Tempus fugit

You know what I like about books? They don’t keep reminding you how old you are.

Lately it seems that every second article I read is about the anniversary of something that I could swear only happened last week. Empire Magazine online, for example, was kind enough to inform me that it has been ten years since Peter Jackson’s take on Lord of the Rings sent the tricksey hobbitses off trekking through dangerous elf-infested lands and made all my mates debate endless on Aragorn/Legolas or Arwen/Éowyn (or, in some cases, both).

The correct answer is, of course, Aragorn. Totally Aragorn. Elves may look pretty, but you’ll never get your hair-straighteners back off them and the fights for the bathroom in the morning will be murder. And both Arwen and Éowyn seem like a good bet for a night out, provided no one surprises them while they are holding cutlery.

And if that didn’t make me feel old enough, Entertainment Weekly was all over ever feed I read as they had put together a (utterly lovely) reunion photo-shoot of the Princess Bride cast to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of year when we all went, “Mmm. As you wish.”

Twenty five years? Inconceivable. It seems like – well, not yesterday, that would be silly – maybe 15 years since it came out? 18 at a push. Has it really been that long? Robin Wright’s luminous portrait photo says no but Cary Elwes’, sadly, says yes indeed it has. Time flies or, more accurately, flees.

I tried to cheer myself up by listening to the radio, only to be reminded that it was 20 years since Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and grunge crashed its way onto my walkman and that both my teen spirit and my walkman are long in the past.

Books are that bit kinder about letting the years slide by. The Princess Bride was released in 1973 but it’s easy enough to pick up the book and forget that it’s heading for forty years of age. You can read and re-read and not be reminded that when first you read it you had braces on your teeth and now you have a brace on your back.

Lord of the Rings is positively spritely about the fact that it is heading for sixty while still topping the best-seller and best-loved lists and wearing the weight of being definitive while still being widely enjoyed. Harry Potter did grow up a bit but doesn’t keep reminding you that he’s gotten fifteen years older, unlike Daniel Radcliffe who grew up extremely quickly and confrontingly. (Equus, anyone?)

Books are kind when they wrap you in memories. While movies feel dated, and music often reminds you of who you were dating (and what were you thinking?), much-loved books are like a re-union with a friend. Full of happy memories made fresh again and not rubbing in the years that have past because, like you, while their pages have been turned a bit and the cover has been bashed a little, they’re still the same thing you always loved on the inside.

And now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to catch up with some old friends on my bookcase.

All You Need Is Overalls (And A Good Story)

LOTRIt sounds odd to tell you that an unassuming guy wearing non-descript industrial overalls reminded me of the simplicity and power of storytelling, but that’s exactly what happened to me. Twice, in fact, with the second time being just this week.

I stumbled across Charles Ross a couple of years ago when he was touring his One-Man Star Wars show (here’s a sneak peak). How one guy could portray all the characters of all three films had me intrigued. The answer, I found, was by stripping back the trilogy to the bare, but extremely important, bones of the story.

We’ve come to expect big-budget, CGI-enhanced, three-dimensional blockbusters and, while those are fun, they can sometimes get in the way or come at the expense of the story itself (Peter Jackson did a good job of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, but I am thinking of films like Avatar, which were a very expensive, over-the-top, unoriginal version of pretty much every cliché. Besides, pretty sure it was just a reworking of kids flick Fern Gully).

Portraying a trilogy in 90-ish minutes warrants stripping the story back to the key moments, which is refreshing in these days of extended versions, directors’ cuts, commentaries, and Easter eggs. Clad in overalls and a Madonna microphone, Ross’s applies his  skills to a brilliant, brilliant story (as he notes, Star Wars and LOTR are basically the same story—one’s set in outer space, the other in Middle Earth). It’s the kind of show you have to see to believe (here’s a wee taste), but either way you’ll be held captive.

Nailing the voices alone would be difficult, but Ross cleverly conveys characters differences or distances through subtle gestures. His Gollum was pitch perfect; indeed, all the voices were spot on and segued seamlessly between. There is one moment where Ross singlehandedly portrays an entire orc army marching from far away to launch an assault. Yep, one guy = entire orc army.

Oh, and he’s hilarious, taking the mickey out of some of the ridiculous plot holes in the story or where the film got it kind of wrong. Legolas’ insanely long, in-the-way hair? Absolute gold.

Watching Ross’ performance, with its pared-back storylines, reminded me of when I read Tolkien’s books. I couldn’t stop reading, but was plagued by the urge to edit them. Were I Tolkien’s editor (and it’s just as well I wasn’t), the trilogy would have been a single book minus the insanely long walk and made-up language guff. Blasphemous, I know, but bear in mind that I’m not a spec-fic reader and that I have little (read: no) patience for books that have 17 different names for one character. Aughh, call them Bob and move on.

I mean, really, the LOTR’s two bad-guy wizards are basically the same character and with similar-sounds names, motives, and actions that are interchangeable. And the backstory asides that talk about how the languages were created by Oompa Lumpa twins who were separated at birth for safety, who paddle down a chocolate river with light sabres and sing to themselves? Ok, so maybe I’m mixing my stories. Either way, I only want to read stuff that advances the plot.

Tolkien was a linguist who created a language and then added a story around it to bring the language to attention, rather than a brilliant story enhanced by the addition of the language. But it’s also testament to his writing skills that I read the books in spite of what I considered were flaws. Besides, as my fellow editor and friend Helena pointed out, fans revel in the beautiful redundancy of Tolkien’s writing.

Seeing Ross’s show inspired me to revisit both the books and films—my memory has softened and his show has reignited my enthusiasm. That’s the power of a good show or even a good film adaptation—it sends you rushing back to the books.

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?

CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: Michael Gerard Bauer

It’s not so much writing for teenagers and young adults I enjoy, it’s more writing stories centring around them. The teenage years are such a fun and exciting time to write about. It’s a time full of discovery and possibility where feelings and emotions are often more intense and focused and friendships and relationships are at their strongest.

My favourite book as a child was Wind in the Willows. I read it many times and every time I lost myself in the world of the Riverbank with those wonderfully unique characters of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger.

When I was a teenager myself I read lots of Agatha Christie murder mysteries and adventure books like King Solomon’s Mines and books by Alistair MacLean like Where Eagles Dare. Another big favourite was Lord of the Rings. One holidays I read War and Peace but just because I wanted to be able to say I’d read what I thought was the longest book in the world. I even ended up liking it.

There are so many Children’s and Young Adult books by fantastic Australian authors that I love – far too many to mention them all. But I will make mention of books by Scot Gardner, Barry Jonsberg and Steven Herrick because if I don’t they’ll beat me up!

My favourite YA book is probably The Messenger by Markus Zusak. That book inspired me to have a go at writing.

CBCA Book Week Fact

Did you know that Michael Gerard Bauer’s first novel, The Running Man, won the 2005 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers?