Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Release Date: 1971
Director: Robert Stevenson
Production Co: Walt Disney Productions
Country: United States
Genre: Adventure | Fantasy | Family | Musicals | Animation
Set in Second World War England, three children have been evacuated to the countryside (oddly to a town overlooking the Channel) to stay with Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), a witch-in-training. Along the way on their magical adventures they pick up the con-man Professor Browne played by David Tomlinson. The movie is more of a series of loosely-connected set pieces than a story. Some of them go on too long, like the dance number on Portobello Road, although it is interesting to see the many faces of the British Commonwealth represented in a cheerful wartime London. Better are the mixed live action and animation sequences with fish dancing in an undersea ballroom and a raucous soccer game among wild animals. The conclusion features some whimsical special effects that stand up well after forty years as military uniforms and armor are magically brought to life to defend Britain against a German incursion. It’s a fun, entertaining bagatelle of a movie. My kids enjoyed it for sure.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: The Sandman : Preludes & Nocturnes
Publication Info: Vertigo (2010), Edition: Reprint
This is the first collection of the legendary comic book series about Dream, the personification of dreams. In this story he his captured and held prisoner for 70 years, avenges himself on his captors, and sets forth to rebuild his kingdom. Gaiman’s writing is dark and Dream is cruel but still at times a sympathetic protagonist. The illustrations are rich and often gruesome but always effective. It appears with the groundwork set in this volume that the series could really take off from here.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: American Gods
Publication Info: New York : W. Morrow, c2001.
Books Read by the Same Author:
Shadow is released early from prison when his wife and boss die in a car crash. With no future ahead of him, Shadow accepts a job from the shady Mr. Wednesday. I don’t expect it’s a huge spoiler that Mr. Wednesday is actually an incarnation of the god Odin who ushers Shadow into the worlds where the gods of antiquity have fallen on hard times in competition with the modern “gods” of technology, drugs, and celebrity. Gaiman’s characterization is well-done as he introduces many complex figures of gods in human form. I also like how places that Americans value like roadside attractions become temples and places of power. I am curious though why Gaiman chose to ignore the God of Abraham and the many churches, synagogues & mosques as a rival (or even the questionable “gods” of televangelists and religious extremists). Shadow is true to his name in that he often seems to have no identity, following Mr. Wednesday with seemingly no good reason, but then there are moments of compassion where his humanity shines through and sets him apart from his godly companions and leads to a satisfying conclusion.
I have to admit that this book was a struggle to read and had it not been for Gaiman’s reputation and that I was reading this for a book group, I may have given up. In fact the rest of my book group hated this book and we haven’t met since. Although this is not something I would usually recommend, if you find yourself struggling through the early pages of the book, just read a summary online and skip ahead to page 150. It gets much better from there on.
Author: Connie Willis
Title: All Clear
Publication Info: New York : Spectra, 2010.
Previous Works By Same Author:
As noted in my review of Blackout
this book is less of a sequel and more of a direct continuation of one lengthy work about three time travelers studying life in England in the early years of World War II. Both books are part of a larger series of loosely connected works by Connie Willis about a future Oxford University where graduate students in history are able to study the past by traveling through time via a mechanism known as the net. I enjoy Willis’ approach to time travel fiction and particularly am impressed with her well-researched and detailed descriptions of contemporary life.
The three main characters Polly, Eileen, and Michael finally met up toward the conclusion of Blackout and now begin working together to find a way to an open drop in the net that will return them to Oxford. The mysterious characters of the previous book turn out to not be so mysterious after all and are woven fairly well into the narrative, although through unlikely coincidences that approach the edge of plausibility. And yes, they do get out of the past (well, sort of) but the conclusion is satisfyingly unexpected.
I did find the greatest flaw of both of these novels is that a character will come up with an idea, will then discuss the same idea, and then carry out the idea which created a lot of unnecessary repetition (especially since every attempt to return to the future is a flop). If Willis could have tightened up the novel and created more tension if she did more showing and less telling, perhaps even condensing the story to one volume. Still I found these lengthy tomes to be mesmerizing and read straight through to find out what would happen next, so it’s still an engaging work with a great attention to detail.
Author: Connie Willis
Previous Works By Same Author:
Connie Willis is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors and I particularly enjoy her take on time travel fiction in works such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog so I eagerly sought out this book once I learned of it. This book like the two previous I mentioned is set in a future Oxford where graduate students in history study the past by traveling through time through a device known as the net. Blackout shares some of the supporting characters of the earlier novels but focuses on three young historians studying England in the early days of the second World War. Polly, the main protagonist of the novel, is an experienced time traveling historian observing people in shelters during the London Blitz. Eileen is a new historian spending time working with children evacuated to the countryside. Michael is hoping to learn about heroism by visiting various battles including the evacuation of Dunkirk.
<Spoilers Begin Here> All three historians find themselves unexpectedly trapped in their time. Furthermore, they find themselves participating in major historical events and seemingly affecting their outcome, something that the time travel theory of the net says should be impossible. The main conflict of the novel becomes whether Polly, Eileen, and Michael can find a way out of the past which means first they must find one another. <Spoilers End Here>
I find the best part of this novel is that it captures the everyday life of English people during the War in great detail, almost as if Willis were a time traveler herself shedding light on the ordinary life of the past. Willis’ thorough research and attention to detail carries the novel through even at times when the plot and dialogue are a little flat. There are other characters introduced in the novel who are seemingly dropped although their resolution is made clear when I realized that the next book All Clear is not so much a sequel as a direct continuation of a lengthy work.
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Title: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Publication Info: Scholastic Paperbacks (2008)
Summary/Review: Another audiobook I downloaded based on title alone from the public library and one that shows that Young Adult literature is far ahead of grown up fiction for imagination and creativity. Alcatraz Smedry is a teenage orphan with a talent for breaking things who learns that he is from a heroic lineage and must rescue his inheritance – a band of sand – from the hands of the evil librarians who secretly control the world. The deadpan delivery of Alcatraz’s satirical narrative is greatly enhanced by reader Charlie McWade. I found it a hilarious send-up of fantasy/sci-fi conventions yet at the same time sneakily getting a few messages in as well. If you don’t like at first, at least stick around for the dinosaurs.
(Looking at Library Thing, I’m amused that many of the reviews are by librarians. Most of us like it. Don’t tell the evil librarian in charge.)
Recommended Books: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Title: Princess Mononoke
Release Date: 26 November 1999
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Co: DENTSU Music And Entertainment
Language: Dubbed into English
Genre: Anime / Fantasy / Adventure
I don’t have much experience with anime so this was a wonderful introduction. Princess Mononoke is a gripping adventure, imaginative fantasy, and a feast for the eyes. There are many establishing shots that look like fine works of art. The story is centered around Ashitaka, a prince who slays a fearsome demon that attacks his village but is cursed in the process and thus has to go into exile. Seeking the source of the demon, Ashitaka finds himself between the spirits and gods of the forest and a town of ironworkers who threaten the forest’s existence. There’s a clear environmental message here but it’s not too heavy-handed, and I’m impressed that no side is ever seen as good or evil and the viewers sympathies keep shifting as the story goes along. A quite excellent film all around.
Author: Salman Rushdie
Title: The Enchantress of Florence
Publication Info: Overdrive Publications (2008), Audio CD
The story in the book is about a visit by a Florentine man to the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar, claiming to be a long lost relative. But the The Enchantress of Florence is about stories themselves, stories told by the characters, interweaving and overlapping with reality. There’s a good mix of history, fiction and the fantastic to be found here, reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle. And while the Mughal emperor may claim kinship to the gods, this book is far more earthy capturing in words humanity at its basest in war, sex, and filthy, filthy language.
The writing style of the book just oozes with machismo, especially as read by Firdous Bamji. I’ve never read Rushdie before so I don’t know if this is typical of his writing style but it is well-suited to the time and the characters. Women don’t come off well in this novel as they are sexualized, objectified, vain, coquettish, mystified, and even imaginary to the men that see them only as mirrors. The way Rushdie piles on the stereotypes in a Joycean fashion leads me to believe it is meant as parody. Despite all the unpleasantness, Rushdie creates something beautiful in his words.
This is the best type of novel their is: one that transport you to a different place and time for an escape yet shares stories and ideas that make you think.
Recommended books: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
In The Summer Country (2007) is the fourth in a series of light-hearted novels based on Arthurian legend by John Conlee, who was one of my favorite professors and an adviser at the College of William & Mary. The conceit of these novels are that they are told from the perspective of Arthur’s faithful hound Cabal. I’ve enjoyed reading all of these novels which are rooted in Arthurian traditions going back eons, but are lively and fun as well. Cabal as a dog is loyal, proud, and often hungry.
This volume is particularly fanciful as Arthur and Cabal participate in an adventure on the Isles of Avalon. On this adventure they encounter the Wild Herdsman, the Ladies of Avalon, the evil Meligraunce, the eviler Dark Man, and the witch Scatha. This magical land allows Arthur and Cabal to communicate in words for the first time. Cabal also befriends a faery dog and wise-cracking cat.
While a book written for young readers, it’s enjoyable by adults, fans of Arthur, dog fanciers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.
In the Summer Country: A Tale of Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee. Pale Horse Books (2006), Edition: 1st, Perfect Paperback, 190 pages
My William & Mary Alumni Chapter book club selected The Ladies of Grace Adieu (2006) a short story collection by Susanna Clarke for this month’s selection. Clarke does a good imitation of Regency-era English fairy tales. Of course I have no interest in reading Regency-era English fairy tales much less their modern imitation. But I was a good do-bee and soldiered through the book and after a while I found myself, well, enchanted. While overall this is not my thing, some of the stories were better than others and it made it bearable to read instead of an obligation. I particularly like the stories about how the Duke of Wellington rescues himself from fairies by embroidering, the story of a snobbish country rector/doctor who outwits a malicious ferry, and the story of the construction of the fairy bridge at fairy. The rest is meh.
So I made it through this book, and discussed it at book club, but I don’t expect to read any more Susanna Clarke anytime soon.