Sunday, May 1, 2016

"A balm for this dour day and age"

I haven't read The Prisoner of Zenda since I was a teenager — which is to say for a very long time. I remember enjoying it a lot and largely for the reasons Sean Fitzpatrick gives in "The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope: Escape From Cynicism." The book is pure escapism and especially in political years like this one yearns to escape. Tolkien defended "escapist" stories by asking "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” and reminds us that those tasked with preventing escapes are jailers. Fitzpatrick on the book:
.... There are in existence a few books that can cure the sickness of cynicism. These books remind men of the glory and grandeur of man and the glories and grandeurs that give meaning to mankind. The Prisoner of Zenda, written in 1894 by Anthony Hope, is one of these. This “spirited and gallant little book,” as Robert Louis Stevenson described it, is a remedy to the heavy seriousness of cynicism because it is lighthearted. It is a fairy tale infused with the optimism of escapism, the thrill of romance, and the charm of the dashing, debonair, gentleman hero. Even the gravest of cynics must smile, chuckle, and inch to the edge of his seat in appreciation of men bristling with weapons, women swooning in their lovers’ arms, guns firing and combatants laughing, swords flashing and soldiers of fortune. The Prisoner of Zenda is quite simply irresistible, making it a balm for this dour day and age, and worthy of its reputation for being the finest adventure story ever written, in which the struggle between good and evil is a great game and nothing seems so serious as keeping the serious at bay. ....

.... The plot hurtles on like a horse and is dominated by a sense of time running out. The Prisoner of Zenda might even be regarded as one of the original ticking-clock suspense thrillers, paving the way for a whole story-type that relies on a heightened awareness of time and impending doom. Related to this theme of time is the timing of a protagonist who rises to occasion. Rudolf Rassendyll was launched into a breakneck race sword in hand, but he began the story at a breakfast table egg-spoon in hand. Rassendyll represents a classic romantic archetype, being the ordinary gentleman who is ready, willing, and able to face extraordinary circumstances and play the part of the hero decisively when the times demands it of him. ....

The Prisoner of Zenda is an antidote for worldly cynicism because it transports readers to another world that is unsullied by cynicism. .... [more]
The Prisoner of Zenda: Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman can be downloaded from ManyBooks.

I like the 1937 movie version best of the several film versions of the story.