Towers, Ghosts and Handmaids

Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching lately:

dark tower books all

I’ve been slowly but steadily making my way through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series over the last year or so, and finally finished the seventh book and the last in the main series (the eighth, The Wind in the Keyhole, is more of an addendum, a further adventure and untold story that I haven’t read yet–but plan to!).

I find Stephen King an interesting author, if only because he’s written books I have absolutely no interest in reading, while there are others I find, if not brilliant, then impressive and endlessly entertaining. This series is obviously in the latter, or I wouldn’t have continued to read thousands of pages of it. It’s hard to summarize such an epic tale, but it combines fantasy, western, science fiction (and a little bit of horror) to tell the story of Roland of Gilead, a gunslinger of Mid-World, who seeks to save the Dark Tower, which holds all the worlds of creation together. His main antagonists are the Man in Black, and the Crimson King, among many others. His allies are his ka-tet, who he’s “drawn” from other worlds and times: Eddie Dean, Odetta Walker (aka Susannah Dean), the boy Jake Chambers, and Oy, a kind of cross between a dog and a raccoon called a billy bumbler.

Each book, of course, presents its own conflict and goal on Roland’s long journey, weaving a complex, compelling tale that only King could manage. In it, he incorporates several characters from his other books (which in most cases I had not read, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story), and creates a kind of uber-story, gathering them all under the same cosmology. King even inserts himself into the story, which I found a little outrageous at first, but then, this is a story about stories, and he’s the ultimate storyteller. It all fits.

I hurtled through the last 100 pages of the last book, dying learn the mystery of the Dark Tower. And was I disappointed? Not exactly. I didn’t know what was at the top of that Tower, but when Roland opened the last door, after unimaginable trial and tragedy, what lay behind it was unexpected and shocking. That’s all I’ll say, except that, based on my new knowledge, I’m rethinking my opinion on the Dark Tower movie I reviewed a few months ago. I hated it. But I’d watched it before I finished the series, and I was missing some vital information. Now it makes some potential sense. But that’s another blog post.

woman in black daniel

My book club recently read The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill, in honor of the season–we love a good ghost story this time of year! We enjoyed the book and decided to watch the 2012 movie with Daniel Radcliffe.

The premise of both the book and the movie concerns Arthur Kipps, a clerk in a London law firm, who travels to the northern town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of an old widow, Mrs. Drablow, who’d recently died. Her estate, Eel Marsh House, is appropriately isolated and creepy at the mouth of a marshy estuary, a house which gets blocked off from the mainland by the tides several times a day. The townspeople are sullen and distrustful, and while at the house, Arthur encounters ghostly visitations by a terrifying woman in black. While sorting through Mrs. Drablow’s papers, he discovers a family tragedy that explains the haunting, but is unprepared to be so personally affected by the woman’s vengeful malevolence.

The  movie changes a few things and ratchets up the scare factor, giving the story a more traditional beginning, middle, and end format, with Arthur taking action to solve a problem rather than just letting things happen to him, like in the book. The ending is quite different, too, and I’m not sure I’m happy with it, but in the end, it’s a great Halloween movie to hide behind a pillow and watch.

man in the picture

We enjoyed Susan Hill so much, we also read The Man in the Picture, another ghost story, of sorts. This one deals with an old painting of Venice, with masked revelers and gondolas, in which several living people have been trapped as painted figures. It’s another story of a wronged woman gone berserk with hatred and vengeance, and who punishes not only those responsible for her misery, but innocent others who happen to come into contact with her story just for evil’s sake. It’s kind of a disturbing pattern, but definitely touches on female rage and its consequences. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

handmaid 3

I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale many years ago, and though over time the details of the book faded, the disturbing essence of it remained with me. In the middle of watching the Hulu series, I re-read the book (brilliant; read it). The series, with Elizabeth Moss as Offred/June, is just as brilliant and intense, with only a few minor changes that make sense in light of a continuing series. The book was hard to read, but the show is even more difficult, as these characters and terrifying events come to life on the screen.

I watched the first season, which chronicles the events of the book (and with Atwood’s involvement and blessing), but Season Two and Three continues Offred’s story beyond the book, out of Atwood’s territory. I’m on the fence about whether or not I want to continue watching; both the book and Season One ended with Offred possibly escaping her enslavement, leaving one with a feeling of hope. With the continuation of the series, it’s obvious Offred has to be caught and dragged back to Gilead, with more punishment and misery ahead of her. I’m not sure I can endure more of that, quite honestly.

So that’s what’s been keeping me busy lately. Have you read or watched any of these stories? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

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Steeped in Story

Here’s what’s been entertaining me lately:

king dark tower

The past few months have seen me steeped in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series. It’s the tale of Roland of Gilead, a gunslinger in a world that’s moved on, in search of the Dark Tower, the center of all worlds.

I haven’t read a series in a long time, since my fantasy days in my twenties with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire in my thirties, neither of which I finished, mostly because I got bored waiting around for the next book. By the time I got to this one, it was complete, and I could download the next one on my Kindle right away.

What I love about this series, besides King’s obvious storytelling skills, is that it covers a range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, horror, western. It’s got it all. In lesser hands, that blending would only create a big mess, but here it’s simply wonderful.

intolerably stupid

I’m also reading Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. My library is putting on a Jane Austen book discussion over the coming year, and though I’ve done this before several years ago, I’m eagerly coming aboard this time, too. Austen’s books are those that beg to be reread an indefinite number of times over one’s lifetime, and you carry something different away from them each and every time. Northanger Abbey is my least favorite, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It will be followed by Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. I’m planning on writing a review for the blog as I finish each book.

As for TV, I’ve been casting around for a new show to watch for some time now. I began watching the new season of X-files in January, but only got through the first two shows before giving up in disgust. I couldn’t keep up with the lightning-speed, rat-a-tat-tat scenes and felt plunged into confusion as I tried to remember what happened in the series twenty years ago. No thanks.

alienist

Fortunately, I found The Alienist, on TNT. This series is based on a book by Caleb Carr I read just as long ago, mid-nineties or so. It takes place in 1896 New York, where Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is an “alienist”,  a precursor to what we now call a psychologist or psychiatrist. At the time, those who studied the mentally ill considered them to be alienated from their true natures, hence the name. Pyschology was just beginning to emerge as a science at this time, but there were still plenty of people who dismissed the idea as quackery.

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) uses his knowledge of human nature to solve criminal cases, and here he is on the trail of a serial killer who murders and mutilates boy prostitutes. He has help in the form of his illustrator friend John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howland (Dakota Fanning), the first woman to work in the New York police department, and secretary to Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt.

This show is dark, creepy, and gruesome–right up my alley.  The characters are complex and intriguing. Kreizler is soft-spoken and analytical, some might say callous, but underneath his calm, unruffled demeanor is a passionate man with a heart. John Moore is your typical Victorian gentleman who is going to have quite a few of his assumptions cut to ribbons. Sarah, underneath her cold exterior, is an ambitious woman trying to succeed in a man’s world. And Roosevelt has his work cut out for him cleaning up the corruption in the NY police department, whose officers routinely take bribes from the Mob. All have painful pasts and hidden struggles.

The backdrop of the city scales the lush, glittering heights of the very rich, down to the horrific underbelly of the very poor, mostly immigrant communities. I’m mesmerized by every aspect of the show, from the setting to the storyline to the relationships between the characters; but especially by Laszlo’s obsessive investigation into the heart of a human monster. Bravo.

 

 

 

 

Recent Obsessions

Here’s what I can’t get enough of lately:

TV: Stranger Things, Seasons 1 & 2.

stranger things

They had me at 1983. I was 12 years old, just like the kids of Hawkins, Indiana. I wasn’t playing D&D (alas, I’m a girl), but I remember the music, the hair, that sense of being, well, a weirdo. I’d watch this show for the pure nostalgia (casting 80s icons Winona Ryder and Mathew Modine was a nice touch, and they’re great here), but it’s so much more than that.

Ryder plays Joyce Byers, whose sensitive son Will has gone missing, literally out of this world. Will’s crew of faithful, geeky friends are determined to find him; they meet a mysterious girl named Eleven who seems to have supernatural powers, and perhaps knows where Will is. Meanwhile, the town’s police chief Jim Hopper (the wonderful David Harbour), investigates, and climbs deeper into the strange happenings centering around the secretive lab nearby. Strange indeed, but addicting, replete with monsters, a parallel universe, and a surprising amount of heart.

(And because I couldn’t get enough, I watched “Beyond Stranger Things”, a series of short interviews with the cast and creators the Duffer Brothers, which was fun to watch, too).

Movies: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

PPzombies

How can I not love this? It blends two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and The Walking Dead (disclaimer: I haven’t watched the last two seasons of WD–I just couldn’t deal with the never-ending heartache). There are Austen purists who sniff at any tampering with their beloved author’s work (and I know some who dismiss any movie version outside of the Firth-Ehle pairing), but I’m not one of them. Let’s face it, adding a little blood and gore to Regency England’s genteel society is just great fun.

Lizzie Bennet’s weapon has always been her words, but here she wields a sword to add to her considerable arsenal. Austen’s story plays out with the usual, well-know scenes: the country dance where Lizzie and Darcy meet, the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins’ unwanted proposal, the visit to Rosings, Wickham’s deception. But here England has been invaded by a terrible plague that turns people into zombies; everyone must train in the martial arts to defend themselves from the scourge. Darcy is a colonel in the army; the Bennet girls strap knives to their thighs under their dresses and carry swords and guns.

My favorite scene is Darcy’s botched proposal to Lizzie–while they verbally spar, they engage in a physical fight, throwing each other around the room and attacking with pokers and letter openers. I never knew I wanted Lizzie to kick Darcy’s ass in this scene until I saw it! The plot devolves into a weird zombie scheme involving Wickham, but rest assured, the lovers come to each other’s rescue and overcome their pride and prejudice to wed in the end.

Books: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

dark tower

I’ve been in a King kind of mood lately, just having read Sleeping Beauties (click here for a mini-review). With the movie The Dark Tower recently in theaters, my interest was piqued. I didn’t get around to the movie, so I thought I’d check out the first book of his epic fantasy series, The Gunslinger.

Here’s the premise: Roland, the last Gunslinger in an alternate world, pursues the Man in Black across a desert wasteland in his quest to find the Dark Tower. That’s about all we know. What’s a Gunslinger? What happened to this decaying world that has “moved on”? Who is the Man in Black? What is the significance of the Dark Tower? Answers come slowly and incompletely. King’s writing style here is different than what most of us are used to, dense and perhaps a bit pretentious, as King admits to in his forward. He came up with the idea very early on in his career, fresh out of writing seminars that dictated language over story. But he knew he wanted to combine the quest story (like Lord of the Rings) with a spaghetti western-style protagonist and landscape.

Despite some initial impatience, I kept on reading the book, and found myself drawn in. I’m well into the second book, The Drawing of the Three, which employs the King voice and style we’re all familiar with, and know I’ll continue with the other books (7 or 8 in all), though probably over time, interspersed with other books. Now that I’ve started, I have to know what happens. I have to penetrate the mystery of the Dark Tower.

 

What’s obsessing you lately? Interested in any of these entertainments? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

Monsters, Zombies, and Aliens, oh my

I’ve been running a little dry on the blog ideas lately, so I’m going with my go-to subject at times like this: television.

So Grimm wrapped up its run with an abbreviated final season in February. Words cannot express how saddened I am by this. I will dearly miss all the weirdness going on in Portland, Oregon, the supernatural mayhem and monsters of the week, the mythology, and all the great characters we came to know and love over 7 seasons. Except Juliet/Eve. Never liked her in any incarnation. Anyway, the creators had a mere 13 episodes to wrap everything up and answer all the lingering questions that plagued us throughout the series, and though things did feel a little rushed, I felt it was a satisfactory end to a satisfactory TV show.

grimm

So for years now, I could count on Grimm ending in May, and Game of Thrones starting in April, for a smooth spring TV transition. But this year, Grimm ended in February, and now Thrones won’t be coming back until July. I’m in a show hole right now, but more on that later.

It seems that the weather on location for Thrones was much too sunny and pleasant for their purposes (Winter had finally come, after all), so filming had to be pushed back while they waited for more miserable weather. Fair enough. It’s worth waiting for, especially since the Starks are finally beginning to make a comeback, after years of getting killed, paralyzed, stabbed, blinded, raped, and generally getting shit on for the entire series. And Danaerys is finally on her way to Westeros, after farting around in the East for years. It’s all coming together, people. Maybe. Until the next devastating blow.

stark

My other show in the “Triumvirate” is The Walking Dead, and after finishing Season 6 on Netflix a few months ago, I’ve been too afraid to start Season 7 on Xfinity. I know, of course, that Glenn (and Abraham) are going to meet Lucille in a bad way, and I don’t know if I can sit through it. On the other hand, by this point I also know that the evil Negan will be eaten by a tiger. So I just need to get from Point A to Point B, and see where it leads. These people need to catch a friggin break. So if I find the strength to witness the bludgeoning of Glenn, I think WD may fill the show hole I’m in now.

the look

Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll wait until Season 7 is on Netflix in the fall. Except fall may be filled with the next mini-season of X-Files. I wrote a post on the last mini-season, and for the most part, I thought it was well done. Except the ending–you can’t end it with Mulder dying on a bridge with a big spaceship hovering up above, and not know if there is going to be a continuation. Well, worry no more–I just found out there is going to be another season, and maybe now we can all rest easy knowing we’ll at least find out what happens. Maybe. X-files never guarantees answers or neat solutions. But I’ve learned to accept the mystery, and just enjoy the alien weirdness that if offers.

aliens

So that’s what’s on my TV horizon right now. I can only allow myself one show to watch at a time, otherwise I’d never get any writing done (which is challenging even without TV).

Do you watch any of these shows? What shows can’t you live without? Let me know and we’ll talk about it!

 

Movie Musings

movie-projector

I love movies.

While following the storyline of a TV show over time is a wonderful thing–you don’t have to say goodbye to favorite characters for weeks, months, even years–there’s also something satisfying about a story encapsulated into a two or three hour span, and you’re done (unless we’re talking about sequels, prequels, or entire franchises, of course). To me, TV shows are like novels, while movies are short stories. I love them both.

Before my daughter was born, I could often be found in a movie theater, usually alone, eager to watch the story about to unfold on the big screen; or staying up late to watch a taped (yes, taped on VHS) movie that I’d been wanting to see for awhile. But that’s a rare thing these days. I find it difficult to get to the theater to see that new, interesting film, and by the time I do find the time to go, the one I want to see has moved on. Okay, I’ll have to catch it on cable when it comes around, I think. When it does, I record it on the DVR, and there it sits, waiting forlornly for me to watch. It seems neither my husband nor I can stay awake long enough to get in a whole two hour movie after Lilly is tucked into bed. Long before the credits roll, we’re snoring. That’s why TV shows have eclipsed movies in my entertainment world lately. It’s easier to fit in a one hour show, to take little bites of a long-running story.

I still have hope. I still make lists of movies I’d love to see, and maybe someday I will watch them. Here’s the latest list:

  • Hidden Figures. Who can resist this true story (that none of us knew of) about African American women who helped launch the space program? I can’t.
  • Manchester by the Sea. I love a good, quiet, intense indie film now and then. This looks like one of those I can sink my teeth into.
  • Arrival. Aliens, hello?
  • Rogue One. Not sure if I should care about this one-if it doesn’t directly concern the original characters, I’m all “Meh.” But I’m a fan, so I’ll probably view it sometime.
  • Dracula Untold. This movie has been around for a few years, and has been patiently waiting for me to watch on my DVR for six months. I really do want to see it.

 

In the meantime, we’re deep into the middle of the last season of Grimm, and I’m thinking about getting back to The Walking Dead On Demand to catch up on Season 7. Once I finished Season Six, I needed a break from that world. I couldn’t bear to witness the horrors inflicted upon the group by the evil Negan. But I’ve heard they’re rallying, and will try to overthrow that bad dude soon. That I have to see.

So what about you? Have you seen any of the movies above? What’s your opinion? Drop a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

I Dream of TV

Have you ever been tempted to just give up all effort at writing (or whatever it is you do to make art) and just curl up on the couch with ice cream and watch TV the rest of your life? To just enjoy the fruits of other, more talented people’s imaginations?

Maybe it’s just the time of the year, with the combined effect of illness (Lilly’s or my own), snow days caused by weather, or the crunch of trying to get ready for the holidays, but I just can’t seem to get pen to paper lately (I’m writing this in a nearly deserted Dunkin Donuts on a Sunday evening at 4:45 p.m., in a stolen hour before I head home for dinner and Lilly potty time, the best I could do in nearly a week).

Of course this happens every December, and I sort of expect it-I’m just not going to get any writing done. At first I’m frustrated, but then a sort of numb resignation sets in, and I’m convinced I should just give it up already and settle in front of the boob tube, for all I’ve accomplished lately. But I know I’ll eventually get past this fallow time and get back on track.

In the meantime, I can dream about all the shows I could watch instead of writing:

  • Continue getting through The Walking Dead (TNT).  I began watching this past summer, and I’m currently mid-fifth season; Rick and Co. have just arrived at Alexandria, and though it’s a much-needed respite for the shell-shocked group, inevitably it won’t last. I’m aware that the much-hated Negan is out there with his barbed-wire baseball bat Lucille, and who he kills with it. It’s just going to get darker and darker for these people, and time will tell if I will be able to sit back and watch this train wreck. But I can’t abandon them now.
  • rick-wd
  • Grimm (NBC) comes back in January for its 6th, but alas, last season. Apparently its ratings haven’t been enough for the network to keep it around, and it’s been cancelled. It’s been given a 13-episode run to tie up the plot lines, and it will be interesting to see how they manage to do this. My question is, how in the world will I get by without
  • dg-grimm
    him?

 

Not to mention: Monrosalee! Wu’s one-liners! Crazy, icky creatures! It’s just a fun, entertaining show that I’ll miss.

  • Game of Thrones (HBO) won’t be back until April for its usual 12-episode run, its 7th and supposedly penultimate season. In this list of boy’s club shows, I’m gratified that the two most powerful people in this one are women (among many strong female characters). It’s the War of the Queens, and I can’t wait to see it play out.
  • got-war-of-queens

After that, I may be in a show hole, and I might just check out:

  • Sherlock (BBC America). There’s something immensely appealing about Benedict Cumberbatch, and this Sherlock Holmes update looks slick and quirky. And I’ll always love Martin Freeman, thanks to the Hobbit movies.
  • Nano Hobbit
  • Taboo (FX). I’ve admired Tom Hardy since Mad Max: Fury Road, and most everything he’s involved in turns out exceptional. He produces and stars in this show, and I’ve seen tantalizing trailers, though I’m still unsure of what it’s all about. Something about a kind of prodigal son returning from some exotic land to 1800’s London to continue his family’s shipping business, but there’s all kinds of deceit, murder and mayhem. Whatever-it’s Tom Hardy!
  • taboo-tom-hardy
  • There’s also other shows of interest I’ve mentioned before: Once Upon a Time, Vikings, Downton Abbey. Maybe someday…oh, I could so easily get sucked in if I didn’t keep up my writing nerve. I don’t know if I could ever write stories as compelling as these, but they inspire me to try, at least, and are there to fill the well when it’s feeling a bit empty.

Do you watch any of these shows? What’s on your fantasy couch potato list?

What’s Your (TV) Poison?

I probably spend far too much time thinking about these things, but TV fan that I am, an analogy has been brewing in my mind of late.

I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones for six seasons now (longer if you count the three books in the series that I read prior to the show). I’m much newer to The Walking Dead, watching the first three seasons on Netflix over the summer (I have little hope of catching up to the season 7 premier in October). Both shows have caught my imagination and have lodged themselves firmly on my list of “nerdy fan-girl” shows. Quite frankly, both shows have become an addiction that I can’t help but indulge in, even though each one leads to varying degrees of pain and suffering. Let me explain.

dead-thrones

I’ve characterized Game of Thrones as a fine wine-rich, complex, with subtleties that take you by surprise. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste, but once you get past the initial discomfort, you find yourself reaching for it again and again, until you find it the most delicious concoction on earth. But like any drug, it can take hold of you and not let go. Sure, there’s the wonderful elation of fantastic writing, intriguing characters, great acts of heroism, adventure, a bit of comic relief, magic, and of course, dragons. There’s also unspeakable violence, rape and torture, intolerable cruelty, suffering children, and an immense sense of injustice. The magic is always dark, with a hefty price tag attached. Favorite characters die,  villains often win. When the party is over, you feel like a pile of shit in the morning. And yet, the very next week, you tune in once more, to do it all over again, despite vows of “never again!”.

know-things

On the other hand, I’d characterize The Walking Dead as crystal meth. Disclaimer: I’ve never tried crystal meth and don’t ever care to. But from what I understand of the drug, it’s almost instantly addicting, and takes you on a wild, manic high that leaves you crashing afterward. That’s WD-a relentless, adrenaline-fueled high that leaves you exhausted and broken, yet jonesing for more. It’s one long wild ride for survival, and the peril never ends or abates for Rick and Co. Like GoT, there’s plenty of gore and violence, psychopaths in power, and incessant suffering; but it’s the persistent stress of the characters trying to stay alive that drains the very life force out of you. Ever see those before and after photos of meth users? Beautiful young woman before, haggard aged-beyond-her-years woman afterward. That’s me after every episode. Battered and in despair.

sittin-here

So why do I watch these shows and put myself through such abuse? With Thrones, at least, the answer is: hope. However dim, however slight, there’s always a sliver of hope out there, mainly in the character of Daenerys. She’s been through her fair share of trials, but she emerges stronger every time and gets closer to her goal. And the the Starks, after countless crushing tragedies, seem to be on the rise again. And yes-Jon Snow lives! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s enough to keep me tuned in, to weather the atrocities that I’m sure are still to come.

dany
Khaleesi, aka Daenerys, Stormborn, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, etc etc etc.

And WD? I’m not sure. I’m only through the third season, and I can’t imagine these people (and myself) being able to withstand much more brutality. And yet it I hear it only gets worse-much worse. My sister, an uber-fan of WD, has gone as far as to say she may not tune in to season 7 next month. There’s only so much despair one person can take, without needing to see that glimmer of hope, however faint. Time will tell. I want to keep watching. But I’m afraid. I’m very afraid.

After all, wine can be enjoyed in moderation, but crystal meth is destructive at any level.