Books for Beloved Or No Surprises Here

So, I spent the morning at my grandfather’s funeral, and am now blogging out of an airport in Iowa, waiting to fly back to Dallas.  I don’t cite this autobiographical information as a call for sympathy, but rather as justification for my flagrant cheating for this week’s question.  Because I can’t think of any book I’d have to insist Beloved read as soon as the two of us are one.  But there may well be some books he ought to know in order to merit consideration for a date.  (Actually, even this may not be strictly true, but considering Real Life Things at the moment, I wish to be entirely frivolous right now.)

About a year ago when I was taking the GRE for grad school applications, I worked on building up my GRE vocabulary.  I wrote a bunch of flashcards, and made up my own sentences using the vocab words, the more ridiculous, the better (helps you remember, don’t you know).

ultimatum n. a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations (Oxford American Dictionary)

“She issued an ultimatum: ‘Read Sandman or I can’t date you.'”

Sandman was one of those mind-changing books that I discovered in college; it shaped both my imagination and my view of why literature is important (and by extension, why I should go to grad school).  It influenced my choice of quotation for the alumni walk brick that my parents bought me for graduation.  And at the time, any guy who wanted to have a hope of understanding the way I thought really needed to read it.  Telling me you’ve read Sandman is still a sure way to impress me (okay, extend that to pretty much any Gaiman).   So there you have it.  Having read Sandman probably won’t be a deal-breaker for a first date, but it totally earns the guy points.  And if he wants to get beyond a first date, well…

Book Crush: the Sandman

I can’t help it.  I’m in love with the King of Dreams.  I’m not even sure he’s intrinsically lovable, but, well, he’s Dream.  He’s a tall, pale, gaunt fellow with eyes that flash like stars and a shock of black hair that would put a punk rocker to shame.  He dresses completely in black, and has no sense of humor worthy of the name.  He’s at once vengeful and completely honor-bound.

I'll admit, I'm given, on occasion, to dressing all in black myself, so I appreciate Morpheus' sense of style.

He’s also the ruler of the Dreaming, the ever-shifting realms created from the sleeping minds of dreamers everywhere in the world (and off it).  He has a raven servant named Matthew who calls him simply “Boss” and a library full of every book ever written and all the ones never written, too.  He can shape things out of the fabric of dreams, as well as shift the waking world around himself.  Death is his older sister.

So why am I in love with him?  Mostly, it’s because of what he is.  He’s the incarnation of Dreams, and as a dreamer myself, I was pretty much a goner from the start.  And, well, he is the tall, dark, and broody sort that, I shall admit with some embarrassment, does have a certain appeal.  As the ruler of the Dreaming, responsible for maintaining order (inasmuch as such a thing is possible for such a phantasmagorical realm), his powers and abilities are all kinds of awesome.

I guess a relationship really wouldn’t work out with him; humans and immortals just don’t mix.  But, you know, I wouldn’t say no to a date in the Dreaming: a tour of the dreamscape, a visit to the gates of horn and ivory, introductions to the gatekeepers three (a griffin, unicorn, and dragon).  We’d end up in the library, where I’d find a section of books containing the ends of all those dreams I woke up during.  I’d make friends with Lucien, his librarian, and I’d get invited to come back and read as often as I like.  Which means, at last, a solution to the perennial student’s problem: I’ll do all my fun reading after I go to sleep!

Addendum.

I was going to leave my entry at that, but Thalia and Jubilare have shamed me with their very thoughtful entries on how fictional men can help us appreciate the virtues of manliness.  And thus, in addition to what amounts to a kind of celebrity crush on the Prince of Stories himself, I include one more entry, based on those qualities I’d also find attractive in a real, live person.

Faramir

He’s morally strong, rejecting the Ring when he might instead take it.  And he’s noble (perhaps to a fault!) in his obedience to his father and the defense of Gondor.

“I do not oppose your will, sire.  Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead–if you command it. . . . But if I should return, think better of me!”

He’s a man who protects what matters when it matters, but he’s not one who loves the fight for its own sake.

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

He’s well-read and appreciates music, and he values the history of his city.

“He was gentle in bearing, and a lover of lore and of music. . . He welcomed Gandalf at such times as he came to the City, and he learned what he could from his wisdom.”

And, of course, he has a sense of romance.  His wooing of Éowyn is gentle and understated and completely sweet.

“Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn!  But  I do not offer you my pity.  For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell.  And I love you.  Once I pitied your sorrow.  But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you.  Éowyn, do you not love me?”

All right, so technically maybe his hair ought to be a bit longer, but I do like Anke Eissman's vision of Faramir.

A Few Literary Watersheds

As an avid reader, I’ve discovered that there are certain books that turn out to be defining moments in your imaginative, intellectual, or spiritual landscape.  They’re watersheds that you might not even notice at first, but you can look back and realize that you see the world differently because of them.  I’m not sure I can say I wouldn’t have learned what I have without reading certain books–if God wants you to grow in a certain direction, I think He can use any experiences you have–but I can definitely see how some books I’ve read have shaped me into the person I am today.  Two of those works would certainly have to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (along with the Silmarillion) and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

Arda Unmarred, the Work of the Valar

Tolkien taught me a renewed delight in the natural world around me, which in turn opened the door to my first steps of a truly personal relationship with God.  It’s funny, I know I must have enjoyed nature before I read Tolkien, but I think I had trouble taking delight in nature as an expression of God’s love and beauty.  God as Creator was kind of a dry, Sunday school topic for me, but when I read of the Iluvatar’s creation of Arda through the Valar, I discovered the romance in the idea of creation.  Amusingly in retrospect, I preferred Tolkien’s version of the story to the Biblical one, mainly because it was fresher to my imagination and less filled with years of spiritual baggage and wrong assumptions about God.  But I started seeing that there really was a glorious artistry full of beauty and love behind creation.  And little by little, I began to let God into my heart along with the beauty I saw.  I felt rather as though for the very first time, I was saying to God, “Huh, I guess you and I really do have something in common after all.  I like this world you made, and in fact, I believe you had me in mind when you made it this way.  I think perhaps I’d like us to be friends.”  My relationship with God isn’t anywhere near done growing, but such was the start.  If I hadn’t wished for Middle-Earth, I wouldn’t have found that what I needed was here.

And actually, Sandman helped out in that respect, too.  When I read Tolkien, I was a teenager, and like most teenagers, wasn’t completely satisfied with my life, and would have much preferred to escape to somewhere more exciting, magical, and epically meaningful than my seemingly mundane existence.  While I did eventually start maturing past the escapism of being a teenager, I still had the implicit impression that this world still wasn’t quite as magical as the ones I read about in books.  And then I discovered urban fantasy through authors such as Neil Gaiman, Roger Zelazny, and Emma Bull.  They told me that yes, of course, 21st century earth can be just as magical as the Third Age of Middle-Earth.  And in fact, things like coffee makers and cars and apartment buildings are really quite magical in themselves if you just know the right way to look at them.

Dream of the Endless, called also Lord Morpheus

Yet among these urban fantasies, Sandman stands out to me for a number of reasons.  For one, it taught me (along with a very dear friend of mine) to see that everybody you pass in the street has a story.  That guy in the car next to me, the tired cashier at the store, the quiet girl in my English class–no matter how banal and uninteresting these people may seem, they each have their own stories, hopes, dreams.  Like the incredibly varied cast of Sandman, such very ordinary-looking people might just be having extraordinary adventures, if I could see their whole lives.  So who am I to dismiss them as boring people?  But I’d never thought of it that way before.

Secondly, the world of Sandman opened a whole new imaginative vista for me.  Just as I can’t conceive of my imaginative landscape without Middle-Earth and elves and hobbits, I can’t fill that world with magic without thinking of Gaiman’s world ruled by gods and Endless.  I’ve imbibed a good bit of Gaiman’s methods of magic, and my approach to the fantastical in my own writings and daydreams will always be shaped by it.  And, well, the stories themselves stick with you.  They’re stories of muses, gods, angels, and demons, artists, poets, and other dreamers–Dream himself–fae, and humans.  No, I’m not going to forget these.  Besides, I defy any female dreamer to read Sandman without falling in love at least a little with Dream.

Ideas in Abundance

Back in the yore-days of college, I spent a portion of a very excellent class in a perfectly stellar semester studying the most addicting, complex, and beautiful graphic novel I’ve yet come across.  Normally I’d say “Caveat lector” to anyone accepting my recommendation, since I’ve not yet delved deeply into the world of graphic novels and thus might praise a middling story overmuch.  And yet…whatever else may be out there, I am convinced that it could not render Neil Gaiman’s Sandman “middling.”

What is worthy about The Sandman?  Many things: the intertwining of so many lives and stories; the questions it raises about life and death, of waking and sleeping; and the artwork: ethereal, infernal, spellbound and spellbinding, lucid and muddled by turns.  The horror of what men do to each other, and what dreams may bring them to do.  The fight for honor and personal property.  Nightmare.  Drugged stupor.  Ecstasy.  Hope.

It’s hard to discuss the whole story, not only because it’s been a few years since I’ve read it in full, but also because it’s quite convoluted.  So I will mention one episode, “Calliope” of Dream Country, wherein an author who acts contemptibly for the sake of writing ideas is punished with ideas, with dreams, with stories in abundance.  There are only so many ideas he can write down before his mind is seized with more, and there are only so many his mind can hold.  It’s right up there with “The Monkey’s Paw” as an injunction to Be Careful What You Wish For, Lest You Get It.

All this comes to mind because I was surprised to find, in the midst of my unending struggle to keep my papers in order, that I’ve a number of ideas written down.  There’s some doggerel, some simile sketches, poems of other people worth analyzing and sharing, and at least 4 stories in the works.  It all needs a good deal of fleshing out and perhaps some figurative epidermis, but behold!  There are skeletons in place.  Thanks, Muses, they are ideas enough.

Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Nineteen

The Book Meme Challenge: Favorite book turned into a movie

The somewhat awkward thing about my answer to this is that when I like a movie based off a book, inevitably I’ve been exposed to the movie first and find the book later.  By that point, the movie has dug tendrils into my brain such that even if it’s different from the book, I can no longer dislike the movie on that account.  They are separate entities, though very close.

Why is this strange?  Because any time I read and love a book first, then see how the movies diverge from it (Harry Potter franchise, I’m looking at you), I get extremely upset.  Doubtless you have encountered this a hundred times, either in other book fans or perhaps in yourself.  The more strident the protests, the more ridiculous they sound.  I’m thinking of switching to decaf.

In the meantime, there are no less than four (FOUR!  I know, I’m awful) book/movie combinations which I find particularly leoflic:

Pride and Prejudice

My first exposure to Pride and Prejudice was playing the part of Charlotte Lucas in a high school play.  It was fun, but necessarily left out all of Austen’s prose, such that I wasn’t particularly eager to find the novel and read it.  When the Joe Wright version came out in 2005, I saw it with a friend and came away with the impression (made much vaguer by years) that Darcy’s love speech was Quite Something.  I wondered whether Austen or the scriptwriter made it so.  Therefore I went home, found the novel online, and stayed up until perhaps 4 AM clicking from chapter to chapter.

When I reached chapter 58, I found that Austen did not set down any speeches beyond “he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”  Provoking!  And yet, it might be the only way for a speech to satisfy everyone: you can dream any words you want into it.

Thereafter, when brought to watch the BBC version partway through my college career, I was in fact acquainted with the book, and thus greatly pleased by BBC’s faithfulness to the narrative.   Not only that, but I found Jennifer Ehle’s features better suited than Kiera Knightley’s in showing how Lizzie, for all her impertinence and bright eyes, generally behaves as a lady of that period ought to – and when she doesn’t, the contrast between her actions and what was expected is heightened by Ehle’s countenance.  The newer movie also makes a few mistakes; as a friend pointed out, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would never condescend to visiting Longbourne in the middle of the night.  Six hours gives the BBC enough time to get such details right, and the result is a winner.


Stardust

This will sound familiar: the friend with whom I went to see Joe Wright’s P&P accompanied me to see Charlie Cox in Stardust, which I enjoyed so much that I fetched Neil Gaiman’s book from the library…

The movie has much to recommend it: an oft-rebuffed young suitor attempting to win a girl’s heart by going off and fetching her back a fallen star (which he supposes will be something like a meteorite); three sons fighting for succession of their father’s throne; witches fighting for youth; sweeping New Zealand vistas; a unicorn; excellent scene changes; spells put on and spells taken off.  There is also a fight scene that will be distressing to those unprepared for the sight of a pirate in drag, so brace yourself for that.

When I read the book, I found that some aspects of the plot were changed – Tristran’s name became Tristan, to start with, and he receives help from rather different quarters.  Gaiman himself noted that he spent about a paragraph describing the pirate ship, which the moviemakers brought to life in painstaking, life-sized detail.  The book’s flavor is also different: certain characters I liked well enough in the movie became unpleasant, or vice-versa; a spell which was broken in a very matter-of-fact way in the movie was broken in a more whimsical fashion in the book; and the endings even differ.  But having seen the movie first, I manage to approve of both of them.  They may have rather different approaches to the world of Faerie, but both give the audience a bit of a peek through the Wall.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I have not read this book nor watched this movie recently enough for my own contentment.  Both are delightful, and winsome, and rather dangerous at certain junctures – though I will say that an abridged audio book on youTube and a look through Wikipedia give me to understand that the movie shifts things around a fair amount, such that it might be more accurate to say the movie is very loosely based on the book.  Both end up in approximately the same place, but book-Sophie has a good deal more power; her sisters are more interesting and involved; fire demons figure a tad more prominently; and the country of Wales is mentioned briefly.  In the movie, a certain character evokes sympathy she doesn’t call up in the book; broken hearts and John Donne curses step back; and wars, magic rings, and bird-men fly forward.  And somehow Sophie ends up in the future, according to The Internet.  I’d forgotten that bit completely!

What I hadn’t forgotten was the eerie quality when the Baba Yaga-like castle walked over the moors, Howl’s plaintive moans when his hair spells went awry and turned his hair funny colors, Sophie’s walks with Turnip-Head, Howl covered in feathers, and a star falling to earth…

Here are two bits from the book:

In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

By now it was clear that Howl was in a mood to produce green slime any second. Sophie hurriedly put her sewing away. “I’ll make some hot buttered toast,” she said.
“Is that all you can do in the face of tragedy??” Howl asked. “Make toast!”

Here’s a quote of Howl in the movie, since the only available snippets appear to be on Disney’s site:

Now I’m repulsive…I can’t live like this…  …I give up…I see no point in living if I can’t be beautiful…

Pardon me, I think I must be off to take a stroll through the clouds now…once I’ve discussed

The Princess Bride

There’s no way I could let this one pass by, although I’m having difficulty finding words for it outside quoting the whole thing.  The Princess Bride is one of a few movies that I’ve watched and re-watched enough to memorize in part (which I know others can claim just as easily, but other people seem to spend much more time watching movies than I do).  The frame-tale of the book (which I first read last year) is preserved in the grandfather reading his ill grandson the story.  Though the movie spends a lot less time on backstory (where Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik are concerned), and leaves out Inigo and Fezzik’s trip through the Zoo of Death, it is otherwise faithful: the Fire Swamp, the castle gates, and death itself are overcome.  The casting is perfect.  The script is excellent and lends itself well to quoting.

I love the grandfather pausing to say “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time,” then losing his place and having to backtrack, as well as Westley shouting “AS YOU WISH” while tumbling downhill, and also how Fezzik says the word “lady” when relating how he claimed the horses.  Not to mention Vizzini’s use of “Inconceivable!” and Inigo considering piracy as a second career.  Delightful.

And wuv, tru wuv, will fowwow you…foweva.