I wanted to start this year’s Off The Bookshelf posts with a review of a beautiful story that I finally got around to reading recently. I know I really should have read it (or rather, finished reading it) a long time ago, and after I did, I realized what I had been missing since I was a kid. So long overdue, here is a review of a classic tale by a French aviator and author: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince, in its original French title) was first published in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock, in both English and French. Narrated in the first person, the book tells the story of a pilot who ends up stranded in the desert, where he meets a strange boy from a distant and tiny “planet” (which is really an asteroid). Over the eight days it takes him to fix his plane, the narrator gets to know the story of this “Little Prince”, from the life he had on his planet to the journey that brought him to Earth. The Little Prince enchants the pilot with his eccentric and poetic outlook on the world, and when the time comes for both of them to return home, the narrator is utterly heartbroken to lose the only friend he’s ever known who could appreciate life with the beautiful innocence of a child.
What stands out most about this book is how it criticizes the “adult” way of thinking. The story begins with the narrator telling his readers how he was discouraged from pursuing art by grown-ups who couldn’t comprehend his drawings when he was younger. Since that time, the Little Prince was the first person he ever met who understood the vision he had as a child. Still very young himself, the Prince thus represents the simple way children see the world in contrast to the analytical views of adults, and does so in a way that makes the former much more appealing.
The Little Prince and the Fox
(Illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Though appearing to be a children’s book, The Little Prince is arguably targeted at adults who have forgotten how to understand the world the way they should. We as mature readers have it constantly pointed out to us that our manners are flawed, that we are too concerned with “matters of consequence”. Basically, we’ve become so focused on trivial details that we’ve lost sight of the things that are truly important. Perhaps this idea is most evident in a scene involving another well-spoken character of the story: a fox that the prince meets on his journey through Earth.
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
– The Fox, The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)
The Little Prince is a charming tale fit for readers of all ages. For adults, it’s a reminder of the lessons that can be learned from youth, many of which may have been lost long ago. As for children, they can find embedded in these pages the encouragement to keep living their own special way, and, if nothing else, a friend who can teach them the real matters of so much importance.
If there’s one thing I loved most about this book, it was the way it constantly reminded me how I used to see the world when I was a little girl (and how I probably should see it again as a woman). Living in a world that seems to demand we grow up as quickly as possible, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to experience life through the innocent eyes of children. The Little Prince’s questions and observations, coupled with the grown-ups’ awkward answers, served as a lesson on how I should never lose touch with the curious child still in my heart, for to do so would be like losing a very special friend.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Though it did break my heart a little, it was wonderful to read a story that could effortlessly shine light on the poetry children can bring to the world. The Little Prince has a lovely perspective on life, and after reading his story, I only hope I can remember to keep setting my inner child free. She is, after all, a very important friend to the grown-up writer I’ve become.
It’s the holiday season, and that means it’s the perfect time to share a blog post about a Christmas-themed story! I had originally planned this post for next week (Christmas Day), but when I realized Christmas is also the last Wednesday of the year, I decided to bump this review up and save next week for a special post instead. So here it is a week early, a review of another of my favorite Dr. Seuss books: How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot,
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!
– How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss, 1957)
Originally published by Random House in 1957, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! tells the story of a grouchy creature known as the Grinch and his plot to ruin Christmas for the town of Whoville, located just south of his cave on Mount Crumpet. Annoyed every year by the festivities of the warm-hearted Whos, he dons a makeshift Santa Claus costume and descends into Whoville on Christmas Eve to steal all their presents, food and decorations, in the hope of stopping the holiday from ever arriving. Come Christmas morning, however, he is surprised to find that despite his best efforts to discourage them, the Whos still have the spirit of Christmas in them, and that day, the Grinch learns a valuable lesson about the true meaning of the holiday season.
I’ve always appreciated How The Grinch Stole Christmas! for its uplifting message about the holiday spirit. With all the commercialization that Christmas has undergone over time, it’s easy to lose sight of the simpler things we should enjoy during the holidays, such as the company of our loved ones and all the possibilities that come with a new year. Puzzled to hear the Whos singing on Christmas morning, the Grinch starts to wonder why his plan didn’t work, and comes to a heartwarming revelation.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
It probably goes without saying that the author’s intention with this story was to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. Interestingly, the Grinch has been compared to Seuss himself, who claimed to have found inspiration for the character after seeing a “Grinchy” face in the mirror on December 26th. His idea was to write this sour character in order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, which he felt had been lost on him at some point in the past. The same way he did with Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss drew from his own life experience to tell a heartwarming story that readers of all ages can enjoy for its important lesson.
The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Like most of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is written in rhyming verse and illustrated with colorful and bizarre characters, making it a fun and memorable read for the whole family. A noteworthy adaptation of the book is the 1966 TV special directed by Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame). I remember watching it often as a kid and smiling every time the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes at the end of the story (not to mention Cindy Lou Who was probably the sweetest little thing I’d ever seen in a classic cartoon). It’s an adaptation I’d highly recommend, so if you haven’t seen it yet and it runs annually on TV in your region, be sure to watch it this holiday season! And while you’re at it, you may want to read the book again; it’s truly a Christmas classic!
What I find most inspiring about this book is the way it never fails to fill me with holiday cheer, regardless of the time of year. I enjoy a good story where the villain is the main character, and seeing the Grinch embrace the Christmas spirit helps me remember that there’s more to the holidays than presents (not that I ever needed much reminding, with a wonderful family like mine).
Overall, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is a very enjoyable read, and one that should definitely be on every Seuss fan’s bookshelf. Whether I’m in the mood for his fun stories and illustrations or for his good life lessons, I always find something wonderful to enjoy in Dr. Seuss’s charming holiday tale! Enjoy, and have a very Merry Christmas!
Since last week’s post was dedicated to the amazing children’s author Dr. Seuss, I wanted to follow it up with a post about one of his many wonderful books. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how hard it would be to choose which book to feature; there are so many good stories by Seuss that it’s almost impossible to choose just one favorite. Eventually, though, I settled on one of the books I find most inspiring: Horton Hears a Who!
Horton Hears a Who!, by Dr. Seuss
First published in 1954 by Random House, Horton Hears a Who! tells the story of Horton the Elephant, a resident of the Jungle of Nool, and his quest to help the Whos. After hearing a small yelp coming seemingly out of thin air, Horton discovers the microscopic civilization of Whoville living on a speck of dust. Deciding that every life has value regardless of size, he places the speck on a clover and sets out to find a safe location to keep the Whos out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, being the only one with ears keen enough to hear these tiny people, the elephant has trouble convincing the other jungle residents that Whoville exists, and when they decide to put an end to his crazy antics by destroying the clover, Horton must struggle to save his new friends and teach the people of the Jungle of Nool an important lesson: “a person’s a person, no matter how small”.
Horton the Elephant is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss characters, mostly for his kindness and integrity. He stays true to his word no matter what; as seen in the previous story featuring his character – Horton Hatches the Egg – when Horton makes a promise, he has every intention of seeing it through, and that makes him one of the best role models in Seuss’s stories.
I meant what I said
And I said what I meant.
An elephant’s faithful,
One hundred per cent!
– Horton the Elephant, Horton Hatches the Egg (Dr. Seuss, 1954)
Like many of Dr. Seuss’s books, Horton Hears a Who! is more than just a children’s story. It also teaches good lessons, such as the importance of open-mindedness and understanding the issues of isolationism. Horton’s biggest challenge is convincing his peers that something they can’t perceive or fathom actually exists – which, when you think about it, is a story that’s only too familiar in real life. But what’s really interesting about this book is the history behind its lessons. Once strongly opposed to Japan, the author changed his opinions after World War II, and used this book as an analogy for the American post-war occupation, even dedicating the book to a Japanese friend. Overall, the metaphor of two worlds overlapping creates a beautiful message, one that children can certainly understand and appreciate.
Horton Hears a Who! is one of Seuss’s most notable works. From the children’s book to the TV special to the 2008 full-length feature film (which I thoroughly enjoyed; I swear the “We are here!” scene gives me chills every time I watch it), this story is wonderfully imaginative and fun for readers and viewers of all ages. Though they may have been written for a young audience, no one is too old to enjoy the stories of the great Dr. Seuss!
What I always found inspiring about this book was the main character’s determination to help an entire community that he couldn’t even see. I admired Horton’s devotion to his cause, and the respect he had for all forms of life made him a truly lovable hero. With colorful characters, adventure and a heartwarming message, Horton Hears a Who! is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories, and one I’ll definitely enjoy for the rest of my life.
I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately: looking through my books for old favorites, watching movies from my childhood whenever they’re on TV, even listening to songs from the ’90s once in a while. That’s how I recently had an idea for another post on inspiration, because when I think about my childhood, one of the most prominent figures that comes to mind is the author of some of my favorite classics of children’s literature: Dr. Seuss.
Theodor Geisel in 1957
Name: Theodor Seuss Geisel
Pen Name: Dr. Seuss
Life: Mar. 2, 1904 – Sept. 24, 1991
Occupation: writer, cartoonist, animator, publisher, artist
Genres: children’s literature
Notable Works: The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who!, Green Eggs and Ham
My Favorite Works: The Cat in the Hat, The Sneetches and Other Stories, Horton Hears a Who!, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Dr. Seuss was a huge part of my childhood. When I was little, my mother signed us up for the Dr. Seuss book club, so we would get one of his books in the mail every month. By the time I started reading on my own, I had a large collection of fun stories to choose from, such as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who! and Green Eggs and Ham. Because of this, my earliest memories of reading were filled with colorful characters and silly rhymes that kept me entertained for hours on end. If I ever wanted to get lost in books, I could always count on Seuss’s imaginative world.
The main reason I find this author so inspiring is because his stories were an important first step into my love of books. Sometimes I wonder if I would have grown to love reading as much as I do today if I hadn’t had the privilege of enjoying Dr. Seuss’s work at such a young age. His books were very easy to read and understand, and that always made reading such a pleasure. In fact, his rhymes and style of writing were so memorable that to this day, my mom and I can quote lines word for word back to each other. In this way, Seuss gave us the gift of memories that we could share for the rest of our lives.
A Hatful of Seuss: Five Favorite Dr. Seuss Stories
But there was much more to these books than simple rhymes and oddly shaped characters with bizarre names. Dr. Seuss had a talent for embedding important lessons in his stories without making them blatantly obvious or patronizing. Moral issues are cleverly hidden behind tales of strange creatures living in unusual worlds: The Sneetches shows us that racism is unjustified; The Lorax shines light on environmentalism and the dangers of corporate greed to the natural world; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! criticizes the commercialization that the holiday season has suffered over time; and even a story as simple as Green Eggs and Ham can be read as a lesson on trying new things in order to form educated opinions. There was almost always something to learn in Seuss’s books, and because the lessons were presented in such a kid-friendly format (complete with his colorful illustrations), it made his stories that much more accessible to children just starting to discover the world around them.
There are quite a few authors I associate with my childhood, but Dr. Seuss is by far one of my favorites. His books inspired me to continue reading beyond the beginner level, and the lessons in his stories have stayed with me into my adult years. Even now, I can’t help but smile as I think about how I once knew The Sneetches by heart and how I still enjoy reading Horton Hears a Who! out loud once in a while. Though authors like Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling were great inspirations for my writing, Dr. Seuss was a great inspiration for my reading, and in my opinion, there’s no greater gift that a writer can give to children. To the little girl still in my heart, Dr. Seuss will always be a hero.
The new Romeo & Juliet movie is coming to UK and US theaters this Friday (which I admit makes me totally jealous, since there’s no set release date for where I live yet). In the spirit of celebrating one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, today’s topic is centered around this classic tale of love, fate and tragedy.
Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld as Romeo and Juliet
Now I’m going to make a confession: I absolutely love this story. I love any story about forbidden love (as long as it’s well-told), and being the epitome of such a tale, Romeo & Juliet may be one of my favorites. In fact, I love it so much that I’ve read scenes several times over (yes, I read Shakespeare for fun, believe it or not), have actively sought out a fair share of adaptations, and have even used it as inspiration for my own romantic fiction.
But don’t mistake me for a silly fangirl. For the longest time, I believed the common interpretation that Romeo and Juliet were no more than two immature teenagers who recklessly rushed into a superficial relationship at the ultimate expense of their families and the rest of Verona. It wasn’t until I started researching in-depth analyses of the story (again, for inspiration) that I came to understand what I was missing in Shakespeare’s timeless classic, and what most modern readers/viewers might be missing too.
So to set your impressions straight before you head out to see this movie, here is a list of five points in Romeo & Juliet that you probably never noticed before. Get ready to see another side of this story!
(Warning: the following list contains possible spoilers for Romeo & Juliet. If you’re one of the few people on the Internet who are not familiar with this tragic story, proceed with caution. Or you can just read a full summary of the plot here.)
1) Rosaline is an important character
Before Romeo meets Juliet and falls desperately in love with her, he actually has his sights set on a different girl: Rosaline. In fact, his very first appearance in the play has him moping to his cousin Benvolio about the unrequited love he claims to feel for this unseen lady, and he even agrees to crash the Capulet ball with his friends just for the chance to see her.
But other versions of the story tend not to place very much importance on Rosaline. Most adaptations don’t even give her a face, and some exclude her character altogether, instead providing a different explanation for the Romeo character’s depression before he meets his Juliet (e.g. West Side Story: Tony longs for excitement in his life, which he finally discovers upon meeting Maria). This common alternative likely stems from the assumption that Rosaline’s only purpose in the original story is to lure Romeo to the ball so he can cross paths with Juliet, a plot point that can be easily worked around (continuing from the previous example, Tony first encounters Maria at a local dance that he only agreed to attend as a favor to his best friend).
Yet Rosaline actually plays a much greater role than a mere plot device. While pining for her, Romeo has a preconceived notion of what it means to be in love, and acts according to the lessons he’s learned from the hackneyed romantic poetry he likes to recite when thinking of her. At the first sight of Juliet, however, he abandons every thought of his former clichéd infatuation in favor of a much deeper passion that sparks some incredibly beautiful and original love poetry from his own heart (which, when you think about it, may have been Shakespeare’s way of saying “Take that!” to the poets before his time). To put it simply, the switch from Rosaline to Juliet is essential to highlight the main characters’ true feelings for each other by showing the audience the difference between Romeo thinking he’s in love and Romeo actually being in love.
Seriously, did Rosaline ever stand a chance against Juliet?
What you’re probably thinking: He takes one look at Juliet and forgets about Rosaline just like that? Damn, Romeo is so superficial!
What you should be thinking: Wow, Juliet inspires such beautiful passion in Romeo! He must really love her!
2) Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is a warning
One of the many famous monologues in Shakespeare’s works is the Queen Mab speech delivered by the bold Mercutio in Act 1, Scene 4 of Romeo & Juliet. This is the scene in which he teases Romeo for pining after Rosaline and tries to break his illusions of love by delivering a lecture about the dreams of men and how they can ultimately lead to ruin. Sound familiar?
“True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain” (1.4.97-98)
Mercutio starts by talking about Queen Mab, the mythical fairy queen who rides through the night bringing pleasant dreams tailored to every sleeping individual. But as he goes on, the lighthearted speech quickly takes a morbid turn into a downward spiral through darker visions of depravity (from lovers dreaming of romance to soldiers dreaming of killing), until finally culminating in a bitter yet accurate portrayal of society. Instead of taking from the speech a lesson about realism and the twisted nature of humanity, however, the idealistic Romeo simply disregards his friend’s words as another of his many mischievous taunts, silencing him with a single exasperated comment, “Thou talk’st of nothing.”
Like Romeo, modern audiences might be inclined to dismiss the Queen Mab speech as unnecessary rambling that contributes little to the rest of the story. Indeed, the monologue’s main purpose is to illustrate Mercutio’s wit and roguish nature, but it can also be interpreted as a critique against the romantic ideals that drive the play’s entire plot. In a way, Mercutio’s speech is foreshadowing the tragedies that will occur over the course of the story, and while it isn’t necessarily important, it certainly adds an interesting subtext to the themes of Romeo & Juliet.
What you’re probably thinking: Man, Mercutio really likes to hear himself talk!
What you should be thinking: Mercutio knew a thing or two about realism. Romeo probably should have listened…
3) Paris and Lady Montague even the score
Remember that part near the end of the story when Romeo kills the Count Paris in the Capulet tomb, and that other part when Montague says his wife died of grief after their son was banished from Verona? No? Then you must be familiar with any version of Romeo & Juliet other than the original play itself.
The fact is, most adaptations of this play tend to exclude the deaths of Paris and Lady Montague because they don’t contribute very much to the plot. The latter even goes virtually unnoticed, her offstage death being summed up in only two lines. So why would the playwright even bother killing these characters off in the first place?
Because it’s only fair. Before Romeo and Juliet famously take their own lives at the end, two other important characters suffer dramatic deaths in the middle of the story: Mercutio and Tybalt. But wait, wasn’t Mercutio on the Montagues’ side? Yes, but he was not a member of their family, as Tybalt was of the Capulets’. Mercutio was actually from the third noble family in the play: the Prince’s. This means that after all four of these characters die, the House of Capulet would technically have suffered the greatest loss.
Unless one more family member were to be lost from each of the other two houses. Enter Count Paris and Lady Montague. Paris, though aligned with the Capulets, is another kinsman to the Prince, and ends up being killed in a fight with Romeo during his visit to Juliet’s tomb while she’s faking her death. A little later, after the bodies are discovered in the tomb, the Prince calls forth the heads of the feuding households, at which point Montague accounts for his wife’s absence by explaining that the news of her son’s banishment ended up killing her.
Surprise: one of them might not survive the movie this time. Guess who.
Final death toll:
- Capulets – 2 (Juliet and Tybalt)
- Montagues – 2 (Romeo and Lady Montague)
- Prince – 2 (Mercutio and Paris)
Conclusion: everyone loses, but at least in perfect balance.
What you’re probably thinking: Six people die by the end of the story? Shakespeare was twisted! No wonder most newer versions cut out these deaths!
What you should be thinking: Wow, every house loses two loved ones? How sad!
4) The poison and the dagger are symbolic
Romeo: “Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.” (5.3.120)
Juliet: “O happy dagger,/ This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.” (5.3.169-170)
If there’s one thing for which Shakespeare was notorious, it was his innuendos. Plenty of his works contain their fair share of double entendres and the like, and Romeo & Juliet is no exception. However, instead of covering every example in the play (which would take a while, especially for scenes involving Mercutio), let’s just skip ahead to the one hidden in the famous double suicide ending.
You know how Romeo kills himself by drinking poison when he thinks Juliet is dead, and then Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger after she finds his body? Well, guess what: those two items are not random, but were carefully chosen to secretly represent the lovers’ intimate relationship. Romeo’s weapon of choice comes in a cup, which is a symbol of femininity. In contrast, Juliet uses a blade, a symbol of masculinity, to take her own life. In this way, their deaths are meant to reflect the intimacy they shared in life, thus completing the play’s theme of love ending in tragedy.
Or it’s all just another product of Shakespeare’s deviant mind, depending on how you choose to read into it.
What you’re probably thinking: Shakespeare must have been a misogynist, to have Juliet suffer a much more painful death than Romeo.
What you should be thinking: Even their deaths symbolize their intimate love. Shakespeare was clever with metaphors.
5) Romeo & Juliet is a coming-of-age story
Now I know what you might be thinking: how can Romeo & Juliet be a coming-of-age story if the entire plot only happens over four days? Perhaps it’s not a coming-of-age story in the traditional sense, as the teenage protagonists never actually reach adulthood, but their characters do mature throughout the course of the play, from the moment they meet to their untimely end.
At the beginning of the story, Romeo and Juliet are little more than naïve adolescents, both fairly inexperienced in life and in love. As soon as they first cross paths, however, they quickly propel each other toward the maturity of adulthood. Upon meeting Juliet, Romeo sheds his superficial conceptions of romance to become one of the most truly passionate lovers in all of English literature, and it is this passion that drives his actions for the rest of the play. Juliet, in turn, draws strength from her love for Romeo to develop into a confident and levelheaded young woman, making shrewd observations (“You kiss by th’ book”) and logical decisions that balance out her lover’s spontaneity. The intense love that outweighs the hatred around them makes their marriage all the more pure, and their loyalty to one another drives them to choose an eternity together in death over a miserable life alone. In short, though modern interpretations mistake these young lovers for foolishly infatuated teenagers, in-depth analyses reveal the true qualities of their complex characters, bringing to light the real depth of Shakespeare’s classic story of “death-marked love”.
“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (5.3.309-310)
What you’re probably thinking: They rushed into marriage after less than a day and then killed themselves because they couldn’t live without each other? Romeo and Juliet were so immature!
What you should be thinking: They were so young and they experienced such a grand romance. Romeo and Juliet were truly in love!
All caught up on these secret details?
Great! To leave you on a high note, here is the official trailer for the 2013 release of Romeo & Juliet (the original UK trailer can be found here). Enjoy!
Reasons I have high hopes for this movie:
- A screenplay adapted by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes
- A stellar cast featuring talents such as Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Ed Westwick, Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti
- Good chemistry between co-stars Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth
- Shot entirely on location in Verona and Mantua, Italy
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the secrets hidden in Romeo & Juliet! I understand that many will disagree with some of these points, but honestly, I think that’s part of the beauty of this tale: that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. To some, it’s a tale of love thwarted by fate; to others, it’s a warning about the dangers of being too impulsive. In any case, I’m sure we can all agree that this classic story has greatly endured the test of time, and will probably continue to intrigue admirers of Shakespeare and inspire the romantic at heart for generations to come.
On a final friendly note: kids, trust me when I say you do not want a romance like Romeo and Juliet’s! Yes, this is a beautiful story and a great one to read and learn from, but the story you want to live is that of Grandma and Grandpa, who had a life and grew old together. It’s important to know the difference!
Oh, and if anyone from the UK or US happens to watch this film, please let me know if it’s good. I’m very much looking forward to it. Thanks for reading!
(Disclaimer: All images and video in this blog post are courtesy of Swarovski Entertainment and Amber Entertainment. For news about the film, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. I own nothing; I’m just a fan hoping to spread the love. Thank you!)