Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Spotlight: Ivanhoe (1952)

  While reading Ivanhoe I determined to see every film version that I could. This was first on the list. And may I say it is totally worthy of that place! Also, just for fun I decided not to put in any spoilers. Hence, all and sundry may read on with impunity.

Accuracy to book
This being an oldie interpretation of a classic, as you might guess there were a great many changes. However, I feel it kept close to the good old spirit of the story. And as the length of the film was much shorter than would allow for easy explanation of some problems, I think most of the changes made a great deal of sense.

Things to note 
My mother didn’t have my youngest sister watching it, but that was mainly because of some of the intensity, which would have been a bit much for her to take in. Otherwise there are no irritating scenes.

Costumes, scenery, and music 
The costumes are the almost fairy-tale finery that we all know and love from that era of film. The scenery and music go along with that—the part with the burning castle being especially thrilling!


I have to say it. This Ivanhoe was way “better” than the book—which is good as he is not only Ivanhoe, but the “Black Knight” as well. He does make one or two rather strange mistakes, however he carries off the whole “more or less in love with two girls at the same time” difficulty very honorably, is quick on his feet and altogether is a good egg. 

Rowena is a bit more mature and forthright than in the book. She also totally apprehends Rebecca’s feelings for Ivanhoe., indeed that whole loop comes in quite a bit. Otherwise she was quite good—and she and her chosen one make quite a noble couple.

Beautiful, mysterious and with an inner glowing purity, this Rebecca is exactly how I picture her in the book. And the last scene with her and Bois-Guilbert and Rowena is simply perfection.

Brian Bois-Guilbert 
My very first reaction to discovering that George Sanders played Bois-Guilbert was inelegant snickers. I feared the worst. But judging from my past career I am sure you might guess what happened. That feeling totally reversed. Indeed I have decided that (barring Basil Rathbone who was born to play Bois-Guilbert, though he never did) I can picture no other actor from the time showing the roughness and deep tension of his character and temperament so well. And his soft repentant sort of expression? No one could have done that better.

Other important characters 
Prince John is THE most evil faced John I have seen yet, but what was really fun is that he and King Richard looked extraordinarily alike (except that one had all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it :)). No wait, I just got carried away—Richard actually had both. Isaac of York is shown as a good upstanding fellow—as is Locksley. Wamba’s loyalty was bravely shown. De Bracy (who as you may know, is one of my favorites!) is mainly shown as Bois-Guilbert’s henchman, hence he doesn’t really have the screen time of the novel, however, in its context, it actually turned out quite satisfactory. Cedric was not quite as antagonistic as he is in the novel, but he was still fairly grouchy.

Final Thoughts 
This is the Ivanhoe that I will go to when I want a nice homey evening with plenty of comfortable thrills. Good old medieval excitement of the best tradition, it has everything I love in a medieval classic drama—sword-fights, the storming of castles, and epic romance!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: Catrin in Wales by Mabel Esther Allan

When 16 year old Catrin goes for a short visit to Wales before settling down to work in London, she little suspects she will stay for the summer and longer because of a sick aunt. During which she becomes the custodian of a historic building, overcomes the wariness of the villagers, participating in the Welsh national life, and finds friendship and romance in the colorful, picturesque community.

Book recommendations from friends are the greatest and yet there is always a trepidation, a slight trembling of the fingers as I reach for the book. What if I don’t like it, and then it might hurt their feelings? So it was with this book and I. My good blogging chum Natalie wrote a glowing review for it, I ordered it from the library, and then read the first page and went…. oh dear! The story wasn’t horrid and I even liked the style and the descriptions were suburb; however, I wasn’t clicking with the heroine Catrin. I was feeling terrible about the whole thing. And then it happened. Half way through or so I couldn’t put it down! I was in Wales with Catrin, cycling around the cool green valleys with Gwen and visiting her friends at their farm in the steep windy hills. And I didn’t want to come back. Indeed, I read the last chapter several times just to drag out the finishing part, then sat and sighed in contentment over it. It’s not a second Little Women or To Have and To Hold, but it is unabashedly simple, refreshing and most Nancy Drew-ish (after all it was written in the 60’s). I think it is the neatest thing how they ride their bikes seemingly everywhere they go and I now have a burning desire to take a bicycle tour around Wales. Altogether it is a lovely example of a perfect summer read – light, unpretentious and quite pleasing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

It's one of the first “historical-fiction” novels. It's poetry in prose and prose in poetry (or it would be if such a thing were possible). It's stirring and romantic and totally epic. It's...Ivanhoe.

Even before this reading, Scott was not unknown to me. I had read both his The Lady of the Lake and The Talisman and I had seen (most) of the 90's Ivanhoe mini-series. Yet I nearly put Ivanhoe aside. The speech of the characters was simply too outrageous, I said. Scott the poet had waxed too enthusiastic in his prose. I would pick it up only to toss it fitfully aside and that only to look at it with my face wrinkled up in indecision. In such manner I worked through the first 100 pages or so. And then something happened—I could not put it down! I tried, but the excitement within the story was intense. Each intense (or humorous, as the case might be) scene swirled to further intensity as the stakes the characters fought for mounted in tension and power. Strangely enough, it was not the troubles of the hero that kept me reading, it was the others. It was the rough yet nobly minded Cedric; the simple (or should the word be level?) minded Athelstane (you have to love Athelstane :)); the chivalrous Black Knight; the also level-headed (with the perfect touch of wit for spice) Locksley. It was the brave and hilarious De Bracy, the courageous Rebecca and finally...Brian Bois-Guilbert.

Cedric begins on rather an unwieldy note. In other words, I couldn’t bear him. However, through the story his nature begins to unfold and you begin to see him for the true noble he is. Indeed, such were my feelings for him that by the end I wished I could give him a big squeezing hug as I give my father (except that I think that Cedric would not appreciate it as much as my father).

De Bracy. I know he is technically on the side of the wicked Prince John, but honestly, if Scott wanted us to love the hero, he should not have created such charming and not-exactly-evil villains. And De Bracy is every wit that, for with all his ambition and mad schemes he does have some sense of honor and he is a brave and skillful knight. Finally, he has humor and light-spirits even in slightly unpleasant circumstances, which Ivanhoe does not. Altogether I like him very much indeed!

Brian Bois-Guilbert aka The Templar. Where do I begin…? His character is incredibly complex and incredibly fascinating. Though the book may be called Ivanhoe, it is Bois-Guilbert who sweeps the story before him and takes hold of the imagination with all the questions raised of a soul tortured by both his past and present. Of all the characters in the story Rebecca was the only one whose quiet strength was the equal of the intense flame of his. The one thing which his incredibly strong nature attempts to break unheeded. Or rather, in the attempt, it is broken itself and the proud Templar finds himself shaken in all the power he held within his hitherto unmoving hand. Ah—and then the end. Trust to Scott to make a hopelessly tied-up situation, with only one way out—and that only for the hero and none for his adversary! However, it was the only way…or at least the only way to finish it with honor for everybody and without ending it in ridiculous improbability. Scott never sways you to think that any of the evil Bois-Guilbert does is good and his ending is a just retribution for his actions. Yet it hurts. Scott had invested so much into his character and though I knew what must be his end, it was painful when the time came and—I admit—I cried.

I have not touched on the many others that make this story memorable, too: Rowena, the Black Knight, Friar Tuck, Wamba, Isaac the Jew—even the named hero of the piece, Ivanhoe. I don't know if I did it on purpose or if it just happened that way, but I think it's turned out perfectly. Those characters are all good and I relish the reading of them, but it is in the bitter and grieved and complex that Scott's brilliance shines and it is for that—in both his writing and his characters—that I love this story.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanore M. Jewett

 “Hugh groaned. 'The mob! I know well what that means! Jacques, we cannot face a mob gone wild again!' 
  At that moment a peasant appeared far down the road, running. He was shouting and, as he drew nearer, others joined him. 
  'Hue and cry!' he bellowed in a great voice that soon brought the village folk pouring in from the fields, down lanes, and out of byres and huts which but a moment before had seemed so still and lifeless.
  'Hue and cry! Hue and cry! 'Tis a criminal fleeing from justice!'
  The man at Hugh's side looked desperately at the oncoming crowd and seemed for the moment to freeze into inactivity.
  'Quick!' Hugh cried scrambling clumsily onto the high-wheeled cart. 'Quick! Climb in! We'll make Glaston before they can catch us! Sanctuary! You'll find sanctuary at the abbey!' 

                                                                                                -from The Hidden Treasure of Glaston 

Mixing legend, historical facts, boyish antics, and gentle humor–this is a book to relish. The characters are quick and alive and there are some wondrous descriptions of meadows and marshes in addition to the hallowed and peaceful atmosphere of the abbey. Pure superstition is kept to a minimum and the legend displayed really encourages you to open your eyes and see what a magical world is spinning about you. There are also some thrilling mentions of King Arthur and the Holy Grail–all most delightful if you, like me, love tales of Camelot and have a medieval-loving heart.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Belle by Cameron Dokey

Once in a while, in our brief mortal span, you discover a story—sometimes it’s a gift straight from the author to you—sometimes it is a given through the medium of another person/reader (either because you did not know of it or for some mad reason resisted getting it). And for me the person was Heidi and the reason the latter. Everybody has different stories that warm every part of you. For my part I had exactly three in that place: “Light of the Western Stars”, “Shattered Summer”, and “A Tangled Web”. Why those three exactly I cannot say—even I can see their crazy points—but it was exactly that number until this story came along. And now readers, I have a very definite forth.

I don’t know why reading is thought of as such a mild way to spend one’s time… It is nor—or at least the reading of splendid stories isn’t. Reading those can leave you joyful or tragic or simply weak from the beauty of them, and that is exactly what “Belle” did to me.

The story and writing is at once lyrical and relevant (the “scene upon the lake” particularly brims with such clarity of the starlight that you really are nearly there with the Beast and Belle) and the entire story is made of the stuff of lovely dreams—with such presence that at any moment you might expect to meet the characters. But it is a love story that goes so much deeper than simple romance. It’s about the love that is at the very heart of life, the love that leaves you dizzy and shaky simply from the beauty of its description (and I should know because that’s exactly what this story did to me). I read it backwards and forwards at least three times in two days and every word is put in with delicate precision in exactly the right moment. It’s dazzling and I could read it over and over again reveling in every refreshing passage and delighting in every turn and shade of the characters. Ah, the characters who brim and sparkle with every intensity of human feeling yet in an entirely real way. The author’s take on Belle’s family is so unique and lovely: the parents being loving and not foolish, the sisters being given a fresh “nice” twist—and all of it without losing, but rather enhancing the feel of the fairy-tale as, for one, it shows all that Belle had to lose by going to the Beast as she really had no reason or desire to wish to leave them in the first place. (And as a slight aside, her one sister’s romance is so adorable!)

Finally, Belle and the Beast… Belle is completely authentic. She has the honesty, hard working nature, contentment in a place and loving heart that is central to the character, but yet she gets disconcerted and sometimes says the wrong thing. The Beast… He is compelling and gentle, strong and rather vulnerable all in the space of five seconds. Yes, I must mention the Five Second Thing. It is so neat how it mounts tension and increases the mystery. Though I have always liked the Beast, I have never—with the possible exception of Prince Philip form the Disney “Sleeping Beauty”—had a fairy-tale prince on my list of favorite heroes, but this Beast is most decidedly on it.

Altogether this story has the spirit which is the heart of all true fairy-tales—that of making “real life” all the more real and I love it!!

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