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I was listening to Front Row, the arts programme on Radio 4, earlier this week, amid much cheerfulness because Philip Pullman won the Whitbread Book of the Year award. It's the first time the winner of the children's award has scooped the main prize. (There was talk of Rowling getting it for Azkaban (IIRC) but the Heaney Beowulf won that year, and quite right too. )

You could argue about whether the "children's author" thing is annoyingly limited or not, but I think that British intellectual culture admits only very unwillingly that fantasy can be anything other than mental chewing gum for kids and spotty engineering undergraduates.

And lo, onto my wireless came the man himself, in all his irascible glory. He really is an irritable, ranty old coot, bless 'im.

He says he might write another book in the same universe -- he became very grouchy when the interviewer referred to it as a prequel -- about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met.

Oh, the possibilities! There are so many questions left in that world. About the origins of Stanislaus Grumman and how Iorek lost his kingdom... about the witches and about Mrs Coulter. Myriad questions.

I think that the fact that he has now got the theological point-making out of the way would help. I do wonder who the viewpoint character would be, though, given that he is ostensibly writing for children.

* * *

Finally, I have seen "The Fellowship of the Ring". I'm not sure how well it translates to film for those of us who have failed to recognise Tolkien's genius. (I think that either Tolkien grabs you by the throat before the age of 21 or else you miss out. )

I don't think I followed all of it.

("read the book, you lazy bastard"

Look! I've pre-heckled my journal for your reading convenience!)

I was very distracted by the fact that Legolas and the elves looked like the blonde one out of Abba circa 1976, only I'm not sure that Agnetha was ever quite so proficient with a longbow. (Probably wished she was, round about the time of "The Winner Takes It All" when Abba were in their "I divorce thee" period, but I digress)

Also, could have sworn that at one point Ian McKellen shouted "To the bridge of Custard!" and I'm sure that's not right.

I could have done with a little map of Middle Earth at points too, since I started getting lost -- indeed for about 15 minutes, halfway through, I started thinking "God, aren't you there YET?" and making up bad headlines for my own amusement ("Look who's Orc-ing!"; "Mordor, he wrote"; "Everybody's Tolkien!")

However -- big HOWEVER -- by the time I got to the end, I was pretty much engrossed. It's difficult to make a good fantasy film, as anyone who has seen "Krull" or "The Beastmaster" will attest, and this was good in all departments.

I was expecting some serious scenery chewing from some of the cast, but even Ian McKellen refrained from ACK-ting. Boromir and, in particular, Aragorn were wondrous. As Caz pointed out, Sean Bean's accent was a source of some amusement but we didn't see his tattoo, alas. I think "100% Blades" would be very fitting for Boromir *g*

But Aragorn... Ah Viggo, Viggo my friend, you grunge up awfully nicely. I very much see the slash thing there. Smouldering was happening. Not at all in the case of Frodo and Sam, or Merry and Pippin though, as they're obviously a band of brothers, but Boromir and Aragorn... I think so. (I am aware that this last paragraph may have devotees of the book doing the technicolor yawn on their keyboards, but I have no sacred text to inform me of my wrongness in this. Never read the book, therefore it's not blasphemy. *g*)

Max refers to Elijah Wood as "that pop-eyed little git" but I thought he was excellent in this, even if he did fulfil the Muldertorture role throughout most of the film. He brought just the right sense of wonder to his part.

I loved the art direction and the fact that they made it so scary. Peter Jackson, you are a top bloke. Now, New Line, please release the second bit in summer. Hate waiting. Hate it.

* * *

I read amid the Smallville posts that they have given Lex a new girlfriend who is a sexy Cambridge-educated scientist and that this role is being played by Kelly Brook. This would be Kelly Brook, of the Wonderbra commercials? Kelly "I'm so thick I can't even read the autocue properly" Brook?

Oh. Dear. God. *g*

* * *

So, I open up my copy of The Guide to peruse next week's thrilling TV schedules ...

(because my life is *that* exciting. Shall I watch the shaggin'n'shoppin' tackfest that is Footballers' Wives, in which there is humping, dipsomania, nymphomania, a woman with her bosom in flames and precious little football or shall I watch the documentary on BBC2 and at least pretend that I have a brain?)

...and naturally, I seek out my favourites. Particularly Farscape, which I am taping in a neurotic fashion for C. I turn to Thursday's schedule and begin screaming "my eyes! my eyes!" for there is a honking great spoiler in the summary.

Note to BBC listings compilers: if you are running an episodic drama, it is best not to put major cliffhanger plotpoints in the pigging summary. Lord almighty, I can just imagine how listings compilers would summarise other things:

"The Crying Game": A disaffected IRA man goes to London to live with his former victim's lover who turns out to be a man!

"The Sixth Sense": Bruce Willis stars as a dead child psychologist who treats a young boy who can see the spirits of people who have been killed!

"Buffy: The Gift" Buffy dies during the sternest battle of all, to save her sister from a hellgod. (Next week: Buffy is resurrected, by Willow -- who is the next season's big bad -- and in a few weeks Buffy shags Spike. Anya and Xander remain boring. Did we spoil it for you? Oops. Sorry)

Bloody half-wits. *g*

* * *

I've had a lucky couple of weeks when it comes to books: Four good ones in a row, one which was brilliant and one which I absolutely adored.

The book I adore, which I read right through then turned back to the beginning again, is "The Wrong Boy" by Willy Russell, who also wrote "Educating Rita" and "Shirley Valentine".

This is his first novel and it is plastered over with plugs from papers saying "absolutely marvellous, I would sacrifice my first born to read it again" THE SUNDAY TIMES. "I sold my granny to get a copy" THE EVENING STANDARD etc etc

This speaks to a certain nervousness on the publisher's behalf. Maybe they think that the north London trendies won't read it, because it's by a northern playwright who has a reputation for heart-warming stories.

I mean, I occasionally have the fear that my tastes are hopelessly plebeian -- for it is true that I read an awful lot of old shite and I'm not nearly as bright as I wish I was.

But on other days I think that I would rather be entertained than read something because it's meant to be "good for me". I'm never going to read Proust; I'd rather re-read "The Crow Road". I thought "The Wrong Boy" would be useless, to be honest, even though I think Russell is unfairly branded as a sentimental middle-brow, so I was amazed to have an almost visceral love for it.

It's about a boy called Raymond Marks, whose life goes off-track when he gets the blame for a bit of pre-pubescent dirtiness that a bunch of politically correct adults decide is evidence of sexual perversion. He gets chewed up in the ramshackle system that is care in the community and every time you think this is it, he's turned the corner, it gets worse and worse. He's blamed for a case of sexual abuse, he loses his friends and is eventually sectioned and sent to a secure unit.

This makes it sound unbelieveably grim, doesn't it? But it's one of the funniest things I've read. Ever. How can you not love a book which is written in the form of letters to Morrissey while hitch-hiking to Grimsby?

I'm not blind to its faults. It is occasionally somewhat adrift in time; TV shows mentioned that were not playing when the book is set, the names are off, since there aren't many Alberts or Normans in my generation.

It also relies a great deal on coincidence, but then you could argue that the whole point of the story is that a series of coincidences ruin Raymond's life and drive him insane. He is the unluckiest person on earth. Why else would he agree to sing on a coach as requested, only to find that he is performing "Shoplifters of the World Unite" to a convention of retailers from Grimsby? The ending is one of the book's weaker parts because of the coincidences.

However, its tinge of sentimentality is shot through with a streak of uncomfortable truth, just like Russell's best work for the stage. Yes it does take cheap potshots at things like political correctness among mental health workers and schoolteachers, but the points Russell makes are valid.

Above all, the characters are beautiful. There's Raymond's intelligent gran, who goes on "misery tours" of Scotland (one of the most painful things in the book is what happens to his gran) and takes Raymond on picnics in graveyards; the appalling Uncle Bastard Jason and his wife Paula -- a deadly accurate portrayal of the Thatcherite working classes; Twinky, a flamboyantly gay boy who pirouettes in Sainsbury's and his best friend, the thuggish Norman Gorman. Most of all, there is Raymond himself, essentially good but hopelessly lost in a cruel world, struggling back to sanity.

I think I loved Raymond himself because I empathised with him so much. I was Morrissey-obsessed too, I had a gran who was a lot like his, I wrote bloody awful poetry...

Do you ever read books and immediately want everyone else to read them as well, just so you can talk about how wonderful they are?

I think I bought about seven copies of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" to give to people -- even though I knew the ending sucked the big one because what comes before that is so wonderful.

However, that way lies madness. No one has exactly the same taste as anyone else, and I always feel disappointed when other people don't have the same ecstatic reaction as I do. I want them to feel that euphoria I feel when I've read something glorious.

Also, I wonder how much this book would mean to anyone who wasn't from a particular milieu. So much of it is dependent on being northern, on understanding the iconography of placenames (f'rinstance why Wythenshawe is the last place on earth you'd want to end up); on understanding the way that we think -- the fatalistic black humour, the battleaxe women, the tribal mentality -- that I wonder how much anyone outside of those lines would get out of it.

Often, when I am reading books set in the US or watching TV shows, I know that someone has made a joke or some snarky comment which is both smart and funny and yet I have no idea what it means. To take examples, Alex Trebek, Vanna White or Jay Leno are all names which carries their own set of meanings beyond the actual name, they act as signifiers for a whole set of associated traits as well as being 'jokeworthy'. Outside the country, this whole layer of meaning is missing. I have no idea why Alex Trebek appearing in The X-Files is funny, although I can make a guess.

"The Wrong Boy" would not translate terribly well.

It also made me feel very homesick for the north. Much as I love it sometimes, London is a different country; they do things differently there.

* * *
Second amazing book of the week:

"Coram Boy" by Jamila Gavin is a previous winner of the Whitbread Children's Award. It's about the Coram children -- orphans or unwanted children who were given a home by followers of Captain Coram in an age when unwanted children were lucky to remain alive to see adulthood.

It is set in Gloucester and London in the eighteenth century. It has all the thematic sprawl, intertwining family sagas and bizarre I-wouldn't normally-buy-this coincidences you find in Dickens, without the verbiage. When I'm reading Dickens I can never forget that the crafty bugger wrote his copy on lineage. *g*

Despite being about children, it doesn't shy away from some truly horrifying subject matter, including, but not limited to slavery, infanticide, madness, family feuding, murder and blackmail. Gavin deals with a sex scene very cleverly, not particularly avoiding explicitness, but writing it in such a way that the adult infers and the child would glide over it.

The best writing, I think, is in the descriptions of Meshak, who is the son of the murderer, and is what my grandmother would have termed "not quite all there". I was reading Gavin's rendition of Meshak's mental landscape and suddenly realised that she was writing about a catatonic schizophrenic. Her descriptions of it have a terrible poetry.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 28th, 2002 09:42 am (UTC)
I'm running out at lunch to find them
And if I can't, I'll order from Amazon. Then we will see how much of The Wrong Boy translates across the Atlantic. I have to say I lurve both Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita, so if the humor's there...

And, you lazy bastard, read the Tolkein. The prose is cringeworthy at first, but gets better as he gets on a roll. It cleans up and gets much less faux fairytaleish and so less yak-worthy. I never made it through as a kid, but I'm enjoying it very much now that I'm 35 and can ignore the prose to get to the meat of it. In many ways it's like reading Richardson, only with a good payoff instead of a piss-off.

Legolas looks like Agnetha.

My big moment of being pulled out of it was when they got to the two enormous statues of the kings with their hands out in the "stop" position and I kept singing, "Stop! In the name of love..."

But the movie leaves out so much that is totally worthwhile in the book. Tom Bombadil and his relationship to the rest of the mythos, the barrow wights and their relationship to the Wraiths. It's really cool. There are layers upon layers in Tolkein. Nothing will ever really rid me of the nausea about his elf-worship, but I can just read Prachett again if I want to get over it.

Dickens IS Stephen King. Though King, I think, simply has logorrhea - but in a good way.

Peter Jackson is way cool, but he really did miss the point about a number of things. There are portions of the HEART of the book, particulary character relationships that are missing, and that could have been added without making it draggy or longer. It's a movie about visuals, still. It might be the best fantasy movie ever made, but as you cited before, it didn't have far to go to be that. There has yet to be a movie that gets it ALL right.
Jan. 29th, 2002 02:48 am (UTC)
Re: I'm running out at lunch to find them
Peter Jackson is way cool, but he really did miss the point about a number of things. There are portions of the HEART of the book, particulary character relationships that are missing, and that could have been added without making it draggy or longer. It's a movie about visuals, still. It might be the best fantasy movie ever made, but as you cited before, it didn't have far to go to be that. There has yet to be a movie that gets it ALL right.

I didn't miss Tom Bombadil too much, although I would have liked to see the Barrowdowns sequence. I think that the missing character interactions (eg: Legolas and Gimli going from loathing each other to friendship in Lorien) were more disappointing. BUT. But...word on the grapevine is that PJ actually shot a lot of the "missing" character interaction stuff people have been complaining about, and things like the gift-giving as they leave Lorien (the publicity stills and trailers, I note, had shots of Legolas salivating over a new bow, and the Fellowship all lined up in front of a bunch of Lothlorien elves). Apparently the trouble was that the film came in at about five hours long with all that stuff in. Word is a lot of it will quite likely be restored on the DVD as deleted scenes or as a director's cut...I do hope so. But I agree that there were little moments where it wouldn't have hurt to have characters exchange a few words as they slogged through some of that luscious scenery to build up the character relationships within the group more.

Jan. 28th, 2002 06:31 pm (UTC)
Look! I've pre-heckled my journal for your reading convenience!

Snerk. "Laugh like a drain" is my new favorite phrase.

And SEP is right -- you should read the book once. Because there's a ton of good stuff in there. Orcs, and talking trees, and leagues of grass, and galloping riders, and glittering
caves, and white towers and golden halls, and battles, and tall ships ...

And I'm a sucker, because I even like the poetry. Although not the Bombadil stuff -- but I like the epic poetry, especially the Rohirrim stuff and the Earendil poem. And the Khazad-dum poem (which is what Gandalf said, by the way -- "to the bridge of Khazad-Dum", Khazad-Dum being the dwarves' name for Moria) too. The world was fair, the mountains tall/ in Elder Days before the fall/ of mighty kings in Gondolin, and Nargothrond/ who now beyond the Western Seas have passed away/ the world was fair in Durin's day...

Shame on the BBC. And thank you again for not spoiling the rest of us. Means a lot. I will have to go back to my LJ to post spoilery comments when I see the new eps.

Jan. 28th, 2002 08:44 pm (UTC)
My sense of Middle-Earth geography is also sorely lacking, and I've read the books many times. Basically, they were heading East by South, (eating melons all the while,) and there were mountains in the way. Then they got to the other side, had a picnic, and decided it was a day to go canoeing. They were still pointed East by South at the end, although Boromir's (hence Strider's) home was rather more South, and the Big Bad Square Mountain Range (Mt. Doom et al.) was East.

And as I got to say on one of my lists, don't be ashamed at seeing slash everywhere you go. It's miles away from what Tolkien intended, but the impish humor of finding sexual subtext is just irresistible. I had a list. It was like: discreet hobbit nudity, kissing of hands, piggyback rides, Sam bursting into tears every few pages... the slashing is bound to happen, in a world where women are wives and/or door prizes.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )