The Bells They Are A Ringin’

There certainly were a great many metaphorical bells to be heard in the third episode of Reign, Season 3. In fact, during the approximate 45 minutes comprising “Extreme Measures,” they were chiming all over the place. For the most part, I’m enjoying the direction the season has taken so far, but I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed, because if we’ve learned anything from this show, it’s that life in the Reigniverse, even for kings and queens (or perhaps especially for them), can take a turn for the worse in the blink of an eye.

A few subplot notes: I’ve officially switched myself from a Claude and Leith observer, to a Claude/Leith enthusiast. I hereby declare them Laude and have registered their couple’s name with the Shippers’ Guild of America (copyright pending). Meanwhile, Greer’s Dears have gone up in the world, seemingly knocking Catherine’s Flying Squadron of she-spies out of commission. At least this pulls Greer more squarely into the main plot, instead of on the fringes, though goodness knows where she’ll go from here. And last, but certainly not least, in a touching if ill-advised move, Mary and Francis patched things up to some degree with Catherine. By the end of the episode, it’s clear Mama Medici’s got her groove back, but will she spell victory or disaster for France, Frary and the Valois line? Lately, I’ve found my against-my-morals appreciation of Catherine tested to the max. I knew she was murderous and treacherous and all-around corrupt, but I thought I could rely on her not to target children; it seemed like her mama bear instincts gave her compunction on that score at least. Unfortunately, after her attempt to have the Bourbon royal family (including the infant prince and young princess) assassinated, it’s clear I was way off the mark. So now I’m having a harder time than ever rooting for our poisonous queen mother (though I always enjoy her confrontations with Mary). It’s clear Megan Follows will eternally steal any scene in which she has dialogue, but I don’t think I’ll be clapping as much as I used to.

But I digress, so without further ado, let’s get down to business and bells…

“R” is for Royal Pains

Good Ole’ Antoine, King of Navarre, is back, and he’s shrewd as ever. Frary is understandably concerned that the cheddar-sharp Huguenot ruler (with a strong claim to the French throne) will sniff out that Francis’ health is failing, and begin staging a takeover. Yet another inconvenient political distraction when all Mary and Francis want to do is spend their last days together dancing and eating oranges. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. In what has to be the most heartbreakingly lovely dance choreographed since Swan Lake, Frary takes to the dance floor to prove to Antoine that life at French court is still one big ball, and the royal couple becomes completely absorbed with each other –eyes locked, movements synced, as Francis relies on Mary to lead and Mary relies on Francis’s waning strength. Truly a superb moment in the episode, and Francis’ “We can do anything” line a few scenes before was a wonderfully nostalgic moment, rendered tragic when he collapses on the stairs. Time is clearly running out for the golden king, and death bells seem to haunt the future. But will these bells toll soon, or will the writers of Reign exercise their clever (albeit sometimes ill-directed) powers to buy us more time with Tony Regbo?

 “E” is for Extremely Extreme

Much as I like this show, it amazes me how in the Reigniverse lives matter, right matters, …until they don’t. Many of our favorite and most celebrated characters radiate morals, but when it’s convenient these morals are bent or flat-out broken, and the show’s writers seem to expect us to understand or look the other way. I know Francis has done bad things in the past. He murdered his father, sanctioned the deaths of scores of innocent Protestants for what a handful had done, slept with Lola, etc. etc. But when he stepped in and slew Antoine’s thug to prove a point, I was more than a little disappointed. It was meant, I believe, to be a glorifying “man with nothing to lose, who’ll do anything for his gal” moment, but all it did was add to the rising tally on Frary’s list of sins. All to protect Mary and the Valois line (neither of which have been doing much to improve France’s economy, stability or life expectancy lately). This act left me cold. Yes, Francis showed he’s tough; he cowed Antoine, literally and figuratively getting blood on his hands in the process, killing an expendable nobody with absolutely no fan-base. But for what? To ensure the continuation of a line that has done its best to cripple itself and its kingdom through selfish and single-minded acts, acts that never seem to have the people of France as priority. Consider this (and here’ a BIG, BIG, BIG spoiler warning for those of you who don’t know your French history): in real life, Antoine’s son eventually becomes king of France after Francis and his 3 (he had more siblings than depicted in the show) younger brothers all die without producing heirs. Francis’ last surviving brother, Henry, declares Antoine’s son to be the next rightful king. So what does this entire dramatic tableau from our latest episode amount to? As Shakespeare would say, “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It’s disturbing when you stop to think how a country and the hundreds of thousands of lives therein rest in the hands of rulers whose frontal cortexes (the part of the brain responsible for understanding consequences, weighing better and best, worse and worst in decision making, controlling social behavior and so much more) haven’t fully developed yet. Mary and Francis certainly don’t prove science wrong. Our main characters’ weakly devised political and personal choices as rulers don’t make me like them more. It makes me pity them. Frary’s tale of love and forgiveness as a couple is inspiring. Their legacy as sovereigns almost, almost makes me want to go running to the opposition.

“I” is for In Your Face

I’m sorry, but Antoine’s completely justified dress down of Mary’s past actions was gratifying to watch. I was baffled when Mary actually tried to pull the whole “your brother was a traitor,” card. Mary’s been a traitor (in both the political and secular senses) about 4 times over on this show (for crying out loud, she had Francis deposed as Dauphine in the first season!). The only reason she’s not been executed? Nepotism y’all. Yet Mary plays the righteous, right-hand-of-Francis role like it’s Golden Globes nomination week. Don’t misread me, I’m glad she’s back in that role, but to pretend she wasn’t 100 kinds of treacherous and dumb last season is a little too “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for my taste. This scene reminded me of Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam [Ring Out Wild Bells]” which says “Ring out the false, ring in the true.” It also goes on to say, “Ring out false pride in place and blood/The civic slander and the spite/Ring in the love of truth and right/Ring in the common love of good.” While I’d hardly say Antoine is the type to “ring in the love of truth and right,” Mary has indeed fallen further and further from her love of truth and right, choosing instead to focus on “false pride in place and blood,” believing that her blood and birthright as queen must come at any cost. This belief may be reinforced by the idea that she has to protect the religious freedom of her people, but in truth, neither Mary nor her husband have been able to do much to protect religious freedoms in France, so why should it be any different in Scotland? If Mary doesn’t begin to examine the truth about her past failings as an individual and a ruler, instead of looking regally surprised and offended when people cast them back at her in judgment, she is not going to get far.

“G” is for Greedy Guzzling Girlfriends

Cue the curfew bells. Well, our dope-stealing dauphin, Charles, got more screen time this episode, as he snatched some of his brother’s pain medicine and snuck away for a session of sips ‘n’ strokes with a young lady of the court. When the prince’s overeager paramour threw back the stolen opiate faster than a Scrapbooker on Instagram on a Thursday, I knew exactly what was going to happen. But I didn’t foresee what would come of it or how much I would enjoy watching it unfold. When his laudanum lady keels over from a bad batch, Charles has a perfectly normal teen response. He goes to his big sister Claude for advice, and she in turn goes to Uncle Narcisse (of course!). For we all know there is no one in France more capable of handlin’ the scandlin’. No one above dungeon-level anyway. However, something happened to Narcisse’s character as he surveyed the Duke’s doped up daughter, something I like to call not-so-subtle, but oh-so-needed character development. Instead of helping the Prince and Princess C sweep the languishing lass’s corpse under the rug, Narcisse goes into worldly-wise hero mode. Suddenly it was “Leave it to Beaver, French Court Style!”, and we got to see Responsible Narcisse, Avuncular Narcisse, Mentor Narcisse. I’ve never been so proud of our Rascally Roué, and for the first time, I felt that he and Lola actually stood a chance. That, along with the simple misadventure of this scene and the Brady Bunch vibe, had me giving this subplot a thumbs-up. And of course, Narcisse’s responsible actions in this escapade ultimately lead to…

“N” is for Newlyweds

I guess Cinderella was right. If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish really do come true. But in my wildest dreams I never saw the Nola wedding happening 3 episodes into the season. Even more surprising, their wedding was not some furtive elopement or dark secret. Nope, the wedding bells were sounding proudly (metaphorically) to celebrate the nuptials. Lola and Narcisse were fairly glowing with love and happiness, while everyone else looked on with joy and approval. Lola’s dress was lovely; the music was so apropos; Narcisse looked so proud. Everything was so perfect…

Then came the alarm bells.

“Psycho” music rang down the castle halls, the Dementors of Azkaban flew away screaming in terror and Catherine de Medici emerged from the shadows looking like a kid in a candy store. I realized with a sickening “Eeeeek!” that neither Mary nor I had quite thought Catherine’s reinstatement through. If this show proves one thing (other than that wimples didn’t play as big a part in French Renaissance fashions as historians would have us believe) it’s that a wedding in the French court does not guarantee a happy ending, but is, in fact, often the deathwatch beetle for most relationships. Is this the doom of Nola, or will our newlyweds find a last minute reprieve from the Wrath of Cath? Did they have Wit-Sec in 16th century France? Is it too late for the honeymooners to register for it? Let me know your thoughts on these questions and the ones I’ve listed below. And as always, thanks for reading!

  1. Who believes that Kenna is going to pop back onto the scene any day now, and that Caitlin Stasey’s absence is no more than a plot teaser facilitated by the actress’s desire to spend a few weeks in Bora Bora?
  2. Are Narcisse and Lola doomed? Seriously, I want to know. Your guess –what is going to happen to them? Are the writers setting the stage for a quick Mr. and Mrs. Narcisse exodus from French Court so that Mary will have some company on her future adventures? I hope not, you guys. I’m a serious skeptic about whether this show can be pulled off as well in Scotland, and plopping Nola (or Kennash or anyone but Mary, really) there would be like eating your French Fries with mayonnaise –it’s just a weird combination and, though fascinating, not anywhere as good as the original pairing.
  3. Is this Masked Heart-eater/Delphine Prophecy plot-line going anywhere, or are the writer’s dangling a sub-plot carrot in front of Bash and us to distract from the complete lack of direction his character has had since…well, pretty much since he figured out his mother was guilty of infanticide and banished her from France (side question: when is Bash going to notice a complete lack of news from or about his mother? Will her death ever come to light?). The strong storylines and character-developing moments have been shamefully few and far between for a fellow who has the troubled past, unique social perspective and piercing blue eyes to pull off amazing scenes.
  4. Did Leith actually try to float the old “I slept with her because I care for you” excuse past Claude? Did it actually just work? I know I’m club Laude now, but I have to call that the worst dialogue on sex and feelings I’ve heard outside of Grey’s Anatomy.
  5. It says something that I didn’t miss Queen Elizabeth in this episode (“didn’t miss” meaning I neither noticed her absence nor was saddened by it). The queen of England was rubbing me the wrong way last episode. What do you think? Do you want to see more or less Elizabeth I this season?

Queens of Three, Let Them Be

Well, I’m back. I could take up valuable time and space explaining where I’ve been and why I haven’t posted in so long, but who has the attention span? So let’s skip ahead to the real reason I’m here, the exciting first two episodes of the dramatic saga which has returned after its seemingly endless hiatus. Let’s talk about Reign!

I’m doing a two-for-one review, partly because I’m getting back into the blog post groove, but mostly because these first two episodes of Season 3 have been so fantastic that there’s not as much for me to complain about. Things are looking up in France, though admittedly trouble is brewing on several fronts. The music and costumes are as fabulous as ever, and the ravages of last season have been all but wiped away. Between Greer getting played by a punky pirate, Narcisse declaring his intentions to marry Lola, and Claude and Leith getting more cute friend time, I’m pretty pleased with the peripheral developments on the show. Mary and Catherine’s building animosity is both uncomfortable and thrilling, with more burns than Westeros during the Conquest (though honestly you guys, that tiger cage was a bit much), and Francis basically planning for his death is a real gut-wrencher, but all of this just feeds the question: “What’s next?” So let’s get into it…

“R” is for Reunited

Because Mary and Francis are back together you guys, and I don’t know about you, but I am in 7th heaven over it, my past bitterness over Mary’s degenerating character fading in the face of their newfound bliss. The first five minutes of the season premiere are dedicated to demonstrating how back together they are, so that we can almost (almost) forget all of the sordid mistakes of the past and the looming sorrow of the future. For this all-too-brief, but extremely potent period, Mary and Francis are Frary again, and stronger than they have ever been.  They’re a dynamic duo, a royal tag team, and above all a teenage couple hopelessly in love. They and we viewers must enjoy it while we can, because we all understand it won’t last. No matter what comes, however, we’ll always know that Frary is forever (yes, with that phrase I just transformed myself into teenage fangirl, but I don’t care).

“E” is for “England”

It would have been so easy to make “E” for Elizabeth, because our pampered, petulant Queen of England is fast becoming a primary character of the season. However, along with her, her country and court is also getting a good bit of screen time (to say nothing of the White Cliffs of Dover, which serve repeatedly as a “meanwhile, back in England,” segue shot), and I must say, it’s been entertaining. At first, I thought our beloved show divvying its time between France and the enemy island kingdom would be tedious, but thus far, I’m enjoying it. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for its queen. Unlike the clever, calculating, crackling figure she set out to be toward the end of the second season, Elizabeth has proved herself to be childish, selfish and willfully imprudent. Basically, everything I ever loathed about the young queen Elizabeth in any of the movies ever done about her. This Elizabeth has little to endear her to an audience, other than a fantastic wardrobe and stylin’ feathered hairdos. Her privy council bullies her, while she snarls at them like a defensive teenager. Then she goes off to pout and make dumb decisions that ultimately comprise her credibility. Her selfish relationship with Robert Dudley and her betrayal of her “dear friend” Lady Donatella, quickly define Elizabeth’s character and future on the show. She will be a treacherous opponent for Mary, but the danger she presents lies not in her personal gifts or in her talent as a ruler, but in the institution and the power that serves and surrounds her.  This I will say, however, the writers are doing a good job of demonstrating the internal struggles of a fellow queen in “a man’s world.”

“I” is for In His Brother’s Steps

With Francis’s failing health, he and Mary have been forced to do the unthinkable, plan Mary’s future and France’s future with Francis’s younger brother Charles taking his place. And while I find the idea of Mary and Charles getting married a heartbreaking and semi-icky move, the introduction of Francis’s younger brother, and the resultant power play between Frary and Catherine de Medici for Charles’ trust and future character has excellent plot potential. Spoilers! Any student of history (or visitor of Wikipedia) knows Charles does one day take Francis’s place as king of France. They also know Mary and Charles never get married. But the beauty of this show is that “between the lines of history” amazing twists and turns are possible. Here’s hoping Reign’s writers make the right ones.

“G” is for Gowns and Gavottes    

The great sense of style and the lush costumes are back, and they’re better than ever. Also, the lovely dance Mary was doing with her ladies at the beginning of the show was so happy and reminiscent of brighter days of the past, that I thought it deserved a thumbs up. Reign is, as always, a visual feast.

“N” is for No Kenna 😦

I don’t know where Kenna is currently, or if she will ever be back, but I miss her, and I so hope that she will be returning to the show soon, albeit with better integrity than she had before. No doubt, if/when she returns, it will be to drop some awesome bombshell on us (Queen Kenna, anybody?), and I still wonder about her pregnancy and what became of it. The bottom line is, I want Bash and Kenna to get back together, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. The Delphine storyline has Bash once again playing detective, and I believe it is, once again, another pagan sideline to give our favorite lovechild something to do. I hope for better things for his and Kenna’s characters, but as long as they’re together (and Bash isn’t murdering people), I can deal.

Well folks, I’m back and it feels good to flex my bloggy fangirl muscles again. What did you think of the return of Reign? Let me know your thoughts on this and a few questions below. We’re off to a good start this season. Let’s hope France, Mary and her friends can keep it that way.

  1. Is it just me, or was the teen heartthrob Prince Charles one of those cute little princeling brothers Bash had to save a mere two seasons ago? I know the timeline/passage of time has been distorted in the Reigniverse, but isn’t it a teensy stretch to expect us to believe Charles aged 8 or 9 years in the passage of a year or two at most?
  2. What is Narcisse up to with Lola? Does this development of him being behind the “threats” against Lola mean he’s up to something more sinister, or is just to show that Narcisse still isn’t above resorting to tricks to attain what he wants? In any case, I’m still rooting for them! I literally did a happy jig when they declared their love for each other (though Lola asking Narcisse to be patient came across more cringe-worthy in the insensitive department than I think she meant it to) I just hope Narcisse doesn’t do anything we can’t come back from. What do you think? What lies ahead for Beauty and the Beast?
  3. Are you tired of the Delphine murder mystery, or do you find this back story an interesting distracting from the political machinations of our three queens? Do you think Bash and Delphine have more between them than an unsolved murder case, or this toxic relationship finally over (finger’s crossed)? Who or what do you think is behind the brutal murders and does it signify a greater threat looming than Elizabeth or Catherine? Who else thinks it’s connected to the masked figure Princess Claude glimpsed in the palace’s secret passages last season?
  4. Where is Kenna, and will she come back? Are she and Bash ever, ever, ever getting back together? (If you heard T. Swift, you heard right.)
  5. Are you for or against the budding friendship between Claude and Leith?

As always, thank you for reading!

Putting On Eyres

Jane Eyre is a monumentally multi-purpose book. From a drama/entertainment perspective it’s got it all: an old, isolated manor, a brooding Byronic hero, dark secrets and midnight horrors, star crossed romance and a small-of-body, vast-of-spirit heroine to recount it all to us. But Charlotte Bronte’s novel is about more than drama (that’s just the brown sugar on top of the sweet potato). Her book explores social inequalities and moral codes of the time, compares true religious faith with religious hypocrisy and pretense and (unintentionally) reveals the Gothic ignorance of mental illness still persisting in some minds (including, apparently, the author’s) when Victorian England was, in fact, undergoing tremendous reform in that area. This work gives glimpses of the childhood of Charlotte Bronte, who attended a school much like Lowood and lost two sisters to its deplorable conditions. It also mirrors her adulthood working as a governess, presenting the unique experiences, hardships and vulnerabilities of that occupation. Jane Eyre represents one woman’s triumph over poverty, classism, misogyny and, ultimately, an imbalanced culture’s attempt to define her place in the world. It’s a true masterpiece, in many ways. (Side note: for a wonderful Post-Colonial telling of the backstory of Bronte’s novel, read “The Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys. They’re both wonderful works, for different reasons, and both provide great meat for discussion about feminine, racial and class issues of the time.)

With a host of complex characters, cultural strata and nuanced (and I do mean nuanced) dialogue, it is no wonder this book has been made into a movie so many times. Every actor’s chosen body language, delivery of lines and expression sheds new significance on the rich meaning of a scene, so that there is always fresh truth to be found, though the material hasn’t changed. I’ve tried to do a tally and have come up with eight film versions. There are undoubtedly more, but these are the ones I’ve come across in my movie travels. Some were made for the big screen, some for television, but each is individual in its presentation of this classic tale. None are perfect. I doubt there could ever be a perfect rendition of Jane Eyre –the titular character, Mr. Rochester and the vastness of the story itself will forever be challenges to directors/producers seeking to encapsulate their shifting dimensions in a couple of hours viewing. Some of these movies come close. Some capture character nuances, but scrape too much of the plot away to conserve screen time. Others adhere almost verbatim to the story, but with their dry characterizations, limited art direction or generally poor film quality, they can lack emotional depth.

Surely you can see where I’m going with this. Whether you love the book or you don’t, I think we can all benefit from a lineup review of the Jane Eyre movies. Perhaps you’ve seen some of them; maybe you’ve never even heard of Jane Eyre (change that, please), but take a look at these reviews anyway, maybe consider popping some popcorn, trolling YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime and seeing what the fuss is  about. Then come back here and tell me what you think. Good or bad or in between, I never get tired of savoring a Jane Eyre experience. I hope you enjoy it too!

Note: Because of unpardonable miscasts, I have excluded the 1970 version, starring George C. Scott and Susannah York. By all means, feel free to give that rendition a chance, but in my humble and completely correct opinion, Patton should never have played Mr. Rochester.

Eyre Apparent

Jane Eyre (1944) Directed by Robert Stevenson Shown from top: Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine (as Jane Eyre) Version: (1943)/97 min. Starring:

  • Joan Fontaine –British (27 years old)
  • Orson Welles –American (29)

Rating: 3/5 stars

Pros:

  • The air of extravagant sensationalism accompanying most dramas of Hollywood’s golden era.
  • Orson Welles’ rich voice.
  • Joan Fontaine’s poise and grace.
  • Black and white film lends itself to the Gothic tone of the story.

Cons:

  • This version of the film is tragically abbreviated.
  • No subtlety of dialogue or direction for an intrinsically subtle story.
  • Possibly the worst portrayal of the treatment of the mentally insane Bertha Mason.

Verdict: Jane Eyre Extract. This film carries the essence of the story and brings the advantages and delights of classic cinema. The two leading actors are skilled and have good chemistry, but at the end of the day, this version will appeal more to old movie lovers than Jane Eyre purists.

Bad Eyre Day

jane-eyre-1973-17

Version: (1973)/275 min. Starring:

  • Sorcha Cusack –Irish (24)
  • Michael Jayston –British (38)

Rating: 2/5 stars

Pros:

  • This version keeps well to the book. Almost too well, as indicated by the length.
  • Michael Jayston is at once a debonair and sympathetic actor, who could generate chemistry with his leading lady if Jane Eyre was played by a turnip.
  • Sweet, sweet Sorcha, though not suited to the role of Jane, is nevertheless a pretty face and an endearing heroine, with one exception…

Cons:

  • Sorcha’s eyebrows. I don’t know who in the makeup department thought those eyebrows were a good idea, but they should have been strongly reprimanded (the eyebrows and the makeup artist). Not only do they defy gravity and gravitas, they distract from any emotion passing over the actress’s face.
  • Sorcha’s appearance and her acting abilities at the time of this film are not a match for Jane Eyre’s persona. Likewise, Michael Jayston, though talented, isn’t exactly right for the role of Mr. Rochester. I see him playing a spot-on Sir Percival Blakeney or even Mr. Darcy (if he’d been a few years younger), but for the stormy Mr. R, he’s a bit off the mark.
  • The format and, therefore, the acting in this version is sometimes too theatrical.
  • The narration representing Jane’s inner dialogue often intrudes on the acting.

Verdict: Loveable Miscasts. Though true to law of the book, this made for TV film often loses the spirit of the story in limited cinematography and exaggerated acting. It would have been fun to watch as a live play, where it’s important for the actors to project their characters from one side of the theater to the other, but on film, it hinders rather than helps.

Eyre on the Side of Caution

Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke

Version: (1983)/239 min. Starring:

  • Zelah Clarke –British (29)
  • Timothy Dalton –Welsh (39)

Rating: 2/5 stars

Pros:

  • Handsome Timothy Dalton is eye candy, and does a fine job of presenting a portrait of Mr. Rochester’s passion and disillusionment.
  • Zelah Clarke captures Jane Eyre’s solemnity and calm.
  • Clarke and Dalton have good chemistry.
  • Minimal straying from the book.

Cons:

  • Handsome Timothy Dalton is too handsome to be believable as the rough, unbeautiful Mr. Rochester.
  • Timothy sometimes overacts, while Zelah often prudishly under-acts.
  • Limited cinematography and poor editing. Though I admire the strict adherence to the plot, when transforming a long book into a movie, some artistic adjustments must be made to keep the story tight and flowing. That was not accomplished here.
  • The movie is annoyingly segmented for weekly television slots.

Verdict: What Might Have Been. This version had potential, but again, the format of early British television serials and an unfortunate nightcap worn by Zelah Clarke (which acts as an apt symbol of her interpretation of Jane Eyre’s character) holds it back from being truly worthy of the book.

Thin Eyre

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Jane-Eyre-1996-film-jane-eyre-1612293-1024-576
William Hurt

Jane-Eyre-1996-film-jane-eyre-1612144-1024-576

Version: (1996)/112 min. Starring:

  • Charlotte Gainsbourg –British (25)
  • William Hurt –American (46)

Rating: 3/5 stars

Pros:

  • At last, the setting and cinematography are a match for the story (not surprising, considering the cinematographer was David Watkin, who won an Oscar for his work on “Out of Africa”).
  • A beautiful soundtrack, though definitively 90’s in sound. (however, see list of Cons for my caution about the soundtrack)
  • William Hurt’s acting is excellent. He does an amazing job of projecting the wounded and brooding nature of Mr. Rochester, while at the same time bringing a gentle and sympathetic air to the character. He and Charlotte have amazing chemistry.
  • Joan Plowright in any movie is a treat, and here she gives a wonderful turn as Mrs. Fairfax.
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg comes the closest to the literary Jane Eyre’s otherworldliness and gives a valiant attempt at the character, but…

Cons:

  • Her acting sometimes comes across a bit too whispery, vague and underdeveloped for Jane Eyre’s steady personality, to say nothing of the starring role of any movie.
  • The soundtrack, though admittedly lovely, is poorly edited into the film and often overwhelms scenes where dialogue and acting should take center stage, like a heavy layer of cellophane laid over a painting.
  • Too abrupt of an ending. This version could have stood being about 15-20 minutes longer, or else some different editing choices should have been made to provide a more graceful finish. The last fourth of the movie seems crudely even hurriedly constructed in comparison with the rest of the film.

Verdict: Time is a Great Healer. With a little more time and effort put into the ending and Gainsbourg’s development of the character, with softer music in the scenes and less whispering from our heroine, this film could have been a real contender. Even so, it is a worthwhile viewing in the Jane Eyre canon. Definitely give this version a look.

To Eyre is Human…

jan7 Version: (1997)/108 min. Starring:

  • Samantha Morton –British (20)
  • Ciaran Hinds –Irish (44)

Rating 2.5/5 stars

Pros:

  • Appearance-wise (heinous up-do aside), Samantha looks the part of Jane Eyre and outwardly exudes the character’s grace.
  • Good setting and acceptable cinematography
  • Some truly stirring/touching moments that will surprise you.
  • No matter how miscast, Ciaran Hinds is always on the pro list, even so…

Cons:

  • Hinds is far too loud, growly and violent to be Mr. Rochester. No subtlety at all for a character whose greatest darkness lies under the surface.
  • Morton, though Jane Eyre in appearance, brings none of Jane’s strength or steadfastness to the part, instead playing her too wide-eyed and discomposed.
  • Prepare yourself for the worst would-be romantic kisses you’ve ever had the misfortune to clap eyes on. Simply appalling. Any lack of chemistry between our lead characters tends to be on the side of Samantha, but it takes two to kiss, as they say, and so blame must be laid on both doorsteps for this debacle.

Verdict: What Happens at Thornfield, Stays at Thornfield. I got this version as a gift, before the two latest films had yet been made. I wanted to love it. Really, I did. I think Ciaran Hinds is great, and Samantha Morton has given many fine performances. But this version of “Jane Eyre” has some problems that are hard to overlook. However, as Levar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow (honestly, between that show and Star Trek: The Next Generation, I owe so much of my childhood development to Mr. Burton) “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

Spring is in the Eyre

formain

Version: (2006)/230 min. Starring:

  • Ruth Wilson –British (26)
  • Toby Stephens –British (37)

Rating: 4/5 starsJane-Eyre-and-Mr-Rocheste-001 Pros:

  • Great acting, especially from Toby Stephens (It must run in the family. The actor’s mother is Maggie Smith, a.k.a. Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series, a.k.a. the Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey), who does a wonderful interpretation of Mr. Rochester, neither blaspheming the character, nor taking the character for granted.
  • Stephens and Wilson have a wonderful, sometimes steamy chemistry.
  • Fine setting and (aside from some silly misuses of CGI) good cinematography and overall film quality.
  • Good editing and distribution of movie time. The film is long enough to justly portray the book, but doesn’t drag on.
  • Good balance between adhering to the book and infusing artistic license.

Cons:

  • This version can sometimes be too sensual to be believable, defying a tenet of Jane Eyre’s character.
  • Ruth Wilson, while a talented actress who creates an admirable character, doesn’t look like Jane Eyre or capture any of the other-worldliness or serenity of Jane’s persona. Instead, she presents something closer to an adult version of the stubborn, unrefined Jane from Gateshead, as if she’d never spent time at Lowood School.

Verdict: Now We’re Talking. This Masterpiece Theatre production is true to its distributor’s name. The setting is lovely, the length is appropriate, the composition of the story’s elements is thoughtfully done. Though the heroine is not my idea of the perfect Jane Eyre, she delivers a fine performance and, along with Toby Stephen’s Mr. Rochester, produces a great romantic story. A must-see for Jane Eyre fans and newbies alike.

Breath of Fresh Eyre Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska Version: (2011)/120 min. Starring:

  • Mia Wasikowska –Australian (22)
  • Michael Fassbender –German/Irish (34)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Pros:

  • Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are perfectly cast in these roles, and their chemistry is subtle and burning as a candle. A perfect combo.
  • Dame Judi Dench, y’all. She brings awesomeness to any role. If she played Gandalf, I’d see that Lord of the Rings.
  • Awesome, awesome acting, all around.
  • The in medias res approach to the plot opens makes for a refreshing delivery of a familiar story. The overall direction of this film was carefully and artfully done.

Cons:

  • The film can sometimes be too abrupt or face-paced, making it difficult for viewers not familiar with the story or for readers who wish to savor the plot.
  • Wasikowska’s persona is sometimes so youthful that it’s hard to regard her as a viable/non-gross romantic opposite for Fassbender. However, this is only a faint off-and-on impression of mine, and might not even be perceptible to other viewers.

2bd61ccd05c8a33a_jane2

VerdictI Think They’re Onto Something. Well, as I said, there will likely never be a perfect version of Jane Eyre, but this film comes close. The main factor holding it back from perfection is its sometimes too quick, too tight plot. A slight loosening of the reins on this project in regards to time and editing would have made this movie all but flawless. So take your pick of films and take a look. Then let me know what you think, about these versions, my reviews or Jane Eyre in general. Thanks for reading!

Power Up

Wind by Rhads on deviantart.com

I was sitting at work today covering the dawn shift for a vacationing coworker. It was an ominously gray day outside, and promised to be a long day inside for me. My hair was scraggly and frizzy, my mind was even scragglier and frizzier (as it always is before 10 in the morning). To make matters worse, there has been less and less free time for me to write at work, as I am being trained to do more and more bureaucratic procedural folderol (the nerve of these people, wanting me to earn my hourly pay), and while it’s all in a day’s work, it hurts, nonetheless, to only be squeezing out a single weekly blog post. It’s clear to me now that today was one of those particular days, a day when I couldn’t have felt less stellar or more ordinary if I tried. It was a day of kryptonite. We’ve all had days like it. There is no preventing them, but there is a way to fight them…by remembering your superpowers.

Think about Superman. Kryptonite didn’t just weaken him physically; it cut him off from his superpowers. That can happen to us too, but unlike Superman we can overcome our weaknesses by simply reminding ourselves of our strengths. So, to overcome a kryptonite day, I first need to ask myself, “What’s my superpower?” Now, nerdy as I am, you know I’m talking figuratively; humans do not have comic book superpowers (though, if we’re going with literal, what-if scenarios, my powers would totally be flight and healing touch). But we do have powers of a different kind; gifts and abilities that have genuine power over life -our lives and the lives of others. My gifts? Well, I have the gift of delight, finding joy in the complex and simple, the large and the small, and, if I’m using my gift right, sharing that delight with others. I also have the gift of creativity and imagination, the power of seeing wonders and excitement in a blank page or canvas, of uncovering treasures in quiet moments of solitude or finding inspiration when out in the world. I have empathy and compassion, determination and hopefulness. These are my superpowers, and they are more than a match for any kryptonite day, if I would just remember them, cling to them and use them instead of allowing grey clouds and the desk-job blues to separate me from what makes me super.

We can’t lead the lives we want all the time. But we all have gifts and we can bring them out anywhere, any time. Then, perhaps, we will come to understand that kryptonite is no more than this lie: ordinary exists and it is in me. I’m here to tell you, we humans have much in common, but there is too much that is unique in detail and combination about each of us for ordinary to be a possibility…unless we let it.

So, what are you going to do about kryptonite days? What is your superpower? The first step is to remember.

Note: the amazing work of art accompanying this post was created by Rhads, and found re-posted on Pinterest from deviantart.com. All credit and praise goes to this amazing artist for one of my favorite pieces of all time. Thank you.

Psych

My word, Reign’s season finale left us with a whole lot to contemplate, fret about and obsess over until Season 3 debuts. As finales go, “Burn” certainly delivered, serving up one KAPOW! after another of shocks and oh-so-quick turnarounds. There is so much to process, so many new questions and, unfortunately, a sad truth to acknowledge (and I’m not even talking about Francis’s looming death). So, without further ado…

“R” is for Reunions (Psych)

As most of us suspected, both Mary’s reunion with Conde and her alleged pregnancy were simply ploys to bide time while Greer’s Dears destroyed Conde’s forces from within. Literally adding injury to insult, Mary stabs her erstwhile lover in the gut (because the heart would be too ironic a spot) and essentially breaks up with him. Apparently trying to usurp the throne is the official “coming on to strong” limit for Mary.

Well, dang. I mean, Conde needed to be stopped, and I’m all for people cleaning up their own messes (and this is undeniably Mary’s mess, folks), but I winced when the dirty deed was done. It was below the belt (no pun intended) like infecting a dog with rabies and then putting him down. Though these actions saved the day, they officially mark Mary as a black widow.

Meanwhile, Kenna and Bash’s blissful reunion had me doing a happy dance, before it was all ruined by Kenna’s dishonesty (two separate pregnancy deceptions in one episode; it must be a season finale!). I still hold out hope for Kennash, but will they learn from their mistakes or will this current separation turn them into the worst versions of their flaws?

“E” is for Executions (Psych), Escape and Elizabeth

Executions are a real downer, so I’m glad Conde and even Delphine managed to escape, though I’ll be glad if we never lay eyes on daffy, devilish Delphine again. Saved your life or not, never rebound with a girl who…there are just so many answers to that fill-in-the-blank, and Delphine checks off at least half of them. Dresses like a nun, but isn’t one. “Feels people’s pain” for a living. Defines your relationship by telling you about your unborn children. *Shudder* Really, Bash.
                                                                                                                                      Unfortunately for Renaud, the execution/escape odds were not in his favor, and after wasting his last minutes giving Kenna a patently obvious warning about Elizabeth being a danger to Mary, the captain was hanged. Aside from trying to deceive Bash about her pregnancy, Kenna’s lowest moment this season was the detached way she watched Renaud’s death. Sure, she reacted to the literal event, but it was a reaction to graphic death, not a reaction to the death of a man she had been this close (you can’t see my thumb and forefinger, but they’re like a half inch apart) to spending the rest of her life with, to say nothing of him being THE FATHER OF HER CHILD. Also, the captain’s execution emphasizes the imbalance of court justice, where Mary commits treason for herself and then for another to alleviate her guilt, and she gets a free pass. Renaud commits treason to save his son, then turns state’s witness and gets a (sort of) expedited death. The scales of blind Justice sure are wonky in France.
                                                                                                                                              Anyhoo, Conde will no doubt return one day at the side of his brother and a handful of Protestant lords to lay siege to the Catholics, but for now, I think we’ve seen the last of him. Delphine is another story, though I wish, wish, wish, this story would be dropped. Weird pagan binding with a crazy lady is hardly my idea of giving Bash something to do.
                                                                                                                                                      One thing’s certain: we have not seen the last of the queen of England. Our first glimpse of a younger, edgier, almost rock star Elizabeth was scintillating, and with Catherine thrown into the mix, we can be sure of explosive results next fall.
                                                                                                                                                      “I” is for It’s Always Been Francis?  (Psych)

I am glad Frary is back, but the whole, “I’ve always loved you, Francis,” bit is a joke. I’m sorry. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maybe I’m too hard to please (I don’t really think I am), but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it would have saved so many lives and some international relations if Mary had known herself better, thought of herself less and held to her vows as a wife and queen. We’re back where we should have been, yes. But how much time, love and life has been wasted? That, in my imaginative mind, was the weary truth in Francis’s eyes as he talked with Nostradamus (!?) There’s no regaining lost time; though there is forgiveness, there is no changing that actions have consequences. Mary’s “always” means nothing stacked up against the host of consequences resulting from her actions.

“G” is for Girl Time (Psych)

I almost, just almost, got teary when I saw our four friends in their old window seat, discussing their futures like they used to. Granted, it was bittersweet, how could it not be? But it was hopeful too, and I can’t help feeling encouraged by it. If only we could have more such moments in the future, but for now, it seems the scattering of Mary and her ladies (Kenna to deepest, darkest Europe and Greer back over the tracks) must continue. Since we’re bending rules and history so much on this show, can’t the writers find a way to see these girls together more often? Is their continued separation the only way to give the season that “Oh, how we’ve grown up,” feeling? Remember, their tight-knit teamwork was one of the things that was so charming about the show to begin with.

“N” is for Nevermore (Psych, please, Psych)

I don’t want to go Poe on you guys, but I fear the Mary we knew is gone and will return nevermore. Marriage, miscarriage, rape, affair –these events have all taken their toll on her, as they would anyone, but Mary’s chosen responses to them have transformed her character, and that is the sad truth we must acknowledge. A whirlwind of emotions –anger, strength, weakness, fear, selfishness, despair, reckless abandon, regret, sadness- have coalesced and hardened like cooling magma over her personality. She is less heartfelt, less believable, less endearing than before. Most of all, she seems smaller, and it’s little wonder. From the get-go, the Queen of Scots has rarely repented of her actions, instead viewing them as understandable, unintentional or inevitable. More often than not, Mary shows no scruples about her choices, instead she gives explanations and regrets that things had to be this way or that. Whether it’s breaking hearts, passing sentences, endangering lives or countries, Mary is ready with a reason, delivered with imploring eyes and an amazing voice that tricks us into thinking what we’re listening to is eloquent, logical and sound. It’s not. The queen’s words haven’t held much weight for some time. Will they ever again, I wonder.

One way or another, Mary’s world is headed for more tragedy. If the past is any indication, adversity will not refine or even develop her character, but disintegrate and reassemble it into something entirely different from what we’ve known. Historically, Mary Queen of Scots wasn’t a particularly shrewd or magnanimous woman. By all accounts and movies (and we all know movies can’t lie), she was naïve, misguided and often single-minded. That is why Reign’s Mary QofS was such a pleasant surprise, with her compassionate spirit and her sparkling, girlish ideals. So, though I see the need for development toward the edgier, more driven Mary who will ultimately wage a cold war against England, I don’t want the writers to destroy the Mary we enjoyed and admired in the first place, replacing her with some Anakin Skywalker descent-into-darkness nonsense (complete with killing younglings!). I hope I’m worrying for nothing. Maybe our talented but fickle writers have some pleasant surprises up their sleeves yet. That is what we must wait to find out in Season 3!

Until then, here are some questions to ponder…

  • Do you think Francis will survive the entire 3rd season? In other words, is his decline to be a gradual arc for the season, with the conclusion being his death and Mary’s return to Scotland? I’ve never thought the show could survive across the Channel, not because Scotland’s not awesome (you totally are, Scotland), but because Mary would either be the only carryover character or, to make it feasible for everyone to go with her (Lola, Kenna, Bash), developments would have to occur that would ruin their storylines. However, it seems impossible to prolong Francis’s life or Mary’s life in France much further, so I’m thinking, at most, one more season of Tony Regbo’s dynamo acting skills is all we can expect (Except fond flashbacks, if we’re lucky; spoilers ahead: also, I’d bet my bonnet that Francis’s ghost will come to beckon Mary to him, Braveheart style, right before she gets executed). So what do you think? Will the show move to Scotland? Will it follow Mary to the bitter end? Can’t we just forget history and pesky facts and make everything turn out hunky dory for everyone?
  • Are Kenna and Bash done for good this time? I doubt it, but I sure hope, if they do get back together, Kenna stops with the self-absorbed deceptions and Bash stops pretending it’s outlandish of Kenna to want a husband who’ll build a life with her. Crazy mixed up kids. Also, is the Kenna pregnancy going to be resolved off screen, or will her baby come into play somehow? Was that boy king just a feint, or a hint that Kenna’s not going to go away and mope, or was it a way for the writers to create Queen Kenna? Or, (gasp!) is Caitlen Staisey leaving the show? I’m afraid that would be the end of my visits to the Reigniverse, as Kennash and Nola were the first elements to draw me to this show in the first place.
  • Is Nola finally going to have its day (and by day, I mean forever)? What lies ahead for these two –promise or persecution, happiness or heartache? Is Narcisse still plotting, or did his dealings with Catherine squash his taste for schemes?
  • Is Catherine’s enmity with Mary permanent? Has she gone off the rails forever, or is there a family reunion in store for the Valois?
  • Many of you might have temporarily forgotten Narcisse’s niece (you remember, Francis’s reckless rebound). Is she a red herring leading nowhere, or will she end up being pregnant by the king? I think it would be an interesting development if Mary ended up raising a child of Francis’s. Your thoughts?

That’s all folks. See you Reign fans next season. Till then, I’ll be here, posting on goodness knows what, valiantly trying to develop a blog identity apart from my Reign griping. Wish me luck!

Fatal Attractions

Weeeeeeeeell…it was not a red letter day in France (Understatement is a pithy literary device, I hear). It’s safe to say conditions at court have reached an all-time low, way lower than Mad King Henry blowing up his own ships or Catherine seeing creepy ghost twins. I sat back and watched as things unraveled left and right, wondering, much like the characters in the show, how, how, how we got here. I gave it a lot of thought as I ignored Kenna kissing Renaud in a ludicrously not-secluded corner. I gave it thought as Mary pulled out one after the other of her “I know you are angry Francis, but…” or “If it means anything, I never meant…” speeches. I gave it thought as Delphine poured wine down her front while having creepy avatar sex with Bash-not-Bash. I gave it thought while Narcisse sat down to a nice, quiet, pre-invasion dinner with Catherine de Medici (Honestly, who would ever eat with that woman in the room? Poisons are her hobby! Killing is practically her job!) and looked a gift horse in his mouth…I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.

It wasn’t until Catherine got the crazy eyes and seized poor Stefan’s face in her suddenly claw-like hands that I realized the answer: fatal attraction brought us to this point. It was that movie all over again, with terrible, terrible “romantic” mistakes leading our characters spiraling into dangerous, insane, whacked-out situations. When will these people learn that if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned? If you throw the boomerang, it’s going to come back and knock you on the noggin. If you scratch an itch with a razor, you’re going to cut yourself deeply. If you…Well you get the idea. On to our acronym!

“R” is for Regicide Reality Check

Here’s an overriding flaw of the “Mary’s life is in danger” plot. Reign asks us to believe that Elizabeth is openly gunning for Mary Stewart. The historical truth is that Mary was often the aggressor against her Protestant cousin and her kingdom, and even then, Elizabeth hated the idea of putting a fellow-queen to death, as this would undermine her own divine right and security as a female sovereign. (Spoilers ahead for viewers who don’t know the true story of Mary Queen of Scots) It was only after proven cases of Mary being complicit in plots to assassinate the English queen (while Mary was on English soil), that Elizabeth reluctantly (and with a lot of belated take-backsies) consented to her execution. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to pretend this show was completely original, with no ties to history. The writers apparently do, so maybe I need to except these historical adjustments and move on. The thing is, such adjustments don’t just skew history but also reasonable behaviors and causes and effects.

“E” is for Equine Eating

I consider myself an intuitive person, with a fair amount of plot foresight (I can tell you with 98% certainty that Sansa Stark is going to make it through Game of Thrones alive.), but I never saw that horse steak coming. I was as shocked as Narcisse and felt it was an all-time chilling low for Catherine “Corleone” Medici, but it was a powerful scene that quickly did the DTR on this previously puzzling pair. I no longer feel as much remorse for Narcisse’s plots against Catherine and her family, but still there is something about our toxically cunning queen that stirs pity in me. Nevertheless, she set the terms for their dealings. Apparently, even horse play is fair play (Last one, I promise; it’s how I process horror). Catherine had better watch her step and her food. Fatal attraction. BAM!

 “I” is for Isolated

And each one of our Scotswomen is. Mary is in an isolation of her own making, cut off by political blunders, failed relationships and grief. Greer is isolated because of exile and her lifestyle. Because of her conflicting ties to several romantic pairs at court, Lola seems equally removed from everyone. Meanwhile, Kenna’s isolation is self-absorption, as she goes about the castle trying to define her happiness. Each woman is arguably more “independent” than she’s ever been, but, is it just me or is it feeling lonely around here? I miss when these girls were a tight-knit group of friends, individual but relying on each other. Now, they almost seem like strangers.

“G” is for Guardians and Ghouls

The Greer/Leith debacle may or may not be over for good (I was snorting cynically when Greer seemed surprised Leith had been avoiding her. Then she leaned in for a “here’s one last whiff of my hair for you to think about,” and I think I actually growled.), but at least it has afforded us the opportunity to see the development of the Leith and Claude angle. As I’ve said before, I don’t know if romantic attachment is what I’m looking for from these two, but Leith brings out the best in Claude, and their interactions are always interesting. And what about that scary face Claude saw in the passage? I didn’t get a good look at whatever it was (Clarissa 2, Nostradamus returned to defeat the cray-cray Delphine, a passage-dwelling spy for Elizabeth, the Phantom of the Opera?), but it has me fascinated and concerned. What was it? Tell me Claude’s not going crazy; we’ve had too many Valoises doing that, and that poisoned Bible is long gone. Anyhoo, I find myself liking Clauth (friends or couple) more and more. We’ll see.

“N” is for No He Didn’t!

Conde was never my favorite, though I saw his good points. But he’s jumped the shark. Forget all the pompous sass talk to Francis and simultaneously planning to marry two queens. It was the severed head in his saddlebag that did it. Now we’re officially done-zo. I’ll always remember him fondly, before the writers possessed him and made him a mindless, Mary-messing, megalomaniac. Granted, he’s frequently been burned by the Valois family (Mary-in-law definitely and primarily included). But he’s just gone leaps and bounds past the point of no return, no longer recognizable as that loyal, kindly character from the beginning of the season. Fatal attraction strikes again! Goodbye Conde.

So what do you think about all of this? I thought this was a good episode, except for Kenna and Bash insipidly acting like they never loved each other (At the beginning of this season, people, Bash was kicking down doors to save Kenna from the plague). C’mon.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What or who do think Claude saw in the tunnels? Will she and Leith become an item, or do you still hold out hope for Greith?
  2. Is Mary really pregnant? I’m calling bluff on that one, and although I can see she has some bold master plan to make amends for all her mess, and though Conde and I are officially done-zo, this fake pregnancy is a raw deception. All’s fair in love and war I guess? Your thoughts?
  3. How is Narcisse going to escape the clutches of Crazy Cat?
  4. How long will it take Bash to discover that Delphine is not only morally ambiguous like him, but absolutely creepy? Who else thought Delphine lied and truly saw that Bash and Kenna would be together? When will Kennash realize how idiotic they’ve been?

There is lots to think about for our season finale tonight! Here’s hoping it’s a good one and that at least a few of these questions are answered favorably. Thanks for reading!

“Audio-book or Audio-bunk?” or “The Cup and the Vine”

Well folks, it’s been too long. I’m sorry for the dry spell, but between work, a weekend surprise party for my octogenarian granny and a midnight kafuffle with my would-be blog post (complete with a crashing browser and me sobbing into my pillow in despair. I had been seconds away from pushing “post,” you guys. Seconds!) I’m shamefully behind. Here’s hoping you haven’t given up on me, because, at last, I have collected myself and what I could of my lost post and am returned to you today to present it as a testament of my resolution to do better. It is not, as you might have expected, about the latest episodes of Reign or OUAT. Like I said, I’m behind. In a day or so, I will, fingers crossed, do my usual show posts and, belated as they’ll be, I hope you’ll still enjoy them, but no hard feelings if not. Anyway, moving on to the actual order of the day…the lost post.


read

[reed]

verb (used with object)

1.   to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book; to read music.

  1. to utter aloud or render in speech (something written, printed, etc.): reading a story to his children; The actor read his lines in a booming voice.

(dictionary.com)

To prosaically paraphrase Emily Dickinson’s lovely words, there is nothing like a good book to take us far away, to rejuvenate our spirits and simultaneously rest and stir our minds with an out-of-body experience that has no equal. Nope, there is nothing like a good book…unless it’s a good audio-book. For there is nothing like an audio-book to rescue us from a mind-numbing traffic jam, the mental aimlessness of a never-ending commute or to turn a day of spring cleaning into a day of spring reading.

However, many of our literary brethren –perhaps you included- have long been skeptical about the legitimacy of the audio-book as a medium for reading. I certainly once was. Some readers have even questioned the dedication of those who choose audio-books as their primary exposure to literature; some extremists go so far as to deny book listeners the honorable title of reader. Goodness, but we bibliophiles can be snobby purists sometimes.

Take it from someone who has given it years of thought. Audio-books are books, and if you’ve listened to one, you’ve read the book. That being said, I’m here to tell you (in nah-duh fashion) that reading a book with your eyes and hearing it read with your ears are two different experiences. Each version of reading offers its own gifts, and if you choose the audio-book you are gaining something unique, but you are forfeiting something unique also, and it’s important to know what and why.

That’s what I want to talk about in today’s post: the different journeys of book and audio-book. And since (like certain newly-encountered aliens in an episode of Star Trek Next Generation) I basically speak in analogy and metaphor, I am going to illustrate my points in kind. Hold on to your hats folks. My first analogy: The Minstrel and the Mind Reader.

In olden times minstrels traveled to courts and castles, performing epic tales and poems to music. Through their music and voices, stories were brought to life and passed on. The narrator of the audio-book, like a minstrel, says, “The story is to be found in my voice.” Since books have been put into print and ordinary men and women have been able to get their hands on them, another form of tale-telling has taken shape -the mind reader, a person who can look at a page and see exactly what the story is thinking (I’m fairly certain I’m pick pocketing this general idea from Stephen King, but if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the greats). The mind reader, you, says, “The story is to be found inside of me, unlocked by the words on the page.” Each version of reading has a different storyteller. One is you, the other is not; both perform the same essential task, but the effects are vastly different.

For better or for worse, in an audio-book the narrator’s voice intrudes on our own storytelling process, replacing our inner voice with a host of characterized voices, making definitive choices about inflection, tone and speed and carrying us onward when we might otherwise have lingered. These choices define our experience with a book; we commune as much with the narrator as with the book itself. In the right hands (or voice, as it were), the experience can be transcendent, for some people truly are born storytellers. But in all cases something special is taken from us –the journey of our minds gleaning strands of words from the page and building worlds from them, using our own inner voices, meditating on passages, exploring the writing style. It is a true gift, establishing your own relationship with a book, one that shouldn’t be traded lightly.

If I’m being too existential or you think I’m spouting hogwash (always feel free to comment on my post!), just bear with me. It’s time for my second analogy (cue lightning flash, thunder clap and ominous music). I call it The Cup and the Vine.

To me, the difference between listening to an audio-book and reading a bound book is like the difference between drinking wine or juice from a cup and eating fruit just picked from the vine. I would defy anyone to say that the person drinking from the cup isn’t tasting the fruit, but it is fruit that has been distilled, blended with other flavors and contained. Conversely, when you eat fruit fresh from the vine, you are tasting something in its purest form, with flavors and textures that are wilder, individual, more of a challenge to our senses and digestion. Drinking the wine will give you the essence of the fruit and (when done right) a rich, blended experience of flavors, but should or can it ever replace the fruit of the vine?

My recommendation? Before choosing an audio-book, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is the audio-book well done? Is the narrator worthy to be my storyteller?
  2. Will I lose something by not reading this book with my own eyes?

I recently listened to “The Amulet of Samarkand” by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Simon Jones. It was my first experience with the book and I must say, I am not sorry I listened to the audio-book first. Jones is a gifted storyteller, bringing the characters and story to life with his humorous and nuanced reading and capturing Stroud’s tone and style perfectly. Though I may never know for sure, I feel confident in saying I made the best choice and received the richest delight from this version of reading this particular book. And that is all we readers can do, try to make the best choices and give each opportunity of reading its best shot.

Not long after the Stroud/James triumph, I began listening to “Christy” by Catherine Marshall, narrated by Kellie Martin (the actress who played Christy in the 1990’s mini-series). When I first started the audio-book, I was disappointed in the narration. Martin’s reading of the characters, especially at the beginning of the book, lacks depth, and sometimes her voice intrudes on the story, with unusual pronunciations and enunciation, stops and starts and inflections that show a degree of uneasiness with the material. Nevertheless, for reading descriptive passages or capturing the youthfulness of Christy’s personality, Martin can be spot on, and despite her mistakes, she never waivers in her enthusiasm and improves as time goes one. Overall, she is a good narrator, and I enjoyed the audio-book. That being said, this was not my first or even second time reading “Christy,” and I have to say I would not trade those first experiences with the bound book. For those who don’t know, “Christy” is a semi-fictionalized  account of the author’s mother’s time as a teacher in an impoverished region of the Appalachians (Always, always pronounce the third “a” short like in “apple” and never with a long “A,” or you’ll give yourself away as not knowing much about the region.) in the early 1900’s. It is a beautiful story, poignant, pungent (you’ll see), gritty and graceful. I would not trade my experience reading those open, eloquent words with my eyes, getting to know those characters and hearing their voices in my mind. I would not trade the visions of Cutter Gap rising up from the sentences on the page and taking shape in my thoughts or the moments of reflection where I savored the feelings (the sadness, the whimsy, the hope) of a passage, relished the tones and flavors generated by no one but the author and my own mind. Nor would I trade the voice of Christy in my head, a truly special, clear voice that can’t easily be captured and is always evolving in me. Please, read “Christy” in book form before you read it in audio-book form. It is a treasured experience, and it represents the point I’m trying to make. Audio-books can enhance our love of a book, but for the finest works of literature, let your first taste be of them in their freshest form. After that, by all means, sit at the fireside of the minstrel, and relish the richness of your story being blended with a timeless tradition.

One final caution. At its heart, the audio-book is a form of multi-tasking, a distraction from wherever we are by a story. This means that at any given time, we are only giving, at best, ¾ of our attention to the book (less than that when driving, I hope). That means we are missing out on ¼ of the words, ¼ of the sensations, ¼ of the gifts that a work of literature has to offer. It’s important to take that into account.

Here’s the bottom line: if it comes down to a choice between reading a book or not reading it, tasting the fruit or not tasting it, do what must be done. Listen to that audio-book and count yourself blessed that we have such a gift so readily at our fingertips. But if you truly love the written word, make time to pluck the fruit straight from the vine. Allow yourself the chance to get lost in the pages, to savor the words, not just the story they create, but the miracle they work in your mind the minute you lift them from the page. Experience the flavors of your own imagination, voices, tones, meditations. Become your own storyteller.

Above all, be a reader. Let the story be your destination. The route you take is up to you, but make the most of it. It has often been said, but is no less true, that the journey is just as beautiful and significant as the destination.

Well friends, I’ve gone on a proper rant this time, taking my topic and running for the hills with it. Let me know your thoughts and opinions on books vs. audio-books, and stay tuned for my next posts. Finally, allow me to leave you with a little paraphrase of Hamlet’s soliloquy, tailored to fit today’s subject. Be gracious. After all, we can’t all be Shakespeare.

To read or not to read, that is the question—

Whether ‘tis Nobler in the car to suffer

The Drag and Waste of outrageous Commute,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of traffic,

And by audio, abjure them? To linger, to languish—

No more; and by our ears, to say we end

The Bookache and the thousand Liter’y delays

That Reader’s heir to? ‘Tis an invocation

Devoutly to be wished. To listen, to hear,

To hear, perchance to See; Aye, there’s the rub,

For in that sight of ear, what might be lost,

When we have given up our paper coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes Calamity of long booklists:

For who would bear the Whips of dwindled time,

The Filmmaker’s wrong, the proud man’s Library,

The pangs of unturned Pages, the Reading Break’s delay,

The insolence of SparkNotes, and the Summaries

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his Scheherazade make

With a play Button? Who would these Trials bear,

To wait and molder in a bookless life,

But that the fear of something left unread,

An undiscovered Journey, of whose truth

The Listener despairs, Puzzles the will,

And makes us rather wait those books we have,

Than distill by ear those we know not of.

Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,

And thus the eager Ear of Revolution

Is sicklied o’er, with the pale guilt of Sloth,

And adventures of great words and promise,

With this regard their sightless Pages turn awry,

And lose the name of Reading.