Goodreads Review: Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind 75th Anniversary EditionGone With The Wind 75th Anniversary Edition by Margaret Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Literary speaking, this book is as well written as any I have read. Amazing, well developed characters; perfect story pacing and dialogue; a narrative style that keeps your interest throughout the 1000+ pages of novel; enough historical detail to give it authenticity without becoming a scholarly drag; an epic storyline set against one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history… there are no faults that I can find from a writing perspective. The only fault, one which I’m sure must have been addressed countless times already, is the blatant racism Mitchell displays at several points in the novel. More on that later.

As I went through the novel I kept going back to the movie sequences of what I was reading about. I have to say, for such a long book the movie adaptation was incredibly faithful, and while a lot of people will point out that the movie is about four hours long, the truth is that what was contained in this novel could have easily taken fifteen to twenty hours of screen time. That David O. Selznick and company managed to “trim it down” to four hours and still appease the public with what would become a classic among classics is nothing sort of spectacular. Remember, this book was the greatest bestseller of its time, and the frenzy it created could perhaps be compared in modern times to Harry Potter (different audience, obviously), and so would the demand for as faithful an adaptation as possible. The casting was spot on, and that, too, made it into my imagination as I read. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’ Hara got to be some of the best cast roles of all time. They were legendary in the movie, and they were legendary in the novel.

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Scarlett O’Hara

The story centers mostly around Scarlett and her growth from a fifteen year old spoiled girl to a twenty eight year old woman. By the end of the story she is by no means a “finished product”; there is still plenty of room for further growth in her character, but she has gone through a lot and she is very different from how she began. The point was never to make her a heroine (if anything, she is sort of an anti-heroine), but to show her relentlessness against all odds, and how that drive will not only allow her to survive the devastating effects of the Civil War, but to prosper – first from the state of economical poverty she was thrown in by the war, and later from the moral poverty she suffered of from the get go. The rest of the cast in the story is there to chip away and mold the character that is Scarlett O’Hara into what she “finally” becomes. They are as much tools in her development as the sequence of events that are set into motion.

Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes

Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes

Two characters in particular, beside Scarlett, held my sympathy and attention: Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes. Rhett is the quintessential dashing rogue, the rebel that will play his own game and get ahead of the rest of his society, a society which adheres to antiquated rules and is eventually forced to change in order to survive. Because of this, Rhett is despised and/or envied by most, except for Melanie Wilkes, whose saintlike (or perhaps, naive) personality only allows her to see the good in people. In the wrong hands this character would have been trite, uninteresting and unrealistic; but Mitchell knew what she was doing, and as with the rest of her cast she built a solid foundation from which Melanie emerged as one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever read. Her last scene – the result of which I knew already from the movie – still managed to move me, and even had me wondering as of what she really knew of the relationship between Scarlett and her husband Ashley Wilkes. Both Rhett and Melanie were perfect complements to Scarlett: Rhett’s personality allowed him to see Scarlett for what she really was and still – and thus, purely – love her just the same, while Melanie’s blinded her to Scarlett’s many faults, allowing her to become the fiercely loyal friend Scarlett needed to endure many of her calamities.

As for the racism, it didn’t bother me for the most part. I simply took it as a Southern story told by a Southerner, to which feeling superior to blacks was as normal as breathing. It gave the story an added authenticity that would be lost nowadays in the politically correct climate we live in. The problem is that at some points Mitchell went on a rampage, blaming the “inferior” blacks as much as the Yankee Republicans (who were the true villains of the story) for all the sufferings of the poor, defeated state of Georgia. While the racism was left to the background as an afterthought it was easy to handle, but when Mitchell pushed it to the forefront for no other reason than to denigrate blacks it became an infuriating experience. Mark Twain was just as authentic with his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without being offensive; Margaret Mitchell’s true colors shone here, and that was the one thing were the movie can claim to be superior to the novel, since David O. Selznick made a point to cut the offensive parts from his adaptation.

All in all, however, Gone with the Wind is one of the greatest novels I have ever read, and a superior product to its classic adaptation. Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; books usually are superior to their movies.

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Goodreads Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest: I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Not that it’s a masterpiece or anything remotely close to that, but it’s really entertaining (except for the first few chapters, which are a bit of a drag). Once it gets going, it does get going, and this is all thanks to Collins’ excellent narrative. It just FLOWS smoothly.

What puzzles me is how closely the movie (which I saw before reading this) resembled the book, and yet it completely lacked that sense of entertainment. I guess since the subject matter is a bit crude for a Young Adult audience – you know, the whole children killing children thing – they went with a very somber mood, effectively killing whatever sense of entertainment you might get out of this. The truth is, it reads very PG-13, and not the R you would think a story like this would be; Katniss, the heroine, never once succumbs to the depravity of the killing, and neither does Peeta, so despite the carnage you never feel any sort of morbidity. If anything, you probably feel the same kind of detached excitement over the whole thing that the people from The Capitol feel, which is a curious thing, considering how it’s Katniss who’s telling the story, Katniss who is the complete moral opposite of the citizens of The Capitol.

The romantic triangle, while forced, actually fits and adds to the tragedy. I have no problem with this, but with how it eventually became the center of attention. I guess that comes with the YA territory, and would have been worked differently had the story been aimed at a more adult audience.

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Rant: Is the U.S. the new 17th Century Church?

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Some of you might know of this famous scientist who, back when the universe existed through the sheer will of God, dared to refute the claim that the Earth was the center of that universe. His name was Galileo and he was forced to recant his claims by the strongest power of the time: the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church, however, had valid reasons to censor Galileo. Their absolute power over its subjects depended entirely on the validity (or, let’s say, literal validity) of everything that is written in the Christian Bible. There was no space for interpretation or poetic license; if one thing isn’t true, who’s to say the rest isn’t? Of course, that’s as good a justification as governments making shit up to legally invade another country. It’s been done throughout history whenever you require a large amount of people to agree blindly to your egotistical designs, so no surprises so far. And while what I will mention next should come as no surprise to anyone living outside a cave for the last twenty years or so, it’s still very disturbing.

Turns out, there’s a Canadian book on evolution that recently won a prestigious award over there for best science book for children. You guys remember when children went to school to learn the facts of life and the universe? Apparently some folks don’t, and this group has put the fear of God (literally) on U.S. publishers so that no one on American soil will pick this book up for publication. And by “this group” I mean Christian Creationist Groups.

Now, let’s be clear about something: freedom of speech goes both ways. It means that just as much as you are free to rebuke God and religion, religion can tell you that you are wrong without fear of legal reprisals; they are within their rights to defend their beliefs. However, this is nothing of the sort. This is censorship on the scale of Galileo vs. The Church, without going so far as threatening with death (as far as I know, there are always wackos). The day has come when evolution, one of the most accepted scientific theories (facts, actually) of the last century, is a topic so controversial publishing companies are bowing out from talking about it, for fear of the Creationism faction.

I wonder what would be the public’s response if the roles were reversed and it was the scientific community trying to bury forever and without question the religious beliefs of this people, using their clout to achieve their ends. Yeah, I can already see Apple, Google, and Microsoft threatening with an embargo of their products if the U.S. Government doesn’t outlaw Bibles. Or maybe Bill Nye the Science Guy putting Creationism in its place.

The religious rhetoric in a supposedly secular state such as the United States has been alarmingly going on the rise for the last few years; at least it caught my attention since the Bush Jr. administration (I’m the first one to admit I don’t pay much attention to politics, most probably it’s been going on since way before that). It’s alarming because, historically, one of religion’s staunchest characteristics is its intolerance. Its “we are right and you are wrong, and you will pay for your mistake in Hell” mentality is eerily similar to Bush’s “you are either with us or against us” rhetoric. The values that once made the U.S. a promising nation are giving way to the censorship and oppression of the “1984” world.

And that, folks, is one scary thought.