Sunday 23 September 2012

Katie's Adventures in Storyland

Hi everyone. Once again I must apologise for the lack of proper reviews around here lately. As is evident from the blog, most of my reading energies have been going on the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R R Martin. I'm currently about halfway through the final volume, and will shortly be joining the impatient masses begging Mr Martin to chain himself to his computer until book 6 is completed.* Oh, well, I suppose I have a year and a half less to wait between volumes than those who read Dance With Dragons when it came out, however long Martin takes.

But Song of Ice and Fire (may I shorten this title?) hasn't been alone occupying my mind. Welcome to the new very occasional series I am renaming Adventures in Storyland. (Is this a really terrible title? Little bit terrible, perhaps?) Here I will chronicle other stories - book, TV, film and Other - that my mind has been visiting, that have not had a whole post to themselves.

May contain spoilers

While waiting for my best friend (who is the other half of my unofficial book club) to catch up with me in the Ice and Fire series, I reread Pratchett's Unseen Academicals. Now, I love Terry Pratchett, and read or reread several of his books each year. I gave this book a glowing review when I read it first time around, but this time I took a while to get into it, even putting it back on the shelf for a while. I was clearly not in the right frame of mind for it at first, and the wizards' stories are my least favourite sub-series. But when I got to Mr Nutt's big secret (which was, of course, no secret on a reread) my heart broke a bit all over again. Dear old Mr Nutt, always striving to achieve "worth." In Nutt, Pratchett deals with a subject that J. R. R. Tolkien himself confessed to having trouble with in his own books - the problem of the orcs and goblins as irredeemable. Nutt is lovely, if burdened with a horrendous inferiority complex that makes you just want to give him a hug. And he has his own moments of Awesome at the end.

After many years of good intentions, I read The Perks of Being A Wallflower, soon to be a film. A year in the life of a geeky, awkward high school student, written as letters to an anonymous recipient. Perhaps it is the combination of Charlie's intensity and introspective character, and the epistolary narration that marks this out as a "literary" novel rather than being filed in the "young adult" bucket with other books with similar settings and themes. Not that I mean to imply that a book can't be both literary and YA, or that YA is inferior. Take a look at the greyscale spreading across the adult bestseller charts in your local bookstores.+ Alternatively, pass that by entirely and buy Perks of Being A Wallflower instead. It's an easy read, but one that lingers on in the mind long after the book is finished. I thought it was a cross between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Speak. (Many critics have compared it with Catcher in the Rye, but this is a book that I have never had any desire to read, so I can't say. If anyone wants to try to change my mind on Catcher, I'm willing to be persuaded.)

The last few days I've been hit with a beast of a cold, wrapped up in woolly jumpers and working through many boxes of tissues, watching DVDs. I was rather taken aback to see how many films I have acquired that are based upon comic books, and specifically superhero comics. I've always considered the sort of superheroes with superhero outfits and superhero names too cheesy for words, especially if capes and masks are involved.

Avengers Assemble (as The Avengers is called in the UK) strikes a careful balance, neither hamming up nor downplaying the cheesiness, but embraces the cheese for what it is. The Avengers introduced cult favourite Joss Whedon to a wider audience and is full of excellent performances. For those not in the know, Hollywood has been building up to this film for a long time. The Avengers Initiative comprises all of the Marvel superheroes who have previously starred in their own films: Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, as well as Black Widow and Hawkeye - the ultimate collaboration, based upon the ultimate comic book crossover.

Also in the last week, my sister introduced me to the Batman mythology via Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. A much darker story than your average superhero tale - or, at least, my preconception of your average superhero tale. Christian Bale's Batman is more of a superantihero than simple hero, the late Heath Ledger was exemplary as the terrifyingly psychopathic Joker, and Jenny and I raised a glass each time Morgan Freeman appeared on screen, because of his being Morgan Freeman. Living in comic book ignorance, I may have been the only person to be truly shocked and unspoiled for Harvey Dent's plot. Wow! I thought, I really did not see that coming! What a twist! What storytelling! before I discovered that it was an open secret, and everybody else who ever saw this film was waiting for the twist. Heh. Still, the surprise pleased me, and I ended up buying the double pack with Batman Begins. I'd been warned that Batman Begins was "all right, pretty good, but not up to The Dark Knight," but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. And looking at the cinema's website, I discover I just missed its last showing of part 3, The Dark Knight Rises, and have to wait for the DVD. Bother.

And of course I have been watching Doctor Who, which is four episodes into the five-part "first half-series." Unlike previous seasons, which each seem to have been aiming to be bigger and more impressive than the last, the episodes have been simple, fun adventures, one story per episode. Instead of a series-long epic tying each episode together, the main story is that of companions Amy and Rory Pond (or Williams) trying to juggle two lives: their everyday life as a married couple, and the Tardis-life. It can't go on forever, and they know they need to make a decision. It looked as though they were going to be sensible and decide to stay home, say "Thank you, Doctor, it's been good," and get on with their lives. And then, at the end of the last episode, they make the opposite decision. They'll travel with the Doctor a little longer. Now, knowing that they have just one more episode to go before they leave the show, ensures that such a decision bodes as ill as saying "We'll stay together forever." And I think that Doctor Who may have run out of non-fatal ways to permanently separate the Doctor from his companions. I've felt that it was time for Amy and Rory to move on, and thought that their decision to "quit" the Doctor was a refreshing, sad but not devastating way to do it. And then they don't make that decision at all! I thought I was ready to say goodbye - and instead the writers caught me off my guard and now I'm very much afraid for the Ponds.

*N.B. I don't literally mean he should be chained up. High output should be rewarded by food and water, fresh air and exercise. Ill-treatment of his characters, on the other hand...

+ I'm sure they're not all crimes against the written word. 


  1. Great post. I agree with you on the point about the Ponds of Doctor Who. I really like the characters but I think it was the right time for them to move on. Incidentally, what did you think of their actual last episode, if you saw it? :)

  2. Character-wise I couldn't fault it, similarly, the acting was tremendous. My main criticism was the fairly obvious plot-hole about the Doctor not being able to ever see them again because of being unable to Tardis into New York. Why couldn't he Tardis anywhere else in the USA in their lifetime and take a plane or a train or hire a car? But that quibble aside, I thought it was very well done. This last half-series has been about character development, rather than having a BIGGER, MORE DRASTIC AND TWISTY plot than the last, which is a nice change. And I felt Moffat had more control over the storytelling than his predecessor.

  3. Yeah, the plot hole is a bit annoying but I forgive it for how great the rest of the episdode is. I like to think that the Doctor knows that physically he can see them again (in the ways you suggested)but emotionally he can't as they've properly grown up now and don't need him anymore. It's just a fan theory of mine to make some sense of it all.
    I agree with you about the change in this half-series. It has been nice to have a more straight-forward series after last year. Very much looking forward to next year.

  4. Yes! Me too, can't wait. Looking forward to seeing Oswyn (?) again, and also Neil Gaiman is writing another episode.

  5. I'm very much looking forward to seeing her again - although she might not even be Oswin!
    Yes, I'm so pleased he's writing for the show again. I'm a particular fan of his work and the Doctor's Wife is one of my favourite Whos.


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