Alice versus Dorothy: Fantasy Protaganist Throw-down!

We all have our own idea of fun summer projects. Me, I started reading some literary children’s classics that I’d never tried before. Just recently, I made what turned out to be the interesting choice of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and following that immediately with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. With Alice originally coming out in 1865 and Oz getting released in 1900, the two are relatively close together on the literary timeline, and make for an interesting comparison when read side by side.

Just to make sure I’m not misleading anyone with that title, which I admit comes close to clickbait territory, I’m not talking about who would win in a fight, Alice or Dorothy. That would be entirely to easy, and a very short entry. Dorothy, the farm girl from Kansas would easily beat Alice, a prim and proper, very likely upper class Victorian girl. Even if Dorothy didn’t have to help out on the farm too much, she’d easily still have more muscle mass than Alice. See? We’re done already. That’s no fun.

Rather, I want to look at their book and see what makes each one a classic, what gives it that unique, immortal flavor.

Alice came first, so we’ll start with her. As I knew beforehand, Non sequitur, dream logic nonsense was the book’s dominating flavor. I remember feeling like either I was on something when I first watched the Disney cartoon Alice, or else the animators had been. That cartoon wasn’t entirely faithful to the book. It mixed elements from the first and second books (Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, respectively,) but they definitely nailed the strange, fever dream atmosphere. If anything, the book came off as just a bit more British, meaning mostly polite and a bit more ponderous, instead of the overwhelming drug trip spectacle that Disney cartoon left in my brain.

That strange, surreal feel seems to be the whole point for Carroll, and it does work This might be one of the few stories that pulls off the whole “It was all just a dream!” ending because that very fact seemed likely, if not obvious, through most of the story, either that or Alice accidentally ate one of her older sister’s LSD doses, thinking it was candy, but LSD wouldn’t be invented for another century, so that seems unlikely. In the end, while I’d never read this book before, I still felt like I knew it because of how much Alice, the Red Queen, mad tea parties and all that have melted into our cultural lexicon.

Dorothy’s world comes off as much less nonsensical, or at least non sequitur, which I realize sounds like a strange thing to say about a book featuring plenty of talking animals, magic, and living scarecrows and robots, but it’s true. Baum wasn’t going for an “all a dream” feel, because in his book it wasn’t. That’s right, unlike in the famous movie, Dorothy’s adventure to Oz was totally real. I wasn’t totally sure why  the film changed this, although I did find a really interesting video discussing how it was a sort of message about how women should be happy to stay home and work once men got home from the war. I do love me some edgy internet theorizing, and it’s an intriguing, well put together argument if you want to take a look.

If you are familiar only with the wizard of Oz movie, the original is a bit stranger, and darker. You can definitely see how Hollywood tidied up the story.

First off, we never get the Tin Woodsman’s amazing origin story. No, he’s not some steampunk robot. He used to be human, but the Wicked Witch of the West cursed his ax, (got wicked reasons involving a girl a family didn’t want married to the non-tin woodsman.) First, his ax cut off his legs, which he replaced with some highly functional tin replicas. Then, his arms were cut off, and he kept up the tin theme there, and then, I kid you not, he got his head cut off but also somehow replaced with a perfect working replica. The story skips over questions of transferring consciousness to cyborg tin heads and ends with his chest getting cut in half and then his whole body finally consisting entirely of tin. Yup, this this some proto-Ghost in the Shell type craziness that I didn’t expect to come across in a century old kid’s book.

There are more bizarre differences between The Wizard of Oz book and film, but I won’t cover those here because I’m trying to keep the Alice/Dorothy coverage even. Maybe I’ll have to dedicate another post to a rant about Hollywood sanitizing a bizarre children’s story that turns to axe murder as a solution a lot more than the movie did. In the mean time, what does this mean for these two books together?

Well, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does blaze new trails in the children’s and fantasy genre, just like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, taking some bizarre turns not included in the movie that make the two books more similar in their love for the whimsical and strange. How the authors treat the strangeness each young girl finds on her adventure leads to two distinct and separate feelings.

While Carroll creates a world where the nonsense of everything is exactly the point, Baum creates something closer to a more modern fairy tale. There’s definitely plenty of fantastical elements, but they adhere to something like a coherent set of rules, aiding in creating a traditional adventure/quest plot, albeit with some twists and turns. Both defined children’s fantasy, and fantasy at large really, because of these bold steps they took to create stories that relied on entertaining whimsy.


Audio Books for Impromptu Road Trips

This weekend, events have conspired to send me off on an impromptu road trip. Sure, I had to figure out last minute concerns like my route, what to bring, where I’ll stay, and that’s all plenty difficult to figure out at the last minute, but that’s not what concerns me first. The question I focus on first and foremost is just what I’m bringing to read on this trip. Well, actually, for a road trip the question is more often just what book I’m bringing to listen to? Audio books are a must for long days when your eyes have to stay on the road. If you’re alone, the disembodied voice telling you a story might be the only thing keeping you company, maybe even the only thing keeping you awake if you need to do some good old late night driving.

Luckily for me, I already consider having a good audio book handy an essential part of driving around everyday. Sure, anyone can have a favorite book, but I’ve got favorite audio books.  Sometimes the narrator truly gives life to a story, sometimes the recordings are very well produced and/or composed in an intriguing way. I’m here to list some of my own favorite audio books as ideas for your next road trip. With these books keeping you company, you definitely won’t go mad with highyway hypnosis.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

This is actually a pretty recent addition to my list of favorite audio books. It chronicles the making of The Room, perhaps the most famously bad movie of all time. I found out about the movie The Disaster Artist starring James Franco and his boys, (Seth Rogen, Dave Franco, etc.) after seeing the trailer online and I soon also discovered that, like all good movies, it was based off a book. I jumped to find it that book.

Turns out the book was written by Greg Sestero, the actor who played Mark in the Room, (Oh, hai Mark!) and had the closest relationship with Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic disaster artist himself. Sestero reads the story himself, showing off an amazing Tommy Wiseau impression that he probably had time to perfect after know the man for so many years. The story as a whole is so compelling, humorous and strange, and Sestero, contrary to what his performance in The Room might make you believe, is a talented enough actor to make the story come alive in his recording. Check out this audio book not just if you have a road trip coming up, but also if you’re interested in the movie inspired by it.

World War Z by Max Brooks

This audio book is probably one of the most impressive productions of all time. The book itself follows the stories of multiple people across the world as they describe how they survived the zombie apocalypse. Max Brooks has a certain level of access to Hollywood and show business that many other writers do not because his dad is in fact Mel Brooks, the actor.

Many audio books with multiple character POVs hire multiple voice actors to read different parts. No other audio books that I know of, though, got the likes of Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg, Mark Hamill, and even Martin Scorsese to record different character parts. While the terrible Brad Pitt movie almost put me off that story entirely, these names and more drew me towards the audio book. I gave it a try and did not come away disappointed. I actually couldn’t even tell for certain when actors I knew were on or not, because so many people used accents or created personas. This wasn’t some cheap, star-powered grab for attention. This recording showed lots of talented effort in bringing the zombie apocalypse to your ears. If sci-fi and horror are your thing, give this one a try, even if you thought the movie was terrible, especially if you thought the movie was terrible.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Okay, so I kind of want to recommend every single Gaiman audio book ever produced but, because that would take way to long, I’ll recommend one of his more recent ones that makes for a great audio book. Gaiman reads many of his books himself, and his voice alone could be the main selling point for any recording. Listening to him speak, you can tell he’s not merely a masterful writer, but a masterful storyteller as well.

Technically, Gaiman did not originally write any of the material for this book. These are his takes on classic myths from Norse mythology, with Thor, Loki, Odin and the like. Since each of these myths has been told and retold through the ages, Gaiman’s effort definitely doesn’t come off as an appropriation or retreading old ground. Gaiman’s clearly using his own voice to add his own twist to the stories and pass them down in his own special way, an effect that expands when you listen to Gaiman tell the story himself. You’ll feel like a viking reading for story time around the hearth, or whatever vikings had. Bonfires? Cooking pits? iPhones? Well, something warm and glowing anyway.

Well, those are three of my favorite audio books that can keep you company on your next road trip. If you’re looking for more great audio books, check out Audio Publisher’s Association’s Audie Rewards, which highlight some of the best audio books from year to year. You’ll definitely recognize some names from this entry if you look. There’s loads of brilliant listens out there, so don’t ever feel like you have to travel alone again.

Lying About Ruth Ware’s the Lying Game

Alright, so even though I’ve told just about everyone I know how much I love Ruth Ware, even though I’ve already blogged about how she’s one of the most amazing thriller/mystery writers I know, I did not find out that Ruth Ware had a new book coming out, The Lying Game, until I saw it on shelves in the bookstores.

As it stands, I’m scrambling to get a copy and am absolutely unprepared to review a new book by one of my favorite writers. Hold on though, I’m not gonna let that stop me! The very answer to my current dilemma is in the book’s title itself. I’ll have to play the so-called Lying Game.

The book is called the Lying game because, according to blurb on the jacket flap, the group of grown women featured in the story used to play this “Lying Game” when they were younger, specifically it seemed they all just tried to tell ridiculous lies and back each other up until someone’s about to call them on it, then they bail. Sounds like a silly, annoying children’s game that could perhaps echo the novel’s plot with perilous symbolic significance, something reminiscent both of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, the adults embroiled in dark, treacherous plots mirrored by the dangerous mischief young girls can get into. At least, that’s what it sounds like, from the summaries I’ve read. Sounded pretty good though, didn’t I? You thought I read the book for second even, maybe? That’s because I’m playing the Lying Game! Or am I?

Yup, I actually did the book, totally. Of course I knew it was coming out. Ware’s like, my favorite author. What kind of fan would I be, not knowing when her new book’s coming out? My favorite part? Well, not to give away any spoiler or anything, but I really admired the extended chase scene through the circus and carnival fairgrounds. I thought it might come off as too vaudevillian, but concluding it with the discovery of that triple suicide pact on top of that imposing cliff-side definitely saved it. Oh don’t worry, that’s barely a spoiler. This all happens in the first couple chapters or so. What a way to open the book!

The middle bit sagged. I think that  slack was due to all the extended conversations in Russian that the writer refused to translate in the text. Huge chunks of the plot were lost on me that way, because Google translate can only help so much. I suppose you have to admire her commitment to a creative choice, but I did feel the choice was just a bit too avant garde, dare I say even bizarre, compared to Ware’s other books, especially since all her characters were supposed  to be British, and it’s never even  mentioned where they picked up Russian in the first place, or maybe they did, in the Russian bits. Like I said. That part was lost me.

Yeah, I thought naming the main villain Angelina Jolie was a bit presumptuous. We get it, you already have the movie deal all planned out. No need to make it so obvious, Ruth! Still, though, the ending definitely redeemed that character in the most unusual way. Again, no spoilers, but I hope more thrillers incorporate baby pandas escaping perilous situations into their big finales. Such fluffiness!

Is any of what I just wrote true? Maybe… maybe not… I’ll never tell. Looks like you’ll have to read The Lying Game to find out. Then, and only then, will I be victorious because, you see, I was never playing to win the Lying Game at all. No sir, I was playing the Get As Many People as Possible to Read the Brilliant Ruth Ware’s New Book Game. Gotcha!

Or did I?

Heads Up! Turtles All the Way Down

John Green hasn’t published a book since his last bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars, which came out five years ago. Saying that actually makes me feel kind of old. I’m no long the hip, young, YA target audience his books are written for, only a decrepit twenty-something. Still, when I heard Green finally announce his new book, Turtles All the Way Down, would be released on October 10th, my ears perked up and I have to tell you, I have every intention of reading it, regardless of my age.

John Green’s also taking the interesting step, similar to what he’s done for past books, of signing hundreds of thousands of first edition copies before this new book’s release. I don’t know why the man is so determined to kill the market for his autograph, but he’s going at it with all his heart, which I suppose I admire. Signed and unsigned copies are both available for pre-order. Consider this a call to pre-order a signed copy if you like, or else just keep this book on your radar. It looks promising.

Of course, I’ve been a long time John Green fan, so my judgment is far from objective, but, at the same time, I know more of his story.  Whereas some people will see this as a writer coming out of seclusion after many years of inactivity, I don’t. I follow John’s vlogbrothers videos, his podcast, and other online shenanigans. I know full well that John Green was doing plenty during his five year absence from the writing game, including having another kid, starting a podcast, and overseeing the millions of other projects he does yearly. I haven’t strictly missed him, so to speak, but I have missed reading his work.

Green’s discussed the upcoming book in many of his recent vlogbrothers videos, promising a book that deals with mental illness and the strange, terrifying paradox of not being in charge of your own thoughts, something he’s admitted is extremely personal to him, as a sufferer of OCD. You can’t really writing about the big questions you have in your own life, I suppose. Many of John Green’s previous books were informed by his past. His first book, Looking for Alaska, was heavily biographical, and his time as a chaplain at a children’s hospital played a part in inspiring The Fault in Our Stars, in addition to his friendship with Esther Earl, a young girl who died of cancer by the time the book came out. These past influences lead to great books before, so why not this time around to?

If we’re going to talk about autobiographical aspects of stories, I will say myself that I’m interested in the themes and conflict Green features in his book, as I’ve had problems with anxiety disorders before, and been caught in the same, fear induced death spiral trying to figure out what’s taken over my brain, usually in the dead of night when I should’ve been sleeping. A well written story exploring that subject would be at the the top of my recommendation list for many other reasons besides how much I love the writer. I don’t know if I’ll be leaping after one of the thousands of signed copies, but I’m definitely excited to give everyone a heads about this upcoming new release.