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Tevis Fen-Kortiay (Bloom county)

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll's Novel with Its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll's Novel with Its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed
by David Day
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £28.32

1.0 out of 5 stars Weak guesses, factual errors, suppressed citations & outright lies on every page, 21 May 2016
Author David Day has assembled 300 pages of educated guesses about secret allegorical symbols and patterns which he believes are hidden in the Wonderland story and allude to mathematics, Greek mythology, Freemasons and other subjects. The actual physical book is very nicely designed by C.S. Richardson and will look lovely on any coffee table; The content is a frustrating mix consisting mostly of extremely-unpersuasive guesses - nearly always misrepresented as established facts - outright misinformation, and information which is accurate but stolen from earlier Alice books without crediting those sources, all couched in a distasteful and unfair 'mean girl' tone.

Extremely dubious guesses: Most of Day's theories are of this level of quality - he suggests that 'Orange Marmalade' is meant as an anagram for 'Am Analog Dreamer.' I suspect that most readers will find this unpersuasive.

Guesses presented as facts: On every page Day includes educated guesses which *might* be true, but he frames as statements of certainty. Examples: "The real-life Oxford White Rabbit was Alice Liddell's family physician, Dr. Henry Wentworth Acland (1815-1900)." Or "The Great Hall of Christ Church is the above-ground model for the great hall of Wonderland." Neither claim is impossible, they may even be likely, but as Day shares no proof, nor even a citation, palming off his guesses as facts essentially amounts to outright lying.

Suppressed citations: Every idea in this book which I find valuable has appeared in earlier Alice books, but Day deliberately withholds citations, saying only "I cannot now even guess how many [Alice books] I have read over the last couple of decades" and providing a short list of his favorites. So if you want to follow up on a claim to learn more, Day blocks you from doing so - your only hope is to read every Alice book ever published. If you wish to learn which claims are original to Day and which he borrowed from an earlier author, Day again blocks you from learning this. In the sciences this practice is called 'suppressing citations,' and it is considered an immoral and scummy attempt to steal credit for other people's work.

Misinformation: When Day discusses subjects one happens to be informed about, one can't help but notice that he's constantly factually incorrect. For example, he calls 'The Descent of Inanna' "the oldest recorded myth in world literature" - Gilgamesh is older. Day claims that the inspiration for Peter Pan was Peter Llewelyn Davis - nope. Day pompously lectures the reader about details of Pythagorean society - but Pythagoras left no writings, and almost all stories which exist about him, including the 'facts' claimed by Day, come from a fictionalized biography of him written 500 years later. This book is stuffed with misinformation which could have been corrected just by skimming Wikipedia for 60 seconds.

Mean girl tone: A lot of this book, especially the final chapter, comes across as a character assassination of Lewis Carroll. To advance his not-entirely-fair narrative, Day describes Carroll's behavior after being excommunicated from the Liddell clan as "like a jealous lover"; well, maybe - why not tell his readers which facts he's referring to and let us draw conclusions ourselves, rather than simply stating his conclusion, withholding the facts on which those conclusions are based, and tacitly insisting that we take his conclusions on trust? (After 300 pages of showing himself to be incredibly untrustworthy.) One could make a case that Carroll ultimately became ingracious in his political disputes with Dean Liddell, but Day's suggestion that Carroll was profoundly immoral simply for disagreeing with his powerful boss comes across as grossly unfair - Day seems to have mistaken oligarchic authoritarianism for morality.

The only major argument I find persuasive is the idea that Carroll filled the story with reductio ad absurdum situations in imitation of Zeno - this is not a difficult claim to support, as Carroll identified Zeno as his favorite philosopher, wrote a variation of Zeno's race between the Tortoise and Achilles, and explicitly wrote that reductio ad absurdum scenes were his favorite type of story in the introduction to 'Sylvie and Bruno.' So Day is on solid ground in identifying references to math and logic in Wonderland, but also late to the party by over 100 years - critics have already written about these patterns in the Alice books since at least 1910. Day's original claims, like Alice = Inanna/Persephone/Eostre, seem - to me at least - to be unsupported to the point of wishful guessing.

This book is so visually-pleasing that some readers might want it just as an art object. There probably are some allegorical references to Oxford society, math and logic in the Alice books - and *maybe* to Greek myth and alchemy - and the best possible use of this book would be to whet the readers' appetite to learn more from Alice books written by more responsible scholars. But if you're looking for insights into the secret patterns behind the Alice stories, your best bet is still the annotated edition by Martin Gardner.


Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition HC
Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition HC
by Pat Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.69

1.0 out of 5 stars Attempt at catharsis via slaughtering superheroes: great art, but god-awful, incoherent, unfunny scripts, 20 April 2016
Hate-fueled comedy can be wonderfully cathartic when it works - think Hunter Thompson, Bill Hicks or George Carlin. I recently discovered comics writer Pat Mills from the great UK documentary 'Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD'; he's like the living embodiment of hatred. Mills implies childhood mistreatment at the hands of priests and nuns, and I don't doubt him, but not everyone will be onboard with his response to bullying - to become an even bigger bully, a physically huge man who self-righteously shouts down anyone who disagrees with him. Multiple reviewers cite Marshal Law as his absolute best and funniest writing, and so - fascinated by the possibility of maybe finding another Hunter Thompson (Marshal Law's costume even references Thompson, with the slogan 'Fear and Loathing' written across his belly in giant red letters) - I ordered and read this collection.

Artwork by Kevin O'Neill (of 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' fame) is extremely creative as always, but the script is unbelievably terrible - terrible like "How did this guy ever even get published?" terrible (and I dug up some old Judge Dredd and Sláine comics also written by Mills, and they're equally terrible.) Said to be Mills' funniest writing of his career, there's not a single funny joke or moment in the entire book, and the stories are cumbersome to the point of near-total incoherence. Reading the 5-star reviews people gave this book, the universal point of attraction is the schadenfreude of watching a character that butchers superheroes who are recognizably Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, the Legion of Superheroes, Madonna (as Breathless Mahoney from the Dick Tracy film), etc. Fair enough, but if the entire attraction is seeing superheroes being slaughtered, why not just read 'The Boys' by Garth Ennis and get your dollop of cathartic hatred in the form of reasonably coherent stories?

I'm sympathetic with Mills as a person, and I'm fascinated with him as a character (he apparently decided around 1970 to always wear horizontal-striped shirts, making him look like a comic book character of the Scooby Doo variety, and has stuck with that plan for 46 years). I'll continue to watch interviews with him as I come across them. And it's impossible to find fault with the consistent artist ass-kickery of Kevin O'Neill. Even as unfunny, incoherent, hateful characters go, though, Marshal Law is pretty thin stuff - his pun name is awful, and he's essentially a mild remix of Judge Dredd with the bird-of-prey motif shifted from the shoulder pads to the motorcycle.

Pat Mills has frequently complained about how mistreated and underpaid comics creators are; that's certainly true. Having said that, people who came up through the same UK comics industry as him - years *after* him - but who can actually write, like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, have managed to earn millions of dollars and even small-scale fame. If the comics industry was the meritocracy Mills is forever condemning it for failing to be, it would be gentrified overnight by competent writers, and Mills would have to find work as a pipe-fitter.


Painkillers
Painkillers
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Brian Fallon’s music feels like Bruce Springsteen cosplay, 18 April 2016
This review is from: Painkillers (Audio CD)
I am a long-time Bruce Springsteen fan, and when I saw Brian Fallon perform on television recently he sounded and acted so incredibly similar to Springsteen that I thought he was presenting his band as a Bruce Springsteen cover band. A bit of web research revealed that, yes, Fallon has indeed performed many Springsteen cover songs, and even performed with Springsteen himself, but he primarily bills himself as an original singer-songwriter.

For me at least, Fallon is so carefully imitative of Springsteen that I’m unable to appreciate his extremely skillful musicianship for what it is, as my mind keeps snapping back to perceiving his act as Bruce Springsteen cosplay. It’s not just his careful imitation of Springsteen’s vocal style, but the way he moves onstage, his facial expressions, even the smallest of affectations like jerking his head back slightly and rising up on his toes between lyrics - even his melodies, chord progressions and lyrics, which openly recycle many of Springsteen's most famous and memorable lyrical phrases, like "on a night like this..." or "the lucky ones" or "in the tall grass..." or "nobody wins."

I’ve been listening to Bruce since the 70’s, so I’m probably a lot older than most Brian Fallon listeners, and perhaps every generation has to go through the disconcerting experience of seeing a new generation lift ideas from their favorite artists. And I’m not saying that Springsteen didn’t get ideas from earlier musicians – all artists do – or that Fallon doesn’t also borrow from other artists. I’m saying that my overwhelming, honest, immediate gut reaction to Fallon’s music and stage performance is “That guy is cosplaying Bruce Springsteen.” My reaction is purely emotional, not intellectual, but it certainly bolsters my perception that Fallon still performs pitch-perfectly imitative Springsteen cover songs, and as one commenter wrote below, Fallon is actively trying to escape constant comparisons to Springsteen from fans and the media – so I can hardly be accused of being the only person with that perception. So after a bit of consideration, and having read Amazon reviewer comments to an earlier draft of this review, here’s my revised position:

If you enjoy Brian Fallon’s music, I have no objection – he is certainly skillful, and I’ve no doubt that skill was hard-earned. If you’ve heard ‘The Boss’ and still prefer Fallon, or like them both, good on you. But for young people who enjoy Fallon’s music and have never listened to Springsteen, I urge you to at least give his music a chance – you might just find you’ve been drinking from a thin tributary of a deep well.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Takes a big steaming dump on Narnia, Wonderland, Neverland, Hogwarts & Oz, with just a smidge of condoning child abuse, 2 Mar. 2016
Apparently Time Magazine, Neil Gaiman and everyone else in the world but me loves this book. I must admit Valente can conjure a gorgeously lyrical turn of phrase. And if you appreciate novelty, nearly every sentence has at least one new idea the reader must pause to visualize. Having said that, I came away from this book feeling like Valente has taken a big steaming dump on Narnia, Wonderland, Neverland, Hogwarts and Oz, without ever catching the slightest glimpse of their true value and beauty, while also fluttering within a hair’s breadth of openly supporting inequity and child abuse. I found myself absolutely Hating this book.... Hating it so much I had to capitalize the word Hate and still half-considered tacking on a few extra H’s... HHHHHHHHHated.

My initial frustration was with the relentless bombardment of inventions, which while omnipresent were not especially imaginative. It's as though Valente took Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, Harry Potter and a few others, threw them in a blender, and then poured the mixture arbitrarily into chapter-sized saucepans. One example that jumps out: in the Narnia books C.S. Lewis created the incredibly evocative 'Wood Between the Worlds.' Valente adds the thinnest coat of varnish imaginable to his idea, calling it 'The Closet Between Worlds.' Seriously?!? If this is meant to parody Narnia, I don't get it. If it's not meant as parody, it's hard to think of a less imaginative piece of literary theft; why not just name one’s villain 'Snarth Vader'?

What is that makes Oz, Wonderland, Narnia, and Middle Earth so wonderfully alive and evocative while the oodles of imitations always feel so lifeless and emotionally tone-deaf? I suspect a big part of the magic is that each is built on an extremely tightly-controlled hidden structure – so the surface characters, places and objects may seem whimsical and arbitrary, but they *feel* right because they embody the hidden structure. Valente’s Fairyland makes no apparent attempt to include this secret key to enchantment, so each and every idea feels as arbitrary as a Mad Lib: “Just then, September bumped into the [type of animal] of [abstract concept].” [Yawn.]

‘The Girl Who…’ (2011) reminded me strongly of ‘The Magicians’ (2009), by Lev Grossman. Both stories are primarily reactions to the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, and both stories seem completely tone-deaf as to what makes Narnia feel special and magical. As one approaches chapter 19 of Girl, a horrible revelation emerges…

<spoiler>
…is Valente for realzies going to do the exact same surprise twist ending Grossman used just a few years earlier in The Magicians? Sure enough, the Big Bad of her story turns out to be the child-hero who once saved Fairyland from evil, but refused to return to the mundane world, grow up and face adult responsibilities, and so has become a force of oppression in a fairyland where no one realizes they were once the child-hero. *Exactly* identical, note-for-note, and I didn’t care much for the twist the first time around, when it was at least a surprise (and ‘The Beast’ is genuinely scary, the only good part of Grossman’s otherwise lackluster and creeptastic book).

The Narnia stories say explicitly that the entire point of Narnia is to help equip children to grow up and face the real adult world, where they’ll know Aslan by another name (Jesus); if one has anxieties about growing up, is it entirely sporting to blame Narnia, which exists solely for the purpose of helping one grow up? Grossman and Valente come across like troglodytes who’ve smashed their way into a sacred temple of the imagination, couldn’t make sense of the sacraments (at least not without more effort than they’re prepared to invest), and so in retribution took a giant dump on the altar.

At this story’s climax we discover that the villain, The Marquess, is actually a 12-year-old girl, essentially Dorothy from Oz but with a dead mom, inadequate food and physically abusive, alcoholic father. She fell into Fairyland, deposed the wicked King Goldmouth, and lived to adulthood as beloved Queen Mallow. But then her ‘Fairyland Clock’ ran out and she was dropped back into reality, again a 12-year-old girl, where her physically abusive father was waiting (“My father found me and gave me a good thrashing… I tasted blood in my mouth.”) So when ‘Maud’ finally clawed her way back into Fairyland, she returned as a despot out for revenge against Fairyland for condemning her to exile and abuse.

Here’s what I needed to hear the heroine or any of her friends say: “Wait! Before we forcibly depose this admittedly-unjust ruler, could we take even 60 seconds to consider if there’s any way to get what we want without knowingly condemning a 12-year-old girl to horrible, persistent physical abuse? …Any way at all? …Just even a single minute? …Because we’re not evil, supposedly?”

Readers who experience any twinges of discomfort at the image of a 12-year-old girl’s ongoing physical abuse being shrugged off as acceptable collateral damage (“...with heart and wisdom” – Neil Gaiman) will be even more surprised to learn at the end that, while the villainous Marquess is motivated by her frustration at being exiled from Fairyland into abuse, the non-abused, well-fed heroine who still has both her parents is special and will never be exiled from Fairyland, so she can return every year. So the moral bedrock of the story is a bit like a man who was ‘right-sized’ from Wayne Enterprises stealing just enough food to keep his children from starving, then Batman swoops down from his mansion to beat the sh*t out of him – in the name of *Justice*.
</spoiler>

Grab-bag of lesser frustrations:
• Ana Juan’s art is great but for me at least does not suit this story.
• No map of Fairyland? Really?
• This book is 288 pages – at least 200 more than necessary – and then on the very last page one learns that the story isn’t resolved, and you’ll have to read at least 1,152 more pages, not including the prequel, to learn how the story ends...? Frowny face emoticon.
• According to her Wikipedia page, Valente is currently churning out about 5 books/year. ‘The Girl...’ feels like she made it up as she went along, without even an outline, and never revised the first draft, so 5 books/year sounds about right. Am I a grumpypants for expecting authors to invest a bit more time & effort in books they’d like me to pay money for...? [Addendum: Valente confirms in an SFWA.org interview that she did in fact make this story up as she went along with no initial plan, outline or rewrites.]

If lyrical prose and constant novelty is your favorite aspect of the Wizard of Oz or Wonderland stories, and you’re not fussy about those novelties being particularly inventive, or connected with much of a plot, or fairyland having anything like the piercing sense of enchantment you’ll find in Baum, Carroll, Barrie, Rowling, Lewis or Tolkien, I must admit that Valente’s prose reads almost like poetry and offers a few strong one-liners and other bright moments. Obviously a lot of people love these books, but I wanted to at least give voice to those of us who’d hoped for a delicious new kind of fantasy milkshake but discovered our cup filled instead with dregs from the fantasy blender, with maybe just the slightest hint of tacit endorsement of child abuse.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2016 11:04 PM BST


An Evening with Noel Fielding [DVD] [2015]
An Evening with Noel Fielding [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Noel Fielding
Price: £5.00

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If Mighty Boosh is 100% awesome & Luxury Comedy is 50%, this is about 5%, 3 Dec. 2015
I absolutely adore the Mighty Boosh & quite enjoy Luxury Comedy, so it was a bit deflating to find 'An Evening with Noel Fielding' mostly tedious. The first leg of the show was so unengaging I almost clicked off, but things perked up a bit when Fielding was joined onstage by actors Michael Fielding and Tom Meeten. Longtime fans may find themselves groaning as Fielding continues his by-now-familiar habit of carefully manufacturing the least opportunity to 'spontaneously' name-drop his friendship with local UK celebrity Russell Brand. Select viewers may enjoy revisiting a few familiar characters and the handful of jokes that really land, but - alas - Fielding's latest offering feels mostly like a patchwork shadow of his former incandescence.


As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality
As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality
by Michael T. Saler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.00

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mostly empty grad school B.S., a few good pictures, two huge lies, 19 Jun. 2015
Avid Tolkien readers discover that there are hundreds of books about Tolkien, but only a handful are worth reading. Most of the best are by Tom Shippey, so I bought 'As If' on the strength of Shippey's encouraging Wall Street Journal review ("Mr. Saler counterpunches vigorously against the whole edifice of literary snobbery... His book should be essential reading in every graduate school of the humanities...").

Unfortunately the book itself is almost entirely the usual empty grad school B.S., apparently designed largely to meet the needs of what Saler explicitly refers to as 'The Academic Ghetto.' Early hints that the book is optimized for the Academic Ghetto rather than everyday readers include the heavy use of grad school jargon ('foregrounded' where a non-grad student would say emphasized, 'heuristic' when he means method, 'dialectic' when he means discussion), plus quotations from people who write briskly-selling, jargon-heavy, turgidly empty books like the current reigning pope of academic bullsh**, Harold Bloom.

Saler's thesis is this: Why did readers in USA and England suddenly start buying adventure novels around 1900 AD? His answer is that the industrial revolution and science had killed much of the sense of enchantment of the world, triggering a new development Saler calls 'Ironic Imagination,' which allowed people to enjoy stories without believing them to be literally true.

There are three immediate obvious problems with Saler's thesis:

1. From 1870-1900, both England and the USA passed literacy acts. Surely there's some connection between nonwealthy people suddenly knowing how to read and those same people becoming interested in books? Saler mentions the literacy laws in passing, but firmly pushes them to the background in favor of his dubious thesis.

2. What Saler calls 'Ironic Imagination' – the ability to enjoy a story without believing it to be literally true – the rest of us already have a word for: imagination. What Saler calls 'Imagination' – taking any story as literally true – the rest of us already have a word for: delusion. Saler has coined his new term, 'ironic imagination,' to describe an experience which has existed for at least thousands of years and for which Samuel Coleridge already coined the term 'suspension of disbelief' way back in 1817. His book takes perfectly ordinary, usable words, redefines them incorrectly, then present this clumsy verbal sleight-of-hand to readers as a revelatory insight into human consciousness. He tries to drive the thing home by using his term 'ironic imagination' hundreds of times, on every page, as if simply repeating a claim over and over somehow makes it true.

3. That is simply not what the word irony means (irony is when a thing's true nature is precisely the opposite of its apparent nature, not simple detachment). Saler seems to have come across the term 'ironic detachment,' decided that although 'detachment' was the actual idea he had in mind, 'irony' sounded more trendy, and he'd have a better chance of fulfilling his daydream of fame and attracting the benedictions of Oprah (a daydream he shares with readers on page 197) if he deliberately mangles the English language.

Students who seek a college degree in science fiction/fantasy always seem to pass through 2 distinct phases:

BEFORE: "I've persuaded the university to grant me a degree for reading science fiction/fantasy books! Ha-ha, I've cheated them! "

AFTER: "The university charged me half a million dollars for a degree on reading science fiction/fantasy books, which I have learned is of no value in finding a job, nor indeed of any value whatsoever! ONOZ!, they've cheated me!"

...they also discover that spending 8 years of one's life reading science fiction and fantasy novels in no way guarantees that they will find a single thing to say on the subject which anyone else finds either entertaining or informative. Mr. Saler seems earnest and well-meaning enough from his TED talk (available on YouTube), but with this book, at least, he comes across as so desperately impatient for fame and success that he's willing to bully his readers with pompous academic jargon rather than clear communication, offer a grandiose-sounding but empty thesis (that the willful suspension of disbelief did not exist till 1883, and Saler is the first to name it), and finally to court controversy by taking a weak pot-shot at Tolkien.

95% of this book is the usual modern humanities grad school mix of unsupported claims and empty no-duh statements ("In broad outline, modernity has come to signify a mixture of political, social, intellectual, economic, technological and psychological factors, several of which can be traced..."), but there are one or two outright lies that will enrage the hypothetical reader who makes it past the first few chapters. Most striking of these is Saler's claim that Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' is allegory – even though Tolkien explicitly said in his forward that he strongly dislikes allegory and LOTR is absolutely not allegory – and that the entire point of this allegory is that Sauron and Saruman represent America! Saler’s two pieces of supporting evidence are: (1) Late in life, Tolkien twice drew a connection between the evils of industrialization and America [although as Saler acknowledges, Tolkien is on record as strongly resenting the encroachment of industrialization in England for many decades before he ever drew a connection between factories and America], and (2) Saruman's nickname while he industrialized the Shire was Sharkey, which according to Saler "connotes an American gangster's nickname," ergo Tolkien’s readers are meant to infer that Saruman = USA. F**k off!!

Two stars rather than one because Saler obviously wrote this with enthusiasm and love for the subject, I enjoyed the photographs of maps and other supporting elements from 1900-era adventure novels, and the chapter on Sherlock Holmes fans as the world's first hardcore literary nerd fan society was worth the time it took to read.

Overall Reaction: Mostly empty grad school B.S., but the claim that Tolkien devoted his entire life to writing an allegory on the evils of the U.S.A., then for some reason explicitly lied about it in the forward to his own book, goes beyond empty time-wasting pretentious Academic Ghetto posturing and becomes something genuinely irresponsible and offensive. Like most avid readers I sometimes find a book disappointing, but I can't remember the last time a book made me furious. Bleh. :-(
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2015 8:29 PM BST


Wizard's First Rule: Book 1: The Sword Of Truth Series (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Wizard's First Rule: Book 1: The Sword Of Truth Series (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Terry Goodkind
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.43

27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terry Goodkind's 'Sword of Truth' series is derivative, poorly written, and the heroes are really villains, 26 April 2013
"Standing there, erect, masculine, masterful in his black war wizard outfit, he looked as if he could be posing for a statue of who he was: the Seeker of Truth..." - Terry Goodkind, `Faith of the Fallen'

Terry Goodkind's 12-volume fantasy series The Sword of Truth is included in Wikipedia's list of the best-selling books in history, with 25 million sales claimed by the publisher as of 2010. I've been reading my way through the list, and when I noticed that Goodkind's series was loosely the basis of the lighthearted cotton-candy fantasy TV show Legend of the Seeker, I thought it would be a fun, breezy read.

My goodness, was I surprised! Picture if you will Ayn Rand and the Marquis de Sade frenetically rewriting Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, in a week-long amphetamine-fueled bender, each inserting astoundingly long digressions on the joys of Objectivism and sadomasochism, you'll have a near-perfect picture of what to expect.

The first volume did have a few elements I enjoyed: It was easy-to-read, Goodkind is obviously sincere in his beliefs, and he clearly enjoyed himself immensely while writing the book. His enthusiasm sustained me through the entire 836 pages.

Despite these positive elements, overall I found the novel exceptionally derivative, poorly written, and the "heroes" are ultimately revealed to be just as evil as the villains, even by Goodkind's rather dubious standards. As with the work of Goodkind's idol Ayn Rand, I find myself baffled as to why these books were even published, let alone beloved by millions of readers.

Am I missing something?

1. Derivative

All works of art build on earlier works, and the charge of "derivative" is admittedly subjective. This is particularly true of best-selling modern fantasy books, nearly all of which borrow rather openly from Tolkien (the one glorious exception being George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire). Having made those admissions, Terry Goodkind's `Wizard's First Rule' remains the single most derivative book I have ever read.

* Critics often compare Goodkind's work to `Star Wars': Mord-Sith are elite guards of the dark lord, a bit like Sith, and Richard the main hero turns out - surprise! - to secretly be the dark lord's son (and to go Lucas one better, the hero also turns out to secretly be the wizard Zedd's grandson).

* Goodkind mentioned in a 2003 interview by KUSP that he enjoyed the Shannara fantasy series by Terry Brooks. The Sword of Shannara has the power to reveal truth, which may have influenced Goodkind's Sword of Truth (which has the power to reveal truth).

* The Mord-Sith might borrow a bit from Michelle Pfeiffer's portrayal of Catwoman in `Batman Returns': Both wear the standard form-fitting dominatrix outfit (on the TV show Mord-Sith always wear red, but in the books they usually prefer the black Catwoman-style outfit). More tellingly, during the climax of `Batman Returns' Catwoman puts a Taser in her mouth and kisses Max Schreck, electrocuting them both. Goodkind writes a very similar scene in which the Mord-Sith Denna puts an agiel (magical pain-inflicting dildo) in her mouth and kisses Richard, inflicting pain on them both.

* Goodkind considers himself an Objectivist, and Ayn Rand the greatest philosopher since Aristotle, so it's no surprise that his books have many similarities to hers. Notably, Goodkind's heroes often make incredibly long speeches on the virtues of Objectivism, reminiscent of John Galt's climactic 70-page speech from Atlas Shrugged. In The Fountainhead Howard Roark builds a temple "dedicated to the nobility of human spirit," also carving a statue in it, and in Faith of the Fallen Richard carves a statue "dedicated to the nobility of the human spirit" in a temple. Roark dynamites his own building and Richard destroys his own statue rather than seeing their principles compromised. Rand's John Galt character withdraws his Awesomeness from an undeserving world, and Richard abruptly abandons his own troops, explaining "It is not I who must prove myself to the people, but the people who must now prove themselves to me." Goodkind sometimes even quotes Rand verbatim, as in `Faith of the Fallen' when Kahlan says "Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent" (a quotation from Rand's 1969 `The Romantic Manifesto').

The Wheel of Time

Both stories open when our hero (Rand al'Thor/Richard Cypher) meets the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, who also has powerful magic abilities (Moiraine Damodred/Kahlan Amnell); she is pursued by evil minions of the dark lord while visiting the hero's remote village in search for the latest incarnation in a line of legendary heroes (the Dragon Reborn/the Seeker of Truth), who according to prophecy will defeat the dark lord (The Dark One/Darken Rahl). Will our perspective character turn out to be the legendary hero she's looking for? Will he ultimately defeat the dark lord? If you've ever read a fantasy novel you already know the answer, but why not read another 12,000 pages just to make sure?

Robert Jordan's `Wheel of Time' series appears to be the primary influence on Goodkind's series. In particular, Goodkind's Confessors have many similarities to Jordan's Aes Sedai:

* The Aes Sedai/Confessors are an all-female monastic order with great magical abilities, who are more powerful than kings or queens
* They can magically bond with another person who serves as their bodyguard (Warders), and in some cases can magically compel the subject to absolute, unthinking obedience
* Aes Sendai novices and White Ajah (a subgroup of Aes Sendai) always wear a long white dress as a symbol of office (as do all Confessors)
* A male born with their power is unusually powerful, considered an abomination, and by long tradition must be hunted down and killed (in Jordan's world they are either killed or at least "gentled," meaning their power is removed)
* The Black Ajah are a sub-group who live within the Aes Sendai sisterhood but secretly serve the Dark One (Satan); Goodkind's Sisters of the Dark are a sub-group who live within the Sisters of the Light sisterhood but secretly serve the Keeper of the Underworld (Satan)

Other elements from `The Wheel of Time' which appear to be borrowed in `The Sword of Truth' (this is only a small sampling, not an exhaustive list):

* Both include a magic sword which increases the wielder's strength (Callandor, aka the Sword That Is Not a Sword/the Sword of Truth), has a blade that illuminates/turns white, and proves that the main character is the hero of prophecy (The Dragon Reborn/The Seeker of Truth).

* A collar and bracelet set collectively called an A'dam, usable only by women, controls people by magically inflicting tremendous physical agony when the wielder wishes it (similar to Goodkind's magic weapon the agiel).

* The Dark One (the ultimate evil, explicitly named as Shai'tan, an Islamic name for Satan) is the enemy of the Creator, magically imprisoned in the Pit of Doom (Hell), but influences the physical world towards evil, has human servants called The Forsaken, and repeatedly comes close to escaping; Goodkind's Keeper of the Underworld is also the enemy of `The Creator,' trapped in the Underworld, has human servants called Banelings, and repeatedly comes close to escaping.

Was Goodkind influenced by Robert Jordan? When asked this directly by USA Today, Goodkind responded: "If you notice a similarity, then you probably aren't old enough to read my books."

Jordan implies otherwise in a 2006 post to his blog, writing: "... I have never discussed anything whatsoever with Terry Goodkind. I suggest that you check the publication dates of his books and mine. Of course, he says he has never read me, or so I'm told, and I would never contradict a statement like that. Just check out the pub dates on his books, and the pub dates on mine, those that contain the similarities you speak of."

Reviewers often perceive common elements between Jordan's books and Frank Herbert's Dune series, which also has a messianic hero referred to as "The Mahdi" (Paul/Rand), a tribe of fierce desert warriors who view water as sacred (the Fremen/the Aiel), and a mystic sisterhood who possess devices that can inflict unbearable pain at their command. So the Confessors and the Mord-Sith are both probably to some degree third-generation descendants of Herbert's Bene Gesserit.

The Lord of the Rings

Like nearly all modern fantasy, Goodkind's work follows Tolkien's template: The young hero, his wizard mentor, and his band of friends must spend hundreds of pages walking through forests (even though horses exist in this universe), in order to ultimately prevent the Dark Lord from getting his hands on the Magical Thingy (the One Ring/the Boxes of Orden) or the entire known world will become Sucky Forever [tm].

The strongest common element between the two stories is Sméagol & Samuel:

* Sméagol/Gollum is physically deformed due to his long possession of the magical One Ring, which he desperately wants back. The magic item has physically and emotionally deformed him. He has disproportionately large feet & hands, little body hair, and is pale from many years without sunlight. He has large bulging yellow "lamp-like eyes." He speaks ungrammatically ("We hates it"). He is covetous ("Mine, mine!"), and walks in an odd waddle. He is the only one who can guide the hero through Mordor, so the hero leads him around by a rope tied to his neck. His goal is to lead the hero to his "mistress" (Shelob the giant spider), who he believes will eat the hero, at which point he will be able to re-acquire his magical treasure (the One Ring).

* Samuel is physically deformed due to his long possession of the magical Sword of Truth, which he desperately wants back. The magic item has physically and emotionally deformed him. He has disproportionately large feet & hands, little body hair, and is pale from many years without sunlight. He has large bulging yellow eyes that "shone like twin lanterns." He speaks ungrammatically ("No cook Samuel"). He is covetous ("Mine, mine!"), and walks in an odd waddle. He is the only one who can guide the hero through Agaden Reach, so the hero leads him around by a rope tied to his neck. His goal is to lead the hero to his "mistress" (Shota the witch), who he believes will eat the hero, at which point he will be able to re-acquire his magical treasure (the Sword of Truth).

Did Goodkind borrow ideas from Tolkien? When asked "How much was J.R.R. Tolkien an influence on your stories?" Goodkind responded "He was zero influence. I've never read any Tolkien." Not only that, Goodkind famously proclaimed "I don't write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes." (Not like that loser Tolkien.)

2. Poorly written

For what possible reason did the ancient wizards create the Boxes of Orden, which can either destroy the world, destroy the user, or make the user the tyrant-king of the world? If the ancient wizards' goal was to prevent lying, why not simply give the Confessors the ability to detect lies, rather than the ability to turn people into their lifelong mindless zombie slaves (who must incidentally now tell the truth)? Since Zedd knows that Richard must eventually face Darken Rahl, and Rahl is surrounded by elite bodyguards who can magically enslave anyone that uses magic against them (the Mord-Sith), and given that Richard has a magic sword, why didn't Zedd think to mention this to Richard even once? Since Richard's magic sword cannot be used against Darken Rahl, but the whole point of the quest is for Richard to kill Darken Rahl, why doesn't Richard purchase a non-magical backup sword?

Good and bad writing are largely subjective, but one can make a case that certain elements will doom a story to inarguable badness. Putting aside the blanchingly-terrible coincidences, putting aside the clumsy parody of former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary (Sovereign Bertrand Chanboor and his wife Hildemara, who ultimately die in agony from venereal disease they contracted via adultery), Goodkind commits both cardinal sins of storytelling: he solves all four major challenges in the first book by abruptly changing his own rules, and his hero's supposed moral triumph is counterfeit.

All four major challenges are solved by abrupt changes to The Rules

Imagine reading a murder mystery novel, and on the last page the murder is solved by blaming it on a never-before-mentioned character based on never-before-mentioned evidence. If you do manage to make it to the last page of `Wizard's First Rule', be prepared for the quest-fantasy equivalent of that. (Speaking of which, since all the wizards agree on which rule comes first, shouldn't the title be `Wizards' First Rule'? Because plural?)

Challenge 1: Richard and Kahlan can never be intimate, because according to The Rules, if they ever did she would inadvertently "confess" (magically enslave) him.

Resolution: Surprise! Goodkind solves the problem by abruptly introducing a previously-unmentioned exception to The Rules: if the man truly loves the Confessor, the magical enslavement doesn't work. Yep - The Confessors have been around for almost 3,000 years and apparently not a single one of them has ever found a man who genuinely loved her before Richard & Kahlan. (Later in the series we learn that the only other exception was the original Confessor, Magda Searus, and the wizard Merrit.)

Challenge 2: Kahlan is about to be raped by four men (she is nearly-raped in almost every book in the series). Zedd cannot help because he is magically paralyzed. Her powers cannot help her because according to The Rules the men are protected from her powers by a spell cast by Darken Rahl, plus she needs to touch people to enslave them, and in any case she needs a few hours to recharge her powers after each person she magically enslaves, and incidentally she has no power which could free Zedd.

Resolution: Surprise! Goodkind solves the problem by abruptly introducing a previously-unmentioned exception to The Rules: In extreme circumstances a few of the strongest Confessors can enter a Con Dar or "blood rage," and so gain the ability to enslave multiple people at a distance without touching them or needing to recharge, and by sheer luck also the ability to magically free people from magical paralysis at a distance with simply a gesture.

Challenge 3: Richard must escape imprisonment and torture by Denna the Mord-Sith, but cannot because according to The Rules she has absolute magical control over him.

Resolution: Surprise! Goodkind solves the problem by abruptly introducing a previously-unmentioned exception to The Rules: if the victim can view their Mord-Sith tormenter with compassion rather than hatred, the Mord-Sith lose their magical control over the victim.

Challenge 4: Richard must tell Darken Rahl the truth, because according to The Rules he must do whatever Kahlan commands, since she has magically enslaved him.

Resolution: Surprise! Richard wasn't really enslaved, but was only pretending (see Challenge 1, above). Also, Richard explains that he hadn't *really* lied, but slyly committed a lie of omission.

Solving major story problems by suddenly changing the rules is not limited to `Wizard's First Rule,' but pervasive throughout the series. Richard often solves insurmountable problems by suddenly realizing he's Even More Awesome[tm] than previously believed: First he's The Seeker, then the Keeper of `The Book of Counted Shadows,' then he's the only Seeker who can turn the Sword of Truth's blade white. As the surprise son of Darken Rahl he becomes the lawful hereditary ruler of the Empire of D'Hara (which is cool with Goodkind, because as he points out in an interview, "There's no goodness [inherent] in democracy. Gang rape is democracy in action.") Turns out Richard is the grandson of Zedd, the Wizard of the First Order, and so also a wizard himself. In fact, he's the first War Wizard born in 3,000 years, making him the most powerful person in the world. He's also the Fuer grissa ost drauka (the Bringer of Death), and to top it off he's the best athlete in the world (recruited against his will to play Ja'la), the most handsome man in the world (according to nearly every woman in the series), and at his very first go trying to carve a statue, he makes one so beautiful that when his enemies see it they fall to their knees weeping, realize that any belief system to the left of fascism is de facto evil, and switch allegiance to Richard.

Richard's ever-escalating Awesomeness[tm] reaches apotheosis in 2007's `Confessor,' in which Richard uses the Boxes of Orden to gain the power of a god. He then creates an entire new universe in which magic does not work, erases the memory of the millions of idiots who still disagree with him, and banishes them forever to the new non-magical universe. In Goodkind's 2009 book The Law of Nines we learn that the new universe Richard created is the same reality you and I live in. Why? Because Ayn Rand.

Hero's supposed moral triumph is counterfeit

The magic of the Sword of Truth, by enhancing the user's rage, ultimately transforms them into pathetic, grasping, Gollum-like creatures. To avoid this horrible fate, Richard must undergo moral growth and learn to feel compassion even for his enemies. However, Richard's supposed moral triumph has a few obvious gaps.

A quick overview of the evil sisterhood of Mord-Sith: Darken Rahl's men scour the land to find young girls who are unusually kind and compassionate. The girls are horribly tortured, then forced to watch their mothers being tortured and killed, then are forced to torture and kill their own fathers, all using a magic pain-inflicting dildo called an agiel. The girls spend their rest of their days clad in form-fitting leather catsuits and live only to inflict pain using the same agiel which was used to torture them and their parents.

On page 640 Richard is captured by a Mord-Sith named Denna, and is then tortured, including genital torture, for an astounding 70 pages. For me at least, abruptly dropping a prolonged sadomasochistic dominatrix fantasy into an otherwise blandly standard quest fantasy novel makes zero sense, but to judge from the popularity of the series I am in the minority. What rings false is that the reader is expected to join in the pretense that the sequence is anything but a boilerplate S&M sex fantasy: Goodkind tells his readers about Richard's "desperate lust" for the "childlike beauty" of Denna, who is "breathtakingly, stunningly attractive" and ultimately has sex with him. The sequence is without exaggeration ten times longer than it would need to be if the purpose were only to advance the plot.

The Mord-Sith magic causes Richard to feel pain whenever he thinks negative or hostile thoughts about Denna, so he trains himself to focus instead on her attractive auburn hair. Ultimately he discovers that if he can reach past his hatred of Denna and feel only compassion for her, that short-circuits his magical enslavement and frees him. Learning to feel compassion for his enemies turns the blade of the Sword of Truth white, which Goodkind earlier explained will prevent Richard from becoming a Gollum-like creature like the former Seeker Samuel.

The idea that compassion for one's enemies frees one from becoming the slave of rage is actually a good idea -- my favorite in the entire series. However, I feel that Goodkind defeats his hero's central moral transformation in two ways: first, Richard is able to muster compassion for Denna, who is tall, slender, "breathtakingly, stunningly attractive," has awesome hair, and for whom he feels lust and with whom he has sex. Goodkind explicitly tells us that Richard is incapable of feeling that same compassion for Constance, the dominatrix who is short, less-attractive, has "dull brown hair" and is "stout" (in Goodkind's universe anyone falling along the stout-plump-fat spectrum is automatically evil and needs killin'). Goodkind's idea here is that Richard can feel compassion for Denna because, even though she told him to his face that she lives only to torture him, he senses a flicker of compassion in her; he does not sense this same flicker of compassion in the shorter, stout, less sexually attractive dominatrix. Both girls were identified as unusually-kind-hearted, both were abducted into a life of torture, but even in his moment of emotional enlightenment, Richard can still only muster compassion for the hottie. If Goodkind had identified the short, stout, non-pretty girl with lusterless hair as the one deserving of compassion, the moral lesson would feel 1,000x more authentic.

The larger issue is that Goodkind tells us Richard can feel compassion for Denna, but definitely not for Constance or his turncoat brother Michael. Since Richard is unable to view them with compassion due to their foul acts, and Darken Rahl's acts are unambiguously fouler, we may infer that Richard would be unable to muster compassion for Rahl either. So Richard experiences a moral triumph so great that his magic sword turns white to show that he has overcome the snare of hating one's enemies ...but only the slim, tall, sexually-attractive enemy with a face of "child-like beauty" who he has sex with, not his three primary enemies. This makes his moral triumph unambiguously counterfeit.

3. Heroes are really villains

Goodkind's books repeatedly make the point that people can do evil things while under the impression that they are doing good things, and those people are particularly dangerous because of their conviction that they are right. That sounds pretty good in the abstract, but then Richard, Kahlan, Zedd and their allies behave in increasingly questionable ways, ultimately murdering the innocent non-combatant wives and children of enemy soldiers, slaughtering a crowd of unarmed anti-war protesters, and forcing a military dictatorship upon unwilling subjects under pain of torture, rape & death. Goodkind frequently spells out his somewhat dubious Ayn Randian rules of right and wrong, but then his own characters break even these rules repeatedly, until ultimately it's hard to see any moral difference between his heroes and villains.

* Richard has no hesitation in lying to get what he wants. He repeatedly tells Kahlan that all he wants from her is friendship, while the reader is repeatedly told that he actually has constant sexual thoughts about her and his goal is a lot more than friendship. Richard tells the Mud People that all he wishes is their friendship, while the readers know that Richard really wants them to reveal the location of the Boxes of Orden. Richard and Zedd both explain that committing a lie of omission isn't *technically* lying. Gradually the heroes' lies become more serious, like when Kahlan tells her soldiers they are free to leave, then orders them hunted down and murdered.

* In `Phantom,' Richard's army of D'Harans is smaller than the army of the Imperial Order. Therefore, Richard orders his men to slaughter the wives and children of the Order's soldiers, and bring Richard their severed ears. He explains: "From this day forward, we will fight a real war, a total war, a war without mercy. We will not impose pointless rules on ourselves about what is `fair.' Our only mandate is to win. That is the only way we, our loved ones, our freedom will survive. Our victory is all that is moral." In short, Richard agrees with Niccolò Machiavelli's idea that the ends justify the means.

* In `Faith of the Fallen,' Kahlan orders her soldiers to murder anyone travelling nearby roads, on the off chance they might be enemy spies.

* In `Faith of the Fallen,' Kahlan has a plan for her army to take off all their clothes, paint their naked bodies white to pose as ghosts, and then attack a much-larger army. She tells them "you may speak your mind freely, without retribution." A group of soldiers led by William Mosle say they do not wish to follow her into battle. "Go, then," Kahlan commanded. "Before you become caught up in a battle you do not believe in." After allowing the men to leave peacefully, Kahlan orders her captain to hunt down, intentionally deceive and slaughter them, then threatens to murder him too if he disobeys:

"They must be killed. Send a force with instructions that they are to pretend to join with Mosle's men, so they don't scatter when your men approach. Send your cavalry behind, but out of sight, in case they're able to take to the woods. When they are surrounded, kill them. There are seventy-six. Count the bodies to make sure they are all dead. I will be very displeased if even one escapes."

...Captain Ryan tensed in near panic. "Mother Confessor, I know those men. They've been with us a long time. You said they were free to go! We can't..."

She laid a hand on his arm. He suddenly recognized the threat that represented. I am doing what I must to save your lives. You have given your word to follow orders. She leaned a little closer. "Do not add yourself to those seventy-six."

He at last gave a nod and she removed her hand. His eyes told it all. Hate radiated from him.

"I didn't know the killing was to start with our own men," he whispered.

...Kahlan came to a stop before the tent. "If you think I may be making a mistake about those men, I assure you, I am not. But even if I were, it is a price that must be paid. If we let them go, and even one of them betrays us, we could all be killed in a trap tonight. If we die, there will be none to stop the Order for a long time. How many thousands would die then, Captain? If those men are innocent, I'll have made a terrible mistake, and seventy-six innocent men will die. If I'm right, I will be saving the lives of untold thousands of innocent people."

* Nicci (friend of Richard & Kahlan) tortures people, but it's okay because she's torturing for ultimately noble reasons (from `Chainfire'):

Nicci had no compunction about what she was doing. She knew that there was no moral equivalence between her inflicting torture and the Imperial Order doing what might on the surface seem like the same thing. But her purpose in using it was solely to save innocent lives. The Imperial Order used torture as a means of subjugation and conquest, as a tool to strike fear into their enemies. And, at times, as something they relished because it made them feel powerful to hold sway over not just agony but life itself ...The Imperial Order used torture because they had no regard at all for human life. Nicci was using it because she did.

...so in Goodkind's view, it's okay to torture people, but only if one is doing it to save innocent lives. Even if you accept Goodkind's "the ends justifies the means" idea, his "heroes" repeatedly behave in exactly the way he defines as evil, torturing people even when no important information is sought or gained. For instance, in `Wizard's First Rule' Kahlan magically enslaves child-molester Demmin Nass and, after Nass is no longer a threat to anyone, cuts off and forces him to eat his own testicles. In `Faith of the Fallen,' Kahlan's subordinate Verna orders that a captured enemy soldier be tortured to death for an entire night while Kahlan watches approvingly ("Fair? What isn't fair," Verna said with terrible calmness, "is that your mother ever opened her legs for your father").

* In `Wizard's First Rule,' Zedd explains to Richard and Kahlan that "Every living thing is a murderer." So if you kill someone to steal his money, or in self-defense, or one tree out-competes another for sunlight, apparently that's all 100% morally equivalent. [See comment section for full text.]

* In `Naked Empire,' a village of unarmed pacifists stage a peaceful anti-war protest. Richard and his men slaughter an entire crowd of men, women and children who are "armed only with their hatred for moral clarity." What Goodkind calls "moral clarity," psychologists call "splitting," a hallmark of morally- and empathically-dissociative disorders including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy. [See comment section for full text.]

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Goodkind's primary heroes (Richard Cypher & Kahlan Amnell) and his primary villains (Darken Rahl & Emperor Jagang) all run absolute military dictatorships which control an unwilling populace through war, torture and mass-murder, and they all believe that there is no moral limit on how much they can lie, kill and torture because they all feel certain that the ends justifies the means and their own ultimate goals are just. So what's the difference?

Ultimately, the biggest problem with the series isn't the bad writing, over-dependence on other people's ideas or the author's open contempt for world-building; the problem is that Goodkind's heroes are really villains.
Comment Comments (29) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2014 3:33 PM BST


Larklight
Larklight
by Philip Reeve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking invention, charming images, ending borrowed from Wild Wild West, 18 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Larklight (Paperback)
After some initial resistance, I have fallen quite under the spell of Reeve & Wyatt's enchanting Larklight trilogy. Quibbling brother-and-sister heroes are appealing and the story gets the job done (think 'Disney pirate film for kids'), but the crown jewel of these books is the rich, breathtakingly-inventive world-building: alchemical aether-engines, a cyclone of Mothras hurtling toward Earth at warp-speed, a god-like being carving his hall of fluted columns into the clouds of Jupiter...

David Wyatt's illustrations are plentiful and gorgeous; they amount to a visual catalog of every standard motif from the steampunk canon (always with an extra twist).

The story is stuffed with references only older readers are likely to notice: allusions to and slyly-buried quotations from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Frank Herbert's Dune books, Star Trek (including a grumbling Scottish ship's engineer), Star Wars (there is offhand mention of a 'Death Star'), Peter Pan and even E.R. Burroughs' 'John Carter of Mars' series (one character is literally referred to as The Warlord of Mars and another was once A Princess of Mars). Less obvious sources might include Perelandra, Treasure Planet and Doctor Who.

My one quibble with these stories is the climax of book one, which is copied almost point-for-point from Hollywood's only recent big-budget steampunk film, Wild Wild West (1999), released only 7 years earlier (spoilers):

* Villains use spider motif/villains are spiders.

* Villains rampage through Victorian town/city in a giant godzilla-sized steampunk mechanical spider, destroying buildings and killing people.

* Villains attempt to kill the President of the United States/the Queen of England with giant spider.

* Villains are defeated by a reckless, 'russet-skinned,' gun-slinging young man who is a member of the Secret Service (James West/Jack Havock), and his friends, including one character as prissy as the gun-slinger is uncouth (Artemus Gordon/Myrtle Mumby), which creates the main source of comedy relief throughout the story.

George Harrison once famously committed 'unconscious plagiarism,' copying He's So Fine as performed by the Chiffons almost note-for-note with his song My Sweet Lord. Reeves is so carefully original in these stories I would guess the same thing has happened here -- he saw 'Wild Wild West,' forgot about it, and then copied the ending almost exactly without remembering where that set of ideas came from. I wish someone from Reeve's life -- some friend or agent or publisher -- had noticed the connection in time for Reeves to tweak it into something more original before publication. These books are among my all-time favorite stories for kids (I am likely to buy copies for every neice and nephew), but the Wild Wild West ending mars the first book with a frustrating (if minor) blemish.

Despite my grousing, these stories are wonderful. Read them!


Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles
Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles
by David C. Downing
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worth a look, but includes some misleading & inaccurate claims, 18 Oct. 2012
The centerpiece of this book is the chapter 'The Genesis of Narnia,' a useful summary of the creation process behind the wonderful Narnia books. Downing cherry-picked most of this information from the thousands of pages of letters, essays, nonfiction books and biographies published by and about C.S. Lewis. He also includes a few new observations not published elsewhere, revealing for instance that the country of Calormen featured in 'The Horse and His Boy' was based primarily on the 'Arabian Nights' collection (his source was an unpublished letter from Lewis). Downing's book also includes a brief biography of Lewis and chapters on Narnia's spiritual vision, moral psychology, classical and medieval elements, an exploration of Narnian names, literary artistry, and a helpful appendix on Narnian allusions which might be obscure to modern or non-British readers.

'Into the Wardrobe' becomes frustrating when Downing speaks from his position as a published author, college professor and "C.S. Lewis expert" to forward some sketchy or inaccurate claims, in particular: (1) that Rudolf Otto coined the word 'Numinous,' (2) that the Narnia books are not allegory, and (3) that C.S. Lewis disliked source criticism.

1. Downing claims that Rudolph Otto coined the term 'numinous,' which is not true: According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word numinous was coined in 1640 A.D., to mean "the sense of nearness of the divine," and it still means precisely the same thing today. It is true that Otto suggested in his book 'Idea of the Holy' that since God is all-powerful we puny humans must automatically regard him as terrifying despite his benevolence, and this conception of the numinous was influential on Lewis and several other intellectuals of the time ("Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "...Who said anything about [Aslan] being safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good"). However, if you look up numinous in any modern dictionary, you'll see that Otto's attempt to globally update the word's definition was unsuccessful. Anyway, even if Otto had managed to modify the meaning of 'numinous,' that is simply not what it means to coin a word. For example: if I redefined the word "God" in this Amazon review to mean "a giant purple frog," would that mean I had "coined" the word God?

2. Downing states that Narnia is not an allegory because (a) it does not always have one-to-one allegorical correspondences, and (b) Lewis did not encourage his readers to think of Narnia as an allegory, but as a "supposal" (as in "Let us suppose that..."). To the first point, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of allegory to believe that a piece must be restricted to one-to-one correspondences to qualify as allegory. Consider Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene,' one of the most-referenced allegories in the English language and a special favorite of C.S. Lewis. On page 321 of 'The Allegory of Love,' Lewis mentions that the Faerie Queene has allegorical correspondences to both the Christian virtues and politics. Queen Elizabeth alone corresponds to at least three different characters (from Wikipedia's Faerie Queene page):

"[Queen] Elizabeth...appears most prominently in her guise as Gloriana, the Faerie Queene herself; but also in Books III and IV as the virgin Belphoebe, daughter of Chrysogonee and twin to Amoret, the embodiment of womanly married love; and perhaps also, more critically, in Book I as Lucifera, the 'maiden queen' whose brightly lit Court of Pride masks a dungeon full of prisoners."

While it's true that Lewis encouraged a child correspondent to think of Narnia as a "supposal" rather than allegory, is it perhaps the case that Lewis felt that it is proper in romance (which today we would call 'fantasy') for the inner meaning to be carefully hidden?

"As is proper in romance, the inner meaning is carefully hidden." -C.S. Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greaves (18 July 1916)

Lewis referred to the hidden element in fantasy stories as the 'kappa element' (kappa meaning hidden), and he held a lifelong enthusiasm for that subtle hidden meaning behind words which can express "things that can't be directly told," even stating in his book 'Spenser's Images of Life' that "all great truths should be veiled." Carefully keeping Narnia's allegorical inner meaning hidden does not disqualify it as allegory.

3. Downing wrote that "Lewis generally disliked source criticism, the interpretive approach that assumes major characters and images in a story can usually be traced to something in an author's life or reading habits." This is very misleading. Lewis held a lifelong fascination with what he (in common with most English-speaking literary scholars of his time) called quellenforschung (German Quelle, source + Forschung, research), the study of tracing sources for a literary work. In his introduction to 'George MacDonald; An Anthology,' Lewis wrote: "I am a don, and "source-hunting" (Quellenforschung) is perhaps in my [bone] marrow." On page 375 of 'Letters of C.S. Lewis,' the author writes to praise Charles A. Brady for being "the first of my critics so far who has really read and understood all my books," specifically stating "The Quellenforschung is good." Many of Lewis' scholarly books, in particular his 'Allegory of Love,' include facts and guesses on the literary sources informing his favorite authors on nearly every page. It's true that Lewis wrote a cautionary essay called 'Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism' on the dangers of mistaking an armchair psychological diagnosis of the author for literary criticism. He was also wearied by quellenforschung done badly, as when a few critics misguidedly assumed The Lord of the Rings had anything to do with the atomic bomb. Neither fact changes the reality that C.S. Lewis held a lifelong fascination with identifying the literary sources for his favorite books.

Casual readers may come away from Downing's book misled into believing that identifying the Narnian books as "mere" allegory, or acknowledging that Lewis loved hunting down the literary sources for his own favorite stories, would somehow diminish his achievement. The reality is almost completely the reverse: his Narnian stories have such profound power to convey a sense of the numinous *because* Lewis was able to identify, distill and revivify the allegorical insights of John Bunyan, Dante, Edmund Spenser, George MacDonald, Boethius and his other literary heroes.


Vagina: A New Biography
Vagina: A New Biography
by Naomi Wolf
Edition: Paperback

38 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good message, but many of the scientific claims are not true, 12 Oct. 2012
Naomi Wolf's new book embodies deep problems with pop science publishers and their relationship with the media: her work brings in the bucks, so Ecco Press (HarperCollins) publishes what they refer to in their marketing blurb as "rigorous science" without bothering to double-check her claims with any neuroscientists. The media largely takes Wolf's statements at face value, understandably assuming that no major publisher would gamble their reputation by putting this stuff into print without at least a cursory round of fact-checking. But the "science" in this book is largely misleading or just wrong.

To learn the details, Google for these articles:
- Neuroscientists take aim at Naomi Wolf's theory of the "conscious vagina"
- Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" is full of bad science about the brain
- Pride and Prejudice, by ZoŽ Heller (The New York Review of Books)
- Feminist Dopamine, Conscious Vaginas, and the Goddess Array
- Of Mice and Women: Animal Models of Desire, Dread, and Despair
- Upstairs, Downstairs; `Vagina: A New Biography,' by Naomi Wolf (The New York Times)

Wolf leapt to fame with her 1991 book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, which argued that culture's idea of female beauty is entirely socially constructed, primarily by men, in order to keep women down. Following publication, research by Devendra Singh and others confirm that both men and women from a broad spectrum of cultures (even those who don't have magazines or television) uniformly agree that they find women with a waist-to-hip ratio of between 0.6-0.8 the most attractive -- which makes sense biologically, given that a 0.7 ratio appears to indicate optimum physical health and fertility. So while Wolf makes some valid points about the cultural disenfranchisement of women, her central thesis is provably wrong. Wolf also claimed in 'Beauty Myth' that 150,000 women were dying every year from anorexia nervosa, when the real number is closer to 100. Her book gives voice to the genuine frustration many women feel at being judged primarily by their appearance, and so quickly found an appreciative readership; unfortunately the popularity of Wolf's basic message has resulted in a glossing-over of the reality that she often supports her arguments with claims that simply aren't true.

Naomi Wolf is pretty and charismatic, so she plays well on camera, but her shaky claims give the opponents of feminism a too-easy lever to trick impressionable young people into dismissing feminism and feminists entirely. I am strongly pro equal rights for women, I agree that women's sexuality has been swept under the rug (so to speak) for too long, but publishing an edifice of arguments built on a foundation of claims that simply aren't true may not be the wisest path towards a real solution.

I get that some readers find value in the basic message of this book even though many of the technical claims are misleading or incorrect, and I'm all for finding emotional sustenance where you can get it -- if reading this improves your life, great! In the future, though, I hope Wolf takes her hard-won position as a leading voice of feminism seriously enough to check her facts before committing them to print.
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