The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford: review and summary

The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford is a fictional telling of a true, though very old, story. It is the story of Xenophon told through the eyes of his slave -- Themistogenes of Syracuse or Theo. A man of the same name writes the non-fiction and ancient telling of this story, though this man was mostly likely Xenophon himself. Theo, as he appears in this novel, is a construct of Ford's imagination.

The focus of this novel, which covers the span of Xenophon and Theo's lives, is their inclusion in the "Ten Thousand." This is a true story, aside from Theo's part in it, which rivals the true story of "The 300." In 401 BCE, Xenophon, a student of Socrates, decides to join the army of Cyrus. Cyrus is the younger brother of the Persian king Artaxerxes II. He amasses a mercenary army under the pretext that they will be quelling an unsavory Persian governor, though his real goal is to bring the army against the Persian king himself.

Xenophon and Theo join the army of 10,000 Greeks, including some unsavory Spartans, who have not lost any of their ferocity in the hundred years that have passed since the stand of the 300 against the Persians. When they learn of Cyrus' true intentions, they stay on and do a decent job of embarrassing Artaxerxes' army at the Battle of Cunaxa. However, Cyrus is killed in the battle. To add insult to injury, the very governor whom they initially came to fight breaks a truce with them, kills their leaders and dogs their departure from the Persian Empire. Unfortunately, they have come a long way from home and cannot go back from whence they came, for fear of dying in the desert.

The story of the Ten Thousand thus far would be dramatic enough in itself without the embellishments of Michael Curtis Ford. However, he lends a depth to Xenophon through his friendship with Theo. He even throws in a love story for good measure. He is true to as many historical details as it seems possible and is obviously knowledgeable in the clothing, fighting style, weapons, history and terrain of this ancient confrontation, but this is not even the start of it. Now, the Ten Thousand must go north through mountains filled with hostile "barbarians" and where the lack of food is nothing compared to the freezing, deadly cold weather.

Michael Curtis Ford leaves nothing to the reader's imagination as he drags you through bloody skirmishes, disease and death with these struggling Ten Thousand men. Xenophon becomes one of their leaders, but finds himself a cheerleader against death near the end of it all, encouraging dying men to walk through bitter cold and to fight against all odds to get through these hostile lands. Theo relates horrifying injuries, including those of men whose skin is sloughed off after jumping from the intense cold into the heat of a hot spring without thinking of the consequences. One year after they set out, the men stagger back home with missing fingers, toes, limbs and sanity, in some cases. Ford chose an excellent story to relate in a new light. He certainly would not have needed to add anything to the story to make it interesting, but what he did add was seamlessly woven into the story.

Anyone who enjoys the story of the 300 Spartans and their king Leonidas will enjoy the Ten Thousand. The tale is equally thrilling and filled with equally brave men and equally moving camaraderie. The only difference is the scale and the fact that some of them lived to tell the tale, but I will not say who because I want you to read this book and go back to a time when men marched to war through countries, anticipating the battle for months or even years while walking with other soldiers. It is hard to imagine this intensity of patriotism. Ford can help you with that.

Shelly Barclay

Summary of Pater Caninus by Ray Bradbury

Pater Caninus is a short story in Ray Bradybury's We'll Always Have Paris. This short story sticks out among the rest as a story that looks deep into the self importance of human beings and the patience of our canine friends. It also sheds light on the men who dole out confessions to sinners and whether they have a monopoly on such things or not.

Pater Caninus is a simple story. The entire story takes place in one part of a presumably Catholic hospital that is apparently run by priests. The story begins when one priest points out to another priest that a dog who typically accompanies one of the fathers is at the hospital alone. The two men follow the dog and find that he is giving confession to the patients. He sits patiently and quietly while they confess their sins to him. When each patient is done, the dog puts his paw on their beds and goes to the next room.

The first priest is fascinated by this dog. He merely wanted to share the amazing canine with the other priest. However, the second priest is infuriated by the impression that the dog is somehow usurping his position as priest. He follows the dog to the door of the hospital and threatens to bring damnation upon the dog should it return. This mortifies the first priest, who points out that the dog was only doing what they themselves do. The second priest reiterates his sentiments.

On the suggestion of the first priest, the pair goes to see if what the dog was doing did any harm to their patients. He had not. In fact, the entire area had a feeling of peace. The second priest becomes ashamed of himself and sits in his office. Moments later, Pater Caninus walks into the room and the egotistical priest willfully confesses his sin in treating the dog as he had. That is the end of the story.

What is interesting about this story is that the dog appears to simply be mimicking the rounds of his master, who is a priest, but the effect that he has on the patients is the same. It is also quite true that a Catholic priest would find the idea of a dog giving confession to be offensive, as dogs reportedly do not have souls. The god of Catholics puts people on a pedestal above all other animals. However, this does not stop Ray Bradbury from creating a pair of priests who could see the goodness in the dog and the benefit that could be reaped by his company. Of course, Bradbury very well could have intended that this dog be taken as a priest of god, not just a dog spreading happiness and mimicking his master, but that is how I saw it. I saw it as a lesson in the importance of other creatures and in the importance of being humble, no matter how in with god you think you are.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: The Visit by Ray Bradbury

The Visit by Ray Bradbury is the second short story in the We'll Always Have Paris anthology. Having finished reading it just a moment ago, three words stick in my mind. Those words are marvelous, intuitive and heart warming. This short story digs right to the core of motherhood, loss and life in a most unexpected way.

The gist of this story, and I hope not to give away too much because this is the type of story that I hope you will be compelled to read, whoever you are, is that a woman goes to the home of a young man who is a stranger to her. Their meeting is awkward and stilted, but it has a great purpose and both of them know what that purpose is. They are connected in a way that is intangible to the outsider, but vividly clear to both of them. The woman has lost something very dear to her and the young man has a part of it.

The Visit will take you a maximum of ten minutes to read, if you are a regular reader. Take that time and indulge in this masterful story by one of the best writers of our time. Ray Bradbury has taken an event that he just so happened to catch a brief glimpse of and turned it into a story with which any person can sympathize. We are, after all, the sum, not of our parts, but of the people who touch our lives.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: The Murder by Ray Bradbury

The Murder by Ray Bradbury is an interesting suspense short story that borders on horror. It is far too short to say much about the plot without giving it away. However, suffice it to say that it is like a brief version of Poe's The Telltale Heart.

Like Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury uses the sense of dread and horror that all of us feel when confronted with something we see as supernaturally different. You almost have to assume that there is something supernatural happening in the story, though pretty much everything is left to the reader's imagination. Those of you who have sufficient imagination to fill in the gap that is presumably the torment of a kind man should read this story at your earliest convenience. In fact, you should just read Ray Bradbury's We'll Always Have Paris, which contains this story and others, and spare yourself having to read my sporadic reviews on the stories in it worth reviewing.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: Massinello Pietro by Ray Bradbury

Photo by Alan Light
Massinello Pietro by Ray Bradbury is a short story in his anthology We'll Always Have Paris. It is the first story in the anthology and an odd one. It is all about the spirit (as in attitude, not soul) of a seemingly insane old man who keeps a menagerie of pets in what we can assume is a small apartment of sorts in a very nosy neighborhood.

Massinello Pietro is a man who loves animals, music and dancing. His love for these things is unswayed by complaints from his disgruntled neighbors and even threats from the police. He keeps far too many pets that make a lot of noise. He plays his music at all times of the night, much to the chagrin of the neighborhood. He refuses to stop, no matter how many complaints he gets. His reasoning is that it makes him happy. As the story wears on, the reader comes to realize that he is not so much being inconsiderate of others as he is being considerate of himself. He is tired of the unhappiness that life can bring, so he resolves to suck himself out of the mire of the human condition and make his own condition.

In Massinello Pietro Ray Bradbury keeps this story short, simple and pleasant, if you enjoy nutty characters. He gives the reader an eccentric, likable and pitiable character. He gives us page after page of validation for the complaints of the man's neighbors, but then he gives us validation for the man himself. He also shows us that, in the end, the polite, happy go lucky man was actually of worth to those who were annoyed by him. In the end, his presence had been normalcy to them. Without him, things were wrong.

Shelly Barclay

Short Story Review: Pa's Darling by Louis Auchincloss

After cracking the spine of the 2007 edition of "The Best American Short Stories," the first story to greet me, after two introductions by the editors, was Pa's Darling by Louis Auchincloss. It was a thankfully brief 13 pages of well-written, if unmoving, narrative. Stopping short of being too critical, because the story does not deserve a heaping load of criticism, all that can be said is that the story lacks the emotional or societal scope that makes a short story really cling to you.

Louis Auchincloss has just the right amount of average and pretentious in her writing style to reach a wide audience with the right story. Unfortunately, this was not it. The characters were okay. The story was okay and the setting was, well, practically non-existent. She gave herself a wonderful opportunity by setting her tale between the 30s and the 60s. The only moving cultural reference to this tumultuous era is the death of the narrator's husband in World War II, which is very underplayed.

The title character, who was not as darling as Pa liked to tell everyone she was, is essentially complaining about her father and her two husbands. She even gets a dig at her mother. That is the beginning, middle and end. There is a little precedence for it. However, her complaints are hardly fetching. There is nothing about her story that hits the reader hard. Perhaps that is simply what I want from a short story -- thought-provoking brevity. I want to be moved or made to ponder concepts familiar or unfamiliar to me. Pa's Darling could not do that with its unfortunate lack of climax or purpose. There is a complete lack of tangible climax, for the reader and the narrator's father.

With all of the above being said, Pa's Darling was simply not for me. Perhaps it would be better for someone who can relate to a the ponderings of a rich girl who is not content with the level of her father's love, the just barely sordid secrets of her mother and the shortcomings of her two hard-working and polite husbands. For me, I will take a more powerful, earthy and realistic antagonist than a pompous, but outwardly loving father any day. As for the protagonist, I would hardly call an ungrateful rich girl that.

Shelly Barclay