I had a weird experience recently.
I read Homer’s The Odyssey (sequel to The Iliad) as translated by Alexander Pope. This isn’t the sort of thing one normally reads unless it’s been assigned to them for class (which never happened to me.) I felt compelled to experience this classic work of fiction because every time I’ve complained about the use (and abuse) of in media res openings in many TV shows and movies these days there would invariably be some pseudo-intellectual who would bring up the fact that the classic, The Odyssey, employed this convention. I never understood their reason for pointing out such a fact; because they were unwilling (or unable) to expand on their argument–and it was always made in argument to my complaint–I’m forced to conclude they were insisting that because it was used in The Odyssey, a classic, all uses of it must be a classic. Or they were so eager to interject a factoid they knew that was related that they didn’t care if it actually affected the discussion.
After reading this massive poem (and I was surprised to find it was a poem; I’d always known it was described as an epic poem but I thought it was a poem along the lines of Shakespeare’s poetry which didn’t rhyme most of the time but was based on rhythm) I am forced to conclude that I have no idea what I read. Really. Hundred’s of pages and I couldn’t begin to tell you what happened. The only reason I had any semblance of an understanding of the plot was because at the beginning of each section there was a paragraph synopsis of what was about to happen. Otherwise the whole thing was just a meaningless jumble of words. Something about the poetic structure prevented me from grasping who the characters were (barely referred to by name) or what they were doing. The last time this happened was when I read The Shapes of Their Hearts by Melissa Scott, which ended up being so engaging that I read it quickly, but could barely remember any of the characters or cared about what they were doing.
Maybe I just didn’t care about The Odyssey? That can’t be possible: it’s a classic!