Born in 1924, Michel Tournier studied philosophy and then became a journalist and a writer. He is the author of several novels, including The Ogre, Friday, and Gemini, also available in paperback from Johns Hopkins.
Reviews - What do customers think about Le Roi Des Aulnes (Collection Folio)?
Important French novel Aug 1, 2005
I must confess that my French is not good enough to read this version without frequently referring to the English translation--so I can't quite say that I have read this novel in the original. But I'm convinced that it would repay any and all time spent to make the attempt, meanwhile boning up on the language.
The cover photo shown above comes from the film "The Ogre", directed by Volker Schlondorff, showing the title character as played by John Malkovich. The scene comes late in the story, just after a scuff-up with several fanatical boys who had turned against him for proposing that they abandon their castle before it's too late, to save their own lives. As we can see, they left him with broken eyeglasses, among other injuries.
The details of this moment, and its use as the cover photo, are rich in symbolic significance and ironies, some of which have just occurred to me.
First, the cracked lens suggests the impaired vision that we should expect an mythological ogre to have. But second, at the time it occurs, the protagonist's moral vision (which is what the novel is more essentially about), having been defective, is improving; and in fact this incident, while of course blurring his literal vision, improves his figurative vision even further.
Only a second novel comes to mind in which broken eyeglasses are so meaningful: William Golding's _Lord of the Flies_. The two tales show striking parallels as well as striking differences in the use of this symbol. In both cases, readers now find themselves in a microcosmic society consisting of adolescent boys lacking adult supervision, who have broken the glasses during violence. In _Lord of the Flies_, they have used the glasses to light fires. In _Roi des Aulnes_, Abel's fellow students burned their school down when he was a pupil-- accidentally, but fulfilling a wish that Abel had just made. Shortly before the scene shown on the cover, Count Kaltenborn has warned that his countrymen, like the schoolboys, have started a fire they cannot control, "and now their own house is going to burn down." In both novels, the microcosm ends with a conflagration. However, in Lord of Flies the wearer of the glasses can understand less and less clearly what is happening around him; whereas in Roi des Aulnes, he can see progressively more clearly.
I see no reason to doubt that an author of Tournier's caliber would be quite aware of the use already made of such symbols in prior literature. Hence, we might ponder allusive reverberations in his own resort to them.
In a brief space, one can only adumbrate by example the beauties and complexities in store for the reader of this book and assure him that there is much more. I hope that your appetite has been whetted.