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

Differences Between the Deathly Hallows Novel and Part Two of the Film

Today, June 15, 2011, the final chapter of the Harry Potter film series -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two" -- was released in theaters in the United States. Like all of the films, it has proven to be a huge success. Showings are sold out on this opening night and are promising to continue to do so over the weekend. The movie stands up to its popularity. It is a great film for fantasy lovers. However, those who have read the books will notice some differences between the novel "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and the second half of the Deathly Hallows film. Unlike some rather odd changes in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (the Weasley house burning down), the changes in this film seem to add something to the story, or at least do not take anything away.

*Warning: This article contains spoilers for both the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" novel and the second half of the film.

Harry's Choice

In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling, Harry has something of an inner monologue regarding whom to speak to first in Shell Cottage -- Ollivander the wand maker or Griphook the Goblin. Griphook will lead him to the next Horcrux and closer to defeating Voldemort. Ollivander will help him learn more about the Deathly Hallows -- objects that would make him immortal. He shows his strength by choosing to speak to Griphook first. This is the same in both the film and the novel. However, there is no emphasis made on this choice in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two" as there was in the novel. This is a very small difference and does not take much from the film, but I found it interesting, as it spoke so much to Harry's character.

Leaving Shell Cottage

Several things happen at Shell Cottage in the novel that do not happen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two." Firstly, Ollivander makes Luna a new wand since hers broke or was taken in the Malfoy house. This is unimportant to the story, but it showed that Ollivander became fond of Luna during their time in the Malfoy dungeon. Secondly, Bill Weasley warns Harry that Griphook is not to be trusted. Harry wants Griphook to help them break into Gringott's Bank. This is already a very dangerous task, but with a sneaky goblin, it is even worse. This is merely a foreshadowing of things to come, so it is not very important to the film.

The Contents of Bellatrix LeStrange's Vault Do Not Burn

When Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook enter the LeStrange vault in Gringott's, every item they touch multiplies, nearly crushing them. This also happens in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two." However, these items do not burn them like they did in the novel.

Dumbledore's Past

In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," a large portion of the book is dedicated to Dumbledore's questionable past and whether Harry should trust his life to a man who left him so few clear clues as to how to kill Voldemort. A long flashback covers Dumbledore's friendship with the bad wizard Grindelwald and about their part in Ariana Dumbledore's death. It explains a lot about Dumbledore's behavior and shows a less than perfect side of him. It is sadly nearly completely missing from both parts of the film. Fortunately, they left in a scene with Aberforth Dumbledore, but it left a lot of the story blank.

Snape's Gathering

In the novel, Harry Potter and his friends sneak back into Hogwarts through the Room of Requirement and see all of their school allies there. The rest of the Order of the Phoenix meets them there and they take off throughout the castle. Harry goes to look for another Horcrux and Professor McGonagall eventually chases Snape out of the castle. It is some time before anyone other than Harry's friends see him again. In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two," Snape learns of Harry's arrival at Hogwarts and calls a meeting of all students and staff in the Great Hall. He tells them that they are not to harbor Harry, but Harry walks in with the Order of the Phoenix and his friends. There, he confronts Snape, which never happened in the book. It was an impressive scene, but so was the fight between McGonagall and Snape in the book. It would have been nice to see the stern McGonagall fighting Snape in her pajamas. A small fight still happened in the Great Hall, but it wasn't the same. 

McGonagall's Banishing of Slytherin

Minerva McGonagall called all of the students to the Great Hall in the book. She sent all of those who would not fight for Harry and all of those who were underage from the castle for their own safety. This is indicative of Minerva's compassion. She refused to harm the Slytherin students who were against Harry, but instead, sent them home. In "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Part Two," she has Slytherin locked in the dungeon instead. She says nothing of underage students. It is a humorous scene and one that is presumably more relatable to most audiences, but it didn't seem like a McGonagall thing to do.  

The Ravenclaw Common Room

There is a scene in the film where Harry is headed toward the Ravenclaw common room when Luna approaches him from behind. She tells him that he needs to speak with her. He is in a hurry, so he shrugs her off, but she asserts herself, demanding that he speak to her. This is an interesting scene for the soft-spoken Luna. However, it never happened in the book. In the book, they make it to the common room together and Luna opens the door by answering a complicated riddle. That displayed how intelligent Luna is, despite her odd behavior. The scene in the film depicted her as brave, which was a decent trade off.

Fred's Death

Sadly, Fred Weasley dies during the Battle for Hogwarts in both the film and the novel. In the novel, the scene is a very touching one, as he and Percy have just reconciled and they are fighting bravely together when Fred is killed. In the film, the viewer learns of Fred's death when they see his body alongside those of Tonks and Lupin in the Great Hall.

Ron and Hermione Kiss

It is about dang time! The moviemakers have been putting off the Hermione and Ron kiss forever. It happened books ago, but it just wasn't happening in the films. Finally, in the Chamber of Secrets, Ron and Hermione grab a basilisk fang, are attacked by some Voldemort anger water and then kiss. The Chamber of Secrets visit was only mentioned in the book. It was not fully described, so most of this scene is stuff the moviemakers added.

Neville on the Bridge

For the most part, this writer is adamantly against adding scenes to films that were not in the books they are based on. There is no need to add anything to already great stories. However, there is an added scene in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two" that was pleasing to see. Not only was it a surprise, but it was cool. Neville Longbottom is standing on the footbridge that we so often see the students leaving and entering the castle to and from the grounds on. A multitude of dark wizards rushes toward him and he stands his ground. Thankfully, the shield around the castle was still holding at the point. He taunts them, but they later break through. He runs from them, destroying the bridge behind him and taking out the enemy force with it.

Neville Kills Nagini

This difference was done for an obvious reason -- suspense. It might have been done to make hardcore fans irked until the real deal went down as well. In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," Neville cuts the head off Nagini the moment he pulls the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat. In the film, Voldemort knocks him back. While Neville is incapacitated, we are lead to think Harry might kill it, then Ron, then Hermione and then Neville comes out of nowhere and chops its head off while Harry is fighting Voldemort. Nagini is dead before that final showdown in the novel, but it was suspenseful, so it will do.

Harry's Broken Wand

In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One," and in the novel, Harry's wand breaks in Godric's Hollow. In the end, he fixes it with the Elder Wand before getting rid of it. In the film, there is no further mention of Harry's wand and he simply breaks the Elder Wand and tosses it off the school bridge. There is emphasis on his choice to rid himself of all the Deathly Hallows, except his father's cloak, so at least the point was made.

There are other small differences between the novel and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two," such as scenes in different places or scenes happening out of order, but they will not change much of the story for viewers who have not read the books. There is also the small matter of substituting tears for memories, but the end result was the same. It is expected that some things will be different and many people will not like it. Chances are, the film will not suffer for it.

Book Review by Maranatha: Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker

Maranatha is at it again. She has reviewed a 2007 T. Jefferson Parker novel by the name of Storm Runners for us. Judging by the review, the book is a fast-paced novel that leaves the reader to fill in a lot of small blanks, but in a good way. Read the review here.

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