Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin--Winter's Tale Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD!

The novel, Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
is available in hardcover, paperback,
Audio, CD, Audiobook, Audible Edition,
and mass market paperback.
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     I balked at picking up this hefty tome since it comes in at 768 pages! I put off reading it because of its size. I remembered the time commitment to read other sizable novels like The Count of Monte Cristo (1276 pages), and Atlas Shrugged (1200 pages). I put off reading the book. I heard that it was a masterpiece by writer, Mark Helprin. I heard that it was beautiful, ethereal, and...beautiful, again. I put off reading the book. 

     One weekend, for relaxation with my family, I went to the theater to see a movie. While we were waiting for the start of the featured film, we were shown many movie trailers of upcoming movies. It all stopped for me when I saw the trailer for Winter's Tale. The trailer mesmerized me. I ran home and, yes, without even contemplating the size of the book, opened its "magical" pages.

A different book cover for the novel,
Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. This
cover shows the horse (from the book)
flying through the sky, almost as a
constellation. In fact, many scenes
exist in the book where the stars and
night sky are utilized to set the
magical atmosphere and references
made to the constellations. In this
story, Athansor actually does fly
through the air, and towards the
end of the book he flys up to
join the stars.
     The basic plot of Winter's Tale is relatively straight forward, easy to describe. It is the story of an orphan, Peter Lake, who grows up on the streets of New York to become a master mechanic and a master thief. Peter Lake runs with the "Short Tails" crime gang for ten years; later, Pearly Somes, the crime boss, tries to kill Peter--at every turn. In an attempt to burglarize a mansion, Peter Lake runs into a dying woman, Beverly Penn. The two fall for each other. Peter struggles to understand the love he has been given; nonetheless, he gives into it thoroughly. Beverly's father gives his blessing and the two marry, but unfortunately, not happily ever after. Beverly dies, leaving Peter bereft. Peter is so entrenched in this mysterious love for Beverly, he feels driven to stop time to bring back the dead. After Beverly's funeral, Peter disappears onto the streets of New York. But this short description of the basic plot falls far short of describing Mark Helprin's book.

     As I said, the basic plot is easy enough to describe. What is not so easy, is how the story unfolds and is then resolved. Helprin creates this story through use of the language that is at once, esoteric and complex, and some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. He starts by setting his story, not in a fictionalized, created world, but in New York. While the city is an ordinary, perhaps mundane environment, Helprin introduces elements that invade the story. Things that we know cannot be true. They seem geared to disorient or disquiet us.

     One of the major examples of elements invading the story that cannot be true is that Peter Lake lives well beyond his years, and yet, does not appear to age. Other people around him die, like Beverly and later her father, and others, but he goes on and new generations of people appear.

     Other fantastical elements appear, as well. A huge white horse, named Athansor, can jump five blocks in one bound and can evade and defeat all enemies--later the horse can even fly. We are introduced to this white horse in the opening pages of the book as the horse escapes from a small stable in Brooklyn. The horse meets Peter as Peter runs from death at the hands of the "Short Tails" gang. Then, the horse carries Peter away, running "...faster than any racehorse could have run [covering] half a block in one stride..." and jumping over one whole block of people  (Kindle Ed. Location 1205).

     To aid in the development of the over all story, Helprin witholds information from the reader, never providing explanations about the fantastical elements in this disquieting world. Never explaining how the horse can do all the fantastic things it can do. Never explaining how or why Peter Lake doesn't seem to age.

    And yet these, and other magical elements, are presented as if they are ordinary, everyday occurrences. Doing so, enables the reader to accept the extraordinary, magical elements in relationship to the ordinary, mundane, even gritty, world of New York.
Is Winter's Tale Magic Realism or Romanticism? Briefly,
Romanticism is an 18th Century artistic and intellectual
movement characterized by a heightened interest in nature,
and individual expression of the emotion and imagination
(departing from classicism). Romanticism, as a
term, seems to be very broadly applied to literature
and also differs from that used in visual arts.

     So, what is going on with Helprin utilizing the fantastical story elements and a realistic setting? One good explanation could be magic realism. Some of the more notable qualities of magic realism are as follows:

(1) Use of fantastical elements; 
(2) the author's use of a real-world setting; and,
(3) the author's withholding of information or explanations about the fantastical elements from the reader. 

     I've covered these three aspects just above, but there are other attributes that are often seen in works that are classified as Magic Realism. Let's continue the list and look at a few more attributes: 

Winter's Tale comes to the silver screen
on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2014.
Seen here, on the poster for the movie,
the poster utilizes the ethereal qualities
from the book. The themes of the stars
and bridges. The stars lend it the look
of being of  "another world," that the
bridge will allow you to cross over to.
Related to this movie poster, check out
My Favorite Quote from the book,
just below, about gates into the city.
(4) Plenitude--meaning, that everything that can happen will happen--eventually; 

(5) the author's use of multiple planes of reality (For example, urban and rural--in this novel, New York and--a place you can't get to unless you are a "resident"--the Coheeries (a secret town, not on any map); or the N.Y. city dwellers and the mysterious Bayonne Marsh dwellers--each with their own mythos, fables, tales and...apparently, secrets.);

(6) the author's use of sense of mystery, meaning the author wants you to look for connections and hidden meanings--he's not about to hand them to you on a platter, you've got to set aside your preconceived notions about plot advancement, exposition, and linear time structure (truly, a MAJOR feature of this Winter's Tale); and,

(7) the author's use of the story as a criticism of society, perhaps politicians or the elite (Helprin utilizes this technique extensively in Winter's Tale.).

     Please note that while I've given you the basics of Magic Realism, this is just the 101 version. I suppose I could write a whole blog post on the topic, but I really prefer talking about specific books. So, if you are interested in learning more about Magic Realism, here is a link to an article by Alberto Rios entitled, Magical Realism: Definitions

Jessica Brown-Findlay, actress,
plays "Beverly," in the upcoming
movie, Winter's Tale. In the book,
Beverly knows and loves the stars
and the night sky. She would lay on
the roof "...[w]ith her face open to the
bitter cold of the sky, she could track
across the Milky Way, ticking off
stars and constellations like a child
naming the states" (Kindle loc. 1466).
     Also, you can take a look at another blog post I did about a book that falls within the genre of Magic Realism, The Green Mile by Stephen King. But, please note, I did NOT address specifically the topic of Magic Realism in that post--it was just a very simple book review; actually, it was the very first book I reviewed on this blog. Nonetheless, The Green Mile is a great example of an American author writing in the genre of Magic Realism. In The Green Mile review, see which of the seven attributes you can find from those that I've listed above.

     I had a lot of trouble selecting only one. The book is filled with beautiful prose. In the end, I selected a passage around which I believe much of the book finds reference:
Four Gates to the City. Every city has its gates, which need not be of stone. Nor need soldiers be upon them or watchers before them....To enter a city intact it is necessary to pass through one of the new gates. They are far more difficult to find than their solid predecessors, for they are tests, mechanisms, devices, and implementations of justice....The east gate was that of acceptance of responsibility, the south gate that of the desire to explore, the west gate that of devotion to beauty, and the north gate that of selfless love (Kindle location 2973).    
     Everything mentioned in the quoted paragraph is found within the pages of the book. For example, in Peter Lake's talk with Beverly's father, Peter tells him he seeks responsibility. There are other passages, too, about beauty, passages about justice and passages about love. The passage also seems to be a Biblical reference that to enter heaven you must do so by entering by the narrow gate. In fact, a little earlier in the book, Helprin seemed to make the (living) City sentient and god-like as he says, "The city would take care. There was no choice but to trust the architect's dream..." (loc. 1963). I love the complexity and layering of themes and motifs within the paragraph...all concealed and revealed within the prose. Just...amazing!

     I will be going on opening day to see the feature film adaptation of Mark Helprin's book, Winter's Tale. I can hardly wait! Even so, one can never be sure about how well a book has been adapted to film. So many variables exist in its creation, that it is hard to predict what will be a success. I am sincerely hoping that the filmmakers do a great job with this film. Please have a quick look at the trailer that I obtained for you from YouTube of Winter's Tale.

     Colin Farrell stars as Peter Lake; Jessica Brown-Findlay stars as Beverly Penn; Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames; William Hurt as Isaac Penn (Beverly's Father); Will Smith as the Judge; Graham Greene as Humpstone John; Mat Bomer as Peter's Father and Lucy Griffiths as Mrs. Lake. The Movie is directed by Akiva Goldsman with writing credits going to Mark Helprin (novel), and Akiva Goldsman (screenplay).

     A truly wonderful book. I would, without a doubt, highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, especially those who love modern stories, language, or books specifically from the genre of Magic Realism. If you can't deal with mystery, ambiguity, or multiple planes of reality, then this book might not be for you. But for was a charming and thrilling journey into another world. 

     Secondly, Mark Helprin's prose is unparalleled in its execution. Nothing short of stunningly beautiful. 

     Thirdly, many themes exist in this book, almost too many to mention. Just a few of my favorites are listed, here. I loved the themes of "stars" (mentioned briefly, above); "lakes" (Peter, of course, but other lakes, too); and "mirrors" (for example, Isaac Pen is described as being the "man behind the city's mirror." Very interesting! for thought. (Kindle Location 2214) And, finally, "contests or tests" that pervade the book (for example, "staring contests"; also, see My Favorite Quote). And, by the way, read the prologue carefully! 

     Finally, in the "About the Author" section (below), I pointed out that Helprin grew up on the Hudson River. I love that he was able to incorporate his love for the Hudson River area into the book. Take a look at the first paragraph in the chapter, "Lake of the Coheeries," and you'll see what I mean. Again, it's beautiful prose.

5 Stars out of 5.
     I have absolutely no trouble giving this book 
5 stars out of 5. Thank you for joining me this week to look at Mark Helprin's book, Winter's Tale. Join me again next week for another new book blog post. 

     I am preparing a special post for you on the topic of Pompeii. I'll have information about multiple books on Pompeii as well as about the upcoming and much anticipated movie, Pompeii. So, join me next week, but don't forget to have a little fun reading. Pick up your favorite book, or try a new one. See, "About This Book", and "About the Author", just below the image of the white rose.

Until Next time...
White Rose.
...many happy pages of reading!


Pages: 768
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(September 20, 1983)
Language: English

Kindle Version: 
File Size: 2509 KB
Sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
X-Ray: Enabled
Lending: Not Enabled
ABOUT THE AUTHOR--Mark Helprin: Born in Manhattan, N.Y. in 1947, Helprin was raised on the Hudson River and later in the British West Indies. Helprin has earned degrees from Harvard (an A.B. in 1969), Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (A.M. in 1972); he did postgraduate study at Princeton and Magdalen College (Oxford, University of Oxford, 1976-77.). Helprin, a Jewish-American, became an Israeli citizen in the late 70s, served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli Infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. Helprin married Lisa Kennedy and, together, the couple have two daughters (Alexandra and Olivia). Helprin and family live on a 56-acre farm in Earlysville, Virginia.

AWARDS: He has been awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Prix de Rome from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; in 2006 Helprin received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award (presented annually by Tulsa Library Trust); 2010 Helprin received the 2010 Salvatori Prize in the American Founding by the Claremont Institute. In 2006 the New York Times Book Review compiled "The single best work of American Fiction Published in the Last 25 Years:" 22 books received multiple votes: Mark Helprin's, Winter's Tale was one of the 22.

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__________________________________________________________________ - Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin,;'s+tale&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=cjbKUtkVi_2gBNSsgZgF&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1490&bih=825#facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Cover image;'s+tale+graphics&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=z3nUUozwB8XcoAT_4oLgCA&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1092&bih=706#es_sm=122&espv=210&q=winter's+tale+by+Mark+Helprin+graphics&tbm=isch&imgdii=_ - Winter's Tale alternate book cover image;'s+Tale+Athansor&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=w3rVUrL1E9LuoATI2IHoBw&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1502&bih=872#facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Athansor; - Magic Realism graphic;'s+tale+beverly&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=06HVUoXLK87goASX0IL4CQ&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1502&bih=820#q=winter's+tale&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Winter's Tale Movie Poster; - "Plenitude"; - The Green Mile by Stephen King, example of Magic Realism;'s%20tale&tbm=isch&imgdii=_ - Beverly; - YouTube Trailer of Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin; - 5 stars out of 5; - White Rose; -About the Author; - Mark Helprin; - Awards.