The song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? was featured in the Disney short film Three Little Pigs (1933), where two of the pigs are convinced they'The song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? was featured in the Disney short film Three Little Pigs (1933), where two of the pigs are convinced they're safe from the wolf in their straw and twig houses.
In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, George and Martha return home from a party with a younger couple, Nick and Honey, and end up downing a drink or two or ten during the night. Nick and Honey can't seem to drag themselves away from the revelling that seems more like a surreal nightmare of funhouse distortion mirrors. The guests are dragged into the endless pit of hell that is the marriage of George and Martha, who poke each other in soft spots, rave and scream, and act like 5-year-olds or like they're possessed with demons.
The night is a mud-slinging disaster you can't look away from. Filled with pitch black humor, Albee's play ploughs all the stuffy 1950s social conventions and delusions about the American nuclear family dream, and plays with its characters by shaking them to the core and spitting them out. Long before the shock revelation at the end, the mood becomes increasingly oppressive, and the ominous hints thrown here and there confirm that George and Martha aren't just a middle-aged couple who want to drive each other insane for the heck of it.
With all their spiteful screeching, they turn into a big gust of wind that blows the straw and twig house down. When George gives the ruins the final tap, the rest of the structure falls, and Martha is forced to face the reality that follows her breaking the rule of their game, and they both need to figure out how to survive in the open air. The raving has been reduced to emptiness, and the guilt and disappointment have turned into exhaustion. The future remains uncertain, but it's entirely possible that George and Martha can't handle a brick house, because that would remind them of their misery and hatred. Martha certainly isn't ready to live without illusion, and the couple's weaknesses might just lead them to harboring their wolf again.
Finally, I feel like I need to address the 1966 movie. I saw it a couple of years ago, and... Well, could there be any more perfect George and Martha than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? She claws her way through the movie and he's seething with disappointment, and together they form one big firecracker that might at any moment explode on your face, but you still can't turn away.
MARTHA: I can't even see you... I haven't been able to see you for years... GEORGE: ... if you pass out, or throw up, or something... MARTHA: ... I mean, you're a blank,a cipher... GEORGE: ... and try to keep your clothes on, too. There aren't many more sickening sights than you with a couple of drinks in you and your skirt up over your head, you know...
Oh wow. I didn't even realize how much I had missed Thompson. I read a few of his short stories a while ago (they were mostly not that great), but it'Oh wow. I didn't even realize how much I had missed Thompson. I read a few of his short stories a while ago (they were mostly not that great), but it's been ages since I've gobbled up one of his novels. He really does handle noir well, the punch-in-the-stomach kind that leaves you gasping for air, but also simultaneously tickles you a bit with splashes of great writing.
The Grifters isn't the blackest or the craziest Thompson, and probably not even his best (despite the amazing rating on Goodreads that kind of confuses me), but it's a solid story with great characters. Sure, Carol is a bit of an oddball, because it turns out that the revelation about her past has no purpose whatsoever, but in a way that's a very familiar Thompson strategy. He just throws some off-kilter things in the mix, and it still works somehow.
You don't necessarily get that many surprises in classic noir, and The Grifters isn't an exception in that regard. It doesn't offer major plot twists, but one of the reasons why I like the genre in the first place is that the novels are like mood pieces of a cynical world, and that it's achieved in simple and no-frill terms (Well, ok... Who am I kidding? It's also entirely possible that I'm easy when it comes to noir). I can always rely on some crazy character getting all wacky or neurotic. Throw in a murder or two, and we have an excellent weekend read there. Thompson, on the other hand, decides to go further by making the relationship between mother and son seem very wrong and vile.
Another thing about Thompson is how well he handles his endings. They leave you hanging and wondering what will happen in the next chapter, until you realize there's no next chapter in this life. The Grifters is a classic storyline of a man who starts balancing between different worlds. There's a lot of foreshadowing going on, but Thompson executes it delicately and ambiguously. Then you start to get this very bad feeling that something's about to go down, and it's too late for anyone to turn back. A glass is teetering on the edge of the table, and just when you think it's going to stay where it is and survive, someone comes and smashes it to smithereens....more
Last November I went to see an amateur theatre production of The Mousetrap (Kaarina-Teatteri is situated in an old wooden house, and it has a cozy cafLast November I went to see an amateur theatre production of The Mousetrap (Kaarina-Teatteri is situated in an old wooden house, and it has a cozy café and a lovely older gentleman as the usher). It was my first experience of amateur theatre, and I was pleasantly surprised how focused all the actors were and how they breathed life and personality into their specific characters. The set design was also great. Properly cozy, like you'd expect to see in a Christie production. The stage and room were both small, so when things started getting exciting, you felt like you were in the same room with the characters. When the lights were turned off, one of them was strangled right before my eyes! And that whistling... Creepy.
Anyway, I've been to London twice now, but I still haven't seen the original production. The lovely atmospheric building was beautiful, though, and because of my temporary fit of insanity which made me not check what was going on in the London theatre scene last August, and therefore made me miss The Elephant Man, I'm determined to make a proper theatre trip to London someday (theatre, bookstores, good food, and maybe a few cocktails with relatives and friends who live there - what else do you need?).
So, to lick my wounds I hunted The Mousetrap from the library and read it during a warm summer day in the countryside while lounging on a deck chair. Obviously, because the story was already familiar to me and I had an overall great experience watching the events unfold right in front of me, reading the play was occasionally a little dull and felt two-dimensional. That's natural, though, because in plays the dialogue is rarely changed for a production, so reading the same stuff word for word after you've seen the play on stage can't be that special anymore.
I know quality when I see it, and The Mousetrap is comparable to the better Christie novels. On top of that, it's a locked-room mystery, which makes it even better. A locked room that is a cozy guest house surrounded by snow, but which soon turns into the location of murder mayhem. The cat and mouse game gnaws at everyone's psyche and turns them against each other. Unlike in the detective novels, you can't trust anyone here. Anyone could be the killer....more
Susann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, soSusann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, something happens and the tunnel closes. Then some turn of events gets you believing again, and the roller coaster starts again and again and again... The circle of life turns into a circle of dolls and resentment.
Valley of the Dolls isn't a mushy romance that sinks into an abyss of paper-tasting plastic characters, who seem to melt under a tighter scrutiny, or a glossy, emotionally simplistic, and rose-tinted fairy tale world, where predictability is a given. Instead, it actually makes you invested in the characters, although they are practically one-dimensional vehicles of psychological exploration.
Both unrealistic with its cheesy plot twists which seem to occur only for shock value, and realistic with its oh-so-common story of downward spiralling lives in the show business, the story is structurally kind of a mess, but a glorious and trashy mess. The fact that I don't mind the heap of clichés dumped on me is a testament of Susann's genius.
Like with The Best of Everything (1958), I noticed that I can digest chick lit when it's set in another time period and has some kind of melancholy or tragic events involved. A retro Mad Men-ish backdrop has so much more value in terms of atmosphere (and basically the only reason why I decided to read this). Valley of the Dolls wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't set in 1940s-60s, or if it didn't have a hilarious cat fight in a ladies' room, self-destructive women popping pills in all the colors of the rainbow, dreams crashing and burning, struggles with fame and expectations concerning private and professional lives, loads of vodka and champagne, and men who are far from dreamy Fabios.
Girly pulp that doesn't make you want to vomit, but to have a cocktail or two and eat chocolate until your head explodes. Essentially, this is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956).
"Who wants respect? I want to get laid!" - Helen Lawson...more
If Valley of the Dolls (1966) is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956), The Best of Everything is the Seconal-sedated twin ofIf Valley of the Dolls (1966) is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956), The Best of Everything is the Seconal-sedated twin of Valley of the Dolls. The Jekyll of the Hyde. Booze is flowing, but in a sophisticated Mad Men fashion. In case your blind date is a twat, just order loads of drinks in succession.
Chick lit is still a problematic genre for me, but instead of having another Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) experience, The Best of Everything was pretty entertaining. I liked the smuttiness of Valley of the Dolls more, but The Best of Everything had a relaxing smoothness to it. It's the time period and everything that comes with it, like the experiences of working women in a world of men, that instantly makes the story more interesting and the plight of the characters more engaging.
The characters, unfortunately, are less interesting. There's a lot of naiveté going around, and the moment when you realize that one of the women is clinging to her former man like she was drowning, you also notice you don't care about the women at all. Like in Valley of the Dolls, they define themselves through men, but because of the more everyday and conventional tone of the novel it gets tiring after a while.
The stories are prolonged for way too long and the underlying message against single life is the cherry on a moldy sundae. Honestly, the plot twist at the end is just terrible, because it doesn't fit the rest of the book at all. It's like Jaffe was trying to stick something scandalous in there to hammer her point home, but it destroys all credibility and ends up in the daytime soap territory.
Jaffe was clearly trying to concoct a moral tale about the dangers of a big city, but I'm not surprised that many girls were instead inspired to move there. Life in New York City might be difficult, even dangerous, and subject you to sexual harassment at the office, but it's also an adventure (at least that's what I imagine the girls were thinking). The lack of personality in the married zombies and in those who aspired to become zombies was so horrifying, though, that it's difficult to imagine Jaffe thought things through regarding character development and her audience (would the 1950s readers have been tempted to aim towards marriage and nothing else because of Jaffe's characters?).
Still, The Best of Everything is a quick and light read. It doesn't even remotely try to melt your brain, and better yet, instead of relying on a simple happy ending, the ending is kind of ambiguous and makes it seem like some of the characters have an uncertain future. The world of a working girl was tough in the 50s, and the lack of sugar coating might appeal to modern audiences, too. It's not like sexism or sexual harassment have disappeared from the working places, but Jaffe's novel definitely makes you appreciate the improvement of working conditions....more
This has been in my reading list for ages, and now that I finally managed to grab the thing for a reading challenge, it couldn't fly any faster to myThis has been in my reading list for ages, and now that I finally managed to grab the thing for a reading challenge, it couldn't fly any faster to my list of absolute must-sees. With the likes of Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville, and Hadley Fraser starring, the adaptation at the Bristol Old Vic would be a dream, but the circumstances are what they are, so this will just have to wait.
Reading a play instead of seeing it performed can be complicated and underwhelming. No such problem here. Long Day's Journey Into Night comes from an extremely dark place and lays bare the tragedy of not wanting to live in the world as it is, but it's also an incredibly moving and beautiful piece of drama. The power of the dialogue combined with O'Neill's unusually specific stage directions (including the appearance and facial expressions of the actors) creates a very tangible atmosphere, one that is heightened even further from the knowledge that the family's struggles were once real for O'Neill, and that due to the autobiographical content he didn't want it to be published until 25 years after his death.
In 1912, a day in the Tyrone family consists of them escaping their guilt and frustration. Mary's morphine addiction has created a protective cocoon, where she can remember her happy pre-marriage years, when she still felt like she had a real home. Her absolute denial of the negativity around her, like Edmund's illness, is slowly destroying her personality and strength, making her even more discontent and lonely. Meanwhile, James Tyrone and sons Eugene and Jamie detach themselves from reality with whiskey.
There's palpable tension from the start, when suspicious glances are thrown in all directions. If noticed, they contribute to a mutual feeling of distrust. True meaning of words shows on embittered faces, and the indirectness and failure to address the problems in a constructive way, the men resorting instead to childish name-calling and criticizing, further worsens the atmosphere of the day.
The Tyrones suck you into their vortex. The fleeting moments of sincerity and affectionate tears sink into the darkness of the house, a house that becomes more and more surrounded by the fog and the sounds of the foghorn, closing it into its own world of bitterness. The ending is dream-like and suffocating, leaving the audience uncertain about the family's future yet also feeling like it's the death of everything. The future wasn't all happy (eleven years later, Jamie drank himself to death), but Mary's fight with her addiction led to victory two years later, so at least there's some glimmer of hope.
A deeply personal project for O'Neill, I'm not surprised about his decision about the publication. I'm also not surprised that Sweden, the land of Ingmar Bergman, appreciated his works more than any other country, and was also the first to produce it on stage. The list of actors involved in productions all over the world since the 1950s is impressive: Laurence Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Jessica Lange, Bibi Andersson, Peter Stormare (the latter two directed by no other than Ingmar Bergman in 1988) etc. Let's just hope the next production will be more accessible to me.
"MARY. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They're done before you realize it, and once they're done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you'd like to be, and you've lost your true self for ever."...more
East of Eden is a family saga, a story of fathers and sons, a tale of love manifesting in different ways and sparking different reactions, an examinatEast of Eden is a family saga, a story of fathers and sons, a tale of love manifesting in different ways and sparking different reactions, an examination of how people sometimes speak past each other without truly understanding, and really everything in between you can think of. It's a hefty tome, one that Steinbeck himself liked the most and considered his magnum opus, but also one that suffers from being uneven and not really knowing where it wants to go.
It never quite finishes all the threads satisfactorily, jumps from one thing to another, and has too much exposition (particularly regarding the Cain and Abel allegory: at one point, the characters are discussing how the Biblical story relates to their lives, as if its significance hadn't already been spelled out before) and lectures about Salinas Valley and world events. A little subtlety would have been nice, instead of heavy-handedly stretching a message with capital letters across several generations. Add to that the ridiculous name alliteration, and I'm just about on the verge of exhaustion.
Steinbeck's descriptions of most of the main characters and their struggles are the saving grace. Overall, there are no heroes and villains in the families, only deeply human emotions. Sometimes polar opposite emotions (and characters) are strongly connected and it's difficult to distinguish where each one begins and ends. The very last scene I thought was very moving.
However, the downfalls of the overall narrative exists in the characters, too. Lee, the Chinese servant, is the epitome of a Chinese philosopher with a tragic background. Although he pretends to be a white man's version of a Chinese man by hiding his perfect American English and education behind his pidgin and clothes, he still feels like a stereotype, always there to grant calm wisdoms when someone needs guidance.
Cathy's capable of fear and reflecting her actions, but she's still clearly a sociopath, which is fine. Not settling to that, though, Steinbeck stated she's supposed to represent the Devil (if it's true that she was modelled after Steinbeck's second wife, he really must have hated her). That and her actions that ooze evil through and through are again heavy-handed references to the Bible (and if that's still not enough to make readers understand, she's also described as being snake-like), and they reduce Cathy into an image of something universal instead of a real character. Abra, on the other hand, is devoid of personality and seemingly exists only to enhance Aaron's struggles.
The oversimplifications didn't help make sense of the messy structure, nor lift the characters from the pages to the realm of believability. Instead, the characters mainly carried the heavy burden of being clumsy allegories. Everything was chewed on the reader's behalf, not giving the opportunity to make one's own conclusions and observations, and I found myself gradually losing interest everytime I picked up the book. I've said before how wonderful The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is, but I now dread the day when I decide to reread it. Thing is, I vaguely remember it being just as preachy, but the societal issues might have been a slightly better platform for it. I understand why East of Eden is so well-loved, and in a sense it's not a badly written novel nor is it one of the worst I've ever read, but the more I think about it the more it ticks me off.
- - -
Dean would have turned 85 last month. East of Eden is the only film of his I haven't seen yet, and it's been patiently waiting in my watchlist, because I knew I'd want to read the book first. Not surprisingly, I liked the movie more.
The story has been simplified immensely by removing some of the characters altogether, making the plot more streamlined, and by focusing only on the second half that deals with Cal and Aaron. Usually I expect faithfulness from film adaptations, but sometimes it just isn't always the best option (often the case with big tomes). There's limited space and opportunities in a little less than two hours, but Paul Osborn's screen play is fantastic and Kazan has no trouble guiding the characters and the story forward.
The changes do cause some implausibility, like when Cal borrows money from his mother, and Cathy doesn't seem as powerful and cunning as in the book. These are just minor issues, though, because the overall story works so well on screen. The valley looks beautiful in color, too, even though most of it isn't Salinas but Mendocino.
And what about Dean? If all beginners were as good as him in their first roles, the world would burst from all the energy and talent. Dean puts his soul into his role, and sometimes it only takes a quiet smile or a slight adjustment of posture. If only he had stuck around, he'd have had great chances of polishing his skills even further....more
After an Agatha Christie reading challenge last year, I still had some steam left after my final spurt, so I just had to read some more. I'm going toAfter an Agatha Christie reading challenge last year, I still had some steam left after my final spurt, so I just had to read some more. I'm going to take a little break now from everything Agatha Christie, but The Mirror was a great story to end my trip. After two chapters, I realized I had seen the adaptation in the Miss Marple TV show and this time also remembered the murderer, but that didn't stop me from enjoying how the events and the final reveal unfolded (or how the tragedy in Gene Tierney's life fitted the picture).
The location is once more St. Mary Mead, but this time something's different:
"One had to face the fact: St Mary Mead was not the place it had been. In a sense, of course, nothing was what it had been. You could blame the war (both the wars) or the younger generation, or women going out to work, or the atom bomb, or just the Government - but what one really meant was the simple fact that one was growing old. Miss Marple, who was a very sensible lady, knew that quite well. It was just that, in a queer way, she felt it more in St Mary Mead, because it had been her home for so long."
The new supermarket represents the changing times. Miss Hartnell is bewildered by all the packaged goods and laments the trouble one has to go through when wandering around the aisles and trying to find proper unprocessed food in convenient sizes. And the long queues! One of the new villagers in turn wonders why anyone would want to grow their own vegetables when it's so easy to buy them from a supermarket.
A change in the class structure has occurred as well: the domestic helpers are now educated girls and the new housing estate called the Development has brought a new set of villagers that differs from the originals. Marple feels very nostalgic about the world changing, and it's easy to imagine she echoes some of Christie's own sentiments. However, she never comes across as bitter, more like resigned and in peace. When you get older, you're bound to see the world becoming a different place.
On the other hand, inspector Craddock reveals the downside of the quaint village life that undoubtedly hides old-fashioned views on life under its calm exterior: "'There are things that are preferable to academic distinctions[.] - - - One of them is knowing when a man wants whisky and soda and giving it to him" (referring to the domestic role of women).
A part of the spirit of remembrance and nostalgia are the references to Christie's older Miss Marple novels. The hated Colonel Protheroe, who was murdered at the beginning of The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), is still remembered by Miss Marple (I'm beginning to think she never forgets anything). Griselda Clement, the vicar's wife who appeared in that same story with her husband, sends Christmas cards every year. Gossington Hall from The Body in the Library (1942) is once more the location of a murder mystery, although a lot has changed.
Marina Gregg with her glamorous movie star looks settles down in Gossington Hall with her husband, the director Jason Rudd. It's the murder of the babbling Heather Badcock (a surname almost as tragic as her murder) that creates a splinter in the lives of the modern movie people. It's something much worse than the "[n]aked men and women drinking and smoking what they call in the papers them reefers" the 96-year-old Mr. Sampson is so afraid of. I'd be more scared of the spiked daquiris Heather had to endure. Regular ones I approve.
Once more, the solution of the mystery is dependent on taking note of what people say and if they truly mean it. It's easy to make a hasty conclusion about something, but the truth is that we all often say things that could mean so much more to someone else or are mistakenly construed as offensive. Christie knows readers have their expectations, so she never lets them believe there might be something more to certain things, until everything starts to unravel. Despite knowing the murderer, it's interesting to witness the structure Christie uses to reveal the culprit, and how she hides the clues in plain sight. You never even think about suspecting that the particular moments hide something else, because they seem so mundane and obvious.
In the end, the mystery is simple, but the novel is not. It makes very clear that kindness is not enough when you have no consideration for how others might be affected by your actions, and that the real threat doesn't come from the outside, but from the souls of humans. After all, "the human beings were the same as they always had been".
Miss Marple is also refreshingly present here, and she has even more of that familiar glint in her eye than usual. It's especially satisfactory to see how she enjoys duping her annoyingly fussy caretaker, Miss Knight, by sending her on errands to the farthest shops possible.
"A little strong drink is always advisable on the premises in case there is a shock or an accident. Invaluable at such times. Or, of course, if a gentleman should arrive suddenly".
Two of my favorite things come together here in perfect harmony: archaeology and Agatha Christie. She wrote about her travels around Syria and Iraq wiTwo of my favorite things come together here in perfect harmony: archaeology and Agatha Christie. She wrote about her travels around Syria and Iraq with her second husband, Max Mallowan, as an "answer to a question that is asked me very often". That is the charm, because her archaeological memoir felt like we were sipping tea and munching cookies in one of her country village locations, enjoying our afternoon with stories from a hotter climate, and stretching our grey brain cells while waiting for someone to get whacked.
In the beginning, Christie warns her book won't entail more than everyday happenings, so don't expect a profound travelogue. The glimpses of humour you get when you read her fiction? Well, here she doesn't hold back (in her constrained English sort of way). If you enjoy hearing about the team's constipation issues or the fact that one of the last scenes includes lavatory seats floating in the water (poor Mac's first architectural job), then this is for you.
Christie tells about all the mundane things that might happen while travelling: buying dresses for the fuller form, the evil nature of zippers, dysfunctional washing facilities, uncomfortable taxis, weakness of buying shoes, struggles with a reticent member of the team, inefficiency of the post office etc. My favorite scene is when B. has trouble getting his mosquito pyjamas from the post office, and when he finally wears them and is able to relax, a mouse gets into them.
The troubles one might encounter when adventuring in a different culture where people have different concepts of dealing with things (and who regard the strange Western ways of the English very strange in turn) are told without malice and - although it's clear Christie has a special place in her heart for both countries - she doesn't engage in useless glorifying either, but tells everything as it is. There were occasions when doubting the mental faculties of some of the servants and things like that appeared dubious, but the colonial superiority could have been much worse.
What also impressed me was Christie's attitude in the digs. Jacquetta Hawkes mentions in her foreword how Christie wrote at the beginning of each season, but she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty when her help was needed in cleaning, cataloguing, and labelling the artefacts. It could be that Christie was much more fascinating as a person than I've thought. Finding more about her belongs to another time, however....more
Around Christmastime, I figured it'd be nice to start a tradition and read something light and Christmasy (but not fluffy), and Christie knocked on myAround Christmastime, I figured it'd be nice to start a tradition and read something light and Christmasy (but not fluffy), and Christie knocked on my door again. Because the collections have a confusing publication history, I noticed I had actually read some of the stories before in another collection, but I couldn't remember the murderers anymore, so a reread was in order.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding was the only one set during Christmas, and in her foreword Christie explains how her childhood Christmases spent in Abney Hall inspired the story, and why she wanted to dedicate the book to its memory. The story does feel very nostalgic prior to things starting to get awry (the description of the Christmas feast made my mouth water), and thanks to the conclusion it's also one of the best ones. It really turns on its head all the expectations one has of a crime story.
The other one I liked was The Dream, where an eccentric millionaire needs Poirot's help, because he has been having a concurring dream where he shoots himself. Soon enough, the man is found dead. The whole case is a little bizarre and mystical, and the conclusion is fantastic. So much so, that this was my absolute favorite story of the collection.
The Under Dog is slightly drawn out and boring, but as for the rest, they're pretty decent with great twists. In all six stories, hints are spread throughout and some of them are even so obvious when you notice them afterwards, that you feel kind of stupid not to have seen them. Christie takes the idea of secrets behind one's demeanor even further, and it's a recurring theme of the collection. The tiny tidbits about the social realities of the era aren't absent either, as is evident from Poirot's ponderings about the butler:
"'This Parsons, then, he will have the characteristics of his class, he will object very strongly to the police, he will tell them as little as possible. Above all, he will say nothing that might seem to incriminate a member of the household. A house-breaker, a burglar, he will cling to that idea with all the strength of extreme obstinacy. Yes, the loyalties of the servant class are an interesting study.'"
We also learn that Poirot likes curvy women. Actually, "[h]e liked them lush, highly coloured, exotic. There had been a certain Russian countess – but that was long ago now. A folly of earlier days". Really? Tell me more. The fact that something this substantial is revealed about Poirot's past, or that he doesn't mind being kissed under the mistletoe by Bridget, caught me off guard. Is this the Agatha Christie Christmas spirit we're seeing?...more
A few months ago, I decided I won't be writing in English about untranslated Finnish books, but this is the first exception. It might be of interest tA few months ago, I decided I won't be writing in English about untranslated Finnish books, but this is the first exception. It might be of interest to several people in my friends list, and I think telling a little about the untranslated literary history of my country benefits all sides (I get an opportunity to write from a different perspective to a specific audience), so here goes.
Myytillisiä tarinoita ('Mythical Tales') is a collection of Finnish folktales that contain supernatural elements, and to my knowledge also the most extensive collection. Simonsuuri was one of the most well-known experts of Finnish folklore (another being Antti Aarne, who developed the Aarne-Thompson classification system), and also compiled a type list of Finnish folktales, which is considered his magnum opus. Myytillisiä tarinoita, on the other hand, is aimed more towards mainstream audience and is organized by supernatural categories, and is based on a collection of types that contains 80 000 stories, 15 main categories, and 150 topics. There are 900 stories altogether in the book. A lot of repetition occurs, because some of the stories have been told in different areas of Finland, the form and basic idea varying only slightly. A great source for both writers who plan on using supernatural aspects in their works, but also for those who are interested in Finnish culture in general (although it's a shame there's no translation).
The oldest story, about a child of a giant grabbing a horse and a farmer and using them as her toy, is from Mythologia Fennica (1789), but most are oral tradition from the 19th and early 20th century. As seen in the stories about giants fleeing from approaching Christianity (represented as churches starting to dot the landscape), also referred to as the son's and daughters of Kaleva, the world of Finnish mythology and The Kalevala (1837) are firmly present.
These tales hail from a world where they were believed to be true (apart from one story, where a hissing sound is explained to be a bowl of rising dough, not a ghost), and always from the countryside. Even today, Finland's population is scattered very sparsely, so it's no surprise I saw a documentary once about a sullen middle-aged man who kept bears as his companions. They followed his commands when they went for a walk and enjoyed giving him hugs. There are vast areas of forests, lakes, and fields (and in these areas it's completely possible that a moose or a bear can surprise those who are relaxing at their summer cottage, an essential thing for many Finns), so at a time when technological advances weren't so common yet, it's easy to believe how the mysteries of the wilderness might have inspired these stories, but the stories reveal certain things about the societies of that time as well.
Nobility and obedience are revered, so those who desecrate the dead, or who selfishly don't offer food and a place to stay for a wanderer, are punished. When the dead ask favors, those who are brave to do the task (all of course always are) don't ask any reward. Usually they just want to know their time of death, and soon they'll discover they won't be able to escape their fate, just like in a Greek tragedy. Needless to say, murder and specifically infanticide are frowned upon. In the latter, only women are involved and they're severely punished, usually in the form of an apparition that acts as a kind of torturing conscience. In one of these cases, a maid is justly scared of giving birth, and because of that she refuses to get married. On her deathbead at a later age his would-be sons appear as ghosts and she dies feeling agonizing guilt. No mercy for old maids, eh?
Two of my favorite story variants were included (they're also the most common and well-known, so I'd have been surprised if they hadn't been here):
1) The urban legend of giving a ride to a dead person (you know, the one where a hitchhiker or something similar sits quietly on the back seat, then disappears, and is revealed to have died sometime before) exists here as a person who wants to get into a sleigh, and is then revealed, for example, to be the dead fiancée who wanted to keep his promise he had made to his bride (can also be considered a variation of Lenore).
2) Kirkkoväki ('the church people') are living dead who (usually during Christmas night) rise from their graves and participate in a church service led by a dead priest. They're not malicious, but the living are advised to leave them alone.
Most of the stories are from Southwest Finland (where I live), and they spread to Finland from central Europe via Sweden, and mixed with Finno-Ugric folklore (most influences, like changes in food culture and fashion, spread through Sweden). For that reason, there are phenomena that are recognizable in many cultures, like ghost ships and poltergeists.
On the other hand, a few things were completely new to me and which I found particularly interesting. If you went to sauna too late on a Saturday night, there was a chance you'd end up being skinned by the Devil (and not by the charming dark stranger from the Lucifer TV show, but by something more primeval and mysterious). In 99 percent of the stories, the events are recounted without any gruesome details, but in these sauna stories there's a lot of horror material with the skin hanging in the sauna and everything (for that reason I've put this in the horror shelf, because although not all the supernatural phenomena here feel scary, a lot of the stories have a creepy nightmarish quality to them). Likewise in the very Tales from the Crypt-esque story about a young woman who promises to wait her fiancée from the war, but marries another man, and the fiancée appears in the middle of the wedding festivities with his skinless skull full of maggots and snakes.
Sometimes the dead were falsely thought to be such, which reminded me of the Victorian fears of premature burial. No bells on Finnish graves, though, because the people managed to wake before being buried. During the Russian occupation (the timme of 'isoviha' in Finnish, 'great hate'), some villages decided to protect their church bells by sinking them into a lake. As far as I can remember, churches were considered as the centers of the communities, but I don't know why the bells in particular were so important.
The stories aren't devoid of humour, though. On a Good Friday night, two women sit on a roof with a hymn book, and they are warned not to speak no matter what happens. Well, then a shitting pig walks along the road, and a woman walks behind it and eats the shit with a spoon. A brave gravedigger decides to melt a frozen body by sticking it into an oven. Not surprisingly, it turns brown, and then suddenly it has moved from a place it has stood and the annoyed gravedigger sinks it into a lake and is prosecuted. If you anger a household gnome, it might take a dump in your porridge. If the socks of a corpse (corpses used to be stored in a shed before the burial) are full of holes in the morning, it's been dancing with the other dead during the night. A story of two maids culminates in the other's severed head rolling around the execution site and grabbing the skirt of the other maid, revealing the true identity of a child killer and shouting as it goes: "Oh my, poor Laara, what did you do to me!". A dead fiancée is so mad at his bride for grieving him, that he returns and threatens to twist her neck if she doesn't stop crying. Rude. A whole book has been written about old obscene Finnish poems, but here only one story hints at that direction: a wanderer hangs out at a wedding uninvited, and when a young lady refuses to come dancing with him, a cuckoo starts to call from under her skirt, no matter how hard she tries to push her thighs together.
All in all, the stories must have provided entertainment as much as causes for traumatic nightmares, as they were told by the fire during dark evenings, like the one where you're supposed to scare the person sitting next to you by shouting at the end and grabbing him from the hand. The desire to explain mysterious and unknown things caused people to come up with believable explanations, but I think in part the purpose of some of the stories was also to guide people in the right moral direction (don't kill, have babies so that they can take care of your legacy etc.). It's a world that will never come back, so we have to be grateful that the general public courteously complied to send all these stories to be collected for future generations. We also have Erkki Tuomi to thank for bringing the stories to life with the gorgeous illustrations....more
One of those Christie stories I've seen as a (quality!) TV movie, but as per usual, I'd already forgotten the murderer. What I do remember from the moOne of those Christie stories I've seen as a (quality!) TV movie, but as per usual, I'd already forgotten the murderer. What I do remember from the movie is the suspense. I didn't get that much here, except maybe at the end. The story started in a kind of humouristic tone with the prickly but gentle descriptions of the characters, but then that subsided and the atmosphere changed into a more flat and slightly boring middle part, gathering pace when more murders started occurring. Mitzi's presence as a goofy and crazy foreigner started to get old really fast and kind of irksome and out of place, although there was briefly some potential to deal with the post-war trust issues.
The mystery itself was still great overall (albeit a bit heavy-handed and repetitious with the clues towards the end), and the second half gradually amped up the volume, making me stay up way too late and just run through the last 80 or so pages. Confusion and making things seems different than they actually are my favourite things in mysteries. What really impressed me was the identity of the murderer, though. I had a pale inkling about how things would turn out, but the way the revelation was actually handled was skillful and completely convincing. It's not easy to make a murderer like that to seem an almost pitiful lost cause who could have easily turned out differently, while at the same time also appearing to be an obvious nutcase. It's not the first time either that I've noticed Christie's acuity when it comes to human behaviour and character....more
London is enveloped by an almost apocalyptic smog that obscures everything, both physically and figuratively speaking. A murderer is wandering the strLondon is enveloped by an almost apocalyptic smog that obscures everything, both physically and figuratively speaking. A murderer is wandering the streets, searching for a way to a treasure. Albert Campion is called to help on the case, but he doesn't really do much detective work, appearing instead as a distant character mostly hovering in the background. Misleading, because the series is supposed to contain Albert Campion mysteries. Campion isn't even his real name! Allingham does a lot of dwelling with the characters' personalities and their behaviour and whatnot, but the actual crime solving is left on the sidelines, whereas psychological ponderings take up a lot of space.
I ended up feeling conflicted about the whole book, because Allingham is wonderful at describing London and the effect of the smog. The side characters obsessed with the treasure are bizarre, in a good way. My expectations just didn't click with what I got in the end, and one would have hoped the meditations on philosophical and theological issues had been more integrated into the actual story. Now they seemed disconnected, made reading a bit sticky, and stretched the plot unnecessarily (or more like halted it completely). On the other hand, Campion didn't seem to have a purpose in the story, so he could have been left out entirely without it affecting in any way to anything.
However, despite the poor pacing etc., the gloomy atmosphere and the fascinating ending won me over, so I'll continue with the series. Maybe start from the beginning to see if the novels are any different there, or if Campion is introduced more comprehensively....more
Noir. I can always trust it when I feel like reading something where it's guaranteed that things go horribly wrong or someone goes apeshit. Williams hNoir. I can always trust it when I feel like reading something where it's guaranteed that things go horribly wrong or someone goes apeshit. Williams has been an unknown to me until now, but if this really isn't his strongest novels, I'm going to be in paradise later.
A Touch of Death smells like fear, sweat, powder, lipstick, and sex, and it's the colour of sharp scissors in the evening light. Williams's prose is to the point, yet a sizzling atmosphere of passion and suppressed rage are looming somewhere beneath. The plot is unarguably drawn out and as a mere framework not that interesting. However, it sticks with you regardless like a piece of chewing gum. Scarborough seems like a sleepwalker at times, and although he understands the woman in the bikini is trouble, he's unable to turn away. Just like in a nightmare. The final scene in the car is the hottest thing I've read in a while, and the ending is like a slap in the face, although you always knew what would happen. How can anything be ice cold and burning hot at the same time?...more
Like so many other kids, I was first introduced to the spotted dogs when I saw the Disney movie. Thinking about it now, I think part of the reason whyLike so many other kids, I was first introduced to the spotted dogs when I saw the Disney movie. Thinking about it now, I think part of the reason why I liked it and The AristoCats (1970) was the animation style. The sketch-like style achieved with the cheaper Xerography technique made them slightly rugged, and the only contemporary animated films I've seen that have the same tone are the ones by Sylvain Chomet. Being a cat person, I don't think I ever cherished the 101 Dalmatians (1961) as much as I did The AristoCats, but I wanted to see if the novel has the same charm than the worn out VHS tape we used to have.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is indeed charming and cute, but without underestimating the reader. The Dearly family on a walk with their cook and butler in tow, the infamous Cruella de Vil who was expelled from school for drinking ink now covers everything with pepper and loves fire, Jasper and Saul whose favourite tv show is What's My Crime? and dream of being contestants in it (a parody of the charming What's My Line, which I really recommend checking out from Youtube if you're into game shows and pre-70s celebrities), all the dogs with different personalities etc.
The Dearly family might seem too perfect and syrupy at first, but in the end they come across as very genuine and lovely people (and dogs). Cruella is an over the top caricature-like villain in all her diabolicalness, but somehow it works. I suspect children would find her funny instead of too scary, despite the fact that she's extremely evil. The inner lives of the dogs show themselves as mysterious for the people in the book, but the reader gets to know all the secrets and root for Pongo and his rescue operation. You know everything will turn out alright for them, but you never know who they meet next. The little boy represents all those who are scared of the unknown: he's bad only because he has never known any dogs. It's easy to be dismissive of those who aren't part of your life.
On the other hand, when read with adult eyes there seems to be a stance about domesticity that some may take issue with. Missis Pongo is gentle and motherly but a real dimwit (not knowing the difference between left and right even after an explanation is a source of great amusement for the characters etc.). Cruella is glamorous but evil and a rotten housewife. The comparison is noticeable, but I don't think it poses a big problem, especially when you consider how Mr. Dearly takes care of the puppies and the determination Missis has to find her puppies. There are actually several points where it could be argued that Smith went into the opposite direction than what might be assumed from the publication year.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is heartwarming and quirky, but it didn't quite win my heart. It doesn't have the edge I'm looking for in children's literature, and I just can't make myself to be interested in the adventures of animals (despite being a huge animal lover; a personal zoo would be nice). A lovely light read for a summer day, though, and the different dog personalities are somewhat amusing. The touching ghost dog scene is also particularly noteworthy, and the one where the dogs wander into a church, because it makes you think about Cruella de Vil from an entirely new angle. So there's a lot that speaks for the novel, but it still failed to reach me completely. If Smith has the same approach and writing style in I Capture the Castle (1948), though, then I'll look forward to reading it....more