After the ceremony, the Chief Elder goes to see Asher privately. She tells him that, despite the official record, Jonas is still alive but that he's become dangerous and must be stopped before he reaches the Rocks. Asher asks her what she wants him to do, and she responds that he is to use his knowledge of Jonas and ability as a drone pilot to find and get rid of his friend. Asher obediently starts the search, his drone plane surveying the barren wasteland. Asher eventually tracks Jonas down; the motorized bike he had taken from the security guard has run out of power, and he is now walking towards the boundary carrying Gabe.
Asher addresses Jonas over the drone's communication system, asking him what he's doing. Jonas pleads with his friend to trust him, then starts running as the drone swoops toward him. Asher locks some sort of tractor beam on his friend, picking him and Gabe up. However, instead of killing them, he drops them into a river. He then reports back to the Chief Elder, telling her that the job is done.
Jonas manages to swim to shore with Gabe, but now the two of them are far into the sweltering desert. Exhausted and worried about running out of supplies, he thinks about quitting, but knows that both Fiona and Asher will pay the price for helping him if he fails in his task. He strengthens Gabe with memories of joy and good times, and focuses his own thoughts on Fiona.
Meanwhile, Fiona has been incarcerated, awaiting a judgement. In her capacity as a member of the Justice Department, Jonas' mother comes to see her, telling her that her "release" has been arranged, saying that there will be a nice ceremony for her. So comforting. As she turns to leave, Fiona tells her that she knows there is more; she has felt things- warm, beautiful things which have been stolen from them, and which Jonas is trying to give back.
Out in the wilderness, Jonas and Gabe have reached the mountain at the far end of the desert and have started to climb, entering a region of snow. Reaching the top, Jonas pulls out the map in confusion... he should be able to see the boundary tower from where they are. Freezing and in despair, he starts down the far side of the mountain carrying the bundled up baby, but loses consciousness and falls.
Back in the Community, the Giver, who is still in custody, is brought in to observe Fiona's release to Elsewhere with the Council. As the video of scenes from Fiona's childhood plays, creepily celebrating her life, he pleads with the Chief Elder to put a stop to this. She coldly tells him that if he doesn't want to see it, to close his eyes.
Jonas'father enters the room- he's going to be administrating the lethal injection. After all, he's had lots of practice. Bizarrely, he asks Fiona if she's comfortable. She bluntly tells him that she's scared, but he says that she doesn't need to be: she knows him, and he'll be very gentle. In the observation room, the Giver starts to talk about Rosemary, saying that she was his daughter and that he loved her. He asks the Chief Elder if she knows what love is- stating that he has experienced it. The Elder responds that he has also seen pain and suffering, children starving, and men killing each other over "a line in the sand". She can't comprehend that he and Jonas want to bring all of that back. The Giver tells her that she doesn't see the possibilities that love brings: faith and hope. The Chief Elder retorts that love is just passion which can turn to contempt and murder. The Giver says that they could choose better, but the Elder states: "People are weak. People are selfish. When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong every single time."
Lying in the snow, Gabe is crying while Jonas remains unconscious. Suddenly, there is the faint sound of voices singing in the air; Gabe stops crying, and Jonas slowly opens his eyes. As he looks dazedly around, he sees the sled which he had seen in the first memory he had received from the Giver. He struggles through the snow to it and climbs on, holding Gabe in front of him and starting to slide down the mountainside.
The Giver is still trying to convince the Chief Elder. He tells her that loss and pain, music, joy and love are worth it. He says that they are living a life of shadows and whispers of things that once made them real. The Chief Elder coldly states that they must continue, and Jonas' father prepares to inject Fiona.
At that moment, the sled carrying Jonas and Gabe slides past the two pillars marking the edge of the Barrier, and from there a wave of colour- and memory- sweeps like a wave across the landscape. In the community, Jonas' father is just about to release Fiona when he suddenly freezes, hit with the memories of the past and seeing in colour for the first time. The same thing happens to everyone else, and Fiona looks up and smiles.
Jonas- narrating once again- says that he wishes he could have been in the community when the memories returned, stating that the memories were the truth, while the Elders and their rules were the lie. He knows that Fiona is safe and that he'll see her again. The sled comes to a stop at the bottom of the hill and Jonas can see a house from which the music they faintly heard earlier seems to be coming. Jonas says that he knows the Giver led him and Gabe there, and he walks toward the door carrying the baby.
Jonas continues his training, gaining more and more memories, and realizes that he feels truly alive for the first time in his life. He also learns that there used to be other forms of life on earth- animals. The Giver tells him that, unlike people now, even those creatures knew who their actual parents were, and experienced joy and pain. Jonas has no concept of non-physical pain, so the Giver shares a memory of an elephant, which is then hunted down and killed by poachers. Jonas is horrified by such cruelty, and the memory of it keeps him awake that night. Then, hearing Gabe crying, he gets up and goes to comfort him, holding his hand and giving him the memory of the elephant, but only before it was killed. Later on, back in his own room, Jonas falls asleep and finds himself back in the memory of the wedding, only this time he's running with a girl- who has Fiona's face- through the woods and, stopping under a tree, presses his lips to hers. Confused, he describes this memory to the Giver, who laughs and says it was a dream, correctly deducing that Jonas hasn't been taking his injections. Thinking back over the entire memory, Jonas remarks that all of the people at the wedding seemed to have something... more... which he senses but can't name. The Giver says that it's something which they don't have any longer: love. Later on, meeting up with Fiona and remembering his dream, Jonas looks at her as if he's never seen her before, and for the first time in his life feels awkward with his friend.
That evening, Jonas thoughtfully watches his father and Lilly playing with Gabe and then asks abruptly, "Father, do you love me?" As his father looks up, startled, his mother immediately chides him for not using precision of language. Lilly asks what "love" means, and their mother says that it is a word "so antiquated that it no longer has any application." Their father says that if Jonas is asking if they enjoy him and take pride in his accomplishments, the answer is yes. He asks if Jonas understands, and Jonas answers yes, he thinks that he finally does. That night, hearing Gabe crying, Jonas goes again to him, making faces to get the baby to laugh. Then, sobering, he whispers to Gabe that he loves him.
The next day, Jonas arrives for his training and finds the Giver writhing on the floor, obviously gripped by some terrible memory. As Jonas rushes to his side, the Giver yells at him to get down and grabs his arm, which causes him to experience the memory, too. It is of war, and Jonas reels in horror as men all around him are shot and killed. As he comes back to himself, huddled on the floor, the Giver is desperately apologizing, saying he didn't mean to give Jonas those kinds of memories until several years had passed and he was more prepared. Jonas scrambles away from him, saying he can't do this- that he's not strong enough. As the Giver pleads with him to let him explain what he's seen, Jonas flees the building.
Jonas walks through the park in a daze, not even noticing when Asher speaks to him. He wonders if the Elders weren't right after all, erasing such terrible things from their memories. Realizing something's wrong, Fiona chases after him and he asks her what she thinks would happen if she didn't take her morning injection. Confused, she says that an alarm would remind her. Jonas says no, what if she deliberately didn't take it and, concerned, Fiona again asks him what's wrong. He tells her that he's going to quit, that he can't be the Receiver. Upset, Fiona says that he can't quit- that he'll be sent to Elsewhere if he does. Returning to his original point, Jonas gives her an apple, and says that if she pricks her finger and puts a drop of blood on it, she can fool the injector into thinking she's taken her shot. Fiona tells him that it's impossible, but Jonas informs her that he's been doing it for months now without being caught. Fiona makes a deal with him: she'll try it if he promises not to quit his training. He agrees, and they arrange to meet the next day after work inside the triangular hedge in the park which gives a modicum of privacy from the ever-present and ever-watchful surveillance cameras.
In the morning, Jonas reluctantly returns to the giver's dwelling and walks into a memory of the Giver sitting with a girl at the piano. He asks who she is, and the Giver tells him that her name was Rosemary, and that she was the one chosen ten years ago to be the Receiver. Jonas asks what happened, and the Giver says that he started out just giving her good, beautiful memories, but she was impatient and after only two months of training, demanded to be given bad memories as well. He reluctantly complied, giving her a memory of a mother losing her child. Unready for such sorrow, Rosemary fled and without discussing it with the Giver first, went to the Council of Elders and asked to be released from her training. Jonas says naively that, since she was released, she must live in Elsewhere now. The Giver stares at him grimly for a moment, then turns on his view screen and asks for the record of the latest release to be shown.
A recording made at the Nurturing Center that morning starts playing, and Jonas watches with interest as his father and another nurturer weigh a set of twins. As they check the babies' weights, one is slightly heavier than the other, and Jonas' father is relieved, saying he was afraid that they'd weigh the same. As the other nurturer takes the heavier baby back to the nursery, his father carries the other into another room and as Jonas watches in disbelief and growing horror, injects the baby with poison, talking cheerfully to him until he stops moving and dies. The Giver tells the sickened Jonas that his father doesn't know what he's doing, but Jonas finds that hard to accept as he watches him unfeelingly put the baby's body in a box and drop it down the garbage chute. He states flatly that his father killed the child, but the Giver says that he doesn't really know what it means... that the young and the old are both killed, and soon his friend Fiona will be trained to do it, too. Revolted, Jonas says that Fiona would never do that, not if she understood... the Giver cuts him off and says that they're the only ones who truly see it for what it is. Jonas says, then it's their fault for not doing something to stop it, to make peoplefeeland understand, but the Giver asks him what he thinks they could do. Jonas has no answer.
Later that day, Jonas strides through the park, his face set, his eyes hard, his innocence gone. Reaching the triangle, he enters it and finds Fiona sitting on the ground, beset by emotions she doesn't know how to handle. Jonas takes her hand and asks her what she feels. Unsure and scared, she starts backing away, saying she needs to go to work; she has the night shift. Jonas leans forward and gently kisses her, and tells her that there is so much more than what they have. Awash in new and unaccustomed thoughts and emotions, Fiona dazedly leaves for work. Jonas remembers that when he was younger, he had dreamed of Fiona and told his parents, who said it was the Stirrings, which were nothing to worry about: everyone got them around that age, and they were controlled with medication.
Jonas returns home to find his family sitting down to dinner. Immediately noticing that the baby isn't there, he asks where Gabe is. His mother says coolly that "Uncertain" has been returned to the Nurturing Center, and his father says matter-of-factly that Gabe failed his maturity test, so will have to be released to Elsewhere. Jonas says, "But he's family" and his cold fish of a mother starts harping about precision of language again. His father tells Jonas to sit down and eat, but Jonas says he's tired and goes to his room. Once there, he packs a bag and, once everyone is settled in for the night, sneaks out of the house and quietly rides away on his bike. Unfortunately, Asher sees him leaving and intercepts him, telling Jonas that it's against the rules for him to leave his dwelling after curfew. Jonas tries to reason with him, saying that he has to do something that's right, though it's sort of against the rules but Asher counters that, if it was the right thing to do, it wouldn't be against the rules. Jonas tells Asher to get out of his way, and when he won't the two boys struggle and Jonas ends up punching his friend so he can get away.
Jonas goes directly to the Giver's residence and tells him that Gabe is in danger, and that he's going to rescue him and leave the community. He's going to attempt to cross the Boundary of Memory, hoping that it actually will release the memories back to everyone and make them aware of all they've lost. He wants the Giver to come with him, but the Giver says that if Jonas succeeds, there will be much chaos and confusion, and the community will need him to guide them through the trauma. Meanwhile, Asher has told Jonas' parents about what happened, and his mother informs the Chief Elder. She contacts the Giver, who lies and says that Jonah hasn't been there. The elder suspects he's lying and sends security guards to his residence. Knowing they're on the way, the Giver hurriedly gives Jonas a bunch of memories of courage to strengthen him, then sends him on his way.
Jonas makes it to the Nurturing Center where, fortunately, Fiona is working the night shift. He tells her that he's taking Gabe and leaving the community. He asks her to come with him, as security forces start to sweep through the center. Fiona says that she can't leave the children, so Jonas tells her that, once he gets to the boundary, she'll understand and that he'll come back for her. She kisses him and then distracts the guards so that he and Gabe can escape. She is then taken into custody. Jonas is able to get away by stealing one of the security guard's motorcycles, using it to jump from the cliff by the Giver's residence and enter the forbidden region.
Meanwhile,the Chief Elder has been watching the surveillance tapes and realizes what Jonas is trying to do. She arrives at the Giver's residence with a security force and finds him sitting in his chair. He he apologizes for failing, but the Elder says that she doesn't think he did fail. She thinks that he's been planning this ever since Rosemary was released. One of the men tasers the Giver and he, too is taken into custody, ending up in a cell next to Fiona, who has been forcibly given her injection.
The Chief Elder tell the people of the community that Jonas has been "lost to the edge" and they have a ceremony of release for him. Lilly asks how they know he's gone, and her mother tells her that they must never mention Jonas' name again. Lilly stubbornly says that she will continue to do so, and she is told to hush.
"To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore... to me it is astonishing and miraculous to think that any one of us can poke among the stalls for something to read overnight- and that this something may be the sum of a lifetime of sweat, tears, and genius that some poor, struggling, blessed fellow expended trying to teach us the truth." -Lionel Barrymore
The Giver is a 2014 movie based on the Newbery Award- winning young adult novel by the same name. I had never read the book, though several of my sisters had, and they loved it. I also didn't see the movie when it came out, but gave it as a gift to one of the aforementioned sisters this Christmas. I have now seen it, and found it interesting enough to download the book, which I've now read. After I finish discussing the movie, I think I'll do a post comparing the film to the book. The Giver takes place in an unspecified time, in an unspecified community on earth, many years after something which is referred to as The Ruin. The protagonist of the movie- and occasional narrator- is Jonas, a sixteen-year-old boy who is nervously anticipating the upcoming graduation ceremony where he and all the other kids his age will be assigned their careers.
The community is seen to be orderly, peaceful, and well-organized, where every person has a place and function. The children are observed throughout their school years to see what their aptitudes are, and then they are assigned careers which correlate with those skills. For example, Fiona, one of Jonas' two best friends, is a caring person who enjoys working with the babies at the Nurturing Center, and hopes to be assigned to a career as a nurturer. The reason Jonas is apprehensive about the graduation is because, while he has excelled at all his studies, he has never felt a particular affinity for any career.
Jonas- no last name- lives with his family unit which consists of his "father," "mother," and "sister," Lilly. The quotation marks are because they aren't an actual family: babies are born to "birth mothers" who are basically brood mares, then are taken to the nurturing center to be cared for until they are assigned to their "families". Jonas' father is the head of the Nurturing Center, while his mother works at the justice department. At the nurturing center, we are introduced to Gabriel, a baby who Jonas' father is worried about because he isn't settling and learning to sleep through the night. Actually, it was against the rules for him to look up the baby's assigned name, as names are only revealed when a baby is assigned to a family: until then, they are known as "uncertain". But Jonas' father thinks that calling the baby by a name might help him to focus and settle, so peeked at his forms. That evening at dinner, as each family member takes a turn sharing their feelings, Jonas says that he is terrified about the ceremony, and is immediately chastised by his mother for not using "precision of language". Using precise language- no exaggeration or hyperbole- is one of the strictures of their society. He apologizes and corrects himself- he is anxious. His parents tell him not to worry- the Elders have been watching him since he was a baby, and will know what job he is best suited for.
There are rules about everything in the community, governing every part of life. Nothing is left to chance or choice, from the name you are given, to your job, to whom you marry. These decisions are made by the Council of Elders, who announce many of them at the annual Ceremony. The Ceremony isn't just a graduation for the Twelves: a lot of other things occur at it as well. The seniors of a certain age are being sent to Elsewhere for retirement, babies are assigned to their families, etc. Jonas' sister Lilly, as she becomes a Nine, is -along with the other children her age- assigned one of the bicycles that everyone in the community rides. The graduation of the Twelves, however, is the main event, which the Chief Elder herself attends in holographic form to announce the job selections for each Twelve.
The Chief Elder calls each graduate forward and announces their future occupation, concluding each assignment with the phrase "Thank you for your childhood." Fiona, as expected, is assigned to the Nurturing Center while Jonas' other friend, careless and fun-loving Asher, is to become a drone pilot, the Chief Elder explaining that they feel that giving him responsibility will teach him to be responsible. To everyone's confusion, when Jonas' turn comes, the Chief Elder skips over him and goes on to the next graduate. Jonas waits with growing unease as every last Twelve except him is assigned to a position. The Chief Elder then announces that Jonas hasn't been assigned to a job: he's been chosen for the most important one there is. She explains that the Elders have studied Jonas very carefully and concluded that, due to his intelligence, integrity, and courage, as well as something she vaguely refers to as "an ability to see beyond", he is the perfect one to become the new Receiver of Memories. She assures the crowd that they were extremely careful this time, not wanting a failure like ten years before. As Jonas stands on the stage, dazed and a bit scared, the audience starts chanting his name. After the ceremony, Jonas asks his father what happened ten years ago. His father starts to answer, but his mother cuts him off and says that they don't speak of it.
The next day Jonas goes to the dwelling of the Receiver, an old man who holds all the memories of the world as it was before the Ruin, and who will be passing these on to Jonas. He tells Jonas to refer th him as the Giver. The Giver's house is filled with books, which Jonas finds startling because in the community, the only books are those with the rules, and school text books. Also, he is unnerved by the Giver bluntly telling him to ignore many of the rules which he has lived by his entire life... he tells him that he can be "rude," a term which, in the community, covers everything from asking personal questions to physically touching someone outside your family. The Giver breaks this one straight off, as he has to hold on to Jonas' wrists to pass on memories to him.
The first memory that he gives Jonas is of sliding down a snow covered hill on a sled. Jonas grins with delight as he goes faster and faster, before coming to a stop at the bottom, from where he can see a house in the distance. As he returns to reality, Jonas leaps from his chair, gasping, and asking the Giver what he just saw. The Giver explains that they no longer have weather like snow due to their climate being controlled, so that crops can be grown all year round and there will be no food shortages.
Meanwhile, at home, Jonas can't talk about what he's learning, so basically just has to tell his family that everything is going fine. Also, his father gets permission from the Elders to bring Gabriel to stay at their house until he starts to settle down at night. Jonas' father says he hopes that this will happen, or Gabriel will have to be sent to Elsewhere, instead of being assigned to a family. Lilly demands that he sleep in her room, and Jonas feels a strange connection to the baby, and it becomes evident that he can share memories with little Gabe, as the Giver does with him.
During Jonas' next session, the Giver gives him the memory of sailing on the ocean at sunset, and he sees colour for the first time but doesn't know what to call it. He asks in bewilderment why such beauty would be kept from them. The Giver explains that, in order to make everyone equal, anything which could cause envy or conflict was removed from their world- colour, religion, and strong emotion, for example. He asks if Jonas doesn't think it's better that way, and after a moment of hesitation, he says yes, he supposes it is, but that it's a shame to lose something so beautiful. Now that Jonas has the memory of colours, he starts seeing them all the time.
Jonas meets up with Fiona and Asher, and they discuss their jobs. Fiona loves working at the Nurturing Center, and Asher is really enjoying training to be a drone pilot. He shares with them that he's flown to the edge of Elsewhere, which is marked by two large rocks set at an angle, almost touching. He says that the pilots are forbidden to fly the drones past that point. By now, Jonas has also realized that Elsewhere, where the elderly retire to, and where anyone who doesn't conform to the community is sent to live, is actually a lot closer than they've always thought. He can see it in the distance from the Giver's residence, which is on a cliff at the edge if their community.
His friends ask him about his training, and although he is forbidden from sharing about it, he does try to explain sledding to them. They're standing at the top of a large dome-shaped building, and he tells them to get a tray and slide down the solar panels on it. Asher, once game for anything, has become a stickler for the rules, and won't do it, but Fiona grabs a tray and she and Jonas go speeding down the side of the building, laughing and yelling. At the bottom, they both tumble off and roll in the grass. As Jonas takes Fiona's hands and helps her up, one of the ever-present cameras around the community trains on them, and a public announcement comes over the P.A. system, reminding residents that it is "impolite" to touch people outside your family unit.
Because of this incident, the Giver is called before the Chief Elder, who wants to know why Jonas is suddenly breaking rules. The Giver tells her that there is nothing to worry about, but she says he needs be careful with the training, reminding him what happened ten years ago with "the girl". The Giver retorts that the girl had a name, and the Chief Elder says that she has not forgotten it.
At their next session, the Giver pulls out a book which is entitled "Plan For Sameness" which is the original blueprint used for setting up their present society. In it is a map, on which Jonas can see the rock formation which Asher described. Beyond that is a place called "The Boundary of Memory"which was built to contain all memories in the Receiver. The Giver tells him there's a theory that, if one of the Receivers of Memories goes past that point, then all the memories would be set free and everyone would receive them.
Next the Giver takes Jonas into another room in which there is a grand piano, which Jonas at first thinks is some sort of weirdly-shaped table, because there is also no music in the community. He plays a song for Jonas, who is then sucked into a memory of what appears to be an outdoor wedding, where people of all ages- even the elderly- are talking and laughing, and dancing to music. As Jonas comes back to himself, he demands to know why anyone would want to get rid of something so wonderful. The Giver says enigmatically, "Good question." He also reveals to Jonas at this time that the injections which all citizens take every morning aren't vitamins: they actually suppress emotions and urges.
At home the next morning, Jonas tries to demonstrate dancing to Lilly, humming a tune and whirling her about as she giggles. Their mother walks in, and demands to know what they're doing, as if they were up to something shameful. Just then, the Chief Elder contacts them to speak to Jonas. That's another thing... the Elders can access the view screen in any of the dwellings whenever they wish. The only person with the authority to shut off the screen is the Receiver of Memory. The Chief Elder begins to question Jonas about his training, but he tells her that he isn't allowed to share details about it. His mother reprimands him, saying that the Chief Elder is trying to help. Jonas deliberately lies to her, saying that he and the Giver sit in chairs all day long and don't talk, and then he returns home. On his way out the door, Jonas snags an apple and surreptitiously places it on the injection dispenser, so that the shot goes into the apple rather than his wrist.
So, I had meant to have the first part of my review of the 2014 film The Giver up today, but didn't quite get it finished. I am working on it though, and should have it ready a little later in the week. I've also finished reading a couple of the books I had on the go- one being The Giver, and another, the autobiography of Vera Lynn which I'll eventually get around to reviewing. Also, now that Christmas is over, choir has started up again, and to my delight, we're singing a selection from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus: "Hallelujah, Amen". It's a beautiful piece of music, and after some of the stuff we sang at Christmas, seems like a walk in the park. And it's in English! Not that it really matters, since a good deal of it consists of repeating "Hallelujah, Amen" over and over... ergo the title. Here's a version of it being sung by the Mars Hill Festival Choir in 2014:
Other than this, well, I'm trying to get some other non-book related things done. One of my sisters is getting married in March, and I'm doing some sewing for the wedding. I'm also on the hook to do the cake, but don't have to worry about that quite yet. Also, between now and March, a sister and sister-in-law are both having babies, so I've got a couple baby quilts in production. All of this- in addition to the forty hour work week- means I may occasionally be a little slow in posting my reviews over the next couple months. We'll see how it goes... who knows, maybe I'll be able to keep all the balls in the air. I actually have today off, because I have to go in to work on Saturday, so I should be able to make a dent in some of these tasks. Although I am slipping off to the cinema later on to watch Brooklyn. I'll report on what I thought of that movie later on.
This week, Alan Rickman died at the age of sixty nine. He was an acclaimed actor on both stage and screen, though he's probably best known these days for his role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies which, I confess, I haven't seen. He had a very diverse career, and was adept at playing both heroes and villains. He was, of course, the baddie Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard movie, and as the Sheriff of Nottingham, he was probably the best the best thing about Kevin Costner's silly Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He also played Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, the affectionate send-up of science fiction shows which is a must-see for Star Trek fans. My favourite Rickman role is in 1995's Sense and Sensibility, where he plays Colonel Brandon, the sober middle aged man who falls in love with impetuous young Marianne Dashwood. He is excellent as Brandon, a man of integrity who is ruefully aware that Marianne will never consider him as a suitor. He loves her quietly, patiently, and hopelessly, yet is too honourable to use incriminating information he possesses about his rival to gain an advantage. Alan Rickman was particularly effective in this role, as he was in so many others. He will be missed.
The Code of the Woosters was originally published as a serial in 1938, then came out a short time later in novelized form. It is, as I mentioned in my last post, one of my favourite Jeeves & Wooster works. It's a light, frothy, witty, and clever book which is a joy to read. One of the things I love best about Wodehouse's various works is his skillful use of the English language, and his ability to turn a phrase. Take, for example, Bertie's description of Jeeves' mood at the beginning of the novel: "He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled, so I tactfully changed the subject." Equally delightful are Wooster's descriptions of various other characters, such as Roderick Spode: "It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment." or of Madeline: "For Madeline Bassett was undeniably of attractive exterior- slim, svelte, if that's the word, and bountifully equipped with golden hair and all the fixings.But where the casual observer would have been making his bloomer was in overlooking that squashy soupiness of hers, that subtle air she had of being on the point of talking baby-talk. It was that that froze the blood. She was definitely the sort of girl who puts her hands over a husband's eyes, as he is crawling in to breakfast with a morning head, and says: 'Guess who!'" And then there's the epithet used by an enraged Aunt Dahlia about Sir Watkyn, calling him a "hornswoggling high-binder". It is a source of sadness to me that I have never, in the course of my life, found opportunity to work "hornswoggling high-binder" naturally into any spoken or written sentence. What a phrase! I must admit that, though I've always loved the expression, I never really knew what it meant. I was aware, of course, that to hornswoggle someone is to cheat them, but had no clue about what a high-binder is, so I looked it up today. Turns out that it has two definitions, the first being: "a professional killer operating in the Chinese quarter of an American city", and the second being: "a corrupt politician". I'm going to assume that Dahlia meant the latter, as Sir Watkyn is a retired judge, and, though an unpleasant person, probably never made a habit of wandering the streets of America, intent on homicide.
What also adds to the fun of reading Wodehouse is his charming use of British 1920's slang- which can, admittedly, be a little mystifying to the uninitiated. It is, however, amusing to read even if you don't understand exactly what a phrase or expression means, and it's usually pretty easy to get a general sense of it. For example, when a horrified Bertie refers to Spode's black shorts as "footer bags", it's helpful to know that "bags" is a slang term in Britain for trousers, and "footer" is a shortened form of "football" (soccer on this side of the pond). So footer bags are the short pants worn on the athletic field. This explains Bertie's revulsion: he may occasionally clash with Jeeves over the appropriateness of purple socks or colourful cummerbunds, but he would never be so lost to good taste as to appear in public in such garb. Speaking of Spode, Bertie Wooster has some of his finest moments opposite the bulky dictator, once he is armed with the name "Eulalie", helpfully provided by Jeeves. For someone who is admittedly a little light in the brain department, and who is usually polite to the point of being walked over, his take down of Spode in defense of Gussie is positively masterful: "'Since you ask, Spode, I want to know what the devil you mean by keeping coming into my private apartment, taking up space which I require for other purposes and interrupting me when I am chatting with my personal friends. Really one gets about as much privacy in this house as a strip-tease dancer. I assume that you have a room of your own. Get back to it, you fat slob, and stay there.'... ... He asked me if I had called him a slob, and I said I had. 'A fat slob?' 'A fat slob. It's about time,' I proceeded, 'that some public-spirited person came along and told you where you got off. The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting "Heil, Spode!" and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: "Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?'"
Incidentally, Wodehouse based the character of Roderick Spode (including mustache) on Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of a fascist group in England in the 1930's and '40's. He was a left wing politician in the Labour party, until he decided they weren't radical enough for him (Jeremy Corbyn not being around yet) and left to form a new party which he creatively called the New Party. After losing an election in 1931, he went off to study fascism at the feet of Mussolini in Italy, and came back to Britain convinced that fascism was where it was at, and formed the BUF (British Union of Fascists). Mosley found that his meetings were being subjected to heckling by certain undesirables- like Jewish groups- and so formed a paramilitary group which dressed in black uniforms and were referred to as "blackshirts," like the Italian blackshirts, the German brownshirts, and the various other coloured shirts favored by fascist groups around the world (hence the "black shorts" in Code..."By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left") The Blackshirts brawled with opponents such as Jews and communists, and generally made a nuisance- and fools- of themselves. Already suffering from bad press due to incidents like the rally at Olympia in 1934, and the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, the outbreak of W.W. II pretty much finished off his credibility. Mosley was a big fan of Hitler; his 1936 wedding had taken place in Berlin at the home of Joseph Goebbels and Hitler was one of the guests. You can guess how well this went over when German bombs were falling on London. In 2006, Mosley appeared on the list of BBC History Magazine's ten worst Britons of the last 1000 years, with such distinguished company as Thomas Beckett, King John, and Jack the Ripper. Knowing all this makes Wodehouse's 1938 skewering of him even more enjoyable.
It is certainly one of Bertie's best scenes in any of the Jeeves and Wooster stories. For, while Jeeves certainly provides Bertie with the ammunition, it is Wooster who- after, admittedly, one misfire- uses it to blow a hole right through the swaggering windbag's pretensions and amour propre. Job well done. Bertie also performs very well in facing down Sir Watkyn Bassett with his Aunt Dahlia, nobly offering to take the rap for a crime he didn't commit in order to prevent the loss of Anatole. He's almost-well, sort of- an English Sydney Carton, bravely facing thirty days' incarceration for the pinched police man's helmet. The farewell scene between the condemned man and his aged aunt is particularly touching: "She wrung my hand. 'Good night, Bertie, and good-bye- or rather, au revoir. We shall meet again.' 'Absolutely. When the fields are white with daisies, if not sooner.'"
Of course, it would be a very careless valet who would allow his gentleman to be arrested and carted off to chokey, and Jeeves is not a careless man. Besides, if Bertie was in lock up, they would hardly be able to go on the world cruise which Jeeves has his heart set on. Suffice to say, neither angry policemen, retired judges, nor down market dictators stand a chance against Jeeves and his wiley brain. I had a great time re-reading The Code of the Woosters. It's one of P.G. Wodehouse's finest works, and is just a whole lot of madcap fun. Both Jeeves and Wooster are at their best in this novel, with Jeeves his usual brilliant and imperturbable self, dispensing much needed advice and information along with fashion sense. And Bertie holds up his end, loyally- if occasionally reluctantly- doing his absolute best to aid Dahlia, Gussie, and Stiffy in their various pursuits, and staunchly living up to the Code of the Woosters: "Never let a pal down."