Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Of Mice and Magic

Monday, September 28, 2009

I got to meet Dave Wolverton (who writes under the pseudonym, David Farland) at the Utah County fair (again). He does a lot for the writing community, and I learn from him every chance that I get. He has an email list called David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants. He also is a judge for the Writers of the Future contest, and I usually get to see him at the Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium every February at BYU.

So I picked up a copy of Of Mice and Magic, and decided to get it signed. It’s a beautiful book, with a nice illustration on the front, and excellent typography throughout. I hope someday a publisher will go all-out for me like that!

So, on to the five questions.

Did I finish reading it? Yes, but I’ll only give it half a star. More on why in the next question.

Am I interested in reading a sequel? No. My main problem with this book is that it was written for boys between the ages of 10 and 14. It has a lot of juvenile boy-humor (potty jokes, and gross stuff) that place it squarely in that market. If you liked Artimis Foul, you might like this book. Here’s a brief sample from chapter 1:

His mom’s eyes widened in surprise, and her face went as red as a pomegranate. She coughed up a McNugget. It arced over the table and plopped onto some bald guy’s neck. The fellow grabbed it, eyed it suspiciously, and then plopped it in his mouth as if it were manna from heaven.

Okaaay… I would have liked that when I was 12, but I’m 40, so no.

I have a theory that goes like this: You write to the audience that you pick, but if you want any chance of your book becoming “hotter than Potter,” as they say, then you have to appeal across a wide group of ages. I think this is one of the fundamental reasons Harry Potter was such a runaway success. Kids liked it, and parents could take it seriously. If at any point a parent feels like they’re reading a kid’s book, they’ll put it down.

Was the writing good? I’ve got to give full marks there. Farland really went all-out with the descriptive imagery. He’s really, really good at that, and his prose really pulls you in. I wish I could pick just one sample, but there are so many. Full star there.

Was the story idea interesting? Talk about originality! Okay, instead of having a human wizard and an animal familiar, what if the wizard was an animal and the familiar was the human?

This story is what I would call a beast-fantasy, where you have a fantasy tale told from an animal’s point of view. Animals can talk, and animals are the main characters. Also, Farland put together a really tight plot. It was suspenseful. It had lots of good epic twists that were nicely executed. He really put together a stellar tale.

Often in these tales you have animals making observations of human society, and it is a good opportunity for the author to make a commentary about human nature as posed by an outside observer. Farland pulls this off rather nicely.

Was the ending satisfying? I think a half star would be in order. The plot leads up to a nice dénouement, and the story comes to a nice tight finish, but I didn’t like the villain. When it was revealed who the villain really is (I won’t spoil it for you), I thought, hmmm, oh-kaaay.

Also, I thought that the ongoing quest by Amber and Ben of saving all the mice in the world was a little small-scale in the what’s-at-stake department. It’s difficult to make mice—feeder mice, at that—sympathetic characters.

Overall, I had really mixed feelings about this tale. I think the worst problem I had with it was that the story was written down to a juvenile level. In fairness, some people really like slapstick and lots of gross humor and stuff. I have a very low tolerance for cheap appeals.

Now for the nun rating! I am happy to report that the mother superior gives it her full recommendation, though she did grumble about the way Ben’s parents were caricaturized as being somewhat brainless and inept.

My verdict: three stars & five nuns.

And now for something completely different…

Tom’s list of top hates. I hate it when I watch a movie or read a book that has anything like this in the story.
1. Lots of gratuitous sex that’s put there because people like using sex to sell a story.
2. Innuendo and irreverent jokes about sex. I find such things callous tasteless. We are created in the image of God. I don’t think He likes it when we are disrespectful of his creations in this manner. He created sex, too—it’s not some necessary evil. It was intentional. It is private, and it is something that we ought to have more respect for. We’re created in the image of God. Treat our bodies with respect.
3. Toilet humor. I hate fart-jokes. I hate poop jokes. I kind of out-grew that a loooooong time ago, and when I see story-tellers using it to try and make me like their story I think, “man, are you so desperate for me to like your story that you have to use that?” I’m sorry…it just doesn’t work for me.
4. Slapstick. Again, this works if you’re a kid, but I’ve kind of out-grown it. I can tolerate a little, but less is more and a little goes a long way.
5. Bizzare stunts performed in a non-magical environment that flagrantly violate the laws of physics. I hate most James Bond movies for this reason. Can you say cheesy?
6. Characters falling down a mud-slide or a waterslide or any kind of slide. Damn, hasn’t this been so done to death, already? Seems like people have been putting this in movies since the 50s. Usually the characters will land in a pool of something at the end of the slide, like a puddle of mud or poop, or something gross.
7. Movies based on a book, where the story is so distorted from the original that it no longer resembles the plot. Sometimes Hollywood pulls it off nicely (Secret of NIMH, or Prince Caspian). But usually the result is HORRID! Best example is the movie Eragon, which had only the title in common with the movie (I doubt Paolini is complaining too much). IMO, the movie was sort of Eragon-themed, but that’s about the closest you can call it. Another example was A Wizard of Earthsea done on the Sci-Fi channel. Ugh! It was awful!
8. Movies based on a book where the screenwriter takes liberties and embellishes the story in ways that are not faithful to the book. Lord of the Rings was notorious for this. It’s like Peter Jackson said, hey, we gotta get a chick in there so let’s get Liv Tyler (hell, she’s hot) and totally embellish Arwin’s role. *Ugh* Sorry, Mr. Jackson. For Tolkien’s sake I’m glad the movie did as well as it did, but I just thought your movie adaptation was over-baked.
9. Excessive cussing. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I tried to watch the show, Dexter. I think the first three episodes used up my F-bomb quota for the rest of the year. The language was so over-used it was comical and cheesy. I know that some people like to cuss, but nobody cusses that much. C’mon.
10. Actors that simply can’t act. Man, nothing will make me stop watching a film faster. I start to feel stupid just sitting there.
11. Anything where they try to portray ghosts or witchcraft or the occult. That’s a little too close to not cool. Some of this stuff is very real, and it’s not anything you should flirt with.
12. Vampires. Blood and gratuitous sex. Ugh, what a mess. I watched the Underworld series because I thought vampires vs. werewolves would be an interesting story angle. But I couldn’t figure out who to root for. They’re both monsters. The world would be better off if a meteor fell on them and they all died. I had a hard time rooting for any of the characters.
13. Zombies. I did see night of the living dead (the original B&W version), and that was pretty cool. Zombie movies are usually about over-the-top violence and blood getting spattered everywhere. Nah, it just doesn’t work for me.
14. Rap. Just thought I’d throw that one in there. It really has nothing to do with books or movies.
15. Jar-Jar Binks. *shiver* *moan* Lucas...what have you DONE?