Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two Challenges: Classics 2012 (Continued) and Once Upon a Time VI

Sophocles. Fitts, Dudley and Fitzgerald, Robert, tr., eds. The Oedipus Cycle. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976.

(This English translation was originally published in 1939, and I see it's been reprinted since the version I have, because the cover image I found for it -- left -- is completely different.)

This collection of Sophocles's three Oedipus plays (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) was my third read for the 2012 Classics Challenge. As luck would have it, I chose two classics that would actually fit into Carl's Once Upon a Time VI challenge. If I'd been thinking, I would have saved this one for that, but I (as is so often the case) wasn't thinking. I still have another title that works well for both challenges, but more on that in a moment. For now, let's look at the March prompts given to us by November's Autumn, who is hosting this challenge. She chose to focus on setting this month (appropriate, since these three plays are so often referred to as Sophocles's "Theban Plays"). I've finished the book so will participate at all three levels.

Level 1
How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? About the time period? What is the mood of the setting?

The author introduces the setting, first very briefly by describing Oedipus's palace and the people gathered in front of it, bringing sacrifices as if to a god. We learn more when the chorus sings of the woes of Thebes, of which Oedipus is king. Despite the fact that very little is said about the physical aspects of the place, all the people are despairing, because they have been suffering for a long time, plagued by illness and drought and war. What the setting tells us about Oedipus is that he's a bit clueless (something he will continue to be), questioning why his people are so desperate. The second play is actually set in Colonus, a place that doesn't seem much happier, where Oedipus goes with Antigone after running from Thebes. Oedipus and Antigone are immediately reproached for resting on sacred ground but are allowed to stay, adding a bit of false hope to the tragedy. The third play is back in dusty, despairing Thebes, where it's so dry, Antigone has quite a time of it trying to bury her brother.

Level 2
How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. Do you feel the setting is right? Or was it a weak point of the author?
This is how I envision Thebes: a bleak, dusty, dry, and rocky place. The buildings are made of pale stones -- grays and tans -- and there isn't much color, except the blue, blue sky. People walk around with the dust of the city embedded in their feet, impossible to clean, and they try very hard to find relief from the hot sun. The setting is perfect for the three stories (who can argue with an Ancient Greek?).

Level 3
If this particular setting were changed, how would it affect the course of the story?
I'm having a little fun imagining what might have happened had Oedipus remained in Athens. What if he had never gone to Thebes? He might never have killed his father or married his mother. He might just have been a Nobody King, or maybe he would have been some tyrant, some horrible king, known for killing babies instead of his father. If he'd stayed in Athens, the world of modern psychology would be turned upside down: what would Sigmund Freud have done without Oedipus?!

And now we go from "what if? to "Once Upon a Time" with (I can't believe it) the sixth annual

Once Upon a Time Challenge

I used to read about this challenge every year, but last year, I finally decided to join in, and I had so much fun (the number 1 rule of the challenge, so I've followed that one well) that I'm back again this year. If you've been reading my blog for the nearly six years I've been keeping it, you know that I love snow and that winter happens to be my favorite season. Spring is always a bit of a sad season for me, not that I don't love all the buds and birds and flowers and a gorgeous, warm spring day as much as the next guy, but I hate the fact that it's a sign that the long, horrible, hot, muggy days of summer are just around the corner. Now, however, I've got this challenge to look forward to, something to make spring even brighter, even on days like today, when the sun keeps changing its mind about whether or not it's going to come out. What better way to get my mind off the impending wretchedness of summer than immersing myself in times and places, long, long ago?

This year, I am taking on Quest the First. The instructions are as follows:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

And these are the 5 books I've chosen:

The Arabian Nights (folk tales, although I believe some -- or all -- could also be described as fairy tales? I haven't read them, but I'll see what I think once I do) -- Husain Haddawy
This is the one that I'm also reading for the Classics Challenge and one I've been wanting to read, oh, for about 20 or so years now.

Lyonesse (fantasy) -- Jack Vance
I've been reading and loving Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth, sent me by a friend who never fails when it comes to sending me good things to read. The same friend also sent me this one, about the kingdom of Lyonesse and its ruthless, ambitious king who plans to arrange a marriage for his beautiful daughter that will benefit the kingdom (and its king, of course). She defies him and is confined to her beloved garden where she finds her love but also, apparently, her tragedy. Doesn't that sound fabulous? Yeah, I think so, too.

Magic Study (fantasy) -- Maria V. Snyder
Maria V. Snyder is really, maybe, just chick lit disguised as fantasy. Then again, maybe not. I got hooked reading the first in this series, Poison Study, and there's a little more there than what appears on the surface. Our heroine Yelena is back in this novel, returned to Sitia, her place of birth, where she will study the magic she recently discovered she possesses and will also become the target of some rogue magician, intent on making her his next victim.

The Hobbit (fantasy) -- J. R. R. Tolkien
I don't need to tell you what this one is about. Everyone has read it but me. I'm feeling hopeful. Maybe this will be the year I read, get, and fall in love with Tolkien. And if I do, maybe that will bode well for a beautiful summer, full of warm days, soft rain, and very little heat and humidity. We'll see...

The King Must Die (mythology) -- Mary Renault
Thanks to Zoƫ's Mom, I recently came home with a copy of The Hunger Games, which she and Ms. Musings assure me I'll like (and I'm quite sure they're right. For some reason, I've got it in my head that it's going to be a cross between Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery and Scott Westerfield's The Uglies). Bob took one look at it and said, "You must read The King Must Die first." So, I'm reading The King Must Die first even though I don't quite understand the connection. Nevertheless, it looks absolutely terrific, given that it's about Theseus, which means it's about the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Did I ever tell you how much I love the labyrinth and the Minotaur (a love affair that was solidified when I read Jorge Luis Borges's Labyrinths in college. As a matter of fact, that one is due for a reread. Maybe I'll do that after I read The Hunger Games)?

Looks like it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny sort of a spring, doesn't it?


Susan said...

Congratulations and so happy you joined! I just posted my list too. I have 30 books......I'm shaking my head at myself, but I just couldn't stop! lol I have so many books on the pile....First I have to finish the mystery I am reading (that will be tonight) then it's jump right into fantasy time! I do hope you enjoy The Hobbit. It's one of my favourite fantasy books.

Funny, I just picked up The Hunger Games also. So I should read The King Must Die first? I'll have to see if our library has it.

How are you finding reading classics this year, are you enjoying them as much as ever? I am about to jump into the 50 classics in 5 years challenge, which would be a big increase in the number of classics I read. I'm pushing myself, I know :-)

I have friends who don't like summer too. This is one thing you and I don't agree on - I love spring summer and fall, and detest winter!

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

You know, you're actually not wrong with The Hunger Games...there are definitely elements of The Lottery and Uglies. Also Lord of the Flies and, I don't know...ancient Rome but I'm not sure what particular book.

I enjoy The Hobbit even though I've never been able to get into Lord of the Rings. One of these days...and then life will be good and bright and happy forever. :)

Kailana said...

Great list for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I am glad you are joining in! I have had Lyonesse on my TBR pile for ages and ages... Need to read it. I really enjoyed Magic Study and the other two books in that trilogy. Good luck with Tolkien! The Hobbit was never a favourite of mine, but I tend to be in the minority...

litlove said...

I wrote about Oedipus years ago (the Freudian version rather than the Sophoclean one). It's intriguing because it's a male myth of initiation gone wrong. Oedipus is supposed to fight the Sphinx in bloody battle to win the nubile maiden, but being a clever clogs he answers the question and wins... his mother instead. Big oops.

I have been seeing the latest Once Upon a Time all over the blogworld, but will content myself with enjoying every one else's posts this time around. I am on an Orange Prize reading kick which will probably take up all my time this month and next. But it's always fun to see what other people choose!

Emily Barton said...

Susan, 30? LOL! I could easily have had 30, too. I'm loving reading the classics this year. Every one, so far, has been a joy, and I'm looking forward to the others I've chosen.

Cheryl, good to know I'm not too far off base with Hunger Games. I'm starting small with The Hobbit. We'll see if I graduate to LotR or not.

Kailana, I'm encouraged to hear that others have not favored Tolkien as well. I so often get the feeling I'm the only weirdo who's struggled with him while loving all kinds of other fantasy. Stay tuned for my reading of Lyonesse, which I hope will encourage you to read your copy (because that will mean I like it, and I so hope I'm going to like it).

Litlove, yes (LOL) "Big Oops." I experienced The Once Upon a Time challenge vicariously for years and can see why you would choose to do that. Brave you, attacking the Orange Prize list. I'm often wary of prize contenders (will write a post about that soon, I imagine, because it's been begging me to write it forever).

GeraniumCat said...

The King Must Die is one of those books that's been inside my head ever since I read it about 30 years ago. Utterly compelling. I should think it would be interesting to compare to The Hunger Games (which I haven't read...)