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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Frodo and Gerard

Sometimes fictional characters come to you as if from on high, their reputations preceding them so that the first encounter is like meeting a celebrity. Then there are those characters that explode from the mists, leaping onto the mental stage with undeniable presence.

Frodo came recommended. From a chance encounter with The Hobbit, which I didn’t read at the time, I discovered the growing popularity of Tolkien’s creation. A few years later, I bought the books as a set and immediately plunged into it.

Not good. Although there are flashes of lyrical brilliance, The Hobbit's tone is often smarmy if not openly condescending. The adventure has a cartoony feel to it, flat yet colorful. The end result was that it put me off the trilogy for several months, until a lengthy bus ride—my last—almost forced me to find anything to do.

Starting slowly, almost ponderously, Tolkien weaves a very different tale in The Lord of the Rings. The smarmy tone is replaced with near-historical weight, a chronicler rather than chatter. And Frodo, tiny Frodo, is the golden thread that holds the story to the heart, an innocent struggling with a world beyond his ken or control. If Aragorn is the quintessence of human nobility, Frodo is that of the human soul, often battered, always challenged, but rising above it all to endure.

On a long bus ride, with a spot of light in inky darkness, Frodo carried me with him past The Tower, a shared journey unlike any other I will ever have.

Gerard, or more accurately, Brigadier Etienne Gerard, was the best rider, swordsman, adventurer and lover in Napoleon’s Grand Armeé. From the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gerard is Holmes’ equal in memorability, for despute the fact that Sherlock Holmes was the “first” of his kind and Gerard another soldier hero in a long line of warriors, Gerard is panache personified.

Told as tales of an old soldier, the set-up is perfect for romantic excesses handled deftly. Conan Doyle was always proudest of his historical writings and with Gerard, his love of history and powers of characterization are keenly displayed. With delicate tweaks at the British and French amour de guerre, Gerard swashbuckles and gamboles through his adventures, defeating the mightiest, wooing the loveliest and outshining the brightest of friends and foes across the face of a troubled Europe. Gerard is charming in his excessive self-love and pride, but his wit and eye give him a humanity we can all cherish.

Two British writers, two dissimilar characters, one obvious result: admiration. Like the ideal conclusion to blind dates—described beforehand or surprised afterward—one takes the chance and is pleased. Odd how life has a way of doing that, too.


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