Monday, December 27, 2010

Teens and dystopian fiction

There's an discussion article today on the New York Times opinion page about "The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction." A variety of writers and "experts" weigh in with some fairly vapid remarks, but I thought Steve Westerfeld, author of the Leviathan series, hit the nail on the head with his comment on teenagers today:

"Teenagers are at a stage of life where they must tangle with almost adult responsibilities — school, work, college applications — and yet they haven’t been granted many adult powers or respect. They’re encouraged to work, but generally at menial jobs, and when they show up to spend their money, they’re carefully watched, assumed to be shoplifters and loiterers.

Schools are places where teens are subject to dress codes, have few free speech rights, and are constantly surveilled, where they rise and sit at the sound of a bell. Is it any wonder that dystopian novels speak to them?"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas to all

Well, I did see Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I now know that Eustace is "You-Stace" and the actor playing him was one of the bright spots of the movie. Visually it was close to how I'd always imagined the book, too. As for the rest... hmm.

I did make an interesting observation about characterization watching the movie. The audience's attention focuses on Eustace almost as soon as the adventure portion of the movie begins, in spite of the fact that he's an unlikeable character. Long before he becomes a likeable one, we're identifying with him, even to the exclusion of Edmund and Lucy, who seem rather flat. (This is true in the book, too, but to a lesser extent, as Lewis is able to jump around more easily between the minds of the characters.) The transformation of an unlikeable character to a likeable one, and particularly getting the reader to identify with that character even before the transformation is a nice challenge for a writer.

I guess I'm a bit late for the Be Jolly blogfest so I'm not going to link to it but I'd like to post a picture of my tree. A long time ago I went a little stir-crazy one December and starting making ornaments -- first extremely intricate snowflakes and then posterboard animals. I didn't expect them to last, given the material, but we still put them up every year. For Christmas dinner my husband is going to make the only thing he knows how to make: seafood marinara. It's not really traditional but I don't eat meat anyway so it's been years since I had a Christmas turkey. And if you want a stretch a point, Italians (my husband's heritage) traditionally eat fish on Christmas Eve. (For my in-laws, this is preserved in an annual ritual known as "going to Red Lobster.") So on Christmas Eve day I'll bake cookies and probably take my kid Christmas shopping and we'll eat early and go to the children's Christmas Eve service and I'll try to catch the "The Bishop's Wife" -- one of the more obscure Hollywood Christmas movies -- on TCM.

And it wouldn't be Christmas without music, so I'll share my latest favorite: the Pipettes' version of "In the Bleak Midwinter."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

C.S. Lewis hits the wall

Sometime this weekend or over Christmas vacation I'll go with my son to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. When I was a kid, Dawn Treader was my favorite Narnia book -- perhaps because of the map in front, or that I found Eustace (by the way, I knew no-one, and still know no-one, actually named Eustace and can't fathom how to pronounce it.* I guess I'll learn when I see the movie) a compelling character or just the theme of exploration, going beyond the horizon to the edge of the world. I'm crossing my fingers that some of this will still be in the movie.

The story behind the current movie productions of the Narnia books is this: Disney did The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It made money and got good reviews. I thought it was a pretty good movie and much better than some of the earlier Narnia adaptations. Then Disney did Prince Caspian. They spent a lot of money, and though the movie made money, it didn't make enough, and Disney washed their hands of the whole series and walked away. Prince Caspian struck me as an odd movie, and perhaps this is partly why Disney gave up. The one thing I thought when I left the theatre was, "Wow, that was very...macho." The movie was almost one long battle. Yet most of that stuff was also in the book and here's where the disconnect comes in. For C.S. Lewis, battles were something out of King Arthur. They were about chivalry and honor and Up England! Lewis actually fought in the trenches during World War I and probably knew war wasn't really like that, but when he came to write the books he either figured real war didn't belong in them, or he just fell back on the ideals of his Edwardian childhood. But movie battles usually aren't about chivalry and battles tend to be violent. So the movie came off as a lot darker and tougher than the book.

Well, now Fox has taken over the series, and if Dawn Treader does well they will likely make the other books. I think Dawn Treader has the material in it to be a spectacular movie, if made right. About the other books, I'm not so sure. A Horse and His Boy has some politically incorrect aspects to it, though it offers a great female role. The Silver Chair mostly takes place underground and the plot is pretty convoluted and doesn't make a lot of sense until you realize it's Lewis' tribute to The Fairie Queen. The Magician's Nephew, on the other hand, could be a fantastic movie. Great settings -- the dead city of Charn, the Wood between the World, Paradise -- great characters -- bring back Tilda Swinton! A great part for someone like Alan Rickman as Uncle Andrew. Enormous guinea pigs! Unlike the previous two books, there's a strong plot and visual element to it.

As for The Last Battle, well, that's the only Narnia book I never really liked.

So I'm hoping Dawn Treader does well, and if it does, I hope the filmmakers make the logical leap to The Magician's Nephew.

What do you think? What remaining Narnia books are most "filmmable?" Who would you like to see in key roles?