Tuesday, November 30, 2010


So, today's mail brought David Downing's new novel, LOOKING FOR THE KING -- a book which I'd tried to find in the local Borders but eventually wound up ordering from Amazon. I'd first found out about this from a post on the MythSoc list a few weeks back; now that it's arrived it goes in the read-this-soon pile, right behind the two books I'm currently reading concurrently, one of which has to go back to the Univ. Libr. soon. Downing himself is a Lewis scholar, author of a well-received book on the space trilogy: this book is one of a growing few which treat the Inklings as ficitional characters (indeed, its subtitle is AN INKLINGS NOVEL). That is, in the course of their adventures the main characters meet J. R. R. Tolkien and various other Inklings, even attending a session at the Eagle & Child.

This places it among some fairly rocky precedents, from J. I. M. Stewart's caricature of JRRT as 'J. B. Timbermill' in his Oxford quintet (e.g., A MEMORIAL SERVICE [1976]) through James Owens' bizarre take on the Inklings in THE SEARCH FOR THE RED DRAGON [2008] (in which Tolkien is a linguistic dunce who tries to hide the fact he can't read anything but modern English).*

Somewhat less egregiously, there's been the wish-fulfillment of Xian fiction by Jeschke (e.g., EXPECTATIONS [2005]), and the graphic novel about Charles Wms, HEAVEN'S WAR by Micah Harris [2003], which is rather interesting, despite the author's near-total ignorance about JRRT. In a somewhat different category is Rbt Velarde's CONVERSATIONS WITH C. S. LEWIS, which isn't quite a novel; I've only skimmed Velarde's book, but I suspect it might turn out to be the pick of the lot.

Here's hoping that Downing's can rise above the (low) standard set by his precursors in the field of Inklings-as-Fictional-Characters*


P.S.: One odd thing I noticed; as soon as I ordered this, Amazon started lobbing recommendations for random Catholic books at me. So far as I can tell, there's nothing particularly Catholic about Downing's book; I guess we'll see.

*shades of the bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping of Th. Wheeler's THE ARCANUM [2005]-- one of those books which features characters based on real-life people (H.P. Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, Houdini) whose fictional counterparts turn out to be nothing like the real peope whose names they've been given.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Salmon Rushdie on Tolkien (et al)

So, it was interesting to see* a brief piece this past week by the notorious Salman Rushdie** on five fantasy authors who appeal equally to young readers and also adults. His choices are (1) ALICE IN WONDERLAND, (2) PETER PAN (preferring the play over the novelization), (3) THE LORD OF THE RINGS (into which he seems to count THE HOBBIT as well), (4) THE GOLDEN COMPASS, and (5) THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. I've read all but the last (which isn't a fantasy, so far as I can tell from online descriptions), so I'll forebear to comment on that one.

Of the other four, I agree that Carroll, Tolkien, and Pullman deserve a high place on any such list -- though I was bemused by Rushdie's praising the opening of Pullman's book and then getting it wrong (the scene he mentions coming near the end of the third volume, not at the beginning of the first, which suggests he has only the haziest of recollections about the books he's discussing). I part company with him on Barrie, who I think is prized mainly by adults looking backwards sentimentally rather than being particularly popular among young readers. In its place I'd probably put Kenneth Grahame, who in THE GOLDEN AGE absolutely nailed what childhood was like better than Barrie ever could, and wrote a far better fantasy in
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. If I was replacing the Haddon, worthy substitutes might be WATERSHIP DOWN or perhaps THE FACE IN THE FROST.

Here's the link:

As for his question re. Capn Hook, I'd suggest the answer is found in AT-SWIMS-TWO-BIRDS. Although the most disturbing thing I found about Peter Pan when reading the play was the discovery that there's a tradition on stage that the same actor play Mr. Darling, the children's father, and Captain Hook, the villain who tries to kill them. And, just to balance that out, the oddest piece of Peter-Pan trivia I know is that Charlie Chaplin claimed his first stage role was as one of the 'lost boys' in the original production -- a claim that apparently cannot be proven and is viewed with skepticism by some biographers.

At any rate, kudos to Rushdie for singling out Gollum as Tolkien's greatest character.

*thanks to Jessica, who had in turn been sent the link by Anders, to whom also thanks.
**who achieved the rare distinction of writing a book that made a billion people wish him harm, in addition to having once been married to one of the most beautiful women on the planet.

Flying Snakes

So, much better than snakes on a plane is snakes who can fly. Without wings. Technically I suppose they're gliding rather than flying, per se, but it's a powered glide that can take them hundreds of feet, and they can change course in mid-flight. Essentially they turn their body into a boomerang and launch themselves from tree to tree. Pretty amazing stuff. Here's the link -- unfortunately, you have to watch a commercial at the beginning and it immediately segues off into another story afterwards, but c'est la vie.

Interesting to note that even in such a brief clip (twenty-three seconds), the snakes are so maneuverable in flight that the cameras can't keep up with them.
Mildly disturbing to find that the researcher's project is being funded by the Department of Defense. While it's a better use of money than most of the stuff they get up to, the idea they might want to 'weaponize' flying snakes is mildly disturbing.

current reading: SWORD OF ZAGAN by Clark Ashton Smith (age about fifteen)
current audiobook: apocrypha (2nd Esras -- gah!)

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Long Should a Biography Be?

So, in a comment to my earlier post about the welcome arrival of the newly restored complete edition ('Biographer's Cut'?) of S. T. Joshi's two-volume biography of H. P. Lovecraft,* David Bratman expressed incredulity that, having earlier read the original edition of this book, there could possibly be more remaining to be said about Lovecraft, much less 150,000+ words' worth. David's response I think raises an interesting point: how long shd a biography be?

The answer, I think, depends on how important you think the subject of the biography is. If, for example, you think Tolkien is an interesting but not major figure, then a book like Carpenter's biography (which manages to cover eighty years in less than three hundred pages) is about right. If, on the other hand, you think Tolkien is the Author of the Century, or at the very least one of the most important writers of his time, then the 2298 pages of Wayne & Christina's J. R. R. TOLKIEN COMPANION & GUIDE is manna from above. The same, I think applies for collected letters. Modest volumes of some 300 to 400 pages seemed about right for C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. T. a few years after their deaths (i.e., the 1966 LETTERS OF C. S. LEWIS ed. by Warnie** and the 1981 Carpenter/Christopher edition of LETTERS OF JRRT), whereas now Lewis is represented by the three-volume COLLECTED LETTERS (just shy of four thousand pages) and a similar collection cd no doubt be put together of Tolkien's correspondence.

HPL himself got what seemed the full treatment relatively early on, in the form of a huge five-vol. set (with each volume clocking in at around 400 pages). But even this was highly selective, extracted from Lovecraft's epistolary logorrhea and representing only about 5% of the surviving letters (which in turn represents about one-fifth of all the letters he actually wrote). And it cd be justified by the fact that in addition to his fiction Lovecraft was just as important as a behind-the-scenes influence, encouraging younger (Barlow, Howard, Bloch, Derleth, &c) &/or better (Smith, Leiber) writers. More recently, Lovecraft studies has seen the release of single-correspondence collections -- for example, all his letters to Kuttner, or Derleth, or Barlow, each in its own volume. Most of these were sold in tiny editions from small presses, but still collectively they're an enormously valuable primary source for any Lovecraft scholar; Tolkien scholars can, for now, only dream of such treasures.

The best piece I've ever seen about matching the length of biography to the relative importance of the author came in the Introduction to Norman Page's biography of A. E. Housman [1983], which in fact I bought because in skimming it I was so impressed by his argument. Page argues that only a few major figures deserve the full-scale treatment, while secondary figures, like Housman, are best served by shorter, less exhaustive books. As a example, gives a paragraph describing the kind of shoes Housman always wore, then follows this up by saying that every word in that paragraph is true, but none of it is worth knowing -- hence, for the rest of his book he avoids such trivia.

So, in the end it's a circular question. In some cases (e.g., Jane Austen), the relative lack of information will hold the biographies down to a certain length. In others, reticence on the part of the authors & their estates (e.g., T. S. Eliot) will do the same, at least for years and years after their deaths. But in some cases, because of the enthusiasm of the audience, we'll get massive amounts of information, whether their subjects are worth it or not.*** It'll be a boon for those interested in the subject, and those not interested can just ignore it. That makes it a win-win situation for all concerned. Except, perhaps, the trees.

--John R.

*rather oddly titled 'I AM PROVIDENCE' -- which wd have come as a bit of a surprise to HPL's fellow citizens of that Rhode Island town, most of whom never heard of him.
**although what was published was entirely re-edited by Christopher Derrick, a fact unknown to the public for several decades.
***for example, is Dorothy L. Sayers really worth a five-volume set of collected letters, which is roughly equivalent to the treatment Virginia Woolf got? The letters' publisher didn't think so, bailing on the project mid-way through, so that the latter volumes had to be published by other means

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sixty-Seven Years Does Not Pass In Vain

So, recently I ordered the 1943 Batman serial from Netflix. I'd been under the impression these were early Batman cartoons, rather like the Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941/42, but when it arrived they turned out to be episodes in a live-action series. They're pretty generic 'masked man' serial fodder of the era. It's nice to see Batman and Robin tooling around in a perfectly ordinary car, climbing up buildings by using the fire escape (rather than rappelling down walls), and losing almost as many fist-fights as they win (Batman tends to get tossed off roofs a lot). There are also some hints of things I associate with the 1960s tv series rather than the early Batman comic in the Bruce Wayne/Wayne Manor parts of the story. So, as a piece of Batman lore, it's passable. But at one point it's a scarifying reminder of its times.

As I said, this serial was made in 1943. And as such, it's not surprising to find Batman fighting not the Joker or Two-Face but agents of a wily Japanese spy. That in itself's not so bad -- I've seen a bad Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes fights the Nazis. But it's shocking that it includes whole-hearted endorsement of one of our country's most shameful episodes of that era. At one point early on in the first episode, the camera pans over a street of deserted buildings and closed businesses with Japanese names while the voiceover reads as follows:

"This was part of a foreign land transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street. But one business survives, eking out a precarious existence on the dimes of curiosity seekers." [i.e., a 'Cave of Horrors' carnival ride which features displays of Japanese atrocities toward American civilians and soldiers]

It's strange and perhaps thought-provoking to realize that the most popular thing FDR did in his presidency --rounding up people and sending them off to concentration camps based on their ethnicity -- is now the most shameful part of his legacy.

--John R.

Virtual Idol

So, thanks to Luis for pointing me to this interesting bit of film last night. I'd heard a year or two back that a Japanese company had adopted a virtual mascot -- that is, instead of a talking animal, they'd use an anime character in their commercials. Sounded like a fun idea, but not that different from what we've seen over here at least since the days of Tony the Tiger.

What I hadn't realized is how good the technology has gotten. I'm not sure if the following clip is an extension of the idea I'd read about or someone else taking it the next step, but in it you see the virtual character Miku Hatsune 'live' in concert. That is, the musicians are all real and playing live, the audience is real, and the stage is real. What's 'virtual' is the image of the girl singer, essentially a hologram projected onto the stage. So what you're seeing in this clip hasn't been added in after the fact; she's performing in real time.

Obviously, this has all sorts of applications and consequences, but for now it's fun to just marvel in their having pulled this off.


Friday, November 19, 2010

A Quartet of Cat Links

Last night Janice shared with me some cat footage that's too good not to pass along--how to wrap your cat (hint: it helps if you have the most mellow cat ever):

Meanwhile, this just in: scientists study how cats drink water. After four years, the answer: with great efficiency, at about four laps per minute (two per minute for lions):

And just to add a little literary note, here's some bookstore cats you can drop in and meet if you're in the right area(s), courtesy AbeBooks.com:

Finally, there's Stalking Cat!


current reading: TOLKIEN & THE SILMARILLION, plus the deleted chapter -- by Clyde S. Kilby.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unusual online false-identity case

So, today I read about a lawyer and scholar who got into true hot water for sending forged e-mails in another person's name from bogus accounts in an attempt to defame that person (said e-mails being admissions of guilt for fabricated crimes). The forger claimed, when caught, that it was all a hoax. The law decided otherwise, sentencing him today to six months in prison.

The oddest thing about this is that the figures involved were Dead Sea Scrolls scholars (or, rather, one leading scholar and the son of a rival scholar). Turns out the two sides both challenge the prevailing theory that the Scrolls were written by the Essene community living near where the scrolls were found. One side (the victim) believes that community were Sadducees, while the other (the perpetrator's father) thinks the scrolls had nothing to do with any local group but represent the Temple Library from Jerusalem that was stashed in an out-of-the-way place during a crisis (permanently, as it turned out). I tend toward the Essene theory myself, but who can say?

Reading today's news story, I thought at once about what it'd been like to watch a similar defamation campaign unfold in real time: the long, strange, sad Lindskoog affair. I had a chance last month to dig up some of the original contemporary documentation in THE CANADIAN C. S. LEWIS JOURNAL: both reprints of the original letters and clippings before Schofield discovered them to be bogus, the exposures that quickly followed, and ultimately Lindskoog's admission of guilt. All in all it makes for fascinating, and disturbing, reading.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Books Arrive: Smith and Lovecraft

So, some heavyweight books (literally*) arrived in the mail over the past few days. First there was the two-volume revised-&-expanded edition of S. T. Joshi's biography of H. P. Lovecraft.

This was originally published in 1996, but the manuscript was so long Joshi (the world's foremost Lovecraft scholar) was forced to cut 150,000 words (out of half a million) in order for the publisher to fit it all into one volume. Now he's taking advantage of a switch to a new publisher (Necronomicon Press > Hippocampus Press) to restore the missing material. It also says he did some updates, but a quick spot check shows that a lot of passages have not in fact been updated--for example, a reference to "the latter half of this century" (p. 1034) clearly refers to the one that ended a decade ago, not the one we're in now. The sole reference to Chaosium's CALL OF CTHULHU--probably the single greatest factor in spreading knowledge and appreciation of Lovecraft's work in the last quarter-century--has been expanded from a single sentence then to two sentences now. Of particular interest is Joshi's final judgment of Derleth (p. 1034), who he believes has a mostly negative legacy of having prevented Lovecraft's work from reaching a mainstream audience for decades.

The other book, though unexpected, is v. welcome: Vol. V of a five-volume set of the complete short stories (fantasy) of Clark Ashton Smith (THE LAST HIEROGLYPH, ed. Scott Connors & Ron Hilger), from Night Shade Books. I knew this one wd come eventually, but the timing was unexpected, the first three volumes having arrived in 2007 (January, June, & December) and the fourth in August of last year (2009). The great thing about this series is not only is it complete but the editors used a chronological arrangement, starting with Smith's first short fantasy story (excluding his juvenalia) and ending with his very last. The endnotes discuss their efforts to establish the best possible text and give details about each piece's composition. There have been so many attempts to publish complete collections of CAS's tales, all of which petered out at some point with a significant number of stories left uncollected --most notably the Adult Fantasy Series from Ballantine back in the late sixties/early seventies, but also including the TimeScape series in the early eighties and of course the Arkham House hardcovers from the forties through the seventies. So, well-done, Night Shade Books, for giving the greatest of all the Weird Tales authors a suitable 'Collected Works'.

Finally, and co-incidentally, these arrived while I was reading THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM AND OTHER REVISIONS,** one of the first books I bought after my arrival in Seattle in Sept 1997 (on my first visit to Borders Books, nr SouthCenter). I started reading it then but bogged down without finishing the book, and despite subsequent dipping from time to time never made it all the way through until now.

It's an interesting read, so long as you don't expect too much. Lovecraft's work really divides into three levels. At the very top, like a pyramid's capstone, are a few really good pieces where he outdoes himself, like "The Strange High House in the Mists" and "The Colour Out of Space". Then below this is the pyramid itself, made up of most of his best-known tales, like "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", in which he works out his characteristic concerns in his characteristic mannered prose, with lots of italics. There's not much variation in these, but they've a fun read as he works up what is essentially an alternate reality based around a few firmly-held though contradictory beliefs, a secondary world based on New England in the twenties and thirties. These tales have been hugely influential on any number of writers better than Lovecraft himself, who have looted them for ideas just as Lovecraft pillaged Poe and Dunsany. And then there are the failures, like "The Horror at Red Hook" or "The Picture in the House" or "At the Mountains of Madness", including a few so-bad-it's-almost-good guilty pleasures like the 'Herbert West--Reanimator' series.

And then there's THE HORROR AT THE MUSEUM, the fourth in the three-volume series of Arkham House's complete Lovecraft, the best pieces among which almost rise to the bottommost level of what Lovecraft published under his own name. It's ironic that Lovecraft, a horror writer by avocation, made his living as a ghost writer, 'revising' stories for clients. This book collects together those ghostwritten stories (except for a few, like "Imprisoned Among the Pharaohs", which he wrote for Harry Houdini, that appear in the main three-volume set), dividing them in two lots, 'primary revisions' (in which Lovecraft pretty much wrote the whole story based on an outline or story-idea from a client) and 'secondary revisions' (in which Lovecraft at least had a draft to work from, no matter how drastically he re-wrote the piece).

Reading them, I'm reminded of a passage in Christopher Hitchens' HITCH-22, where he quotes P. G. Wodehouse as saying 'If this is Upper Silesia, what must Lower Silesia be like?'*** Joshi occasionally takes refuge in the claim that Lovecraft stories he particularly dislikes must be intentional self-parodies. I'd say instead that Lovecraft often lapses into unintentional self-parody. A particularly egregious example here is "The Diary of Alonzo Typer", who is actually writing in his diary while being dragged away to the cellar (to suffer an unnamable fate!); the mental image of him desperately holding on for dear life with one hand while jotting down some observations with the other is so comical as to ruin any effect the story might have aimed for (rather better is "The Loved Dead", where the dying suicide reports feeling hellfire already burning him just before the end). Fans of the Cthulhu Mythos will find relatively little here, aside from Yig. There are certainly references to other Great Old Ones and strange tomes, but they're relatively minor -- it's always been my belief that Lovecraft inserted them into these tales (which appeared under other authors' names) as a way of signaling to WEIRD TALES fans that HPL himself had actually written them, rather like the Old English poem Cynewulf.

After that, reading a judicious mix of some C.o.C. scenarios (the newest from Miskatonic River Press) and a few CAS tales shd serve as a good pallet cleaner . . .

*When I went to mail to a friend in London the extra set I'd ordered as part of a book exchange, I found each volume weighed 2 lbs. 8 oz.
***one of Wodehouse's stiff-upper-lip quips made when being held in a prisoner of war camp early in WWII, having been captured as an enemy alien during the German invasion of France. For which he was, incidentally, hounded out of England after his release when the propaganda department (including, I think, A. A. Milne) decided to make an example of him for not having said nasty enough things about his captors while locked up -- the main reason Wodehouse left England and lived in America the last thirty years of his long life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Total Drama World Tour: Tolkien tribute (spoilers)

So, tonight they broadcast the finale of TOTAL DRAMA: WORLD TOUR, the third season in the 'Total Drama Island' series. This Canadian cartoon is the perfect 'reality show', in that it's totally reality-free. There's never a shadow of a doubt that it's all fake, every action, line of dialogue, and elimination scripted. That said, they did a clever homage to the Peter Jackson films in the final scene.

(spoiler space)

When one of the two finalists won the million dollars (by tossing a replica of the other finalist into a Hawaiian volcano), he/she was clutching the case with the cash when suddenly a sinister figure appeared behind him/her: Ezekiel, a.k.a. 'Homeschool', the first contestant to be eliminated, who had gone feral and lurked around the fringes of the show all season. Now a hunched, stunted, degenerate figure, he tackled the winner, and they wrestled for the precious prize on the lip of the caldera -- until, seizing the prize, he fell into the lava, holding the precious case above him as he sank until it too finally fell onto the lava.

There was no finger biting, and thirty seconds of action didn't drag on into five minutes of screen time, but otherwise it was a nice visual tribute to the climax of THE RETURN OF THE KING. If you enjoy such things, I suggest checking it out: I found it quite a hoot.

--John R.

Oh, and as an added bonus after the closing credits they had another little bit of film retelling the fate of the other finalist, replicating in TOTAL DRAMA terms the final scene in REVENGE OF THE SITH.
Bring on Season Four!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Long Post (con't)


(3) So, just how big a deal is this for New Zealand? Well, the first hint I got of it was when I read that when the studio executives flew down to N. Z. , they met with the Prime Minister. That's right: the country's leader made time in his busy schedule for a series of meetings with the film people. In the course of which he brokered a deal which, I learn from skimming the posts on Kristen Thompson's always excellent website, http://www.frodofranchise.com/blog/, immediately led to the New Zealand parliament's fast-tracking legislation to make that deal fully legal. That's right; they didn't just given them big tax breaks (though they did that too): they changed the law so as to keep Peter Jackson happy. There was even some mention elsewhere of the exchange rate for the New Zealand doller fluctuating according to the latest news re. the films and whether they'd be made there. Now that's a big deal.***

(4) The end result of which is that things shd start moving quickly now. During the enforced down time, they had time to work on the script, scout locations, create sets and models, perfect any new make-up and special effect techniques, &c. They did lose their director, Del Toro, who made what seemed at the time a reasonable decision to bail on the film after the delays stretched on and on. A bad choice on his part, it turns out, but so it goes. Personally, I've always hoped Jackson wd direct it himself, so it'd be a smoother match for his LotR films. They still need to lock down McKellan, and Serkis, and I suppose Weaving (though I wdn't mind if someone else played that role here). About the only disappointing bit of casting news I heard was that former Dr. Who Sylvester McCoy has been tapped to play Radagast:
Too bad: his main claim to fame is having been the second-worst Dr. Who ever.**** This casting strikes me as bizarre, given that if you were going to go that route Tom Baker, the greatest of the doctors, is still alive, though getting on a bit (in his mid-seventies now).

On the other hand, there is the cheerful thought that since he's playing someone who doesn't appear in the book, McCoy's scene may not wind up appearing in the movie either (i.e., the theatrical release). But that seems unlikely. We'll just have to suck it up and hope Jackson can cox a career-transcending performance out of unpromising material. He's done it before.

(5) And finally, I learn from the new BEYOND BREE (just arrived) that the studios have finally done the right thing and paid the Tolkien Estate the money they owed them. And again we're talking a lot of money here: "millions of dollars" according to the passage quoted in BEYOND BREE (cf. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/10/jrr-tolkeins-the-hobbit-might-finally-be-coming-to-screens.html). There's nothing like needing something out of somebody to make a big business do the right thing. So that's good news at least.

--John R.

***but then given that the first three films made about ten billion dollars all told, there's an awful lot of money potentially to be made from the two-part HOBBIT film.

****beaten out only by his predecessor, Colin Baker as the sixth doctor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Long Post on THE HOBBIT movie

Deadlines. They make you late for everything.

So, having finished up a freelance deadline last night, now I finally have time and mental energy to blog again.

And thus it's time to return to a post I started three weeks ago and had to put by, despite one or two ineffectual efforts in the meantime, until now. Events have swept on by, but it's a topic of abiding interest (to me at least), so I think still worth noting. In any case, here's a quick run-through of recent developments on the HOBBIT movie.*

(1) after months of coyness, suddenly Jackson et al. announced a bunch of casting for the film(s), most notably by naming who'll be playing Bilbo: Martin Freeman.

I hadn't seen him before, but as luck wd have it his new role as Dr. Watson in the new series of SHERLOCK HOLMES was debuting on tv here just two days later (Sunday night Oct. 24th), so I got to see him in action.

My verdict: he'll be fine. Although the guy playing Holmes actually looks more like a Peter Jackson hobbit, with his mop of curly hair, Freeman did a good job playing an apparently ordinary bloke who gets swept up by adventures and has to deal with a lot of unreasonable people -- pretty good training for Bilbo, one wd think.

So, while I might privately mourn that I'll never get to see my personal dream choice play the role (Hugh Laurie), this first pick seems okay.**

And they'd no sooner announced the lead than a lot of the other roles got filled: Thorin, Balin, Fili, Kili, &c. -- all people I'd never heard of, like Freeman himself -- and like most of the cast for Jackson's earlier LotR. I suspect that rather than having a few high-profile well-known actors like he ceded smaller roles to in LotR, here that star power will be filled by returning luminaries such as Ian McKellan and Andy Sirkis (assuming those apparently ongoing contract talks work out, as I"m sure they will).

Then, just after I saw a piece in the dentist's office in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY about Peter Jackson's casting for the upcoming HOBBIT movie, either a little later that same day (Nov. 3rd) or possibly the next I saw a mention at an online news site about MGM's having finally officially filed for bankruptcy --the one big hold-up in getting going on the movie these past few months having been that MGM, which owns a stake in it, was about to disappear down the rabbit hole, potentially taking all the movie's profits with it. So now that particular rough bit of road looks to be behind us.

(2) Then, no sooner had that been settled than a really major roadblock loomed ahead: labor woes. Specifically, New Zealand actors kicked up a fuss, demanding to be paid Screen Actor's Guild rates (without, so far as I cd tell, actually joining the SAG, paying dues, &c). Jackson's team responded angrily by saying that they might film in Canada instead -- only to have representatives of Canadian actors' unions say in effect that they wdn't be scabs and wd recognize any boycott by New Zealand actors. Whereupon rumors started circulating that THE HOBBIT might be filmed in Eastern Europe. There were accusations that the guild making the demands wasn't even a New Zealand group after all but an Australian union claiming that it had the right to represent New Zealand actors (apparently without those actors themselves agreeing to that). Things got so crazy that people even started holding Keep-the-Hobbit-in-New-Zealand rallies across the country.

All this raised the spectre that filming outside New Zealand might mean that Bilbo's world wdn't look like Frodo's. My own take is that (a) Jackson can afford to pay people well and (b) the actors wd be crazy to drive away the crown of New Zealand filmmaking -- or, as my wife likes to refer to it, the New Zealand Full Employment Plan.

Luckily, so far as I can tell the fuss has died down here as well. Not only are they planning to film in N.Z., but Jackson et al are rebuilding Hobbiton in more durable materials to be a permanent attraction after the films are done -- a pretty smart move, given how many people have travelled to New Zealand in the past seven years to see places where things used to be before they dissembled the sets.

(con't in next post)


*(many thanks to those on the MythSoc list who posted links there between Oct 22nd and 25th, --Sara Ciborski, Alana Abbott, and Jason Fisher-- and also to Jessica Yates)

**too bad about the Holmes, though -- the first episode promised more than the rest wound up delivering, so that despite a nicely quirky approach, a good job updating Holmes & Watson to the 21st century, an appealing supporting cast, & many little tributes to A.C.D.'s stories scattered throughout, the second and third stories wind up being a bit of a mess, more style than substance. I'll keep watching, but I've definitely lowered my expectations.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

EGYPT part three: THE RED PYRAMID (spoilers)


I see I've let some time lapse since last posting, due to an exigent deadline. Rather than a longer lag, let me wrap up the Egypt thread for now with a brief note about another book I just read, Rich Riordan's THE RED PYRAMID.

As the first book in the KANE CHRONICLES, this starts off a new series for Riordan that essentially allows him to do for Egyptian mythology what his Percy Jackson series (THE LIGHTNING THIEF et al) did for Greek myth: presenting the discovery by apparently ordinary modern-day kids that because of their bloodlines they have strange powers that get them wrapped up in power struggles involving vast entities (gods and monsters). It differs from his main series in two interesting ways:

first, while he keeps to the first person point-of-view that's such a mark of his Percy Jackson books, here he has a pair of narrators who trade off, chapter by chapter, giving two distinct 'voices' and versions of events.

second, while part of a series this is essentially a stand-alone novel. It's clear that this more closely resembles Terry Pratchett's DISCWORLD, where he can write as many novels as he wants that share the same setting, rather than the Harry-Potterish model of his earlier series, which focuses on the continuing adventures of a specific hero and his friends.

All in all, I'd have to say it worked for me. Riordan has a strange ability to get the reader to underestimate him. You think you see where things are going, major plot-points signaled a mile off, and then when you get there he turns out to be more subtle and tricky than you'd expected. I think this may be a carry-over from his having been a mystery writer before he shifted focus to the world of young-adult novels. I also thought it telling that, at my recent visit to Marquette, when checking back into the library after lunch, I noticed the student at the entry checkpoint was reading THE RED PYRAMID, which she praised as a good book when I asked about it. After which I learned that both Richard and Jim had read and enjoyed it, as had Jim's teenaged son. So Riordan is definitely doing something right to be able to appear to a diverse audience of young adults, college-age students, and middling-aged longtime fans of fantasy.

So, I'm glad to see Riordan trying a variation on his formula before his books get too, well, formulaic. I think this one succeeds. There's one really funny spot in particular where a mentor of the main characters looks over at Manhattan and says they (the people in the book connected with the gods of Egypt) never go over there; that island has gods of its own. One more thing I thought well done is that the details of the book's cover are actually quite significant, in a way I can't reveal without spoilers.
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Riordan does do one thing interesting here: his protagonists, the brother-sister team of Carter (age 14) and Sadie (age 12) Kane, are African-American (or, rather, African-English/American).
Carter takes after his father, who is black, and Sadie after her mother, who was white. The cover art does a good job of presenting a dramatic scene showing the heroes while having them face away in such a pose as hides their ethnicity. Interesting. The book itself also contains a few passing references to how, now that Carter is growing up, he has to be careful to dress in non-threatening ways to avoid trouble -- something that becomes a significant complication to the plot at one point. Riordan doesn't make a big deal about this but he does include it as a simple, unfair, fact of life. Again, interesting, and I think really well done. Kudos.

current reading: THE PAPYRUS OF ANI, A CAT'S LIFE
current audiobook: HITCH 22.