Abbey Boys Love Classics

A few years back Brandon inspired me to read Orlando Furioso.  I’d heard of it but never read it, but I’d been reading Siris long enough that his recommendation carried a lot of weight with me.  Since then I’ve been through this monster romance several times.  It has become my favorite epic, displacing The Greatest Book Ever.

Orlando Furioso is basically a Marvel Heroes crossover fanfiction, a knowingly anachronistic smash-up of all the great legenda—Britain, France, Rome—in Catholic dress.  The action is wild, the tales are tangled, and an enormous burden is placed on the reader to remember who the hell all these characters are.  It’s Stan Lee to the nth degree, where n = Tom Clancy, assuming those two wanted to write a propaganda piece for Christian Europe vs. Ottoman Empire.

OF Astolpho Orc
How can you not want to read about this?

I hooked an office mate, Adam Fries, on this great masterpiece and soon we were collaborating on all sorts of fanboy ideas for it.  The work has been adapted to opera several times by pulling out major story lines and focusing on them.  By a weird coincidence, another of our colleagues at school, Dr. Charles Downey, did his dissertation on this very topic.  Fries and I looked at more modern ideas, and became convinced that whoever finds a way to write this into a Peter Jackson mega-series screenplay is going to be a millionaire.  We’ve joked about trying to do it, but it’s outside our skill set and time.  He did take a crack at some graphic novelization for it (Fries is the best artist I personally know) but he never got out of Canto 1.

My love for the poem inspired me to try something a little bit insane: I started trying to get my students at St. Anselm’s Abbey School hooked on it.  I recited some of it at our Renaissance Day and then did some sketch drawings of the action.  I inflicted it on boys stuck in mandatory study hall at the end of the day or driving home on the shuttle to Fr. Totten metro station.  When the time came to roll out our new after-school clubs initiative, I jokingly offered Epic Recitation Club.  If ever there were a David v. Goliath story for nerdy after-school clubs, this would be it.  St. Anselm’s has very large commitments to Model U.N., Quiz Bowl/It’s Academic, various political groups, and plain old Waiting Outside For the Bus club.

Despite a plethora of perfectly nerdy exercises for our boys, ERC has managed to take off.  Every Friday afternoon I have about ten 15 year-olds gather to recite, stanza after stanza, the mellifluous Rose translation of Orlando Furioso.  I pause to teach them all the archaisms and to admire the now-defunct sentence structures.  We make endless comparisons to art both past and present, laugh about the emotional melodrama, and simply enjoy what is a compulsively readable tale.  It was the boys who came up with the idea of a “Game of Thrones”-style adaptation instead of a screenplay, and perhaps I will be able to enlist them to write it.  They certainly couldn’t do much worse than the junk that passes for television these days.

And so my inaugural post.  I propose, for the First Phase skeleton of this blog, to roll out a series of posts on how ERC handles Orlando Furioso—part DitL of teaching gifted boys at a Catholic school, part literary analysis.  We’ve just hit Canto 9 at school, so perhaps I will pick it up there and back fill as the spirit moves me.  Stick around for more.

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