Out of idle curiosity, I've lately been turning my reading to Scoutie into a discovery of the source texts for Disney's biggest films. I stumbled upon...moreOut of idle curiosity, I've lately been turning my reading to Scoutie into a discovery of the source texts for Disney's biggest films. I stumbled upon versions of both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty that were surprisingly close to Disney's Princess movies, and we had much fun with them (I wish old Walt hadn't cut the baby-eating Ogre Queen Mum from Sleeping Beauty, though. What fun that would have been).
Again I was surprised by how closely the Disney company (this time under Katzenberg/Eisner) adhered to the text. All the key elements remain in the movie; they are often altered but they're there: the Enchantress (evil in the book), the rose(s), Belle's father meeting the Beast first, food magically appearing, Belle's release and return. I didn't expect the versions to be so closely related without Walt Disney's personal influence, but they were and that's likely at the root of why Disney's Beauty and the Beast is so successful.
What I found most delightful, however, is how much friendlier Villeneuve's original is compared to the Disney movie (I've since discovered that it is not much friendlier. It is actually the Beaumont adaptation, which is what I read, that is friendlier. I need to get my hands on the original). The Beast is far less the abusive kidnapper and much more a Prince trapped in bestial form. He's kinder from the outset, anonymously providing food and shelter for Belle's father, the tired, cold, passerby, and only reveals himself and takes her father prisoner when the father attempts to pick a rose for Belle. Moreover, there is no apparent clock the Beast is racing against, no nasty Gaston to muddy the waters, and no foolish villagers marching to destroy the Beast in his castle, and less of a feeling that Belle is a kidnap victim who falls prey to the Stockholm syndrome.
It's a straight up tale of love developing through friendship, and a tale of kindness and selflessness being rewarded. Winnie-the-Pooh is next (not a discovery for me, but it is for Scout). One more thing about this version of La Belle et la Bête: the art by Walter Crane is kind of beautiful in its quaint way -- even in an eBook.(less)
I imagine this was a charming book when it was released in the late fifties. I suppose I can see the appeal. It's a simple book for kids who are learn...moreI imagine this was a charming book when it was released in the late fifties. I suppose I can see the appeal. It's a simple book for kids who are learning to read. It has a goofy looking dinosaur. It has a polite little kid. And they have fun little adventures in some nondescript American city.
But it's not the fifties anymore, and I am a jaded bastard who likes his kids books on the salty (or maybe just interesting) side. So the sweet dino and the sweet boy are like the syrupy skein of goo at the back of the tongue after 5 cans of warm, flat Dr. Pepper. Every once in a while I get a craving for Dr. Pepper despite that coating, and the same thing happens with Danny and the Dinosaur. I gorge myself, hate the after taste, then wait a year or two for the craving to return.
Lately, though, my little Scoutie's developing a taste for Danny and the Dinosaur, so the book is overstaying its welcome, and the after taste is making me gag. I'm going to try and redirect her into Harold and the Purple Crayon. Wish me luck. (less)
Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper -- My first Disney surprise of the volume. I had always been under the assumption that Disney’s early fairy ta...moreCinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper -- My first Disney surprise of the volume. I had always been under the assumption that Disney’s early fairy tale movies were glossy, post-WWII bastardizations of the earlier versions of the tales. So I was surprised to discover that Charles Perrault’s 17th Century version of Cinderella was, with the exception of an extra ball and a lack of talking mice, the clear source for Walt’s masterpiece. I’ve always been partial to Cinderella (the best princess movie from the pre-Eisener (post-Walt) era, before the Mouse House turned “princess” into a dirty word). The animation is gorgeous (and so wonderfully blue), the music is properly serious and its storytelling is tightly woven. Silly as it may be, knowing that it is almost completely based on Perrault’s story makes me feel a smidge less guilty about my appreciation.
The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods -- And here’s my second Disney surprise. Walt and his cronies did away with the nasty Ogre Queen Mother who tries to eat the Sleeping Beauty’s children after she wakes up, but the first half of Perrault’s tale is intact, so Disney, once again, stuck closely to his source material with excellent results. I have to say, though, that I would love to have seen the Ogre Queen Mother munching on the well-dressed animals the cook prepared to trick her into thinking they were her grandkids.
Little Thumb -- The anti-Ogre sentiment gets a bit much in Little Thumb (Tom?). He and his brothers – after their poor parents try to lose them in the wild to relieve their responsibilities and survive themselves -- stumble into an Ogre’s home, and the big, mean, evil Ogre man – whose natural prey seems to be humans – tells his wife that he wants to have all these yummy little boys cooked for the next days dinner party.
To save his and his brothers’ skins, Little Thumb tricks the Ogre into cutting the throats of his seven daughters rather than the throats of Tom and his six brothers. Then Tom steals seven golden crowns and the Ogre’s magic boots, and he becomes an important and rich messenger.
Probably my least favourite story, Little Thumb’s Ogre-other is just the sort of insidious racism that makes my skin crawl. If the Shrek movies weren’t so crappy in so many ways, I could almost appreciate their attempt to turn Ogres into protagonists. Almost.
The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots -- I knew nothing about this story until I read this take. The Master Cat is a jerk. He victimizes an Ogre King, a king who seems to be a pretty decent ruler. His people, whom we meet throughout the tale, are kind, healthy, prosperous, and Puss just walks in and kills the Ogre King and hands the King’s lands over to his own “nobody” master. Puss’s master gets the castle, gets the girl and wins big.
Just under a hundred years later it would have been Puss in Guillotine.
Riquet with the Tuft -- My favourite of them all. What a shame this has never been adapted to the screen. The ugliest guy in the land is blessed with the greatest wisdom and intelligence. The most beautiful girl in the land is cursed with the greatest stupidity. So the ugliest guy gives her the gift of an intelligence to match his own, but she must marry him in return. What happens next is fascinating, and one of the finest lessons I’ve read in a fairy tale. I think Paul Giamatti and Charlize Theron (remember her character in Arrested Development) should make this on the stage somewhere.
Blue Beard -- DON’T LOOK IN THE CLOSET! Just once I would love for someone in one of these stories to do what they are asked. I suppose we wouldn’t have a story then.
The Fairy -- This is a weird one. A fairy rewards a girl who was nice to her with a mouth that spews gems whenever she speaks and curses her mean sister with a mouth that spews lizards whenever she speaks. A Prince falls in love with the gems and marries the nice girl, making her happy forever while she makes him rich. Ummm ... okay. Come to think of it, though, I bet gems from the mouth would have benefited Carrie in Sex and the City.
Little Red-Riding Hood -- I have to spoil this one. Sorry folks. The Wolf ... he eats Little Red Riding Hood. His trick succeeds. His teeth are there to better eat her. And that’s it. Story over. Eat your heart out Wile E. Coyote. (less)
They're seven going on eight (for those of you who don't know or aren't sick of hearing it), and I read them Tolkien and Le Guin back to back. I read the former with deliberate performance and emotion. I read the latter in a monotous, almost plodding voice. I think both methods go to the mood and texture of their respective pieces. And The Wizard of Earthsea won.
So I think Manny and Beth-Ann have it spot on. Peter Rabbit dies in this book, and his escape is a moment-of-death fantasy. Peter is the Peyton Farquh...moreSo I think Manny and Beth-Ann have it spot on. Peter Rabbit dies in this book, and his escape is a moment-of-death fantasy. Peter is the Peyton Farquhar of kids books.
Farquhar, for those who don't remember, is the Alabama Confederate (gentleman farmer / non-combatant) from Ambrose Bierce's An Occurence on Owl Creek Bridge. He's strung up to a railroad bridge to be hanged by the Union soldiers, but his rope breaks and he pulls of a miraculous escape, only to have his escape end with him still on the rope as he chokes to death.
Well, little Peter doesn't have Union soldiers to string him up, but he has old Mr. McGregor to chase him around the garden, and in Peter's attempt to escape he dives into a watering can -- and I say he drowns. How's that for a cautionary tale? I figure that Peter's death in the watering can is also a euphemism for rabbit stew, and Peter becomes a yummy dinner for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor. Lucky farmers that they are.
But Peter, at least, is able to enjoy a moment-of-death fantasy where he goes home and declares to Mother Rabbit that he's learned his lesson. But even at home, even in his fantasy, death begins to close in, and while his siblings play and the smells of cooking rise up to greet him (Mrs. McGregor's kitchen as she skins his corpse, perhaps?), Peter ends his day (and his life) wrapped in the blankets of his little bed. Shivering from the cold he caught in the Mr. McGregor's water bottle.
Death comes to us all, little bunny, especially when we ignore our parents! Remember that.
Culinarily, I think I need to get my own little rabbit for a stew. It's been a while, and rabbit is de-lish. (less)
This book is pretty bad. It's all about a banana that is missing because one of the boringly named pseudo-monsters forgot something important about th...moreThis book is pretty bad. It's all about a banana that is missing because one of the boringly named pseudo-monsters forgot something important about the banana (view spoiler)[He ate it. Wow! (hide spoiler)].
The stagnant, computer generated art, the monsters -- Kevin, Patrick and Arty -- the clunky attempts to suck answers out of little readers / listeners (my Scoutie answered no to the required yeses, so I jazzed up the story from then on. My second star ★ is really all about my creativity rather than Ryan's. Sorry author guy :P), the mind blowing plot, it all amounts to a book that should be nothing but free. Thank Jobs it is.
The Mack books have had mixed success with me, and this is my least favourite for one big reason -- a total lack of charm.
The first book, The Giggler...moreThe Mack books have had mixed success with me, and this is my least favourite for one big reason -- a total lack of charm.
The first book, The Giggler Treatment, was packed full of charm. Little Gigglers, pissed off that adults would be mean to children, drop burning poo bombs at the feet of the mean adults. So Rover, the genius dog of the Macks, capitalizes on the Treatment and becomes rich. It's funny, silly, and full of geniune giggles for kids and their parents. Like I said, "Charming."
Rover Saves Christmas was even better. Rover does just that, and it is one of the most charming spins off the Santa legend I've ever read. Of course I read it to the kids during the run-up to Christmas, so the timing might have had some role to play, but it was really an excellent book.
But The Meanwhile Adventures doesn't have that charm anymore, and I think it had to do with the "meanwhile" concept. Most of the tale is fractured as the Mack family are each off doing their own thing, "meanwhile ..." we bounce around from thread to thread and are continually told how boring everything is by the narrator (which it is, but the declaration that it is does nothing to mitigate the issue), and just when things start to pick up we're off on another tangent.
It feels like we never really linger long enough for some charm to appear. Even my little Scoutie, who's usually the least critical audience for my aloud performances, was thoroughly bored. She spent more time playing with her dollies than listening to the tale. That's an indictment in Scoutie's world.
Oh well, it wasn't total crap. It did have Mrs. Mack's world record run. (less)
Although there isn't as much poo in Rover Saves Christmas -- one of the great selling points of Roddy Doyle's first Rover adventure, The Giggler Treat...moreAlthough there isn't as much poo in Rover Saves Christmas -- one of the great selling points of Roddy Doyle's first Rover adventure, The Giggler Treatment -- there is enough poo for fans who crave continuity. Rover, after all, begins Rover Saves Christmas as a genius multi-millionaire who got rich selling his poo, then there are references to Winnie the Pooh in three languages, and even some fart jokes along the way. Poo is still well represented, but I am derailing my review of Rover Saves Christmas.
"Get back on track, Brad."
"Okay. I will."
So ... Rudolph, the hippy layabout, is on strike because he's been working too hard (one night a year, as Rover mockingly points out), and Christmas is in jeopardy, so Santa employs Rover's quick wit to help him through the Christmas Eve deliveries. Rover brings his crew, his boys and their baby sister, along with their parachuting toddler neighbour (who can only say "Bum-bum!" How fitting.), and together they help save Christmas, doing all the work for Santa while he eats cheese sandwiches in every country of the world.
They bungee jump down chimneys, distribute their labour equally (it's a lot of work to eat never-ending plates of cheese sandwiches), drop gifts at the end of beds using their tongues, bring joy to grandparents they've never actually met, and race to beat the Sun to Tiera del Fuego.
There are the usual misdirections, odd side journeys (an ongoing war over the best toothpaste), wacky supporting characters (like the long tongued lizards named Hans and Heidi), and multiple endings (one sappy, one horrible, one politically correct to make your parents happy and then the real one), and enough potential voices to stretch even the most imaginative parent's repertoire.
And it is a blast to read, the kids love it (Brontë and Miloš both wanted me to pass on that they would give it five stars too), and reading it just before Christmas is perfect.
"So did you like it, Brad?"
"I sure did. And now I am off to take a poo! And so should you."(less)
I happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separat...moreI happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separate. Pippi just seems like the perfect member of the Culture, decent, headstrong, hedonistic, in love with her post-scarcity living, and a bit too flaky for her own good. All that led to this:
9. Pippi Goes Aboard*
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking closed the door to her cabin aboard General Contact Unit Villa Villekulla and hung her red ribbon from her custom door stud for the last time; then she lifted the horse drone down from its pedestal. It was completely capable of using its anti-gravity forcefield, but it preferred to have Pippi set him down –- so for the last time she lifted him down off his pedestal. The primate shaped drone, Mr. Nilsson, already hovered over her shoulder, projecting simultaneous auras of importance and annoyance. He understood that something special was going to happen.
“Well, I guess that’s all,” said Pippi.
“Tommy and Annika nodded. “Yes, I guess it is.”
“It’s still early,” said Pippi. “Let’s walk; that will take longer.”
Tommy and Annika nodded again, but they didn’t say anything. Then they started walking toward the town, toward the harbour, toward the Cliff Class Superlifter Hoptoad. The horse, forced to use his anti-gravity now, floated along slowly behind them.
Pippi glanced over her shoulder at her cabin door. “Nice little place,” she said. “No bugs, clean and comfortable, and that’s probably more than you can say about the hovels where I’ll be living in the future.”
Tommy and Annika said nothing.
“If there are an awful lot of bugs in my Drezen hovel,” continued Pippi, “I’ll train them and keep them in a box and play Run, Medjel, Run with them at night. I’ll tie little bows around their antennae, and the two most faithful and affectionate I will call Tommy and Annika, and they shall sleep with me at night.”
Not even this could make Tommy and Annika more talkative.
“What on earth is wrong with you? asked Pippi irritably. I tell you it is dangerous to keep quiet too long. Tongues dry up if you don’t use them. On Vavatch I once knew an Eater who never said a word. And once when he wanted to say to me, ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ he opened his mouth and can you guess what he said? First he made some horrible faces, for his teeth had fallen out and he needed metal ones, and then a sound came out: ‘U buy uye muy.’ I looked in his mouth, and, imagine! there lay his tongue like a little wilted leaf, and as long as he lived, which wasn’t long I admit, that Eater could never say anything but ‘U buy uye muy.’ It would be awful if the same thing should happen to you. Let me see if you can say this better than the Eater did: ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ or at least, ‘have a nice mission, Pippi.’ Go on, try it.”
“Have a nice mission, dear Pippi, and thanks for your visit,” said Tommy and Annika obediently.
There was the Smallbay; there lay the Hoptoad. Captain Efraim stood near the ramp, shouting his commands, the drones hovered back and forth to make everything ready for departure. All the people on the GCU had crowded into the Smallbay to wave good-by to Pippi, and here she came with Tommy and Annika and the horse and Mr. Nilsson.
Pippi nodded and smiled to the left and the right. Then she took up the horse, who obediently shut down his force fields and carried him up the ramp. The poor old drone cast a suspicious aura, for old drones don’t care very much for Contact missions.
“Well, here you are, my beloved operative!” called Captain Efraim. He folded her in his arms, and they hugged each other with all the power that their hyperactive adrenals could muster. They nearly cracked each other’s ribs -- captain and operative -- and it took a moment to catch their breath. That was when Pippi noticed Annika’s tears and Tommy’s frustration.
Pippi came running down the ramp and rushed over to them. She took their hands in hers. “Ten minutes left,” she said.
Then Annika threw herself against the force field of Mr. Nilsson and cried as if her heart would break. Tommy clenched his teeth and looked murderous. He would not cry for anything.
All the people of GCU Villa Villekulla gathered around Pippi. They took out their bird whistles, manufactured by the GCU for the occasion, and blew the farewell tune the GCU had composed for her. It sounded sad beyond words, for it was a very, very mournful tune. Annika was crying so hard she could hardly catch her breath, and Tommy was so tense he had to think to engage his endorphins just so he could calm down.
The people crowded in from all directions to say good-by to Pippi. She raised her hand and asked them to be quiet.
“Hereafter,” she said, “I’ll only have little Drezeni savages to play with. I don’t know how we will amuse ourselves; perhaps I’ll actually have do some work. Perhaps I will teach them some pluttification. I suppose we’ll manage to pass the time some way.” Pippi paused. Both Tommy and Annika felt that they hated those Drezeni Pippi would know in the future.
“But,” continued Pippi, “Perhaps a day will come when their planet is a part of the Culture, a long dreary century from now, when I will have taught them all to pluttify, and then I could come back here, to the GCU Villa Villekulla and everything can be just like it is now all over again.”
The people blew a still sadder tune on their bird whistles.
“Pippi, it’s time to come aboard,” called Captain Efraim.
“Aye, aye, captain,” called Pippi. She turned to Tommy and Annika. She looked at them.
“Close the ramp, Fridolf” cried Captain Efraim to his knife-missile. Fridolf did. The Hoptoad was ready for her mission of Contact.
Then -- “No, Captain Efraim,” cried Pippi, watching the crowd in the Smallbay -- watching Tommy and Annika -- through the viewscreen, “I can’t do it, I just can’t bear to do it!”
“What is it you can’t bear to do?” asked Captain Efraim.
“I can’t bear to see anyone in the Culture crying and being sorry on account of me -- least of all Tommy and Annika. Put down the ramp again. I’m staying on Villa Villekulla.
Captain Efraim stood silent for a minute. “Do as you like,” he said at last. “You always have done that. And so you should too.”
Pippi nodded. “Yes, I’ve always done that,” she said quietly. “You know, Papa, Efraim? I think it’s best to live on a decent GCU and not disrupt my comfort on some stinky, backwater planet -- don’t you think so too?”
“You’re right, as always, Pippi,” answered Captain Efraim. “It is certain that you live a more ordered life on GCU Villa Villekulla, and that is probably best for you. Fridolf anticipated your decision, and your replacement is already onboard.”
“Just so then,” said Pippi. “It’s surely best for me to live and orderly life, especially since I can’t order it myself.
Pippi said goodbye to the drones on the Hoptoad and hugged Captain Efraim once more. Then she lifted her still grounded horse and carried him down the ramp. Mr. Nilsson floated along beside her with a content aura. The Hoptoad was cut off by a force field generated by the GCU and vented out of the Smallbay, leaving Pippi with the people of Villa Villekulla where she would always be happy.
I started reading this to Miloš & Brontë at the beginning of March, and somewhere around May they lost interest.
I don't think I can blame Ursula...moreI started reading this to Miloš & Brontë at the beginning of March, and somewhere around May they lost interest.
I don't think I can blame Ursula K. LeGuin, at least not entirely. I was a big part of the problem. I struggled with this installment of The Earthsea Cycle, and that must have translated into the way I read this aloud, making it and me tough to listen to (never have the kids fallen asleep so often while I was reading. I usually have to tear myself away).
My problem is tough to pinch. I wasn't a fan of Arren/Lebannen. He wasn't the usually insufferable "apprentice" that drives me up the wall. He was a Prince giving his loyalty to Ged because of his love for the Archmage (a love with definite homosexual overtones, which would usually be a big bonus for me). He was capable. He was steadfast. He was flawed. All things I appreciated. But I just couldn't and didn't like him. I found myself wanting him to go away. I've been struggling to answer why, but I think writing all this out has given me the answer. I didn't like him because he was a partner for Ged. I wanted Ged to be alone. I wanted solitary Ged. I wanted Ged searching Earthsea as Sparrowhawk on Lookfar without any interference or companionship. Sharing his journey with another from the outset took something away from Ged, and it muddied my relationship with The Farthest Shore.
I recognize that Arren's presence added many things, things that LeGuin wanted to add and needed to add, some wonderful things and some not so wonderful, but I wasn't expecting those things, and I failed LeGuin by being unable to embrace them.
Yet I was unable to embrace them. Even once Miloš & Brontë asked if we could stop reading, even after I stopped reading aloud and went on by myself (in Ged-like fashion), even after finding myself captivated by the final search for Cob, the death of Orm Embar and Ged's sacrifice, even after recognizing the importance of Arren/Lebannen, I couldn't cross the emotional distance to embrace this book.
I must read it again when I am in the proper place. Perhaps then I will be able to appreciate it fully. Sorry for failing you and your words, Ursula K. LeGuin. Your work deserves better.(less)
Half way through reading The Tombs of Atuan, I was sitting downstairs playing my xBox late at night when I heard voices drifting down from upstairs. I...moreHalf way through reading The Tombs of Atuan, I was sitting downstairs playing my xBox late at night when I heard voices drifting down from upstairs. I sat and listened to the door muffled murmurs of Miloš & Brontë, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.
Usually I'd just call up to them and tell them it was time to shoosh and go to sleep, but I was curious to figure out what they were talking about. Even obscured I could tell it wasn't the usual joke fest or scary story, there was something different about this talk.
What was different, it turned out, was that Miloš was Ged and Brontë was Tenar, and they were in the dark room of the Great Treasure, playing the Tombs of Atuan. They're still seven, only just, and there they were, late in the night, in their bunkbeds, improvising a discussion between the Eaten One and Sparrowhawk. I decided to let them play, so I left them undisturbed and went back to my game.
A few days later, I was working in my office and I heard Miloš outside my door talking to Vetch from A Wizard of Earthsea. He was playing Ged again.
Weird as this may sound, it makes me incredibly proud of them. There is no big Hollywood movie with toys and a marketing campaign to nudge my kids in this direction. There is no cultural weight to lead them into playing at Ged and Tenar. There is only the words of one of our greatest authors, Ursula K. Le Guin and the voice I added to the books. That's it, but it was enough. Great literature has that power.
Please read this to your kids whomever you may be. It will be with them always.(less)
It isn't bad. It really isn't, but it is not great either. It's nowhere near great. I wish I could say I was baffled by how this became the worldwide sensation it became, but that would be a lie. On stage and on film, The Wizard of Oz has become THE go-to kids entertainment of the last 80-odd years. It is so pervasive as to be a sort of children's propaganda entertainment, indoctrinating our children into the wickedness of ugly witches, the goodness of pretty witches, the innocence of naive young girls, the importance of home, and the need to accept that who we are and how we are is just good enough.
Not all of these indoctrinations are necessarily bad; in fact, some of them can be quite beneficial given the right circumstances, but in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the presentation of these ideas is always coupled with a quite frightening lack of thought.
None of the characters ask questions...about anything...ever (with the exception of "Can I have brains, a heart, courage, or go home?"). They accept things as they are, blindly agree with whatever they are told, make snap judgments about the good or evil of whomever they meet and act accordingly, and their answer to every antagonistic situation is to kill. Dorothy kills, the Lion kills, the Tin Woodman kills, even the Scarecrow kills, and there is never a hint of regret or guilt from any of them -- even mister big heart in the hollow body. They want what they want, and if they have to kill to get it then so be it.
I have been reading some Wonderful Wizard of Oz criticism as I've been reading the book, and many critics see Baum's opening book as a political and social satire. I tried hard to see it, I wanted to see it, but what I saw was a book that sells familiar myths to people who want the familiar. It is a myth of "goodness," a myth of class distinction, a myth of meritocracy, a myth of "evil," and worst of all a myth of benevolent and righteous violence.
Yet, for all its problems, it is compellingly fun to read, especially if you have occasion to read it out loud to your children and discuss the behaviour of the characters. Even if your children are young (mine are both five), they should leave The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with a touch more self-awareness and a healthier view of the big entertainment versions of Baum's story.
And there is, for me, one truly redeeming quality in this classic: I appreciate the genius of Gregory Maguire's Wicked all the more. I see now why China Mieville chose it as one of the 50 books all socialists must read. I've read Wicked once before, long before I read Baum, but I'll be reading it again...and soon.
Now, you see, my little Scoutie Kat loves Harold and the Purple Crayon, and I think it is because I finally figured out the voice for reading aloud. One night last month we were sitting around, and I was exhausted, so rather than try to muster energy and liven up proceedings, I simply went with my exhaustion, put in a pseudo-mid-western accent and languidly set off on Harold's journey.
Turns out that languid is a big hit -- at least with Scoutie. Slow and steady and soothing is the voice she likes, and I discovered, much to my surprise, that I liked the story more than I ever had before. I think I'd always been reading it wrong, trying to make it into an adventure, rather than a journey to sleep. Silly me.
I have it now, though, and I'll never read it another way again.
(p.s. Until today I had it ranked at three stars, but I've added another now. Harold deserves it.)(less)
At moments brilliant but mostly drug addled crap, Mexico City Blues is Jack Kerouac's career in microcosm. There are times when his poetry and prose a...moreAt moments brilliant but mostly drug addled crap, Mexico City Blues is Jack Kerouac's career in microcosm. There are times when his poetry and prose are truly great, when he can incite or captivate or evoke a sensation like a master, but most of the time he is a hack.
I know, I know, y'all love him and think he is a literary god, but he really isn't. He and his friends (he is no Ginsberg or Ferlengetti, after all) came at a moment when they could do anything they wanted with no worries about editors or quality. In some moments and in some cases this was a boon, but it was not always so, and Kerouac's ouevre is too littered with the latter for him to be truly great. Read Mexico City blues and you'll see what I mean.
Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and...moreFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.(less)
The following checklist will tell you all you need to know about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban's suitability for you. The more checkmarks you have, the more you need to tackle this wonder of modern literature.
1. Do you have Daddy issues? ✓ or ✘ 2. Has a creepy middle aged man been sleeping with you for years, unbeknownst to you? ✓ or ✘ 3. Does the full moon make you anxious? ✓ or ✘ 4. Have you ever gorged on chocolate to combat depression? ✓ or ✘ 5. Do you find there just isn't enough time in the day? ✓ or ✘ 6. Are you misunderstood? ✓ or ✘ 7. Do you have an overactive sense of justice that gets you into trouble? ✓ or ✘ 8. Do you break rules whenever you can? ✓ or ✘ 9. Do you scoff at personal danger, especially when it gets in the way of your fun? ✓ or ✘ 10. Are you a dog lover, or would you like to be one? ✓ or ✘
1-2: You'd probably rather be reading Finnegan's Wake, The Book of Mormon or Sally Dick and Jane 3-5: Skip it and watch the movie. 6-8: Time to dust off that copy and give it a whirl. 9-10: Put your existential crisis aside. Shave your moustache. Take a day off work, and read this book. It won't change your life, but it'll be like reading about your dream self.
Goblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn...moreGoblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn't a struggling, driven, single mom anymore -- she was J.K. ROWLING! She was a literary superstar, and suddenly she could do anything she wanted without hindrance.
The result is a giant mess. She's got a Quidditch World Cup happening; she's got the crazy Triwizard Tournament, and all its machinations; she's got Harry's hormones starting to rage; she's got a jumble of adult politics and the old and new wars against Voldemort competing with Harry for time; she's got the endless Rita Skeeter vs. Hermione subplot; then she's got the Hermione - Dobby - Winky - SPEW debate; she's got the first appearance of the Pensieve, and its onslaught of explication; she's got not-Mad Eye Moody to introduce, the first serious appearance of Voldemort, another ghostly visitation, Padfoot hanging around in caves, Fred & George scheming their brains out, and Dumbledore being his usual forthcoming self; she's got Tournament challenges and school to deliver; she's got humiliating dances for us to attend; she's got the death of Cedric Diggory; and she's got all her usual suspects -- Snape, McGonagall, Neville, Hagrid, the Malfoys, etc., etc.. It's a lot of ground to cover. I think it is too much, and I am sure that if she hadn't been an institution, she'd have been forced to cut and trim.
But I am damn glad she wasn't forced to cut and trim. Sure Goblet of Fire could have been tighter. Sure it could have been a slicker story, more compelling, faster in the telling. But fuck all that. Life is messy. Shit is always going on around you. Just look around tomorrow and you'll see it happening. And all of those diversions, all of that messiness, is a reflection of the way life is.
More importantly, though, I just love the fact that an author -- ANY AUTHOR -- reached that stage with her writing, reached the point where it was so beloved she could tell the story her way without any interference. Most authors only get to do that if they stay in the ghettoes of self-publishing, but Rowling moved into the gated suburbs and painted her house all the colours of the rainbow, and she was so fucking rich and powerful that the community council just let her do her thing. That is authorial victory, and that makes Goblet of Fire a personal fave.
Besides, it's kinda fun despite its flaws. And it is the first time I really fell for Hermione. She's one of the great supporting characters in all of literature. Seriously. She's up there with Dr. Watson (but better).(less)