Four short stories by Edgar Allan Poe.
THE SPHINX: This is one I never read until recently. One thing that attracted me to Poe as a child (and still now, if I’m honest) is his flair for verbosity. This is a tongue-in-cheek tale about a man who mistakes a little moth close to him on a window pane for a giant moth far away. The narrator (finally!) gets to the point when he says: “I remember his insisting very especially (among other things) upon the idea that the principle source of error in all human investigations, lay in the liability of the understanding to under-rate or over-value the importance of an object, through mere misadmeasurement of its propinquity.” Or, to put it a less verbose way: “you’re too close to it.” As Ian Flaming once had it in one of his James Bond chapter titles, “Nothing propinks like propinquity!”
SOME WORDS WITH A MUMMY: Another tongue-in-cheek fantasy/humor tale, much in the style of “The system of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” (and, again, one I had not before read), about three men who resurrect a mummy (Egyptology being a fad very much in vogue in Poe’s time) so that they might compare and contrast modern day and ancient life.
THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE: this one, of course, I did read in junior high school. I remember it it quite well, both the particulars of the case as well as Dupin’s “mind reading act” at the beginning. What I had completely forgotten was that Poe at first sets out a philosophy of observation and deduction by comparing and contrasting checkers, chess and whist. Much like the sphinx story above, Poe sets out a philosopy then tells a story in support of it.
THE DUC DE L’OMELETTE: This is a very short short story (only three pages), again one I had never read before.
As Ian Flaming once had it in one of his James Bond chapter titles, “Nothing propinks like propinquity!”
I fondly remember this sending my teenage self to the dictionary.
Right not I'm reading The Books of the South by Glen Cook. This actually collects the second trilogy of the Black Company. This is a different sort of fantasy series, as it follows a mercenary troop on their adventures. I loved the first trilogy, and so far this one has been great as well. Good action, and with a nice arc to tie the stories together. I also enjoy the way magic works here.
I also just finished up The Sky Below by Scott Parazynski and Susy Flory. Its the memoirs of astronaut Scott Parazynski. For the most part its a good book, and Mr. Parazynski has really lived an incredible life, and gone on great adventures. My problem is later in the book, he really is selfish and worries more about his next adventure than being with his family. Still a good read, and I read the e-book version which had some very cool video clips embedded in it. Some glorious shots from space.
"I fondly remember this sending my teenage self to the dictionary."
Me, too! I try to work this phrase into everyday speech whenever I can.
I learned the word from Dobie Gillis reruns.
DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Shortly after finishing Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes (see above) I began reading this, its sequel. Just as Conspiracy retells the story of the original Planet of the Apes movie from a different point of view (Landon’s), so too does Death tell the story of Beneath the Planet of the Apes from another POV, in this case, Taylor’s. Like Conspiracy, Death also includes “behind-the-scenes” action we know (from the movie sequels) must have been taking place, and it also follows the new original characters introduced in Conspiracy and adds others as well.
Conspiracy was 268 pages long, profusely illustrated by 26 different artists. Death, in comparison, is 460 pages with no illustrations. The story not only draws in continuity from later movies (Escape, in particular) and smooths over certain discrepancies among the first three movies, it also, surprisingly, incorporates continuity from Marvel’s “Terror on the Planet of the Apes” comics by Doug Moench and Mike Ploog. For those of you who have a difficult time believing that the chimpanzee Milo was able to repair and pilot Taylor’s ship back through time, author Andrew Gaska steps us through that process as well. Death also traces Taylor's career, from World War II through Korea to ANSA's "Liberty" program and fleshes out backgrounds for all the astronauts, including Alan Virdon.
At first I thought it might be fun to read these two novels then re-watch the first two films, but I think the experience would be better by building towards Conspiracy and Death because both are so much more complex works. Here is the order I would recommend.
Planet of the Apes (the original novel by Pierre Boule)
Planet of the Apes (the original movie)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Conspiracy on the Planet of the Apes by Andrew Gaaska
Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew Gaaska
Or you might want to forgo the movies and just read the books.
Gaaska reportedly had plans for several novels when Conspiracy was published in 2011, but those plans were derailed when Archaia lost the Apes license. Now that Titan has it, they’ve continued with Death (2018) and I hope there will be more to come.
MORE POE: Edgar Allan Poe wrote much more than the horror and detective stories and poems for which he is primarily known. A smear campaign by a literary enemy kept him from being read for many years after his death. When he did become popular again, it was primarily the horror stories that saw print. I’ve been reading some of his magazine articles, including “Some Account of Stonehenge: The Giant’s Dance” and “Instinct vs. Reason: A Black Cat.”
When I was in high school, I became interested in reading the classics. We read some (such as David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird) in class, but others I had to read on my own. One of the books I chose to read on my own was Crime & Punishment and, honestly, I didn’t get through it. I thought at the time that it may have been too sophisticated for my reading skills at the time, but I learned later that that may not have been the case, at least not entirely.
When we read David Copperfield in sophomore English, we were assigned only the first nine chapters, but were given the option to read the rest of the book for extra credit, which I elected to do. I did okay on the test, but I recognized at the time that my current reading skill level wasn’t quite up to the task of fully appreciating it. Fortunately, I also realized that it was an extremely well-written novel and I resolved to try it again, which I did a few years later. I loved it then, and I’ve read it twice since.
After college I did a lot of substitute teaching at a vo-tech school, which meant I often wasn’t qualified to actually teach a lesson (such as nursing), or even to let the students work on their regular projects (car repair; for insurance reasons, we couldn’t leave the classroom for the garage). That meant “independent study” for the students and “free reading” for me. It was at that time I decided to give Crime & Punishment another try. That time I loved it! I don’t recall why I decided to buy a second copy of the book (probably because of size), but when I sat down to compare a section I hadn’t even remembered side-by-side with the version I read previously, I realized they were entirely different translations.
More recently (well, late ‘80s/early ‘90s), first First Comics then Dark Horse reprinted English translations of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf & Cub. I liked First’s version (despite the fact that it was incomplete and printed at the wrong size), but I really loved Dark Horse’s. Again, I compared them side-by-side and discovered the translations were quite different.
Back to high school. One day a friend of mine asked me why I was reading Dante’s Inferno. I suggested that he guess, and he speculated that I had caught an obscure reference in a Three Stooges short. Knowing me, that was a pretty good guess, but no; actually, it was a multi-part story from Ka-zar the Savage. Now I find myself being drawn once again to The Inferno, and, once again, it is because of a comic book (in this case, Cerebus in Hell?).
The problem with the paperback copy I read in high school: no illustrations. I rectified that situation in the ‘90s with a hardcover featuring the illustrations of Gustave Doré. But the Cerebus comic features many more illustrations than in my replacement copy. This past weekend I was in Barnes & Noble and saw a copy with all the illustrations for only $10 so I bought it. When I got home, I compared the translations.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark
For the straight forward pathway had been lost.
Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray
From the straight road and woke to find myself
Alone in a dark wood.
Guess I’ll just have to learn Italian so I can read the original.
I remember that Neil Gaiman was hired to write the English script for the dubbed version of the Princess Mononoke anime. The problem is that translators are not usually professional writers, so a dry translation is often less than satisfying.
A friend of mine told me that reading Victor Hugo in the original French is much different than the English translation.
THE PHANTOM OF MENACE: My Star Trek reading has hit a stall but I seem to be moving into a Star Wars phase. I read the first three books (that is, parts 4-6) of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series, but none beyond that although I’d always planned to someday. That “someday” is now here. I’ll tell you, the author takes one liberty with the character of Jar-Jar Binks of which I wholeheartedly approve. First of all, his dialogue. It is written in “almost” iambic pentameter, but instead of ten syllables per line there are only nine, so it sounds a little “off.” Second (and more importantly), Jar-Jar of The Phantom of Menance only plays the fool; actually he is extremely competent, delivering many wise asides, and was exiled for his progressive ideas of uniting the Gungans and the Naboo, not for being “clumsy” (also, as in the movie, that is the excuse he gives).
THE CLONE ARMY ATTACKETH: The fifth book in the William Shakepeare’s Star Wars series (or the second, depending on your point of view). In this one, Anakin and Padme speak in rhyming quatrains (ABAB) when they are alone, as did Romeo and Juliet (or, for that matter, Han and Leia). Jango Fett speaks in prose rather than iambic pentameter. Furthermore, because he is “father” of the clones, every line he speaks begins and ends with the same letter. These are quick reads. I could probably finish one off in a single sitting if I put my mind to it, but I prefer the pace of one act per day.
WALT WHITMAN: I took a break in my “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” reading to observe Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday by re-reading Leaves of Grass (not the whole thing, but I did read “Song of Myself” and select others). It’s funny… when I was majoring in English in college and should have been into Whitman, I wasn’t really, but I’m connecting with him more now than ever before.