What I read in September.

September was another month when I put away a ton of books with the help of the book readers on my new smart phone. The quality of what I read doesn’t quite match up with most of the rest of the year, but I can’t really say I’m sorry I read any of the books that I read this month. And in the case of the last book on the list, I am glad to be done with what was a more than 6-year long ordeal.

Long Live the King!
Mary Roberts Rinehart.

This was a strange book. I found it on Aldiko’s list of public domain books and it sounded interesting, so I read it. Rinehart is apparently a famous mystery writer, but this isn’t a mystery. It is an adventure with very little adventuring or a romance without much romance. This is the story of a fictional European Kingdom that is trying to fend off a communist revolution and survive the death of an elderly king when the heir is still a small child.

What makes this book even slightly interesting is that it is written from a decidedly American point of view. The revolutionaries are very clearly bad guys, if they were to gain control of the country it would be a disaster. The monarchy, however, is portrayed as mostly corrupt and incompetent. It doesn’t really get the reader to root for them. There is constant talk of America and the great Abraham Lincoln that never stops reminding the reader that this monarchy business is all nonsense. There are plots within plots and several different factions vying for power, but by the end of the novel, nothing really comes from it.

Long Live the King! is a slog. The elements for a quality adventure or romance story are here, but they never build to any sort of satisfactory climax. It is long and too unfocused to be worth reading.

Pagan Passions
Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer

This is the second of my forays into unknown old stuff on my phone. Pagan Passions is a sci-fi story about what the world would be like is the Greek Gods showed back up after being away for 2000 years. And apparently, what would happen are orgies. Big, oddly sexless orgies.

The protagonist (whose name escapes me) is a college professor and disciple of Athena who is suddenly called upon to become the new stand in for Bacchus. Because Bacchus is dead. Since no one says no to the Gods, he does it. Though he does start to wonder how a God died. During an orgiastic festival in his honor, he sleeps with Aphrodite and pisses off Ares. So as he fights Ares, he finally learns what is up with the Gods.

I’ll just spoil it, since this book is kind of trash. The Greek Gods were actually immortal space criminals. Except for a few who had to be replaced. So the new Bacchus turns them in to the space authorities and frees Earth from their influence. The premise of this book is interesting, but what it actually is is garbage.

Tarzan of the Apes.
Edgar Rice Burroughs

There is a damn good reason that Tarzan has remained a part of pop culture for the more than 80 years since this book was written. This is one fine adventure. It draws heavily on Kipling and is full of pure nonsense, but it hit with the force and energy of a train. The whole thing is rarely, if ever believable. Still, it is hard not to get caught up in it anyway.

Tarzan’s story is the one that everyone knows. A family is marooned in Africa and after his mother as die; a tribe of apes adopts Tarzan. His life with them trains him to be superhumanly strong. After reaching adulthood, he chafes at the primitive society of the animals and luckily encounters another set of castaways, including his famous love Jane. This sets of a series of events that lead to Tarzan rejoining human society.

There is no excuse to have not read Tarzan. It is a short, quick read and is easily available since it is in the public domain. It is a thoroughly pleasant diversion.

The Return of Tarzan.
Edgar Rice Burroughs.

This is just more Tarzan. The first Tarzan was about a sadly abandoned boy growing up in the jungle and eventually returning to civilization. This second book simply contains his further adventures.

After he saw Jane betrothed to another man at the end of the first book, Tarzan returns to his friend in France, who sets him up with a job as a counter-spy for the French government. So Tarzan goes to Morocco and wrestles lions while pissing off some Russian spies. What follows is a series of betrayals, shipwrecks and lion wrestling that strains credulity. Even more so than the first book about a boy being raised by gorillas and teaching himself to read.

It is tough to ignore how much of the plot relies on absurd coincidence, but there is still some entertaining pulp adventure to be found here.

The Princess Bride
William Goldman

This is a re-read and the Princess Bride is one of my favorite novels. Also, I want to write a full post about this book and movie. So I am only going to give the merest review here. The Princess Bride novel has everything you love about the movie (and you love the movie because you aren’t a soulless monster, right?) plus more. It is simply slightly better than the movie in every way. And the movie is a classic. Read this.

The Once and Future King
T.H. White

This should be the centerpiece of this month’s book reviews but I can’t write it. Part of it has to do with the troubles I’ve had reading this book. (see here) I have been reading The Once and Future King off and on for nearly 6 years. So yes, the early parts are somewhat foggy in my memory. If any of it managed to sink in past the thoughts of the Disney version of the first book. The fogginess of the early parts makes it hard to say exactly how the themes fit together. And this book is all symbolism, theme and anachronism.

It assumes the reader knows the story of King Arthur and Camelot and its fall. Which everyone does. Right? At least the gist of the story, about the triangle of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere. And of Mordred’s treachery. People should know it and if they don’t they should follow the advice of White and read Mallory. Instead of doing much in the way of recounting what happened. The Once and Future King tries to explain why the events were inevitable. So the first half of the book is about young Arthur and his education at the hands of Merlin. As well as about the early life of the Orkney clan, Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, Agrivaine and eventually Mordred. Then the second half is about Lancelot and his triumphs and failings. Then finally about the fall of Camelot.

Arthur’s problem is his inability to reconcile the concepts of ‘might’ and ‘right.’ He starts off fighting the idea that might makes right, but that eventually fails because he fights might with might. In the end, might must win. He tries other approaches of enforcing right and channeling might, but while he has a vision of how civilization is supposed to work, Arthur lacks the ability to realize this vision.

Knowing how this story ends makes it all the more tragic. Everyone, with the possible exceptions of Agrivaine and Mordred, tries to do what is right, but each and every one of them fails in some way. It ends with Arthur dying and/or heading for Avalon, but not before bestowing his vision on a young Thomas Malory and tasking future generations with trying to realize it. There is so much in this dense, dense work that I feel it needs greater focus than I can give it here. It is enough to say that everyone should read this.

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