Rant Grenade 08: The Classics Make My Eyes Burn

Othello's beautiful hair secrets finally revealed... fresh squeezed orange juice!

Years ago, after I finished watching the Lord of the Rings films, I got the bright idea to go back and reread this fantasy classic.  I had read it when I was about ten or so and I vaguely remember the movies leaving some parts out, like the eventual fates of Saruman and Wormtongue.  Besides, I was twenty years older now, much more mature and able to appreciate this sweeping epic.

Wrong.  I never got out of the starting gate.  I read for like six chapters and they were still in the Shire, and that’s exactly where I left them.   It’s so long and slow that the only way to liven that book up is to use the hardcover edition as weapons in a gladiator duel to the death.

I also tried to read Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”  I’m all about some heretical fiction so when I heard that someone had done this in the old school, with Satan as tragic hero, I was like more please!  And I went at it with gusto… I mean, this is the work that’s famous for the quote “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven”… it had to be awesome.  All I got from Paradise Lost was some hurt feelings.

This is a rant with no solution in sight.  I mean, I want to appreciate the classics but I just can’t.   My attention span has grown too short to tolerate a writer not getting to the point already.  I can’t dig archaic prose that’s as hard to digest as cardboard cauliflower. 

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their contribution to literature in general.  And I understand the archaic language on some of these much older works is hardly the author’s fault… it was trendy at the time they wrote it.  They weren’t dabbing quills in ink to appeal to my post-modern sensibilities of what’s hot.

And some classics still kinda rock.  I still dig Mark Twain, some Shakespeare, a lot of Poe’s stuff.

But then there are those “classics” that generate an autonomic WTF?! rant-capade response from me.  Those are the books that English teachers assign because they really hate kids and unassuming parents are kept in the dark because those ingenious teachers called their torture regime the “summer reading program”.  Call of the Wild?  It’s a dog, who the hell cares?  Moby Dick?!  There’s not enough water sports in the world to get a  kid interested in 19th century whaling ships and some dude with a white whale hard on.  These two and Black Beauty are probably the reason why I groan whenever I see animal based fiction… with the exception of Riki Tiki Tavi… but c’mon, Riki’s a cobra fighting mongoose, that’s epic no matter how you slice it.

With the few exceptions I noted, I find the classics to be soul maddening reading.  I can’t be the only one.  I mean, you don’t see them making Cliff Notes for stuff people actually want to read.

Maybe Johnny's eyes are glazed because he's too busy contemplating a way to kill his teacher rather than read another word of House of Seven Gables.


1 Comment

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One response to “Rant Grenade 08: The Classics Make My Eyes Burn

  1. Gabrielle

    I totally agree with you here. I can’t get into classics at all, either. It’s just too dense. I was never able to read any of the LOTR books. I suppose the writing style back then was much different, there was a lot of description and stream-of-consciousness and less dialogue and action. Classic writers seemed to have the “look how well I can describe this leaf” attitude where modern writers seem to know that you can still write a compelling story without all that fluff.

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