Archive | April 2013

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Yes, I’m still reading classics: this week we have “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. Like many people I am familiar with the story from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” That was a great film that I did not fully appreciate until I had grown up. It’s a classic and I freely admit that. The book it is based on, however, does not quite measure up in my opinion.

 

First, the storyline is pretty much the same, although they did make some modifications in the movie. Some of the challenges were dealt with differently. Some of the encounters were different. And a lot of material was deleted from the movie. For example, there was no Queen of the Field Mice in the movie … at least, not that I can recall. But the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and that lovable fraud Oz are still there, although Oz is merely a ventriloquist, not an illusionist, and he has but a few interesting toys to serve as forms for his “body.”

 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the movie and the book was that in the movie the good witch, Glinda, shows up at the Emerald City. In the book, Dorothy and her cohorts must go on an entire new adventure to get to her city in the South. Oh yes, there is also the point that in the book, Oz is a real place; in the movie, it can be shrugged off as merely a dream.

 

Anyway, for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the basic plot is this: Dorothy is a young girl living in Kansas who, along with her entire house, is pulled up into a tornado and carried away to the magical mystical land of Oz. Her house lands on one of the wicked witches and kills her, freeing the Munchkins from her rule. Although Dorothy is amazed by the beauty and majesty of the land, she knows she must return home to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. So, she sets off along the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz, a great and powerful being said to have the ability of granting wishes. Along the way, she encounters several odd creatures she accepts as companions: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. The movie is great; the book is not so great. I leave the rest of the story for your own personal consumption.

 

Back to the book. The reason I did not like the book was because the dialogue, almost without exception, was heavily formal and stilted and lame. It just did not come across as natural in anyway. The rest of the writing was decent enough for a children’s book, but I couldn’t get past the clunky dialogue. Young children probably would not pick up on this.

 

As an adult, I’ll give the book three stars out of five (maybe). However, it probably warrants (for originality and such) four stars out of five for a child audience.

Advertisements

Old Movie Review: The Mask (1994)

This is a classic movie. Completely silly and ridiculous, but a lot of fun. I saw it in the theaters when it came out years ago, and have watched it on TV many times since then. I have not, however, purchased it. I think I’ve seen it too many times to make a purchase worthwhile.

 

Anyway, it stars Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. Jim Carrey plays bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss who is guilty of that horrible sin: he’s too nice! People regularly take advantage of him and push him around because he’s something of a softie who doesn’t stand up for himself. That, however, is about to change. One night after a series of mishaps (he loses his friend at the latest hot club, he is tossed in the gutter by security guards, he is embarrassed by his loaner car in front of the beautiful Tina Carlyle, and his car breaks down on a bridge), he jumps in the river to save what he thinks is a man only to find a pile of garbage and a strange wooden mask. Little does he know that that mask harbors the spirit of Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, banished by Odin centuries ago.

 

He puts the mask on and its power is unleashed, transforming him into his unbridled inner self: a mischievous love-fiend. He goes about town getting even with a number of unfortunate miscreants who treated him poorly, and in the process robs a bank and upsets the mobster Dorian Tyrell, the boyfriend of Tina Carlyle. There is also a police detective who is drawn into the mix and shortly Stanley Ipkiss finds himself wanted by both the police and the mob. The Mask gives him the edge, but only when it is in his possession and he is wearing it.

 

The film is a good action comedy. The effects are cartoonish: whoever wears the Mask can stretch and change shape and conjure odd objects up out of nowhere, much like a cartoon character. In fact, that’s how I would sum it up: the Mask gives its wearer the power of cartoons; he can survive gunshots or great falls, he can swallow dynamite, and run at incredible speeds. The result is a hilarious mix of the real world and Looney Tunes (or is that Luney Toons?). My favorite scene is where Stanley Ipkiss’s dog Milo puts the mask on and begins terrorizing mobsters as a rather small dog with an exceptionally large teeth-filled maw.

 

Overall, I enjoyed the movie immensely and I’ll give it four stars.

Reminder: Drasmyr Available In Print on Lulu.com

My dark fantasy novel, Drasmyr, is now available as a hardcover book on Lulu.com for $24.99. It makes a great gift for yourself or others, particularly for those who want a physical copy of what previously was only available as an ebook. Get your copy today!

Book Review: Through the Looking Glass

Continuing with the classics theme, I read “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll. It is, of course, the sequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Like the story that preceded it, this one too is a dream. And again, Lewis Carroll fills the story with plenty of dreamy clues and surreal hints.

 

It begins innocently enough in the living room of Alice’s home where she finds herself wondering about the house on the other side of the looking glass. How it resembles her own home so perfectly—at least, the parts she can see. Soon, she finds herself transported through the glass into Looking-Glass House where she has an encounter with the White King and White Queen and reads an excerpt from a Looking-Glass Book about the fabled Jabberwocky (a creature which makes no appearance in the story except through the reference of some poems, songs, and conversations).

 

After that, Alice goes out into a garden of living, talking flowers and meets the Red Queen who sets her on a quest to travel across the land (a land designed much like a chessboard) a full eight squares, so she can ascend from pawn to queen. She takes a train to the second square (or would that be the third?) encountering a few random critters here and there. She goes on traveling from square to square, all in a row, encountering strange creatures and beings at every stop. There’s Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and a well-meaning white knight who keeps falling off his horse. Finally, she reaches the eighth square and is queened by the Red Queen and the White Queen who sit down on either side of her for a nice chat about queen etiquette or some such thing. Then, she is treated to a grand feast, but there is some confusion about whether or not she should actually eat her food—all of it talks and takes offense at being sliced up. Then, of course, she wakes up and finds out it really is all a dream.

 

Strengths: well, again, Lewis Carroll was able to convey the surreal qualities that mark dreams for what they are. Also, I thought the chess game matrix that overlay the entire dream to be a clever tactic; it provided a loose structure to the dream that might have otherwise been lacking.  Weaknesses: well, since it is only a dream, I found that, like in the previous story, it was difficult to get invested in the characters or even the land as it demonstrated a tendency to morph from one scene to another. So, its strength was also its weakness. Other than that, it was a good fanciful yarn that helps one grapple with the whole subject of dreaming and the sleeping mind. There was nothing dark and sinister in it; it was really quite enjoyable and suitable for children.

 

Overall, I’ll give the book three and half, maybe four stars out of five.

Why I Write Fantasy

Perhaps, since I started writing this blog over a year ago, this entry is long overdue. In any event, I have just gotten around to writing it. Hopefully, my words will entertain you for a bit, and inspire you to look at fantasy in a new light.
First, why write? Writing is an enjoyable process of both exploration and self-expression. Exploration because there are times when you don’t know what’s going to come out next, and self-expression because it allows for the dissemination of personal ideas both simple and complex. I’ve been writing pretty much my entire adult life, off and on, for a variety of purposes. Usually, I’m chasing that ever elusive carrot of publication and entering the big-time, but sometimes I do it just for fun.

Now, why fantasy? Well, this is actually a multi-part answer. First, there is an adage (well, if there isn’t, there should be) that says “write what you know.” I’ve always been enchanted by fantasy, whether it be books, or role-playing games, or videos games, or movies. There is something profoundly alluring about exploring magical realms where dragons and sorcerers are real. It’s a form of escapism. Perhaps, that means my regular life is too mundane—that I’m indeed escaping from something unpleasant. I don’t know if I would go that far, but even if that is the case, then so be it. I enjoy the fantasy world because it re-ignites a sense of wonder and awe. Something we all felt as children, but which has a tendency to grow stale and die as we age. There is something about fairy dust and fireballs that stirs the imagination. Second, there is a certain degree of freedom in fantasy writing that may not be present in other forms of writing. The whole premise of the genre is that you are writing about a world, a situation, or a character that does not follow the same rules that apply here on Earth, or even in our universe for that matter. Whatever you can imagine can take form in your stories. Winged men, burning plants, freezing fire … whatever you want: it can happen. That doesn’t mean you can write completely willy-nilly ignoring all sense of logic. At a certain point, such would degenerate into unintelligible nonsense. But I digress. The third reason for writing fantasy is a bit more subtle, and, to be honest, is not always pertinent. Fantasy can provide a powerful means of providing metaphors about society and criticism of culture. I don’t always write like that, to be honest; most of the time, I just write a story because I like a good story. But I have on occasion written a bit of social commentary using fantasy as its vehicle. This is not uncommon. Some of the most famous names in the genre told stories that were meant to be so much more: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, just to name two. At any rate, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for literary criticism.

In the end, perhaps the most important reason for me to write fantasy is that I enjoy doing so. I have several interests and hobbies, but by far, the one with the most powerful draw is fantasy writing. Now, if only I could make some money at it. Then, I’d be all set. 

%d bloggers like this: