The 3 Themes Of Literature

A friend of mine told me about the great themes of literature. The idea is that most great books, movies, etc. all have at least one of the following  themes.  She and another friend had come up with two of them–they suspected there was a third, and I’ve included the suggestion I cooked up. Here are the categories:

  1. “Love Conquers All”–Pretty much all happy endings fall into this category. The Harry Potter series practically had this embossed on every page. In Star Wars it’s a little less obvious, but it’s still there.  It can be different kinds of love–romantic, familial, platonic.  I’d say To Kill a Mockingbird is a “love conquers all”, in the sense of a sort of universal, fraternal love between all people (Yeah, that makes the book sound way more gooey than it really is.) Jane Eyre also falls into this category as an example of romantic love conquering all. And for the record, every Gilbert and Sullivan operetta except Yeomen of the Guard and The Grand Duke is in this category also. I’m not sure how bittersweet love stories like Casablanca fit in here–the love story doesn’t wind up exactly where the leads get what they want, but it’s not really a tragedy, either.
  2. “Ya Can’t Fight City Hall”–This is the category for tragedies.  In Greek tragedy, “The Gods” or “Fate” are “City Hall”, and the stories end badly when people try to fight against their will.  Chinatown, one of my favorite movies, is almost the epitome of the “ya can’t fight city hall” genre (e.g. the line ‘He owns the police!” at the end.) Dystopian novels like Nineteen Eighty-Four usually end up being in this category as well.  I think your really good horror stories–like Lovecraft’s best–fall into this as well, with unexplainable, powerful supernatural forces standing filling the role of “city hall.” But the concept can be extended psychologically–in Macbeth, city hall could be either the supernatural forces of the witches or Macbeth’s own failings as a person.  I guess this is because tragic stories have a feeling of inevitability about them, and that’s what makes them feel tragic.  Most of Thomas Hardy’s novels fall into this category.
  3. “The Cake is a Lie”. Most thrillers and twist endings fall into this category by default.  (I took the name from the famous line in the video game Portal.) This is the category for stories where things aren’t as they seem.  The Repairer of Reputations, as well as most unreliable narrator stories–e.g. The Turn of the Screw–are in this.  But also any story where a major element is that characters are deceiving others, or themselves.  This is where I think The Grand Duke fits as well, because everyone is pretending to be something else.  Most “meta” narratives fall into this category, because they are about illusion and deception.  I’d argue that the game Spec Ops: The Line has one foot in this camp, and one in the “ya can’t fight city hall” camp. Works with ambiguity and room for multiple interpretations fit in this category as well.

What do you think, readers? Any suggestions for things that fit these categories? Anything that doesn’t fit any of these categories?  Are the categories themselves nonsensical?

 

NFL haiku

Atlanta

They return to form,

And will be in the playoffs.

But not the S-B.

Arizona

Could be pretty good.

But are in a division

That is much too strong.

Baltimore

They’re like the Giants;

Championship, followed by

Mediocrity.

Buffalo

Can Sammy Watkins

Make E.J. into a star?

History says no.

Carolina

They won’t be as good.

Had lots of good luck last year.

Cannot count on that.

Chicago

Now they have offense;

But it’s their defense that’s weak–

Ya can’t have it all.

Cincinnati

They will fall apart;

Dalton and Lewis will go;

Green new Megatron.

Cleveland

With Johnny Football

Being the next Broadway Joe,

They might beat the Colts.

Dallas

No “D” in Big D,

At least, that is how it looks;

8 and 8 again.

Denver

Seem to have improved;

But stats say that offense will

Regress to the mean.

Detroit

After collapse last year,

Will be hard to be rebuilt–

But what else is new?

Green Bay

Are underrated;

First game will tell us a lot–

If well-refereed.

Houston

Clowney and Watt will

Be difficult to slow down.

But the offense won’t.

Indianapolis

Andrew Luck’s third year

Will be the one where he breaks

Into the “elite” class.

Jacksonville

They’re gonna be bad.

Like, really, really awful.

As in, not too good.

Kansas City

Still a decent team–

But San Diego and Denver

Are too much for them.

Miami

Buffalo swept them

Last year. That alone is a

Harbinger of doom.

Minnesota

Year of Transition–

“Bridge over Troubled Water”

You might even say.

New England

With improved defense

Tom Brady and Belichick

Finally get four.

New Orleans

Maybe I’m crazy;

But Brees has to decline soon–

And he’s their offense.

 New York Jets

Decker in for shock–

Amazing how good you look

When on Manning’s team.

New York Giants

When they’re counted out

Is when they do their best work;

But can’t beat the ‘Hawks..

Oakland

The AFC West’s

“Other” football team is still

Down in the cellar.

Philadelphia

Who needs DeSean

When they have LeSean and Foles?

Reinvent the screen.

Pittsburgh

Will win division

But more or less by default–

And lose in first round.

San Diego

They will beat Denver,

But lose two to the Raiders

And go 8 and 8.

San Francisco

Kaepernick should not

Throw to the right-side corner

With game on the line.

Seattle

The next Dynasty

Makes it back again this year–

But won’t win title.

St. Louis

“Distractions” can be

overcome, but the Niners

and ‘Hawks cannot.

Tampa Bay

Cool new uniforms

Sadly cannot mask the fact

They’re still pretty bad.

Tennessee

Will be wild-card,

And could even win a game–

But can’t beat the Colts.

Washington

After this season,

They will want to change their name,

They’ll have been so bad.

I’ve always said “Ruddigore” was Gilbert and Sullivan’s best. This performance proves it.

I remember when I first read the libretto to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore.  I was familiar with the “Big 3″ Savoy operas–Pinafore, Pirates and The Mikado, but Ruddigore was the first of the others that caught my attention–probably because of the name and the fact it had ghosts in it. But as I read it, I was absolutely blown away by how good it was.  This is hilarious, I thought. Why isn’t it as famous as the others?

I’ve always loved Ruddigore the most of all the operas from that point on. The picture-gallery coming to life and Sir Roderick’s chilling song, the gorgeous madrigal at the end of Act I, the “Matter trio”, the brilliant plot resolution which is so, so much cleverer than those in Mikado or Iolanthe.

But while I loved Ruddigore, I never saw or heard a production that quite matched how it looked and sounded in my head. There are lots of good ones, to be sure, but never one that lived up to what I always wanted the show to be.

Until now.

To be precise, this performance by the Stanford Savoyards still isn’t exactly the Ruddigore of my dreams. It’s somehow better. These people are amazing.

Where to begin? The lady who plays Mad Margaret is incredible–she truly seems mad; without straying too far to the point where she becomes just pathetic. She somehow captures both the humor and the pathos of the role and balances them perfectly. Despard is absolutely splendid as a manipulative, but not wholly un-feeling bad Baronet. Richard Dauntless is excited and energetic without being over-the-top.  The fellow who portrays Robin does a great job as the meek-but-moral farmer, who is, I think, the greatest of all Gilbert’s heroes. Sir Roderick is properly confident and threatening as the leader of the ghosts, and in his second scene, seems extremely fond of his old love, Dame Hannah, who is also terrific.

They are all perfect; exactly as I pictured the characters in my mind.

And then you’ve got Rose Maybud. She is better than I imagined. The actress transforms Gilbert’s two-dimensional caricature into a still very funny, but also very human and sympathetic woman.  I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to so completely alter the character while still remaining completely faithful to the script, but somehow she did it.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the music.  That’s because I’m not musically savvy enough to really talk about it, but I know what I like, and I love the way they handle the score here.

There are so, so many moments I could point to as examples of why this is a triumph of theatrical magic 125 years in the making.  Watching the whole thing is really the only way to grasp it, but if I had to pick one scene, it would probably be in the Act 1 finale, at about the 1:21:10 mark, when Robin is trying to hand Rose the veil that she dropped at the revelation Robin is the bad Baronet of Ruddigore, and she refuses it.

It’s a funny set-up–the woman who defines her whole life by a book of etiquette is breaking up with the man who has just been revealed to be rightful legal holder of the accursed title of that requires him to commit a crime a day–except on bank holidays.  It’s absurd and ridiculous and funny.  But you know what else? There’s some real sadness in that scene–I automatically feel sorry for Rose and Robin, even though it’s all silly, and I know it’s all going to end happily anyway.

Sentiment and silliness. Horror and humor. Love and legalese. All these elements are mixed perfectly by the performers, into a unique blend.

That, my friends, is what the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are all about.

 

In Defense of Tony Dungy

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy started a firestorm this week by saying:

“I wouldn’t have taken [first openly gay player Michael Sam]… Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”

The press and blog reaction to this was largely negative. But, as someone who really wanted his favorite team to draft Sam, I am going to defend Dungy.

Look at his record. In 13 years of head coaching, Dungy’s teams only missed the playoffs twice, and he made the post-season the last nine years of his career.  His teams were very successful.  And when you’re coaching a successful team, you want to be careful not to upset the balance of the team.  I can understand why Dungy would instinctively not want to take an attention-grabbing seventh rounder; the media attention Sam would attract could mess up a team.  It’s not Sam’s fault, it’s the press’s fault; but all the same it’s the sort of thing a conservative (in the football, not political sense) coach like Dungy would avoid.

I wasn’t surprised that good teams like New England, Denver, Green Bay and so on passed on Sam–when you’re coaching a good team, the last thing you want is distractions.

But for lousy teams like Buffalo, it’s very different.  In the first place, they should be willing to take more gambles to find hidden talent. (I’m convinced that Sam fell a couple rounds because of the “distraction” thing.) In the second place, while it will be a distraction, the press attention will be mainly positive. And at this point, teams like them could use anything positive; even if it’s not related to on field stuff.  Wouldn’t it be nice to read “they may stink at football, but at least they’re progressive and forward-thinking” stories?

Back to Dungy: he didn’t coach lousy teams much.  He was a very good coach, so when he went to lousy teams, he quickly got them into shape.  So of course he wouldn’t draft Michael Sam–his teams were the kind that couldn’t afford to do that.

“That’s not fair to Sam!” you cry. I agree.  It’s too bad that Sam was probably going to be passed over by the good teams for that kind of reason.  But then, the draft itself isn’t fair; it’s deliberately designed to give the worst teams better players, in the interest of “parity”. Sam will get a chance to prove himself; and maybe in a few years Dungy will say “I wouldn’t have drafted him, but I sure would trade for him now!”

 

Mysterious Man’s Most Popular Post Ever.

Ok, readers, pop quiz! Quick, guess what my most viewed post ever is!

Made your guess?

Ok, it’s this one. And it’s not even close. It’s by about 1200 views, actually.

Forget the politics and history; I should blog more about vehicle wheels, I guess. Who knew it was such a popular topic?

Categories: Humor

Stupid protagonists and obvious plot twists

I don’t know about you, but I find stupid protagonists in stories to be annoying.  And there’s nothing more irritating than seeing an obvious plot twist coming down the pike, and having the hero not realize it. This happens in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and I find it to be a real mood-killer.

I assumed for a long time that everyone was like this.  But then it occurred to me that maybe some readers enjoy that.  There is a certain satisfaction, I guess, in seeing what is going to happen before the characters do.  You can feel like you are smarter than somebody else, even if they are only a fictional character.  (Having never experienced that first-hand, I wouldn’t know if it’s much fun.)

Personally, I like to be surprised by a story. Which do you prefer: the comfort and satisfaction of knowing what’s coming, or the fun of being surprised by plot twists?

 

The English Civil War and Religious Tolerance

I was wandering through the library the other day, and as inevitably happens when I do that, I wound up in the History section. I started looking at some books on the English Civil war.  I began by looking for a book on Oliver Cromwell, but ended reading some about his opponent, King Charles I.

I really know very little about the period, so almost all of it was new to me. (I didn’t check any of the books out, so I can’t remember who wrote them, sorry) What I gathered from my cursory reading was that the main causes of the war were (1) Parliament’s belief that King Charles had too much power and (2) religious differences between Parliament and the King. Parliament was Puritan–or at, least Cromwell was–and the King was Anglican, and seen as having ties to the Catholics, or ‘Popists’, as they were apparently called.

In one of the books, I came across the assertion that after King Charles was removed and Cromwell created the Commonwealth of England, it ushered in a new era of Religious Toleration.

Now, for all I know, this is true. But it sounded weird to me.  The Puritans were many things, but as far as I was aware, they weren’t really famous for being the most tolerant bunch.  Now, I can believe that Puritanism was tolerated more under Cromwell et al. than it was under King Charles, but was religion in general more free?  That I’m not so sure of.

Anyway, I’m about to embark on an internet odyssey to find out more about the English Civil War, because until this week most of my knowledge of the period came from Monty Python’s song about Oliver Cromwell. So stay tuned; I’ll probably be doing more posts about stuff I should have learned in school.

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