that you read before you started blogging!
A Reckless, Irreverent Retelling
of the “Golden Oldies” on the Required Reading List!
by Richard Armour with
illustrations by Campbell Grant
It only cost 50 cents!!!
In this fun little book, English Professor Richard Armour offers up irreverent retellings of various classics, including The Iliad, Julius Caesar, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Silas Marner and David Copperfield. He also includes brief biographies of the authors. At the end of each book description, he includes a short little quiz on what you’ve “learned.” The whole thing is 132 pages but averages at least 3.5 chuckles per page.
My copy (published in 1960) was my dad’s, and I remember reading it over and over again when I was younger. After he passed away in August, my mom asked us if we wanted any of my dad’s books to remember him by. When I saw this one on the shelves, it was like seeing an old friend. Not only did it remind me of my dad, it reminded me of my childhood. Upon rereading it recently, it was exactly as I remembered it and just as enjoyable.
I think this book is a great companion piece when reading any of these classic tales. Armour has a light touch, a wonderful sense of sarcasm, and a deft wit—skewering the classics in a way that is both educational and amusing. I suspect that reading this book is about 85.9% more fun than reading the actual classics it “reclassifies.”
I’ve been thinking of this book lately as I’ve watched Ti and her fellow readers struggle through Moby Dick. I thought it would be fun to excerpt some of the passages from the book related to Moby Dick as a little gift to Ti and the others (and to provide a feel for the tone of the book). This little gem of a book is a fine addition to any library and a great way to enjoy the classics in a light-hearted way.
We seem about to be introduced to this Captain Ahab in Chapter XXII, but Melville, not wanting to rush things, elects at this point to give an account of the history and literature of whaling. Of course you knew all along that Louis XIV outfitted several whaling ships at his own expense, that Alfred the Great wrote the first narrative of a whaling voyage, and that the grandmother of Benjamin Franklin was Mary Folger, who had something or other to do with the whaling industry. Nevertheless, you are grateful to be reminded of these facts, and the story can wait.
Unless you are interested in a catalogue of famous pictures of whales, the manufacture of rope lines, the anatomy of a whale’s eye, ear and tail, how to skin a whale and cook the blubber, and the history of whaling from Perseus to the present, you would do well to turn from Chapter XXXVI to Chapter CXXXIII without delay, thus saving nearly a hundred chapters without anybody’s knowing the different if you keep quiet. After all, Ahab isn’t the only one entitled to be a skipper.
It should be added that the whole story is full of allegory and symbolism. Ahab stands for something, the sea stands for something, and Moby Dick, as we have already pointed out, stands for something. The reader has to stand for quite a bit, too.
From Questions on Moby Dick:
3. How does a whaler demonstrate how big the one was that got away?
7. Do you realize how much information you have picked up about whales? Has this made you any happier and better adjusted?