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
Rossetti's paintings are out of this world. In his poetry he goes even further by describing intimate relationships. The sensuality was beautiful andRossetti's paintings are out of this world. In his poetry he goes even further by describing intimate relationships. The sensuality was beautiful and it's easy to understand why the poems were controversial (a couple falls asleep after sex etc.), but in the end the purpleness and the excessive praise for love and beauty proved to be too much. Even in small doses....more
The ending stops you right where you are, and it feels exactly like a sudden flash of light after you've been sitting in the dark. Greene conveys theThe ending stops you right where you are, and it feels exactly like a sudden flash of light after you've been sitting in the dark. Greene conveys the atmosphere very effectively and the fear of the dark is palpable. It's amazing what is achieved with so few words. All short stories should be like this, and more importantly, all those who hate short stories should find stories like these to understand their appeal....more
I'm going to London in August (a girls' trip with mom; lots of pubs and food is expected), so I figured it would be fun to read a pile of books that aI'm going to London in August (a girls' trip with mom; lots of pubs and food is expected), so I figured it would be fun to read a pile of books that are about or set in the city. Advance travelling so to speak. It's something that I've never done before, and should get me even more excited about the trip.
My first choice turned out to be not so great, though. Five Hundred Buildings of London is not bad by any means, but for me it was just very uninspiring. The cropping of some of the photos is not always so great, and colour photos would have made the architectural details pop out, but now the buildings look very muted and boring. The structure's a bit off as well: if I wanted to find out more about a building, I had to flip back and forth between that page and the index at the end. That said, there are some interesting and fun tidbits, and some buildings I really want to see some day (like the pink Gothic building!). Overall, though, I wouldn't go out of my way to try and find the book....more
My only reason for picking this up was, of course, Joseph (here named John) 'Elephant Man' Merrick. I first became aware of him when I saw the heartbrMy only reason for picking this up was, of course, Joseph (here named John) 'Elephant Man' Merrick. I first became aware of him when I saw the heartbreaking Lynch movie, so naturally I couldn't miss a first-hand account from the doctor who took care of him. I didn't expect, however, the writing to be so vivid and engaging. I was fully prepared for dry-ish essays which would perhaps include a lot of medical details, but instead they are almost in a form of a short story.
There are twelve essays altogether. Treves mostly recounts his experiences with different patients and occasionally starts musing about varied things. Like with most collections, not all of the writings managed to keep me interested, but the overall quality was great.
The Receiving Room describes the age in the mid-19th century before ambulance service. The image is powerful: people who accompany the wounded move like a wave towards the London Hospital and have to be stopped by the porter, two drunken and brawling women covered in blood, one efficient nurse who can handle all kinds of things also likes swigs of gin now and then but is always extremely professional. The unhygienic conditions and the prevalence of sepsis make you grateful of the efforts of the 21st century.
A Cure for Nerves is the story of a woman in her own words, a woman whose situation was much too common back in the day. She is a neurotic woman. Her husband is unsympathetic. He claims her ailments are imaginary and that the illness is a grievance to himself. He's sick of her moanings, and that she's perfectly fine because he is fine (what a load of horseshit logic). All she has to do is pull herself together! He also humiliates her in front of their friends, so he's just an all-round perfect spouse. When she visits a doctor and later remembers the letter that he wrote to recommend her as a patient to another, she finds that in the letter the doctor completely undermines her. The beginning is incredibly depressing but eventually the woman is forced to face her fears and miraculously gets better. Not sure how I feel about that, but an interesting piece nevertheless.
Two Women continues with the sombre mood when Treves examines the traits of her female patients. One of them is a suburban woman who keeps her breast cancer a secret as long as she can to save her husband from grief. The other one is a Whitechapel woman, whose drunk husband beats her (but not much, because then she obviously wouldn't be able to earn a living and support her family). The husband ends up torching his wife during a heated argument, and just before she dies she claims it was an accident.
Now that I'm writing my review a couple of days after finishing the collection, I realize that there's a lot of sadness running through it. There is hope too, like when a patient recovers and personally comes to thank Treves for saving his life, but the melancholy that comes from death, injuries, and broken hearts can't be ignored.
A few times Treves goes into another direction entirely. For example, in one essay he describes a nightmare he once had in India (which reads like a proper horror story), and in another one he discusses the topic of afterlife and apparitions, and makes notes of astronomer Camille Flammarion's article "At the Moment of Death". It appears that Treves didn't believe in the supernatural, but instead leans towards thinking that apparitions don't appear to people that are healthy mentally and physically. He does admit, though, that a negative experience (not seeing anything that would confirm Flammarion's claims) is not an argument. He just simply hasn't seen anything yet.
Despite liking the other essays as well, the one I will remember forever is obviously The Elephant Man. Treves's attitude felt off-putting at first, since he doesn't shy away from constantly poking at Merrick's deformities, calling him "the most disgusting specimen of humanity" he had ever seen and "a perverted object". It's understandable that someone like Merrick might provoke a reaction of some kind from others, but it was uncomfortable to read it from Treves. The tone did change later, when Treves realized Merrick was actually a lot smarter than he seemed.
Never in all his life had Merrick anyone to talk to, but he longed for conversations. He also became an avid reader and ended up loving romances the most (he understood the type of Treves's house in the context of Jane Austen'sEmma). The one thing everyone should know about Joseph Merrick, though, is his child-like adoration of things that were taken for granted by others. He went into the theatre and treated everything he saw as something that belonged to the real world, and enjoyed everything he did very deeply. He burst into tears when he met the first woman who had ever smiled to him and shaken his hand.
There is undoubtedly embellishment in all of Treves's essays, and in The Elephant Man he makes it seem like Merrick was a prison of sorts in the Mile End shop, when in fact Merrick himself proposed the owner that he should be exhibited. Still, the core of the story is inspiring. Merrick was taken care of for the rest of his life (thanks to an abundance of donations from the public) and he learned to function in the society. It's unclear what people really thought about him (whether he was still considered an oddity or even a pet), but he seemed to enjoy himself.
His last wish was to see the countryside. The image of him sitting on a field in the sun and gathering violets... That will always be how I'll remember him.
"It would be reasonable to surmise that he would become a spiteful and malignant misanthrope, swollen with venom and filled with hatred of his fellow-men, or, on the other hand, that he would degenerate into a despairing melancholic on the verge of idiocy. Merrick, however, was no such being. He had passed through the fire and had come out unscathed. His troubles had ennobled him. He showed himself to be a gentle, affectionate and lovable creature, as amiable as a happy woman, free from any trace of cynicism or resentment, without a grievance and without an unkind word for anyone. I have never heard him complain. I have never heard him deplore his ruined life or resent the treatment he had received at the hands of callous keepers."...more
Poetry is a funny thing. I don't read a lot of it, and most of the time it remains elusive and hidden from all understanding. I have had better luck rPoetry is a funny thing. I don't read a lot of it, and most of the time it remains elusive and hidden from all understanding. I have had better luck recently, and clearly when a poem hits me, it hits me hard.
Coleridge. The language (which, admittedly, takes a bit of effort) has a rhythm that swallows you into the depth of the rumbling sea and covers you with the smell of salt. It sweeps you off your feet and makes you feel the weight of the albatross around your neck. The melody dances with the sea creatures and good spirits. When the sailors rise, it's time to go home, but the eeriness of the moment promises no happy ending. A ghost ship drenched in a slimy pale green colour is what I envisioned. A little too well for a 2am reading session.
What about the meaning of this all then? There are some obvious interpretations (one of them could not be spelled out more clearly at the end), and which one you choose might depend the most on what the poem makes you feel. I'd personally leave out the "albatross represents Christ" -thing altogether, because it ignores the overwhelming presence of nature.
I guess the conclusion we can draw from this is that I tend to be awestruck by poetry that moves me with its use of language and imagery, instead of being overly closed by metaphors and such....more
A beautiful and decadent Russian princess with a scandalous past, a fog that engulfs everything, a murder, an explorer believed to have died in AfricaA beautiful and decadent Russian princess with a scandalous past, a fog that engulfs everything, a murder, an explorer believed to have died in Africa returns to London... There's basically everything you need for a fun tale of mystery. The plot seems simple at first, but at the end there's a twist, and even after the conclusion the story spins once more. The first chapter's description of being lost in a fog is great, slightly oppressive, which alone would elevate the story even if the mystery itself wasn't good. A great bedtime story, actually....more
The disappointment... I understand the point of the story. The exploration of Victorian double standards etc. The descriptions of the countryside areThe disappointment... I understand the point of the story. The exploration of Victorian double standards etc. The descriptions of the countryside are nice, but nothing spectacular. The ambiguity of some scenes have almost a mystical quality, and I always appreciate subtlety.
However, the way Hardy deals with the character of Tess is uncomfortable. He has an obsession with Tess's beauty (describes her looks far too often; we get it, she has a lovely face) and makes the point of women being the fairer and more noble sex several times.
Hardy's way of examining the Victorian mores and fatalism through a female martyr is off-putting. He uses Tess as a mere tool, and doing so he fails to make her a convincing and compelling character. She carries her guilt through her entire life, but it's just all too much. Hardy hits you in the head over and over again with misery, so instead of feeling depressed or sorry for Tess I couldn't care less about anything that happened.
Wuthering Heights is full of darkness, but at least it's executed more smoothly and atmospherically. Tess is just kicked around and she ends up shedding all her character, becoming almost a caricature. She's the ultimate pure woman of the 19th century, but Hardy seems to enjoy a bit too much showing us the purity. Tess drags herself from one event to the other, but never did I feel the actual connection between her and what Hardy was trying to say.
Everything about this book is obvious, heavy-handed, and contrived. I never shy away from depressing stuff, but when a message is jammed down my throat (often at the expense of the characters) I become strongly averse to the whole story. The same happened with 1984. Nor am I the kind of person who rates a book low because I don't like the characters. Hardy tries to build a halo around Tess and treats the story as a fatalistic string of tragic events, so Tess is not really unlikeable but very hollow. I don't dislike her per se, but instead I dislike how she's fleshed out.
I can just imagine Hardy sitting at his table and thinking: "Alrighty then, let's make this as glum as possible, so even the dumbest ones will see the shitty situation of women in my time".
Fortunately, there's one thing that I can take from this: sexual encounters still mean different things with men and women. There are still far too many who uphold these double standards. There's for example a certain type of man who sleeps around until he can find the perfect woman to be his wife. At the same time he claims that the women he hooks up with in bars are just promiscuous dummies and good for nothing but one night stands (even though they have no idea how many partners the women have had), and his future wife should be pure and innocent without a huge sexual past (but it's ok for a man to have one). Ah, the good ol' madonna-whore dichotomy!
You have to be blind if you don't see the relevance of Tess with modern society....more
Evokes gothic atmosphere maybe with three sentences overall (the first chapter is alright). Varney's interesting in theory, as he's a sympathetic vampEvokes gothic atmosphere maybe with three sentences overall (the first chapter is alright). Varney's interesting in theory, as he's a sympathetic vampire and by far the only character who actually has a soul (ha!). The others are like cardboard cutouts. Not that there seems to be any logic to the story itself, anyway. Rymer either forgot every once in a while what his book was about, or he was so broke that he absolutely had to bloat the text by every means necessary, including ministories here and there that have no bearing on the story whatsoever. A hack writer if there ever was one. Or maybe he just stopped giving a flying fuck.
Would I pay a penny for each installment? Hell no. I knew this would be bad, being a penny dreadful and all, but I didn't expect an exhausting bore. So much so, that it wasn't even funny anymore....more
The mentor of Lewis Carroll, and revered by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien among others, the severe-looking Scottish author clearly had a knack forThe mentor of Lewis Carroll, and revered by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien among others, the severe-looking Scottish author clearly had a knack for creating magical things. Very few authors have said that they don't write for children, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five". The Princess and the Goblin is a fully-fledged children's fantasy novel, however, but also much more than a story of rescuing the princess and the kingdom.
Eight-year-old princess Irene lives a very sheltered life in a castle with her nursemaid Lootie and other servants. She has an abundance of toys, but there are so many that they don't satisfy her anymore. Instead she grows frustrated and runs around exploring the castle, eventually finding a mysterious room with an old lady who claims to be her grandmother. Irene also finds out that she has never been told about the goblins who live underground, and who are now plotting against the kingdom.
In a way this feels like a simple fairy tale, but a very bloated one. The straightforward plot is dragged out way too much, leading to a flat and anticlimactic ending. The sense of magic and the possibility to read between lines kept me going even when the text level itself was a letdown. Goblins are always interesting creatures, and here they have an interesting background story. The grandmother represents a more divine power. She is there to guide Irene and is connected to the concept of belief. What to do when you believe in something but others have a hard time doing the same? Some would say this hints at MacDonald's efforts to weave a Christian allegory to the story, but belief isn't exclusive to religion.
MacDonald also deals with transcending your outward place in the world by learning how to become a person who deserves respect. Early on, we learn that a real princess doesn't tell a lie, isn't rude and does what she is told. Being a good girl is a much bigger thing than being a princess, than having a superficial title. When Irene is playing with miner's children despite her status, the reader is reminded that "the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble towards them".
Like in many children's homes even today, the nursemaid Lootie acts as both parents. Irene's mother is dead and her father travels for months on end around his kingdom. Whenever he comes back he is shown as a noble figure, and is almost put on a pedestal by Irene. The king loves his daughter and is moved to tears from the mention of his late wife, but I found it interesting that for most of the time he stays as an absent father, while the story focuses on Irene taking control of her seclusion and saving the kingdom.
Irene indeed shows herself to be a different kind of princess. With the help of a miner boy named Curdie, she is an active agent who, with the encouragement of her grandmother, finds courage and honour in herself. She's the one who follows a thread given to her by the grandmother, and saves Curdie from a cave by clearing away a heap of stones. It's admirable that MacDonald doesn't reduce her to a damsel in distress, but gives her the chance to develop and grow.
"[']We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary.' 'What is that, grandmother?' 'To understand other people.' 'Yes, grandmother. I must be fair - for if I'm not fair to other people, I'm not worth being understood myself.[']"
PS. The cover of this Hesperus Press edition is gorgeous!...more
Combining fairy tale and etiological myth, this story of the Victorian art critic Ruskin has familiar motifs found in fairy tales (the number three, bCombining fairy tale and etiological myth, this story of the Victorian art critic Ruskin has familiar motifs found in fairy tales (the number three, bad siblings vs. good siblings, a quest, goodness is rewarded and selfishness is punished), and it apparently worked for contemporary audience, because the story sold out three editions and became an instant classic.
I didn't find the story particularly interesting. Under all the flowery prose the plot is quite simple, and reminds me of fairy tales of lesser quality I've been reading lately. I don't see the kind of charm and magic that would make this memorable, even though there's nothing atrociously bad either. To be fair, Ruskin wrote this for his future wife and never intended this to be published, but maybe his friends wanted his work to be known, who knows....more
Mouth-wateringly beautiful (as are the illustrations by Arthur Rackham), the verses aren't drowned in overly obscure metaphors, but they form a crispMouth-wateringly beautiful (as are the illustrations by Arthur Rackham), the verses aren't drowned in overly obscure metaphors, but they form a crisp narrative allegory about temptation and whatnot. Magical and subtle enough that it's suitable for children, but no adult can ignore the sensuality (juice sucking and so on). Laura is taken advantage of, and the hideous goblins are not interested in already spoiled maidens (and when their advances are rebuffed, they become furious and abusive), but luckily there is a chance to get redeemed. Or not, depends how you interpret the whole thing, since there seems to be as much different themes as there are readers. Sex, drug addiction, social redemption, incest, sisterhood etc.
"Pricking up her golden head: 'We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?'"
Yeah, you never know where those goblins have dipped their fruits in....more
On the outside, the Radleys are a normal middle-class family. Parents Peter and Helen struggle with their marriage that has started to taste like cardOn the outside, the Radleys are a normal middle-class family. Parents Peter and Helen struggle with their marriage that has started to taste like cardboard, and their children Rowan and Clara struggle with teenage problems in a small town community. The kind of small town I personally have experience from: growing older, you start to escape from it in different ways, until you realize buses and internet connections are in danger of diluting your life into a half existence. You can never come and go as you please, because the bus connections are scarce, but you can't spend the rest of your life lying in bed reading books either, and certainly not spending time in town events (if there are any, usually there aren't) with small-minded and gossipy people.
"Drinking wine is just another thing designed to make them feel like normal human beings, when really it only proves the opposite. Helen insists they drink it for the taste, but he’s not even sure he likes the taste."
Behind the ordinary facade, however, Peter and Helen are harbouring a secret. They are vampires, but the children don't know yet. Until a tragedy occurs. The bland existence of the Radleys can never be the same again. Blood is passion, truth, temptation, excitement, and everything what the Radleys are trying to suffocate in themselves. When the urges begin to surface, Peter remembers the old days with Helen and his brother Will. The wild blood red days of night club lights and recklessness. As a contrast, the scene where Peter and Helen dine with their neighbours appears as hilarious. Mark rambles on and on about his job, Lorna's playing footsie with Peter, and Helen is completely off planet Earth. None of them truly happy.
The demented Will is of course a bad influence, but he does manage to break the bubble the Radleys have built for themselves. The masks of quiet respectability have only managed to hide the ripples, and Haig's subtle approach to violence only emphasizes the problems that the characters are facing. I wasn't particularly interested in what was happening with the kids, nor was I that enthusiastic about the love thingy, but the way blood and vampirism were mixed with family life was intriguing and satisfying. For me, the excitement was whether the Radleys would find the balance between living in hiding and being true to themselves. After all, loosening up a bit never hurt anyone, but suppression only makes way for an explosion.
Very different than the gritty vampires I usually prefer, but I'm glad I gave this a chance. Despite being a fairly light read (at least for me), Haig packs a lot of hefty stuff between the lines and never underestimates his readers. If you want to know why I hate self-help books, read The Radleys.
"Confine your imagination. Do not lose yourself to dangerous daydreams. Do not sit and ponder and dwell on a life you are not living. Do something active. Exercise. Work harder. Answer your emails. Fill your diary with harmless social activities. By doing, we stop ourselves imagining. And imagining for us is a fast-moving car heading towards a cliff.
The Abstainer’s Handbook (second edition), p.83"...more
An interesting scientific approach that reminds me of Ghost Hunters and other modern day investigators, but there's a lot of referring to things thatAn interesting scientific approach that reminds me of Ghost Hunters and other modern day investigators, but there's a lot of referring to things that are never explained further, and the stories have very little variety case-wise. Carnacki goes to investigate, constructs a system of defence against the supernatural forces, and then either the supernatural force is vanquished or the whole thing is revealed to be a hoax.
It's all so formulaic that it makes me think whether Carnacki (who's an exceptionally one-dimensional character) is eventually going to die of boredom because of his job. In The House Among the Laurels the atmosphere is briefly intense when the manifestation starts to come to life, but only briefly. The writing itself reminds me of Lovecraft, and that ain't a compliment when it comes from me. Frustratingly vague and flat....more
Based on the illustrations I've seen, Little Hands Clapping is very Edward Gorey-esque in spirit. Not particularly sick, just macabre and definitely nBased on the illustrations I've seen, Little Hands Clapping is very Edward Gorey-esque in spirit. Not particularly sick, just macabre and definitely not something that should be labelled as horror. Dark humour is a tricky thing, but for the most part Rhodes succeeds in making the museum a comical place without it seeming crass or tacky. The ridiculous reason the doctor had for doing what he did somehow made perfect sense in Rhodes's universe, where even the most respectable pillars of a small community can harbour dark secrets (the kind that are more than mere "I had an affair with the plumber" -sort). The premise reminded me of a couple of urban legends, like (view spoiler)[the one where a butcher makes people into minced meat (although it's slightly more disgusting, because at least the doctor ate the meat himself instead of offering it to others) (hide spoiler)].
Some would say Rhodes pushed it a bit too far, some would probably need even more pushing, but I thought it was just enough for a surprisingly light-hearted feat like this. Then again, there were moments of seriousness that didn't exactly give a deadly blow to the story, but at least stunned it. It was like being at a wedding where someone tells you their cat died the day before. Awkard. There were hints that Rhodes wanted to say something profound about death, but the purpose of the novel just wasn't clear enough to say anything for sure.
Which brings me to the main problem I had. There are plenty of characters whose lives are saturated with death, but other than that the threads don't connect to the main story strongly enough, not to mention that the story about the Portuguese lovers is completely uninteresting. The narrative dashes to all kinds of directions and breaks the chronology, making the novel unfocused, bloated, and slightly ADHD. I would have been more than happy if there had been just the storyline with the curator and the doctor. The misinformed view on depression and suicide (cheer up, think happy thoughts, someone always has it worse than you) also bothered me a bit more than is perhaps necessary, because the story obviously relies more on fairy tale morality than reality.
That said, someone needs to make this into a stop-motion film, preferably something in the vein of Mary and Max (2009).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more