Monday, December 01, 2008

The end of all things

I have been reading and watching a lot of media about the end of the world and death lately.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr. Rated PG-13 for violence. As promised, this was a story about the preservation of human knowledge by monks in the wake of a nuclear war. The war was blamed on intellectuals, politicians, and scientists, so a kind of pogrom was carried out against them, ushering in a new dark age. The story picks up centuries later, as humanity begins waking up from the nightmare. The book is bittersweet, as is any story of history repeating as tragedy and farce. A Hugo winner, a thinking person's book, a true classic. Highly recommended.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. Rated PG for adult themes. This is the play that focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet, staying with them when the action moves elsewhere. Hamlet is larger than life; this play is kind of the same size. I still remember the first time I saw this live, in 1997. I've read it and seen it many times since. I think it was just time again. It's about being lost, and about living without a sense of meaning. It's about what you lose by wandering around and doing as you're told. There are many possible interpretations, of course. It's witty and brilliant. Read it yesterday.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Rated R for nudity, language, violence, disturbing images, adult themes. This is the only comic ever to win a Hugo award, the only graphic novel on Time's list of the best 100 novels of the 20th century. It was trailblazing in many ways, and it's as epic a tale as you will ever read.

It's set in an alternative America where superheroism was briefly in vogue, but has since fallen out of fashion. The world's only real uber-man, Doctor Manhattan, was created in a nuclear accident. He has control over matter, time, and space, and allows himself to be pressed into service as America's Doomsday Device, Missile Shield, and Blitzkrieg all in one. He ends the Vietnam War victoriously, but the tensions of the Cold War, the specter of nuclear annihilation and the end of the world still hang over the story.

For all that, it's an unforgettably human story, with complex characters. And a metafictional extravaganza that embeds an entire pirate horror story in parallel with the action. And the best ending ever. It's heartwrenching, and so rereadable, even the writer said he had to read it several times to catch all the details the artist put in.

And then there's Six Feet Under, and I haven't really brought all this together yet... but I'll get there.

1 comment:

Bill Lewis said...

We had Canticle in our house for over 20 years. It is funny to have you just discover it now! :)