Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review: Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson: 10/10

A superb Neo-Victorian speculative work of alternate history, which tackles issues of war and peace, nationalism, manifest destiny, and the veneration of History. The book is appropriately slow paced, being the memoir of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce, who writes of the ascension to power of the 'new world's greatest hero' Lord Fitzpatrick. Bruce's story (and particularly that of his family) answers the question many people have in the face of great historical change, asking "what can one person do to change anything?" Combining steampunk elements, fictional intertextuality, and poignant moments of human emotion and grace, Theodore Judson has created a book that, while easy to put down, compellingly beckons the reader to pick it back up. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 21, 2008

DVD Review: Stardust - 9/10

A delightfully well-made, well-cast, and well-paced fairy tale film. Comparing it to "Princess Bride" seems remiss, since I'd argue that "Princess Bride" is more romantic comedy with fairy tale elements, while "Stardust" is pure fairy tale; Gaiman obviously knows his stuff, right down to the 3 brothers who are setting out on a quest to discover who is worthy to become King (a common fairy tale trope). It fulfills all five criteria I've set out in my thesis on fairy tale film; the element of wonder is present from the outset, though that sense grows as the film progresses; it deals with sexuality and gender, from the very overt (Tristan's conception and Lamia's attempts at retaining her false beauty) to the more subtle (ideas of what it means to be human); good is pitted against evil with little ambiguity; the meritorious individual wins out in the end, and there are a number of transformations, both physical (Lamia's chariot becoming an inn) and internal (Tristan, although his transformation is made clear in external ways as well). A superb piece of work, and beyond all that, a damn good bit of fun, as demonstrated by the good time veterans Pfeiffer and De Niro seem to be having while onscreen.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

DVD Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 9/10

As Harry and crew continue to grow and mature, so does the look and feel of the franchise. The most gothic in its mise-en-scene, it is also the most intense in its pacing. The script does an admirable job of truncating Rowling's epic source material, although moments with the centaurs and Hagrid's half-brother feel abrupt and ultimately a bit unnecessary. Imelda Staunton proves a more loathesome villain than Voldemort, true to her literary counterpart. A final note: people need to quit bitching about which individually pet moments or characters get left in the world of the books, or quit going to see these adaptations. Considering the script packs a book running 26 hours when read out loud into 2 hours, all Potter heads should be thankful Rowling's creations are not getting the treatment Paolini's Eragon did.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Book Review: Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire 10/10

I took a course in my undergraduate literary studies called "Fantastic Literature". The reading list for this course included Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, H.P. Lovecraft's Dunwich Horror, and a long list of gothic tales, magic realism, and horror. It remains my favorite course taken.


Reading Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, a gift I found in my stocking Christmas morning brought back memories of that class. It is the story of Captain Henry Baltimore, who grapples with a vampire on the field of battle during World War I, an encounter which costs him his leg, and ultimately, everything he holds dear. His quest to destroy the vampire is the story, but it is the way in which it is told which makes the book brilliant. I can't say original ; it's more a hybrid homage, a pastiche of Victor Frankenstein's obsessive pursuit of his creation, of the vampire hunters who stalk Dracula, and Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth, with poetic prose references to Andersen's fairy tale. It is told almost entirely in the first person, a key element of most fantastic literature, since it hinges on what Todorov calls "the moment of hesitation," or the idea that the story might not have happened, save in the twisted minds of the characters inhabiting the narrative.

The book has been marketed as a graphic novel, which it is not. It is an illustrated novel; Author/Illustrator Mike Mignola's images are only occasionally direct representations of the action happening in the narrative. Most of the time they are primarily evocative of a mood both Mignola and his co-writer Christopher Golden want to sustain throughout. The pictures help, but unlike Mignola's work on Hellboy, they are a pale reflection of the text, which is brilliant. The opening scenes upon the battlefield are juxtaposed with Baltimore's fevered recollections of playing with his tin soldiers as a boy; instead of resorting to lurid gory detail describing the massacre of Baltimore's platoon, Mignola and Golden utilize Andersen's fairy tale imagery to connote the deaths. The bodies piled in the trenches are compared to the soldiers being returned to the box.

If you are a fan of any of the books I have already mentioned, this book is a must read for you. And for the record, I've decided that if I ever teach a course in "Fantastic Literature", Baltimore will be on the required reading list.