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.
The London-based “post-industrial” duo makes electronic noise you can dance to on the track “Turn It Up” from their eponymous debut album. These instructions are easy to follow.
How are you getting your groove on this week?
Author: Ian MacEwan
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2005)
Books Read By Same Author: Atonement
MacEwan’s novel follows a seemingly ordinary day in the life of a London neurosurgeon as he goes about his tasks and ruminates analytically on his life and work. It’s interesting how seemingly major things (like a car crash) are detailed with less intensity than the seemingly mundane (a game of squash). Towards the end of the novel things come together too neatly with a dramatic twist that I think undercuts the more interesting stream-of-conciousness aspects of the early part of the novel. Still an interesting read with a good focus on developing character and internal monologue.
“What a stroke of luck, that the woman he loves is also his wife.”
Recommended books: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
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.
This novel begins when a woman from a wealthy family and a poor artist meet, fall in love, and marry with parental disapproval in 1930s London. What follows is a narrative of three generations of women in the family today. It’s a lyrical text that seems oddly plotless, just kind of multi-generational vignettes. In fact the title is an interesting choice. All fiction in a sense is about consequences – a protagonist makes a choice and then must respond to the consequences. Yet this book seems to be less about consequences than your typical novel. Anyhow, it’s a short book but it took me forever to complete, so I think that says something.
Author: Audrey Niffeneger
Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Publication Info: New York : Scribner, 2009.
Previously read by same author: The Time Traveler’s Wife
As she used and refined elements of time travel mythology to create The Time Traveler’s Wife, Niffeneger uses the ghost story as a means of telling a human story of relationships, identity, and loss. The characters of this story are trapped in some way – literally in some cases – but mostly trapped in relationships or trapped in their own past. Elspeth, the ghost of the story, is trapped in her former apartment near Highgate Cemetery in London. The gist of the novel is that Elspeth wills the apartment to her twin nieces whom she’s not seen since their infancy on the condition that the twins reside in the apartment for one year before selling and that they not allow her sister Edie (also a twin) to enter the apartment. The tightly connected sisters Julia and Valentina start to see their relationship erode under Elspeth’s ghostly watch as well as befriending their neighbors Robert (Elspeth’s grieving life partner) and Martin (a man so overcome by OCD that he cannot leave his house).
Halfway through this book I thought this was a brilliant novel balancing the intertwining tales of these five characters with the mystery of Elspeth’s afterlife. And then a twist in the story* breaks the narrative tension and makes the novel more pedestrian, in my opinion. Another twist** pushes the boundaries of the absurd and really broke the suspension of disbelief for me. A revelation late in the novel*** and the conclusion† are utterly predictable and disappointing (see footnotes for spoilers). Ultimately, Her Fearful Symmetry is entertaining enough but fails to deliver on its strong start. I think Niffeneger could’ve done much better with a promising premise.
As a side note, the parts about Highgate Cemetery are really fascinating. I find it interesting both because I live near an historic cemetery and because of the insights into the lives and motivations of preservationists and tour guides.
Recommended books: Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
* Elspeth learns to communicate with Valentina, Julia, and Robert through Ouija boards and controlling their hands to write notes.
** Elspeth learns to tear out the souls of living beings and then place them back in their presumably dead bodies.
*** Elspeth is the twins’ real mother.
† Elspeth removes Valentina’s soul but puts herself into Valentina’s body.