In Competition No. 3050 you were invited to submit a school essay written by a well-known author, living or dead, about one of their works. The germ of this challenge was the revelation that the novelist Ian McEwan helped his son to write an A-level essay about one of his books (Enduring Love), only to be awarded a less than stellar ‘C+’. The winners below did rather better, and shoot straight to the top of the class, scooping £25 each. Teacher’s pet Alison Zucker gets a well-done sticker and the bonus fiver.
I read The Outsider today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I can’t remember. I don’t think very much happened in it, though there may have been a murder at some point. Or not. I don’t care either way. I struggle to understand why M. Camus bothered to write the thing. It’s just a pattern of ink on a series of pages, devoid of interest and unworthy of attention. What purpose is it supposed to serve? In our school any pupil who doesn’t hand in his French literature essay risks failing the term, but what does that matter? The sun is so bright that it’s stopping me from thinking properly, so I’ve decided to abandon the whole absurd exercise and spend the time staring at the sea instead, ostentatiously smoking cigarettes out of the corner of my mouth.
The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is a quite remarkable book. This is not because it is about a wholly remarkable Book — Quagg Furfeljurp’s What It’s Made Of: The Bible Dissected to Molecular Level beat it to that accolade by some light years. Neither is it because of the extraordinary cosmos it describes, the phantasmagorical characters it follows or the wryly fatalistic philosophy their misadventures illustrate. No, it is remarkable for the fact that its author completed it. Completed it, moreover, to a deadline (just) in a Universe brimming with other things he might have done instead; holidaying in the Dordogne, for instance, or really getting to grips with the snazzier features of his digital watch. That he chose to fill empty pages fabricating a nonexistent Universe while a perfectly real Universe expanded infinitely about him in all directions says literally everything about the folly of carbon-based life forms.
The Lord of the Rings has many names. Amongst the Hill Gnomes of Angrûn it is called ‘Zhri-Gam-Zûr’, the Long Yawn, whilst the River Fairies of Lithimawé know it as ‘Glad-Nothoriel’, the Book That Can’t Be Finished, and the Plainsmen of Paä-Oälla as ‘Ik’, the Massively Self-Indulgent Load of Old Bollocks. It began with the writing of ‘The Hobbit’ by the Great Don, Tol Kién. The manuscript passed to the publisher Ünwîn, who acquired so much gold from its sales that he demanded Tol Kién pen a sequel, a fiction so vast in scope that it would have to be forged in three parts. Deep in the City of Spires, in between seminars, the Great Don composed his masterwork, and into it he poured all his silly made-up languages, terrible songs and bourgeois attitudes, as well as numerous direct lifts from Beowulf and the Prose Edda.
Mr Wilde subtitles his play ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’, and indeed it can be argued that any semblance of genius this playwright might possess is compounded of equal parts seriousness and triviality. Surely no other writer for the stage ever strung together so much vacuous palaver about cucumber sandwiches, lumps of sugar and other sublimely silly social minutiae; and none perhaps could employ these trivial details to such sharp satirical effect. If shallowness and artifice are this author’s subject matter, one might say that profundity in combination with artifice is his technique. The targets of the satire in The Importance of Being Earnest may be found among Britain’s upper classes, but there is no white-hot Jacobin fury in this entertainment, which allows subversive witticisms to do the work of tumbrils and guillotines. That is the sort of thing serious people feel comfortable laughing at in a trivial comedy.
Why The Da Vinci Code hasn’t been studied academically before is one of the greatest conspiracies of all time. Schools and universities are made up of people who think alike, not like true originals who only desire the truth of art. Leonardo da Vinci was one of those; that’s why this novel bears his name, equating it to his brilliant mind. The author’s research in biblical areas is astounding and you do not need a leap of faith to understand him, trust is enough to carry you beyond the exponential power of human thought and into the divine. He is omnipresent although invisible behind the woven carpet of conspiracy and the tapestries of rich-coloured plot, worked into the threads of secret societies. The devious is in the detail. Professor Langdon is a realistically envisaged character, seeking answers like the students studying this novel and the dialogue is just like people speak.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel, meaning everything goes wrong and the characters lead unhappy, tormented lives. It makes you wonder why anyone wants to read it, except the author has cleverly put in nasties that we can relate to. For example:
The ‘Thought Police’. These spy on you and punish you for what you are thinking as well as what you are doing, like schoolteachers who think they can read your mind.
‘Ownlife’ is a crime. You cannot have private, personal interests. You must serve Big Brother all the time. Like your parents sneaking into your room to see what you are up to.
‘The Junior Anti-Sex League’. Don’t we have that already? (Joke.)
We are told we should write balanced essays, so here are good things in Nineteen Eighty-Four:
Simplified language. Wouldn’t that help everyone?
The proles — this is where a bit of optimism creeps in. Maybe.
No. 3053: #metoo lit
Anthony Horowitz has spoken of the consideration he gave to creating female characters for his recent Bond novel. You are invited to provide an extract from a well-known work (please specify) that might be considered sexist by today’s standards and rework it for the #MeToo age. Email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 13 June.