CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST
OK, not yet, but this is the final print of the semester and my final column. My tenure on this hallowed page has been brief, but hopefully, you few (you happy few, you band of Troubadour readers) have enjoyed it as much as I have. If not, I do accept hate mail.
In my articles, I tried to illuminate some of the nerdy and beautiful and cautionary themes in literature and film, but I was able to address only a few of the great works available. As such, I tried to choose stories which you might know.
However, in this last column, I would like to leave you with a few recommendations for your Christmas list, and to make it worthwhile, I hope you’ve heard of none of these — though my opinion of you might improve if you have.
Novel: “By These Ten Bones” by Clare B. Dunkle
Out of all the novels I could have chosen, why this one? Well, firstly, I wanted to highlight a work of which you almost certainly haven’t heard. But it is also my favorite contemporary novel. “By These Ten Bones” is actually a mainstream young adult novel by a Catholic author, but though her less Catholic works were fairly popular, “By These Ten Bones” is forgotten and out of print (but you can find library or Kindle copies!).
It is the anti-“Twilight,” turning the paranormal romance genre on its head, but it is also a profound supposition — what if folk tales were true; what would these evils truly be like, and how would we, in all our weakness and humanity, fight them?
I still get chills re-reading certain passages.
Play: “Dear Brutus” by J.M. Barrie
J.M. Barrie is my favorite author, and this play is one of his best. An extended refection upon the Shakespeare line from which the title is derived, the play centers around the Midsummer Woods, a magical place in which the characters are given the opportunity to see what their lives would have been like if they had made a critically different choice. Each character thus must reckon with his or her personal responsibility and true character, especially as regards romantic and marital failings.
Despite these heavy themes, the play is both comedic and easy to read. Read it; love it. And to the theater department — fall 2021?
Short Story: “The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde
If you’ve read any of these literary works, this is probably the one, but it’s so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. It’s one of Wilde’s “fairy tales,” in the collection “The Happy Prince and Other Tales.” More than anything, “The Nightingale” is a meditation upon love, through the story of a nightingale willing to sacrifice anything for the existence of true, pure love.
Despite the tragic, even dismal, ending, I have rarely encountered such profound and beautiful reflections on love as the Nightingale’s song and sacrifice, which culminates in “the Love that is perfected by Death … the Love that dies not in the tomb.” It’s a very short story (obviously), but there is so much material for self- and spiritual reflection — this is literature to take to the Port.
(Bonus: If you have read “The Nightingale,” try Wilde’s “The Canterbury Ghost” — my runner-up choice!)
Poet: Joyce Kilmer
I couldn’t choose just one poem.
Kilmer is one of my favorites, an American Catholic poet and essayist who died tragically young in World War I. During his life, he was considered (and after his death, was mourned as) the American G.K. Chesterton, but few remember his name anymore. One of my biggest critiques of this university is that we don’t study his writings in American literature classes.
He wrote mostly military and devotional poetry, and his works are traditional in style but address contemporary themes. If he is remembered, he is for his poems “Trees” and “Prayer of a Soldier in France,” but I especially love “The Robe” and “To a Young Poet Who Killed Himself.” But read them all — his canon as a whole explores both humanity and divinity in an extremely profound way, and his writings are available for free online.
Movie: “I Confess”
Last but certainly not least, I present “I Confess,” my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film. Let the plot speak for itself: a priest has a murder confessed to him, then is framed as the murderer.
Masterfully handled by Hitchcock and beautifully acted by Montgomery Cliff, “I Confess” is a uniquely powerful reflection on the seal of confession, the workings of a guilty soul and the ultimate triumph of goodness.
Troubadours come and Troubadours go, but good literature is forever. Happy reading/viewing, and merry Christmas!