Friday, August 16, 2013

Jack London's The Call of The Wild - Free Release Through The Classic Tales Podcast

This week, we embark on a five week journey with Buck, a St. Bernard Scotch-Collie who begins life as a happy pet and through bad luck and careless men, ends up as an Alaskan sled dog.  This is one of  Jack London's most beloved books, The Call of the Wild.  London got his inspiration from a hard year he spent living in the Yukon, where he gathered material for many of his books.

This book has always been popular.  It was immediately well received by critics and earned London a place in the canon of the great American novel.  You probably read it as a kid when you were in school.  If you have a kid, s/he's probably brought it home (or will soon).  And I'm sure you loved it, and so does your kid.

It is my theory that the reason that book has been in the school syllabus for the past 50 years or so, is that it is such a wild ride, such a great read.  It helps teachers to instil a love of literature in youngsters who are also dealing with harder books, like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, or Golding's Lord of the Flies.  I remember thinking, if the Call of the Wild is so good, chances are that the rest of them are also worth reading.  So I gave myself some extra time and patience and I haven't stopped reading since.  Let's think of this as a gateway book!

There is only one problem, you probably can't remember why you loved it so much.  The details don't stick to your brain as well as you'd like.  But you are in luck!  B.J. Harrison is bringing it to you via the podcast, or better yet, the Classic Tales App!  Listen to it with your family, maybe as you travel during these last wonderful weeks of Summer vacation!

Regrettably, I can't think of a good movie version of this book.  Most of them have been turned into happy-go-lucky stories or excuses for handsome men to meet beautiful women (I rather like this movie, but it has little to do with the book).  So if you know of a good one, leave it in the comments, will you?

If you enjoyed this title, why don't you check out "The Unexpected," and "To Build a Fire," both by Jack London.

So, to paraphrase B.J., let's join him, and together, discover the greatest stories the world has ever known!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death - Free Release Through The Classic Tales Podcast

This week, B.J. Harrison and The Classic Tales bring back Edgar Allan Poe with the incredibly disturbing Gothic Tale of "The Masque of the Red Death."  May I suggest you listen to this during a sunny walk outside, just to balance even a modicum of darkness in the story.

This story revolves around Prince Prospero's attempt at hiding himself and some of his wealthy friends from a plague within the rooms of his abbey.  It doesn't end well.

Although some critics warn against reading the story allegorically, I honestly don't know how you can avoid it.  B.J.'s introduction to the story is very helpful in understanding some of the symbolism Poe uses:

• Consider the symbolism of the rooms. They are placed east to west. East is traditionally considered having to do with birth, while - the blue room, which is furthest to the east, represents birth or beginnings. Things that vanish in the west typically have to do with endings, even as the sun sets. So the suite of rooms is allegorical in nature, and represents the progression of life
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• There are seven colored rooms as we move from east to west. The color blue suggests the "unknown" from which a human being comes into the world. The next room is purple, a combination of blue (birth) and red (associated with life, intensity) suggests the beginnings of growth. Green, the next color, suggests the "spring" of life (youth), orange the summer and autumn of life. White, the next color, suggests age – think white hair, and bones. Violet (a combination of purple and blue, or purple and grey) is a shadowy color, and represents darkness and death. And black, obviously, is death itself.

• The Clock – symbolism of how time marches on, and we see how time cannot be escaped, though we try to hide from the plagues of the world outside.

• The Red Death – symbolizes death, of course. As far as scholars who have studied the story can make out, the disease described as The Red Death is entirely a fictional creation of Poe. Pretty horrible way to die.

• There is also apocalyptic symbolism here. The phrase “like a thief in the night” is taken from the Bible. It is from the first letter to the Thessalonians from Paul, and Paul is speaking of the last judgment. This is Biblically referred to as a time when the world is chaotic, decadent, topsy-turvy and raucous.

In keeping with the blog's tradition of introducing you to an excellent old film based this week's story, here is one staring Vincent Price as Prince Prospero. Is that perfect casting or what?

 If you enjoyed being terrified by this story, check out The Edgar Allan Poe Collection, and  get $3 off by using the code: POE.  Also, if you own the Classic Tales App (available for iOS and Android) you get The Tell-Tale Heart, which you probably haven't read since high school, and trust me, this one gets better with age!

Oh, and just because, let me leave you with this meme: