Sep 29, 2011

Don Quixote (Part I), by Miguel de Cervantes

When I finally picked up this classic, it was with a bit of trepidation. Reading classic literature is often enlightening and interesting, but also challenging and occasionally tedious. Not so with Don Quixote, Cervantes' tale of a deranged man who thinks himself to be the revival of knight errantry and his simple companion with lofty goals, Sancho Panza.

Cervantes pulls no punches with Don Quixote's madness; his insanity is pointed out at every moment, and though it is mocked by his acquaintances, Cervantes imbues him with a certain gravitas that one must take seriously. There is also, of course, plenty of toilet humor and slapstick, mixed in with a hefty dash of hypocrisy and irony. The monologues tend to get long-winded, but other than that, this is a surprisingly entertaining read. I look forward to reading the second part.

Sep 5, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

It's easy to see how this book became a classic; it's mind-boggling, engaging, infuriating, and eye-opening. Though it's labeled science fiction, it really defies such classification. "Stranger in a Strange Land" is equally science fiction and philosophy. It uses fiction as a means of holding up a mirror to ourselves, and what we see, what Heinlein saw, wasn't pretty.

The plot is this: Valentine Michael Smith is a human being born on Mars and raised by Martians. He is discovered and "rescued," and begins to learn what it is to be human. And he does, eventually, but not without first changing utterly and completely those he comes in contact with. He is a Superman: beautiful, highly intelligent, and capable of producing what average men call miracles in the blink of an eye. He attains the Truth - "Thou art God" - and goes about trying to educate the human race.

The result is this, as witnessed through the many philosophical discussions in which the characters take place: man is a brutal, unkind species. He has become so infatuated with hate and differentiation and violence that he cannot even recognize it in himself. Humans have so utterly stigmatized the only true act of love (sex) that there is room for nothing but "wrongness." The Man from Mars reenacts the story of Jesus, who also died in giddy violence all while preaching love. The ending message is one of hope, albeit dim, that eventually humanity will weed out the wrong and embrace the good, embrace oneness and love. But the path to goodness is always riddled with martyrs.