Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Fantastic Fables in Fantasy

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 7, 2012

It is a well-known fact that the science of 17th and 18th centuries emerged from the dark shadows of alchemy, witchcraft and superstitions of the Middle Ages. Men endowed with a sense of ambition, curiosity, courage and dedication were responsible for this. The inherent power of the new knowledge and the limited means of disseminating it endowed these men of science with an aura of mystery, fear, awe and respect. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s protagonists in the stories “Rappacini’s Daughter”, “The Artist of the Beautiful”, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” and “Birthmark” belong to this category of men. The common thread that unites them is a strong desire to rectify what they see as “imperfections in nature” and in doing so, wittingly or unwittingly, attempt to transcend the very nature which they are trying to rectify.

However, these journeys of transcendence have serious implications and lead them to outcomes that are at once irrevocable, diverse, personally affecting, telling in the ways of their world and wrought with deep moral significance. The potential consequences of their journeys are not lost on the protagonists in the stories. But the inherent belief in the power of science and their own sense of mastery and control appear to give them confidence to proceed with their intended actions and face the associated consequences. Hawthorne uses these stories to elaborate on some deep themes like desire for immortality, the quest for perfection, the ideal reward for highest quality work and the consequences of an intense and almost spiritual association with science.

Besides some great storytelling, well imagined plots and narrative brilliance, the depth of these stories also rests largely in the moral issues that form the nucleus around which they are built. The stories also make place for some arresting philosophical insights that are memorable.

I am a little surprised and mightily disappointed for having ignored reading the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. By the turn of this year, I plan to complete two of his most well-known novels “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of Seven Gables” and probably all of his short stories

(I read these stories as part of an online course on science fiction I am currently pursuing at http://www.coursera.org and this brief essay is part of my assignment submission)

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