Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Favorite lines from books - the Alex Bledsoe edition

I'm starting a small little blog subject every once in awhile with the most awesome topic of "favorite lines". Because everyone has a favorite line, right? Somewhere?

My particular problem is that I have no clear-running favorite. But ... but ... others do!

And I have the lovely and talented Mr. Alex Bledsoe on my blog today to discuss his. And it's TOTALLY AWESOME.

Take it away, sir.

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Recently on Facebook, novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard asked for people's favorite lines from books. At first I was tempted to go with my favorite joke, a line from Elmore Leonard's novel Get Shorty:

The guy who sung the national anthem was doing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Which wasn't exactly true, Chili thought, standing at the edge of the deck looking down.

Or my favorite snappy comeback, from Robert B. Parker's Ceremony, in which private detective Spenser tells some thugs he's already disarmed twice before:

“Next time it might be easier if you just mail me your guns."

But I realized she wasn't asking for funniest lines, but best. And there's only one contender for that . It's from Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness. And no, it's not, "The horror...the horror!" It's actually an earlier line from Mr. Kurtz, when he's delirious:

"I had such plans!"

In the context of Conrad's novella, this line encompasses everything evil, base and primitive, hiding in plain sight in the form of the "enlightened" European, Mr. Kurtz. It also stands in for the whole colonial impulse that drove the European Caucasians into Africa, convinced they were so superior they'd be seen as gods by a grateful populace and, when that didn't happen, still convinced they were right to embark on programs (pograms?) of genocide. After all, this is the same Kurtz who wrote a lengthy treatise on how to enlighten the native tribes, then scrawled over these fine typed lines, "Exterminate all the brutes!"

To be fair, I always hear the line in my head the way Anthony Quayle reads it on the audiobook. His Kurtz voice sounds a lot like Patrick Stewart (not deliberately, since this was recorded in 1969). But while that may be the first reason I noticed it (much like "noticing" Hamlet's soliloquy the first time you hear it performed), it's stuck with me because of the richness it conveys about the character, the story and humankind in general.

We all have regrets ("such plans!"), and we all have secret atrocities scrawled across the enlightened thoughts of our lives that we'd love to carry out in a world devoid of meaning, purpose and conscience. Luckily, we haven't quite reached that world yet, and like Kurtz, our plans will never see the light of day. But in fiction we can call them up, examine them, and see them for what they truly are: "the horror."

3 comments:

JKB said...

I really like the famously ominous tone you leave this post with, Alex. But then again, I've read your vampire novels (and had the subsequent nightmares) so I don't know why the idea of you liking something spooky is so ... well ... spooky. :)

Alex Washoe said...

Great post. I thought about it, and I had a hard time coming up with a favorite line, as much as I read. (Now if you asked me for a favorite line from a movie ... ) I like Alex Bledsoe's choice. I think if I had to pick one, it might be this:

"I believe I essentially remain what I've almost always been - a narrator, but one with extremely pressing personal needs." J.D. Salinger, "Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters

Thanks for the thought provoking post, Jen and Alex B.

Heidi Willis said...

Imagine my glee when I saw Heart of Darkness quoted on your wall! It's the gift that just keeps giving! :)

I remember a teacher in college once telling me the most perfect sentence ever is the line in Great Gatsby, "The snub nosed boat bumped against the time." I think it was all the b's and the rhythm of it. Seems like a weird favorite to me, but... um... yeah. After 20 years I still remember him saying that and I can't remember anything my kid said yesterday.

I'd be hard pressed for a favorite. I have a notebook full of "favorites" that I write as I read.