Monday, December 27, 2010

A Brief Commentary: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Let me be frank (unless Frank, of course, objects): I don't like the new film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

What's Hollywood's problem? A classic tale, beloved by myriad readers, must be so re-written that it becomes not only barely recognizable but so watered-down and shallow that its great themes are pallid versions of themselves, if indeed they still exist?

Of what are the Hollywood types afraid? The faith that inspired the stories? Or do they think they're actually improving a classic series? Poor benighted fools. Arrogant fools.

I enjoyed the new The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as the new Prince Caspian, despite unnecessary changes that weakened the story, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Ack. There are no words.

The search for seven swords? Huh? Were the makers envisioning a mash-up with some other fantasy tale?

As for the dragon, his transformation back to regular boy is only given a passing swipe by Aslan's claws -- not even that, really, since the lion never touches the dragon. Not exactly how the story goes, as I recall.

And what about the sacrifice required of the crew -- and gladly made by Reepicheep -- in the story that C.S. Lewis actually wrote? At the end of the adventure, when the lamb becomes a lion, well, those God-fearing filmmakers (and I mean God-fearing in the sense that they have a decided nervousness toward, phobia about, or negative view of God) omitted such an obvious Christian element.

In this current film adaptation -- more like decapitation -- the depth and vision of the story is lost. However, the young actor portraying Eustace Scrubb is spot-on: perfectly annoying, and with excellent comic delivery.

A closer adaptation of all three stories can be found in the BBC television serialization from the late 1980s. No, the special effects aren't slick, and some are -- literally -- cartoons. However, the creatures are creatively done, with either green screen or imaginative costuming and makeup. (Not only is Reepicheep one of my favorite characters, but the costume is perfect.) And, viewing this series, fans of the books are not so prone to throwing things at the screen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

First, the funny:

And now the serious:

He was born in an obscure village,
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until He was 30.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.

He never traveled more than 200 miles
From the place where He was born.
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only 33
When He died.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied Him.

He was turned over to His enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing,
The only property He had on earth.

When He was dead,
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress.

All the armies that have ever marched,
All the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that One Solitary Life.

-- Dr. James Allan Francis, 1925

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Never Quite Finished

Novelists know the relief of reaching the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page. It's a short-lived relief, because then the hard work begins.

But hard work need not mean unwelcome work. It's in the editing that I can get some of my best ideas.

Lately, however, after doing a spit-and-shine polish on a manuscript that had been cooling for a few months, I realized that material I'd cut a long time ago needed to be re-inserted. The story felt flat without it.

Crazy how that works. In the interest of keeping a plot moving along, I cut a scene here, a line of dialogue there. And then, in the interest of fleshing out the story, making it feel real, giving it depth, I go back and add new material or realize that the old stuff actually works.

Whatever happens -- deletions or additions -- my intention is to serve the story.

In the last few weeks, however, I haven't written much, and editing has been scant. Part of the reason lies in an injury to my right (write?) arm and shoulder just before Thanksgiving. Hard to compose when only one hand is available for typing, or when the pain meds make me fall asleep whenever I sit down.

But, even with physical improvements aiding my typing abilities, I haven't had much to say.

That's part of the composition process: down time. The brain needs a break occasionally. There are any number of articles written and speeches given advising writers on how to pound their way through writer's block, but a good old-fashioned mental vacation may be all that's required.

Life gets crazy, the day job requires extra attention, a clumsy writer falls off a wonky step stool and does terrible things to his shoulder: whatever's going on, sometimes something's gotta give. Though we're fed a fairly steady diet of "butt in chair equals pages written," or "real writers never wait for inspiration to strike," where's the "stop trying to write and just let your brain rest" kind of advice? Could be the precise prescription for improved creativity.

So, with an arm that's healing and allowing greater time at the keyboard, and with a few days off from work, I'm hoping the creativity will kick in, languishing stories will liven, and I'll experience the old familiar high of letting words fly.

Hey, a writer can dream.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 3

** Once again, a late entry. I do apologize for the tardiness. Life and all that, y'know. **

This is the third and final day of the December CSFF Blog Tour featuring Jonathan Rogers' excellent new novel, The Charlatan's Boy.

This post could be called "About a Boy", but that title is already taken, and there aren't any stutter-prone British actors playing roles opposite a quirky kid who just needs encouragement to participate in the school talent show. (That's about all I recall of the movie by that name, and shall never watch it again.). Therefore, "The Charlatan's Boy - Day 3."

Grady ain't pretty.

I could stop there, because his exterior ugliness is central to the story, but it doesn't begin to tell the truth of the tale.

Here's a kid who wants to know where he came from, who looks into the faces of passing strangers, trying to see if they recognize him as their son. He is used as the main attraction in a huckster's traveling road show -- ahem, con game -- and that fraud, Floyd, is the closest thing to a father Grady has known. Grady's ugliness is only skin deep; Floyd can't see his own ugliness, buried as it is underneath pride and a fairly normal appearance.

Grady wants to be honest. He wants to live a steady life, maybe as a farmer or a villager. He's even given a chance to become so when Short Fronie, the proprietress of a public house, offers to be his sort-of mother since all her children are grown and gone. But, even though Grady knows Floyd isn't good for him, even though he really likes Short Fronie and wants to stay, as soon as Floyd tosses a kind word his way, Grady jumps up and follows him, this time into a new scheme to cheat coins from gullible crowds.

As I read the book, I was reminded of my own childhood spent on the fringes of normal. I was that chubby kid who was rarely picked for a team until the pickings were pretty slim. Agility was not my strength; I lost count of how many times I fell down because ankles simply refused to hold me upright. (I even broke an ankle and never knew it until damaging it again as an adult, and the doctor found the old break. Go figure.) Acceptance was a rare thing. Respect? Only for my mind -- I was "the smart kid" in the class, and the jocks would ask for my help with their homework, but I was never invited to be part of the group. The nerds and the geeks were my crew, and I was a little strange even among them.

A year away from 40, I still recall being on the outside, wondering if I really belonged in this world, always on the lookout for a face that told me I was all right.

Grady does indeed find his origins and where he belongs.

Small spoiler (run cursor over this paragraph to read): Readers who recall a favorite character from the preceding three books (The Wilderking Trilogy) will very likely enjoy knowing that a family member appears at the end of The Charlatan's Boy, someone with the last name of Turtlebane. And that's all I'm gonna say! 

I highly recommend this book to young and old alike, and encourage everyone who hasn't done so already to catch the previous books: The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking. Happy Reading!

Meantime, check out other stops on the blog tour by accessing the list here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 2

As mentioned in my post about reaching the end of The Wilderking Trilogy in the weekly Story Time at the Boys & Girls Club where I work, Jonathan Rogers' work is excellent read-out-loud material. And the kids there -- especially middle-grade and junior high listeners -- connected with the stories so much that they acted out the scenes with me, joined the yodeling, and even cried once I read that last sentence of the The Way of the Wilderking.

And I already have plans to make The Charlatan's Boy our next project, which should be good news to the kids who last year really enjoyed meeting all the feechies and civilizers in the original three Corenwald books.

In addition to the rich story and the action, the read-out-loud-ability of the novels comes from the vernacular in which many of the characters speak, reminiscent of the American South, though with some phrases and words that I've encountered nowhere else: civilizer, for instance.

When I read The Charlatan's Boy, I "heard" Uncle Brascal (rhymes with "rascal", and very apt) or Grandpa or Uncle Roger (who wasn't even born in the South) or Uncle Doyle, even Dad, with their Arkansas accents and dry delivery of punchlines, albeit with a twinkle in their eyes, though they were just as apt to laugh before reaching the end of the story. Not gentle laughter, but knee-slapping, foot-stomping, lean forward in the chair, all over the body, tear-crying kind of laughter. So, for me, reading Rogers' work is almost like sitting in the family tall-tale circle on the porch and hearing someone conjure a fable on the spot or embellish a well-known "true" story.

Just as each of the family storytellers had his own style and voice, Rogers imbues his characters with distinctive characteristics: for instance, Short Fronie is warm, snappish, energetic, and caring; Grady is earthy, deep, honest, and a real boy (no relation to Pinocchio); Floyd is flamboyant, creative, dishonest, and abusive.

Rabbit trail: Ever notice how hard con-men and hucksters work in their efforts to make a dishonest living? Intelligent individuals will go out of their way and misuse their minds in order to scalp money from honest folks. It just plain boggles me.

Okay, back to the main path.

Here's an excerpt that has a tall-tale quality:
"You've seen miners. Miners is a heap uglier than farmers. I got a bad feeling, Floyd."
"Well, I don't. Do you know what I see when I look at you?"
"The ugliest boy in the world."
"You just saying that."
...When we got to Greasy Cave the next day, Floyd took enough bets to double our stake if we won -- or ruin us if we lost. I give the Greasy Cavers every bit of ugly I had.
It just wasn't enough.
When Floyd let me out of the box, I was face to face with the ugliest boy I ever seen in my life. How can I describe how ugly this boy was? I might as well describe how wet water is.
His ears was like plates glommed onto the sides of his head, and his teeth stuck out in every direction except straight. His nose must have been six inches long, but it curled up at the end like a pig snout. His eyes was two or three different colors, and his eyebrows met up with the hair on his head, which had so many cowlicks that no two hairs pointed in the same direction. On top of that, he was covered in coal dust. It made your eyes water to look at him.
That boy, Melvern, shows up later:
"So what you been doing since I defeated you last year?" Melvern asked. Besides squinting the one eye, now he was sucking his bottom lip back so it looked like he was more bucktoothed than he really was. I'll say this for the boy: he was making the most of his God-given ugliness.
But Grady's physical ugliness is not only a key to his origins but also a misleading face that hides the beauty of the person inside.

More about Grady and his compatriots tomorrow. Meantime, read more reviews of The Charlatan's Boy by visiting the other stops on the blog tour (list found here).

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 1

** This post is rather late. I usually have these CSFF tour posts ready early in the day, but life had other plans. **

The Charlatan's Boy is Jonathan Rogers' latest novel set in Corenwald, the same island kingdom where The Wilderking Trilogy is set. There is a strange but delightful mix of Europe, ancient Israel, and American Frontier in the trilogy's influences, but this novel has less of an Old World feel and more of the Old West (although the trilogy does have some frontiersman types).
I don't care who you are -- when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else's word for it. That's where things always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.
So speaks Grady, THE WILD MAN OF THE FEECHIEFEN SWAMP! (according to the words painted on the side of a box by Floyd, the aforementioned charlatan) and later THE UGLIEST BOY IN THE WORLD! (until they met a boy who was even uglier).

Over the next couple of days, I'll discuss the story and its unique vernacular, the depth and honesty of the main character and how he sees his world and the people around him, and the family tall-tale spinners that captured my imagination as a kid.

Meantime, check out these other stops on the CSFF Blog Tour:
Sally Apokedak
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Bruce Hennigan
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus at the Mall

I received the following video in an e-mail earlier today, and so am sharing the awesomeness. Merry Christmas!