A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of theA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell....more
How do we measure a life greatly lived? Is it what’s left behind by the person living it (some monument to his/her wherewithal or creativity)? Is it tHow do we measure a life greatly lived? Is it what’s left behind by the person living it (some monument to his/her wherewithal or creativity)? Is it the family s/he births and raises? Is it the way s/he dies? Or is it the way s/he lives regardless of accolades or remembrance or emotion?
Ivan Denisovich Shukov lives his life, day to day, the way I aspire to live my own. He lives it for survival and simple pleasures. He tastes everything he eats. He hears everything his ears pick up. He sees everything that cross his eyes. He senses everything his wind-chill numbed fingers touch. He smells the most minute scents despite his smoking. He feels EVERYTHING. And that, to me, is a life greatly lived. Shukov lives on the edge of mortality and that, in turn puts him on the edge of sensation, which is where I think we should all be.
I want to go and by a tiny piece of sausage tonight; I want to put it in my mouth before bed and revel in its juices. It’s what Ivan would do. it is what I should do; it is what we all should do. Solzhenitsyn had it right. He knew life and living. He should thank Stalin for his time in the camps. It was the core of his greatness, of the life he lived greatly.
All I can hope for is to enjoy the sausage. As thoroughly as possible. ...more
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you madAugust 7, 2011
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you made the right choice putting an end to it when you did. I can't believe it's been gone for 16 years now. Your precocious Calvin was what every kid with an overactive imagination is in their own heads, but you also gave us the view of what the rest of the world sees in these kids and does to try and beat the imagination out of them. There's implied sadness in the explicit joy you gave us, and it makes Calvin and Hobbes a true masterpiece.
I was fourteen when you started your opus, and I was close enough to my own hyper-imaginative childhood to connect at a visceral level. My youthful imaginary friends were still fresh in my mind, and my current imaginary friends were just taking hold, and your strip gave me something to relate to, someone to cheer for, a place where it was okay to turn dreary realties of the world into exciting fantasies and be proud of that ability all at the same time. It was also a fabulous way to relax my brain (though not too much) amidst all the literature I was devouring at a frightening rate.
But I have a request. Now that I am forty, and I have a precocious little Calvin of my own making explosive sounds with his mouth as he blows up his LEGO creations (as I write this, in fact), and my little Calvin’s twin sister, who happens to be a lot like Susie, I would love it if you came out of retirement and gave us just one year of Calvin and Hobbes and Son (or Daughter). I want to see where Calvin is now. I want to see Calvin as a Dad, and I want his son (or daughter) with a beaten up, super ratty, devilish-as-ever Hobbes. But I don't want this comic to be about the kids, I want it to be about Calvin. I want to see how well Calvin was able to fight off his indoctrination; I imagine he’s one of those rare folks who didn’t join the mainstream, who somehow continued to live on his own terms, but my imagination aside, I am dying to see what he became for you. Please, please, please come back, Bill. We could all use a bit of Calvin again.
I know that my request will never reach you, and that, if it did, you'd probably never even consider the possibility, but I know you could do the "parenting thing" better than all your peers, just as you did the "kid thing" better than anyone else.
So I'll just leave you with the firmest, most heartfelt thank you that I have in me: thank you for that little corner of joy you carved into my world. I’ll never forget it, and late at night, when I am dipping my peanut butter and jelly into my hot chocolate, I’ll have one of my Calvin and Hobbes books open so that I can stain the pages with the purple of some yummy Welch’s grape jelly. Just as Calvin would.
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions....more
This is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "HThis is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "How on Earth can that be a guilty pleasure?" I know. It's a recognized classic. It has far reaching pop culture impact.It's considered one of the greatest adventures ever written. It has two of the most memorable "villains" in literature; it has four kick ass action heroes. It has sword fights, romance, intrigue, and most people think it has big laughs (it doesn't, which is the thing that pisses me off most about its pop culture adaptations). Even if people haven't read the book they know the Three Musketeers. Hell, most people even know that D'Artagnan, the main "hero" of the book, is not one of the eponymous "Three". So how could this book be a guilty pleasure? The answer is simple at first, then its complex.
Simple answer: Milady de Winter.
Complex answer: Milady de Winter.
From the accepted perspective, Milady is an unrepentant, nasty, evil, femme fatale. She is an agent for the "villainous" Cardinal Richelieu, spying on, plotting against and battling our Musketeers at every turn. She foments marital unrest between the King and Queen. She plots the assassination of the Englishman, the Duke of Buckingham, to stop him from aiding the Huguenots at La Rochelle. She tries to kill D'Artagnan and later poisons his mistress, Constance Bonacieux. She corrupts a fine, upstanding Puritan man. And once upon a time, she made a fool of the Comte de La Fère.
She is the accepted villain, even worse than her master the Cardinal, for whom and under whose auspices she commits her evil acts. She is the villain, and D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are the heroes.
Here's the problem, though, from another perspective she isn't and they aren't.
You see, Milady de Winter was a poor young woman who did what she must to survive. Forced into a convent for want of food, a priest fell in love with her and the pair stole some church property to start a life together. They were caught, and both were "branded" with the fleur-de-lys -- the mark of criminals. Alone again, she fell in love with the Comte de La Fère. They were married, and she hid her crimes from him. Then one afternoon the Comte discovered her brand. He felt betrayed and strung her up by her neck, leaving her to die.
She lived and entered the service of the Cardinal. Under his direction, she became a powerful agent, doing exactly what it is that agents do. The Cardinal -- the right hand of the King, connected to the Pope, a man waging a war in the King's name, the most powerful man in France -- has Milady undermine the King's Queen, Anne of Austria, a woman having an affair with the man (Duke of Buckingham) who is helping the rebels within her husband's kingdom. She is also asked to keep tabs on a troublesome young guard, D'Artagnan, who seems to be thwarting the Cardinal's plans through sheer luck and Gascon audacity. She complies.
Then the man she is spying on kills her lover, the Comte de Wardes. And if that isn't bad enough, the man she's spying on turns up in her bedchamber posing as the Comte and proceeds to "make love" to Milady. The "lovemaking" is so "wonderful" that D'Artagnan decides to come clean and reveal his true identity. Milady loses her temper -- with some cause, I think -- and tries to stab D'Artagnan (which he doesn't seem to understand). From then on, Milady wants vengeance against the murderer of her lover, who also happens to be her rapist (for that is what he is, surely?).
Next, she is charged with assassinating the Duke of Buckingham, for which she is issued a carte blanche by the Cardinal, but her enemy, D'Artagnan -- committing treason against his own King and country -- warns the Duke, and she is banished to a tower while the Duke sails off to aid the Huguenots. Well, she isn't about to languish in prison, so she seduces a Puritan and makes her escape, winding up in a convent in France where she can hide out. Lucky for her, D'Artagnan's mistress, a married woman whom he was bedding while he was raping Milady, is also hiding out in the convent, so Milady de Winter takes the portion of vengeance at her disposal and kills D'Artagnan's lover as he killed hers.
And for all of this, the Four Musketeers, now in possession of her carte blanche, hold their own little court, pass judgement on Milady and have her head separated from her shoulders. And they get away with it because they have the Cardinal's signature -- on Milady's carte blanche which allows the bearer to do whatever they do for the good of the kingdom.
It seems to me that Alexandre Dumas knew that perspective would dictate how we saw his heroes and villains, and that he was okay with his muddied good and evil waters. He was writing from the Musketeers' perspective, and he knew that his readers would side with them against the Cardinal and Milady. But he also wrote in a way that complicated his Musketeers. So much so that we accept when D'Artagnan receives and accepts a commission to the Musketeers from the Cardinal himself. He wanted his characters to be grey, and they were.
So why is this a guilty pleasure (especially if the guilt doesn't come from Dumas' writing)? I am finally getting there.
The weight of popular culture has changed the way we see this story so thoroughly, has morphed the Musketeers so completely into righteous heroes, turned D'Artagnan into such a loveable heartthrob and his companions into the most likeable of heroes, that it is nearly impossible for people to see the things that make them grey.
But I see them for who they are. I see the grey.
So here comes the guilt: I see the Four Musketeers crimes -- treason, rape, murder, theft -- and all their flaws -- cruelty, greed, hypocrisy, entitlement, adulterousness (to name but a few) -- and I still love them. I love them, and I enjoy reading their adventures, and I cheer for them from beginning to end.
I shouldn't, but I do, and that's why The Three Musketeers is my guiltiest of pleasures. So there.
p.s. I love Milady de Winter too. For all the things she is....more
I have seen it twelve times in the theatre. It was the first VHS tape I ownI have watched Raiders of the Lost Ark over 1,000 thousand times.
I have seen it twelve times in the theatre. It was the first VHS tape I owned, and I wore that tape out in my big clunky old VCR within five years. I worked as a night video store clerk for another five years and played it at least once during every shift. When I can't sleep at night, I watch the movie in my head. I know every line. I know every beat of music. When I am sad or need a pick up, I throw it in my DVD player and let it soothe me. I've used it in Composition classes to illustrate the potential for analyzing even the most unlikely texts.
Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay is a marvelous piece of screenwriting. Every line, every action, every single element is there to further the story. Kasdan makes potentially clunky exposition soar, implies the flaws of Indiana Jones (making him a truly complex hero, at least in this one installment) without beating us over the head, gives us a snazzy champagne villain in the mould of Claude Rains and seamlessly includes all the set pieces that tickled the fancy of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg without compromising quality.
It is a masterwork of screenwriting. And it is THE masterwork of action screenwriting.
My favourite line:
Belloq: I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.
So true, Belloq. So true.
If you are at all interested in giving a screenplay a chance, this is the place to start. ...more
A long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close toA long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to the material, so desperate to relive the nostalgia of the original trilogy, so deeply invested, that when we left the theatre and I expressed not just my frustration but my rage at what I'd seen, he took it as a personal insult. A slag of his taste (or what he thought I must have been declaring was his lack thereof). A debate raged between us for days. I pointed to inconsistencies with the original trilogy, terrible acting, poor direction, silly errors of Sci-Fi thought (such as describing direction in space as North, South, East and West), etc., etc. He mostly denied the existence of these problems, and when he couldn't deny their existence he tried to rationalize them. What he didn't do, however, was simply embrace the fact that he loved the story because he WANTED to love the story.
I said, "Well you can love the stories all you want, just don't pretend they are good." I think that hurt him even more.
Since those days I have kept a weather eye open for cases when my own love of a movie or TV series or book could become an inadvertent source for personal pain and imagined insult. I’ve come across a couple of minor examples, both giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate, and in once case change, my opinion of the works in question. And because I was vigilant, I was quickly able to escape the negative feelings that came along with the disagreement.
A third instance appeared this month when I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. I have long held off rereading this book, worried that it would diminish my love, but the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club was reading it for August, and I was sucked into being the discussion leader. My worries were unfounded. I loved it even more this time through. But it felt like I was the only one, and I endured a month of irrational frustration and hurt at the unwitting hands of my group friends.
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t be taking things personally, but I couldn’t help feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed and insulted by the opinions of others. Hell, I was even hurt by the relative silence of people whose opinions I rate highly. I figured their silence must be tacit dislike of the book. Why else were they staying quiet? See. Irrational.
Everything was conspiring against me in that discussion, but through it all I tried to stay neutral and lead the discussion with as little interference or personal opinion as possible.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to Red Mars. My personal issues turned out to be a good thing in this case. I was reading criticism of one of my favourite books while I was rereading it, and that criticism made me open my mind to the possibility that my feelings about the book were entirely emotional rather than intellectual. I genuinely opened myself up to that possibility, and I can honestly say that my feelings come from both places. I love this book for personal reasons, but I also love this book because it is Sc-Fi of the highest order.
KSR does so many things right in Red Mars. His vision of the near future was and is believable (he even manages to look into post-Soviet Russian culture with a measure of accuracy). His science is excellent (albeit occasionally compressed or fudged to further the story). His new novella narrative is wonderfully effective, allowing us to look deeply into six of his main characters -- Frank Chalmers, MayaToitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne – as we follow the colonization of Mars from their perspectives. But this also allows us to dig more deeply into other important characters, like Arkady, Phyllis, Saxifrage, Coyote, Hiroko and Mars itself, giving us multiple perspectives on these important people from the very different perspectives of the people they love or hate. His descriptions of Mars are beautiful. His political and philosophical thought is engaging. And his vision for the potential colonization of Mars, and what that might mean for Earth, is totally plausible.
I can see how some – and maybe all – of these things could rub a reader the wrong way. I can see how someone could walk away not liking Red Mars. And I can accept that even if it hurts me (because I love all of those things), it is really not personal. But what I can’t accept is the assertion that KSR is a crappy author.
To my mind, this book proves his brilliance. I think I will stop now (can you tell that this review didn’t go at all the way I had planned?) ...more
When I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed thWhen I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed that I was a voracious reader, and that I was devouring fantasy books at the time, so he nudged me in the direction of his favourites: Ursula K LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey.
The nudging began in class with a LeGuin short story. I remember sterile white homes that were pre-fab pods, I remember odd, sci-fi-ish flora and a girl as the protagonist. I also remember not liking it, but I was a 12 year old boy. I don't remember the name or anything else, but it instantly had me not taking Mr. Hore's recommendations seriously.
Then he got me reading Dragonflight, and I was even less impressed Although I recently gave it another try and quite enjoyed the experience, back then I hated the idea, I hated the characters, I hated everything about the book, and I was thoroughly inoculated to the effects of McCaffrey and LeGuin for years to come.
In my late twenties, however, I rediscovered Ursula LeGuin with The Left Hand of Darkness and was blown away by her unparalleled mind, and her conception of the androgynous/hermaphroditic Gethens. The Lathe of Heaven was prophetic and fascinating, but The Dispossessed was something more. It is one of the finest political sci-fi books ever written, a peer of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World (and I humbly submit that on the back of that book alone, LeGuin deserves to win the Nobel Prize for literature). Despite my rediscovery of LeGuin, though, I shied away from her fantasy literature. The damage done by Mr. Hore still hadn't healed.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the finest pieces of fantasy literature ever written. The story of Sparrowhawk's journey from being a smithy's son to the most powerful wizard of Earthsea is a parable of equilibrium. In Ged's pride and youthful anger he conjures the dead -- a power within his grasp, but a power he cannot control -- and with it comes a gebbeth, a shadow creature that will hunt Ged until it possesses him and turns his power against the world.
Heavily scarred by his folly, both emotionally and physically, Ged is shielded from the gebbeth by his Masters, and he completes his training in humility. He eventually returns to the world, leaving behind the protection of Roke, and seeks an end to the chase between himself and his gebbeth -- a return to equilibrium: "only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky."
In typical LeGuin fashion, Ged's struggle for equilibrium isn't our simplistic conception of a struggle between good and evil. There is no attempt for good to sublimate evil, as we see in so many works of fantasy. Nor is it a breezy assertion that both need to exist in the world; it is a recognition that if both exist at all they exist in everything, including us. The parable of Ged tells us not only to see equilibrium in everything but to consciously strive for equilibrium in ourselves.
A Wizard of Earthsea is more than its message, however. It is a story to be read aloud. It is a tale for around a campfire. It is a myth for the child in all of us, and for our children. There is a formality about LeGuin's third person omniscience that has the ring of a bard passing on an important history. But there is poetry in her formal prose, too, and I found myself slowing my reading the closer I came to the end just to make my time with LeGuin's narrative voice last longer.
I am sad to see that so many on goodreads don't feel the way I do about LeGuin's fantasy masterpiece, but for once I am confident that I don't need to search my reaction to the book more deeply, to make sure that I am seeing the work clearly. This time I know I am right. A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the greatest fantasy novels (or novellas) ever written. Period.
And now LeGuin has two claims to the Nobel Prize. What a shame she'll never even be considered. ...more
As a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring iAs a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring immediately to mind, but there are countless others: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin (Perdido Street Station), Oedipus, Holmes or Watson (I'd take either), Captain Jack Aubrey (I'd rather Stephen, but I look like Jack), Heathcliff, Lady Macbeth (yep, I meant her), Manfred, Indiana Jones. But none of them are people who I would actually like to be.
That I reserve for Shevek.
Ursula K. LeGuin's Odonian-Anarchist physicist is what I would aspire to be in the deepest places of myself -- flaws and all.
The reason is simple and profound. Shevek constantly strives for change inside and outside himself, for an embracing of true freedom with the knowledge that freedom requires change, that change is dangerous, and that the danger of true freedom trumps safety.
No matter what pressures are brought to bear, Shevek is his own man.
I could go on about him, but I am loathe to diminish the strength of what I have written.