Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys And Aliens

My wife and I saw Cowboys & Aliens at today's matinee.
It starts out good, like the best of westerns.  Darkly humorous like the opening of A Fistful of Dollars.  Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are splendid here.  I was hoping the entire movie would be like that.

Unfortunately, about half way through, the plot resolves into comic book format and the scenes after that are all stunts or the usual sci-fi tech--juvenile, gaggingly sentimental, and predictably cliched, especially the human solidarity message at the end.

Nice acting by Craig and Ford (who you like even when he's the tyrannical heavy), and some interesting camera shots in the first half of the movie.  Some nice horsemanship by Harrison and Craig or by lookalike stunt doubles.  Some beautiful canyon shots.  Fifteen minutes in, I was enthusiastically rooting for them to pull this off.  Unfortunately, they didn't.

Some understated humor, though some things scenes are funny in spite of themselves--unintentionally funny.  For instance, there is the scene where they bury the preacher who has been killed by the aliens.  No one wants to say a prayer over the grave.  Finally the storekeeper blurts out some things in agnostic parody.

It reminded me of the similar scene in the western, Open Range, where Robert Duvall tells Kevin Costner to go ahead and say a few words to God over the grave.  "I'll stay right here and listen," he says, "but I ain't talking to the Sonofabitch."
My wife and I chuckled out loud a couple of times, but I didn't hear much other laughter in this theater filled mostly with teenagers out of school.  Perhaps the humor is generational.  Still, the movie is better than the trailers for it would lead you to believe.  It makes you think of what an excellent western Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford could make, given the right script.  Olivia Wilde is angelic as Ella, the Eternal Feminine eye-candy in here.  She also deserves a better script.

I must confess I was hoping for a cynical western version of Rod Serling's "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."  The movie instead is anti-cynical and says that sentimental human solidarity trumps human accountability, once aliens are involved--and it says it with a juvenile and comic book sense of reality that no one can take seriously.  The satirical message would have worked much better in that format.

Don't misunderstand, I'd like it if the message involved human compassion and genuine forgiveness, but it does not.  For what we have here is simply a transfer of the hated Other.  At the end of Rod Serling's classic story, there is the realization that we have met the enemy, and he is us.  In this story, there is simply a change of alliances.  The prop department should have provided the aliens with big black hats.

Monday, July 25, 2011

MOBY DICK - Gillian Anderson, John Hurt, Ray Bradbury, John Huston

We'll watch the newest incarnation of MOBY DICK on Encore/Starz when it appears this upcoming August 1st and 2nd.  Among the cast is Gillian Anderson, playing Elizabeth, Ahab's wife.  Since Elizabeth is hardly mentioned in the book, we take it that the character is re-imagined, a la Sena Jeter Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife.

The rest of the cast includes John Hurt as Ahab, Ethan Hawke as Starbuck, Charlie Cox as Ishmael, Billy Body as Elijah, and Donald Sutherland as the Rev. Mapple.

MOBY DICK was once a forgotten book, but no more.  Now it seems to permeate our culture.  There is a seafood restaurant chain called Moby Dick.  The founder of the coffee chain, Starbucks, says that he took the name from the novel.  The book has spawned or at least inspired hundreds of other books and movies, direct derivatives.  The secondary derivatives must be without number.

Want to see how much Cormac McCarthy used Moby Dick in Blood Meridian?  Go to this link.

Peter Benchley's Jaws owes much to Moby Dick, especially Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation of the novel.  I like the Moby Dick-like interpretation of Jaws at this link.

When Spielberg made Jaws, he offered the role of Brody to Robert Duvall who only wanted to play the Ahab character, Quint. Spielberg thought Roy Scheider was too macho to play Brody (due to The French Connection), but eventually Scheider was cast as Brody and was very good in the role.

According to Wikipedia, the role of Quint was originally offered to actors Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, both of whom passed. "Producers Zanuck and Brown had just finished working with Robert Shaw on The Sting, and suggested him to Spielberg as a possible Quint."

Spielberg wanted a segment where Quint would be seen watching Gregory Peck in Moby Dick and laughing at him for his ineptitude. But he could not get the rights to the clip, as Gregory Peck was ashamed of his part in the movie

Gregory Peck was miscast as Ahab.  Melville's Moby Dick was not the icon it is today; no one wanted to back a movie of it. John Huston wanted an unknown to play the lead, but his backers would not finance the film unless he nabbed a big star. He flattered and lied and finally signed Gregory Peck, telling him that he was perfect for the part.

Ray Bradbury's novel, Green Shadows, White Whale, is not exactly a novel: it is Ray Bradbury's memories of his time spent with John Huston in Ireland writing the script for the movie.  Most of these were previously published in the form of short stories.

Bradbury recounts his difficulties with the script, his arguments with Huston, Huston's abuse of his wife, the Dublin of the time, his conjuring of Melville and the whale.  The making of the movie is itself excellent drama, with John Huston as Ahab, Ray Bradbury as Starbuck.  Ray Bradbury wrote:

"It was seven o'clock in the morning.'

"I awoke and stared at the ceiling as if it were about to plunge down on me, an immense whiteness of flesh, a madness of unblinking eye, a flounder of tail. I was in a terrible state of excitement. I imagine it was like those moments we hear about before an earthquake, when the dogs and cats fight to leave the house, or the unseen and unheard tremors shake the floor and beams, and you find yourself held ready for something to arrive but you're damned if you know what.'

"I am Herman Melville."

"Believing that, I sat at the typewriter, and in the next seven hours wrote and rewrote the last third of the screenplay plus portions of the middle. I did not eat until late afternoon, when I had a sandwich sent up, and which I devoured while typing.'

"I was fearful of answering the telephone, dreading the loss of focus if I did so. I had never typed so long, so hard, and so fast in all the years before that day nor in all the years since. If I wasn't Herman Melville, I was, oh, God, his Ouija Board, and he was moving my planchette. Or his literary force, compressed all these months, was spouting out of my finger tips as if I had twisted the faucets.'

"I mumbled and muttered and mourned through the morning, and all through noon, and leaning into my usual naptime. But there was no tiredness, only the fierce, steady, joyful, and triumphant banging away at my machine with the pages littering the floor--Ahab crying destruction over my right shoulder, Melville bawling construction over the left.'

"At last the metaphors were falling together, meeting up, touching and fusing. The tiny ones with the small ones, the smaller with the larger, the larger with the immense. . .What nailed it fast was the hammering of the Spanish gold ounce to the mast...The gold coin represents all that the seaman want, each and every one...The men do not know it, but the sound of the maul striking the coin's fastening nail is their sea coffin lid being hammered flat shut."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday's Western: James Galvin's THE MEADOW

I think I can take almost any passage out of this book and write pages about it.  The resonances are that thick.  Take just a random paragraph, or even a random sentence:

"He never quit from last star to first, proving that the price of independence is slavery."

Or, "By the end he had nothing, as if loss were a fire in which he was purified again and again..."

Or, "The illusion of land ownership creates a cheap workforce in the fields: people who often pay more than they are paid to work, as we say, like slaves.  But, oh, they are rich in the illusions of independence..."

This week's western novel is The Meadow by James Galvin.  Fiction, history, and autobiography are here entwined into the form of a western, a multi-leveled naturalistic work of art.  It was such a pleasure to revisit this masterpiece.

And that's what it is: a masterpiece.  The blurbs on the back of the first edition dustjacket by Jim Harrison, William Kittredge, James Salter, and Marilynne Robinson proclaim it as such.  On one level, it is a western in which the protagonist is spiritual human consciousness carving out a temporary home in a material world.  Nature is beauty experienced and loved even when it is hostile to individual human existence.

The book has not changed since 1993 when it was first published, but I have.  Back then I saw it mainly as existentialist and Hemingwayesque--focusing on the grace-under-pressure of its protagonists, braving the slings and arrows of fortune with stoic courage.

It can still be read that way, but my aged awareness is enhanced.  This time I was able to look deeper into it, past all material existential ego and deeper into the heart of the work, the underlying consciousness of everything.  It is akin to the works of Walter Van Tilburg Clark and the other novels of sacred naturalism discussed by Clark and Max Westbrook.  Not quite as cold as pantheism--as that concept is casually defined--for here nature is embraced by consciousness, and loved unconditionally.

A consciousness grateful for this gift of life that we each have on loan.

The writing in The Meadow is beautiful throughout.  Look at the resonances in the small opening paragraph:

"The real world goes like this:  The Neversummer Mountains like a jumble of broken glass.  Snowfields weep slowly down.  Chambers Lake, ringed by trees, gratefully catches the drip in its tin cup, and gives the mountains their own reflection in return.  This is the real world, indifferent, unburdened."

At first glance, this is a contradictory paragraph.  The author imbues nature with human intent:  snowfields weep, Chambers Lake is grateful and reciprocates for the gift of water with the gift of reflection.  But in the last sentence, the observer declares them indifferent, unburdened.

Readers need not see all the many resonances I see in this paragraph.  For instance, the broken glass.  They don't need to see water as a symbol of spirit nor reflection as a symbol of consciousness.  There is no need to hear in Chambers Lake a resonance of Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River."  Nor to hear the word "unburdened" in Faulkner's As-I-Lay-Dying sense.

But confronted with that first paragraph, every reader should ask himself, Who is the observer here?  These things only have intention and meaning, beauty and gratitude and a sense of loss, because there is an observer who gives it to them.  Otherwise they are indeed indifferent and unburdened.  There would be no story without the  observer, the reflections of a human consciousness.

All stories are one, though the individuals within the story see themselves as separate, oblivious to the whole.  My favorite protagonist in here, Lyle, is a reader himself, but he has no patience for William Faulkner.  He says of him, "If that sumbitch wants to tell me a story why don't he start it at the beginning and tell it through to the end?"  Lyle would have no patience for James Gavin's The Meadow either, for the story here is told in episodes featuring different protagonists who lived in the meadow over time, not just the humane and independently-minded Lyle.

And James Galvin's circle of life includes not just humans but extends to coyotes and other living things as well.  There is a very sweet and beautiful passage pp. 5-7 involving birds in the snow.  I hear it in a Kris Kristofferson voice.  I want justice, but I'll settle for some mercy

As I say, a superficial reading of this is still a great read.  Readers blessed with the gift of metaphor will see even more in it.  My copy of this (scanned above) is the first American hardcover edition, and I see that it is autographed.  James Galvin's black signature on the title page is abbreviated and looks as stylized as a cattle brand.

Or as the tracks of birds in the snow.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Romantic movies? We'll See.

Two of the upcoming movies we're waiting to see:  Gellhorn And Hemingway and My American Lover.  The former is based upon the relationship between journalist Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway.  The latter is based upon the romance between Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren.

Clive Owen stars as Hemingway opposite Nicole Kidman.  The cast is said to include David Strathairn as John Dos Passos and Peter Coyote as Maxwell Perkins.  Others getting roles include Molly Parker, Tony Shalhoub, Parker Posey, and Diane Baker.

Johnny Depp plays Nelson Algren and singer Vanessa Paradis plays Simone de Beauvoir in My Favorite Lover.  Since they are real life lovers with a couple of kids, we're hoping that we can see real chemistry between them.  The movie will be based in part on Simone de Beauvoir's published letters and will no doubt involve at least one of her other lovers, Jean Paul Sartre.

I tend to think of the philosopher Sartre as part of an older generation, but he was born in 1905, the same year as actor Henry Fonda.  Too bad Henry Fonda isn't still around and still young enough to play Jean Paul Sartre in this movie.

This week I caught a showing of The Male Animal with Henry Fonda, Jack Carson, and Olivia de Havilland.  Dated it is, and hokey too, but it still has some marvelous scenes that make it worth watching.  I'd forgotten that it was Olivia de Havilland who had played Melanie in Gone With The Wind.

I went on-line and found Alexander Cockburn's analysis of the play/movie adaptation of The Male Animal, which originated with comic writer James Thurber.  Here's the link.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, edited by Declan Burke

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY is an anthology edited by Declan Burke, filled with brilliant ideas and surprising points of view, an examination of Irish crime literature by those who now write it, packed with verve and humor that sparkles, a treasure chest of emerald noir.

The book consists of thirty selections (counting Professor Ian Campbell Ross's introductory essay on the history of Irish crime fiction), and it is divided into three parts, Out of the Past, Thieves Like Us, and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.  Some of the essays are really literary short stories, but they each make a point that fits nicely into this volume.  Ireland's treasured past is literary, but crime novels bring it into the present, often in a literary way.

There are brief opening notes by editor/novelist Declan Burke himself and by the well known American mystery novelist, Michael Connolly, and at the end of the book there is a long list of Irish crime books, a survey of suggested Irish crime reading.  You will want to keep a notebook handy for jotting down the names of newly discovered authors.

Some of them I had already discovered.  I reviewed Alan Glynn's Winterland at this link, and I can't wait to get a look at his newest one, to be published in September.

I also reviewed Eoin McNamee's Resurrection Man at this link.  In here, McNamee eloquently explains how he melds his fiction to the actual history he has researched.  If you've already read his stunning novel, Orchid Blue, this essay will open your eyes to the uncanny brilliance behind McNamee's art.  The case involves a Judge, and McNamee adroitly uses the particular to express the universal:

"What we understand to be noir has the mark of John Calvin on it.  The universe is a cold and pre-determined place.  Your fate is decided before you set yourself to defraud your employer or catch a faithless eye across a downtown cocktail bar.'

"It is the essence of the noir hero to go among the damned, to relate to them, to be one of the damned himself.  He sets himself...against the judge, knowing that the verdict has already been reached."

I first became aware of Irish noir when visiting one of my favorite websites, the Rap Sheet, whose proprietor led me to the novels of Ken Bruen and John Connolly, both of whom have pieces in here.  Later I found the websites of Irish authors Declan Burke, at this link, and of Adrian McKinty, here, both of them self-effacing men and promising authors with an intriguing backlist of novels I'd yet to read. 

Try them, you'll like them too.  Today, on Declan Burke's site, you can read Declan Hughes essay on the forming of his own identity, on how the reading of American books and the viewing of so much American film and television has marked him as American as well.  The question of national identity is taken up by several authors in this volume, and their different answers may surprise you.

Listen to Ingrid Black:

"Being Irish . . .was a collection of less-than-groundbreaking reflections by a hundred people, famous and otherwise, on what it meant to them to be one of God's chosen people.  They didn't put it quite like that, of course, but there was no mistaking the assumption underlying a depressingly large proportion of the contributions, namely that being Irish was an awe-inspiring achievement altogether, and that those born under a green star were sensitive, poetic souls with a superhuman capacity for empathetic engagement with the world, intimately connected to history and their native land, thirsting for justice and peace like no race before. . .It made How The Irish Saved Civilization look modest by comparison."

You should read the entire essay and maybe rethink what Irish is and what it isn't.  I'm not sure that we are capable of defining a completely true national identity.  Perhaps in some kind of variation of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, true identity can only gauged by going outside the system.

But there are many more perspectives in here, different points of view no less incisive and wise.  Declan Burke had a good eye for the way this multifaceted book should be organized.  It is not past, present, and future exactly, for there is yin in the yang and the borders between the sections are blurred.  And that is as it should be.

Award winning novelist Tana French, in an interview here, wisely says that "identity gets created at the crossroads between past and present," and that neither one can be suppressed or denied.  And Brian McGilloway has an astute essay in here relating to that, "Walking The Tightrope:  The Border In Irish Fiction."

And I think that's the right answer, that our identity--American, Irish, or whatever--lies in the crossroads of then and now.  We make our tomorrows out of that identity.  Every morning we arise, grateful for yet another opportunity to start things anew.  Another day in paradise, no matter where we are.

It is a great day for the Irish.  Read this book and you'll see why.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

RIP: Author Allan W. Eckert Has Died

Allan W. Eckert has died of prostate cancer at age 80.  He was diagnosed with cancer many years ago, and back in 2004, he told me that he had beaten it--at least that time--with positive affirmations.

Eckert was a positive thinker and a very prolific and versatile author.  His 40+ books ranged from crime novels such as The Scarlet Mansion, to YA novels such as Bluejacket and Incident at Hawk's Hill, and to historical narratives such as The Frontiersman, which was a biography of Simon Kenton.

Besides being a novelist and playwright, Eckert wrote almost all of the scripts for television's Wild Kingdom.  Back then, he lived in Everglades, Florida, and he would sometimes go up the coast to lunch with the writer's club in Sarasota on Siesta Key.  Members of that group included crime novel authors John D. MacDonald and Charles Willeford, MacKinlay Kantor, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Andersonville, and several others.  Eckert told me that he, Peter Matthiessen, and Randy Wayne White were the junior members of the group, and that due to his workload, he could only rarely attend.

Eckert's work won many awards and he was seven times nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  I've always thought that he deserved it, even though I questioned some of his historical sources over the years.

I called him at his home in Everglades, Florida, decades ago now, to ask him where he had found "The Journal of William Grills," one of the many sources he cited (and quoted) in The Frontiersmen.  He didn't remember, but he was very gracious to this upstart critic from out of nowhere.

I was persistent and engaged many reference librarians across the country, but no one has been able to locate that source.  Eckert tried to find it again too, and occasionally he sent me notes, recalling places that he had done his research for that book, suggesting additional places to look.  I was then engaged in Native American historical and genealogical research, and Eckert, going through his voluminous papers, sent me some three hundred letters he had received from scholars and readers over time, touching on relevant items.  I still have them all, as well as our correspondence.

Allan W. Eckert was a prolific author with a strong work ethic and he never stopped researching and writing.  I'm looking forward to his new book, which will be out later this year, and his publisher at the Jesse Stuart Foundation says that there will be yet another one coming later.  The grace of the man will live on in his books.

My wife and I send our condolences to Joan, his widow, whom we met several years ago at the Kentucky Book Fair.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS by Ray Bradbury

Is this a crime novel?

The crime novel genre is very wide and includes many sub-genres which in turn have sub-genres.  There is the American mystery, the English mystery, the thriller and the police procedural, but within these categories there are historical mysteries, whodunits, pastoral cozies, spy thrillers, revenge thrillers, courtroom thrillers, paranoia or conspiracy novels, and many more.

Art Bourgeau, in The Mystery Lover's Companion, even divided police procedurals into subcategories: misdemeanors, felonies, manhunts, and trial-by-jury novels, citing examples of each sub-genre.

Then there are the cross-genre novels, such as mystery/westerns, suspense/romances, and political/thrillers.  All of these categories can be written heavily or humorously, seriously or in parody, in superficial prose or literary depth.  My favorites of these are multi-layered, with enough recalcitrance that different people will see them differently, often just a simple story revealing universal truths with clarity and compassion.  In the form of a crime novel.

Think of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and Graham Greene's The Third Man, with their trinities stacked to infinity.  Are these crime novels too?  Surely they are.  

Death Is A Lonely Business was Ray Bradbury's tribute to the great detective yarns, written back in 1949 but revised and first published in 1985.  It is dedicated to several people including "the memories of Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross MacDonald."

The protagonist is the author himself, an everyman, but a guy noir, puzzling over life's persistant questions, seeking justice while trying to find solid logical ground on which to stand.  He is followed around by his shapeshifting shade.  When asked on page four to identify his shadow, the protagonist says only that he's one of the furies.

Set in historical Venice, California, where Bradbury lived for several years, the crime involves a disappearing circus and amusement park.  The dead man may be a personified cat trapped in one of the submerged lion cage cars, which is pictured on the cover of a later edition of the novel.  It's not quite the Dali death cart pictured on the 1985 first edition of Blood Meridian, but it will do--the phantom car conjuring up the cat in the cage.

The detective who helps to solve "the case" is named Elmo Crumley, an apparent allusion to James Crumley, noted author of The Last Good Kiss (1978) and other good ones.

Death Is A Lonely Business is a crime novel that is also autobiographical and humorous and literary, enmeshed in that rarefied atmosphere of noir, filled with nuanced surprises and grotesques, and ringing with universal truths about life and death. 

Some of the jokes may have aged a bit.  For instance, "Her round face was a moon watching over the vast territorial imperatives of her body."  That isn't quite as funny now as it was when Robert Ardrey's The Territorial Imperative was on the bestseller lists.  But the universals in here are timeless.
Death's friend is always selling tickets at the local theater, and the picture never seems to change.  The only word on the marquee is always "Goodbye."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday's Western: THE ROUNDERS by Max Evans

Max Evans wrote The Rounders out of necessity in an attempt to get money to support his family.  It was his first novel, published back in 1960, a tragicomedy, as he himself describes it.  It is a novel of what was then contemporary cowboys, bawdy for its times (although it is tame by modern standards), a comic buddy story about two perpetual adolescents in a constant state of coming-of-age.  Hence the tragedy.

Reading it today, the comedy is in the way it is told rather than in the sadsack foibles of its protagonists or the cantankerous wiles of its leading horse.  Evans says that he read a lot of Will James in preparation for writing the novel.  Indeed, his narrative style here is marked by the same cowboy vernacular, the same sincerely bemused way of looking at the world.  Will Rogers, Will James, and Max Evans.  When I think of one of them, the other two come to mind.

I also think of them when I listen to radio segments of "Lives of the Cowboys," with Garrison Keillor's characters  Dusty and Lefty the obvious counterparts of Max Evans' Dusty and Wrangler.

In the introduction to the 2010 50th Anniversary Edition, Max Evans tells the story of the book and how it came to be published and filmed, a wild tale in itself involving Fess Parker, Burt Kennedy, Sam Peckinpah, William Wellman, and many other Hollywood legends, directors, writers, and actors.

Burt Kennedy (who would go on to make Support Your Local Sheriff  in 1969 with James Garner) eventually made The Rounders into a 1965 movie starring Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Sue Anne Langdon, Hope Holiday, Chill Wills, and Warren Oates.  It seems like a YA movie today, though the bare-butt scene with Langdon and Holiday was deemed scandalous at the time, leading to an expanded pictorial in Playboy Magazine.

The Rounders was a landmark western, but to this reader, it is not nearly as interesting as some of Max Evans' other novels, to be the subjects of Wednesday's Western or Friday's Forgotten Novel one day soon.  Born in 1925, Evans has outlived most of his famous friends, but he is still writing important books.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: HIGH HUNT by David Eddings

High Hunt was published in 1973, the year we pulled out of Viet Nam.  Lost the war, and finally admitted it.  We even ended the draft, though much too late for me.

Republicans were still in office that year.  Nixon would resign before the next year was out.  American jingoism dipped to a low ebb, and American male machismo looked for somewhere to else stand.

The movie adaptation of James Dickey's Deliverance came out in 1972 and may have been an influence.  Robert Ardrey, author of African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, was then working on The Hunting Hypothesis, which would be published about the same time as the 1976 Fawcett Crest paperback edition of High Hunt . 
 High Hunt was the author's first novel, in part a coming-of-age novel with a young man's issues written large.  I read High Hunt after it first came out and thought it grand; rereading it now, I see my younger self reading it too.

There are many similarities between High Hunt and Deliverance, though the latter is the much greater work of art, greater in theme, more poetic, and more tightly written.   Some passages of High Hunt now seem either hastily written or too long labored, darlings the author should have excised altogether.  But the parts I either missed or thought too boring to remember back then are more interesting now.

Indeed, there is much here to admire.  It deals with issues concerning the masculine ego, but it is a family saga too with much to say about fathers and sons and the nature of male camaraderie.  Michael Cimino's Viet Nam movie, The Deer Hunter, now makes an interesting companion piece.

David Eddings did not become a successful author until many years later.  His string of fantasy epics became best sellers and brought him some critical recognition too. 

We don't know what Dickey thought of High Hunt, if he read it, nor what David Eddings thought of The Deer Hunter.  I'm not suggesting undue influence connecting these works of art; they were signs of their times. 

But High Hunt has something that makes it stand apart from the other works mentioned here, and that's a hopeful ending.  The protagonist has come to see the ultimate emptiness of masculine rituals, and has asked his love to marry him.  The end of the novel seems to suggest that the search for true love is the highest hunt of all.

As sappy as that may sound, it works for me.