In The Shadow of Adaptation: Emma

Emma Woodhouse, clever, handsome, and rich, had lived nearly twenty one years with very little to vex her.

I went into this new adaptation of Emma curious but without much expectation. Emma is far and away my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels, not least because of it’s prickly sometimes silly heroine, who Austen described as, “no one but myself will like much.”

Of course many people love Emma Woodhouse, vexing and silly as she is, and I didn’t put too much pressure on this movie, since I have a lot of affection for 1996 adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow (an Emma if there ever was one) and the 2009 miniseries with Ramola Garai was not to my taste at all, and we have a perfect adaptation of Emma that exists and it’s called Clueless. 

With all of those caveats I was excited for a reason to pick up this book again, and happy to fall back into Emma’s world of matchmaking and new dresses and balls and a true and honest love built on the back of friendship and long held affection. (Mr. George Knightly would destroy that broody Fitzwilliam Darcy chap with one lecture and raised eyebrow and it would be glorious.) and Autumn De Wilde’s new film, with Anna Taylor-Joy in the lead is a delightful trifle of film.

De Wilde makes some choices that I absolutely love, one is that he’s very clear that he’s making a comedy, he leans into the absurdity of the manners and social dances that in a way that Austen’s books nearly always do, and adaptations tend to stay away from. His background as a music video director suits the tableaux that are necessary.

The other decision that De Wilde makes that sets the tone perfectly is cast the always wonderful Bill Nighy as Emma’s mercurial father. Mr. Woodhouse is an absurd character, always nervous about illness and wanting everything is own way. His daughter and her lover are of course happy to oblige him, but the silliness of the character is perfectly pitched here. Frankly, most of the cast is perfectly pitched to the arch and funny tone, and the ball scene is one of the sexiest ways of shooting those scenes (always the sexiest in the adaptations).

I’m odd in my Austen preferences, liking Emma more than Pride And Prejudice is the least of it. I hold Ang Lee & Emma Thompson’s Sense And Sensibility as the high watermark, not the BBC P&P starring Colin Firth (although it is very very good.) Overall, i consider a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite books, that I will most likely be revisiting a time or two.

The Series Series: The Chronicles Of Prydain By Lloyd Alexander

Hail and Well Met Friends! We’re back to The Series Series, this time picking up The Chronicles of Prydain, which I’d missed as a kid (I don’t know how? Gendered bullshit maybe? How no teacher or librarian didn’t see me devouring The Hobbit and Tamora Pierce’s books and didn’t hand me these, I’ll never know) but saw people buzzing about online a bit lately, due to talk about a Disney+ adaptation (Disney made The Black Cauldron largely considered to be a terrible adaptation and movie) and Kristi mentioned reading them aloud to her newborn son, and I love talking about stuff with her, so I decided to give these a shot.

I am so glad I did.

The Books 

The Book Of Three

The Black Cauldron

The Castle of Llyr

Taran Wanderer

The High King

Author

Lloyd Alexander was born in Philadelphia, and served in World War II, the experience shaped him and he spent some time Wales, and fell in love with their language and mythology, which is why he decided to write his own version. He passed away in 2007.

Series Structure

This is a series of five books each telling it’s own standalone story  but with the same cast of characters. The story revolves mainly around Taran, an orphaned Assistant Pig Keeper to an ancient enchanter named Dalben. (The pig in question tells the future. Her name is Hen-Wen) Taran accidentally begins adventuring with the great hero Prince Gwydion, befriends a mysterious and kindly beast creature called Gurgi, a bard who is actually a king Flewdeur Flwam, and the fiery and magical princess Eilonwy.

Taran becomes a hero himself, after many trials and obviously marries Eilonwy. (Look it’s an old series and there’s only two people around the same age. They were either gettin’ hitched or secretly siblings) 

Themes

Alexander largely based the series in Welsh mythology, which is cool. I don’t know Welsh myths, like at all, but it shares DNA with the Arthur stories I love, and the Celtic myths I know the broad strokes of, and so this shares those Campbellian cycles that I love so much. Calls to adventure, mysterious caves, confounding conversations with goddesses that become clear with time, chosen ones who’s choices are more important than being chosen. All that jazz.

They’re executed well, almost perfectly. Taran is a really good hero, you guys, I don’t know how else to say it. I love him. (I’ve mentioned I love a protagonist in over their head, right? God, I love it so much.)

Favorite Book

Taran Wanderer is a marvel of a book. It’s so stunningly written and the themes (searching is more important than finding also your birth matters less than your character) are well laid out without hitting over the head with them. Taran himself really matures here, though he also uses a lot of the well worn wisdom of The Castle Of Llyr before choosing his long journey to find himself, and to make himself worthy of the girl he loves.

This also lets me talk a little bit about Eilonwy. I adore her, though she’s a bit underwritten, her determination and personality actually remind me quite a bit of my beloved Annabeth Chase.

Least Favorite Book

I suppose The Book Of Three although I loved the entire series. I think I was just shocked by the way the books just start, there’s not a lot of wind up, you’re just there in Prydain, with Taran, it’s cool.

Favorite Character

Taran, hands down. I like everyone here, even Gurgi, who is probably the most “kids bookish” thing and even though to the end Eilonwy has a bit of a “not like other girls” thing going on, (which is why she’s not my pick, I just can’t abide that anymore) His growth is wonderful, his conscience is great, I like him, a lot, I want to spend more time with him and I’m sure he’s a great king in the future we don’t get to see.

Reread Possibilities

Oh I’ll be rereading these. Maybe not soon. But I’ll return to Prydain, probably as often as I return to Hogwarts and Middle Earth, so every five years or so. It won’t be like my yearly pilgrimage to Camp Half Blood, but I’ll be back. I’m sure there’s things I missed in these stories that I’ll get the second time, or even third time I read them.

Our next series (though we have some Star Wars Comics and non fiction in between) will be the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, I started Sabriel once and dropped it. I don’t remember why. Frankly I remember very little about it, there was a wall? And a missing father? And boarding school? Anyway, it’s five books and they’re relatively thick so it might be a minute before we check back in.

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

All creators have preoccupations, certain themes that most of their work circles back to. In reading reviews and thoughts on The Rise Of Skywalker people kept talking about nostalgia as JJ Abrams’s particular niche.

As I watched it for a third time on Saturday, I tried to see that, and I understand why people think of that for Abrams, if you look only at his film work.

But that would be ignoring a pretty big and important piece of his creative output, and frankly one that I think informs what he was going for with The Rise of Skywalker and Rey’s story in particular much more than anything he’s done on the big screen.

It’s ignoring Alias.

Sidney Bristow’s story, as convoluted as it got, was always thematically about having to untangle herself from the web of lies and violence left as a legacy from her parents and mentors, and standing on her own two feet as her own person at the end of that.

I don’t like the decision to make Rey a Palpatine. I think it’s hugely unnecessary, and creates more questions than it answers. But I get it, as a story decision, especially, when I had the realization about Abrams, Alias and the theme of building your own identity both within and without a legacy.

Rey’s moment of triumph comes when she embraces the Jedi way, the “thousand generations” that live in her, and the voices of the Jedi come to her. It is my favorite moment in the film, not just because it’s movie acknowledgement of Ahsoka, but because it’s the moment that to me provides the most context for Rey’s journey. She’s already rejected her Grandfather’s path for her, she’s already provided Ben Solo his path to redemption, she is choosing in that moment which legacy she wants to continue, the path of the light.

There are plenty of things wrong with The Rise Of Skywalker. I mentioned not loving Rey’s heritage reveal, the retcon of Poe Dameron’s past to make him a smuggler, no real role for Rose Tico and no confirmation of Finn’s force sensitivity (Plus, all those ships in the Hidden Regions and no Ezra riding in on a Space Whale? What gives?) are all writing choices I’m not crazy about.

But Rey’s story is good at the core, the fight against a destiny chosen for her by others to carve her own way is great and fits with a pattern of JJ Abrams’s work. Felicity though a very different genre is also about young people figuring out who they are, rather than who everyone expects them to be. It’s even a little bit there in Star Trek, where he basically says, “this is not the story you know, these characters are making their own way,” Lost was always more Lindeloff’s than his, but it still has themes of identity over destiny deeply embedded in it.

And I think this is the part that got to me. I like stories about family and legacy and finding your place in the world, so I liked this story for Rey and for Kylo Ren, they both carved out a place on a path that had been trod before, but it wasn’t the place prepared for them. I think that’s good.

Next week is the finale of The Mandolorian, and as I said a few weeks ago, Fangirl Loves Star Wars isn’t going anywhere. Next year we’ll have season 2 of Resistance the return of Clone Wars and I’m going to do some EU reading. I love our Galaxy Far Far Away, and I don’t ever want to leave it.

 

60 Books In 2019 #57: The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage By Phillip Pullman

Last week, we discussed how my reread of His Dark Materials inspired by the HBO/BBC adaptations resparked my interest in this world, and how I was looking forward to The Book Of Dust.

La Belle Sauvage takes place during the first year of Lyra Belaqua’s life, and while she’s important, (chosen one) the people who become important on her journey later only flit around the edges here. (I squealed when Farder Coram showed up!)  The story is mainly about a boy from Oxford named Malcolm who spends time at the convent where she was first surrendered by her parents, and develops a brotherly protective feeling for the baby girl.

Of course, as he gets caught up with Lyra, Malcolm finds himself in danger of The Magesterium, who are even scarier here than they are is His Dark Materials. The sinister child army of The Order Of St. Alexander really freaked me out. But Malcolm and his friend Alice also battle a terrifying Magistereum opperative with a hyena daemon, who has lost a front leg.

Which leads to my favorite part of this book, which is the use of daemons. You really see them as a manifestation of the character’s souls here, and the way we grow and the mystery of them. Malcolm fascination with how baby Lyra and Pantalaimon interact was shared by me! What a fun detail that babies in this world chatter to their daemon who chatters back! That daemons can’t talk until their humans can. That baby daemons are even more flighty and changing than child daemons!

The book was delightful, a bit thicker and deeper than it’s predecessors, so I’m going to hold off on The Secret Commonwealth for a bit, because there’s a lot digest here.

Up next is Soy Sauce For Beginners by Kirsten Chen.

60 Books In 2019 #43: The Shining By Stephen King

If you’ve hung around this blog for the past two years, you know how deeply I regret not letting myself be scared and falling into the work of Stephen King years ago. But as I read The Shining last weekend,and stunned a beach house full of graduated Georgia Tech Sorority girls by explaining I’d never read it before. (Well, the ones that had known me for years were stunned. The ones I’d never met before barely cared, which is fair.) I realized even with my pediatrician mandated, mother sleep needing rules against horror in my adolescence, I probably wouldn’t have been reading King anyway.

If there was one thing in the world that I craved as a teenager it was acceptance. I’ve often described myself as feeling like a guest star with my various groups of friends. (This caused one therapist, one of my favorites, who I had to part ways with because of changing insurance, to remind me that “life is not narrative.” Mr. King would probably disagree, Ma’am!) I hid my nerdy obsessions from my friends, where they didn’t fit. With my theater friends, I was all about Sondheim and Schwartz, with my hometown friends I loved indie rock and sitcoms and old movies, with my school friends (who had some theatrical crossover) it was punk rock and YA novels and blockbuster movies. (This allowed the X-Men and Batman to creep in occasionally.)

If I’d gotten into Stephen King then, and started talking about Danny Torrance’s Shine in relation to Jake Chamber’s Touch I don’t know that I could have survived the baffled looks.

This preamble is all to say that talking about The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant but very different from this book much to the chagrin of it’s author, film would have been acceptable conversation among all my friends, the book was anathema to them.

Anyway, The Shining, which rules. Just definitively, it’s amazing, and I’m glad I didn’t read it while I was still high on the tower but saved it for when I knew I was going to need a kick start back into his style, with several big deal adaptions on their way.

The book itself is a masterful haunted house story, with The Overlook Hotel taking on a monstrous personality, and it’s mysterious “manager.” (I believe I said outloud as Grady, the long dead caretaker discussed management with Jack Torrance, “The Crimson King?”) Because I began my constant reading journey with The Dark Tower I know I am doomed to feel the pull of the beam whenever I pick up a King book, ya dig? But I was eventually able to see past my own tower induced blinders to the horror and scares at The Shining’s heart, the horrors of addiction and rage and toxic masculinity. The things that consume Jack Torrance as his wife Wendy tries to shelter Danny from them.

And let’s talk about Wendy, shall we? Man, if I’d read this book when it came out and then watched that movie I’d have been PISSED AS HELL about Wendy, who is nothing but a tower of strength and patience balancing on a frayed nerve from her first moments. Granted, King has a tendency to do this with his women, he writes soft hearted survivor ladies, who come out of the crucible of male cruelty saintly and strong. It’s a problem on it’s own but it’s a hell of a sight better than the screaming, whining, snivelling performance given by Shelly Duvall in the movie.

Danny Torrance is a great character, maybe a little young for his role, King hadn’t yet hit his sweet spot of tween hero boys yet, so five year old Danny feels over precocious. (If Danny were 10 he’d be perfect. Then again, if Danny were 10 he’d be Jake Chambers…so there’s that.) (Look, we all know this is ending with me reading The Dark Tower again, I mean, not yet, but it’s going to happen.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Up next is With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo. Let’s get our YA on y’all!

60 Books In 2019 #28: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geekerella provides two things that I love more than anything, love letters to fandom, and specifically cosplay, and a take on the Cinderella story which I love so much.

Our Ella this time around is Danielle Wittimer, Elle to her friends, of whom she has few since her father died and her step mother’s parenting ranges from neglectful to outright abusive and her step sisters, twins Chloe and Calliope, keep her peers socially isolated from her. (Poston choosing the name Calliope made me happy. Rodgers and Hammerstein use it too!)

Elle works at a vegan food truck, and she otherwise spends time online writing about Starfield a 70s Sci-Fi show she used to watch with her father. When a reboot is announced Elle is sceptical, but she eventually finds herself rengaging with fandom IRL because of our Prince.

Our Prince is Darien Freeman, a teen soap newbie who is cast as Prince Carmindor in said reboot. He’s a Starfield superfan,  but the fandom’s decided he’s a clueless noob who’s not worthy of the part. (Elle is in fact spearheading the internet campaign against him.) Due to some shenanigans, the two wind up texting anonymously and quickly fall in nerdy adorable love.

The ball in question is a Cosplay Masquerade at Excelsicon, the nerd con founded by Elle’s father. And the pair finally meet in person and also get their act together regarding their dysfunctional families. (Darien’s intense manager father has also been making his life more difficult than necessary.)

Elle’s fairy godmother is her queer LOTR obsessed coworker, Sage, who I adored. (natch) Darien has a great assistant, and his snotty costars, a pair of indie darling actors who I’m pretty sure Poston modeled on a certain vampire soon to be Dark Knight and his blank faced mumbly paramour. (Well, actually, Jessica, the female lead seems to be a mix of Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence, but, Calvin, the other dude is very clearly Pattinson and it’s kind of great.)

I really enjoyed this book. It hit the Cinderella beats well. (It’s my favorite story, so you know, I’m critical.) It presents the best and worst of fandom clearly, with a serious focus on con culture and the silliness of some of it. Darien and Elle are both great. (Though I prefer Darien, a rarity for me to like the male lead of this kind of book better.) There’s a second book in this series, and I’m looking forward to it.

But first! Up next is Where’d You Go Bernadette? which I’ve already gotten a good chunk into and is utterly charming. 

60 Books In 2019 #25: Park Avenue Summer By Renee Rosen

I’ve never been a Cosmo girl. I’m a little too conservative for their particular brand of out there sexuality and a little too progressive for the regressive ideas about gender dynamics.

That doesn’t mean that as a writer, historical enthusiast and scholar of women’s movements, I didn’t appreciate what Helen Gurley Brown did with the magazine. (Even if I’ve always been more in line with Diana Vreeland) And what she did for women with that.

Park Avenue Summer doesn’t shy away from the fact that Brown was a strange mix of feminist empowerment and pre war conservatism. She was all for sexual liberation but still saw relationships and marriage as the end goal of a woman’s life. She was a necessary and  Park Avenue Summer revolves around the first three issues of Cosmopolitan that Brown published, centered around her bright young assistant Alice Weiss, a fictional but delightful creation.

Alice is smart, a little shy, and very competent. She dates the wrong guy (who she knows is wrong) while she waits for the right one to come to his senses. She has some family secrets. (Which are deeply unnecessary. B-Plots in these sorts of books are usually so disposable. Reading all the YA I have lately has made me deeply appreciative of the lean storytelling style of those books.)

This was another quick read, which was sort of the point of June (so far) for me reading wise. I need to get my goal numbers. (I mean, I don’t, but you know.) But it’s also been refreshing to just breeze through books again. This is partially because I’m back in the habit of reading, but by being back in the habit, it doesn’t take as long for me to read.

I was out of practice. But  I’m getting back in shape.

If only I could do the same for running…

Up next is Leah On The Offbeat, which is the sequel to Love, Simon and it’s just…I love it so much…

60 Books In 2019 #15: The Vampire Armand By Anne Rice

Armand has always been my favorite of Anne Rice’s vampires, even back when I had only read Interview, and seen the movies, I loved him. I loved that he knew he was the bad guy in this story, and frankly being played by Antonio Banderas doesn’t hurt.

But here’s my favorite thing about The Vampire Chronicles in general as they continue to unfurl, and it’s the way that Rice plays with unreliable narrators. We met these characters first through Louis, who’s perspective is skewed by his love of aestethics, his relatively short life in comparison to the other vampires, and his all consuming grief at the loss of Claudia. Of course he’d see Armand, who never denied the evil of what they have to do to survive as evil incarnate.

Then we meet them through Lestat. Who, while I adore him, is a complete and total blowhard. Armand’s quiet intensity and belief in anything, let alone a God who’d wish to punish the creatures of the night would be antithetical to Lestat’s view of the world as a playground for his grand adventures.

Now we have Armand’s story. The story of how the talented boy Andrei became the slave Amadeo who then became the vampire Armand. We learn about his kidnapping, his apprenticeship with Marius (Ah, Marius) as well as their love and then finally, his second kidnapping by Santino which lead to his leading the Paris coven of vampires, which then evolved into The Theatre De Vampire, and his turning of Daniel, at the begining of Queen Of The Damned. Which, you know, I kind of forgot about?

Armand views this as his most monstrous action, because he thinks turning humans is disgusting. (The killing is a necessary evil, but to rob them of normal lives is obscene. Seriously, I love Armand!) 

The book is framed by Armand giving his tale to David Talbot after the events of Memnoch The Devil, which is when it gets Jesus-y (of course it gets Jesus-y), Armand admits he was always religious, which was what made him easy prey. He’s also formed a small human family around himself, which as he heals from his leap into the sun, (will Armand now be the greatest vampire to ever vampire because he survived the same thing as Lestat? I sure hope so.) And in what I really, really enjoyed as a horrible finale, he surrenders the protection of his pet humans to Marius and Pandora, thinking they’ll care for them as he gets better, and when he goes back to find them all, find that Marius has turned them.

I was so happy to see the vampires behaving like monsters again. To see their nature made cruel and odd all over again. We’ve been living too long with Louis and Lestat and their moral codes of only killing killers, and never changing anyone again, and all that.

Armand knows he’s the bad guy. Marius knows he’s the bad guy. They’re much more interesting at this point.

Next up is Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom, because you know what? Let’s get some dumb Hollywood trash juice around her. It’s been a while.

Summer Reading

Hi everyone!

As the summer kicks off, I’m reminded of library summer reading programs. You know, you would get a sticker or whatever for every book you read?

Anyway, I’ve decided to give myself some reading goals so that I don’t wind up floundering and not reading much, as sometimes happens when I get busy.

  • The Vonnegut Project continues in earnest. This weekend I read (reread actually) Slapstick. Not my favorite (Mother Night has inched up on Cat’s Cradle though.) but nice to revisit. I’ve really enjoyed this project so far, and still heartily enjoying Kurt Vonneguys. Right now, I’m reading Jailbird, and then Palm Sunday. Jailbird, I’m enjoying, it actually remind me a lot of Mother Night, just in style and structure.

Cinder

  • The Lunar Chronicles: A series that I never managed to pick up, but I read Cinder about a month ago and really, really enjoyed it, so I’m onto Scarlet now. I’m invested in the story, at the very least, and I do love re contextualized fairy tales. And badass female heroes, and villains for that matter. Plus teenagers doing magic. Seriously, I don’t know how I haven’t read these books before, they have everything I like. I finished up Scarlet on Saturday night, and I’m looking forward to Cress. I should note, that I picked up Cinder on Kristi’s recommendation. So, thanks!
  • The Dark Tower: I finished The Gunslinger before picking up Slapstick. Mostly I wanted some basis of understanding of the world and story before the movie comes out, and I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve also never really read much Steven King before (see, horror, not my thing…) so I figure this is as good a gateway as anything into his stuff. Also, the movie looks, really, really good, just on it’s own, so, I’m in on this. I read The Drawing Of The Three yesterday and while it felt a little bit less epic than The Gunslinger I’m interested in watching this world expand out as I keep going. (My friend Greg has said that Wizard And Glass might be his favorite book ever…Greg and I tend to align on things. So looking forward to that.)

That’s the plan for now. Right now, I’m looking to alternate between Lunar Chronicles and Dark Tower books (with a Vonnegut here and there to keep up with podcast) to avoid falling to deeply into either worlds. With Game of Thrones coming back, my day job morphing again, and finally starting to look for my own place (that’s it’s own post when things are a little more solid) I can’t really afford, time wise, a full on new fandom.

We don’t need a repeat of the summer of A Song Of Ice And Fire, The Hunger Games and Mad Men and not just because of the complete loss of faith in humanity brought on by that binge. (If you’re wondering how to cure it, I recommend visits to Middle Earth and Narnia) But, yeah, I’m tired and busy and can’t fully invest theses day

I’m using Goodreads to keep myself honest and on task. Connect with me if you’re on the service! And recommend other series for me to take on. Or just books. In particular, something a little more feminine? Lunar Chronicles is doing it for now, but that’ll run out soon and while I’m really enjoying both The Vonnegut Project and The Dark Tower, they’re really, really, male. Not in a bad way, just like, I need to balance the dudely energy a little bit.

Happy Summer Reading!

Busy Busy Busy: Smartening and The Kurt Vonneguys

Six months ago I decided to smarten up a little and the project failed miserably, because Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton is insanely long and dense and I wasn’t smarted up enough for it.

So, I dropped that book and the whole American History project, but lucky for me, a new presented itself to me!

Michael Swaim and Alex Schmidt, who I knew from Cracked, (by knew I mean, read their writing and watched their videos, I have not met these men.) started a podcast called The Kurt Vonneguys where they’re reading and discussing the works of Kurt Vonnegut in release order.

I’ve always liked Vonnegut’s work, and felt like I hadn’t read enough of it, so I decided to jump in. (Plus, my English major brain was missing the analysis of reading in a big way, and the podcast gives me that.) So far the podcast (and myself!) have made it through Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan and Mother Night. The one for Cat’s Cradle came out this week and I’m reading it right now. (I’m about halfway through.) Cat’s Cradle is one of my favorite books ever, so I was excited to circle back to it.

Also, given my current mood and sense of feeling overwhelmed by the world there’s something comforting in Vonnegut’s strange form of Nihilism. Unlike a lot of the “nothing matters” philosophy, Vonnegut’s point is inevitably, “nothing matter, so we might as well take care of one another, makes the nothingness more pleasant.”

There’s something comforting in that feeling right now, when it seems like common courtesy (or as some people want to call it “Political Correctness”) is considered weakness. When caring for others, particularly those who are different from you might be a radical act, I see nothing wrong with indulging in some thoughtful literature about how the world may burn, but at least we have each other.

Even if it’s all an accident, it’s a damn amazing accident.