I hope it's OK to be honest about this. I mean - I'm not Roger Ebert, God rest his so-called soul, but I feel like it's okay for anybody to offer their take on things. The Bible is - I refuse to be misunderstood on this point - great. It's not just one of my favorite books, technically, it's several of them. But published as it is, and referred to as it popularly is - "The Good Book" - I feel justified somewhat to consider the whole schmear as one work. One book. I think sometimes you have to. Judging as a whole, as it were, on overall merit! And let's not mince words, here: whoa. In terms of overall merits...I don't believe I'd be exaggerating to say this book's got 'em over all.
The ending sucked.
I know, I know, somebody is going to come out of the woodwork, yelling foul and telling me I "just didn't understand it." Sorry. That's possibly dead-on accurate a lot of the time, but here...walk with me on this. See if mine feels like a familiar journey to you.
As our story opens, as the lights come up on the premise - it's a knockout. There's never been anything like this. It's completely original, without precedent, beyond parallel. However you want to put it, it would be almost impossible to overstate the case, here. It's a grabber.
Then, as your characters begin to develop, as the stage is set, as conflicts arise and come in waves it just gets better and better. Not happier! For goodness sake, this is drama and by no means comedy. There are agonies in store, breathtaking reversals and stupefying cliffhangers, but the narrative thread pulls through strong and sure.
You don't doubt for a second you're in the hands of a master storyteller, and not only that - a true artist, capable of mixing textures and techniques like crazy, flowing from origin stories to heroic fails to violence to strife, to disaster movie stuff, and next you have collections of sayings flying in from one side, erotic verse from another, poetry, prose, didactics - and somehow, through all the pastiche, through all the collage, that subtle thread pulls you forward, unbroken. It's uncanny - and I don't think your modern-day critics give it the credit it deserves. In terms of groundbreaking. In terms of practically originating this kind of mix-and-match grab-bag deal (yet pulled into a unified artistic statement) that everyone was gasping at and fawning over when dada and cubism and all that business came pushing in crowding classicism right offstage.
Make no mistake: the Bible is the work of a very creative, powerful voice. It is the first modernist work in literature's canon. It's where it all began.
And I can't even emphasize how beautifully it begins bringing it all together to take it home. As the narrative rises towards conclusion, all the foreshadowing clicking into place, all the elements just start alchemizing to pure beautiful. There's still sadness, pain, agony even, but the garden from way back in chapter one is ultimately - restored. And all the monsters and marching armies of hatred, the genocide that went-hand-in-hand with the promise of the promised land..! Guys, face it: these are complex, non-cut-and-dried themes, here. Yet all that seeming chaos of sorrow and suffering, suddenly you get this climactic twist in there, and - hey, I don't want to spoil it for you.
And in fact, I can't. It's a masterwork. A very underrated masterwork of surpassing subtlety and complexity, especially when you consider the first parts were taken down by basically cavemen. Or at least, savages. Barbarians, what have you. But when suddenly the woe and the fall and the struggle and call and the pounding of drums and all the blood and fire and brimstone that's built up and caught up in the momentum of the story, somehow - not "reverses." It doesn't reverse. It's redeemed. It's all redeemed. It's fulfilled, it's as if the first part was just a setup: some thrilling and spine-tingling, heart-jarring dress rehearsal of a stage-setter, and then comes...the play.
And there's so much passion in it, but the passion is not for lust, not for blood or vengeance. It's a totally different twist on the plot, right in the thick of the flow, and yet - somehow, it feels inevitable. Perfect! Preordained. So you sit there - and you can't dispute at this point how good this movie is going. So to speak - it's not a movie! I do not in any way trivialize the virtues of this work. Again, I don't think you can. Not when suddenly, it's all pulled together into something where you can feel everything is going to end, beautifully. And that you won't mind the end, though you know when you put it down, you're going to wish you were still living forever that same story!
The best stories leave you enriched, and rewarded, and you walk on with that confidence and love in your heart. You lay it down, and move on, and the end is not sad. Because you know that beyond the end, this story has changed your life. It's like imagine opening up the newspaper, and there's some almost incomprehensible good news on there. You never could have guessed it - and yet it's everything you needed to hear! And what the hey, you couldn't have even deserved all that. All you did was show up. But you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller. One who has you, in the palm of the proverbial hand, and you don't yet know where it's going but - all fear is gone. By the time of the climactic twist, you just trust. You fall back into the arms of the storyteller, and you know that from now on it's all good.
AND THEN THAT ENDING!!!! WHAT IN THE WHOLE WIDE SWEET GREEN SAKE OF PETE WAS THAT...?!
I'm not the one to judge, here, I recognize. But that whole last part...again, I need to go to the movie comparison. Did you ever see a really great movie, where the setup is great, and the story great all the way through, and it's just - it's already like, climbing your list of favorite movies and it's not even over yet! But you just know. You don't care how it's going to go, because you've been won over already, you trust however it goes will be great. That storyteller's "got you," and you can't seriously believe there's any way they're going to let you go! And then suddenly they clap on some big loud special-effects calamity of a "climax," as if it had all been just some action movie signifying nothing, to be capped by the obligatory firefight? Letdown city!
The better the story was going, the more you were sure it was turning out wonderfully - the worse that letdown is. The ending on this one...if I didn't know better, I'd say the producers overruled the director on this one. Obviously that's in no way a credible theory here. Still, that's pretty much how it comes off. It's like somebody said "let's slap the whole thing back about twenty books' worth of chapters, undo all that richness and development and escalation to fulfillment - we need to go out on the mental and emotional level of Judges."
Don't twist my words, here. Judges is great. It's my favorite book in the bunch, and you know that's true because how many times have I said it? I don't give another answer on that one. It's pretty well cemented. Judges is a killer read, a first-class roller-coaster ride. It's got popcorn blockbuster written all over it, and if it were cinema, it would've been the original superbad action movie franchise! Once again, way ahead of its time, artistically. Heck, it's something like eleven sequels in before the acknowledged geek-cred universal fan favorite Sampson comes along! Yet every one of those "prequel" judges was pretty bad ass, and could probably hold down their own movie no problem. Given decent adaptation, casting, execution of course. That's a constant - you always need those.
I don't know, maybe I'm not really having any super-coherent point, here, but when that ending hit...I just thought it was going some other way. What a surprise. If I were doing the novelization - wait a sec, this assumes a scenario where I'd been given the blessing of the original author, for this mind you!
Which is not infrequent! Top authors know their finished work already stands forever, pure and original and undiminished by later interpretations. A lot of the time people need to take stories with a different twist to suit all times, just look at the Shakespeare plays with people clomping around in leather jackets like the Fonz. A top author doesn't sweat a few twists in the transition as long as it keeps the spirit. That new, different-medium work can (indeed, always will) have its different angles coming in. Despite the hollering and foaming at the mouth that you always get when the movie version changes somebody's haircut or skin color, your all-time greatest authors don't tend to hold every trivial turn of phrase and plot development so all-fired sacred - in case you hadn't noticed.
In case you hadn't noticed, they just don't. The first-class creator, the original voice, will often have confidence in the permanent, incontrovertible worth of their work. Sad to say, it's the fans who don't.
The die-hard super-strict fans, ironically, are practically always the worst philistines in any author's audience.
But still I couldn't change a thing myself, without that authorial stamp. Because it's about respect. Forget it - when it comes to a work I already love in the utmost (twists, turns and all), I wouldn't dare novelize it or cinematize it at all, not without the blessing of the author. I mean...come on. That'd be kind of gauche, to say nothing of egotistical.
But as I'm saying, if I were doing the novelization I think I'd just leave that last part off. End it on a contemplative fadeout note. You know? I understand we're talking a difference of tastes, here. I get it that I'm probably (at least a smidge!) one of those Euro-film art snob wannabe fans, all extolling found light, naturalistic dialogue and a no-music soundtrack - except what music and songs occur in the actual plot, of course! Salome, Solomon, what have you. But the point is: yeah. I "get" that I'm probably a bit more into the artsy junk, so-called. And so I have to acknowledge, this is a book that was written, quite literally, for everyone. For a book like this, that's exactly the right approach. So my prissy little I'm-a-critic,-darling! stance cuts no ice, here. Some bombast, some "Star Wars" theme, some sweep and grandeur and thrills, chills, and spills, plenty of explosions - all that is right in order, and entirely called for. My critique, here - it's a quibble at best anyhow. And: who should care what I think? I hope you shouldn't. You'd be the one off-base on that one.
But somewhere, I bet mah man Roger Ebert may very well have an opinion on this. I wonder if I'll ever get to ask him? Awesome!!
Okay, wait, now I'm all psyched again. There's no denying, this is more than "a" good book. It's the definite article.
I should probably go back and read it again. I mean, I thought The Shadow crapped out too on first viewing! Meanwhile, nowadays I can watch it a million times and I don't even remember what I was complaining about. Sometimes all it takes is to come back to it later, maybe from a position of more maturity. Hopefully. What do you guys think?