Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Classic Spoilers

I wasn't nearly as productive yesterday as I wanted to be. I did tweak a scene I'd already revised, but after VBS and physical therapy, I was kind of spent for the day. Here's hoping that today is better. No therapy today, and I'm getting an early start.

Something I forgot when reporting on yesterday's Vacation Bible School experience: My real-life friends and those who have seen me on convention panels may be aware of my tendency toward the Inappropriate Giggle Fit, in which something strikes me as absolutely hysterical and sets me off in peals of uncontrollable laughter, often to the point I start crying from laughing so hard. Even after I get myself under control, the slightest thing can set it off again. The thing that sets me off may not actually be that funny, but it somehow strikes my brain in such a way that I find it really funny, often because it bumps up against something else in my brain and it's that association that's funny to me, even though the joke would be lost on anyone who isn't me. That association can linger, so that thing becomes funny to me forever. For instance, just thinking about the phrase that set off the giggle fit at a gathering of friends Saturday is still making me laugh.

I had a double-whammy Inappropriate Giggle Fit during the opening assembly at Vacation Bible School. They're doing this "space explorers" theme, with the idea that the kids are all space cadets (minor giggle) exploring the universe, and the opening assembly is our Mission Briefing. One of the college kids in the choir is doing the Mission Briefing, and when they introduced him as Commander Matt, I totally lost it. I guess it's because I've known him since he was in high school, and I know what a goofball he can be (he dressed as the jester in the madrigal choir), and I usually sit with his mother in choir, so I get to hear all kinds of stories about him. Plus, I was instantly flashing forward to all the future fun I can have with this and how at the next choir rehearsal I will have to salute him as Commander Matt, so I was giggling with glee. And then they had this video thing that's supposedly the ship's computer giving us some of the facts of the day. For Monday, it was facts about the earth, like circumference at the equator, percentage of surface covered by water, coldest recorded temperature, warmest recorded temperature, etc., and the video reminded me a lot of the way the Guide was portrayed in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. Even the voice sounded not too different from Stephen Fry, and that totally cracked me up. I halfway expected the video to end with "and that's what the Encyclopedia Galactica says about the planet earth. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has much less to say. Its entry on earth consists of two words: Mostly Harmless." I was shaking from laughing so hard while trying not to laugh out loud because that part wasn't supposed to be funny and I doubted my fifth graders would understand why I thought that was funny. I did get a laugh from one of my teen helpers when we were having to do one of the songs that involved a lot of motions and I remarked that I felt like I was at Rocky Horror.

Perhaps me being around non-geek children isn't such a good idea. I don't quite know how to deal with a roomful of children who don't know what Daleks are. Now I'm tempted to toss in an "Ex-ter-min-ate!" and see if I get a response. Then again, a couple of the boys were doing Vulcan salutes yesterday, so there may be hope for some of them.

Meanwhile, I've got another reading rant. I'm on a "classic" literature kick, more or less filling in the gaps in my education, and I've noticed an annoying trend in a lot of these classic books. The books are spoiled. Most of these books contain some kind of scholarly introduction, I guess because they're Important Literature, and therefore we must know how very Important they are, but probably mostly because the novels themselves are public domain, so the only part the publisher can copyright and that distinguishes one edition from another is new material, like an introduction. In the past few of these I've read, the introduction spoils the novel, totally giving away what happens and telling the ending.

Now, I realize that it's probably stretching it to want to avoid spoilers in a 100-year-old book, but the one place that should be safe is in the material put in the front of the book to read before reading the book. It's like the extremely tape-delayed Olympics broadcasts. Yeah, the results are on the Internet and may even have been reported by the media, but they don't start the broadcast with Bob Costas in the studio giving the results of the events we're about to see.

To me, an "introduction" should set the stage for the book -- maybe give some historical or cultural information that's important for understanding the book's setting, put the book in context of the author's other work, maybe discuss where the writing of this book fit into the author's life, and possibly even mention some themes or motifs to look for when reading. An "introduction" should not tell the characters' ultimate fate or tell how the book ends. If you want to discuss the plot of the book as though the reader has read it and include the outcome, then put that as a commentary at the end of the book. That's the way my ancient copy of Jane Eyre is, with an intro that's more about that era in England and Charlotte Bronte's life and then a post-novel commentary about the plot. Some more recent editions of other books I've read lately have flat-out given away the ending in the second paragraph of the introduction. Just glancing at the front page of the intro gives the ending: "The fact that the main character fails in his quest and marries Susan instead of Linda after his best friend is killed has been taken to mean ..." Arrrrgh!

I suspect this has something to do with that idea of books as broccoli. They assume you're reading this book because it's good for you and because you mostly want to analyze the author's brilliant prose or the deeper meaning behind the plot. They don't consider that someone might be reading for pleasure and therefore want some kind of suspense about what happens in the plot. These books may be more than a hundred years old, and they may be good for me, but I enjoy them more when I don't already know how they're going to end and I don't appreciate it when the scholarly introduction contains spoilers.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

My best friend always reads the introduction last on classics, so she won't hit spoilers. :)