Book Review: Green Mansions

Green Mansions

by W. H. Hudson


320 pages.

Genre: Romance, Classic

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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The curious call of an unseen bird lures a young European explorer deeper and deeper into the jungle, where he encounters the source of the siren song–a lovely, half-wild girl with mysterious powers.

Thus begins the romance between Abel, a revolutionary hiding among an Indian tribe in the Venezuelan rainforest, and Rima, who speaks the languages of birds and longs to return to the land of her birth to be reunited with others of her kind.

Written by a British naturalist with a deep love and knowledge of wilderness areas, the richly colored tale transports readers to the lush atmosphere of the Amazonian outback. Originally published in 1904, this haunting classic offers a narrative of lyric beauty as well as a fascinating link between nineteenth-century Romanticism and modern environmentalism.

First Sentences (Prologue):
It is a cause of very great regret to me that this task has taken so much longer a time than I had expected for its completion.  It is now many months—over a year, in fact—since I wrote to Georgetown announcing my intention of publishing, in a very few months, the whole truth about Mr. Abel.

My Own Summary:

The story begins with a prologue narrorated by a close friend of the main character, Abel.  In the prologue, many years have passed since Abel’s story took place and Abel has since passed on.  So it is that this close friend takes it upon himself to answer the town questions concerning a mysterious urn found in Abel’s house after his death, by telling the story that Abel relayed to him after an argument.

Abel takes over the role of narrorater in the chapters that follow, telling of his time in his home country, Venezeala.  After taking part in a failed coup against his country, Abel decideds to flee and hide out in the jungles with the indeginous tribes to avoid being arrested and possibly executed.

After a while of wandering from tribe to tribe, he ends up settling in with the Parahuaris.  The tribe takes Abel in and allows him to stay, and for awhile, he spends his days playing his homade guitar for the natives and trying to find himself in nature.  It insn’t until he decides to venture into a forest that the Parahuaris are afraid of then the problems begin.  There, he meets a woman who speaks in an odd bird-like laungage.

The Parahuari tribe know her as the “daughter of didi” and see her as a dangerous being who has to die, but she is really just a half wild 17 year old girl who is living hidden deep in the forest with her ‘grandfather’, who is from the civilized world.  Abel falls in love with the girl and tries unsuccessfully for most of the book trying to win the gir’s affectionstries to win her affections through most of the book.  This of course, strains his relationship with the Parahuaris and the story ends in tragedy.

My Thoughts:

I found a fairly old edition of this novel in the Free Book bin at 2nd & Charles.  It’s a classic (they turned it into a movie in the 1960’s that starred one of my favorite classic Hollywood actors, Anthony Perkins, AKA Norman Bates), but surprisingly this find was the first I’d heard of it.  It was a free book with a cheesy cover and it looked lonely, so I decided to give it a new home.

The book is obvioulsy dated, written in 1904, so the words read more formally then what we would see in a modern day novel.  I have to commend Hudson on his stunning poetic descriptions that are fluent throughout the book!  He describes the jungles of South America in a way that captures its beauty beyound that of an extravegant oil painting or full-color photograph!

In particular, I appreciate his imagery of comparing the ‘bird girl’, Rima to a hummingbird:

“Have you ever observed a humming bird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers– a living prismatic gem that changes its color with every change of position–how in turning it catches the sunshine on its burnished neck and gorget plumes– green and gold and flame-colored, the beams changing to visible flakes as they fall, dissolving into nothing, to be succeeded by others and yet others?   In its exquisite form, its changeful splendor, its swift motions and intervals of aerial suspension, it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.  And have you seen this same fairy-like creature suddenly perch itself on a twig, in the shade, its misty wings and fanlike tail folded, the iridescent glory vanished, looking like some common dull-plumaged little bird sitting listless in a cage?  Just so was the difference in the girl, as I had seen her in the forest and as she now appeared under the smoky roof in the firelight.”

The characters in Green Mansions are not so well developed that I felt terribly close to them, with the exception of Abel, but they are just enough to slightly sting your heart when the tradgey occurs.  I will not lie, I found Rima to be rather annoying.  Abel has put her on this sweet, innocent, goddess-like pedestal, but she comes across to me as anything but.  Sure, she is confused about her attraction to Abel and doesn’t know how to react to any of it, but her naive ideals of the way things are supposed to happen and her stubbernouss to not take other people into consideration…  something about her just rubbed me the wrong way– particulary when she confronted her grandfather about her home land.  She seems to carry the attitude that it’s her way or no way at all.

The story is sad and tragic, yet it was not enough to bring tears to my eyes; perhaps due to the fact that Rima is just so unbearably… unbearable.  Aside from the girl, the other characters intrigued me, from the tribal villagers to the stubborn and shady grandfather that served as Rima’s guardian.  What I found the most interesting were the final chapters depicting Abel slowly slipping into madness as a result of his grief and complete solitude.

Overall, not a bad read at all, but don’t expect it to move you to tears.  I mean… it might, but it didn’t for me.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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