"What a divine fool that Cyrano was! What a colossus of style!
In her 2006 novel Cyrano, Geraldine McCaughrean offers a retelling of Edmond Rostand's famous play Cyrano de Bergerac. The warrior-poet with the romantic soul and the enormous nose, who helps another man woo the woman that Cyrano himself loves, has become a part of our cultural lexicon, even for many who have never read or seen some version of his story. In an effort to help ensure that this remains true for future generations, McCaughrean targets her book to a teenage audience.
On some levels, her retelling is a satisfying one. Her writing is lush and beautiful, reaching heights of poetic imagery that might make Cyrano himself proud. Here's another sample passage:
Like starlings roosting at sunset, the letters fluttered into Roxane's life: Sometimes single sonnets, sometimes twelve pages of close-written prose told her of her inner and outward perfections. Their language was so full of stars and planets, comets and constellations that reading them was like looking through a telescope. Whole menageries of animals were pressed into the service of simile. Angels and archangles, cherubim and seraphim flew to the cause of Love. Myth and magic, alchemy and astronomy were woven into flying carpets and laid at her feet. In short, the letters Roxane received were beyond her wildest hopes.
As far as language goes, then, the book is a vastly rewarding experience. The plot too remains strong, though truncated here and there.
But when it comes to character -- the best part of the original play for me -- something seems missing or altered. Those who know Cyrano's story well know that a certain wryness is part of his makeup, but there were times in McCaughrean's book, mostly toward the end, when he seemed a little too harsh and cynical to me. And I was particularly jarred by the fact that she tried to make him into a "freethinker," the late-seventeenth-century word for a religious skeptic.
Rostand's Cyrano wasn't exactly orthodox, in any way, but he wasn't described as an unbeliever either -- even if he did like to tease nuns. (As Mother Marguerite says to one sister who is worried about his soul, in the Brian Hooker translation of Rostand's play, "You need not be afraid. God knows all about him." McCaughrean's book has no equivalent line.) Among other things, this undermines Cyrano's reputation for perfect integrity, as he asks for prayer in the final scene while still apparently remaining an unbeliever.
On the whole, I liked Cyrano, but I would recommend it as a supplement rather than a substitute. That is, I'd have kids read it in addition to, rather than instead of, a good translation of the play. (I suggest either Hooker's translation, in blank verse, or Gertrude Hall's, in prose. Any teen who has managed to tackle Shakespeare and/or other classic works in high school, with any degree of success, should be able to handle either of these.)
With his brilliant wit, his courage, his generosity, and his gallant and noble spirit, Cyrano de Bergerac is a great character for kids to get to know. McCaughrean's version will give them an appealing new take on the story, which I think is always enjoyable, but I believe that Rostand's original will offer a fuller, richer central character and worldview.
Image copyright Harcourt Children's Books. Review copy supplied by the reviewer's local library.
Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.
Note: A link on this page does not constitute an endorsement from BreakPoint. It simply means that we thought that the linked news item or opinion piece would be of interest to Christian parents of teens and preteens.