Saturday, June 30, 2007

Creating Your Saturday Morning Cartoon Lineup

Jenica wasn't feeling great this morning, so Gunnar and I got up together, made breakfast, and were hoping to watch some great Saturday morning cartoons together.

Sadly, the lineup this morning at 7:00AM sucked. So we made our own lineup.

We started with an episode of Teen Titans season 1. Another release from Warner Brothers' adaptations of DC series, once again from the production powerhouse of Bruce Timm. Back in the 90's it was Batman: The Animated Series and Superman, then in the past few years it's been Justice League. These were cool reinventions of their source material, but Teen Titans is almost a revision of its source material. The original Teen Titans comic book was one of my faves as a teenager myself. I related to the struggles of the characters (despite the fact that they weren't really teenagers - they were all young adults except Changeling). So I know the heart of the series; the cartoon definitely captures it, but does it with some of the best visual shorthand I've seen in an ongoing superhero cartoon series.

Done in a mix of Timm's design style and Anime tropes, the cartoon presents the Titans as definite teen subculture representatives. The mystic raven is emo/goth, Robin has a sort of skater-punk sensibility, Starfire is the pretty ditzy girl with a heart of gold, Beastboy is the dorky short kid who tries to be everyone's friend, and Cyborg is like the all-star jock meets computer whiz. They like going to parties and playing video games. They suggest having movie nights and say "I'll get even" instead of "I'll have my revenge!" It's hip, it's cool, and the title music (done in Japanese bubble gum pop-punk) is great for dancing with your kid. We rocked out to the end title credits, our cereal already eaten.

Then Gunnar chose Avatar Season 1 for our second feature (he does pick the movies - I put 3-4 selections out and he picks one). This is the Nickelodeon animated series about a young monk who, after being trapped in ice for a century, is awakened to discover that the world is war, and his identity as the current incarnation of the powerful 'avatar' means he is the one who can save it.

My first intriguing contact with the show came this past Christmas while I was writing my Chronicles of the Magi. Blankpage left me a comment to the effect that my Magi had powers similar to the 'benders' of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I knew about the show, but I assumed that, since Avatar was on YTV, it was like the channel's many other Anime-oriented shows: I figured it was based on a toy and was just one part of a large marketing ploy, as Yu-Gi-Oh! was. So I avoided it.

The show is marketed at grade school children and young teens, but has a scope that is epic and nuanced enough to attract adult viewers, at least geeks like me. I love the score, the pure Anime style and the way that, once again, the characters act like children, which they are. The Avatar is supposed to save the world, but not at the expense of going penguin sledding. Gunnar emulates the bending moves while we're watching, and rocks out to the end title music. I see a pattern emerging.

Our third feature was actually on television; Jakers: the Adventures of Piggly Winks. It's a 3-D animated series of the childhood of an Irish pig who lives with other anthropomorphic animals, namely his closest friends Fernie, a cow, and Danan, a duck. Mel Brooks provides comedy relief as a wise-cracking sheep owned by Piggly's father, Mr. Winks. In many ways, it's standard children's fare; a moral tale told through Piggly's reminiscences. But the past is set in an Ireland of the early 30's or 40's near as I can tell, and the pastoral settling lends a simplicity that makes the show very watchable - no Internet, no cell phones, just a pristine Edenic childhood. Going swimming at the pond on weekends, school projects, and getting in a little trouble. It uses standard children's show elements, but presents them in so effective a fashion so as to make it one of the shows I want Gunnar to be watching.

It seems like as I parent Gunnar, I'm walking down memory lane. Recapturing my childhood, reliving my youth, etc. If this is my mid-life crisis, then it ain't too bad. Saturday morning cartoons instead of a new porsche. Hanging with my son instead of going out with the boys. If this is growing up, bring it on!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Magik Beans: Feeling Blue

A preview and the link:

"There are moments in every young man’s life where he gets exactly what he wants and then finds himself at a complete loss for what to do with it. Most young men anticipate their first sexual experience with the anticipation of children on Christmas Eve, and Andrew was no different. He was not “taking things slow” out of virtue, but simple fear. He would have loved to explore beneath the shirt of the cute girl with brunette curls but was positive such a course of action would end badly. So when she swam over and placed her bikini-clad bottom on Andrew’s lap, he was initially very excited, hoping that this might have something to do with “next base.” Excited enough that the girl with tight brunette curls could tell, given her proximity to the source of the information."

Click HERE to start at the beginning.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Life Cycles

When I was a kid living in Medicine Hat, I owned an orange 3-speed bike. At least, that's what it really was. To me, it was Flash Gordon's rocket cycle, the Lone Ranger's horse Silver, a speeder bike from Return of the Jedi. During the summer months when my cousin Paul would come to visit me from Calgary, we would bike daily to a Mac's convenience store; having asked my mother for alms to go and procure our daily bread, (a slush in the collector's cups that were the promotion that summer, a series of monstrosities from other galaxies...and yes, we collected them all that summer) we would head out on our journey.

Riding your bike as a kid during the summer was all about journey. You rarely took the same route twice, you raced down alleyways and through residential streets, enjoying the summer sun and the freedom from schoolwork and schedule. All you had to do was be back in time for lunch, or supper - whatever the next major meal was. When we reached the Mac's, we'd sit and enjoy our slushes, our bikes propped against the curb. I don't remember being paranoid about locking them up in those days, unless you took it to school. You never abandoned your bike for more than the time it took to enter the store, browse the comic rack and buy your slush (along with the latest issue of Conan the Barbarian, the kid's equivalent to Heavy Metal magazine). You sat reading the comic or opening bubblegum cards or just enjoying the brain freeze before getting back on the bike for the ride home.

When I was in my early teens, I traded up from my orange 3-speed to a gold 12 speed mountain bike. Now I had serious power. I was a tall, gangly youth; long legs made for high speeds. Now, if I was imagining my bike to be anything but a bike, it was Mad Max's Interceptor. Biking with my other geeky friends, we'd imagine that each rain puddle we'd run through was a cache of rare fuel, and then determine (according to the size of the puddle) how much time we'd bought ourselves in terms of fuel. Big puddles were 10 minutes worth. If we ran out before finding another puddle...we were walking our bikes. Because it still wasn't about the destination.

And then girls entered the picture, and the bike became a means to visit the girl. By age 14, my friend Danny had a moped, and I was forced to try and keep up with engine propulsion, which resulted in the worst bike accident I was ever in. Racing down one of the roads cut into the coulee valleys of Medicine Hat, my front brake locked and sent me head first into the road, into the path of oncoming traffic. My Mad Max moment was understanding why the scene in Road Warrior where he crawls from the wreckage of his Interceptor had that blurry quality to it. I don't remember crawling off the pavement, but I know I got a little ways before a friend of the family got out of their car to pull me the rest of the way. I was only slightly concussed, massively road burned, and my bike was FUBAR for a good year.

By the time the bike was back in action, I was nearly old enough for my drivers' license. No one biked much once they had that. In fact, I never owned a bike again until I was nearly 30. My in-laws bought me a mountain bike, which lasted right up until last year as a means to "get in shape". The efficacy of this is dubious - that bike met it's maker because I had the seat post too high and bent the frame with 220 lbs of downward pressure over a 5 year period.

Last year I got a new bike. It's another orange one, and last summer it was how I got to work most days. This summer it's taken me back in time to my earliest bike memories; sitting in the child seat behind my mom, or maybe my dad. I can't remember real well, just that it was great fun to be blasting around so fast. Gunnar and I do that these days. We go for a bike ride at least once a week, most of the time to visit the Valley Zoo. But like those days over 20 years ago, it's not about the destination.

I can't wait until he wants to go the Mac's for a slush. I'm looking forward to sitting on the curb and reading a comic book again.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A sense of wonder bra

Preview and link to the latest Magik Beans...

"If we keep up at this rate, we could even look at renovating the damage done to the building...putting up a new sign," Andrew said as he went into the back room to hang up his coat and toque.

"New sign?" Lara called, handing over the espresso. "So you like my idea for the name?"

"Beats the hell out of being The Coffee Break," Andrew replied.

Lara gave a self-satisfied smile and turned to the next customer, finding herself suddenly staring at one of the most physically striking females she had ever seen.

She stood around six feet tall, her stature only owing slightly to the knee-high leather boots she was wearing over fishnet hose. Hooker boots, Lara thought. A short, tight black skirt covered from mid-thigh to midriff, which was exposed, probably to showcase the woman's navel ring and impossibly flat stomach. The white half-shirt covered her breasts enough to ensure she wouldn't be arrested for being in public, and was transparent enough to demonstrate that while they defied gravity as though held up by a miracle bra, no bra was lending support. Fake rack, Lara thought. This ostentatious ensemble was completed by what could only be called a winter coat because it was made from fur and would have kept a hobbit nicely warmed. It mostly covered her arms and shoulders, across which fell golden waves of hair fit for a Loreal commercial. Extensions, Lara thought. The hair framed a heart shaped face with high cheekbones tapering to a small delicate chin, which held full and sensual lips. Collagen, Lara thought.

"I'm looking for Andrew Weazle," the lips said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Review - Furious Pursuit: Why God Will Never Let You Go

Last fall I received a number of email requests to review books by Christian speakers/authors. Those requests were parallel to me starting my full time graduate coursework. I was still working 3/4 time at Holyrood. So there just wasn't time to fulfill the promise I'd made to review the books. It's nearly a year later for some of the requests, but I'm finally getting around to it.

Tim King and Frank Martin’s Furious Pursuit: Why God Will Never Let You Go was not the first book I received, but it turned out to be the one I took with me on Christmas vacation. I read it in nightly chapter installments, abandoning it again when school started and then finishing it this last week over a cigar and coffee.

If you’ve read anything by John Eldredge, especially Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role That is Yours To Play or The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (why can’t these books just have one title?), you have no need of reading Furious Pursuit. If you haven’t read either of those books and are a victim of excessive worm theology (I suck, God hates me, I’m a sinner, God will incinerate my sorry ass at His earliest convenience), then Furious Pursuit might not be a bad read for you.

That’s the best thing I can say about this book. You might call it my pastoral evaluation. If I’d heard the text of Furious Pursuit preached as a sermon, I’d applaud it for speaking to people who need to hear that God really loves them, and wants to know them. But it’s not a book that changed my world, or strengthened my relationship with God. That could just be where I’m at, but it could also be that it’s poorly written.

It is plagued by vague language; “You don’t have to pursue God, you just have to awaken to his voice” (7), which begs the question, “How do I do that?” The book never really addresses that; it explains what God might be saying through Biblical passages and personal anecdotes, but a practical approach to awakening to God’s voice was sadly lacking. The statement is the thesis of the book though, and the second chapter has the bold statement that God can’t resist you. Maybe I’m too much a student of C.S. Lewis, but in the Four Loves, Lewis suggests that we’re the ones who operate out of a need-oriented love, not God. This is ironic, because King and Martin claim that “no relationship built on need can survive” (21), but if God can’t resist me, there’s an implication that he needs me. I don’t think God needs me. He might want to know me, but to say that he needs me, that he’s irresistibly drawn to me? I beg to differ. This model of love is one I’m contrary to anyhow. It’s the “love is a spell” which entrances us and draws us inexorably toward the object of our enchantment. God chooses to love us, and vice versa. At the very least I’d say we might be drawn irresistibly toward God. And despite the claim that need-based relationships are doomed, the book later states that in the moment we find God, we “have all [we] need” (112). These sorts of inner contradictions plague the book, and I think on of the reasons for this is in the authors’ choice to focus exclusively on one aspect of God and then postulate this is who God really is.

Furious Pursuit claims that God is a lover. He is a furious and aggressive lover, which has warrior implications, but he’s mostly a lover. Not primarily judge, king, or creator, but lover. Statements like “All you have to do is read the Old Testament in context to see that the God of the Bible is a God not of wrath but of mercy and forgiveness and restoration. God’s Story is a Love Story. Nothing else” (93). I’m not a fundamentalist hoping God is going to fry all the heathen into a crisp, but to say that the story of God is just a love story is to strip the canon of both Old and New Testaments of many other elements. God’s story could be said to be a story of Creation. Of violent redemption (though I know it’s not in vogue to say that—my reply to the detractors of the myth of redemptive violence is that, just because we can’t do something perfectly doesn’t mean God can’t—we love imperfectly, but do not cease trying to do so). Of mystic encounter. Perspective determines how we read the story, or as a good friend likes to say, how the story reads us.

King and Martin are obviously family men. They’re attracted to God as a lover, I suspect, because that’s where they’re at in life. Eldredge sees God as a lover and a warrior. Julia Cameron is big on God as creator. It was interesting to me that Mark Buchanan, author of the Holy Wild wrote one of the jacket quotes, since as I understand, his book does what I have accused Furious Pursuit of failing in—it works with both the warrior and the lover aspects of God.

The book further suffers in its anecdotes (and their delivery; each time an anecdote begins, it will say something like “there was this time I (Frank)…etc., etc.” For the sake of flow, each anecdote could have had it’s header prefaced by the author who was relating it.), which vacillate between stories worthy of Chicken Soup for the Soul and one involving a man on his deathbed told with the phrase “I realized God had given me a ringside seat to one of the great eternal battles between fear and love, and that day fear was kicking love’s butt” (31, italics mine). Kicking love’s butt? Phrases like that belong in 80’s Christian pop music written by virile looking Latino men. In a book like this, they stick out worse than a sore thumb.

That’s really the problem with this book. The writing is uneven. One moment profound, the next problematic. Even though I disliked most of the book, the chapters “Living in the Eternal Moment” and “The Token: A Ring of Thorns” were very strong. And I did make points in the margin where I said “good point”, but I make those marks on my students’ papers as well. And when they’re poorly written, they still don’t get an A. And in the final evaluation, Furious Pursuit is a poorly written series of good sermons. I’d like to see Tim King speak. Maybe he makes up for what Frank Martin’s co-writing skills couldn’t even cover. Then again, considering that Martin wrote a 365-day devotional book based on the best-selling Left Behind series of novels, maybe that isn’t saying much.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A lucrative morning

An excerpt from the latest episode of Magik Beans;

"Customers normally stormed out if the lineup took too long, or became irate if the particular type of coffee they wanted, but that Saturday morning, they did neither. While they waited in line, they gazed up at the canopy overhead in wonderment. Andrew kept waiting for someone to ask how the hell he'd grown a full sized tree in the middle of winter, or why the espresso machine was hanging from its branches, but aside from Blackout, no one seemed to want an answer for the mystery. They had been compelled inside out of the cold to have an experience that went far beyond coffee. Or tea for that matter. When Andrew informed people that they were making fresh pots of coffee and it'd only be a few moments until it was ready, they asked what else they could have, and often settled on tea.

Andrew was slack jawed.

Go HERE to read on...Click HERE to start at the beginning.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Zamyatin’s Perpetual Revolution and Neorealism as Play: The Avant Garde grows up


In his article simply titled “Play”, Religion scholar Sam D. Gill defines play as “a type of structural dynamics, a being at once of two minds or a holding at once of mutually exclusive positions” (451). He utilizes Baudrillard’s example of the Moebius strip to further explain the “peculiar contiguity of near and far, inside and outside, subject and object in the same spiral” (455). By this definition, Evgeny Zamyatin’s concepts of perpetual heresy and neorealism can be seen as forms of play. The author of the ostensibly dystopic science fiction classic We[1], as well as numerous tales or povest (Shane 13) and essays is known for his concept of true heresy, which is eternal, since a true heretic “can never be victorious…because victory is inevitably followed by dogma and philistinism” (48), as well as his development of Neorealism, which synthesizes Realism and Symbolism by depicting the real world in a hyper-real fashion, so as to “reveal a reality more authentic than historical fact” (Layton 146).

Both Zamyatin’s perpetual heresy and neorealism rely upon the synthesis of two seemingly opposed ideas. Perpetual heresy simultaneously advocates for change to make the world a better place, but realizes that this goal can never be ultimately achieved, giving literal meaning to the term revolution; one imagines a mouse on a wheel given the apparent futility of seeking a goal which cannot be reached. Neorealism combines the aesthetic of the Realists, to paint, write or compose a representation of life, with the aesthetic of the Symbolists who “sought to describe man’s complex feelings and to depict the essence of man’s spiritual being” (Shane 116).

While the notion of play is generally associated with childish behavior, the playful syntheses of perpetual heresy and neorealism exemplify a mature avant-garde aesthetic, one which simultaneously strives for new forms of art without calling for the destruction of past forms; one which bring healing through wounding, finds hell in Paradise, and reveals the devil as God.

It’s not about the movement, but the lack thereof

Finding two essays by Evgeny Zamyatin in the Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism might seem strange, since Zamyatin is not considered a Russian Futurist. Further, Zamyatin openly deprecates Russian Futurism in one of the two essays by claiming a tongue-in-cheek moratorium on the movement, as there are no longer Futurists, but rather “Presentists” (195). Written in 1918, the essay “The Presentists” explains how, contrary to Leon Trotsky’s estimation that Futurism lacked “a proletarian revolutionism” (Hyde 261), the events of 1917 had transformed the future into the present—at least, for the Futurists. As a result, they could no longer be called Futurists, since in Zamyatin’s words “the Futurists created style, the Presentists follow style” (196).

Despite the overt nature of these denunciations, it would be a mistake to assume that Zamyatin was criticizing Futurism itself. On the contrary, he admired the Futurist movement, saying that “until the Futurists became Presentists, one could admire them as the Don Quixotes of literature” (195). A year later, in “Contemporary Russian Literature”, a public lecture delivered at the People’s University in Lebedyan, Mayakovsky, arguably the leader of the Russian Futurist movement is referred to as a “serious and talented poet” and extolled as representative of “Futurism at its best” (Soviet Heretic 49). The satirical, cynical tone of “The Presentists” clearly presents the Futurists in a negative light.

As an artist, he was a contemporary of Russian avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Constructivism, Acmeism, and Cubism, but is not numbered among the artists of these movements. Milton Ehre notes that Zamyatin’s “career can be understood as an attempt to do in prose what the Acmeists and Futurists were attempting in poetry—to establish in theory and exemplify in works the basis for an avant-garde literature” (131). Indeed, Zamyatin’s essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters”, a work which Susan Layton calls a “polemical statement of the Modernist outlook reminiscent of the literary manifestos which had proliferated Russia prior to World War I”, contains a passage regarding “old, slow, creaking descriptions” as “a thing of the past” and encourages brevity without sacrificing power. Like Layton, the reader cannot help but be reminded of the “eternal, omnipresent speed” of Marinetti’s “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (Flint 41) a work which inspired Mayakovsky and the Russian Futurists in Zamyatin’s call for “supercharged, high-voltage” language:

We must compress into a single second that which was held before in a sixty-second minute. And hence, syntax becomes elliptic, volatile; the complex pyramids of periods are dismantled stone by stone into independent sentences…When you are moving fast, the canonized, the customary eludes the eye: hence, the unusual, often startling, symbolism and vocabulary. The image is sharp, synthetic, with a single, salient feature—the one feature you will glimpse from a speeding car” (Soviet Heretic 112).

Despite sharing the Russian Futurists’ desire for writing to match the tempo of modern life, Nikolaj Aseev, a student of Mayakovsky, “spoke of Zamyatin’s works as a thing of the past, as ‘dad’s old frock coats and cutaways, carefully stored in the closet’” (Shane 56).

How is it that a writer whose art reflected “the refusal to be bound by literal fact, the interweaving of reality and fantasy, the transmutation of fact into poetry, often grotesque, oblique, playful, but always expressive of the writer’s unique vision of life in his own, unique, terms” (Ginsburg, v) was dismissed as a thing of the past? Was it simply his “highly inconvenient habit”, stated in his “Letter to Stalin”, of speaking what I consider to be the truth rather than saying what may be expedient at the moment” (Dragon xiii)? The avant-garde movement spawned many outspoken artists, some of whom could identify with Zamyatin’s distinction of having written the first novel banned by the Chief Administration for Literary Affairs (Kern, 9), and yet Zamyatin is not counted an aesthetic brother.

Zamyatin reserved the same sort of criticism leveled at the Futurists in “The Presentists” for the October Revolution. Zamyatin had participated in the unsuccessful 1905 Russian Revolution, and had been an ardent supporter of the Revolution of 1917, going so far as to profess his devotion to it in terms of romantic love (Shane 19). Once the revolution was over, however, Zamyatin rebuked the Scythians, a “loosely organized circle of philosophers and witers” for their “dogmatic glorification and canonization of October”, believing that the Bolshevik Revolution “did not need the protective armor of dogma and deification” (19). The official title of “The Victorious October Revolution” implied that the events of 1917 were final, that the ultimate revolution had occurred.

While Zamyatin supported the goals of the Revolution and had aesthetic values similar to those of the Futurists, he did not believe that the realization of either those goals or aesthetic values signaled an end to revolution or innovation. Like I-330 of his famous novel We, Zamyatin believed that revolution was perpetual, and that the concept of a “final revolution… is for children: children are frightened by infinity, and it’s important that children sleep peacefully at night” (152). Zamyatin’s deprecation of the Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Futurists were not attacks on movements, but rather their lack thereof.

Sure it’s just fog, but doesn’t that cloud look like an adolescent Futurist?

In her book, The Poetic Avant-Garde in Poland, Bogdana Carpenter considers the development of the Polish futurist movement as a “passage from youth to maturity”, conflating the Polish Futurists with adolescents. Using a definition via this metaphor, the immature avant-garde movement is concerned only with “pure negation”, which Carpenter concludes is “difficult if not impossible to maintain as a permanent attitude because it implies resignation and fatalism. Man always gropes for faith and meaning” (17). Zamyatin was very concerned with the human condition, and sought to focus on it by establishing “continuity between past, present, and future” (Layton 146). In this way he was could not be counted as either a pure foe of avant-garde art, characterized by doing “nothing but sigh nostalgically for the good old days when art was traditional, academic, and classical” nor as a defender, committed to nothing but “the necessity of liquidating the art of the past” (Poggioli 13). Zamyatin referred to this continuity, a “dialectical motion of revolt against the Symbolist heritage and simultaneous acceptance of many of its aspects” (Ehre 131) as Neorealism:

“The Prose fiction that would catch the quickened tempos of modern life Zamyatin calls alternately Neorealism and Syntheism. It was intended…to provide a temporary synthesis of Realism and Symbolism in the never-ending dialectical process that, in Zamyatin’s view, constitutes literary and human history” (131).

As with his notion of perpetual revolution, Zamyatin’s Neorealism relies upon a notion of play. By way of explaining the difference between how Neorealism effectively works, he uses the example of “clouds around the summit of a high mountain”.

“The Realist writers accepted the clouds as they saw them, rosy and golden, or black and heavy with storm. The Symbolists had the courage to climb to the summit and discover that there was nothing pink or golden there, nothing but slush and fog. The Neorealists were on the mountaintop together with the Symbolists and saw that clouds are fog. But having come down from the mountain, they had the courage to say: “It may be fog, but its good fun all the same”” (Soviet Heretic 40).

It is this dialectical tension coupled with Zamyatin’s interest in the human condition which places Zamyatin outside the Russian avant-garde movement per se, or perhaps places him in a mature and sustainable avant-garde. While this may sound like an oxymoron to have an avant-garde described as mature, if Renato Poggioli is correct in his estimation that avant-garde are is characterized by the “myth of the new” (214), then Zamyatin definitely qualifies as an avant-garde writer. It is equally contrary to refer to the avant-garde as sustainable, once again turning to Poggioli, as “the avant-garde is condemned to conquer, through the influence of fashion, that very popularity it once disdained—and this is the beginning of its end” (82). This is only true if the tenets and approach of any avant-garde movement are essentialized. Zamyatin rejected such essentialism and canonization of ideas. For him, there was no ultimate avant-garde movement. Though he labeled his own approach of neorealism, he did not attract followers and disciples to parrot his approach. Rather, he consistently encouraged innovation in all forms:

“Two dead, dark stars collide with an inaudible, deafening crash and light a new star: this is revolution. A molecule breaks away from its orbit and, bursting into a neighboring atomic universe, gives birth to a new chemical element: this is revolution…The law of revolution is red, fiery, deadly; but this death means the birth of new life, a new star. And the law of entropy is cold, ice blue, like the icy interplanetary infinities. The flame turns from red to an even, warm pink, no longer deadly, but comfortable. The sun ages into a planet, convenient for highways, stores, beds, prostitutes, prisons: this is the law. And if the planet is to be kindled into youth again, it must be set on fire, it must be thrown off the smooth highway of evolution: this is the law….The flame will cool tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow…But someone must see this already today, and speak heretically about tomorrow. Heretics are the only (bitter) remedy against the entropy of human thought” (Soviet Heretic 107-08).

Zamyatin’s solution to Poggioli’s problem of the avant-garde of today becoming the commonly fashionable of tomorrow was to encourage a perpetuation of avant-gardism. In this, Zamyatin is not unique. However, while Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto encouraged such perpetuation, the Italian Futurists’, like their Polish counterparts, were defined more by what they rejected than what they created. It was a movement built upon pure negation. They did not simply seek innovation, but the destruction of what had come before.

By contrast, Zamyatin states that “It is not possible to build on negative emotions. Genuine literature will come only when we replace hatred for man with love of man” (Soviet Heretic 127). Zamyatin’s aesthetic, unlike the avowed avant-garde artists, was not based upon “art as the sum of its devices” (Layton 146). Rather, Zamyatin’s art is “profoundly concerned with central moral problems” (We v) and felt that the writer had the social responsibility of acting as a prophet, to point the way for society to move into its future (Shane 52). Simply put, a movement built upon simple negation of tradition is doomed to failure, because by the very act of negation the movement becomes elitist to some degree. It is no so much interested in do something new as in not doing something old. A movement built upon a concept of tradition as Poggioli’s “atelier, as a continuous process of formation, a constant creation of new values, a crucible of new experiences” (159), with the ultimate goal of avoiding mankind’s “sickness” of entropy and by extension, its final sleep of metaphorical, intellectual “death” (Soviet Heretic 112), would by its very process be perpetual. It would reject nothing save entropy, and so be defined by being constantly renewed through “the quest for new forms of expression” (Layton 146). Further, if Layton is correct in assuming that the elements of Zamyatin’s work which draw upon Dostoyevsky also prefigure “the modern writer’s rejection of the stable, knowable ego” (146), then the complex and shifting nature of humanity’s identity would necessitate a continuous challenging of so-called ‘norms’.

It’s Hot as Heaven in here…

Zamyatin’s concept of “the universal law of infinite revolution” (Shane 48) owes much to his “consistently held…modernist faith in the need for a total transformation of the social world and the subjects that inhabit it”, wrongly understood as a “life-long utopianism” (Wegner 95). In much of his writing, Zamyatin rejected the concept of utopia, or as he more commonly referred to it, paradise. In We, the Benefactor informs D-503 that “…those in paradise no longer know desires, no longer know pity or love. There are only the blessed, with their imaginations excised…obedient slaves of God” (187-88).

This is Zamyatin’s conception of paradise; where the transformation of the social and individual worlds have coalesced into a homogeneous ontology, a place where only one form of thought is known, where humanity moves “as one unit: humanized machines, machine-perfect humans” (1970 115) and all imagination has been surgically removed by way of “fantasiectomy” (123). It is clear that the imagination is one of the key attributes of the perpetual heretic. The imagination is needed in order to move forward in a reality where “tomorrow is the unknown...Now all things will be new, unprecedented, inconceivable” (128). The imagination is the faculty which conceives the inconceivable. Amidst the chaos which results when the city’s barrier wall to the outside world is breached, a man in an underground station bearing a “notebook and logarithmic table” informs D-503 that “the universe is finite…everything is finite, everything is simple, everything is calculable” (201). It is D-503’s newly awakened imagination which asks “where your finite universe ends! What is out there, beyond it?” (202).

Accordingly then, Zamyatin’s vision of Paradise is a machine world, since “machines have no imagination” (156). It is a world where humans “are not people—they are humanoid tractors” (165), all moving in pendulum precision, in one accord; “We walked as usual, in the manner of the warriors on Assyrian reliefs: a thousand heads, two fused, integral feet, two integral, swinging arms” (110). It is a world where imagination has been replaced by rational solutions to all human problems: “Poetry…is still written by humans, but by specially trained state poets who construct their compositions for purely didactic purposes according to Taylor’s principles of effective industrial management” (Booker 293). Rather than encouraging a merging of human with machine to create a centaur as Marinetti did, Zamyatin places a value on that which is decidedly human, and keeps it separate from the machine.

By these values, Paradise is a place of simple answers where there is “No more of that confusion about good and evil” and everyone is as innocent and simplehearted (or minded) as Adam and Eve” (We 55). A return to Eden is not desirable when one realizes that “Instead of the Sermon on the Mount, under the scorching sun, to up-raised arms and sobbing people, there is drowsy prayer in a magnificent abbey. Instead of Galileo’s ‘But still, it turns!’ there are dispassionate computations in a well-heated room in an observatory” (Dragon 108). Further, the Garden in We is not a pristine Elysium, but rather an “irrational, hideous world of trees, birds, animals” (83) kept outside of Paradise, not as part of it. D-503’s experience of this Garden in all of its beautiful chaos is disturbing to him, filled as it is with “constantly shifting spots”. The ground beneath his feet, the very foundation of the earth is malleable: “not a firm, level surface, but something revoltingly soft, yielding, springy, green, alive” (135). He is so disoriented that he nearly vomits, accustomed as he is to the Constructivist symmetry of the city. The heretic seeks to return us to this Garden, this place of chaordic cacophonic life.

And so Zamyatin playfully substitutes heaven for hell, Paradise for the Inferno, in We imagines Utopia as Dystopia, and by doing so turns the polemic into his “constant dialectic path which in a grandiose parabola sweeps the world into infinity” (Soviet Heretic 51). We is less a dystopic work than it is an encapsulation of Zamyatin’s belief that Paradise as it was currently understood in Russia would result in a “granite foundation of monophony” (59), a dead world trapped by a lack of imagination in entropy.

Heretics, Heretics, Everywhere!

The solution to this monophony is the heretic: “the heretic Christ, the heretic Copernicus, the heretic Tolstoy. Our symbol of faith is heresy: tomorrow is inevitably heresy to today, which has turned into a pillar of salt, and to yesterday, which has scattered to dust” (51).

This is the duty of the heretic; to be one amongst a thousand hands swinging up in contradiction to popular opinion to say “against” (We 126), to cease being “a component…and become…a separate entity” (138). Zamyatin saw that “in polyphony there is always a danger of cacophony” (Soviet Heretic 59), that the seed of revolution was always present, always waiting to spring into life. The solitary stance of the revolutionary heretic is not, however, the cult of the individual as it is understood today, an ethos of every man for himself. Rather, the heretic is likened to the point “which contains more unknowns than anything else; it need but stir, move, and it may turn into thousands of curves, thousands of bodies” (We 129). While explaining that “No revolution, no heresy is comfortable or easy”, Zamyatin adds that the “wound is necessary: most of mankind suffers from hereditary sleeping sickness” (Soviet Heretic 112) and it is the responsibility of the individual heretic to wake the larger community up. Zamyatin’s rebellion, his heresy is never a disturbance for its own sake; it is to maintain the health of the revolutionary spirit:

“The Revolution does not need dogs who “sit up” in expectation of a handout or because they fear the whip. Nor does it need trainers of such dogs. It needs writers who fear nothing—just as the Revolution fears nothing” (128).

The heretic fears nothing, not even error, for while he made statements about “true literature” (57), Zamyatin believed that the greatest truths were those born out of error, not computed certainty: “only machines make no mistakes” (110). For Zamyatin’s heretics, errors are more valuable than truths: truth is of the machine, error is alive; truth reassures, error disturbs” (110). The mystery of the outcome is part of the beauty which serves to identify something as human and not machine: “A human being is like a novel: until the last page you don’t know how it will end. Or it wouldn’t be worth reading…” (141).

His distinction between people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive”, (essentially those who are walking corpses and those who are vibrantly quickened by transformative energy) draws an anthropomorphic picture of Zamyatin’s polemic of entropy and energy. While both the walking dead and the quickened living perform the same actions, it is only those who are truly alive who exist “constantly in error, in search, in questions, in torment” (Soviet Heretic 110). But this is a delicious torment, likened to the torment of love felt by D-503: “And all that I have just written about Unanimity is unnecessary, entirely beside the point, I want to cross it out, tear it up, throw it away. Because I know (this may be blasphemy, but it is true), the only holiday for me is to be with her, to have her near me” (122). Entropy is the result of a lassitude born out of certitude; energy results from a seeking characterized by the potential for error.

A Devil by any other name…

Zamyatin’s favorite heretic seems to be the Devil himself, Satan as a figure of revolution and innovation, the “cunning bridge of dissonance, the teacher of doubt” (Soviet Heretic 59). In his essay on H.G. Wells, he isolates a particular passage from Wells’ The Undying Fire where the archangel Michael is prohibited by God from destroying Satan. God asks, “What should we do without Satan?” to which Satan replies, “Without me, time and space would freeze to crystalline perfection…It is I who trouble the waters. I trouble all things. I am the spirit of life…Did I not launch man on the most marvelous adventures? It was I who gave him history” (In Soviet Heretic 278).

The mischievous Doctor Voychek of “The Miracle of Ash Wednesday” is described as “a man of extraordinary intelligence” (Dragon 211) who possesses the interesting physical features of “greenish goat’s eyes” and “two small red horns” of twisted red hair (210). This tale is among the more playful of Zamyatin’s works, a piece of satire or perhaps the fantastic where a Canon seemingly has an immaculate conception. This tale also demonstrates the aesthetic of neorealism; intertexual symbolism would clearly state that the Canon’s child is actually the son of a woman who dies on the operating table in Voychek’s office at the same time as the Canon is having a stomach operation; realism would say that a miracle seemed to have taken place, while neorealism would, like Doctor Voychek “keep the secret of the miracle that had occurred on Ash Wednesday” (216).

Devils abound in the text of We. In Owen Ulph’s article “I-330: Reconsiderations on the Sex of Satan”, the temptress of We is described as a failed Prometheus, “the incarnation of Divine Disdain” whose failure “is more magnificent than any conceivable success” (91). Ulph notes “sharp, vampire-like teeth…her serpentine body…and “little horns” [which] appear at the corner of her brows” (82-83) as physical cues of I-330’s diabolical role; her forbidden fruit is the green liquor she forces upon D-503 with a kiss. Richard Gregg supposes that the enigmatic Guardian S-4711 “whose letter stands for Satan, serpent and snake alike” is the devil of We and I-330 his Eve accomplice. The rebel organization in We are known as “Mephi”. When D-503 asks what the name means, he is told, “It is an ancient name, it’s he who…” (144) before the speaker is cut off. The implication is clear, an abridgement of Faust’s demon Mephistopheles. The temptation Mephi offers D-503 is ultimately to forget he is “a gram” and perceive himself “instead a millionth of a ton” (102). Zamyatin makes this temptation clear when D-503 ruminates that “We” is from God, and “I” from the devil” (112).

This is not the devil of Dante’s Divine Comedy however, immobile from the chest down, trapped in the frozen lower levels of the Inferno. As has already been discussed, entropy is the lot of the Benefactor as Old Testament deity, while Zamyatin’s devil represents energy and vitality. This is the devil of Goethe’s Faust, playfully teasing a prospective student about the rigors of scholarly work. This is the devil as played by Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, preening and prancing while he proudly proclaims: “I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist” (1997).

The God of Paradise, the Benefactor as “the new Jehova…as wise and loving-cruel as the Jehova of the ancients” (We 123) substitutes free will for “the multiplication table” which “never errs” (59) and can be called then, the God of the machines. The ancient’s God, who gave them nothing “except eternal, tormenting searching” (41) is, within the framework Zamyatin has established, Satan. Given the Hebrew etymology of Satan as accuser, this is consistent, since the God of the ancients is the God of imagination, and as such bears striking resemblance to Zamyatin himself as a poet and a mocker, “heretical fighter for freedom and independence in art and in life, [the] consistent enemy of all canonized ideas, all coercion, all the purveyors of ‘compulsory salvation.’” (xii).


A survey of Zamyatin’s works reveal that while he supported actual, political revolution, his means of perpetual, unending revolution were literary, not literal. Rather than explosives, Zamyatin sought to bring change through his art; “There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, while a book explodes a thousand times” (Soviet Heretic 131). These literary bombs are the work, not of diligent and trustworthy officials, but of “madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics” (57). They are a playful work, not in a childish sense, but in a childlike fashion, who have synthesized that life is to be taken seriously while laughing about that very fact. It is the play of someone who believes “neither in God nor in man” but also recognizes “man’s capacity for self improvement on earth” (Shane 99). This playful avant-garde recognizes laughter as the “most devastating weapon” (We xii):

“Humor and laughter are the hallmark of a vital, healthy man who has the strength and the courage to live. They express the joy in living felt by the old Realists and by the Neorealists, and they distinguish the Neorealists from the Symbolists. In the Symbolists you find only a smile, a contemptuous smile at the contemptible earth. But you never hear them laugh” (Soviet Heretic 41).

It seems fitting to end to reflect that despite the deletion of his name from literary histories in his homeland, a veritable “liquidation” in the words of Mirra Ginsburg the portraits of Zamyatin by Yury Annenkov, Nikolai Radov, and Boris Kustodiev portray a man with a playful smile on his face, perhaps like Doctor Voychek laughing through tears, who appears to know that “laughter can kill everything—even murder” (We 184)..

[1] Except where otherwise noted by the designation of 1970, all quotations from We will be taken from Mirra Ginsburg’s 1972 translation.

Works Cited

Booker, M. Keith. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide London: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Carpenter, Bogdana. The Poetic Avant-Garde in Poland, 1918-1939. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.

Ehre, Milton. “Zamyatin’s Aesthetics” Kern, 130-139

Gill, Sam D. “Play,” in W. Braun and R. T. McCutcheon(eds.), Guide to the Study of Religion London: Cassell, 2000, 451-62.

Gregg, Richard A. “Dostoevsky, the Bible, and We” Kern 61-69

Kern, Gary, ed. Zamyatin’s We: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1988.

Layton, Susan. “Zamyatin and Literary Modernism” Kern, 140-48.

Poggioli, Renato. The Theory of the Avant-Garde. London: Belknap Press, 1981.

Flint, R.W. ed. Marinetti: Selected Writings. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972.

Ulph, Owen. “I-330: Reconsiderations on the Sex of Satan” Kern, 80-91

Wegner, Phillip E. “On Zamyatin’s We: A Critical Map of Utopia’s ‘Possible Worlds’” 10. Utopian Studies. 1993, 94-116.

Zamyatin, Yevegeny. “The Presentists” The Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism Proffer, Ellendea and Carl R., eds. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1980, 195-97

_________________. A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Mirra Ginsburg, trans., ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

_________________. The Dragon: fifteen stories. Mirra Ginsburg, trans., ed. New York: Random House, 1967.

_________________. We Bernard Guilbert Guerney, trans. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.

_________________. We Mirra Ginsburg, trans. New York: The Viking Press, 1972.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Last Word on 300

In his critique of 300, Dr. Nasab makes the bold statement that the film could not have been released at a worse time in history, but one wonders if this isn’t simply because of the film’s hyperbolic polemic of a mythic east and west, given Roberta Frank’s observation that “Heroic literature is temporarily out of fashion, at least in the West. We no longer assume that fighting is glorious or fun, or that hero and warrior are synonymous terms” (268). I would readily admit that the release of 300 was ill-timed given the situation of global conflict. However, according to Joshua David Bellin, the ostensibly Orientalist Sinbad trilogy, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) were all ill-timed in each of their releases, acting as “discourses of the Arab world as a monstrous, mysterious threat to the West” (73)[1] which he conflates at length with contemporary political tensions between East and West despite the obvious Arab identity of all the heroes in the films as well. Even J.R.R. Tolkien gets drawn into this sort of debate; the release The Two Towers, the second film adaptation of the trilogy came only months after 9/11. As a result, there was debate over whether the film’s title should be changed, and many critics read it as a commentary on Bush’s “War on Terror” (Worley 269). Given these examples, it would seem that Fredericks was right when he claimed that “heroic fantasists are too easy a target” for a “polemical animus” against the genre, and regards these critics’ action as “misplaced zealotry” (120). It begins to look like there's never a good time to release a film that illustrates an East-West struggle, even if it features animated clay (or CGI) monsters.

Perhaps this marker, more than any previously discussed proves my point. If 300 belongs to the genre of heroic fantasy, then while it may act, at best as “a subtle and thought-provoking tonic for a late twentieth-century world already overburdened by intellectual depression and consciousness of individual powerlessness” (120), it is also all too possible that, at its worst, the film is “only harmless fun” (120). Heroic fantasy, whatever else it might aspire to be in the hands of academics, was written “primarily to entertain” (Carter xi). Joseph Grixti concludes that the high-tech packaging of films such as 300 will “predispose their audiences to consume them as ultimately inconsequential entertainments”, consequently neither admiring nor emulating the heroes represented in them, but rather indulging in a form of voyeurism.

W.R. Irwin’s The Game of the Impossible continually refers to fantasy narratives in the language of a game, that they “operate according to the principles of play” (183), and suggests that, while the genre may not result in actual revolution, that “nothing of conceptual validity is destroyed or overturned by it” (183), this should not lead us to believe that fantasy is merely frivolous, but as a “subversive intellectual construct” (183) encourages the viewer/reader of fantasy to grant this “narrative of the impossible” their credence “in a spirit of intellectual play” (89), accepting the narrative’s invitation of “a peculiar participation” whereby both author and audience know that “this is a game” and join it “without illusions” (184). To enter into the world of fantasy looking for a political agenda or historical realism are attempts at “logical plausibility and systematic presentational realism” (89) and destroy any possibility that the “story will have some lasting effect of modifying the way in which [the] readers accept the norm that [the author] has playfully violated” (183). Even suggesting that representing ancient Persians as monsters is merely a ‘playful’ violation will still chafe for many of 300’s detractors. I would suggest this is because they have made the same mistake Fredericks accuses Alpers of, namely that they have confused the fictive universe which serves as “an anti-system to prevalent cultural beliefs and codes, thus questioning their validity and rigidity” (99) with a “literal-minded nonfictional construct” (104), which it was never intended to be:

“The anti-system known as the Heroic Age is as much emotional as intellectual, representing a powerful desire that is known to be unachievable and unrealistic. The complex and paradoxical feeling that results from this conflict between the desirable and the impossible is usually given the undignified name “escapism.” It isn’t my intention to deny that most S&S stories are light reading, entertaining narratives strong in story value. If one does not enter into S&S in the spirit of fun, one cannot hope to do justice to what merits are actually present” (105).

If we accept “spirit of fun” as synonymous with Irwin’s “sense of intellectual play” and introduce Religion scholar Sam D. Gill’s definition of play[2], then we can view fantasy as a type of neorealism after the fashion of Russian writer Yevegeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin explained his concept of Neorealism with the example of “clouds around the summit of a high mountain”.

“The Realist writers accepted the clouds as they saw them, rosy and golden, or black and heavy with storm. The Symbolists had the courage to climb to the summit and discover that there was nothing pink or golden there, nothing but slush and fog. The Neorealists were on the mountaintop together with the Symbolists and saw that clouds are fog. But having come down from the mountain, they had the courage to say: “It may be fog, but its good fun all the same”” (40).

In the context of heroic fantasy, the Realist would say that Leonidas is exactly what a real hero looks like. The Symbolist states that no such person could actually exist. And the neorealist says, “but of course he exists! He’s right up there on the screen!” Neorealism, or play, holds in tension “the paradoxical duality of twentieth-century man’s attitude: his need for heroes and the meaning and structure heroes provide to human experience; and the fatalistic recognition that heroes don’t exist anymore, and that they are, properly, fantastic and impossible” (Fredericks 95).

And so one hopes with a childlike (not childish) hope that heroes, though fantastic and impossible, remain the unreachable goal that is reached for all the same, an ideal that, while unrealizable, might realize great things in the process of remaining unattained. It is unlikely that the end result of such striving will be political revolution, but rather a changing of individual identities seeking to act as a hero in the banalities of everyday life.

[1] In reference to DreamWorks’ film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) Alex Worley notes the “unsurprising” absence of any reference to Sinbad’s literary homeland, given “recent events involving the Middle East” (190). While the translation of the Arabian Nights into the French is cited as Western literature, the tales’ origin is in Persia, Arabia, India, and Asia. Yet, in the name of political correctness, Sinbad becomes a gypsy, a character without a home.

[2] Gill defines Play as “a type of structural dynamics, a being at once of two minds or a holding at once of mutually exclusive positions” (451) He utilizes Baudrillard’s Moebius strip to exemplify the “peculiar contiguity of near and far, inside and outside, subject and object in the same spiral” (455).


Bellin, Joshua David. Framing Monsters: Fantasy Film and Social Alienation. Carbondale: Souther Illinois University Press, 2005.

Carter, Lin: Introduction: Neomythology. Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy. Wisconsin: Arkham House, 1976. xi-xxix.

Frank, Roberta. “Old English Poetry” The Columbia History of British Poetry. Carl Woodring and James Shapiro, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. 1-21.

Fredericks, Casey. The Future of Eternity: Mythologies of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Gill, Sam D. “Play,” in W. Braun and R. T. McCutcheon(eds.), Guide to the Study of Religion London: Cassell, 2000, 451-62.

Grixti, Joseph. “Consumed Identities: Heroic Fantasies and the Trivialization of Selfhood” Journal of Popular Culture 28. (1994): 207-228.

Irwin, W.R. The Game of the Impossible: A Rhetoric of Fantasy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976.

Nasab, Hamed Vahdati. “Bad History, worse timing”, April 2007.

Zamyatin, Yevegeny. A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Trans., Ed. Mirra Ginsburg Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Worley, Alec. Empires of the Imagination: A Critical Survey of Fantasy Cinema from Georges Melies to The Lord of the Rings Jefferson: McFarlan & Company, Inc., 2005.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Okay, I was warned. I saw the reviews, and knew that the film had received only 16% on I trust the tomato for my viewing decisions, but every now and again, I'm at odds with what I learn there. For example, Resident Evil only got 33%, but I thought the film was a decent piece of zombie-genre cinema, and is one of the better film adaptations of a video game. I also disagreed with the 27% evaluation of Silent Hill, a moody atmospheric piece that lacked only a strong ending. Besides, I'd read the book and felt the storyline was strong enough to pull through wooden performances or second-rate special effects. I knew the plot and discounted all the "It's just like Star Wars" talk because Star Wars had borrowed from other heroic epics, so I chalked that all up to people thinking George Lucas invented the heroic journey. So while I'd been told Eragon was pure cinematic shit, when the opportunity arose to view it on a pay-per-view in our hotel tonight, I took a chance, along with my wife and my sister (my niece fell asleep part of the way through -- never a good sign for an epic adventure movie).

I should have gone to bed early. I should have listened to my niece who advised us watching "Music and Lyrics" (64% on the Tomameter). I should have read more of Robert Jordan's seventh book in the Wheel of Time series. I should have watched paint dry.

I can honestly say there isn't anything worth seeing in Eragon. In fact, I've got a whole list of reasons why you shouldn't bother renting this useless pile of garbage.
1. It's a disgrace to the book it's based on. Christopher Paolini is no Tolkien, but he kicks Terry Goodkind's ass any day of the week. It's not literature, but it's certainly well paced, with likeable characters and enough tension to keep you turning the pages to see how it all comes out. The film is poorly paced, jumping about in a muddled, disjointed mess of scenes which left me slightly confused...and I've read the book! As far as wanting to see how it all ends, when Eragon as played by Edward Speleers shouts "Let's end this!" to the villainous Durza, I wholeheartedly agreed. Right then would have been great. The movie adds things that weren't necessary, and skips ones that were. I can't recall if the dialogue even vaguely resembles the lines from the book, but if they did, then they are akin to George Lucas' writing...and as Harrison Ford allegedly told Lucas, "You can write this shit, but you can't say it." I certainly don't remember the book having as many cliche lines as the film did.

2. Worst fantasy film soundtrack ever. And considering I've seen Ladyhawke, that's saying something. It sounds like it might have been stolen from a Deathstalker movie, or a film made in the 1940's. Great soundtracks can make terrible films into decent ones. Resident Evil is proof that the soundtrack sets the tone of a film as much as anything else, and can make up for many shortcomings. All Eragon's soundtrack did was underscore how bad the film was.

3. A cute lead is no replacement for good acting. Edward Speleers might be a heart-throb in the making, but a few more moments of strong narrative would have been preferred to seeing him mug for the camera with that supposedly charming smile of his. He's a crap actor, plain and simple. And while Jeremy Irons is a good actor, I'm beginning to suspect that he plays Dungeons and Dragons in his off hours, seeing as he keeps turning up in terrible fantasy films. The number of really good actors in this film only further the failure of the picture. If you're working with gold and you make a pile of shit, you weren't just were trying to fail.

I could go on. I could talk about how the Urgals, rejects from the set of Quest for Fire, are about as threatening as...well, the cast from Quest for Fire, or how I have no idea why the filmmakers thought it necessary to visually present Galbatorix (played by John Malkovich, whose agent must be the same dipshit who convinced Sean Connery to turn down the role of the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded and that LXG was a better career move) when he doesn't appear in the first book. But trust me on this. Don't waste your time here. If you desire Dragons, let me recommend Reign of Fire, which is certainly more fun, or the classic Dragonslayer...

In lieu of watching a film about dragons, just buy Paolini's book and enjoy a good read. I'm going to give it a second read, and try to forget there was ever a movie made about Eragon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Magik Beans: The Director's Cut

When I wrote the end of episode 6 to include the Leprechauns, I had no idea how bloated the storyline Episode 7 started would become. I figured that the thread of Episode 7 would be over and done with by the time I reached Episode 13. Instead, the story was starting to ramp up, not plane down. I had never intended the leprechauns to go bad. Sometimes the story writes itself.

Add to this my realization that Episode 1 took place in January and the arrival of the Leprechauns was miraculously only days away from St. Patrick's day in March, so that there are about two months of missing story running around somewhere. Which brings us to the Director's Cut.

So in short, I'm starting to revise the story. I hope this doesn't get anyone too angry about where the story
was headed up until this point. It seems like a good time to go back and flesh out the things that would have lead up to a journey into the tree. Besides, that way the climax can occur at the Pole right around Christmas!

As a result, the end of Episode 6 now has a link to this post...and once I've caught the story up to my satisfaction, there will be a link back to Episode 7, with the words
"Which was right about the time the leprechauns walked in" reinserted.

I know it's not linear, but the story got away on me before I knew it! Besides, given the space/time possibilities within the story itself, maybe we're all just traveling the Tree.


Here's a preview from "Blackout":

Andrew looked at Lara. If a picture is really worth a thousand words, most of the words in Andrew's current picture could be summed up by How the hell am I supposed to explain all this. Lara's picture could have had the caption, I'm not the one who let him in.

"I'm renovating," Andrew said, a weak smile on his face.

"Is that a real tree?" Blackout said, squinting as his eyes continued to adjust to the dim light inside the shop. "That can't be a real tree. You didn't have a tree here last week."

"It looks fake to you?" Andrew asked.

"Well, looks really real," Blackout said. "But it can't can't grow a tree in a week. And it's deciduous...they don't have leaves in the winter." He sounded like he was trying to talk himself into believing the tree wasn't real. Lara took the opportunity and jumped in.

"I made it," she said.

Magik Beans Episode 20 for your reading enjoyment

Preview: Lara was an extremely sensual woman. Not in the way that Andrew had been considering Silke to be sensual, in that front-cover-of-Cosmopolitan style of sensuality. Rather, Lara's sensuality was simply that she appreciated her senses, and since all of them were in perfect working order, she felt that it would be somehow ungrateful to the Goddess to ignore them. This is not to say that she over-indulged her senses, as real world Satanists are wont to do; for Lara, the seven deadly sins still seemed rather deadly. She just really enjoyed how things felt, smelled, looked, sounded and in the case of Granny's breakfast, tasted. She had never tasted anything so amazing in her life. And considering how her cigarette smoking had dulled her taste buds, that was really saying something.

If this was the magic she had come to learn, she was ready to sign up.

to read the rest!