Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reader's Diary #249- Maurice Maeterlinck: The Blue Bird (FINISHED!)

In my copy of this play, there's a short note at the beginning telling us that Act 4 was an add-on, written by Maeterlinck for a revival of the play, in 1910. He should have left well enough alone.

What Act 4 accomplishes is a convolution of plot and character list to the point of ridiculousness. Already in the play, we have been shown the souls of common everyday objects and elements; cat, dog, bread, sugar, milk, water, fire, and light. These eight characters accompany two children Tyltyl and Mytyl along their journey. Later the two children are introduced to the souls of other animals, trees, and even Night. In Act 4 however, there is a virtual orgy of souls. It's bad enough that we get such an abstract character as "The Luxury", but then we have The Luxury of Being Rich, The Luxury of Satisfied Vanity, The Luxury of Sleeping More Than Is Necessary, The Happiness of Being Well, the Happiness of Running In The Dew, The Joy of Seeing What Is Beautiful, The Joy of Maternal Love, The Joy of Understanding, and so on and so on. Very quickly it loses its charm. Yes, I'll admit some, like the "Luxury of Sleeping More Than Is Necessary" made me smile initially. But after a while the personification of every idea imaginable got tedious. Furthermore, the insanely obvious attempts at an allegory was grating.

At the end, I did find myself pondering what the Blue Bird itself was supposed to represent. Most have hypothesized that it is the key to happiness or something to that effect, but they fall short of saying just what that key is. To me, there are a lot of signs that point to it being "appreciation". The plot of the play has two children searching for a blue bird to give to a fairy's daughter. At the end, we see that their pet bird was the Blue Bird all along. If that seems like an obvious oversight on the part of the children, they did consider it at the beginning. However, the fairy, who appears just as the children enviously watch other children who are feasting and getting Christmas presents, says it isn't blue enough. After a long and tiresome journey, they realize that their pet bird seems "bluer" than before and they give it to the girl. But there are a couple of problems with my theory. First of all, I can see no reason why Maeterlinck would not just personify appreciation as well. Also, I'm not sure why the animals, trees and other souls would be so threatened by the Blue Bird falling into the hands of the children. Oh well, if it wasn't for the terrible fourth act, maybe I'd spend more time contemplating it.


John Mutford said...

I've been reflecting on my posts, and I think I may have led the impression that I'm a mortal enemy of anything overt or obvious. I'm not. I don't think speaking in riddles is always appropriate. I might surprise people with this example, but when System of A Down shouts "Why don't presidents fight the war?/ Why do they always send the poor?" in B.Y.O.B., I think the message is necessarily clear and forthright. A subtle hint would not have been nearly as effective. But when people give the illusion of being deep or contemplative when in actuality their intentions or points knock you over the head, the result seems pretentious and annoying. Though, to be diplomatic about the whole thing, what's obvious to one may not be to another and it's often hard for a writer to judge. In this case Maeterlinck was obvious that there was a message, not what that message was.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

"Tyltyl and Mytyl"? Those names alone would have turned me right off. I don't think I could read a whole play in which the main characters keep making me think of painkillers for headaches and menstrual cramps respectively.

Very nice use of labels in keeping with the general theme, however.

Allison said...

I like the idea of this book, however from what you've written I'm not quite sure I would enjoy it.

I'm glad you added your comment.

John Mutford said...

Barbara, Headache and menstrual cramp pills! Hah. Maybe they're the keys to happiness. I didn't have a problem with Mytyl's name.Tyltyl's gave me problems. In my head I kept refering to him as "Title" which couldn't be right, but sounded better than "Till-Till".

Allison, It's all part of my attempt to be more like Fox News- "Fair and balanced". (Said with irony intended)