Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 7, 2016

chatwinI came to most of the writers and books I know now through recommendations of better read folks and book reviews in various magazines and newspapers (NYTimes, NewYorker, Paris Review, The Hindu etc). The joy of discovering writers this way is an inherently inferior one. The question is: it is inferior to what? I think it is inferior to the joy of discovering a writer and his work completely unaided, out of blue and when one is not looking for. I have discovered Bruce Chatwin and his writing the latter way – At a second hand book shop in London, one of the numerous Oxfam shops that dot whole of UK to be precise. Standing side by side were three of his books – “What Am I Doing Here”, “The Songlines” and “The Viceroy of Ouidah”. Although I have heard his name before, I had no faintest of ideas as to who he was and what his writing covered. As is my habit, I flipped a few pages of his”What Am I Doing Here” and  the first two essays did me in. Doing me in was an understatement. I was in thrall. Bought all the three. The whole of the following few days I feasted on words: Brilliant essays and some astonishingly high quality travel writing  Eventually I came to his best work and a classic in travel writing “In Patagonia”. I read and re-read his books regularly with a joy that remains undiminished till today and I am certain even in future. Mine was the luck of a habitual second hand book shop frequenter.

Reading ought to be the function of access and serendipity. Without well stocked libraries which are accessible to public how are we going to make this priceless joy of reading and discovering good writing possible? This has to be a job of Govt. No private institution can take this role

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Ennui: Read but not reviewed

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on January 31, 2016


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The Collected Stories of Isaac Asimov – Volume I

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 30, 2013

asimov“In an infinite number of worlds, anything can happen….. Everything must happen – from the story “Living Space

It took time for me to realize that like how travel writing is not just about travel, science fiction is also not just about science. If science fiction is only about science and travel writing only about travel, then well written science text books and travel guides (although both potentially very interesting) would joust with writing in both genres of fiction. Even while there is a substantial reference to science in science fiction, most of the times the genre is intensely focused on humans, especially: on our nature, condition, concerns, predicament, failures and challenges.

Very often, the diverse settings in science fiction (inter planetary travel, human like robots, time travel, all-knowing and powerful computers, aliens, lonely planets, distant stars, vast galaxies, time-bending, hyper space (do not yet know what that means though )) act as a form of isolating backdrops – a necessary fictional artifice created by the author –  against which the core human concerns can be portrayed with sharper relief and greater clarity.  I have seen this in the writings of Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin. Bradbury’s masterpiece “The Martian Chronicles” is less about mars and martians, instead, it is about the nature, psyche and mindset of colonization and the consequences thereof. Bradbury uses the untrammeled lands of mars and the insinuated annihilation of martians (he never mentions it explicitly) by humans as a backdrop against which to examine the nature of colonization.  Similarly, Le Guin’s “The Left Hand Of Darkness” is about the journey of discovery of “otherness” in human sexuality: the male-female dichotomy and the need for empathy. It is this same aspect that I have experienced once again in volume 1 of collected short stories of Isaac Asimov – 24 brilliant stories with ingenious plots, capacious imagination, superb inventiveness, absorbing narrative power all culminating in a delightful reading experience. A few stories were so good that I read them twice over in a single stretch.

I have come to Asimov very late in my reading life with an impulsive self-introduction to his “The Foundation Series” to realize his greatness as a writer and his deserving cult stature among lovers of science fiction. Asimov’s exploration of the “nature of power” and how it drives a society (on earth or elsewhere in the intergalactic vastness) is thought provoking and fascinating.

In the collection of short stories that are currently under consideration, the concerns that get addressed are so diverse and yet so relevant to us that one cannot but marvel at Asimov’s range and richness of imagination. His treatment of the subject of man’s invention that enable him see his past and how it destroys individual privacy in the story “The Dead Past” and linking it to what is an ever ongoing debate on the extent of governmental control of research makes for a thought provoking plot yet a joyous and absorbing read. In the story “Kid Stuff” an elf makes way to the house of a fantasy writer and takes complete control of his and his wife’s mind with the intention of using them to rebuild the lost glory of elfdom which is attributed to the advent and evolution of humans. The elf’s thrall on the writer is broken when he is squatted to death by the writer’s son who does not believe in the existence of elves and fairies. The disbelief is embedded into the child due to the rationality induced on account of the progress of science and technology. And the writer who is hitherto a little embarrassed about embracing the genre for a living regains the forgotten pride but concludes with an insightful observation:

Modern fantasies are very sophisticated and mature treatments of folk motifs. Behind the façade of glib unreality there frequently lie trenchant comments on the world of today. Fantasy in modern style is, above all, adult stuff

I especially loved this story for its inventive quality of the plot . In the lively story “Living Space”, Asimov explores a distant future in which there is overpopulation, the age-old notions of private property; inter galactic settlements and problems thereof. Even while making an interesting story out of it Asimov also throws light on human mindset towards property and ownership attitudes:

“When probability patterns had first been put to use, sole ownership of a planet had been powerful inducement for early settlers. It appealed to the snob and despot in every one. What man so poor, ran the slogan, as not to have an empire larger than Ghengis Khan’s? To introduce multiple settling now would outrage everyone.

In the story, “Jokester”, a Grand Master explores the origin of jokes and humour with the help of an omniscient computer and the conclusions he and his immediate team end up with leave them with dismay and mild horror. In the story “Franchise”, Asimov paints a mildly disturbing picture of the state of democracy when the citizens of USA give away their independence of franchise to an omniscient computer. In the story “Spell my name with an S” two supra beings (we do not know if they are Gods) decide to play with the career prospects of a Russian immigrant physicist in the US unknowing to their supervisor and take bets. By forcing him to approach a numerologist (in whom the physicist does not believe) and take his advice to change the first letter in his name (from Zebatsinsky to Sebatsinsky), they set about a chain of incidents which improve the physicist’s career prospects. The physicist is thrilled at his changed prospects but the supra beings are worried that what they have acted beyond their official remit and hence start to reverse the changes unknowing to the physicist. The beauty of this story lies in the way Asimov builds a chain of credible events across cold-war US and USSR that end up altering the future of the physicist. In the story, “They had fun” Asimov creates a world of nostalgia in which humans have forgotten conventional ways of learning and schools remain schools no more. In “All the troubles of the world”, a super computer develops a refined sense of intuition and man puts so much burden on it to run the affairs of the world that the computer expresses a desire to die. In a really fine story “The Last Question”, Asimov paints a world in which humans have achieved immortality, cracked the twin problems of harnessing energy from stars and intergalactic travel. However, now they face the problem of growing entropy of the universe and running out of energy sources. The sources of energy in the universe are dying out. Humans hand over the problem of reversing entropy to a super intelligent and omniscient computer which cracks the problem but by that time mankind becomes extinct. All that is left is the computer and the vast universe with energy restored. I kept thinking about what attracted me to this story and realized that through some seemingly simple wordplay, Asimov creates an illusory understanding of not only the vastness of the universe but also a sense of inestimable eons

An appealing aspect of almost all of the stories in the collection is a scintillating quality of intellect that pervades through them. Asimov writes with a deep sense of erudition and ensures that there is not a dull moment in any of the stories. In addition, there is a great sense of tongue-in-cheek humour which enlivens our reading experience. However, if there is a singular and stand-out quality to these short stories it is their parable like nature where Asimov, without being preachy, is constantly cautioning us of the consequences when science and technology run ahead of humans and how it creates challenges to the very essence of human nature

A marvelous read and a great way to close my reading endeavours in 2013. I now look forward to reading the second volume of his collected stories which I expect will be a great way to commence my reading endeavours for 2014

Welcome 2014 !!

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Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 28, 2013

Levels of LifeLevels of LifeJulian Barnes’s latest book is a slim and strange one for its ability to knit together coherently three disparate and seemingly unrelated topics viz. ballooning and aerial photography, an un-requited love story and a deep sense of grief on the death of a beloved one. True to its title, Barnes takes the readers through three different levels of life viz. First, “The Sin of Height”: which provides a wonderful history of the rise and romance of ballooning and aerial photography on both sides of the English Channel (a life up in air). Second, “On the Level”: an unrequited love story between Colonel Fred Burnaby and French actress Sarah Bernhardt drawn together by mutual attraction and common passion for the adventure of ballooning ( a life firmly rooted on earth). Third, which is the pièce de résistance in the book is “The Loss of Depth”, a majestic reminiscence on the nature of grief (something that emanates with in us after burying our dear ones six feet deep in the ground).

It is in the last part of the book that Barnes really shows what a good contemporary writer he is. Five years back, Barnes’s wife Pat Kavanagh, to whom he was married for nearly three decades died. It is in the sustained experience of grief for over half a decade that Barnes also examines the general nature of grief. Barnes begins his examination with the assertion that “Grief, like death, is banal and unique”. Yet what we get to witness in his writing till the end is a deeply meditative and multi-dimensional exploration of various aspects of this so called subject of banality. The felt grief is personal, yet, Barnes manages to abstract his observations on the workings and mechanics of grief to a level of elevation that it starts to become a human universal. Barnes draws heavily metaphors from the first two parts of the book and that is when we start to understand relevance of those two parts in a clearer light. In doing so Barnes also emphasizes on the weight of grief on an individual and how it internalizes itself till the last day of his life. It appears that Barnes had a premonition about the grief-state he would enter in his future. He quotes from his own writing on the state of widowhood which dates back to three decades:

When she dies, you are not first surprised. Part of love is preparing for death. You feel confirmed in your love when she dies. You got it right. This is part of it all

Afterwards comes the madness. And then the loneliness: not the spectacular solitude you had anticipated, not the interesting martyrdom of widowhood, but just loneliness. You expect something almost geological – vertigo in a shelving canyon – but it’s not like that; it’s just misery as regular as a job….. [People say] you’ll come out of it….. And you do come out of it, that’s true. But you don’t come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the Downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil slick; you are tarred and feathered for life

A wonderfully lucid yet accurate portrayal!

Literature may not be life-giving in first place but it definitely ought to be life-sustaining and life-affirming through accurate illumination of diverse aspects of human condition. That should be the aim of any good literary effort. Julian Barnes’s “Levels of Life” hits the bull’s eye when it comes to this aspect of literature.

Overall, a splendid and memorable read

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Studs Terkel: Will the Circle be Unbroken? Reflections on Life, Death and a Hunger for a Faith

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 22, 2013

Will the circle be unbroken“Death can’t be talked down, or parlayed into anything; it simply declines to come to the negotiating table. It doesn’t have to pretend to be Vengeful or Merciful, or even Infinitely Merciless. It is impervious to insult, complaint or condescension. “Death is not an artist”: no, and would never claim to be one. Artists are unreliable; whereas death never lets you down, remains on call seven days a week, and is happy to work three consecutive eight-hour shifts. You would buy shares in death, if they were available; you would bet on it, however poor the odd” – Julian Barnes in Nothing To Be Frightened Of

These days I very often think of death and dying. My own ageing and the brushes with death of known people around me takes me to this subject very frequently. Thankfully at this stage I am not terrified of it. Increasingly, I see entire humanity (and myself included in it) as a teeming and yet another biological species in this petri-dish called Earth. And like all other species we have our natural life-cycles divided between living and dying. Sometimes I think we make too little of living and too much of dying. While the subjects of Religion, biology, medicine and philosophy touch upon the subject of death in different ways, I am not sure if they have provided any conclusive and comforting answers. My own approach is not to think and worry about it too much. All I wish is that I be granted a pain free and peaceful death. In a way that is a constant prayer I have these days. In the recent past, along with this wish to have a calm passage, I have also developed immense curiosity towards what others feel about death. I would like to know and understand how others see death and how do they reconcile themselves to it.

In literature I have come across very few books that have exclusive focus on death and dying. As an adolescent I remember reading Tolstoy’s “Kruetzer’s Sonata” where the predicament of a man on his deathbed is described brilliantly. Tolstoy left me with a stunning impression as if he has had a special acquaintance with death. Similarly, Julian Barnes’s “The Lemon Table” and ‘Nothing to be Frightened Of” are two other books that have had an exclusive focus on death and dying. Contrary to my expectations, the latter two were joyous reads so much so that I have included them in my list of books for re-reading. However, nothing prepared me for the wonderful experience I have had while reading Studs Terkel’sWill The Circle Be Unbroken – Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith” – a collection of 62 straight talking and bone honest conversations by men and women from all walks of life who tell what they feel about death and living in a manner that is deep and moving

I have known the writings of Terkel for over a decade now and through him I have understood the power, importance and beauty of oral histories. His books on the experiences of Great Depression (The Hard Times), Feelings about nature of work (Working) and II world war (The Good War) and on singers and singing (And They All Sang – Adventures of a Disc Jockey) have been my all time favourites. To that list I now add his “Will The Circle Be Unbroken…” What makes the book a memorable reading experience is Terkel’s ability to bring out the most honest and fearless thoughts of men and women on death. Through these conversations one gets to see the grandeur of being human, the nature of the fear of unknown, resigned indifference,  raging frustration, philosophical equanimity, a bubbling pride, concrete practicality and some rib tickling pettiness. There is much in this book that is very reassuring, comforting, practical and elevating. Some of the views expressed are closer to the one I have and some I have never thought through but can pretty well may own and imbibe in time to come

If there is one thought in the book that is very close to my own thoughts on death and dying it is by one Peggy Terry – a passionate civil rights activist from Chicago

I’m not sure what happens to us when we die. But why should we be so concerned about it? Think of it as a flower, or a tree that dies and adds its whatever, vitality, to the earth. Flowers die every year, Trees die. All living things die. So why are we so much more than the animals of the Earth, or the foliage, or any of it? I don’t know why we should all be so afraid of it. It’s a nuisance knowing you won’t be here anymore. The one thing I hate about thinking about dying is I won’t be able to read. If I could take books with me, I wouldn’t care  

Yes, even I would not worry about death if I could take books along with me

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Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 19, 2013

Ethan FromeIn an article titled “Some Notes on the Novella” written for The New Yorker, author Ian McEwan has the following to say about the art form of novella:

 “I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers. Readers come to Thomas Mann by way of “Death in Venice,” Henry James by “The Turn of the Screw,” Kafka by “Metamorphosis,” Joseph Conrad by “Heart of Darkness,” Albert Camus by L’Etranger.” I could go on: Voltaire, Tolstoy, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn. And Orwell, Steinbeck, Pynchon. And Melville, Lawrence, Munro. The tradition is long and glorious”

 It is this article that led me to Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome

Set in the imaginary village of Starkfield in the state of Massachusetts and told as a third person narrative, Ethan Frome is the constantly indigent and eponymous hero of the novella who is caught between his querulous sick wife Zenobia and her orphan and helpless destitute cousin Mattie Silver who comes to Ethan’s house to support Zenobia. In Mattie’s attraction and love for him, Ethan sees a way out of his drudgery and cheerless dull life. However, marital jealousy makes Zenobia insist that Mattie leave the farm of Ethan. It is on this journey to the railway station that Ethan and Mattie, in a desperate, reckless and suicidal moment of abandon meet with a serious accident which forces Mattie to revert to the farm with life scarring injuries. There is a strange role reversal where Zenobia becomes the nurse and Mattie the nursed. Thrown together and nowhere to go, the three end up in a sad reclusive life shunning any public contact. The poignancy of the lives is hard to digest. This is brilliantly articulated by Mrs. Hale, the landlady of the narrator when she says:

 “….There was one day, about a week after the accident, when they all thought Mattie couldn’t live. Well, I say it is a pity she did…… And I say, if she’d ha’ died, Ethan might ha’ lived: and the way they are now, I don’t see’s there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; ‘cept that down there they’re all quiet and the women have go to hold their tongues”

 What makes this novella a memorable read is Wharton’s ability to capture the stark bleakness of the Massachusetts weather and the despair and emptiness of the lives of the characters against this backdrop. It is full of pathos and moving. Wharton gets under the skin of her characters and captures every small nuance with a command and clarity that is brilliant and impressive. This is more so because Wharton comes from a well to do and prosperous background where exposure to such life situations is rare and the associated sensitivities to depict them rarer still. Julian Barnes in an interview given to Paris Review magazine has the following to say about depicting opposite sex:

 Writers of either gender ought to be able to do the opposite sex—that’s one basic test of competence, after all. Russian male writers—think of Turgenev, Chekhov—seem exceptionally good at women

This competence is amply evident in Wharton’s writing. What really impressed me while reading the book was Wharton’s ability to see things from a male perspective. The dreariness of a hopeless life and the longing for escape to something more joyful and fulfilling is the desperate need of the male protagonist and Wharton captures this wonderfully well despite being a female writer

Overall, a fantastic reading experience

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The Left of Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 2, 2012

Shorn of its impressive atmospherics and exotic locales of Planet Winter, Le Guin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, is at its core, a brilliant portrayal of two intertwined journeys of exploration, discovery and personal transformation. While the protagonist Ai’s official mission of expanding the interplanetary solidarity by enabling Gethenian civilizations join the Ekumen is one journey, the discovery of the meaning of “otherness” in Gethenians and bridging that gap through compassionate understanding is his other journey. One is physical and temporal and the other is emotional and inward looking.

The “otherness” of Gethenians lies predominantly in their self-contained sexuality making them incomprehensible and puzzling in initial encounters. However, the journey of Ai across the harsh wintry landscape with Estraven gives him an opportunity to enlarge his understanding and break free from his existing impressions. This leads him to alternative worldviews like wholeness and duality of a being with respect to sex and provides him with an opportunity to reassess his views on male-female dichotomy of his world and an acceptance of the way things are around him. On the other hand, the emissarial journey to expand the membership of Ekumen leads Ai into some fundamental questions around the natures of nation-state, competitive politics, patriotism, psychological basis of life and death and most important of all, the complex and multi-faceted feature of shifgrethor which determines the basis for social authority in all civilizations of Gethen. With these powerful and profound portrayals of alternative viewpoints, Le Guin elevates the quality of our reading experience.

Bruce Chatwin in his classic ‘The Songlines’ (paraphrasing Muhammad) said that ‘a journey is a fragment of hell’ and Martin Buber, the famous philosopher opined that ‘all journeys have secret destinations of which a traveler is unaware.’ This is true of both journeys of Ai and in the process it is also true vicariously for all the readers of ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’

To that inevitable question: Are Ai’s efforts and hardships worth the trouble? Le Guin’s heartening response is:

 ‘It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’

 In this reassuring wisdom lies the joy of this thought provoking and wonderful book

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The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 2, 2012

Colonization is a form of aggression whose progress is neither smooth nor easy. It is phased, motivated, dehumanizing, brutal and involves loss of life on both sides i.e. the colonizer and the colonized. In ‘The Martian Chronicles’, Bradbury takes a complex, dystopian and fictional theme of interplanetary colonization and uses it as a platform for a thought provoking and deeply moving exploration of some fundamentally troubling human attitudes, behaviours and their consequences. The motive for migration to Mars resides in human desire to find a safe haven from wars, censorship and control prevalent on Earth. And once this safe haven is secured, the same negative attitudes of greed, plunder, aggression and exploitation which make life untenable on Earth start to reappear.

Behind some great and moving story-telling, Bradbury explores the complete character of colonization: Initial aggression and ensuing resistance, rapacious homesteading followed by a mass retreat. And all these phases of colonization give birth to discontents idiosyncratic to them and the sympathetic exploration of the same elevates Martian Chronicles from beyond the ordinary into realms of extra-ordinary. Aggression, greed, insecurity, loneliness, fear, nostalgia, desire for ideal and a sense of loss are all explored with an unparalleled mastery. Although loosely concatenated, the stories in the book when read in their chronological order, march towards a powerful epiphany of sorts. The effect is akin to a beautiful painting coming to life with the unexplainable and random brushstrokes of an artist at work.

Bradbury draws strongly from real historical precedents when he makes Spender in the story ‘And The Moon Be Still As Bright” say:

“Do you remember what happened to Mexico when Cortez and his very fine good friends arrived from Spain? A whole civilization destroyed by greedy, righteous bigots….”

Undoubtedly, the book is a product of its times and Bradbury largely lays the responsibility for the deteriorating state of human condition at the door-steps of Western World especially America:

“Anything that’s strange is no good to the average American. If it doesn’t have Chicago plumbing, it’s nonsense…..isn’t it enough they have ruined one planet, without ruining another; do they have to foul someone else’s manger?”

And this frustrating sentiment is also echoed by Bradbury in the final story “The Million Year Picnic” when William says:

“I am burning a way of life, just like the way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now…… Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing the machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed the Earth. That’s what the silent radio means. That’s what we ran away from……But that way of life proved itself wrong and strangled itself with its own hands.”

And if our collective history to current day run up is any reliable indicator, then Bradbury’s assertions appear to have hit the bull’s eye. It is in holding a mirror which reflects with frightening clarity the degree of our deterioration lies not only the true merit of Bradbury as a writer but the enduring quality of his writing.

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HerLand – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 12, 2012

Appreciation of any form of literature involves a degree of suspension of disbelief on part of the reader. And one of the unique problems of literature dealing with utopian themes is the challenge it poses to this ability of the reader to suspend disbelief. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s HerLand, despite its numerous merits, is no exception to this. The profusion of picture perfectness in the themes, settings, characters, outlooks and ideas that populate HerLand partially dents the credibility of this otherwise well written and deeply thought provoking book. Notwithstanding that, the most noteworthy aspect of Herland resides in its ability to offer an alternative worldview which is in parts inspirational and aspirational. Therefore, one ought to approach HerLand with a full awareness of its pitfalls and a maturity to choose what is practically aspirational.

With our growing understanding of the earth’s ecology, one can say with reasonable confidence that Herland would have been an ecological disaster for its agricultural practices. Similar is the case with population control where Gilman glosses over the issue of power equations in societies and the inherent scope for mischief and abuse in practicing negative eugenics. While greater common good is worth striving for, past experiences have consistently demonstrated how this led societies down the path of totalitarianism and regimentation. However, on aspects of motherhood, fertility and the freedom to handle them in a way that is most convenient to a woman, education for citizenship, collectivism in addressing societal issues, Gilman’s views are admirable. Even here Gilman discusses parenthood in narrow terms of motherhood and fatherhood leaving traces of a feminist bias.

Unwittingly, Gilman leaves readers with three possible reactions to the themes in HerLand through her protagonists: Terry- opinionated, cynical and unappreciative, Jeff – a complete proselyte with little intellectual resistance and Van – a cautious rationalist whose approach is worth emulating.

For its human universals, HerLand could have pretty well been a ‘HimLand’ or better still an ‘UsLand

(This brief essay is part of my assignment submission for an online course on Science Fiction, I am currently pursuing at http://www.coursera.org)

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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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