, depicts the adventures of the hero on his reluctant journey to restore balance to the world. In “The Lord of the Rings”, Frodo, as the ring-bearer, bears the responsibility of defeating the Dark Lord Sauron by destroying his ring, and is thus the protagonist of the novel. While he needs guidance and help, it is ultimately by his hand that the world of Middle-Earth must be saved, as is shown by this quote: “I will take the ring” he [Frodo] said, “though I do not know the way” …”this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and…if you do not find a way, no one will.” There are many familiar characteristics used in Frodo’s quest; in the beginning of the novel he is threatened by an unknown force – the Dark Lord Sauron, in the form of the Nazgul, his wraith servants – and is forced to leave the Shire. He journeys to Rivendell with his friends Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, as well as his faithful gardener, Samwise Gamgee, and the mysterious ranger of the north, Strider, where he is initiated and becomes part of the Fellowship of the Ring. He encounters many challenges and obstacles along the way, such as the monstrous spider Shelob (also an archetype – that of the monster) in the caves at the top of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, and the growing power and seduction of the One Ring he carries (the symbol of corrupt power and temptation in the novel). By the end of the journey, Frodo has matured and gained wisdom of his own, as well as found out about his uncle’s past and himself. He is changed, no longer the shildish hobbit he once was, but a Ring-bearer, who accepts his fate to leave Middle-Earth with the other bearers. As he tells his loyal companion, Samwise Gamgee “We tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me”.

To contrast with the good and innocent hero (the protagonist), there is an evil Dark Lord (antagonist), who is often obsessed with world domination and killing the hero.  This villain is always portrayed as nearly impossible to defeat, either through his magical powers or his enormous armed forces. In the case of “The Lord of the Rings”, the Dark Lord Sauron has both, as he has created an army of twisted elves called orcs with his mysterious and powerful magic. Good versus is evil is a common distinguishing concept of High Fantasy,and the battle between Frodo and Sauron fulfills this archetype, as Sauron seeks to retrieve the One Ring from Frodo and cause Middle-Earth to fall into Shadow. Sauron, a fallen divine being of the land of Valinor, who in “The Lord of the Rings” speaks the rough and guttural language of Mordor to reflect his evil nature, gave to the elves the knowledge of smiths-magic, teaching them how to forge the rings of power, and then betrayed them and created  “one ring to rule them all”, revealing his ill intents. He is, at the end of the novel, defeated, and good triumphs, as it does in any fantasy book.

Other regularly used archetypes are found in “The Lord of the Rings”, including Gandalf the Grey, who is also known as The Grey Pilgrim, Mathrandir, and later Gandalf the White, is the archetype of the wise old man, mentor and messenger, providing Frodo and the side of the Good with news, help, and advice. He takes Frodo under his wing, tells him of his peril at the beginning of the novel and gives him hope and encouragement. ” [The Ring] It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.”…”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also brings news to and unites the different races of Middle-Earth, warning Theodin King of Rohan of the approaching army of orcs and Urukhai, and later bringing aid to Helm’s Deep in the form of elves and the Rohirrim. Another quintessential character is Galadriel, Lady of the Light, the elven ruler of Lothlorien, whose partner is Celeborn (the good mother archetype as well as the wise old woman). Galadriel appears as a warm, loving, wise mother, who has both knowledge and the skill to use it subtly to better her realm. She and her Ring nourish Lothlorien, and allow it to flourish while darkness abounds in other regions of Middle-Earth.

In “The Lord of the Rings”, like many other high fantasy novels, the hero is accompanied by skilled and loyal companions who aid him in his quest. Frodo’s hobbit friends Merry (Meriadoc Brandybuck) and Pippin (Peregrin Took), as well as his ever-faithful companion, Sam (Samwise Gamgee), while short and sometimes very naïve and child-like in their behaviour (representing both the companion and child archetype), are not afraid to rough it up as they journey with Frodo on his quest. When the Fellowship of the Ring is formed,  the elf-prince Legolas, the dwarven Gimli, and the two men, Boromir son of the Steward of Gondor and Aragorn (Strider) of the Dunedain and heir to the throne of Gondor join the hobbits, and form the tightly knit group of skilled companions for Frodo. They each have certain skills, with weapons and otherwise, that make them important and necessary to Frodo’s journey. Aragorn especially, who is a classic exemplar of a king in exile come to fulfill his destiny, plays a crucial role throughout the novel.
While these are only a few of the immense amount archetypal figures that feature in “The Lord of the Rings”, the above are some of the central characters. Their models have been used time and time again throughout fantasy literature, and are known to most readers in some form or another. They each play a specific role that is denoted by their archetype, and remain in that role no matter which book they appear in. Hopefully, when reading this, you were able to recognise most of these characterisations from other fantasy novels you have read or fantasy book adaptations you have seen, and found yourself able to link certain emotions and notions to each archetype.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions,

Let’s call me Lily

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: Written Text

While I have found, after several disastrous attempts to read Anne Frank’s Diary, that I don’t tend to enjoy epistolary-style novels, I read this one with quite a lot of anticipation, having waited 8 months for it in various library waiting lists.I can’t remember who recommended it to me, or how I came across it, but The perks of being a wallflower, a modern piece of realistic fiction, has been on my to-read list for ages – ever since last December. While this isn’t the best book I have read, it proved to be very thought-provoking.

The perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, is a shortish YA epistolary novel (232 pages) that spans the length of a year, from August 1991-2, in a series of letters. It is written in first person, as the books protagonist and wallflower, freshman ‘Charlie’, exposes his thoughts, feelings and daily experiences to an anonymous ‘friend’. This ‘coming of age‘ novel, written in 1999, follows in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye‘s quest to capture the adolescent experience, but, in some respects, especially in the level of interest it produced for me, draws upon Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, as ‘Charlie’ appears to have a slight case of Asperger’s Syndrome, and so uses language in unusual ways. A plethora of controversial topics are explored, such as identity, rape, violence, abortion, homosexuality, molestation and drug-taking, and while the novel in no way openly condemns or encourages any of these actions, preferring to stay quite distanced and allow readers to form their own opinions, it shows clearly that bad decisions have consequences which must be dealt with.

‘Charlie’, as he names himself in his letters, is 15, and has decided to write to an unknown ‘friend’, “because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.” He begs this ‘friend’ not to try to figure out who“she” is, or who he is, and writes that “I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me”. Thus, the audience is given a sense of semi-reliability from ‘Charlie’ – on the one hand, he seems innocent and genuinely writing to sort things out, especially as he tries to reassure his addressee that “I don’t mean anything bad by it. Honest…I need to know that these people exist”, but on the other hand, from his narration readers pick up that ‘Charlie’ is quite out of sync from other teens, an outsider – a “wallflower” who doesn’t view things the way others do and has difficulty understanding others’ emotions – and that this restricts his viewpoint and renditions of events and experiences. Nonetheless, by the end of the novel, Charlie appears to have grown mentally wiser, showing maturity and reason in his last letter, as well as drawing to conclusions that have not only been the product of a lot of consideration, they are also good ones that are ultimately accepting and positive in their outlook for both ‘Charlie’ and his future.

One of the first things that struck me when reading The perks of being a wallflower was my ignorance about drugs and drug-taking through the decades. After reading the novel, which features the use of ‘pot’, ‘brownies’ (both names for Marijuana/Cannabis) and LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), I became extremely curious about drug use in America, the effects of drugs, and when governments began to outlaw the use of recreational drugs in America. After some research from the ever-helpful internet and my knowledgeable parents, I discovered that while recreational drug usage was very popular in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, drugs were used from much earlier on, and drug abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation legislation was already in place in 1920. The federal war against drug use may have increased and strengthened in the 1980’s when the government realised that scare tactics weren’t the way to go to try and prevent recreational drug use, and began using education and awareness programmes instead, but legislations had existed for decades before. Thus, it was to my surprise that The perks of being a wallflower featured drug use as common and seemingly uninhibited in Pittsburgh, PA, the place it is deduced that ‘Charlie’ is living, although ‘Charlie’ himself doesn’t tell his ‘friend’ for the sake of anonymity. This, I found out later, was because there was a resurgence of drug use in the 90’s, especially LSD, which wasn’t very popular in the 70’s or 80’s, and the continued popularity of  cannabis and heroin.

Something else which interested me were the books that ‘Charlie’ is given to read by his English teacher throughout the year – quite a comprehensive list that is written about, and maybe others which aren’t mentioned. The list is as follows:

(clicking on the links will send you to the wikipedia page for each text/author)

What’s really great about this is that I’ve read several of the books, so when ‘Charlie’ discusses some of his thoughts – or lack of thoughts – about the book, I can relate to it even while I don’t agree with some of his opinions (as I mentioned above, I never considered The Catcher In The Rye as a favourite). The books serve as good reference points, as they are classics and so there is a likelihood that they have been read by teens today, and so enable readers to relate and invest more into ‘Charlie’ as a character. They also show the type of books an advanced 15 year old would read in 1991. In a way, the entries about the books are Stephen Chbosky urging readers to keep reading, and giving suggestions as to what to read after they’ve finished The perks of being a wallflower. ‘Charlie’s’ description of Naked Lunch intrigued me, and I may take a leaf out of his book and read it sometime soon. This is a great way to encourage teens to read – by giving them a booklist which they know the protagonist of the book they are reading likes, and so influence to read it as well. The list of books are, in accordance to The perks of being a wallflower, either written about experiences while on drugs, or while the author was using drugs, introspective novels which discuss identity, existence and philosophy, or coming-of-age novels. Thus, Chbosky links some of the themes of his book to those which his protagonist reads, and forms connections to them.

There are many more issues, ideas and symbols which are woven into the novel, and I did take away more than what I have written here, especially as I embarked upon a quest to extend my knowledge after reading the novel. However, in saying that, the two themes above, literature and recreational drug use, were those that I was most curious about afterwards (er, also, I’ve already written over 1000 words, and so I didn’t feel like doubling my word count. That just makes me seem lazy, though). This novel is an interesting, somewhat extreme rendition of a year of adolescence, filled with experiences that affect and develop readers’ perspectives on “the roller-coaster days known as growing up”.

As always, I’d be eager to hear your thoughts, opinions, and any comments you might like to share,

Let’s call me Lily

Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship of The Ring: Visual/NZ Text

“The Lord Of The Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high fantasy novel, divided into 6 parts and three books, was written during WW2 and was published in 1954 and 1955. It has survived several adaptations, ranging from half of an animated film to the highly successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. Being an avid Lord Of The Rings fan, I’ve watched the trilogy several times, as well as reading the official film guide and watching the special features and extended editions of the films. I was introduced to “The Lord Of The Rings” by my parents at the age of 5, as while we were travelling in Thailand for 3 months, we also watched “Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” at the cinema. As such, I did not see the films in order at first, but as I can’t really remember anything from that time, it doesn’t matter. I have since then watched the films again (many times), and what has always stood out to me is the effort and dedication that was put into the films. “The Lord Of The Rings” centres on the archetypal orphaned hero – Frodo Baggins – who embarks on a quest to rid the world of Middle-Earth of the evil One Ring, a magical object belonging to the Dark Lord Sauron, which binds his life force to the living world (if this sounds familiar, just what until the giant spider Shelob).

There are a lot of admirable features in the films, from the well-adapted script to the beautifully aesthetic props, costumes and scenery to the incredible actors to the revolutionary prosthetics and digital design of Weta, but the background and foundation to all of this is the gargantuan amount of effort that everybody involved with the films made, and their awe-inspiring dedication to their work. This is something that, while not necessarily pointed out all the time, remains at the back of my mind every time I watch the films. Because I have behind-the-scenes knowledge, every time I see a hobbit foot on screen, I think about the hour and a half  it took for that foot to be put on, and the magnificently realistic quality of the prosthetics, and about the enormous number of feet Weta made for the films (1,800 feet just for the four lead hobbits). This, just one snippet of “The Fellowship Of The Ring”, showcases the immense amount of work that was put into the films, and highlights all the different elements involved – the prosthetics-maker’s attention to detail and reality in making the feet, the resilient quality of the feet, the actors’ patience as the prosthetics is put on, the feet-putter-oners’ patience as they put on the feet, the camera-men/women who use angles which allow the feet to be seen, and the director’s decision on which shots stay in the final cut. The quality of the films really emphasise these processes, and reveal the importance of background work such as prop and costume-making, showing that even the smallest details are vital to create ‘real’ sets and achieve the best results, both cinematographically and for audiences.

Another example of this can be seen in the opening sequence of the first film, “The Fellowship Of The Ring”, when a scene of the battle of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men is shown, depicting the fall of Sauron. In it, there is a wide shot/extreme long shot of the humans, elves, and dark forces doing battle, showing thousands of troops. This was created by using a new digital programme called MASSIVE, which made armies of CG orcs, elves, and humans. These digital creations could ‘think’ and battle independently – identifying friend or foe – thanks to individual fields of vision. However, to get the character designs, blacksmiths made hundreds of shields and suits of armour, including simulated chain mail made from plastic rings, all of them individually hand-wielded and embossed with designs, and then painted. Can you imagine the time it must have taken to do that?

These are only a few cases out of a huge variety – you only need see the special features of the film or read some of the trivia on the IMBd website to be able to tell that everyone involved with the process, whether it be pre-production, production or post-production, was absolutely invested in doing the best they possibly could to create J.R.R. Tolkien’s world.

I’d love to hear what you think about the films, especially if you were one of the lucky people able to be involved (even as an extra),

Let’s call me Lily

 

Written Text: ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde

‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’, Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, was first printed as part of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in July 1890, but was considered immoral and subsequently revised and republished as a novel the following year with some added chapters, amendments, and a new preface. I read this novel as an e-book, trying out this form because it was a free download and I was curious to see what it was like reading from my father’s I-Phone (highly inconvenient, actually, although I imagine that with an I-Pad it would be better). It also had the advantage of not having a waiting list, as the book did in the library. Unfortunately, this meant that I could only access the revised version, not the original, and that I didn’t have the preface, which proved to be a highly important part of the novel, as I would later discover, wherein Wilde defended and explained the thoughts and philosophies behind the novel. I have yet to read this preface, and the unaltered version, but hope to acquire it soon.

Another classic, ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’, is a prime example of a Faustian tale, and was written as part of the Victorian revival of the gothic fiction genre, which ‘Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Stevenson (yet another classic), a book which Wilde admired, was also a member of. ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ follows the journey of Dorian Gray, first seen as a beautiful young man of 17, into moral corruptness as he is influenced by Lord Henry Wotton, one of the story’s protagonists.

Dorian Gray begins the novel as Basil Hallward’s current muse (another pivotal figure in the novel, although he is absent for much of it), and is posing for a portrait when he meets Lord Henry for the first time. They discuss the value of beauty and youth, and on a whim, Dorian Gray wishes that his youth and beauty be retained forever while his portrait ages in his stead. This wish is granted, and throughout the novel, the portrait undergoes a series of changes which Dorian does not. It is a visible representation of Dorian’s soul, showing his ‘true face’, as it were, and reveals the consequences of the hedonistic lifestyle he leads and the crimes he commits. This symbol is used throughout the book to highlight the different changes that Dorian undergoes, from cruelty to old age to murder, clearly displaying them while Dorian himself remains looking pure, young and innocent.  By the end of the book, Dorian, who is 38 and has committed the murder of Basil Hallward,which haunts him as he believes that he will be discovered, decides to repent his crimes so that his portrait once again becomes beautiful. When this does not work, for the portrait has recognised the selfish intents behind the declaration, Dorian flies into a rage and stabs the portrait. However, when the servants of the house arrive at the scene after hearing a scream, they discover the portrait of the young and beautiful Dorian Gray, their master, while on the floor lies a hideous old man with a knife through his heart. This is later identified as the corpse of Dorian Gray through the ring on his finger.

Using the portrait as a symbol for Dorian’s soul was an ingenious idea from Wilde, as it allows readers to see the corruptness of his soul visually and to therefore conveys to them that everything has a consequence, even if it cannot be seen on the surface; Dorian remains as beautiful and pure-looking as ever while the portrait becomes old, withered and displays every small sin that he has ever made. Wilde employs dramatic irony in this sense, as  both Dorian and readers have the knowledge of what Dorian’s soul looks like, while characters throughout the novel exclaim  at Dorian’s pureness. The Lady Narborough says “you are made to be good — you look so good”, very firmly connecting good looks with a good soul, and showing a notion that is often repeated in ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ – that a youthful innocent appearance indicates a similar state of being in the mind and soul. This message is re-iterated by  Basil Hallward, who, after hearing rumours of Dorian’s debauched lifestyle says “Mind you, I don’t believe these rumours at all. At least, I can’t believe them when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices. There are no such things. If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.” He does not believe that Dorian, who looks so young and naïve still, can possibly have committed the acts with which he has been accused of.

Wilde also uses the portrait to enhance the sense of duplicity maintained throughout the novel, as Dorian does not connect any of his actions to himself but places the blame firmly on other shoulders, thus distancing himself from them. He played at a double life, acting as a gentleman and hosting or attending  grand parties on some days, and travelling to opium dens and other impoverished areas on others. The portrait is linked to Dorian’s dual personality as it distances his soul from himself and so his actions from their consequences, and, as is suggested by Dorian himself, his conscience; “It had brought melancholy across his passions. Its mere memory had marred many moments of joy. It had been like conscience to him. Yes, it had been conscience”. However, at the end of the novel, it is revealed that Dorian’s double life was just a farce, as he and the portrait were intimately linked. This is shown by Dorian’s last act; stabbing his portrait in an attempt to destroy it. The portrait then reverts to its original appearance, while all the changes it has undergone throughout the novel are transferred to Dorian, including the stab wound he has made on the portrait itself, killing him.

Another strong symbol (and motif) in ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ is that of the “poisonous yellow book” which Lord Henry Wotton lends to Dorian; about a young Frenchman who lives a hedonistic, immoral life of sin. The book “fascinates” Dorian, and he becomes obsessed with emulating the Parisian protagonist, following different modes and vices, trying out anything that takes his fancy and collecting objects of beauty such as jewels and intricate tapestries. His experiments lead to rumours of his scandalous life reaching the ears of the artist Basil Hallward, who decides to warn Dorian, and confront him to see if there is any truth in them. The book, of which Dorian amasses a collection in different colours, is never named, although in his trial, Wilde admitted that he had the book ‘À Rebours’ (Against Nature) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, in mind when he was writing about the “yellow book”. Indeed, there are many similarities between the two texts, although any references to specific chapters are deliberately wrong, and Wilde added a section about the protagonist bemoaning his fate to grow old and decay to make the book even more relevant to Dorian himself. The influence of this book is so strong that for over 18 years, Dorian tries to live his own life like the protagonist’s, seeking beauty in all its forms and succumbing to any desire he has. He yields to temptation, as instructed by Lord Wotton, and moves from emotion to emotion as he follows the hedonistic lifestyle laid out before him by the book and Lord Wotton.

While a very interesting read, ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ is not a happy novel, and could almost said to be emulating the “poisonous yellow book” itself – indeed Wilde once wrote that he “had played a ‘fantastic variation’ on À Rebours and must write it down someday”. As shown in the above, Wilde used some strong symbolism to convey his points, and I believe this blatant way to reach to readers and pound messages into them somewhat contradicts the preface, in which Wilde writes that art should be simply about beauty, not written or painted to convey any sort of message across to its audience. As I have not read the preface in full, however, I cannot comment on this fully. It was a truly intriguing read with a well-formed with a well formed, if not positive ending, and though I do not believe in the philosophies that Wilde writes about, they are written in a style which is both engaging and designed for further thought upon finishing the novel.  If you are looking for a unique experience in which imagery and metaphor abound, this novel is for you, but if you are expecting a light read, I would advise you to find another.

As always, I would be extremely eager to hear your views and/or experiences of this book, as I believe that, in particular, this novel is very controversial and has surely caused a myriad of opinions to be formed about it.

Lets call me Lily

Short Written Text: ‘Silver Blaze’ by Arthur Conan Doyle

This book is another recommendation from my father, who used to work in a bookshop in his youth and so owns a fairly large collection of classics from all over the world. I had meant to read Arthur Conan Doyle for a while, as I enjoyed Agatha Christie and had heard that Doyle had a similar style, and because the Sherlock Holmes mysteries are famous, and I was curious to see if I would enjoy them. I read a collection of his short stories, and loved them all, finding them fascinating and Doyle’s writing style satisfying and easy to understand. The short story I will be discussing is the first in “Sherlock Holmes Selected Short Stories”, “Silver Blaze”.

The overarching theme of all Sherlock Holmes short stories, in my opinion, is to reveal how facts, logical deductions,  a heightened perception of the environment and the use of the elimination process can solve any case, no matter how mysterious it seems at first. This is conveyed through the character of the intelligent and analytical Sherlock Holmes, who is the protagonist in all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. To better show the process in which cases are solved, Conan Doyle uses a permanent secondary character, Dr. Watson, to narrate the stories using a first person perspective which allows readers to experience the solving journey vicariously. Dr. Watson is Holmes’ partner, and while he does offer insights from time to time, his purpose in the Sherlock Holmes volumes is to act as an audience through which Holmes’ brilliant and sometimes extravagant deductions are clarified and explained for the readers. Dr. Watson exists for readers to empathise with, and this is one of the primary functions of Conan Doyle’s use of first person, as readers feel a connection to him because they experience events and acquire knowledge from his point of view, not Sherlock Holmes’.

In “Silver Blaze”, for example, the story in which Holmes and Watson go to Dartmoor to uncover what happened to the ‘favourite’ for the Wessex Cup, owned by Colonel Ross, and who murdered his trainer, Mr. John Straker, after the case has baffled the local Inspector,  Holmes questions Mrs. Straker about the nature of the dress she wore at a garden party she did not attend. By doing so, it is explained later in the story, Holmes ascertained that the purchase of such a dress was unknown to Mrs. Straker, which led him to believe that the deceased Mr. Straker carried out a double life under an alias, as he was found with the receipt for it under the name of ‘Darbyshire’ in his pocket on the night he died (Holmes promptly investigated the matter by visiting the milliner’s shop and using a photograph of Mr. Straker to identify him as Mr Darbyshire). At the time, Holmes’ companions are bemused by his seemingly unrelated questions, but by the end of the story, after Holmes has explained the reasoning behind his deductions, Dr. Watson and readers alike realise the significance of his observation ad following questions. Another such example that can be found within “Silver Blaze” is when Holmes, just before leaving to London, asks if there is “anything amiss” with the sheep that Colonel Ross owns. This comment seems completely unrelated to the case, and yet proves to be a vital part of Holmes’ process of deduction.

The way Holmes, and also Watson, to a lesser degree, uses logic, facts and simple observations to solve cases which, at the beginning of each story, seem to have no answer to, is a technique which stood out to me very much whilst I read “Silver Blaze”, as well as Doyle’s other Sherlock Holmes mysteries. To me, Holmes’ way of thinking and exceptional observation skills seem to be the suggestions of Doyle, as he writes high praise of Sherlock Holmes, and the narrator he uses, Dr. Watson, holds Holmes in high regards. I believe that if we were all to strive to see half as much as Holmes does, not only will individual lives be enriched by details and heightened experiences, but the world will also slowly improve, as people notice injustice and try to correct it, as governments realise that the paths they are taking should be revised, and as people gain insights and stop simply looking, but begin to ‘see’.

In conclusion, I can say that reading Arthur Conan Doyle has broadened my horizons and that I have taken something other than enjoyment from his works, although I did derive that too, and I once again urge you to try a Sherlock Holmes story. While a classic, Doyle writes in an accessible and easily comprehensible style that is modern enough not to be a deterrent, while keeping a fresh tone of language that reveals the era in which he wrote in.

As always, I look forward to any comments or thoughts you may wish to post,

Let’s call me Lily

Short Written Text: ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov

This is the first part of an optional NCEA English internal which I am taking, in which I have to choose six texts and form a personal opinion about them. On second thoughts, I’ve decided to post this on my home page, as I think that it would be a great opportunity for you to offer your opinions, which is what this format of assignment is all about. Each part will be a separate post, but I will also continue updating the page ‘English’ if you wish to read all of them at once. So far, I haven’t done very much, but I will make progress!

So, without further ado, my first post; a short written text.

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“I, Robot”, a series of connected short stories written by Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992), is considered to be classic science-fiction literature in today’s society. However, as Asimov was a Russian-born American author, he tends not to be taught at high schools in New Zealand, who focus more on NZ and British literature. As a result, it was not through school pathways that I came across this book – instead, it was my father who suggested I try Asimov, although I did not act upon it until I read the much more modern “Cold Awakening Trilogy” by Robin Wasserman, at the back of which had acknowledgements by the author which included “I, Robot” as an inspiration for the series.

In the sixth short story, “Liar!”, Dr Susan Calvin, the leading robot psychologist of U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Inc. and a recurring character in the “I, Robot”series, is called to analyse a new robot – RB-34, also known as Herbie –  that has accidentally gotten telepathic abilities, although his fellow robots (the other 33) turned out fine. Herbie is still bound by the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Dr Calvin discovers that as the First Law includes mental and psychological pain such as a deflation of ego, which Herbie can sense, when Herbie knows that the truth will hurt the person seeking it, he lies. However, by lying Herbie is hurting them anyway, as he finds out when he tells Dr Calvin, who is in love with Milton Ashe, that he returns her feelings, only for her to catch Herbie out as Ashe confesses that he is getting married soon and feel anguish as she realises that his love is unrequited. Faced by this unsolvable dilemma of lying to prevent pain and causing pain by lying, Herbie breaks down.

A clear bias in “Liar!” is Asimov’s male chauvinism, as Dr Calvin, though very high up in the U.S. hierarchy, is the only woman in the story, and is also depicted as quite a weak character who succumbs to hate and bitterness when confronted with Herbie’s lies, in contrast to the men’s reactions, which were much milder. This prejudice was a common one in the 20th century, and reveals Asimov’s personal opinions of women. I found it interesting that on the one hand, Dr. Calvin is the highest in her field and so should be admired for her intelligence and resilience, but on the other hand, it becomes obvious from Asimov’s treatment of his character that he is not fond of her, regards her as inferior, and does not portray her as someone who is easy to sympathise with.

The main purpose of this short story is to highlight the difference between the words that one says out loud, and those that one keeps inside their head. Asimov seems to be showing us how much humans rely on the privacy of their minds when conducting everyday business, and that often, what is stated is often a disguise to what is really happening inside one’s mind. This is best shown in Dr. Susan Calvin, who on the outside is seen as inhuman and incapable of emotions, as is made evident through this quote: “Well, I’ve been called a robot myself. Surely, they’ve told you I’m not human.”  in which Dr. Calvin is talking about herself. She has “thin, pale lips” and “cold gray eyes” , which are indications of her outward coldness, and furthermore, when she is seen applying make-up for the first time in “Liar!” and her actions are discussed by her fellow officers, the ability for her to fall in love is swiftly discarded and thought of as asinine. “’Maybe she’s in love.’ Ashe allowed his eyes to close again, ‘You’re nuts, Bogie.’” This quote shows that Dr. Calvin is thought of as incapable of emotion, which is very different to what the readers find, as when she is not with her fellow officers but with Herbie the mind-reading robot, Dr. Calvin becomes extremely emotional as she allows herself to feel angry, hurt, wistful because Herbie knows her thoughts already. This example shows how humans limit themselves very much when communicating to others, especially about emotions which they think may cause them to be seen as weak, and is the same in life as in “Liar!”. When have you last heard a friend, or a classmate, or someone you don’t know very well, tell you their real thoughts, rather than editing them carefully in their head first? In fact, when did you last do this yourself? I try not to create such a large blockade between what I think and what I say, but there is an inevitable gap, as politeness must be observed, diplomacy used, and rashness discouraged.

I believe that Asimov is, in “Liar!”, revealing to us the consequences that not speaking our minds may have, and to re-iterate how much importance words can have – that in reality, while sticks and stones may hurt us, so too can words, and that we must therefore exercise caution in what we let others think about us, as is shown in the case of Dr. Calvin, who cannot afford to show weakness to her fellows, but may to a robot who cannot threaten her position or herself.

Here is the link to a PDF of  “I, Robot”.

Hopefully, what I have written has encouraged you not only to read this book or others like it, as Asimov truly is worth reading, if not only to say that you have, but has also prompted you to consider what comes out of you mouth in comparison to what doesn’t, and the possible consequences that this can have.

I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts,

Let’s call me Lily