Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #7

#7: "A faith is a necessity to man.  Woe to him who believes in nothing."

Where: Page 521.

What's Happening: This is another point, like the previous Victor Hugo-ism (#6), where not much is happening plot-wise.  Hugo is still giving us background information on the convent that Jean Valjean and Cosette will seek refuge at and additionally, giving some examples of why faith and work done with the mind is important.

What I Learned: First and foremost, the second sentence is absolutely beautiful.  "Woe to him who believes in nothing" is musical, it is powerful, it is true.  And although Hugo's thoughts here certainly stem from information and reflection on the convent, I think that this statement can go beyond religious faith.  I do certainly think that religious faith is an important aspect of Hugo's remarks here, because Jean Valjean believed in something; he believed in God and this is one of the things that helped him turn his life completely around to become such a good, loving, philanthropic man.  But I also believe that faith in anything can be a necessity to human beings.  There is faith in your family, in your significant other, and your friends; most definitely a special belief in those closest to you that nurture those relationships.  Furthermore, faith in love, in life, in goodness; these forces aren't human and don't have eyes or ears and can't talk back to you, and yet we put our utmost faith in the hands that we can't see.  Or faith in a favorite band ("Don't stop believing!  Hold on to that feeeee-eeeeeling!"), in an actor, in a superhero; people who are almost larger than life and people who we might quite possibly never meet in person, but whose work touches us in some huge way and instills some kind of faith, no matter how small, in us.  There are so many different kinds of "faith" and I agree with Hugo that it must be horribly sad and truly unfortunate when a man has absolutely nothing in life to believe in.  There is always something, even if it's only tomorrow...and of course, to me, that is one of the biggest triumphs in Les Misérables: tomorrow always comes!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #6

#6: "The Unknown is an ocean.  What is conscience?  It is the compass of the Unknown.  Thought, meditation, prayer, these are the great mysterious directions of the needle.  Let us respect them.  Where do these majestic irradiations of the soul go?  Into the shadow, that is, toward the light."

Where: Page 517.

What's Happening: Plot-wise, not a whole lot is happening here.  This is a sort of transitional period in the book where Hugo is giving us a lot of background information on the convent that Jean Valjean and Cosette will eventually begin a new life at.

What I Learned: This passage is obviously very deep.  Although only a mere seven sentences, there is a world of meaning behind the words.  The first sentence is the part that resonates the most with me, because I sincerely agree that the Unknown is one vast, limitless ocean.  I can't tell you how many times I have gazed at an ocean...actually, come to think of it, not many times.  I don't live anywhere near an ocean and so I think I must rephrase and say that I can't tell you how many times I have seen an ocean on TV and thought to myself...what an enormous body of water that is!  How deep is it?  How far does it extend?  We can see straight to the horizon, yes, but how far away is the horizon and where does it go? Limitless.  And the Unknown - all of the mysteries of life, as well as all of the knowledge and information that there is to know about on this Earth - is just as vast and just as difficult to measure.  But although the ocean and the Unknown are immense and we human beings are very small, we can still feel connected, by thinking, meditating, and praying...three activities that bring us closer to a spiritual existence, and thus, harmony with the things that can't  yet be known...and are still there to be discovered.  We are spiritual sailors, navigating on the ocean of life through the waves of knowledge, sailing steadily to the light.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

...There May Be More To Alice In Wonderland Than I Initially Thought.

In the past few days, I have been faced with inner conflict.  No, it’s not very serious inner conflict, like telling someone if they have something in their teeth or not or shall you go to the post office on Monday or Tuesday? when you really don’t want to go at all.  But my inner conflict is still thought-provoking and I have set out on an experiment to sort that out.

The conflict: How do I feel about Alice in Wonderland?

I suppose this is the moment where my mother would dramatically (but good naturedly) roll her eyes and tell me that some people have real problems.  And I agree whole-heartedly.  But this is an issue I’ve been mulling over day after day, sometimes in the car, but mostly when I am traveling along the wooden-floored hallway of my family’s home in Savoy.  Yes, this is a hallway problem.

Like countless numbers of adults across the world, I grew up with and have very fond memories of Disney movies, except perhaps one which always made me feel kind of…odd.  Even now as I think about the 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland, I get an uncomfortable feeling, like something is stuck in my throat or there’s a piece of dust in my eye or something crawling down my back.

I think we need to go back to the beginning first, to where this conflict began.

Exactly a week ago today, a very good friend of mine asked me if one evening during the week, I would like to come visit her and watch Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland.  Absolutely! I said.  Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was wonderful and I loved it immensely and after the first time I saw it, I spent months after thinking of it, researching it, and writing about it.  I saw it in theaters a total of four times.  And that Tuesday evening, we had a fantastic time re-watching the film, accompanied by tall glasses of chocolate milkshakes and great big amounts of Goldfish.

And just like the very first time, three years ago, I began to think about the film again and what I liked so much about it.  I wanted to learn so much more about it and I decided…why not read the original books?

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I think it began with a Wikipedia article on The Mad Hatter.  I saw original illustrations of him and read a synopsis about his role in the original books and it brought roaring memories back of the 1951 film (along with that uncomfortable I-just-stepped-on-a-tack feeling).

I have not seen the animated version of Alice in Wonderland since I was a very young child and yet, I still have strange memories of it.  And suddenly faced with these remembrances, I was forced to compare it to the Tim Burton version that I loved so much.  So, here we go.

What I recalled from the 1951 film was darkness everywhere, Alice crying, the creatures being quite sarcastic towards her, a mean, smoking caterpillar, and walrus babies being eaten.  I never, ever had an urge to visit Wonderland and that was that.  I never envied Alice in the least.

And then there is the 2010 film, so filled with themes of friendship, courage, and hope.  Believing in oneself! That is the Wonderland that I would love to visit.  Everyone welcomed Alice back (at least, they did when they learned she was the “right” Alice), there was nothing foreboding about that land, except maybe the Red Queen and the terrible Jabberwocky, but that was to be expected. 

And of course, there’s the Mad Hatter.  The only similarities that I could see between 1951 animated Mad Hatter and 2010 Mad Hatter played by Johnny Depp was that they both were mad, they were hatters, and they attended tea parties.  The 1951 Mad Hatter was short, with white hair and evil-looking eyebrows and he seemed almost kind of rude to Alice, if I remember right.  He poured tea into his collar and it came out of his sleeve and he had a large, ridiculous three-spout tea pot.  And that "Unbirthday Song!" That has wedged itself somewhere into my subconscious and I was surprised to find I still knew the words to it.

The 2010 Mad Hatter is Alice’s dear friend who believed in her unconditionally.  He is obviously a little crazy, but we are given a back story so that we understand exactly why he is the way he is.  I suppose he is a tad schizophrenic in a way, but he is brave, sweet, and loyal.  And he is played by the phenomenal Johnny Depp and perhaps this is where I’m a bit biased, since it seems I can’t help but unconditionally love any character that Johnny Depp plays.  There is just more to this Mad Hatter.  The animated Mad Hatter creeped me out, while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter intrigued me.

And there it is, The Inner Conflict.  It dawned on me that Tim Burton’s version suddenly seemed so incredibly different from the Disney movie and Lewis Carroll’s original books that I almost decided not to read them.  And yet…Tim Burton’s inspiration, as well as the inspiration of the screenwriters, had to come from somewhere. 

And so the experiment begins!  I ordered a copy of The Annotated Alice last night, which includes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, as well as many notes and a treasure trove of background information.  I also ordered a book dealing with Alice in Wonderland and philosophy.  I find now that I want to dig deeply into this world, that I’m excited to discover something new and to make connections!

Who knows, maybe I can shed that uncomfortable, itchy sensation I get when I think about the 1951 Alice in Wonderland.  Perhaps I’ll be able to link The Mad Hatters.  What I hope is that I’ll be able to find exactly what everyone else has found when they read the books: an incredible world, child-like wonder, and a tale worth re-telling.