Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors
July 8th: E.M. Forster

now reading: Best Short Stories/Die schönsten Erzählungen by Franz Kafka
and Sophie's Choice by William Styron

I always get a little anxious when the Greek mythology influences come around. Is there any other academic subject that 10-,11-, and 12-year-olds master more easily, without even trying, that adults just flat-out forget? I need serious refresher courses. So many 'tween projects...reports...remember when I played Persephone in our dramatization? Now I can barely sort out who's a Greek and which is a Roman god name, half the time. And here come my 10-year-old nephew and 9-year-old niece babbling to me about Perseus and all the rest. Pathetic.

Today's Story: "The Road from Colonus"
Author: E.M. Forster
My Rating: B+

I am a little (but only a little) worried that I graded this too harshly because I'm missing something in the Colonus/Oedipus/ancient mythology symbolism and therefore the story is actually better than I think it is. (Sorry, E.M.!)  So, it seems that what we are more or less grappling with here in this story is the lofty concept of fate, and whether it opposes and/or prevents us from directing our own lives and intervening in the lives of our loved ones. In the mythology, according to my excellent memory  footnote, Oedipus rested on a rock with his daughter at Colonus and then a native told him to hit the road and he refused because this was his destined resting place. Then he died. Whereas here in Forster's "The Road from Colonus," the daughter and the other traveling companions manage to prod Mr. Lucas along, so he doesn't stay at the travelers' resting spot, and SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT! ! ! therefore he doesn't die, according to what is surmised after later reading the newspaper account of tragedy.  END SPOILER ALERT

I see. Mythology allusions, but a different ending (destiny?) What's the lesson here? Mr. Lucas is no Oedipus? What do we think about Mr. Lucas? I mean, it's cool that he and his daughter are pals and go on vacation to Greece and go out riding around. Then again, he does strange things, like hang out in a tree, waiting for the others to arrive at the lunch spot. Or more like not waiting for them, as he rode off ahead of the group and doesn't seem to really care about where/when his straggling companions do their thing. He's perfectly ready to ditch them. Would that have been a good idea? How do we know? Who's to say that his presence in the doomed khan wouldn't have altered everything for the better?

The amount of symbolism is unbelievable. In any given paragraph, I suspect hidden motives for every a tion: the children are playing a game with their fingers; the woman is spinning. These actions are probably indicative of something. As for Mr. Lucas' trip-mates, the dragoman (translator) buys a pig from the villagers.  That's got to be two or three essay questions' worth right there, that pig. Maybe it's just the two beers I had during the World Cup match earlier today, before reading this story, but I can honestly say that right this moment I'm not sure what any of that symbolism means. (I'm in total "Who's this Daisy person?!" more, right there with you, Suzanne Sugarbaker.)

An interesting story, a nicely written story, not a terrible ending or anything, but it brought no epiphany for me, either. Now, E.M. Forster I do like. His command of words, sentences, and ideas is unbelievable. I read A Passage to India  first, and have since loved Aspects of the Novel and Howards End as well. Forster puts things in such a way that the reader can be left stunned, marveling at what language is capable of doing. (He has even received the highest compliment, you will note, of being quoted on my blog--see above!) But I do think "The Road from Colonus," to the extent that it has a point (or multiple points), gets caught up in itself and forgets to just burst forth in story, which is when I think E.M. is at his best.

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