June 25, 2009

The Amulet of Samarkand

Posted in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy at 12:00 pm by j128

The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.

Summary

Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.

Film

The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.

Links

http://www.bartimaeustrilogy.com/ – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

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January 3, 2008

The Count of Monte Cristo

Posted in Adventure, Classics of World Literature at 5:24 pm by j128

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics edition)

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, was published from 1844-1846 as a serialization in a French magazine. It is considered one of Mr. Dumas’s greatest works along with The Three Musketeers and as with many of his works, the story is expanded from the plot outlines suggested by Mr. Dumas’s collaborating ghost writer Auguste Maquet. The entire story spans a thousand and something pages in length. (Personal note: I read this book in 12 days!)

History of The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo, as already said, is considered as one of Mr. Dumas’s greatest works – it is told with remarkable storytelling containing elements such as revenge, mystery, love, and betrayal. It is also often called a swashbuckling and/or adventure novel. Indeed, Robert Louis Stevenson said it is “A piece of perfect storytelling.”

It is set just before The Hundred Days War and during the reign of Louis-Phillipe.

Alexandre Dumas found the inspiration for Monte Cristo from his acquaintance with Jérôme Bonaparte’s young son whom Mr. Dumas took occasionally on educational journeys and during one of those trips he saw the deserted Monte Cristo and resolved that he would write a novel about it. Mr. Dumas also was inspired partly from a true story in the memoirs of Jacques Peuchet, who related the tale of a man named Pierre Picaud, whose profession was a shoemaker, and lived in Paris in 1807. He was engaged to marry a wealthy woman, however, four jealous friends made a false accusation against him as being a spy for England. During his imprisonment of seven years he befriended a fellow prisoner and this fellow prisoner bequeathed him a treasure in Milan. When Mr. Picaud was released in 1814, he spent ten years plotting his revenge against his former friends. At the time of his death, Mr. Picaud related all of these events to Jacques Peuchet, which was published in a newspaper. In the Signet Classics edition the author of the introduction lists a title of a book, which in brief, roughly translates to historic memoirs of the Paris police – the title is available on Amazon.com and is only available in the French language; it contains other cases aside from Mr. Picaud’s. However, there is an edition by Claude Schopp, which includes the document, and it is mentioned at the end of this review.

Summary

The Arrival, the Catalans, and the Destroyed Betrothal & Wedding

The date is the twenty-fourth of February, 1815, and the young nineteen-year-old sailor Edmond Dantes, aboard the ship Pharaon, has just arrived in Marseilles. Captain Leclere of the Pharaon has recently died of brain fever and gave Edmond instructions to visit the Isle of Elba and as part of the instructions, also gave him a packet to give to the Marechal Bertrand – Capt. Leclere was a strong supporter of Napoleon. While Edmond is in Elba, he meets the former emperor Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Napoleon speaks to Edmond and asks him to deliver a confidential letter to a man in Paris.

After meeting with the shipowner of the firm Morrel and Son, which the Pharaon is bound to, and declining the shipowner’s invitation to dine, Edmond goes to visit his father and breaks news that M. Morrel will try to appoint Edmond as captain since Capt. Leclere has died. A neighbour, the tailor Cadderouse, hears of this, and Edmond has departed to visit his fiancee: a beautiful Catalane by the name of Mercedes.

Mercedes is described as having dark hair and eyes like the gazelle – a beauty that no one can match. She and Edmond love each other very much and if Edmond should die, she says, she shall die, too. Mercedes has a cousin, Fernand, who loves her passionately as well and would do anything to make Mercedes his.

Edmond meets Mercedes and almost as soon as Fernand is introduced to Edmond, the cousin flees in a frenzy, and meets Danglers and Cadderouse, who are nearby and having drink. Cadderouse is very drunk and can hardly perceive things, though he does have a bit of sense about him, to which Danglers replies in giving the tailor more drink. Danglers and Fernand write a letter accusing Edmond and addressing it to the deputy crown prosecuter in Marsellies – they treat it as a joke, yet when Danglers escorts Cadderouse back home, Cadderouse believes he saw Fernand pick up the crumped ball of the letter that Danglers had thrown into a nearby bush.

Soon after is the wedding day of Edmond and Mercedes. All is full of love, happiness, and joy…and to a somewhat degree, uneasiness on Fernand’s part. Not long after Edmond has announced that he and Mercedes will be officially married once he has run an errand in Paris and that this is only a pre-marital event, there is a dreadful noise of marching feet belonging to what could only be soldiers. Edmond is arrested amongst all his guests as witnesses – yet Edmond amongst all this bewildering flurry of events does not suspect anything or anyone in the least. He is too good-natured, naive, and caring to seek any dislike or bad feeling against anyone.

Edmond is taken to the office of the deputy crown prosecuter whom we mentioned earlier and his name is M. de Villefort. The deputy crown prosecuter listens to all that the young sailor says, Villefort even goes so far as to sympathize with him but only for a time. Villefort shows Edmond the accusing letter written by Danglers in his left hand. Edmond does not know what to make of it, he does not know who wrote it – when the letter was written, Danglers displayed some of his cleverness and he wasn’t drunk so he could think clearly – and he states that everything in the letter is false.

Villefort then asks if he could see the confidential letter destined to Paris and Edmond does so. Once Villefort has read the letter (and he is deeply disturbed by it in some way) he loses all motivation to allow Edmond back to his regular life. Villefort’s own personal interests override Edmond’s as the letter in question could possibly ruin his policital career and the addressee is someone who is related. The deputy sentences Edmond Dantes to lifelong imprisonment at the Chateau D’If.

The Chateau D’If Years

As said above, Edmond is sentenced lifelong imprisonment in the Chateau D’If, which the young sailor often passed in his past voyages. Primarily, he keeps his faith in the Lord God during the start of his imprisonment but slowly it ebbs away as his position becomes more and more futile.

After he threatens a gaoler, he is sent down deep into the dungeons where only the craziest of the crazy reside (if that is the proper usage of the word reside), which is also where the famed L’Abbe Faria is. He is allegedly mad with not a drop of sense in him left, however, as is proven to the reader as one continues, he is on the contrary full of sense and high intelligence.

Meanwhile, Edmond begins starving himself as he believes there is no point in living if he’s going to be imprisoned for the rest of his life. His perseverance to live is restored when he hears a scraping sound in the walls and inspired by the other prisoner’s efforts, he too begins scraping away at the walls in hopes of escape.

It is through these efforts the former sailor comes into contact with the mad abbe. Thus begins a father-son relationship between the sailor and abbe. L’Abbe Faria teaches Edmond all that he knows and helps Edmond comprehend the past events leading to his imprisonment and the change in Villefort after the letter addressed to M. Nortier – who could only be Villefort’s Bonapartist father.

Several years pass at the Chateau D’If and the abbe dies. Edmond plans his escape by placing himself in the sack meant for Faria’s body but instead of being buried as he had expected, he is is placed into a cannon and shot out into the sea. He is rescued by some sailors whom he comes to learn are pirates. Edmond becomes acquianted with the pirates and he temporarily joins them under the alias of Sinbad the Sailor.

Eventually Edmond and the pirates dock at the island of Monte Cristo, where Edmond discovers the treasure that the abbe bequeathed to him after much exploring and searching. He deceives the pirates by pretending to have injured himself and he cannot go on, thus giving the pirates no option but to leave the island without him. Once the pirates have left, Edmond enters the cave where the hoard of treasure is that the abbe describe to him and he begins his new life as the weathly and mysterious aristocrat Count of Monte Cristo.

Revenge and Redemption

Ten years have past and the Count begins putting his plan of revenge into action. He first makes his appearance in Rome, Italy, where he becomes acquainted with Franz d’Epinay, a young aristocrat, and Albert de Morcerf who is to be later revealed as the son of Fernand and Edmond’s love Mercedes.

During their stay in Rome, Albert is taken hostage by the famous bandit and fugitive Luigi Vampa. Albert was seduced by a beautiful stranger and in this manner, was captured. Franz receives a letter from Albert in which there are instructions to retrieve four thousand piastres; and it is to be done as quickly as possible as Albert’s life depends on it and if it is not received by six o’clock in the morning, by seven o’clock Albert will have ceased to exist. The Count confronts Vampa and Albert is set free without the ransom. Vampa holds respect for the Count as it was he who helped him in earlier years, as described in Chapter XXXIII (33): Roman Bandits.

Soon afterwards, the Count moves to Paris, France for one year, which is enough time to act on his revenge. He travels under the alias of an abbe and finds Cadderouse who is now married and lives in poverty. The abbe acts on Cadderouse’s greed and gives him a diamond that can be seen as a double-bladed sword: the diamond can buy wealth or it can serve as the downfall of Cadderouse. The diamond results in murder and after having been in prison, Cadderouse lives a criminal life, which only ends when Cadderouse himself is murdered by a confederate after having made an attempt to rob the Count’s house. Before he dies, Cadderouse discovers who the Count of Monte Cristo really is.

The Morrels are not faring well: M. Morrel is in debt and he cannot pay it off. His only hope is that the ship Pharaon comes to port successfully and is safe. Despite his hope, the ship does not have a successful journey, thankfully all the crew are safe, but M. Morrel has to withhold the payments due until further notice. He is alone and has no help from anyone or so he thinks. On the fifth of September, he is rescued from his debt by a letter signed by Sinbad the Sailor.

Meanwhile Danglers has become a banker and is wealthy as well as happy with his wife and daughter. He is dazzled by the Count’s seemingly unlimited wealth and eventually the Count convinces Danglers to give him a line of “unlimited credit” the first installment being six million francs. Meanwhile, the Count manipulates the bond market and ruins Danglers by destroying a large portion of the banker’s fortune.

As well as owning a mute Nubian slave named Ali, the Count also owns a Greek slave, Haydee, who was the daughter of the noble Ali Pasha. Her father had trusted Fernand, yet he was only to be betrayed in war, and after Ali Pasha’s death, his wife and daughter were sold into slavery. The Count brings up the event to Danglers and exploits him to research the event and it is published in a newspaper. Danglers’s research ultimately ruins Fernand as he is brought to trial in court, Haydee testifies against him, and he is disgraced. Meanwhile, Danglers is soon left with only the six million francs he left to the Count. Danglers flees to Italy, which is where the Count’s personal bank, Thompson and French, is based.

Mercedes is the only one who realizes who the Count of Monte Cristo is and she tells Albert the story of her youth so as to prevent Albert from fighting a duel with the Count over the Count’s role in his father’s downfall: after Edmond had been imprisoned in the Chateau D’If and supposedly died, she reluctantly married Fernand Mondego (who later changed his name to Morcerf to cover his military career) and gave birth to Albert, who is viewed – by the Count – as the ideal son that Edmond and Mercedes should have had. Mercedes regrets everything that she did – even going so far as to apologize to Edmond/Monte Cristo but finding it is too late – and she and Albert disown Fernand and begin a new life. Fernand subsequently commits suicide.

The Count also pays a call to the Villeforts and the family is divided: his daughter Valentine by his first marriage, is to inherit the family fortune and that of her grandfather’s, M. Nortier. However, Villefort’s second wife, Heloise, is against it and will do anything in her will to prevent it, and intentions the fortune for her son Edouard*. As the Count knows of Heloise’s intentions, he gives her in an innocent fashion, a drug that cures people with one drop but an overdose is fatal. With this tool, Heloise sets about murdering Villefort’s in-laws Saint-Merans, a house servant, and unintentionally kills Barrois, and plans to kill both Valentine and M. Nortier.

Leaving Heloise to her own devices, the Count haunts Villefort with past memories of his past affair with Danglers’ wife and their son that was born. Madame Danglers had given birth to a son with Villefort. Villefort had told Madame Danglers the child was stillborn and proceeded to bury the child in the garden of their house in Auteuil. However, the child was saved when another character, Bertuccio, an enemy of Villefort, had planned to kill the judge. Bertuccio takes the child and raises him, the child only appearing later in the story as a grown man under the disguise as Count Andrea Cavalcanti and only reveals his true identity to Villefort after he is arrested for the murder of Cadderouse. The Count of Monte Cristo owns the same house in Auteuil where the child was supposed to have been buried; Bertuccio is the Count’s servant, and he uses both against Villefort.

The Count saves Valentine from Heloise’s murderous intentions of poisoning her as he knows of Maximilien Morrel’s love for Valentine. Through M. Nortier, Villefort discovers Heloise is a murderer and confronts her. Heloise panics and poisons herself and Edouard. The death of his wife, son, and the previous events as well as the knowledge of the Count’s true identity drives Villefort insane.

Maximilien is depressed as he believes Valentine to be dead and is contemplating suicide after having witnessed Valentine’s funeral. One month later, on the fifth of October, the Count invites Maximilien to the island of Monte Cristo, and there reveals it was he who rescued M. Morrel from suicide years earlier and presents Valentine, alive and well, to an overjoyed Maximilien. He gives a letter to Jacopo, which is to be delivered to the two reunited young people, telling he has left all of the treasure to Maximilien. He departs with Haydee, who offers him a new love and life, beginning anew.

*In most English translations, Heloise’s son’s name is translated as Edward.

List of Edmond Dantes’s aliases:

  • Edmond Dantes
  • Number 34 – While imprisoned in the Chateau D’If, Edmond becomes to be known as No. 34 as the new governor of the prison does not feel it is worth to learn all of the prisoners’ names, thus he assigns them numbers.
  • Sinbad the Sailor – The alias that Edmond takes on when he is rescued by the sailors after he escapes from prison as well as other occasions.
  • Count of Monte Cristo – The extremely wealthy and mysterious aristocrat. The Count is marked by a pale countenance and always has a smile that can be interpreted as either diabolical or angelic.
  • Lord Wilmore – An Englishman who performs random acts of generosity as well as kind, he is eccentric and refuses to speak French. As he is opposite of the Count’s character, they are appropriately supposed to be enemies.

Recommended Editions of The Count of Monte Cristo

Various editions of The Count of Monte Cristo are abridged and most unabridged editions, such as the Modern Library and Oxford’s World Classics use the English translation by Chapman and Hall (1846). However, Penguin Classics published a new unabridged edition of Monte Cristo in 1996 with an introduction by Robin Buss. The text is updated for modern readers, yet it still manages to keep the spirit of the original story, and it has also restored content that was omitted in the 1846 translation due to Victorian English social restrictions. Other English translations of the book exist but are rarely seen in print and most borrow from the 1846 translation.

Editions I recommend:

  • The Modern Library edition – Complete and unabridged, it has the archaic English translation and uses the 1846 translation.
  • Penguin Classics edition – Published in 1996, there is an introduction by Robin Buss, and it is the best edition available as far as unabridged, restored texts of Monte Cristo is concerned. The English is slightly updated for modern readers. Includes notes.
  • There is an edition of Monte Cristo by Claude Schopp, published by Robert Laffont, Paris (1993), which has a reprint of Jacques Peuchet’s text. I think this is the first class edition for those who wish to read the original text that inspired Mr. Dumas to write Monte Cristo.
  • As for audio books, I would recommend the Blackstone Audio Inc. edition (published in 1996), read by Fred Williams and his narration is good. I’ve only found it on audio cassette and it’s split into three parts totaling thirty-five cassettes, with a length of one and a half hours each. It uses the 1846 translation.

Film Adaptations

The Count of Monte Cristo has been made into films several times, though it is said the best adaptation ever was the 1934 version, starring Robert Donat as Edmond Dantes. This version is featured in the movie V for Vendetta and is referred to throughout the movie. It is available at Amazon.com on VHS.

Another version, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, is an anime adaptation, released in 2004, and it retells the tale with a futuristic and some supernatural elements. It is the first film adaptation I have seen of Monte Cristo and it is very enjoyable.

Links

Claude Schopp Interview – Article containing interview with Claude Schopp about The Count of Monte Cristo.

137 Years Later a New Story is Discovered – Claude Schopp uncovers a forgotten manuscript while researching Alexandre Dumas.

Answers.com article – Article discussing Monte Cristo

Further Notes on The Count of Monte Cristo – Includes notes on the plot summary, characters, themes, style, historical context, etc.

Pierre Picaud, the real “Count” – Brief summary of Pierre Picaud

The Count of Monte Cristo on Project Gutenburg

Alexandre Dumas – Biography of Mr. Dumas and summary of his great classics, including Monte Cristo.

Château de Monte Cristo (official website) – Translated into English, view the website in the original French here.