Book Review 'The Highway Rat' a Book for Children by Julia Donaldson

“The Highway Rat” is an adventure story for children. Generally children love tales of adventure and this book will not disappoint them. The hero of the story is a greedy rat who is keen to rob food from other animals. Thus the rat grasps food from a simple rabbit, a carefree squirrel as well as a group of ants. Julia goes on to describe how the rat lures an innocent duck and robs the poor bird of its food.

English literature covers a vast field for adults. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of children’s books. There are very few writers who write exclusively for children. Thus when a talented writer like Julia Catherine Donaldson MBE appears on the scene she needs to be appreciated. Julia Donaldson is a British writer, playwright and performer. She was born in 1948 in London and studied Drama and French at Bristol University.

She started her career as a teacher and later took to writing and performing songs. Along with her husband Malcolm, she directed two musicals for children. She has written many for children. Her latest book titled “The Highway Rat” will delight children. The book also has excellent illustrations that sustain the interest of a child.

The Highway Rat” is an adventure story for children. Generally children love tales of adventure and this book will not disappoint them. The hero of the story is a greedy rat who is keen to rob food from other animals. Thus the rat grasps food from a simple rabbit, a carefree squirrel as well as a group of ants.  Julia goes on to describe how the rat lures an innocent duck and robs the poor bird of its food.

 The beauty of the book is in its presentation. Julia adopts a style that will appeal to young children and lure them into reading the book again and again. Illustrations always have a special meaning for children and the book has a string of excellent illustrations. The illustrations not only depict the story but have a special appeal for children who can correlate the illustrations with the story, thus building up interest.

The story has a moral and in the end when the rat loses everything to the witty duck, the writer brings out the simple fact for children that crime does not pay. In the end the duck having got all his food back gallops away on a horse, leaving the rat high and dry. This delights young children who do not like an evil person winning. This book by Julia is actually inspired by the classic poem “The Highwayman". It is the genius of Julia that she has turned the poem into an excellent tale about food and greed for children.

 The text is simple and easy to understand. This can be a great help as it can serve as a foundation for introducing year 2 or 3 children to poetry and adjectives in literacy lessons.

 Julia Robertson deserves credit for writing this lovely tale of adventure for children. She richly deserves the 2011–2013 Children’s Laureate title.

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The Emperors New Sonnet by Jose Garcia Villa: An Analysis

In: Books
A critical analysis of Villa's classic wordless poem.

The Poem:

The Emperor’s New Sonnet

Background/Analysis:

Just a background on the author, Jose Garcia Villa was a Filipino poet, short-story writer, painter, and literary critic who was awarded the National Artist of the Philippines for literature in 1973. He was known for being one of the renowned “artsakists” of his time who believed that art should be for art’s sake. And although he advised his students that poems are “written with words, not ideas,” he released poems such as The Bashful One, which consists only of a comma, and of course, The Emperor’s New Sonnet, which contains nothing at all, other than the title.

On normal circumstances, I would go through a poem line per line in analyzing one, and see how every line would contribute to the overall meaning. However, the poem to be tackled has no meter, no extended metaphors, no symbolisms, nor any text whatsoever. All we are banking on is its title, which alludes to the popular children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, which was written by Hans Christian Anderson.

Hans Christian Anderson / Wikimedia

The story is an attack on snobbery and pretension, and makes fun of people who do not have their own say on what is beautiful and tend to rely on other people’s judgments before making their own. It tells its readers that sometimes, we need to view things as innocent as a child would so that we could plainly see what true beauty is, free from all social conditioning that often warps their perspective on things.

With this in mind, let us now tackle the poem by Jose Garcia Villa, which has no words at all. What we have here is something that tells readers that it is a poem, although in reality, there really is nothing. There is no beautiful weaving of words, and it seems like the poet is mocking the reader by telling them to accept the blankness as poetry, in the same way that the weavers the emperor in the story hired expects him to accept his invisible suit as one of the most beautiful in the world.

In all objectivity, there really is no poem in The Emperor’s New Sonnet, although it calls itself one. Although there are literary critics and intellectuals who can extract some meaning from the blankness, there would undoubtedly be that child in us that wants to shout out that this is not a poem, and that it is only a blank page.

We can probably borrow the moral lesson in the story and put it into the context of this poem. There are probably times when, like the characters in the story, we have felt the need to convince ourselves that a work of art is beautiful, just because some ruling body deemed it so, even though we ourselves did not genuinely appreciate it. There must have been some time when you came across some abstract painting and thought that it was something a child could have done, and yet you just kept mum about it, because it was supposedly created by a world-class painter. Or a time when an artsy-fartsy friend asked you what you thought about this foreign film you totally found boring, and answered that it was nice. Or a time in English class where you were forced to nod and say that you liked a certain short story, even though you did not understand a single thing from it.

Oftentimes we are too quick to suppress our own judgments; for fear that other people may find us “less-cultured” or even downright stupid if we would not agree with them. In effect, we no longer practice our critical thinking, thinking that anyway, there are authorities who can decide for us, and we wouldn’t mind being enslaved to their judgments because we can readily dismiss that they are right.

However, this shouldn’t be the case, and The Emperor’s Sonnet tells us this in its own eccentric way. It plays on how readers would think of it, on whether the blank space is a poem or not, while reminding them of the message in the story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

On why Jose Garcia Villa wrote this (if you would call that writing), I could make a guess. He was known to be one of the harshest critics of Filipino poetry in English in his time, and has angered many of those who received his critiques. And I wouldn’t exactly blame the subjects of his critiques for their reactions. To one literary collection, for example, he wrote: “The poetry you print is unforgivable. It stinks. My God, if I had judicial power, I’d throw you in jail for publishing such rot and exemplifying them before the public as good poetry, thus submerging the public still more.”

In one essay, he wrote that there wasn’t anyone who was educated enough in poetry in the Philippines. The country, according to him, was “deluged with poet-simpletons—triflers in verse, poets without crania—the producers of featherweight poetry.”

Perhaps it was his frustration with Philippine poetry in English that drove him to create The Emperor’s New Sonnet. Frustrated, or maybe even disgusted, with the praise that some of the Filipino poets were getting from the critics, he may have written the poem to target those who readily accept the so called “featherweight” poetry of his time, who were, perhaps, reading poetry in the same way that the emperor’s ministers and the townspeople were looking at the emperor’s “suit.” Perhaps with this poem of his, he sought to serve as the child in the story to challenge what he felt was a sorry state of Philippine poetry in his time.

Whether you’re still debating with yourself if this is a poem or not, it is undeniable that Villa’s The Emperor’s New Sonnet shall continue to provoke and baffle its readers for many years to come.

Sources:

http://www.literaryhistory.com/20thC/Groups/Villa.html

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes

The Critical Villa: Essays in Literary Criticism by Jose Garcia Villa, compiled and edited by Jonathan Chua

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Plot Summary of Volume Two

In: Books
The tale of Frankenstein touches on issues of bioethics, morality, religion and existentialism. Here is a summary of Volume II of the three volume story of Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was written in three volumes. Links at the bottom of the article will take you to the summaries of Volume one and two as well as to an introduction and character summary.

Plot Summary Volume II

After a time of grieving with his family over the death of William, Victor sets out on a journey, not to pursue the monster but to find relief from his despair. He sets out toward the Swiss Alps on horseback and finds that his spirit is lightened by the magnificence and beauty of the mountains. It has been two months since the execution of Justine.

Victor decides to make an ascent to a glacier field during a particularly cloudy day. It is an invigorating and soul satisfying climb and his heart is overwhelmed with joy over the sight of the mountains beyond. As he sits in a recess of the rock he utters these words “Wandering spirits, if indeed ye wander, and do not rest in your narrow beds, allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life.” It is at this moment that he sees the figure of a man approaching him across the ice at superhuman speed. As the man gets closer Victor realizes with rage and horror that it is the monster. He resolves to wait and engage the monster in mortal combat.

When the monster arrives Victor threatens to kill him. The monster responds, “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things!” “You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.

Victor lunges at the monster intending to kill him but the monster is superior and eludes him. The monster declares that his life is precious to him and he will defend it but he has no wish to be in opposition to his creator. “I am thy creature”. He tells Victor that he will be docile and mild to his natural lord and king if Victor will only fulfill his duty. He asserts that he is due the justice, clemency and affection of his creator. “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed” He claims that he was, in the beginning, benevolent and good but that the exclusion from the joys of life has made him a fiend. His desolation and pain are apparent as he begs compassion and goodness from Frankenstein. 

A long dialog ensues between the monster, as he defends himself and asserts his rights to compassion and joy. Frankenstein rejects and curses him. The monster insists that Victor accompany him to his hut to hear the tale of how he came to gain the knowledge of language and life and joy. Victor complies with the request out of a sense of duty and indeed begins to feel his responsibility to his creature.

The monster and Frankenstein arrive at the hut that the monster calls home. A fire is lit and the monster begins his monolog of remembrances of his creation and the dawning of his awareness and enlightenment. He reflects on the joy of living and the excitement of discovering and experiencing his sensory faculties and his growing comprehension of the world into which he has come.

He turns then to the dark and hateful experiences that have caused him to flee into isolation. He has been chased and attacked with stones and weapons and reviled whenever he has sought contact with humans. It is in fear that he has sought refuge in a hovel adjacent to a cottage where the De Lacey family dwells. He dwells on his isolation “no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to His Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.”

In hiding, he begins his observation of the family through a hole in the wall between his hovel and the main cabin and learns a great deal about the normal relationships among people. He observes a poor but gentle family and learns about reading and music and affection. He is able to learn language through his close observation. He becomes fond of the family and finds ways to help them secretly. He dreams of the day that he can reveal himself to them and win their affection in spite of his dreadful appearance.

The day arrives when he decides to reveal himself. He first approaches the blind father when the others are gone. He appeals to his sense of charity and love for others. The old man is warm and encouraging to the monster. In the midst of their conversation the others return and upon entering the cottage are horrified. Felix strikes out at the monster beating him while the women scream and faint. Although the monster could easily break the bones of Felix and destroy him, he flees instead in sorrow and pain.

The failure of his efforts to connect with the family has driven him to deep despair and rage at his creator. As he processes the events he decides that he will make one more effort to win the hearts of the De Lacey’s. He returns to the cottage but finds that they have moved out. In a rage he burns it and destroys the garden that was regularly tended by Felix. He leaves the region to find Victor Frankenstein.

As he reaches Geneva he encounters a young boy playing and decides that perhaps he can make friends with the child. When he reveals himself to the child the child begins screaming and the monster picks him up and tries to quiet him. The child tells him that his father is M. Frankenstein and that he will come to rescue him. When the monster discovers the child’s identity he kills him and finds pleasure in the revenge he has taken upon Victor. He leaves the dead child and flees into the mountains.

Now that the monster has told his story to Victor he makes his demand. He tells Victor that he wants a wife. The wife is to be similar in nature to himself. When Victor completes this task the monster promises he will disappear to the jungles of South America and he will never bother mankind again. He pleads with Victor to grant this request out of mercy and compassion. Victor is reluctant to relent to the monster’s request and argues that if he creates a second monster then they will bring more destruction and grief to humanity. The monster vows that he will kill everyone that Victor loves if he does not undertake this task.

Victor relents and he and the monster part company. Victor and the monster have spent the entire day together on the glacier and it takes Victor until late at night before he makes his way back to the village and ultimately home to his family and to make plans for the commencement of his task.

Proceed to Summary of Volume III

Return to Summary of Volume I

Proceed to Introduction to Frankenstein

Proceed to Character Summary of Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Plot Summary of Volume Three

In: Books
The tale of Frankenstein touches on issues of bioethics, morality, religion and existentialism. Frankenstein was written in three Volumes - here is the summary of Volume Three with links to the others.

Frankenstein Plot Summary Volume III

Victor Frankenstein travels to Scotland and takes up residence on one of the remote Orkney islands to begin his task of making a mate for the monster. He has already dawdled at home and traveling with his friend Henry Clerval and he fears that the monster is watching him. He is afraid that the monster might kill Henry as a warning. The monster has promised Victor that he will watch him and will come for his mate when she is ready.

As he begins his task of yet another creation Victor is again horrified and disgusted with the task at hand. He ruminates about the promise of the monster to leave civilization but reasons that this new creature has made no such promise. He fears that she may hate the monster and be repulsed at his appearance and suffering another rejection the monster may in the end still pursue vengeance upon humanity.

Frankenstein questions his right to buy peace at any price by potentially bringing destruction on mankind. At this moment as he is questioning his decision to move forward, the monster appears in the window. At the sight of the monster, Frankenstein is driven to madness and begins to tear apart the creature that was to become the monsters mate.

Wikimedia

The monster howls in despair and withdraws. Several hours later he returns and confronts Frankenstein again. He asks what Frankenstein’s intentions are. “Do you dare to break your promise?” “Do you dare destroy my hopes?” The monster promises to make Frankenstein’s life “so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to [him]”.

He continues, “Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness?” He tells Victor that he will be with him on his wedding night. Victor assumes that the threat is toward himself. He believes that his wedding night will be the night of their final struggle.

Victor leaves the island on a boat at night with a basket full of the body parts and material from his destroyed female monster. He dumps it in the deep water and becomes carried away in his boat to England. He is intercepted upon landing and taken to the magistrate where he is accused of murdering a young man who’s body was found on that very shore. He is taken to a room and shown the body of none other than Henry Clerval. The black finger marks around his neck reveal that he has been murdered by the monster. He is taken before the courts and released on proof that he was on the Orkney Islands at the time his friend was murdered.

Victor’s father comes and retrieves him and they travel back to Switzerland and to their home. Victor had decided that he and Elizabeth will be married quickly so that the night of his final battle with the monster will come quickly. He imagines how it will be - the monster attacking him and he defending himself. He imagines that it will be traumatic for Elizabeth to see him engaged in battle with this horrific monster. He is uncertain as to whether he will prevail or be killed by the monster. Either way he will be released from his torment.

The wedding night arrives and Victor is prepared for the inevitable battle. He is nervous and distracted. His bride is concerned about his odd behavior and he sends her to bed alone and asks for her patience. He promises to tell all the next day if she will only wait and not ask any questions this night. As he valiantly waits in the outer chamber prepared for battle he hears his beloved bride scream. He rushes in and finds her dead, lying across the bed.

The monster, still at the window, grins and points at Victor’s dead bride. Victor pulls out his pistol and shoots at the monster and the monster flees diving into the lake beyond. A crowd of people have gathered in Victor’s room and a hunt for the monster ensues. The crowd follows his tracks and throws nets into the lake but he is nowhere to be found.

We are now returned to the present location of Robert Walton’s ship at the North Pole where Frankenstein tells Robert that the rest of the story is tedious. His father has died in his arms, not being able to bear any more sorrow.

As Frankenstein vows at the graves of his loved ones to take vengeance on the monster he hears the voice of the beast speak out “I am satisfied, miserable wretch! You have determined to live, and I am satisfied”

The chase ensues and Frankenstein pursues his nemesis throughout Europe and Russia and to the North Pole. Frankenstein’s rage keeps him from abandoning his pursuits to lands where he is certain he cannot survive. He begins his pursuit on a sledge pulled by dogs but the breaking of the ice separates him from the monster. We come full circle in our story as the ice upon which he floats is brought to the side of Walton’s ship.

In a final revelation of self examination Frankenstein confesses his arrogance and pride in what he has attempted. “like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.” Knowing that death is imminent, he begs Walton to take up his task of pursuing and killing the beast.

The ice breaks and a path to the south is opened. As Walton’s ship begins it’s journey homeward, Frankenstein passes into eternity. Walton enters the cabin where the body of Victor Frankenstein lies and finds the monster bent over the corpse muttering expressions of grief and repentance.

In the final pages of the book the monster reveals to Walton the struggle and pain that he has suffered in bringing pain and sorrow and death to those loved ones of Victor Frankenstein. He claims that in the beginning of his existence his whole being overflowed with happiness and affection, that he desired love and fellowship but was spurned. He asks the question “Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all humankind sinned against me?”

He leaves the ship with the promise that he will end his own wretched life.

“But soon I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace, or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell”

Return to Plot Summary of Volume Two

Return to Plot Summary of Volume One

Return to Character Summary

Return to Introduction and Brief Summary