Monday, March 7, 2011

Frontier Wolf--Rosemary Sutcliff

This book is part of the Dolphin Ring Series, the same series that starts off with “The Eagle of the Ninth”, which the recently released movie, “The Eagle” was based on. I don't know if the movie is any good, as I have yet to see it. But I do know that Ms. Sutcliff's books have been flying off my library's shelves. I haven't been able to snag a single one. My boss, who enjoyed reading her books back when he was a pup, felt sorry for me and left me this book on my desk the other day with a post-it note saying, “Enjoy!” So with all of the hype for the movie, plus Ancient Rome being one of my favorite subjects, I was anxious to crack it open.

First of all, the research she did for this book, and I'm sure the others as well, was amazing. She really went above and beyond to get all of the details (scenery, names, food, clothes, etc...) just right, and I really appreciated that. She even has an author's note prefacing the text stating she was reluctant to publish this book because there had yet to be any evidence of Roman occupation found matching the area (environs of Edinburgh) and the date (343 AD). She had the same misgivings for the first book in the series, but published anyways, and 25 years later they were digging up remains of the Second Legion all over where it was set (Exeter).

And as for the plot, it really moved along. She could definitely spin a good yarn, and I could see this book being really popular with younger readers.

But there was one area where I thought she was lacking: character development. And for me, that's pretty much the most important aspect of a novel. You could write a book where all the main character does is sit on the couch and drink beer all day, but if I feel like I have been made privy to his innermost thoughts, desires, regrets, etc... I will come away feeling like the book was worthwhile.

Now, as this is categorized as a young adult book, I was hesitant to say anything negative about it. But then I remembered that the Harry Potter series, as well as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, were geared towards a younger audience, and I couldn't get enough of those. And why? Fascinating characters who I will always remember.

The Poems of Exile - Ovid

Why was Ovid banished to Tomis? No one really knows for sure. Augustus’ daughter Julia had already been banished for her over-the-top promiscuous lifestyle, and we know that Ovid’s poetry definitely promoted that sort of thing. He was even asked by the emperor to clean it up. Of course, he refused. Was his refusal perceived as treason? Did Augustus ultimately blame him for his daughter’s behavior? Or did it come out that he had been one of her paramours? Who knows.

Some have said that banishment from Rome during its flowering age was worse than being executed. At least when you’re dead, all of your trials and hardships are dead with you. But they are only intensified when you ponder that all of your friends and family are still in the bosom of Rome, enjoying all it has to offer, and you’re stuck in some faraway hell hole. It would seem Ovid was of this mind.

Tomis, modern day ConstanĊ£a, Romania, on the Black Sea coast, is now a resort. Look it up. It’s gorgeous! Nice beach, great weather, what’s not to like? But did Ovid see it like that? No, he hated it. And he despised the yokels he was now forced to live amongst. To him, they were little more than animals.

But to them, he was a celebrity. They felt honored that he was now living with them, practically worshipped him, and wanted nothing more than to cater to his every whim. Yet he barely tolerated them and ran them down every chance he could in his letters. They weren’t aware of his true feelings about them until someone happened to read one of his outgoing letters to his wife, where, as usual, he is running them down. Word quickly gets around about how he really feels about them, and from then on they want nothing to do with him. He then finds out what it really means to be banished.

The stereotypical Roman was supposed to be stoical, practical, tough, etc.. These letters reveal Ovid to be anything but. Instead of accepting his fate, and trying to make the best of his situation, Ovid whines and complains to no end. He begs his wife, who remained in Rome, to plead with Augustus for forgiveness. Did she? I doubt it. She was probably glad to be rid of him.

Although I did enjoy reading it (the dude could write, you know), I sometimes found myself shouting at him to just shut up and stop whining already. Just accept your fate and deal with it! You call yourself a roman?! You’re worthless and weak! It’s a pity that someone who possessed such poetic talent was ultimately reduced to being a pathetic, miserable little man.