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Book 7

  1. Grossmith, George & Weedon — The Diary of a Nobody (166 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — Blood Meridian (334 pages)
  3. Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen (399 pages)
  4. Moore, Christopher — Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (507 pages)
  5. Murger, Henri — The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (381 pages)
  6. Walk with Me: A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2009 (98 pages)
  7. Douglas, Lloyd C. — The Robe (438 pages)

Page count: 2323.

I like to choose reading that is appropriate to the season or to a locale that I'm visiting. Thus, I chose The Canterbury Tales when I went to Canterbury, I used to read a baseball book every summer for a few years when I lived in the States, I like to read something in a horror or mystery strain in October, something Christmassy or fantasy-themed in December, and so on.

During Lent the past few years I've gotten into the habit of reading a couple of religious items: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, St. John of the Cross, Thomas à Kempis, etc. But this year I wasn't quite in the mood for theology or Christian apologetics. With my commitments to regular employment and to the operas, I wanted my reading to remain wholly pleasure reading.

I remember fondly as a kid watching the old Richard Burton movie, The Robe, several times at Easter. And back when I was at Amherst, when students could organize movie nights in the campus theater, I scheduled an Easter doubleheader of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Robe. (You can guess which one was significantly better attended.) So, with gift card in hand, I set out to acquire a copy of the novel on which the movie was based.

While I don't think The Robe could ever be considered great literature, I found it an exciting read, in the way I might find a Grisham novel (were I ever to read one). It had the feel of a best-seller, which no doubt partly explains its dominance of the bestseller lists. (It sat at number one on the New Year Times Bestseller list for over a year in 1942-43, remained on the list for a couple of years, and periodically returned to the list for several years, including in 1953 when the film was released.) The writing contains flaws: the style is a bit precious at times; all the characters, whether Roman legate, Greek slave, Roman emperor, or Jewish fisherman, speak with the same voice; the religious bit can get a little heavy-handed at times. But the plot is rip-roaring; the principle characters of Marcellus (the Roman legate who crucified Christ and finds conversion through the robe) and Demetrius (his Corinthian slave who twice turns down manumission because he feels bound by duty and filial love to help Marcellus) are beautifully rendered; and the slow process of conversion and all the mental anguish that accompanies it makes fascinating, throught-provoking reading.

I happened to be at the Westfield Mall one day when I was nearly through with the novel and decided to walk into an HMV to see if they had a copy of the DVD. I didn't think they would, as the movie is old and fairly obscure now. But I was surprised to find one copy at a very reasonable price, so I snatched it up.

I don't know if the movie is not as good as I remembered, or if my viewing was significantly affected by having read the book. I didn't enjoy it as much. I felt Burton's character had no depth and none of the nobility given in the book. Marcellus is supposed to be a well-respected officer, an intellect and skeptic who disdains all religion as silly superstition, a man of upstanding character and conviction who acted with nuance, subtlety, and sensitivity; and Burton depicted him as a hot-headed, impetuous rascal. This, in my opinion, makes the ultimate conversion and sacrifice less powerful. I also remembered being particularly taken by Victor Mature's turn as Demetrius; while I still enjoyed his performance, the character in the movie was not drawn as staid, honorable, and loyal as in the book. Perhaps these choices were made to expedite action in the movie, but I felt the movie thus lost a lot of it's meat, leaving us with a skeleton that could have substituted for any Greek/Roman period piece with sword fighting and chariots. I also felt the inclusion of Judas in the movie, a character not even mentioned in the book, was a cheap theatrical stunt that hurt the quality of the film.

Still, the movie won two Academy Awards, so maybe my initial favorable impression was more on the ball. It's still an enjoyable enough movie, thanks in great deal to the charm Jean Simmons brought to the role of Diana. It just suffers in direct comparison to Douglas' novel.

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