December 3, 2015

Stardate: It's Not So Bad Yet -- A Book I Actually Did Read In School (And Many Times After)

Hey, guys. It's time for me to make an insufferable confession. I read every single book I was supposed to read in school. It's true. I'm an arrogant little nerd driven by perfectionism and a slightly obsessive need for completion. However, this is not to say that I enjoyed all or even most of them. Sadly, I hated most of them, or at least resented them for not being much fun. There is one, though, a Book That I Actually Did Read For School and have since come back to over and over and over.

Cyrano de Bergerac is a masterpiece. I really approach this review with fear and trembling because, of all books, Cyrano deserves a great review.

Cyrano de Bergerac, the character, is a magnetic character, a wonderful person who is simultaneously a fascinating, flawed character. How often do you see a character who is both good in the moral and the technical sense? I can probably count them on my fingers. He's brave, generous, selfless, loving, prideful, reckless, brilliant, melodramatic - and we can never forget his inferiority complex the size of France. I've read a couple translations of Cyrano at this point, and none of them ever disappoint in capturing Cyrano's voice, his mesmerizing, enchanting, blood-pounding voice. I don't think you can ruin Cyrano. He's too strong a presence for that.

The story is simple, straightforward - ugly boy loves a beautiful girl, beautiful girl loves a beautiful boy, ugly boy helps beautiful but rather slow boy woo the beautiful girl, girl and boy marry, ugly boy is, as usual, the dream wingman but ultimately left alone, romantically speaking. And then a bit more, but in case no one's read it yet, I won't say anymore.

I see a lot of people insulting Roxanne and Christian, but stop! Don't do that! Let the characters breathe. See them as people. Roxanne isn't vapid, shallow, selfish - she's a girl in love, a girl who also loves her cousin. Cyrano hides his love well! She couldn't know. She has beautiful lines, and she's no doormat love interest. That scene where she rides into the soldiers' camp to bring them food and cheer? She's incredible! And Christian - poor Christian. Maybe his speeches pale in comparison to Cyrano making up and reciting an impromptu poem at a stubborn actor, but stop comparing him. Listen to how honest he is. Do you ever doubt that he truly loves Roxanne? I can't. He's too straightforward, too sincere. And he's a sweetheart, and brave in his own way. (Also, the utter hilarity of his 'nose' scene when Cyrano's trying to tell a story. What a kid.)

The less we say about the final scene, the better. I don't have enough kleenex on hand to take care of the soppy, teary mess I'll become.

Cyrano de Bergerac is the kind of literature I'd call a gateway drug. Want to get someone into the classics? Bypass the 400-page Dickens and Austen novels, put down the Faulkner and - yes, though my heart breaks - even the Shakespeare. Give someone Cyrano (probably the Penguin edition - great readability). It's simple, brief, and beautiful - utterly beautiful. 

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