Cannon to Right of Them, Cannon to Left of Them

Lord Alfred Tennyson was one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian Era and one of my favorite poets of all time. He had a tumultuous childhood and adolescence for someone with such a noble pedigree, and his body of work reflects a tormented soul.

His poetry was widely read and at times Tennyson earned over 10,000£ a year. Any contemporary poet would love to earn that much in today’s economy. One of my favorite poems by Tennyson was “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. It was released on October 25th, 1854 and it focuses on the heroic deeds of Lord James Cardigan during the Crimean War. Since then, this poem has held significance for members of the armed forces around the world.

Join me as I revisit this legendary poem:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

The Charge of The Light Brigade
The Charge of The Light Brigade

Ben-hur by Lew Wallace: A Clinic on Writing Historical Fiction

My favorite movie of all time is Ben-Hur, the 1959 Cecil B. Demil epic film starring Charlton Heston. The costumes. The sets. The drama. The chariot race. I couldn’t wait to read the book, the original Ben-Hur that was written by Lew Wallace in 1880. Surely, this would also become my favorite book, right? Well, not so fast.

Ben-Hur was the first Biblical novel, and it was widely successful in its early days. Until Gone With the Wind, this was the highest selling American fiction novel of all time. Ben-Hur was even blessed by the Pope. But was it a great novel?

Ben-Hur, the movie, was an epic motion picture. The book felt even longer and spanned more time than any of the films adapted from the book. The author’s description of setting and character was absolutely unparalleled. Wallace spent pages and pages just establishing scenes, placing the reader completely in the world of a young Judean prince out for revenge. Yet, the novel tended to drag on. It was middle heavy and stilted in places. Truly, the greatness of the work was in its historical backdrop and not in its character or plot development.

Then, there was Jesus. I loved the way that Lew Wallace placed Jesus as a supporting cast member in this story and not as the focal point. Ben-Hur is a Tale of the Christ, but not directly. It’s a book about the effect of Jesus Christ on someone’s life at the time. Judah BenHur encountered Christ once as a prisoner and once again while Jesus was on his way to crucifixion. These encounters were pivotal moments for the book’s main character and allowed the reader to imagine what it would be like to see Jesus through the eyes of a contemporary. Overall, this was a very effective literary element and made this Tale of the Christ stand out as a must-read American classic.

Ben Hur Illustrated Classics 1st Edition

Literary Quote of the Week

“By the selection of horses, the magnificence of the chariot, the attitude, and display of person – above all, by the expression of the cold, sharp, eagle features, imperialized in his countrymen by sway of the world through so many generations, Ben-Hur knew Messala unchanged, as haughty, confident, and audacious as ever, the same in ambition, cynicism, and mocking insouciance.” – Lew Wallace (Ben-hur, A Tale of the Christ)

Alas, Babylon – The End of the World is the Beginning

Alas-Bantam-paperback

ALAS, BABYLON by Pat Frank. This is a great American classic about the struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s like the AMC’s The Walking Dead minus all the zombies. The story is set in the late 1950s when the United States was deeply entrenched in the Cold War against Soviet Russia. The book begins moments before a nuclear war between the two nations, but this isn’t an action thriller. The nuclear fallout seems to miss a few pockets of humanity, one being the tiny Florida town of Ft. Repose. The story is really about Mark Bragg, a man trying to keep his family alive against the ever-present threats of bandits, starvation, and radiation.

“You see, all their lives, ever since they’ve known anything, they’ve lived under the shadow of war – atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal. All their lives they have heard nothing else, and they expect it.” (Helen Bragg to Randy Bragg, Chapter 4, p. 84).

This is one of the most frightening quotes of the novel. It is, unfortunately, true for those who grew up during the Cold War. We were taught that a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was all but inevitable, and we were taught how to respond (Civil Defense fallout shelters in the basements of large buildings and the famous “Duck and Cover” films). For those of us who grew up in the Cold War, the abnormal (the ever-present threat of nuclear war and its aftermath) was normal. The Bragg children, Ben and Peyton, for whom the “abnormal” had become the “normal,” seem to have less trouble accepting and adapting to the new realities of life than did the adults.

4) “…The struggle was not against a human enemy, or for victory. The struggle, for those who survived “The Day”, was to survive the next.” (Chapter 6, p. 123).

No one, at least in the novel’s setting in Florida, ever saw an enemy soldier. There were no invaders or foreign troops to fight. The military fight was in the hands of the U.S. military. For the people of Fort Repose, the fight was not against an invader with a sickle-and-hammer insignia on his sleeve, but simply to survive. This was, by far, the hardest fight and one whose outcome could not be predicted. This is one of the major themes of the novel: survival.

Autumn Update

Hello friends,

I know it’s been 2 months since the last post on Noteworthy Literature. I must apologize to anyone who is interested in this site. The good news is that I’ve been extremely busy ghostwriting a fiction novel. Things are moving at a good pace right now so you can expect more updates, quotes of the week and literary reviews.

Good reading,

Frederick