Book: Little Lord Fauntleroy

"Little Lord Fauntleroy"

Seven-year-old Cedric gets quite a shock when he is whisked away from the streets of New York to an English stately home. He gets an even bigger shock when he discovers he’ll inherit a great fortune and a title. And Cedric is daunted to meet the grandfather he has never seen before, who is mean and selfish. But Cedric–now known as Little Lord Fauntleroy–is a very unusual boy, who takes it all in his stride…

I find this synopsis odd and very unappealing. It’s a good thing Little Lord Fauntleroy is a classic–and is well-loved by many Filipinos for spawning the animated series Shoukoushi Ceddie.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been looking for a copy of this novel for a while now. I finally found one, thanks to the assistance of the customer service representatives of Fully Booked in Green Hills. And while reading (and taking a break, in general) has taken a backseat because of all my real-world deadlines, I still snuck in a few minutes in between meetings to start and finish the novel.

As what I’ve come to expect from Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy doesn’t disappoint when it comes to lovable yet still believable characters. Our central character himself, though a tad too good-natured, doesn’t seem like a caricature of the martyr. Cedric Errol knows that there are bad things and bad people, and yet he chooses to look at what’s good. It’s something taught to him by his mother, and by the people who populated his life, prior to him being “whisked away to an English stately home.” And it’s this world view that arms him when he is confronted by a man whose generosity and kindness are widely exaggerated.

The bulk of the story happens after Cedric Errol, who is now known as Little Lord Fauntleroy, moves to England to live with his grandfather. And, as soon as this new chapter begins, a role reversal happens. Prior to this, Cedric Errol has been on the receiving end of people’s good nature; now, it is his turn to impart his good nature to the people who are coming into his life.

Admittedly, Cedric Errol is a simpler character compared to Sara (of A Little Princess) and Mary (of The Secret Garden). The latter two characters are more nuanced when it comes to their personalities. But, I think, it’s also Cedric Errol’s simplicity that makes him all the more endearing. And it’s this simplicity that makes Little Lord Fauntleroy a very fast and enjoyable read–if not as engrossing as the other two novels.

Nowadays, we don’t encounter many simple characters. Mayhaps because simple characterization makes protagonists boring. In Little Lord Fauntleroy though, we could argue that Cedric Errol isn’t really the main character–but rather, his grandfather is. It’s the Earl that takes on a journey of self-actualization, and the events of Cedric’s life are mostly plot developments to push the changes in the Earl’s life and being.

But that’s just what I think, and I’m very open to discuss this.

Which, by the way, is something I really liked about this novel. While I enjoy reading novels immensely, I never seem to want to discuss them with other people afterwards. I usually just say what I think about a book, recommend it (or not), and then move on. There have been exceptions to this, like in the case of the Harry Potter series, but it’s been a while since a book moved me to actually look for someone to discuss it with.

And there are plenty of things to discuss about the book: like the perspective changes that the author employs in writing the novel, the plot twists (and the deus-ex-machina like development in the latter part of the novel), and the effectivity of a protagonist that has no negative attributes. There are more, but these are the ones that are on top of my mind right now.

Have you read Little Lord Fauntleroy? What are your thoughts about the novel?

Book: A Little Princess

"A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson BurnettAs a young child Sara Crewe is brought over from India by her father to join a girl’s seminary in London. Her greatest joy is to ‘pretend’ things to make life more magical, for herself and those less fortunate than herself. She is a general favourite, but her splendid clothes, French maid, and personal carriage set her apart from the rest and create jealousy in Miss Minchin, the avaricious head of the school. When Sara is suddenly and tragically thrown into poverty, she must keep a strong hold on her vivid imagination and tender heart to prove to those who ill-treat her that even through hardship and want, she can remain ‘a little princess’.

After reading The Secret Garden, and enjoying it completely, I sought out other classics written by Miss Frances Hodgson Burnett. And while Little Lord Fauntleroy continues to elude me, I was able to find a copy of A Little Princess in the bookstore I grew up in (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore.)

This being one of the books I managed to sneak into my busy schedule, it will come as no surprise that it was a very quick read. So far, most of the classics I’ve read are quick reads–save for Journey to the Center of the Earth. But that might have more to do with the fact that I found the main character tedious. And that’s not the case at all for Princess Sara.

Sara Crewe is as lovable as can be. She’s the complete opposite of Mary Lennox (of The Secret Garden) in which she knows how to hold her temper. But, oddly enough, I don’t remember Sara having this much spine when I look back on the A Little Princess stories I’m familiar with–the Japanese animated series, the American film directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and the Filipino movie. This is a pleasant surprise, because while I am used to female protagonists who are such martyrs, it’s very pleasant to find one who knows how to fight back–but prefers not to because it would be beneath her to do such thing. n this way, Sara Crewe is a real princess.

What makes a classic? My guess is it has to do with the story being timeless–and you can’t go more timeless (which is a weird thing to say aloud, try it) than A Little Princess. While certain things are very regional (chimneys, for one thing, are very rare in the Philippines), and some things are dated (the diamond mine boom, the Indian colonization), when you strip the story down to what Sara goes through in Miss Minchin’s school, you can imagine it really happening at a local boarding school–which we don’t have, I don’t think. Let’s say orphanages then.

But Miss Minchin isn’t completely unreasonable either. She’s just really driven to succeed, which I gleaned from the original source material. In the Japanese animated series, and the movies, she just came off as one sadistic bi—

Moving on.

With the current success (and popularity) of The Hunger Games, I think it’s important now more than ever for people to get exposed to the classics again. Not that I’m disparaging The Hunger Games in any way. It’s a very well-written book, and I’m a fan. But it also features too many +1’s: it’s set in a dystopian future, it has action, adventure, a love story–it’s a mutt. And people should learn to appreciate the beauty of a simple story again. Like A Little Princess.

Book: The Secret Garden

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson BurnettOrphaned and sent to live with her uncle in his austere manor on the moors, Mary Lennox is a lonely and unhappy child. A meeting with Dickon, her servant’s brother begins her adventure and it is through their friendship and her relationship with her troubled hypochondriac cousin Colin that she begins to learn about herself. Their lives all begin to change when a Robin shows Mary the door to a mysterious secret garden.

There’s a reason why some stories become classic. Because no matter how long ago they were written, they could still touch hearts and lives in the present.

My first exposure to The Secret Garden was through a Japanese animated series that was dubbed into the local language. I loved watching cartoons when I was a kid. Yeah, I said cartoons. There were no distinctions back then on whether something was a cartoon or an animé. My mornings, whenever we didn’t have school, was scheduled around the Japanese cartoons that would be shown. One of them was The Secret Garden.

Back then, I loved the plucky character of Mary. Miss Mary who was quite contrary. A girl with an attitude problem sent to live in an almost-abandoned mansion with no one to keep her company. And then she found the Robin, and then the garden, and then she started to like people. It’s a tale of self-discovery, of friendship, of making the most of what you have–and being happy with what was given you. It’s a simple story of choosing to be happy.

Reading The Secret Garden now, I am reminded how great stories don’t need to rely on gimmicks and unexpected twists. All you need is a story that comes from the heart, and the talent to tell that story well. And it also helps to have written the story in the age of innocence, when people weren’t so desensitized with the shock value of the things they’ve seen/read.

This is just my opinion, but I feel we need more stories like this. While I’m a big fan of world-buildin, and great fantastical stories, I can’t help but appreciate the ones that can spin magic in the most ordinary of worlds too.