The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Monday, April 27, 2009

No writing today. Had jury duty. I have been reading two books for a long, long time, because I can only read in drips and drabs these days. One book is Jane Austen's Letters, the other is The Iliad. I've been reading JAL straight through, very slowly, but I've been jumping around in the Iliad, reading whatever catches my fancy, because I can't stand the stupid gods. They keep interrupting the real story, when whatever truly happened would have been so much more interesting. If I saw a current writer inserting these kinds of interruptions in a book, I'd call it bad writing. I'd say that the writer is either protecting the characters or fading out to protect him/herself from having to write an emotional scene.

So I took the Iliad to jury duty, which meant I read a long chunk of pages in a row, including god stuff. And I was trying to figure it out--because obviously I'm not a classicist, although I know people who know classicists, and I'll bet they would know why the damn gods are all over the place messing up the book, so maybe I should ask around, or heck, just read the Sparknotes--and I thought maybe the gods step in where the author had to explain why a hero suddenly disappeared from a fight and ended up elsewhere. Lord knows a hero couldn't have run away. But then, Paris get "disappeared" by Aphrodite, and it's quite clear that the author(s) had no love or respect for Paris, and would not have minded showing him running away. So, I dunno.

And there's this part where an archer, Pandarus, breaks a truce by shooting Menelaus with an arrow. There was this setup with Athena (I think it was Athena, but don't care enough to check) going to tempt Pandarus into breaking the truce. Blah, blah, blah. But then there's this in-scene description of Pandarus thinking, "Hey, yeah, I'll do that," and how he gets his bow set up and where the bow came from and how he shoots it and where it hits Menelaus and what happens after that. That part is all very compelling and real. It's real people, doing real things. The god stuff was so limp and feeble compared to the real stuff. It makes me want to go back in time and smack somebody. I want to see Pandarus coming up with the idea on his own--because you know he did. You can just see him itching to do it, realizing that if he has the cajones to break the truce by sniping this one key guy--and he's talented enough to do it, too--the war will be over.

And then some pages later--maybe it's the next chapter--Pandarus gets mowed down by another guy. We get to remeet Pandarus, get to hear about how he's pissed at himself because he brought his weapons but left his horses and chariots behind and joined the war on foot, because he was worried about his horses having enough to eat during the siege. We get to see him again as a person and a comrade--and then boom! he gets killed and he's out of the story:

(this is from the Robert Fagles translation)

...the shaft...
split the archer's nose between the eyes--
it cracked his glistening teeth, the tough bronze
cut off his tongue at the roots, smashed his jaw
and the point came ripping out beneath his chin.

And this is a guy we liked. Or at least I did. This happens over and over; there are no red-shirt guys like on Star Trek where they're just in there to be killed so the main guys can do their storyline. The guys in this war are introduced in emotional detail--we get to hear about how their mother loves them or how they grew up side by side with their brother--and then we're told how they died in detail like above. Often there's a little comment afterward, like how now there's no one left to take care of the dead guy's father, now that his only son is gone. It makes war very real, in a way movies and most books don't. All the soldiers count. None are just cannon fodder for the story.

And I have to say that I noticed when Menelaus was wounded by Pandarus' arrow, his brother Agamemnon was very concerned that they might have to stop the war if Menelaus died. The excuse for war would be gone. You--or at least I--very much get the sense that these guys wanted to fight and collect loot, and any excuse would do. I was surprised to see that Paris even offers to return his loot from Sparta, adding to it from his own bank account, if the Greeks will just go away and leave him Helen. They say no. I'm thinking it's because they wanted to loot Troy. They wanted the women, the horses, the armor, the gold. If Paris gave back the Spartan goods, nobody would get it but Menelaus. The rest of the army wouldn't get anything that they didn't take with their own hands from the ruins of Troy.

And then--this is what drove me to start the former GN--you get thousands of years of male writers saying it was all Helen's fault those men died, because she was such a slut. If Helen hadn't been such a ho, none of that would have happened to those poor innocent fellows. It's making me mad just thinking about it.

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