“To be grateful is to find blessing in everything.
This is the most powerful attitude to adopt,
for there is a blessing in everything.”
In this post, I am reviewing a few more books that stormed the world with the power of imagination, dynamic storytelling, and always a moral message that would transcend cultural differences and be understood everywhere. And this is the sureproof recipe for budding writers of today. Gratitude, after kindness, is the greatest virtue. John Robins wrote pointedly: “One who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.”
E.B. White taking dictation from his dog
E. B. WHITE
1899 – 1985
Someone once called E. B. White the most companionable of writers and to be one of the most compassionate, and his books are proof of this description. White’s command of literary etiquette was so sure, he could even make entertaining a book of grammar and usage instruction. He was a modest person and this was evident in his prose, and one can easily imagine his taking pleasure in the fact that his legacy would rest on the books he wrote for children, especially “Charlotte’s Web”, which is in a class of its own.
This enchanting story will make you both laugh and cry, and will live with you forever. I love this book with a passion! Please read this extraordinary tale, it will reinforce your perception of what is important in life – friendship, constancy, love, and gratitude.
The book begins with a jarring question: “Where is Papa going with that axe?” It is asked by eight-year-old Fern Arable, who is distressed by her mother’s answer: “Mr Arable is on his way to the hoghouse to do away with the runt of the litter born the night before because as he will explain, ‘A weakling makes trouble.'”
After much begging her father not to kill the little runt, Fern was given a piglet to bring up like a baby on a bottle of milk.
The realities of farm life fall under the spell of the author’s invention, as hard facts – the hardest being of course, that Wilbur the pig’s likely destiny is summed up in the words “pork chops” – are transformed into a lovely, funny, and deeply moving tale. The collaborative ingenuity of the animals in the barn – even the rat, Templeton has his innate greed turned to good use – drives the tale to its satisfying conclusion, while the natural cycle of death and renewal is closely observed. White’s attention to nature’s truths is surpassed only by his allegiance to the human virtues.
Paramount released an animated film version in 1973; in 2006 a live-action film, featuring an all-star cast, including Julia Roberts and Dakota Fanning, was released. Best of all is the charming audiobook version, read by the author. White was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for the body of his work in 1978.
An extract from “Charlotte’s Web”:
“The barn was very large. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell – as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.
The barn was pleasantly warm in winter when the animals spent most of their time indoors, and it was pleasantly cool in summer when the big doors stood wide open to the breeze. The barn had stalls on the main floor for the horses, tie-ups on the main floor for the cows, a sheepfold down below for the sheep, a pigpen down for Wilbur, and it was full of all sorts of things that you find in barns: ladders, grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow showers, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks. It was the kind of barn that the swallows like to build their nests in. It was the kind of barn that children like to play in. Wilbur’s new home was in the lower part of the barn, directly underneath the cows. Pigs needed warmth, and it was warm and comfortable down there in the barn cellar on the south side.
Fern came almost every day, to visit him. She found an old milking stool that had been discarded, and she placed the stool in the sheepfold next to Wilbur’s pen. Here she sat quietly during the long afternoons, thinking and listening and watching Wilbur. The sheep soon got to know her and trust her. So did the geese, who lived with the sheep. All animals trusted her, she was so quiet and friendly.”
“The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence.
It is nothing but love and emotion;
it is the Living Infinite…”
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
1828 – 1905
Before submarines were actually invented, Jules Verne, a prolific French pioneer of science fiction and one of the most widely read authors in history, was dreaming of what it would be like to use one to travel around the world underwater. And although 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is now considerably more than a hundred years old, it is still a thrilling and wonderfully entertaining fantasy of deep-sea adventure.
The story opens with the sighting of a mysterious sea monster. An expedition is mounted to hunt it down, and the novel’s narrator, marine biologist Pierre Aronnax, joins the crew. The search extends into the Pacific, where the creature is finally found and attacked. During the fight, Professor Aronnax, his assistant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard. They end upright on top of the beast – which, they discover, is, in fact, an underwater vehicle.
Brought inside, the trio meets the ship’s inventor and commander, Captain Nemo. Brilliant, odd, slightly crazed, and with a name that is Latin for “No One,” Nemo teaches his guests about his amazing electrically powered submarine, which he has christened the Nautilus. Off they all set, through the underwater world, seeing its marvels as no one has before. Incidentally, twenty thousand leagues is the distance the Nautilus travels, not the depth to which it descends. Eventually, after feasting their eyes on awe-inspiring wonders as well as surviving the onslaught of a giant squid, Aronnax and his two pals escape from the Nautilus and make it back to land.
When it comes to describing life beneath the waves, Verne mixes reported facts with his abundant imagination, and this is what keeps the book still interesting today. And although Verne was prophetic in some ways, including military use of submarines, the real reason to read “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is to be on board as a master storyteller explores the watery deep.
Verne’s other famous works included “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” There have been several adaptations of Verne’s works. From a 1916 silent movie right up to the present day, Verne’s sagas have attracted numerous filmmakers, TV producers, and animators. The famous adaptation is the 1954 Disney version starring James Mason as Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre.
An image from “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne
An extract from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:
“In the year 1866, the whole maritime population of Europe and America was excited by the mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon. This excitement was not confined to merchants, common sailors, sea captains, shippers, and naval officers of all countries, but the governments of many states on the two continents were deeply interested. The excitement was caused by an enormous ‘something’ that ships were often meeting. It was a long, spindle-shaped, and sometimes phosphorescent object, much larger and more rapid than a whale. The different accounts that were written of this object in various log-books agreed generally as to its structure, wonderful speed, and the peculiar life with which it appeared endowed.
The sound of whales singing underwater, which could have been heard by the heroes of Verne’s novel:
If it was a cetacean it surpassed in bulk all those that had hitherto been classified. Moreover, reliable sightings many leagues apart, yet close in time, showed that the monster could move at tremendous speed, and was at home in warm water or in cold. In all the great centres the monster became the fashion; it was sung about in cafes, scoffed at in the newspapers, and represented at all the theatres. It gave an opportunity for hoaxes of every description.”
“In the year of 1867, some fresh facts changed it from a scientific problem to be solved to a real and serious danger to be avoided. On 5 March, the Moravian, of the Montreal Ocean Company, sailing in the northwest Atlantic, struck her starboard quarter on a rock which no chart gave in at that point. She was then going at the rate of thirteen knots under the combined efforts of the wind and her 400 horsepower. Had it not been for the more than ordinary strength of the hull in the Moravian she would have been broken by the shock, and have gone down with the 237 passengers she was bringing from Canada.”
By comparison, the different sounds made by humpback whales, which are famous for being the most altruistic animal. If interested, please take a look at my post “Can Animals Be Altruistic?”
“You are always someone’s
favourite unfolding story.”
1802 – 1870
Alexandre Dumas was born in Villers-Cotterets, France, in 1802, and when his father died in 1806, the family lived in abject poverty. As soon as Dumas was able, he travelled to Paris to find work. After a few years, he made a name for himself as an innovative playwright. He became famous for his action-packed historical plays. From 1840, he began to produce action novels, including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Statue of D’Artagnan in Montreal, Canada
To be able to produce so many large volumes, he created something of a story mill; employing other writers, 75 of them, and researchers to provide him with the material. The flamboyantly gifted Dumas would add his own inspiration – refining and embellishing the particulars in action-packed instalments published under his own name. The popularity and influence of his tales are undeniable. To thousands of readers, the compelling force of Dumas’s storytelling – his unrivalled command of a tale’s movement across a large historical canvas – marks every page of his novels as his own.
The Three Musketeers
Set in the seventeenth-century reign of Louis XIII and full of historical personages such as Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Buckingham, the story recounts the swashbuckling adventures of an impetuous young swordsman named D’Artagnan and the trio of soldiers in the king’s service who give the book its title: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
Louis XIII, King of France
Aspiring to join their ranks as a musketeer, D’Artagnan follows his temper and his taste for amorous entanglement into perilous situations from which his new friends must extricate him. Duels, romantic liaisons, and court intrigue come fast and furious as the dialogue-driven chapters fly by. The heroes’ primary antagonist, the scintillatingly seductive Milady, is one of the most vivid and alluring villains in all literature, and nearly a match for D’Artagnan and his fellows.
Literary entertainment gets no better than this; you will lose hours and hours of valuable time and relish every moment.
Dumas wrote two sequels to The Three Musketeers: Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (sometimes called The Man in the Iron Mask.) There have been countless adaptations of The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan has been played on-screen by Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly, Michael York, and Chris O’Donnell.
An extract from The Three Musketeers:
“As Athos and Porthos had foreseen, at the expiration of half an hour D’Artagnan returned. He had this time again missed this man, who had disappeared as if by enchantment. D’Artagnan had run, sword in hand, through all the neighbouring streets, but had found nobody resembling him whom he was looking for. While D’Artagnan was running through the streets and knocking at doors, Aramis had joined his companions, so that on returning home D’Artagnan found the reunion complete. ‘Well?’ cried the three musketeers all together, on seeing D’Artagnan enter with his brow covered with perspiration and his face clouded with anger.
‘Well’ cried he, throwing his sword upon the bed; ‘this man must be the devil in person. He has disappeared like a phantom, like a shade, like a specter.’
He then told his friends, word for word, all that had passed between him and his landlord, and how the man who had carried off the wife of his worthy landlord was the same with whom he had had a difference at the hostelry of the Franc-Meunier.
‘And did the mercer,’ rejoined Athos, ‘tell you, D’Artagnan, that the queen thought that Buckingham had been brought over by a forged letter.’
‘She is afraid so.’
‘Wait a minute, then.’ said Aramis.
‘What for?’ demanded Porthos.
‘Gentlemen,’ cried Aramis, ‘listen to this.
‘Listen to Aramis,’ said his three friends.
‘Yesterday I was at a house of a learned doctor of theology whom I sometimes consult about my studies.’
‘This doctor has a niece,’ continued Aramis.
‘A niece, has he?’ interrupted Porthos.
‘A very respectable lady,’ said Aramis.
The three friends began to laugh.”
The Count of Monte Cristo
These are the fastest 1,200 pages you will ever read! When it comes to page-turners, The Count of Monte Cristo is the greatest of them all. Despite the novel’s gargantuan dimensions – it runs to more than twelve hundred pages – each of its chapters is like an exhibit in a compendium of narrative suspense; it is hard to imagine any thriller plot on page or screen that isn’t foretold in the fantastic adventures of Edmond Dantes.
Dantes is an earnest, responsible young sailor who, as the novel begins, has returned to Marseilles to marry his beloved Mercedes. Yet, on the eve of their wedding, he is nefariously accused of being a traitor, wrongfully convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment in an impregnable chateau. So begins Dumas’s sprawling tale of vengeance, cunning, patience, and hope. As Dantes is transformed into the unforgettable figure who gives the book its title, he comes to combine the attributes of Odysseus, Robin Hood, and James Bond, a Western gunslinger, and James Bond meting out his artful and implacable justice with equal doses of vindictiveness and generosity.
An extract from The Count of Monte Cristo:
“The vague disquietude which prevailed among the spectators had so much affected one of the crowd that he did not await the arrival of the vessel in harbour, but jumping into a small skiff, desired to be pulled alongside the Pharaon, which he reached as she rounded into La Reserve basin.
When the young man on board saw this person approach, he left his station by the pilot, and hat in hand, leaned over the ship’s bulwarks. He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as raven’s wing, and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.
‘Ah, it is you, Dantes?’ cried the man in a skiff. ‘What is the matter? and why have you such an air of sadness aboard?’
‘A great misfortune, Mr Morrel,’ replied the young man – ‘a great misfortune, for me especially! Off Civita Vecchia we lost our brave Captain Leclere.’
‘And the cargo?’ inquired the owner, eagerly.
‘It is all safe, Mr Morrel, and I think you will be satisfied on that head. But poor Captain Leclere -‘
‘What happened to him?’ asked the owner, with an air of considerable resignation. ‘What happened to the worthy captain?’
‘Fell into the sea?’
‘No, sir, he died of brain fever in dreadful agony.’ Then turning to the crew, he said. ‘Bear a hand there, to take to sail!’
All hands obeyed, and at once the eight or ten seamen who composed the crew sprang to their respective stations at the spanker brails and outhaul, topsail sheets and halyards, the jib downhaul, and the topsail clewlines and buntlines.”