Halt Unbeliever!

Within the first few pages of the prologue the story of the moonstone immediately reminded me of a ride in Disney world, which is a representation of the great Indiana Jones Movie, the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, I’ve never actually seen the movie myself, but I’m an avid Disney World visitor, and I’ve been on the ride that has portrayed the scene many times, and let me just say there are many parallels to the story of the Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and by the story of the Gem, as told by an announcer on the Great Movie Ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. First, however, to set the scene of the movie ride, I’m going to explain it, just a little.

You’re sitting in a big car, with at least thirty people either in front or behind you, and the first scene is set up as backstage to an old movie set. Then, as the lights dim, a cast member, your tour guide, comes into the car and suddenly you’re set off into the world of movies ranging from Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, until you end up in a montage of hundreds of movies, including: Shirley Temple movies, The Three Stooges, Pearl Harbor, and Nemo, just to name a few. I could literally sit here and monologue the entire script and go scene by scene, like I said, avid Disney visitor, but to stick to the topic of the novel, I’m going to jump forward to when the car is slowly pulling into the Indiana Jones scene with the gem. (Just a quick bit of backstory to understand the context of the scene in the video I’m posting below. During one of the scenes earlier,  either a bank robbery, or an old fashioned western shoot out, depending on if you got the first or second car, the car is hijacked by a “robber” and your original tour guide is lost in the world of the set, at least for now. They keep quoting that “Anything can happen in the movies.”)

As now as we enter a scene with hieroglyphics on the wall, and a red, glowing gem that is protected by a keeper. The announcer says, in a grim and warning tone: “The dust of three thousand years lies undisturbed in this ancient burial chamber. And on the chest of the great stone god, a priceless jewel!” I’ve juxtaposed this to the prologue: “Here, in a new shrine—in a hall inlaid with precious stones, under a roof supported by pillars of gold—the moon-god was set up and worshipped” (2). Once the robber sees the gem, he immediately leaves the car and heads up the stairs to where the gem is and then he is again warned by the announcer:  “But the jewel is guarded by a curse! And those who dare defy that curse … must pay with their lives.” Then the temple guardian, who is really our original driver in disguise, (which also brought forward a parallel in the text, “watched it in disguise” (2).) again warns the robber: “Halt, unbeliever! Disturb the treasure of the gods, and you shall all pay with your lives.” And in our text the two moments that I compared to that was: “The deity predicted certain disaster to the presumptuous mortal who laid hands on the sacred gem,” (2) and “the warrior who had committed the sacrilege perished miserably” (3). Needless to say the robber then goes to grab the gem and dies in a smoky, tragic death. And while Herncastle doesn’t die from touching and taking the Moonstone, the sentiments are the same.

To comment on the rest of the text, I’ve been wondering about who the speaker, Betterredge, who is talking to in the text. One of my favorite moments, and the moment that made me question who was being spoken to be: “Here follows the substance of what I said, written out entirely for your benefit. Pay attention to it, or you will be all abroad, when we get deeper into the story. Clear your mind of the children, or the dinner, or the new bonnet, or what not. Try if you can’t forget politic, horses, prices in the City, and grievances at the club. I hope you won’t take this freedom on my part amiss—it’s only a way I have of appealing to the gentle reader. Lord! Haven’t I seen you with the greatest authors in your hands, and don’t I know how ready your attention is to wander when it’s a book that asks for it, instead of a person?” (28) Is Collins actively engaging us as readers? Or is there a broader, more exact person that he’s talking to when he uses the pronoun “You” and “Your”?

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11 thoughts on “Halt Unbeliever!

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  3. Kevin Frazelis

    I agree that the attraction of the novel is that the reader/speaker relationship is more pronounced than other novels I have read in the past. This novel structure reminds me of William Faulkner’s approach to text with the revolving door of narrators leading the chapters. But the overall writing reminds me of Jamaica Kincaid and how she calls out the reader on their bullshit which makes them an active reader. I think this style of writing prose is very intriguing and this was very apparent for me and my interaction with the moonstone. I use audio books and the entire experience with the first period of the moonstone was so cool from the prologue.

  4. alixg

    I’m so happy that you mention the role of the narrator at the end; I was hoping someone would! I personally LOVED the style and how the narrator seems to be addressing the reader directly, urging him to “Clear your mind of the children, or the dinner, or the new bonnet, or what not. Try if you can’t forget politic, horses, prices in the City, and grievances at the club.” Not only is it engaging because the speaker is making me listen by calling me out and setting aside any other distractions, but it is also engaging because it sets the mood and creates the atmosphere that is ripe for storytelling. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but the whole time I kept thinking of “Clue” and how similar it is to the mystery going on with the diamond, particularly at the final chapters in Part I where they’re trying to figure out who stole the diamond based on who was where during what time. Really, I just loved every word I was reading and honestly can’t wait to read more! Wilkie Collins is excellent.

  5. Angela

    One of the first passages that inspired me was the one you mention Kim. My feeling was that Collins, through the narrator Betteredge, was speaking directly to me as the reader. The words he chose created an intimate relationship between the reader and narrator. I personally cannot recall another novel that left me with this opinion. Prior to reading your post, the question of a more exact person never occurred to me. One of the benefits we have of being part of this group discussion is to see all the possibilities of the author’s intentions. My thought is that this question will be addressed and it will be interesting to see how the others have interpreted Collins’ usage of the pronoun. For me, Collins is actively engaging me as the reader.

  6. davidginsberg

    To answer your question, professor, as of right now I’d say that Collins’ writing implies that he’s critical of colonialism. A British soldier steals a jewel that doesn’t belong to him. As a result, his life is cursed, and upon his death, passes this curse on to his family. I’d say unless things change, Collins is clearly criticizing colonialism.

  7. davidginsberg

    Kim – There are definitely some striking similarities between The Moonstone’s prologue and the Disney ride. If The Moonstone was the first novel to involve a cursed jewel (I’m not sure if it is or not), then it has clearly influenced tons of works – both in literature and in cinema/television.

    I believe Betteredge is addressing us (the reader) when he continuously says ‘you’ or ‘your’ but I’m not completely certain. The Moonstone is surrealistic, yet grounded in realism. It’s quite impressive how Wilkie Collins pulls it all off.

    1. Jason Tougaw

      In his preface tot he novel, Collins mentions that he drew on two actual jewels for his story about the Moonstone–a stone that adorns the Russian Imperial Sceptre and the Koh-i-Noor, which became one of Queens Victoria’s “crown jewels” the British East India Company confiscated it in 1850. It was displayed in the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. Britain still owns it, despite repeated requests that it should be returned to India. I’m guessing Disney is drawing on the same histories (and legends).

      The British East India Company was the major engine of British colonialism in India. The Moonstone resonates with colonial meaning–though critics have debated, without resolving, where the novel stands on questions about British colonialism. It will be interesting to see what you all think. Is Collins critical of colonialism? Does he support it?

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