Mar 122012

The folks over at my alma mater’s literary blog were kind enough to allow me to share some thoughts about Lolita, one of my favorite novels, and the MacGuffin, one of my favorite plot devices.

Here is an excerpt:

What the hell is Lolita about anyway? Putting this question to ten different readers would yield a variety of responses depending on the sophistication of the reader. But let’s pretend they are all ‘good readers’ as defined by Vladamir Nabakov himself; let’s arm them with, among other things, an imagination, a memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense. Given this object and these aspects, our good readers will most assuredly tell us that Lolita is about a number of things that have less to do with pedophilia and more to do with themes far too complex to be reduced to an isolated independent clause with any accuracy.

Yet an obsession with pedophilia is clearly the motive force that propels Nabakov’s protagonist throughout this novel. Surveying the field of famous literary goals, Humbert Humbert’s quest to obtain a nymphet, a sexually aware prepubescent girl, is more than just a little creepy; it’s memorably loathsome. Nevertheless, what is both loathsome and cruel is part and parcel of a beautiful, brilliant, and sometimes tender novel: this paradox turns the knife. Humbert is witty; Humbert is self deprecating – he’s also relentless, condescending, sadistic, and awful. Humbert is all of these things and more, but most importantly for the story’s success – he is driven. That he is driven to pursue nymphets is incidental to the relentlessness of his pursuit. The light of Humbert’s life and fire of his loins could just as easily have been Helen of Sparta, Tadzio the Polish boy, or Rex the Collie . – In short, Lolita is the MacGuffin.

You can read the entire post here.