Sunday February 24, 2019

Love, Romance, and fiction

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Photo: parade.com

By Vikas Datta

It is that time of the year again when love and its expression is on everyone’s minds – and makes for a range of spectacles ranging from the touching to grotesquely ludicrous from both those who celebrate Valentine’s Day and those who deride it. But this is a fairly recent social phenomenon, and any serious, fairly wide-ranging reader has already come across any aspect of love that can be conceived – and they don’t have to be aficionados of the romantic genre.

Let alone its role in real life, love, taken here in its most conventional sense of romance, is a fundamental force in literature – and can be seen in various guises and stages that would bewilder the most amorous of us. It often drives the plot (or subverts it), and accounts for quite a bit of motivations of characters and their choices, actions and decisions, even if they are not those directly involved, and can be driving a totally different genre.

Not only the most famous detective in fiction, Sherlock Holmes is also the most noted bachelor, always making light of love – one who “never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer”.

But of the dozen stories in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1892), eight have a motif or motivation of love right from the first (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) to the last (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches“), especially “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”, in which Holmes figures out a mystery which is actually a complicated love story but also displays understanding, though being unsuccessful in placating the distressed party.

Holmes can also simulate love well enough when needed, once ending up engaged – to a housemaid – but with an ulterior motive. (“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“).

Love can even crop up unexpectedly, and help the protagonist achieve the outcome they were striving for. Was it apparent that a bachelor of the most regular habits and schedule, who embarks on a most singular adventure after accepting a bet at his club, would end up hitched at the end? This also enables him to find out that he has not lost his wager.

Phileas Fogg finds he had succeeded in traveling “Around the World in 80 Days” (Jules Verne, 1873), when he decides to marry Aouda, an Indian princess he had saved from being ritually immolated with her dead husband during his eventful journey, and tries to fix an appointment with a clergyman for the wedding.

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” says a character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a break-up between love partners – and the eventual (but not always) reconciliation, is a common component of love stories, and is frequently melodramatic. What if it comes in a way that leaves you in splits?

Say, the hero has left the supposed villain sweltering in a Turkish bath to rescue the heroine he suspects is confined against her will but she doesn’t appear grateful, or the parties make up in a cupboard in which they have been sent as a punishment by their former nurse, who still believes (and treats them) they are children.

For this, we must dip into the hilarious corpus of P.G. Wodehouse. These stories – “A Slice of Life” and “Portrait of a Disciplinarian” respectively – figure in “Meet Mr Mulliner” (1927), where you can also find what atypical actions love can lead you to do in “The Romance of a Bulb-Squeezer”.

And then who is the most successful love champion you could find in fiction? Going by the sheer number of carnal exploits, it is that arch-scoundrel, a cad and lecher, Sir Harry Paget Flashman, a bit player from “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” who gets his own series courtesy George Macdonald Fraser.

At one stage, Flashman, who gets embroiled in almost all major events of the 19th century, counts up his sexual conquests, “not counting return engagements”, and reaches a total of 478 – and at the moment is a dungeon in Gwalior during the 1857 Indian revolt! Since he is is just at a little over a third of his long and eventful life, it must have been considerably augmented, and would include two Indian maharanis, queens of Ethiopia and Madagascar and an imperial concubine who would later become the empress of China. The fictional ones range from assorted noblewomen, African-American slaves, and a daughter of Apache chief Mangas Colorado.

You could find much more extraordinary happening – to paraphrase Shakespeare, there is more in books and stories that can be dreamt in your philosophy. So celebrate Valentine’s Day as you like, but include reading a book. (IANS)

See these excellent collection of Romantic fictions from Amazon

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Proud Of Spreading Chills And Thrills Among Children: ‘Goosebumps’ Author R.L. Stine

I'm very proud of the millions of kids I have scared over the years, and proud that millions of kids were encouraged to read because of my books.

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Scared. Image source: Huffingtonpost.com

R.L. Stine never imagined he’d carve out a successful future for himself by writing a horror book series, which he started by accident. The “Goosebumps” creator says he is proud of spreading chills and thrills among children, and helping youngsters develop a reading habit.

“I’m very proud of the millions of kids I have scared over the years, and proud that millions of kids were encouraged to read because of my books,” Stine told IANS in an email interview.

Born as Robert Lawrence Stine, he started writing when he was 9 and has been penning down his creative thoughts since then. Back in the early 1990s, he resisted the idea of writing “Goosebumps”, which is now one of the best-selling children’s series of all-time, because he already had “Fear Street”, a horror book series for adults, to his credit.

Stine only agreed to go for it with the right name and zeroed in on “Goosebumps”, in which he merged the world of horror with humour. The first edition of “Goosebumps”, which brings supernatural beings to life to haunt children, came out in 1992.

“I never dreamed that these books would be so popular. And I never imagined the ‘Goosebumps’ series would last 26 years. What I’ve learned is that kids really like to be scared! (As long as there is a happy ending),” said Stine, who is also referred to as Stephen King of Children’s Literature.

Children avoid eye contact when anxious
“I’m very proud of the millions of kids I have scared over the years, and proud that millions of kids were encouraged to read because of my books,”-R.L Stine

It has been a long road for the franchise. Since 1992, the “Goosebumps” franchise has expanded its universe. The adventurous world came to life on the big screen with two feature films — “Goosebumps”, which was aired in India on &flix, and “Goosebumps 2”, which will premiere on the channel later this year.

Apart from films, “Goosebumps” series were adapted into a television series, six video games and six comic books.

What do you think makes the franchise timeless?

“I don’t know if they are timeless or not. But I do know that our fears never change. Fear of the dark… Fear of strange places… Fear of being pursued by someone or something… Those fears seem to be timeless,” said the 75-year-old.

R.L. Stine Author of kid’s favorite ‘Goosebumps’ (IANS)

Talking about his influences, Stine said: “I’m still influenced by the comic books I read as a kid. By authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Rod Serling. Your heroes and influences stay with you.”

He asserted that he works really hard at “keeping up with kids and what interests them”.

“All of my books start with real-world settings and events — and then the plot goes crazy,” said the author, adding that “some of my early readers are 30 or 35 years old. To them, I am nostalgia! That took some getting used to”.

In the “Goosebumps” film franchise, actor Jack Black essays role of Stine. But what about a film on your life?

Also Read: Our Children Might Fall into the Black Hole of Ecological Disaster

He was quick to dismiss the idea by saying, “My life story would be someone sitting in a room and typing every day, year after year. Who would want to see a movie like that?”

Back to the book franchise, Stine, who is also a television producer, editor and screenwriter, feels there are still many untold stories from the “Goosebumps” universe.

“I just signed on for six more ‘Goosebumps’ books. That should keep me busy. I’m also writing a series of graphic novels for kids. Fun.” (IANS)