Wednesday Poem: The Jumblies ~ Edward Lear

The Jumblies

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, `You’ll all be drowned!’
They called aloud, `Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
`O won’t they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, `How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
`O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, `How tall they’ve grown!
For they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, `If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,—
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.


Review: The Art of Blizzard Entertainment ~ Blizzard Entertainment

art of blizzardISBN ~ 9781608870271
Publisher ~ Insight Editions
No. Of Pages ~ 376 pages
Links ~ Insight Editions, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Over the past two decades, Blizzard Entertainment has had a tremendous impact on the world of games and global pop culture. From its humble beginnings as a three-person console-game development studio in 1991 to the creation of the blockbuster Warcraft®, StarCraft®, and Diablo® series, Blizzard has a history of crafting stunning worlds of science fiction and fantasy. The company’s distinctive gameplay and storytelling styles have captivated an international audience numbering in the tens of millions whose passion cannot be quelled.

Twenty years after Blizzard opened its doors, the company’s World of Warcraft® boasts the title of the world’s most popular subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and the studio is widely recognized as one of the leaders in creatively driven game development.

An epic volume of art and behind-the-scenes insights, The Art of Blizzard® celebrates the studio’s genesis by examining the creative forces behind these games and showcasing their artistry through more than 700 pieces of concept art, paintings, and sketches. Commentary on the art is provided by Blizzard Entertainment’s own Nick Carpenter, Sam Didier, and Chris Metzen, who’ve each played important roles in shaping Blizzard’s game universes over the years.

5 Thumbs-UpWeighing in at 8lbs, this is a coffee table book in the true meaning of the word; my knees went numb as I was reading it on my couch.  Although, if you use the links above, it is hard to find a copy of this book for under $50, I found mine in the bargain priced section at Barnes & Noble, and if you want to splash out more money Insight Editions are selling a specially bound version.  However, if you already own all of the Collector’s Editions of Blizzard artwork books, this is probably not a purchase you will want to make, as many of the illustrations featured in it are in the previously mentioned books.

With over 700 illustrations this book covers the artwork from such iconic Blizzard games as Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, with accompanying commentaries by the artists themselves.  It gives the reader a fascinating insight into the creative talents of the company as well as providing a visual history of Blizzard games.  What I found particularly interesting about this book was how clearly apparent the evolution and refinement of the artists techniques became as time passed, it was almost as if I were seeing physical proof of their confidence in what they were doing growing before my eyes.  Another aspect of the book I liked was the fan art submissions and how some of them were actually recruited into the Blizzard team.  This book covers everything from the early sketches right up to the completed box artwork; one of my favourite in the Diablo section was the Mistress of Pain.

Full of magnificent scenes and characters, what little text there is in this book has been thoughtfully placed so as not to intrude on the main stars of its pages, in fact in some places the writing is rather quite difficult to find and read.  This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book in any way, but for anyone who has a visual impairment and wants to read the text for the back story to the images it may prove to be a challenge.

However, this book does not just focus on the well know side of the company, in this book there is also a section with conceptual art for games that never were as well as a spoof chapter containing holiday themes using the more well-known characters.  In reading this book you actually get a sense that you are in the same room with the creators, listening to them discuss, accept or reject ideas for the next project whilst also sharing with them a trip down memory lane.

I would highly recommend this book whether you are a fan of Blizzard games or just a lover of fantasy art; this book touches all the bases..


Review: Poems of Christina Rossetti ~ Christina Rossetti, Florence Harrison (Illustrator), Kathryn W. Plosica (Designed by), Gail Harvey (Introduction)

Poems of Christina rosettiISBN ~ 978-0517118511
Publisher ~ Gramercy
No. Of Pages ~ 120 pages
Links ~ Project Gutenberg,

In poems ranging from fantasy and verses for the young to ballads, love lyrics sonnets and religious poetry, Rossetti was regarded was by many of her contemporaries as Britain’s finest living poet.

3 Thumbs-UpChristina Rossetti was first published at the age of 17 and from there went on to publish hundreds of poems; the majority religious and this may dissuade those who don’t hold with religion from reading her work, all I can say is please don’t let it.

One of my favourite pieces of her writing is ‘Goblin Market’, the tale of two sisters Lizzie and Laura, and their almost fatal encounter with the goblin men.  On first read I found it to be quite confusing, but the more I read this poem the more I came to realise that it was a morality tale, and that the broken rhythm in which it was written was as compelling and tempting as sin itself.  It is full of a sexual innuendo that makes it hard to ignore, even more so when these innuendo lay next to implied religious imagery.  However, like most poems the interpretation and intent of the poetry is dependent on the reader, and another may read this poem and come away from it with a totally different picture and meaning in their mind.

Another of my favourite pieces of Ms. Rossetti is ‘Remember’.  It is beautifully written and covers the subject of death and grieving.  I first read this poem shortly after I had lost my Father, and it struck such a chord in me that I immediately started devouring all and any works by this poet.  Even though years have passed since I picked up any of her writings, reading this collection has reminded me why I enjoy poetry as much as literature.

Trying to review a collection of poems is difficult under any circumstances, but to give the poetry in this collection the reviews they truly deserve I would have to write about each one individually, and that would result in there been no need for anyone to pick it up and read them.  The Project Gutenberg edition (see link above) is considerably longer than the edition I have listed the ISBN for, and contains a larger selection of Ms. Rossetti’s poetry.  In my opinion, the ‘Gutenberg’ collection gives a better reading experience than the short collection I’ve based my review on here, and is worth the time to download.  It is also broken down into easy to reference sections including devotional pieces, so if the reader wishes to skip these particular works, they may.

I would recommend this short collection to any who may have heard of Christina Rossetti but have not yet read her work, but for a more extensive collection would highly recommend downloading the version from Project Gutenberg.   Yes, some of the poems are a little difficult to understand; yes, there is a religious theme in most of her work and yes they can be highly emotional to read, however, what they are not is a waste of time.


Wednesday Poem: A Trenta-Sei of Mixed Feelings at the Early Onset of Winter~ Maryann Corbett

A Trenta-Sei of Mixed Feelings at the Early Onset of Winter

with apologies to the shade of John Ciardi

As the first flakes are caught in streetlight-glimmer,
you gasp: Lovely! Your gasping throat still raw,
the truth grips like catarrh: a Midwest winter
beautiful? Like a left hook to the jaw,
the knuckled, scraping wait for spring’s mud-brown.
You bend your mind to months of hunkering down.

You gasp. Lovely? Your gasping throat still raw,
outward you bound to boisterous winter sports!
Thrill to the wind chill! (When will the fingers thaw?)
Joy! when the frozen stiffs stagger indoors!
(And what in this routine vaguely recalls
old saws that feature banging, and heads, and walls?)

The truth grips like catarrh: a Midwest winter
makes short work of its fairy tale. Snow-white
soils itself on plows. Ice-daggers splinter,
murder-minding the pavement. Ice-dams blight
cold attics. Traffic slogs and spins awry.
The bus slings up a wad of slush at an eye.

Unbeautiful. Like a left hook to the jaw—
except those fugitive seconds of pure peace:
Silence of evening shoveling, when you saw
that famous moonlight. Snow sculpting the trees.
Benches, fences slathered like wedding cakes.
Streetlights. Indigo dark, and the clean flakes.

The knuckled, scraping wait for spring’s mud-brown
craves every beauty bagged in the tangled mind
for cold-comfort. Sucks the marrowbone
of song. Tongues at old poems jarred and brined
like olives. Hears the orchard, shiver-thinned,
keen to itself: the sweep of easy wind….

You bend your mind to months of hunkering down:
You load the chafing dish. You light the sterno.
You heat the buttered rum. You cannot drown
your memory of those stanzas from the Inferno
at the tale-end of the terza rima spell
where Hell is cold. Where cold is the heart of Hell.

Maryann Corbett

Mid Evil
The University of Evansville Press

Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) ~ Naomi Novik

his majesty's dragonISBN ~ 978-0345481283
Publisher ~ Del Rey
No. Of Pages ~ 356 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors’ ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

5 Thumbs-UpI have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from this book, after all I found it lying around on the floor at the recent Emerald City Comicon so it that didn’t bode well for it.  Once again I was proved very wrong and was pulled into this novel from the very first page; how can I have not known of this series before now? It definitely falls into the category of one of those great little secrets that not enough people know about.

The characters in this first book in the series are well-developed, but not to the point where there is no room for growth, and there is no romance which is very rare in this genre of book.  The relationship covered in this first book is that between a man and his dragon; the Temeraire (the main dragon protagonist) and Laurence (the main human protagonist) bond is a deeply emotional connection. There is palpable love between man and dragon, and their relationship is the emotional thread that weaves through the novel.   Temeraire is intelligent, logical and witty with a childlike wonder for the new world in which he finds himself.  Laurence is the battle proven Naval Captain that patiently guides him through the world in the best way he knows.  Neither of these characters have experience with the world of the other, but the Author brings those two worlds together via these characters in a realistic and caring manner.  The Author captures the warmness and sincerity of their bond, enough to give balance to all the colder, plot-driven elements of the story.   This novel is primarily an adventure, a story in wartime, an exploration of dragons in this fascinating alternate history society, but in its writing the Author doesn’t neglect the warmer, more ‘human’ side of things. There are moments of extreme emotion and emotional distress, mostly due to the closeness that aviators develop with their dragons, and each moment played out realistically. When it comes to moments of high emotion I feel that each one has to be earned in character, in story, in meaning, and I feel cheated when I think the Author  is trying to manipulate me to respond;  this Author used no manipulative techniques at all as the reader is right there feeling everything with the characters.

The world-building is handled with startling grace, given that this is the Author’s first novel.   This was one of the main pleasures of this book for me; the authentic feel of the world that was built.   It is apparent that extensive amounts of research went into correctly portraying 19th century English society, from the realities of the Navy to the manners of the drawing-room.   And best, none of it is done in a lecturing way; it is all of it presented as naturally as possible. The Author hasn’t  let research intrude  at all upon telling the story, and better yet, her addition of dragons into this world is so well thought-out (from their feeding, breeds, natural inclinations, personalities, levels of intelligence, size and temperament, mode of fighting and the innovative invention of aerial fighting) that it adds to the depiction of the historical period. In a seamless manner the Author grafts on her inventions to the known historical realities, and comes up with a beautifully realised fictional world that’s meticulously detailed and worked out. I particularly liked the fact that there is so much thought given to how the dragons would fit into this society, and she succeeds in a way that few Authors in this genre succeed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who likes dragons, alternate realities or fantasy; actually I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, well written story and feel that even readers of the Master and Commander and Dragonriders series of books would enjoy this as well.   I will definitely be reading the remaining books in this series.


Wednesday Poem: Maybe I’m just not in the mood… ~ Auburn Rose

As April is National Poetry Month and I have been reading a lot of poetry recently, I decided that starting today every Wednesday will be given over to poetry; sometimes well established poets and sometimes, as with today’s poem, a new name on the poetry scene.  I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much I am enjoying finding them.

Power of Words

Maybe I’m just not in the mood…

I can feel the golden warmth awakening my paper.
Everything is so right,
it’s a cool spring night,
the city is so alive,
my poetic mind should awaken and come to life,
then why don’t I want to write?

Perhaps what makes us put our ink pens to our lined papers,
is when we know,
we must give it love, anger, sadness, assurance, care.

When our minds and bodies are touched,
so tremendously with feeling,
that we must rejoice without beloved;
as we make it feel what we feel,
inking our thoughts permanently,
scratching the surface until we are content.

But if we only feel neutrality,
it is alright to stare at the white blankly.
We will rejoice another day perhaps,
tomorrow, a month, who knows?
Only time will show.

Auburn Rose


Books or Gift Cards ~ Shopping for Booklovers


Shopping for the bibliophile in your life can often be daunting enough when you are an avid reader, but non-readers are often left trying to find their way through the wilderness without a map when it comes to this task. The most obvious answer is, of course, books however, I love receiving reading or book accessories especially if they are unusual and/or fun. Below is a list of seven sites that I have personally used, not only to buy gifts for myself but for my book loving friends, and I have never been disappointed. 
aud_logo._CB383473417_Yes, it is part of Amazon, but for those of us who enjoy audio books, this site is excellent. They carry more than 40,000 titles in all genres that you simply download. They have two plans, each one available on a monthly or annual basis. And if you want to, you can easily cancel. The folks on Audible are extremely accommodating when it comes to cancelling and restarting membership, as I’ve done this several times over the course of my membership I can vouch for the ease of which both be done.

Big Cozy Books 
Giant upholstered furniture for kids who love to read. They focus on commercial and public places, but if your child’s room is big enough these pieces would be wonderful. Although aimed at the library or a school, these items would be ideal to give interest to a reading room/study in your own home.  We will be renovating an attic soon, and ‘The Hobbit’ book bench would be ideal for the window alcove there.

Bodleian Library Shop
The Bodleian Library, the chief among all Oxford University’s libraries,  offers a fantastic array of gifts for the book-minded including home accessories, stationery, bookplates, journals, jewellery and more.  I love this store and, although some of the items can lean towards the higher price range, you always know that you are going to receive a top-notch quality item for the price paid.  Shipping is pretty speedy too.

I have a thing about bookmarks, and although I possess an irrational number of them, I have you add one of these to my collection.  Metal bookmarks that hook over the spine of a book have been named hookmarks by this company who makes a wide range of wonderful designs. I absolutely adore the treble clef hookmark, but if music isn’t your thing then they also feature ones with holiday, wedding, animals, nature, hobbies, spiritual, coin and other themes. Very nice, and not too expensive.

Library of Congress Gift Shop
Like the Bodleian Library Store mentioned above, this site has  high quality bookish gifts, and the Library of Congress is definitely worth checking out. Again, they can lean towards the pricey end of the market, but as I said for the Bodleian you will be receiving a product that reflects the price paid for it.

The Literary Gift Company
Despite this being a UK site, they do have a nifty flag that will convert all their prices into dollars. Their philosophy “We aim to be a one-stop-shop for all book lovers. We produce our own range of literary products, as well as offering a unique combination of gorgeous products from new designers, along with the best of quality brands from our partners. We are particularly interested in promoting products which recycle, or ‘upcycle’ abandoned or out-of-date books.”

nakfactorium_banner2_01This website is an “emporium of handcrafted art objects from the hand of Pasternak.” That’s Robert Pasternak, a Canadian artist whose work is wonderfully original. Among the crafts that booklovers will find of interest are a set of Chicklet-sized books, a miniature book the shape of a stick of chewing gum, and a bacon bookmark. This bookmark is the real thing—or at least as near as you want bacon to get to your books. It’s die-cut and looks so real you may be tempted to eat it. Don’t. It’s the perfect gift since it also opens up into a greeting card.

If you don’t find anything in this small, tried and tested selection then head on over to Bibliobuffet, where they have a more extensive list which includes some of the above sites and many more.


An Interview with Hilary Mantel by Carole Burns

hilary-mantelIn the Washington Post on Friday, Author  of The Missing Woman, Carole Burns interviewed Hilary Mantel.  With the debate over whether the screen adaptation of her novel threatens to distort history, a debate which is lighting up literary message boards all over the internet and causing definite ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps on the sides of both the book and the Author, I thought it would be pleasant reading to share this interview with you.

Hilary Mantel’s two best-selling novels on King Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell — “Wolf Hall” (2009) and “Bring Up the Bodies” (2012) — have won her two Booker prizes. A new Masterpiece series, “Wolf Hall,” begins tonight on PBS, and a two-part Royal Shakespeare Company play based on the novels officially opens April 9 on Broadway. Mantel spoke about her books — and their spin-offs — from New York, where she is working on the plays.

How did you become fascinated by Thomas Cromwell?

It was the very singular arc of his story: blacksmith’s son to Earl of Essex, poor boy to king’s right-hand man. It has a strong archetypal quality to it. You want to know: What kind of man could achieve that and stay at the top of Henry’s court of predators, be close to the king for some eight years before disaster struck? And during those eight years, he helped reshape the nation.

Your depiction goes against the prevalent image of Cromwell as a ruthless despot. Is he your fictional character or a reinterpretation of history?

Well, it’s not simply my reinterpretation. There is a divide between academic history and popular history. Cromwell’s role was explored intensively by academic historians, but people’s imaginations are not shaped by scholars; they’re shaped by popular historians and fiction writers. And of course, Thomas Cromwell had really fallen victim to Robert Bolt and “A Man for All Seasons,” and we see him emerge in a very bad light. Even though I would say there can be other ways of thinking, my interpretations are valid; they’re not plucked out of the air. It’s not that I was looking for a hero. I was looking to explore a very complex man who was flawed and equivocal and ambiguous, and I’m not big on judging my characters. I want to understand them.

Do you think you ended up with a hero?

One could say he’s an equivocal hero. Perhaps he’s a hero for our times, because I think we’re very aware now that judgments are not a simple matter, and that one’s sense of right and wrong often gives way under the pressure of events. He was a ruthless man, but no more so than other politicians of his era. And he had a number of good qualities that I think tended to be buried under a weight of prejudice.

Another idea your books explore is how dangerous it is to be so close to power.

For politicians, one misstep could be fatal. You didn’t get to resign. You might well find yourself in the Tower [of London]. In the case of the women in his life, he began by putting them on a pedestal, and they ended up in the dust. Obviously, what he needed was a son and heir. It’s in some ways a problem peculiar to kings, but in other ways, it’s a very common problem. I don’t mean simply the lack of a child, but, who is the partner who will give you what you desire? To come into the king’s sight, to be identified by him as his next true love, was a very dangerous business.

Are today’s politicians as ruthless as Cromwell?

Yes, but the difference is that their ruthlessness results in mass deaths at a distance. With Cromwell, the victims, if you can call them that, are named, and they die on Tower Hill. But they die singly. I think our age has no business looking back and judging the Tudors. Cromwell and his contemporaries weren’t there to act as a kind of rehearsal for us. They have to be seen in their own light. So although there are all sorts of contemporary resonances, my stories aren’t a disguised way of writing about the present. They really are about the past.

How would you compare your role in the BBC’s Masterpiece production with your role in the Broadway play — and how have these experiences affected your third novel, ‘The Mirror in the Light’?

My involvement with the two projects is very different. With the BBC, I visited the set, but the script writer, Peter Straughan, needed very little help. It was miraculous how quickly he grasped what was at stake and how to make the characters talk. The plays were a very different story: I worked with the adaptor for 10 drafts. I’ve been in the rehearsal room, so my conversations with the actors do change the third book — but the third book also changes the plays. I’m just this morning writing a passage that explains why Thomas Wyatt, at the end of “Bring Up the Bodies,” gives Cromwell the evidence he needs to convict Anne Boleyn. About 5:00 tonight I’ll have it dropped off at the stage door when the actors arrive who play Cromwell and Tom Wyatt. It won’t change the words they’re speaking, but it will change what they know.”

Carole Burns B&W (Jason Parnell-Brookes) use this oneCarole Burns’s short story collection, “The Missing Woman,” is being published this month. She is head of creative writing at the University of Southampton in England.

Review: The Legend of Drizzt Collector’s Edition, Book I (The Dark Elf Trilogy #1-3 omnibus) ~ R.A. Salvatore

DrizztISBN ~ 978-0786953707
Publisher ~Wizards of the Coast
No. Of Pages ~944 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Drizzt Do’Urden made his first mistake the moment he was born: he was a boy. In the rigid matriarchy of the dark elf city of Menzoberranzan, that makes his life forfeit. But when his own mother tries but fails to kill him, Drizzt’s path is set. He must find a way to escape the treacherous Underdark, even if that means setting out alone into the no less dangerous World Above. 

This trilogy is the first three books in the story of Drizzt, and as such they can be read as standalone books.  In this review I will be writing about the first in this trilogy ‘Homeland’, as to review all three books in one place would lead to an almost novel length piece of writing in itself.

The male protagonist is a study of contradictions and unanswered questions; why do certain things happen to him that he either does not react to or goes completely over the top?  Despite the huge holes in his back-story I actually quite liked Drizzt and his intent, be it on purpose or just by accident, of not wanting to conform to what was expected of him.  This side of his personality gave him depth and an almost lifelike quality.  However, as I said earlier there are, in my opinion, so many question about this character that remain unanswered I did feel at times as if I were walking in fog, constantly losing my direction.  The way in which this Author portrays the female characters in this book was interesting to me, as he endows them which what could be seen as being primarily male traits.  They are cruel to the point of making the reader wince, ambitious and powerful; they are the main force behind any battles that takes place and are not at all reticent at showing their disdain for the males in their charge.  I found this to be a refreshing take on the female role in a fantasy novel, and it added considerably to the book.

The book moves along at a steady pace, and the Author has taken some time with his world building, and the description of the lead characters home provides the reader with a sweeping vista in which to place him.  Again though, as in the character development, I felt as if there were something missing here, almost as if pages were missing from my copy of the book.

Despite feeling confused at times whilst reading this, I will be reading more by this Author in the hopes that some of my many questions will be answered as the series progresses.  I would recommend this book to any lover of the fantasy genre.


From Page to Picture: The Dilemmas of Adaptation ~ Paul Millward

page to reel banner

Whilst I was gone I kept up on my reading by trawling the internet for interesting literary articles and found this on Literary Traveler.  I, for one, could be classed as a reading snob as I’m the person who says books very rarely, if ever, translate well to the big screen; so when I came across this article on just that topic I felt it was something worth sharing.  The Author of the article makes some very well thought out points about adapting novels which may, or may not, go some way to explain the awful adaptations that have hit the big screen.  It is a long article, but well worth the read.

“As someone who has always been hopelessly in love with both the printed word and the moving image, I have over the years, watched with varying degrees of discomfort, many dearly cherished novels materialise before my eyes on celluloid in sometimes shockingly distorted ways. I have often been left wondering if it is even possible to successfully and comprehensively condense a deep and complex novel into a commercially viable film. Can the movie ever be much more than just a glorified trailer for the book?

But why is the film industry so dependent upon books? It may seem a strange notion, given how old and established the film industry is, but I have for many years now felt that cinema has yet to fulfil its true potential as an art form. I believe this is in large part due to its continued reliance upon books and literature for its source material. Film is a visual medium and should be originally conceived in the form of images rather than words.

Novelists make food for thought, Hollywood sells candyfloss. It’s such an incongruous partnership. But if film makers will insist on using highly acclaimed serious novels for their material, then the least they can do is offer a glimmer of respect to the author’s work. There are moments when I sit in movie theatres wondering what on earth the film maker’s motives were for purchasing the rights to a novel they had no intention of depicting, choosing instead to take from the book the title alone and then create a different story entirely. Is it a purely cynical business ploy to take the brand value of a well-known novel in order to raise the finance to make another film altogether?

One such memorable occasion was my disastrous decision to buy a ticket to see Steven Spielberg’s version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. This book is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have ever had the experience of reading, yet right from the opening credits; I knew I was in a world quite alien to the one which Alice Walker had created in her seminal book.

What was unfolding before my eyes on-screen in those opening minutes was an evocation of childhood innocence. Yet this film was supposedly based on a novel that unflinchingly and honestly deals with child sex abuse and the sexual and physical abuse of women in general. The film seemed to largely ignore the graphic, painful incidents described in the book—the very events which make the story so powerful. It seemed like a whitewash, as if the film makers were in denial of the book’s true content.

It’s not as if Spielberg is afraid to deal with unpleasant subject matter. His 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List, based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, deals admirably with the Holocaust in a way which honours the men and women who suffered in the Nazi death camps, unlike The Color Purple which seems more a betrayal of Alice Walker’s characters. I’m sure this is not at all what Steven Spielberg intended to do with The Color Purple, but it does show how easily such adaptations can go wildly astray.

Sadly, cinema history is littered with films which, even when they succeed as films in their own right, are absolute travesties of the books they are purporting to represent. Sometimes such books have been repeatedly adapted for the cinema without any version successfully rendering the truth of the works they are based on. One such book is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the real essence of which seems to elude film makers. The lavish 1974 screen version starring Robert Redford as Gatsby was already the film industry’s third attempt at grappling with this American classic. Yet despite looking fabulous (the outdoor party scenes are enchanting) Redford gives a strangely flat performance which fails to convey the character’s complexity.

Baz Luhrmann’s recent 2013 version though, makes the 1974 version look positively minimalist. It is a ludicrously overblown film, so in love with 1920’s glamour that, like its predecessors, it fails to notice that the story is essentially about the shallow emptiness of the world it is depicting.

Another book which has been repeatedly abused is Emily Bronte’s 1847 classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights. This is one of my very favourite novels, one which was already firmly held as a precious work of genius in my mind when the opportunity arose for me to view the celebrated 1939 film version. I was thrilled at the prospect: Laurence Olivier, the greatest classical actor of his generation, was playing Heathcliff. The film had won the 1939 New York Film Critics Award and had received eight Oscar nominations. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. The film proved to be a monumental disappointment on the scale of The Color Purple. Hollywood had managed to transform my beloved Wuthering Heights into a simpering, wet romance, more akin to a mediocre Mills and Boon saga than Emily Bronte’s wild and passionate story of transcendental love. And then, most bizarre and baffling of all, the film suddenly ends half way through the story, an unforgivable omission to me, but one which seemed to act as a precedent for nearly all subsequent versions.

This is a novel which film makers just cannot resist mauling. There have been numerous film adaptations since the 1939 Olivier fiasco, yet they almost invariably end with Cathy’s physical death, the very moment the story gets really interesting. The 1970 version, directed by Robert Fuest, initially looked like a more promising proposition. It starred another great classical actor, Timothy Dalton, a man who seemed tailor-made to play the brooding, intense Heathcliff. But like the 1939 version, the film only covers the first 16 chapters of the 34 chapters available, and again ends with Cathy’s death, completely ignoring the story of her children. The film was a failure at the box office, and after completing my own viewing of it, I was left wondering whether any film would ever be able to capture the real Cathy, or would she forever roam about the wild moors of my imagination alone and formless.

The 1992 version, starring Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff and the normally wonderful Juliette Binoche as Cathy, was another mediocre anti-climax. The film was poorly received by the critics but unlike most of its cousins, it did at least attempt to portray the whole story which included Cathy’s offspring, the second generation of characters. More recently there has been Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation, a much starker, more elemental version, one clearly determined to reflect the more brutalist aspects of the novel. But yet again, the second half of the book is entirely omitted, just like the 1939 version.

I still await a genuinely authentic filmed dramatization of Wuthering Heights. Maybe I am expecting too much. Maybe it’s just not possible to transfer onto celluloid the peculiar essence of Emily Bronte’s prose. Can Kathy and Heathcliff’s unique spiritual bond of all-consuming love and longing exist outside of our imaginations? For the joy of reading is the world we create in our minds from the words on the pages before our eyes. Can the Cathy and Heathcliff who exist in our hearts and minds ever be manifested in physical form by mere human actors outside the pages of a book dreamed up by a young girl, all those many years ago, in some remote region of the untamed Yorkshire moors?

I’m not really sure of the answers to these difficult questions, but the kind of cinematic disasters described above have convinced me of one thing: it is nearly always better to try to see the film first before reading the book. A classic book is almost certain to be superior to its movie version, no matter how well made. Novels by their very nature are generally more substantial than films. How can a two-hour film compete with the full depth of a writer’s ideas explored over hundreds of pages of words?

Novelists have an unfair advantage over movie makers: they can directly describe and communicate to the reader absolutely anything they wish. Writers can describe at great length the deepest thoughts and feelings of all their characters. They can communicate to the reader the ideas and themes which underpin their stories as subtly or as obviously as they choose. They have complete control over the world they are creating. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of novel-writing: complete freedom.

The film maker is more restricted: everything which he wishes to communicate to his audience has to be conveyed either visually or through the dialogue of the characters. Little wonder that some film makers resort to the contrivance of the “voice over” in an attempt to subvert these limitations.

These difficulties do not apply to serious books alone. Comedy writing can be equally thwart with problems for the film maker, as exemplified by the 2005 screen version of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The true genius of Adams’ comedic writing lie in his meandering, mind bogglingly imaginative diversions from the main story line. The film chose to ignore much of Adams’ side splittingly hilarious lines in favour of dumbed down, visual humor which proved leaden and tedious.

But of all the great writers, it has often struck me that DH Lawrence must be one of the most difficult to translate to the screen. So much of his writing is about the deep, subconscious psychological and emotional dynamics which exists between his characters. And then there are all the beautiful passages of poetic prose, the cornerstone of his greatness, which cannot be filmed:

Here the stone leapt up from the plain of earth, leapt up in a manifold, clustered desire each time, up, away from the horizontal earth, through twilight and dusk and the whole range of desire, through the swerving, the declination, ah, to the ecstasy, the touch, to the meeting and the consummation, the meeting, the clasp, the close embrace, the neutrality, the perfect, swooning consummation, the timeless ecstasy. There his soul remained, at the apex of the arch, clinched in the timeless ecstasy, consummated. (Extract from The Rainbow by DH Lawrence)

As a youth I was besotted with DH Lawrence and obsessed with Women in Love, a book I repeatedly reread as if hypnotised by the potency of Lawrence’s prose. It was therefore with some trepidation that I settled down late one evening to watch Ken Russell’s 1969 Oscar-winning screen version for the first time: was I setting myself up for another colossal letdown?

On the contrary, I was absolutely swept away by Russell’s exhilarating and dazzling interpretation of the story and it remains one of my favourite films to this day. Many movie and TV versions of Lawrence’s books are almost too reverential to the text and attempt to film the unfilmable, relegating them to the “worthy but dull” category. Russell somehow seems to effortlessly sidestep all these potential pitfalls in Women in Love. The maverick film director has used the full extent of his wild and vivid imagination to conjure up from the pages of the book a vibrant, colourful world brimming with energy, wit and style, without ever giving short thrift to Lawrence’s visionary intelligence.

Women in Love proved to me that it is possible to make a great movie from a classic work of literature when the project is placed in the hands of a daring genius. Ken Russell’s adaptation of this great novel is a film genuinely worthy of its source, full of powerful, striking scenes which dramatically capture Lawrence’s intensity. It is teeming with unforgettable visual set pieces: the newly wed drowned lovers forever caught embracing at the bottom of the drained lake, the extraordinarily visceral naked male wrestling contest, an inspired Glenda Jackson as the bohemian Gudren dancing amongst cattle in a meadow, the beautiful lyrically choreographed courtship movement leading to Birkin’s and Ursula’s first kiss. The film is a veritable feast of visual delights which reflect Lawrence’s passion, sensuality and desire to connect with the primal forces of nature.

Then there are wonderfully successful films which are clearly, and quite deliberately, different to the classic books they are supposedly based upon, whereby both film and book can continue to be equally admired despite their disparities. Hollywood’s take on Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is a feel good romance with a happy ending, totally at odds with the book, but who could ever resist Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly singing Moon River?

Which begs the question: should we not be judging a film entirely on its own merits, regardless of the quality or nature of its source material? After all, Shakespeare based his plays on source material which he transformed out of all recognition, and not too many people are complaining about that. Can we really justify criticising an enormously popular film, enjoyed by millions of people around the world, simply because it does not exactly replicate the book, or satisfy our own personal vision of it?

The James Bond Franchise is an example of a remarkably successful film series which has veered away considerably from its source material, the original Ian Fleming novels. Yet both the novels and the films remain hugely enjoyable in their own right. The first Bond movie, Dr No, was made in 1962 on a relatively restricted budget, but was successful largely because of its authentic adherence to much of the book’s characterisation and plot.

But of course it was the sexual charisma of Sean Connery and Ursula Andress which has endeared that particular film to the general public, and by the mid-sixties, with blockbusters like Goldfinger and Thunderball, the films were already forming their own separate identity, far away from Fleming’s original creations. The Bond movies were becoming increasingly dominated by girls, gadgets and glamour, yet their appeal is irresistible and a perfect match for the swinging sixties.

Since the appointment of Daniel Craig as 007 in 2005, the Franchise has re-invented itself. Casino Royale, The first movie starring Craig, was a surprisingly serious film and the best Bond movie for many years. I believe its success owes a great deal to the decision to take Bond back to his roots. The film is much closer to Ian Fleming’s original book, giving it an authenticity and credibility which the previous lighter, fantasy based films lacked, however enjoyable they were to watch. Authenticity is important in all artistic endeavours and when films distant themselves too far from their source, the characters begin to lose their soul.

But one of the greatest movies I have ever seen is The Deer Hunter, an epic movie which is not based on a book, but on original ideas developed purely for the cinema. Superior original screen play movies like this suggest to me that the best approach is for a film to be initially conceived as a film, not as a book which then has to be translated to the very different medium of cinema. The Deer Hunter is artistically successful because it makes its points incredibly well through the use of visual imagery, without having to deal with the difficulties of trying to transform lengthy word descriptions into succinct photo images.

Great writers are great because they can write. Therefore the true greatness of such literary giants as a Proust or a Flaubert for example, (whose genius lies in the beauty and poetry of their words) cannot be transferred onto film. But film directors can also be great poets, great visual poets, if only they were willing to relinquish their reliance on literature. I still believe cinema has yet to truly find itself as an art form because not enough film directors are focused on the purely visual potential that cinema has. They need to be looking to Fellini for their inspiration, not delving into the pages of Victorian novels.”

Paul Millward writes for Literary Traveler.