This week I’m doing something a wee bit different: literature! Cause after all, writing and forms of writing are art too, right?
Anyways, this was prompted by my Humanities Core Class and what we are currently analyzing–Faust 1 by Goethe. It’s the book in the middle if you need a reference of some sort. So a quick basic summary of the good book/novel/poem/play (really, it could be ANY of these if you really wanted it to be.) : Faust is a doctor/philosopher of sorts (you just need to know he’s REALLY educated) who, after learning ALL there is to know, finds that knowledge is not fulfilling at all and that he NEEDS something else. Enter the Devil, Mephistopholes, to create a contract with Faust: He, the Devil, will become Faust’s slave and make Faust content, in exchange for Faust’s soul. From there, Mephistopholes takes Faust to taste all the different levels of life and society, from the debauchery of drunkards, to the homely life of the maiden, and onwards. I say onwards because Part 1 ends after the tale with the maiden, Gretchen/Margaret (the name is used interchangably), and I’ve only heard/read snippets of Part 2. This book is a Tragi-Comdey, in so much that mockery of different social classes and beliefs and satire of these, is used often to alleviate the struggle between right and wrong and the etheral and worldly. And if you’re curious to know what happens to Faust at the end…..look it up, or read the book. It’s a really easy read and it’s a really cheap book, so I suggest you actually go out and read it. When I have the time I’m thinking of going out to find Part Deux.
So what made me bring this up, other than the fact that it’s a required reading and could be considered many different forms of literature? Well, when I was reading this and was analyzing it, it’s concepts and language came easy to me, and I couldn’t help but thank my own curiosity and my high school teachers for helping me gain this ability. After reading TONS of shakespeare in high school (you know you’ve read tons too) and after going out of my own way to read some complicated literature, I have become accustomed to the unusual writing style of certain books, and what I want to do today, is list a few that helped me along the way/that I would suggest reading yourself. Because some of these would probably be helpful sometime in your college experience, or if not, they would be a good fun read anyways. So, here they are:
1) Shakespeare. This guy doesn’t constitute as a piece of literature, but most of his works are revered as timely classics, and after reading in between the lines so much and reading so many of his pieces and performing so many of his plays (Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummers Nights Dream, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Much Ado about Nothing, Macbeth, etc), I got fairly used to his writing style and terminology. If there is any easy and basic and humourous place to start reading complicated literature (complicated meaning difficult to understand/not in our current verbatim), this poets works would be the place to start.
2) Sophocles. Relatively more understandable than the former, but he has many themes and literary devices in his works, that reading them would help you gain a good firm grasp on what to look for in other works of literature. His more famous works include Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus, Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and The Trachiniae, while almost all of his other works have only survived in fragments and incomplete versions. Lots of different themes he uses is what is morally right and wrong, what one is obligated to do for society, what society is obligated to do for a person, unjustice, justice, and many other though provoking ideas. Most of them, like all Greek plays, are a little gritty, but hey, the best of them are.
3) Candide by Voltaire, which is the far left book in the picture. Not entirely a complicated read, but basically a novel founded on satire, which pulls in questions about the universe and God and other philosophical ideals, and makes a mockery of them. While not exactly the NICEST thing to do, it allows the reader to take these philosophies and learn about their positives and negatives, and it also makes a hilarious and light-hearted read. Except for the fact that it is mildly violent and vulgar, it is a good novel that lets one see the funny in the serious, and lets the reader interpret things and ideas differently than what they are used to or more inclined to see them as. Summary: Candide, after getting kicked out of his house, travels the world with his teacher, Doctor Pangloss, in search of his one love Cunegonde, and also in search for the best of worlds. Many journies and hilarious adventures ensue, leading to a very fun read.
4) Faust by Goethe (pronounced Gooter. Yes. it is ridiculous.), in the middle. I already explained this one, and I just want to point out that it is fairly simple, makes you think of various polar opposite themes like Sophocles does, uses roundabout language like Shakespeare, and makes light of serious topics and events, like Voltaire. It’s a bit of a mix and certainly not the hardest out of these books, but one that probably requires prior readings to take full appreciation of it.
5) Last and definitely hardest, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton, which is the right book in the picture. Personally, I have not finished this book, just because it is so hard to read and get through. There is little to make light of in these epic poems, the language is very complex, and there are many themes and ideas packed into this poem that require continuous rereading to fully understand. Summary: The Devil, Lucifer, has just fallen from Heaven with his host of rebel angels and makes Hell, his prison, his empire. After taking counsel with his generals, he decides to explore a rumored project of God, Earth, and see what he can do with it’s occupants. The rest follows. I have yet to begin Paradise Regained, so I do not know exactly what it is about, but, if I had to guess, it is about how Paradise, either the garden of Eden, or Heaven, is regained by either man, or the devil. Because after all, the two paradises lost in the first book, are Heaven at the start, and Eden at the end. A quick little bibliography of John Milton: He was blind while he was writing these two epic poems, and he would create these lines every night in his head, and in the morning tell his apprentices/pages everything he thought of verbatim. Which is a pretty impressive feat once you start to read what he thought of and everything. The two poems are told from his, the devils, gods, and even another, omnipotent but detatched, voice. You can guess it becomes confusing. I would suggest picking it up and trying to read it if you’re ever curious, but remember that it is a heavy read and difficult to actually understand or get through all the way.
Lastly, I just want to say that all of these books are cheap, since they are all classics, and you could probably go to your local bookstore and buy them for $5-$20, depending on the book and the version/translation. I hope you enjoyed my take on literature and what I think would be not only a good recreational read, but also a good read for college and high school and just for general knowledge.