Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle


Have you read this book? I finished it a few days ago, as it's my book club's book for April. And I found it to be one of the most brilliant and sad books I've ever read. The book literally haunted me, then it wrenched and wrung my heart out at the ending.

Midway through my reading, I learned that the book was intended to be a loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Of course, all the pieces fit, even the characters: Gertrude equals Trudy, Hamlet equals Edgar, Claudius equals Claude. But when I heard this, I knew that it would not end well.

And that's the typical reaction I heard from my friends: "Loved the book--hated the ending." But how else could Hamlet end?

So I went back to my English major roots and brushed up on the basics of tragedy. Now--of course, tragedy may not be everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine, but our culture has been marked by Oedipus Rex and Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet and MacBeth. And there is a reason for it.

Why do we put ourselves through the reading and viewing of tragedy? Why subject yourself to all that painful angst if it's not good for the soul? So here's a brief reminder of what tragedy is and does.

Tragedy recounts the fall of persons of high degree to low estate. It's about how the protagonist faces that inevitable failure, and celebrates courage and dignity in the face of defeat and attempts to portray the grandeur of the human spirit. According to Aristotle, the purpose of a tragedy is
to arouse the emotions of pity and fear and thus to produce catharsis in the audience. Tragedy must involve a protagonist who is better than ordinary people, and he must be brought from happiness to misery. This hero must be a person of high character who faces his or her destiny with courage and nobility of spirit. That is the element that uplifts and inspires us.

(Slight spoiler here): Edgar certainly does this. Like Hamlet, he dithers and runs away from his problem, but then he makes a choice to go back and confront his nemesis, even though a prophecy has warned him to stay away or he will die. Drawn by his mother, his love for Almondine, and the Sawtelle dogs, he chooses to go back to the farm. He knows death and destruction await. He displays sacrificial love and honor and duty.

And that's why a tragedy--even this one--works. And Edgar is not completely lost, because in eternity he is reunited with Almondine, his soul mate, and his father, whom he adored.

I suffered through the ending like everyone else who has read it. :-) But I have to believe there's good in suffering, and that it IS good for the soul. Even when that good is not at all obvious.

If you haven't read EDGAR SAWTELLE, you ought to. Just don't expect a happy ending.

Angie

5 comments:

Mocha with Linda said...

Yikes. Sounds like a "eat your Wheaties first" kind of book. Not sure if I'm that brave.

Kimberly said...

I've been thinking about reading it for awhile, but I'm not that brave either!

Kay Day said...

I love gut-wrenchers and tragedies. I'll have to read it!

LuAnn said...

I've always wanted to read this book. I'm glad you liked it.

Scobberlotcher said...

I want to read this one as well. I think I'd probably share your opinion.