I actually picked up a signed copy at a local shop when Gaiman and I were both living in Minnesota. I've read a lot of Gaiman, and while appreciate th...moreI actually picked up a signed copy at a local shop when Gaiman and I were both living in Minnesota. I've read a lot of Gaiman, and while appreciate that he is always a conscious, active writer, his stories sometimes fall flat for me.
They always work on the principle of a small person trapped in a large, unknown world. There are plenty of great examples of this story type, and Gaiman has been steadily working through them. He took inspiration from Fairy Tales in Stardust, from European myth in American Gods, and African myth in Anansi Boys. Though Morpheus was no small man, the individual story arcs dealt with normal folks. Sandman and Good Omens worked off of Christian mythos, while Neverwhere created myths from modern symbols.
If Neverwhere is a rewrite of Alice in Wonderland, Coraline is in some ways an even closer take on Carroll, except that here, Gaiman is exploring a more overtly frightening world, evoking Gothic ghost stories. Unlike his other stories, Gaiman has less to draw on here. He is not bringing in specific myths, but rather creating his own symbols. Since he is not bringing in the many and varied elements that mark most of his tales, Coraline sets a much barer stage.
When he does bring in mythological elements, he always put his own spin on them, so he cannot be faulted for a lack of creative force. Indeed, he is at his most engaging when he is exploring and subverting various world mythologies, of which he is well-versed.
Even in the less mythologized Neverwhere, he drew on the visual imagery and history of London itself, a great city which traces its roots from before Rome, and is not without its own legends. By eschewing any particular tradition in Coraline, Gaiman has little to play with. He has nothing to subvert, nothing to vaguely reference. He cannot play upon our expectations.
All this tracks back to the reason that Gaiman explores these mythologies in the first place: his interest in writing about storytelling itself. Each time he writes, he places himself in a tradition, recognizing how the ancients used myth and symbol to create stories that instruct, inspire, and surprise.
Coraline does not explore its own origins. It does not display the genre savvy play of Gaiman's other work. It is not an exploration of the ghost story, nor of 'Through the Looking-Glass'. It is not a deconstruction of the Gothic.
It is a simple little tale, and not without its charm. I found little frightening about it, simply because there was little that was either unexpected or psychologically gripping. The most interesting element was the way he played with how we learn about identity.
There is a point in childhood when we suspect that there us something that makes up identity beyond simply the appearance or form. The idea that a parent or friend could be replaced by a doppelganger is inherently terrifying. However, Gaiman does not produce a new twist on doppelgangers or changelings.
Neither did the portrayal utilize surprise or subtlety to develop an unsettling mood. Rather, he presented overtly frightening or alien elements, bolstered then character reaction.
But it's not frightening to simply show scary things. Hearing a strange noise in the woods is not the same as being told that a character hears a strange noise in the woods. It only becomes frightening when the vividness of the description or the realism of the character's psychology allows us to tap into that sense of fear.
This little story could have made a passable entry in a horror story collection, but is not original enough to stand on its own. I found this rather odd, since Gaiman is entirely capable of creating frightening stories, as evidenced by the fairy tale rewrite 'Snow, Glass, Apples' (from 'Smoke and Mirrors').
He has been frightening, disturbing, and unusual elsewhere, but here, I found little to speak of his creative flair.(less)
This fanciful retelling of "The Land that Time Forgot" would just be a passable (if fun) story if not for Gurney's rather lovely artwork. His imaginin...moreThis fanciful retelling of "The Land that Time Forgot" would just be a passable (if fun) story if not for Gurney's rather lovely artwork. His imagining of his new and strange world carries a depth and weight that, to be trite, truly transports you there--but then, that's what he built his career on.
A competent draughtsman who plied his imagining of ancient Egyptian rituals and architectural recreations in the pages of National Geographic, Gurney's style evokes the travelogue of a naturalist (which is, happily enough, his story's frame), so that the sometimes indulgent fantasy or unremarkable characterization mostly comes off as an occasionally unlikely (or overly likely) world.
This isn't to say that his art is always wholly successful--there are rough patches here and there, especially when his sartorial and tonsorial choices cause his characters to resemble late 60's hippies. It reminds me of the way that one can always tell when a period film was made because the costuming is always viewed through the lens of modern fashion, so that 70's Shakespeare is all wide lapels and feathered bangs, which the 80's trades in for mullets and angular silhouettes.
Portrayed as a travelogue of a shipwreck survivor on the island of Dinotopia, Gurney successfully captures the feel of early century sci-fi tales which even today seem only just beyond the realm of possibility. It seems that the only area positively affected by a little scientific naivete is that of the visionary futurist. Of course, it was not as difficult for Gurney to look back and imitate this method than it was for the original Victorian authors to create it, though it is not a very familiar style for modern readers, anyway.
Perhaps the greatest gift of Gurney's as a combined author/illustrator is that he lets you forget what you know and allows you to believe in what he has created.(less)
Much more heartfelt than your usual constructed new age mysticism, but still falls to false separations and idealism. This is achieved by the inclusio...moreMuch more heartfelt than your usual constructed new age mysticism, but still falls to false separations and idealism. This is achieved by the inclusion of representational figures which do not stand in allegorically, but rather conceptually, and hence become not pure symbols but a set of tools for the construction of different philosophical scenarios.
The book also presents the requisite complexity needed for a holistic view of emotions and interaction, but falls to the very French fault of the author (or author surrogate) declaring themselves entirely correct about points which warrant more discussion and thought.
There is a fine line here between using such a representation to further thought by confrontation and trying to quiet it with thought terminating cliches. The reader may decide for themselves when Saint-Exupary crosses from one to the other.
It is unfortunate that a staple of children's literature is the stalwart declaration of comforting half-truths, but this is not uncommon even in adult books. Most New Age and Self-Help works are simply an extension of this to the (ostensibly) adult mind.
Unlike those myths of self-justification, the Little Prince occasionally presents some sense of wonder and mystery that overcomes the otherwise simple message. Its no Carroll, but there are times that it approaches that level of surrealism that opens a child's mind to something heretofore unimaginable.
Yet it is overall too self-satisfied with its message of naive wonder and reassuring but empty 'specialness'.(less)
I can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically labo...moreI can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically laborious definition of 'idiomatic' (if not merely 'eccentric'), Peake is more than simply Gormenghast.
There is his art, his (somewhat abortive) poetic career, and his minimal forays into drama, adventure, war reporting--and here, light farce. Published the same year as Lucky Jim, Peake provides us with another English vision of strange and liminal folk,--except his island is not the metaphorical isolation of academia, but the literal geography of Sark, where Peake relocated his family after The War.
Unlike Amis, Peake's satire falls much more broadly, often striking his protagonist as readily as any other target. As with his Titus books, there is a restlessness inherent in the fact that Peake never turns his hand, and so the reader is always left looking for purpose and direction. Just when you think you've pegged him, Peake tends to swerve.
The book meanders ridiculously, taking its time to arrive at the conflict. Until we reach the driving theme, the book is somewhat slow-going. It does not proceed ponderously, like the Titus books, but there is a measured pace which requires that the reader take the time to let things unfold.
In theme, it roughly resembles Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, which so shook up American religion twenty years before. Like Gantry, Pye is our swell-headed yet carnivorously charming proselytizer and self-promoter, but trades big-top evangelism for the good old C of E, and so his religious notions take a more chummy, upright bent.
While Lewis contents himself with exposing the ungainly, cruel man behind the pulpit quacksalver, Peake paints no such plain indictment. Peake lampoons not only his self-righteous hero, nor just religion, but the very physical and spiritual life at the root of any discussion of belief (or the lack thereof).
Peake doesn't fall hard on one side or the other, but gives us equally wonderful and absurd arguments for (and against) both at once. A reader looking to be instructed or justified will spend all of their time searching. Peake makes it clear that he doesn't have the answers, but he does provide a good number of questions, and each is arm-in-arm with chortles.
There is no preachy author surrogate here, nor the comeuppance of a fable. Yet this lack of direction sometimes injures the work. While Gormenghast moves about these difficult questions slowly, giving a reader a clear view before drifting on grandly, Pye alights quickly and then it's on to the next. There is little evidence of Peake's mastery of language and style, though a keen eye will see 'Pye' as a sleek and straightforward counterpoint to Gormenghast's wrought and grandiose.
Both books move slowly, and both are grounded in their settings. Gormenghast's measured pace is that of the ancient castle: the gait of a museum-goer turning always upon some new and unexpected wonder of yore. Pye's is more akin to it's dreary, peculiar island: a walk along the shore, where some sights will pique the eye, but will more often leave the mind roaming than rapt.
It is a testament to Peake's wryness and sense of character that this light, undecided, often pointless tale comes off as amusing, sweet, and even original. His mildly fantastical religious parable calls to mind both another Brit and another Lewis: Clive Staples, but Peake has writ a religious send-up that is more even-handed and much less bitter.
First the grand fantasy of Gormenghast deflates Tolkien's pretension, then Peake's follow-up highlights the short sight of yet another of the Inklings. Shame I'll never teach Lit, this one has a lot of intriguing cross-pollination.(less)
Late in the night, sitting in my little college apartment, paper due in the morning. The mind begins to play tricks. I can't remember the one word I w...moreLate in the night, sitting in my little college apartment, paper due in the morning. The mind begins to play tricks. I can't remember the one word I want. I've been stuck on the same sentence for long minutes, plumbing my brain. But what comes up isn't a term meaning 'profiting by use without ownership', oh no. I remember this book.
Not the title, of course, or anything pertinent; nothing that will cause it to show up in my google search. Seared into my brain are little hippo-shaped goblins, depicted in ensconcing, detailed vistas. A dream of war sparrows, of seed cannons, and secret underground forts.
I search google anyways, but I could never find this book. Every few months, I'd find myself at the screen again, and suddenly, recall those vivid childhood memories. It is the sort of book one remembers, because it is not oversimplified drivel meant to cater to children. It is instead mysterious and imaginative, like Alice's Wonderland or The World of David the Gnome.
Eventually, it took someone else to find it for me, someone who didn't know what I was talking about, but who found it immediately by googling 'little hippo men book'. Love should always humble us so effectively. Unfortunately, this only brought me so much closer to my memories, as this book is now out of print and copies sell for $150. C'est la guerre.(less)