Friday, January 12, 2007

Something Wicked

A major chunk of the novel The Club Dumas didn't make it into the still excellent film The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp.

It deals with a group of obsessed fans of The Three Musketeers and its sequels, a strange, European literary underground of readers driven to celebrate the characters and intrigues of the classic Dumas works.

I thought of that enthusiasm for a classic when Stewart mentioned the culling of great works from library shelves in the interest of titles with higher circulation. It's a bookseller's approach with an effect not unlike the fire in the library at Alexandria.

Since I used to be a librarian of sorts, I was dismayed by that report. I always had the sense we were preserving knowledge in our battles against mold, dust and non-returns.

I've been re-reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes this week, perhaps one of the tales pulled from some shelves. Portions of it are set in a library, I suppose because Bradbury haunted libraries in his younger days, enjoying the titles A to Z.

Knowledge preserved proves beneficial in the fight against Mr. Dark and his evil carnival.

More and more, with everything from the culling of classics to the fragmentation of television and movie audiences, we are not sharing the same dreams en masse like the Dumas fans. We are not experiencing as much serendipitously as a culture any more if it's not Paris Hilton mania.

I don't know that I'm exactly alarmed by that, but I mull it over from time to time.

What will be the cost of that? The loss of the campfire and the shared myth? The collective dream.

What will come of us if we lose the richer language of shared metaphors? If we don't get the references to the dash of D'artagnan when it's referenced or the treachery of Milady de Winter?

What language will we speak then?


Charles Gramlich said...

Good food for thought. I always remember another Bradbury book in relationship to this kind of topic, Farhenheit 451, where the people actually "become" the lost books by memorizing them. Could a young writer growing up in today's world even conceive of such a plotline? There's also a Bradbury story where characters (such as Santa Claus) gradually disappear as the books that record their stories are lost.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sidney, I need to do a posting on Cultural Literacy. I think that's the idea that is being addressed in your post. It's the lack of cultural literacy that is killing literature and eating away at our society and societal identity.

Good, thoughtful. Thanks Sid.

Sphinx Ink said...

It has been a long time since Sphinx Ink read Bradbury, but she remembers his lyricism fondly. Perhaps it's time for her to revisit his fiction and refresh her memory of the actual stories. He is one of the Great Writers of the 20th (and now 21st) century.

It's chilling that some libraries are culling seldom-borrowed books from their shelves. Such ruthless trashing of books is frightening. What will happen to our literary heritage? What will happen to research materials that may be seldom borrowed, but are crucial when needed?

And thanks for your eloquence of expression. Sphinx Ink is saving these sentences in her Quotes file: "What will come of us if we lose the richer language of shared metaphors? If we don't get the references to the dash of D'Artagnan when it's referenced or the treachery of Milady de Winter?"

Sidney said...

Thanks for the kind thoughts. Lyricism is a great word for Bradbury's prose - the language of "Something WIcked This Way Comes" is as fabulous as the story.

Stewart Sternberg said...

One last note on Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think it has the greatest first page ever written. If I'm not mistaken, it begins: "There be good months and bad months, as the pirates say..."


Sidney said...

Yeah, that's the prologue - the actual first line which I love is - "First of all it was October..."

I love too that he calls the evil people the "autum people."

Clifford said...

In college I took a couple Popular Culture courses and even did an internship with The Popular Press -- the publications arm for the Pop Culture school. Anyway, in the University library there was a separate room that collected the Popular Cultures holdings...for me, it was like dropping through a rabbit hole. Howdy Doody puppets hung from the walls, in the corner, a "life-size" stand-up of the Frito Bandito, EC Comics, Men's adventure novels, rows and rows of scripts from television series like All in the Family, Playboy, Worlds of If, evert issue of Weird Tales...etc. I was a Conan fan at the time and finding the actual magazines where his stories first appeared was too much...and it goes on an on...every visit to the Pop Culture library uncovered a new treasure or two...

What am I getting at? I had a revelation during this time. The stuff that's most important, no matter how low-brow one may think it is, is the stuff, in the end, that really matters. Every year enough new publications to fill a wing of even the most grandiose library are released. The only way to decide on what stays, what should remain, has to be based on usage patterns. It's sad on some levels, but reality.

But we're lucky. We live in a time where this stuff can be electronically stored in ebook databases, like Project Gutenberg, forever. You know I'm an eBook proponent...this is just one of the many reasons why.

So I say cull the stuff that's not moving. It's no longer adding to our cultural identity. An identity that is broadening daily and can no longer be easily pinned down, but an identity none the less.

Fascinating topic...

Clifford said...
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