Greetings once again and welcome to the blog. Last week’s discussion of Discworld and all its fantastical nature caused me to reflect on another element of fantasy- magic. While not all fantasy stories have this directly, there is usually a hint of it or it is part of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. However, magic is often portrayed as the ‘answer’ to various questions in these novels. This is understandable since magic is undefined and can really do anything. However, stories that use magic do need to have rules that define it, or magic simply becomes another dues ex machina.
Magic in Books
Because magic is imaginary, it can be bent to serve many forms. Wizards and sorcerers generally can use magic for anything they desire, or there are specific types of magic (fire-magic, for example) that can do certain things but not solve all problems. It also serves a difficult balance of not always needing to be explained. For example, if Merlin the wizard casts a spell, we accept whatever he does because he is Merlin and an established wizard. But at the same time, if a character was somehow affected by, let’s say, a healing spell, and then developed the ability to stop time, then we are left wondering why a spell would have such a different reaction on this person. An example of this kind of magic comes from a parody from The Simpsons, in which actress Lucy Lawless responds to fan questions with “A wizard did it’. This causes issues because it makes magic a blanket answer that also means that it has no rules and can answer a question without establishing why.
Many books do establish severe rules for magic. In the Dragonlance Chronicles, it is explained that magic requires not only innate talent, but perfect recitation and writing of spells. The use of magic also drains the user, until he or she must rest and regain their strength. This explains why wizards do not take over the world with their power. There are also divisions in the ranks- three distinct orders that focus on good, neutrality, and evil. While they are different, all orders are bound to magic and its preservation, and will work together when the need arises. However, not all examples of magic are so heavily regulated. Many fairy tales use magic in simpler ways that do not require a lot of detail. We can all remember the witches of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast that could use magic. But since these characters are generally established to have power by designation alone and use it for evil, an in depth explanation is not required. However, this example proves that simply having magic is not enough.
This brings me to one of the reasons I chose to do this blog- a series of discussions I have had with a friend over Disney’s Frozen, which is based on the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. While I generally liked the film, I was disappointed that no explanation was given for the cryokinetic powers of Queen Elsa. When I brought up this point, my friend countered that this was clearly a magic land (as it had trolls that used magic) and that I was overthinking the matter. While that may be true, I still found this blanket answer an issue, as the trolls do not show the powers Elsa displays nor do her parents (nor do they have an encounter prior to Elsa’s birth that would explain it, as seen in the film’s predecessor Tangled). It paints magic as random and unpredictable and while it is conceivable that any of the reasons I mentioned might have happened, it is a blow to the film to not show them, especially as Tangled managed to do so in a two minute segment. Because while magic can do anything, it requires proper logic and rules behind to function, or it simply becomes the tool of a lazy writer to explain without actually explaining. And that is something no magic wand can wave away.
On a side note, I will be hosting a book signing at the Westfield NJ Town Bookstore this Saturday from 2-4. If you are in the area, stop by, meet me, and pick up a great book.
Greetings once again. I apologize for my recent absence, as work and personal matters kept me away last week. However, part of that time was also spent examining a rich writing source that I wish to discuss today. That is the work of British fantasy writer Terry Pratchett- the novels of Discworld.
Discworld is an epic series of novels based in the realm of Discword, a flat, disc-shaped planet that sits on the back of four giant elephants, that travel through space on the back of a giant turtle. Despite the fantastical setting, the world is generally based on Victorian England, albeit with the additions of magic, wizards, and other fantastical elements. Unlike most fantasy novels, Discworld does not focus on a singular character or group of characters (though there are repeat characters and multi book arcs). Instead, each story generally stands apart, usually connected only by the realm itself. As such, Pratchett uses the books as satire, mocking not only fantasy novels themselves, but also elements of the real world, though serious elements do inject themselves as needed.
What Writers Can Learn: World-Building, Satire
Since the realm of Discworld is generally the connecting element for these novels, readers are given an extensive view of a world being built. Readers are shown a variety of cities, such as Ankh-Morpork, which house a wizard university and a variety of Guilds (from Musicians to Assassins). There are also numerous supernatural creatures from vampires to the Tooth Fairy and the Soul Cake Duck ( a play on a British holiday that fills the role of the Easter Bunny). Gods are also portrayed, as well as figures close in power like the Universal Auditors.
However, the great part of these novels are the satire involved. Pratchett uses the books to take excellent shots at the modern world, from rock and roll (Soul Music) to the advancement of technology (Reaper Man) However, the greatest pieces come from the character of Death. While portrayed traditionally, the Death of Discworld is less grim then other depictions. He is effective at his job, but continually fascinated with humanity, and far more compassionate then other versions. As such, his outsider perspective allows for a great deal of satire towards human behavior.
For example, in Reaper Man, where Death is fired for showing compassion (as he has adopted a human daughter), he is forced to find work on a farm. There, he forms a bond with the farmer owner and reveals in being able to form relationships. However, he is aware that a new Death is being formed, which eventually takes over a harvesting machines that threatens to put Death out of a job. Death must literally battle this new, uncaring Death before arguing to his superior (the God Azrael) that Death must care, or else it does not exist and there is only oblivion (a nod towards the metaphor of the knowledgeable farmer and the buyer who doesn’t care about the harvest). At the same time, the universal imbalance forces the wizards to battle a life form built up from the extra life energy, that feeds on cities and eventually forms into a shopping mall (hopefully this satire requires no explanation).
Hogfather, which focuses on the Discworld equivalent of Christmas, is another example. The Hogfather (Santa) goes missing, which forces Death to take up the role to continue human belief. Though the novel, Pratchett not only satirizes Christmas (as the Hogfather is the current version of a bloody god worshipped in the winter to bring back the sun,), but through Death, how humans interact with it. Death is puzzled by watching children pretending to be sweet and innocent to get more presents, and how adults are more interested in selling then giving. He also is saddened by the story of how a child is given a handmade toy rather then a store version and still acts greedily, rather then accepting the more meaningful toy. At one point, Death even rescues a little match girl (ala Hans Christian Anderson) from the cold, despite arguments that her death is a traditional part of the season, so that people will be grateful for what they have. Yet at the same time, Pratchett makes the point that the Hogfather is important because without belief in a small seasonal being, children will grow up unable to accept belief in larger matters that have no physical evidence (justice, mercy, universal order).
Discworld goes far beyond the novels mentioned here and expand their satire with other characters including Death’s extended family. They stand as an enjoyable and hilarious fantasy story that alwas manages to carry a strong satirical message. Writers should take note not only of the world creation, but at the novels’ ability to hide potent messages inside humor and a ridiculous fantasy world. And for anyone who feels this is impossible, keep in mind that Pratchett who is still writing, suffers from Alzhiemers (treatments have kept most of his mental functions, but he must now dictate his works). Hopefully, the imagination he has shown is enough to inspire other worlds from writers; perhaps even on the backs of flying squirrels.
Welcome back to the blog. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken on two major character types, heroes and villains. Both types are different and have various types that gravitate towards their designations for different reasons. And it is precisely those reasons that bring us to today’s entry. While these characters might all be different, the re is one thing that unites them all and that writers must understand- Motivation.
What It Is
Simply put, motivation is the reason why any character does anything. A person doesn’t suddenly wake up and decide to travel or learn to be an architect; nor does a hero or villain. Obviously these motivations differ in the case of hero and villain- the hero is generally out to redeem or save, while the villain is out to conquer or destroy. However, what these characters do has to fit their character and be true to their central being. Otherwise, their actions will not make sense. These motivations can also be altered or subtle, depending on the character involved.
This is a common motivator which can apply to either hero or villain. A character that feels wronged obviously feels a desire to makes things right. However, their perspective will determine what they do, and how far they will go to achieve it. Professional wrestler Mick Foley was able to use this motivation for his character during his days in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Foley, who has stated that he feels a heel (villain) must believe their actions are justified, was angered by a sign in the audience that read “Cane Dewey,” a reference to Foley’s son and the Singapore Cane incident of the 90’s. Angered by this, and by his belief that the ECW fans were overly demanding and caused wrestlers to attempt dangerous moves to appease them, Foley became a villain, drawing on his real-life feelings to denounce ECW and its fans, while promoting the company’s rival, World Championship Wrestling.
Being the Hero
Despite the title, this motivation can work for both types. Many people have the desire to be admired and respected by the world; in sort, to have ‘hero-worship.’ This can cause them to go on various ventures to achieve this. DC Comic’s Booster Gold time traveled from the future with various weapons to become a famous hero in today’s age, but underwent great personal growth to achieve this. But there is a flip side, as in Pixar’s The Incredibles. Syndrome, the villain of the film, is so obsessed with being a hero that he kills several heroes to create an ultimate fighting robot which he then plans to unleash and ‘stop’, therefore being seen as a hero.
This is a somewhat vague motivation, but that can allow it to be shaped in many ways. Obviously a villain can act in a way that fulfills their own desires (Scar’s murder of his brother to become king, in the Lion King, General Kang destroys his own Chancellor to prevent peace in Star Trek VI) but heroes often do the same. The difference is that heroes usually start out with one motivation, but see it change into another that shows character growth. For example, Han Solo begins Star Wars simply out for profit and leaves before the final battle. However, he returns and saves the day, showing how his motivations have changed due to his experiences. Regardless of the reasoning, this type of motivation is excellent for showing character traits and expanding on them, hence its popularity among writers.
There are countless ways to motivate a character, but as stated before, the motivation must always be appropriate for the character. Syndrome wanted to be a hero BECAUSE he had been rejected by his idol. Han Solo came back BECAUSE of his experience and BECAUSE he was not really a bad person. And Mick Foley went on to do tremendous work in ECW BECAUSE he was legitimately angry and convened those feelings to his audience. BECAUSE is the question every writer has to ask when discovering their characters. Because if they can’t answer it, why would the readers try to?
*Special Announcement* I will be having a pair of book signings next month, first at the Westfield Town Book Store on 3/8 in Westfield NJ, and at the Plainfield NJ Public Library on 3/22. If you’re in the area, don’t hesitate to stop by, grabbing a signed copy, and talking a bit about writing.
Welcome back to the blog. As mentioned last week, there are many ways for a writer to present a villain. However, none of these types matter if there is no one to meet the villain head on. For that, writers need to be able to form a hero as complex and detailed as the villain they oppose.
How To Be Good
As mentioned last week, conflict is the center of all stories, and having characters as opposing forces is the most common approach to this. These characters are the antagonist and protagonist, but neither term applies only to hero or villain, merely to differentiate between the main character and his/her opposite. However, these characters most have essential differences, or else the conflict is weak and the story will fail. And above all else, they must appear as or become equals or their conflict will fall apart. One such example comes from a wrestling stable, World Championship Wrestling’s New World Order. The NWO began as a dominant invading group, but as more and more joined, the heroic forces dwindled until fans were unable to believe that any could defeat the NWO and fans lost interest in the group. So equality is as vital as conflict, which comes into play with many heroic examples.
The Rookie/Unlikely Hero
A classic example, a rookie hero is someone that at first glance, seems too inexperienced or unskilled to be of any use. However, this character, who often will have personal doubts as well, will demonstrate qualities, generally leadership or know-how, that show he or she has the potential to rise up and defeat the far superior forces. This is a classic example due to the easy-to-root-for underdog quality, and can be cited in Star Wars (Luke Skywalker) and Shawn Of The Dead (Shawn). Sports films often take this route as well, but can have the opposing force be another team or player and/or personal or social issues (Rudy, 42)
This type of hero can be the most intriguing type for a writer to explore. These types of heroes usually strive to do the right thing, but face inner turmoil and conflict due to their past, their actions, or what those actions cost. As a result, the reader, who has had experience with conflict, relates to them better, and watches and hopes for them to overcome their conflict and find peace. As this character is genuinely relatable and also easy to root for, examples can be seen in mainstream characters like Spider-Man to less well known characters, such as Tanis Half-Elven of the Dragonlance Chronicles.
Another common type of hero, this is usually a villain that is seeking to recant for past endeavors. However, redemption can take different forms. It can be a desire to make up for previous inaction, or a situation in which the characters regrets not acting differently. This desire often informs the character’s action, causing them to act in a way that mirrors their inner desire to be redeemed. Again, Spider-Man is a good example, as his superhero career stems from his inaction at stopping a criminal that later killed his Uncle Ben. Many comic characters have similar motives; it has been argued that Batman’s agenda stems from being unable to save his parents as a child. But many other examples exist, such as Boromir from Lord of the Rings, who briefly takes on these characteristics when he is possessed by the Ring and dies saving others. A somewhat arguable example is Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, who becomes more and more enamored of humanity, to the point where he becomes a Santa Claus like figure in order to maintain human belief and maintain existence.
A personal favorite, and one that somewhat blurs the line between villain and hero, this is a character that has heroic goals but goes about them in a less then heroic manner. But as this character has a goal that readers can sympathize with, and usually a tragic even to set it all into motion, their actions manage to be more morally gray then evil. Some are still considered to be classic heroes, like Batman, who fights crime with fear and intimidation. Check out my pieces on The Crow and Darkman for more in depth looks at classic anti-heroes.
The ideas of heroes and villains both carry a story when done properly. For a hero to work, he or she must be identifiable and relatable to the reader. The types listed above work because the reader can understand them, whether it be their need for redemption or the anger that pushes them towards a darker justice. But no matter their reasoning, when done well, they are epic symbols that stand up to face the evil figure that waits for them on the other side of the page. But there is one further thing that can define these characters, which we will get into next week.
Welcome back to the blog. Last week’s piece on the nature of show largely came about due to seeing other writers struggle with that concept. As such, I’ve done some musing on other essential concepts of writing that I see young writers struggle with. So today, I want to discuss an essential concept of storytelling that can be a problem for many writers- the villain.
Making The Bad Guy Look Good
The main driving force of any story is conflict. And while many stories have that conflict in different ways (internal, conflict with an environment), the villain is the most common force to create conflict. Many writers confuse the villain with the atagonist, or opposing force to the main character (protagonist). While this is often true, the terms are not exclusive, and writers can focus on the villain as the protagonist with ease. But regardless, a villain must create conflict with the hero or opposing force. To make this effective, a writer has several options to craft a memorable villain
Some of the most striking villains maintain their opposition by still having similarities to their opposite number. However, the villain in this case functions as a road not taken, a vision of the hero if they had made different choices and become evil. A classic example is Venom and Spider-Man; aside from their similar designs and powers, their civilian lives are close to identical. Both are photojournalists, but while Peter Parker is honest, Eddie Brock falsifies his story, which leads to his eventual firing. At the same time, Brock’s powers as Venom are derived from an alien costume previously worn by Parker. While the suit caused Parker to nearly turn to the dark side and reject it, Brock embraced it, becoming a full evil reflection and a reminder to Spider Man of the dangers of the dark side.
This is a type of villain that works by not being seen. He or she will be in charge of a great power; an army, magic, or even a ruling government. While the hero may struggle against various evil figures, all of them will be subservient to a far greater evil, which the hero must battle towards. Usually, this villain is kept in mystery, allowing the hero and reader to speculate on just who and what this person might be. Excellent examples of this are the Emperor from Star War or Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both were characters that largely worked from the shadows (at least in the original Star Wars Trilogy) and while acknowledged as the driving force of evil, kept hidden from the audience, until they finally emerged to prove that all the evil attributed to them was justified.
This is a villain that can be a treasure trove for writers. A best friend is a character that to the outside world, is trustworthy and good, but has a dark secret that will cause them to betray everyone. However, just how that happens is a wide range of options. The writer can present their betrayal as a shock, or show it to the reader and no one else. Writers can also use these characters to create twists, by keeping the villain a mystery or even through the use of red herrings (characters designed to throw the reader off course). And once the revelation is complete, the writer can then explore the drama of having a trusted person betray his or her comrades. There have been many examples of this throughout literature, but a more recent example comes from Disney’s recent animated film Frozen. This film not only makes use of a red herring, but the reveal of its villain is not only unexpected and hurtful, but upon a second viewing of the film, all the details of the turn are given in subtle hints that effectively tricked the viewer.
The most obvious type of villain. This is a character that simply put, is everything the hero is not. This can be shown in many ways- old vs. young, kindness vs. ruthlessness, normal vs. magic. However, there are other twists as well, especially if there is an aspect of the villain that the hero could benefit from. For example, a hero could be doubtful of themselves, while the villain is convinced of their superiority. By having the hero defeat the villain, the hero gains self-confidence while the villain is punished for arrogance. There are many other versions, but for a few good examples, check out Frodo Baggins vs. Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Delta House vs. Omega House in Animal House, and Optimus Prime vs. Megatron from Transformers.
Of course, a villain is only as good as the hero they face. But don’t worry, dawn is coming next week.
Greetings and welcome back to the blog. Today I return to active status with a commentary on a very basic aspect of writing, yet one that many writers struggle with early on. I chose to comment on this after reading works from my fellow writers and finding them having a hard time with it. This aspect is the simple rule of show, don’t tell.
What It Is
Imagine the ending of Old Yeller; the tragic scene where the boy is forced to kill his beloved dog, now gone rabid. This is an iconic scene of film history, a scene which never fails to bring tears to the eyes of those who watch it. Now, imagine that scene re-imagined, in which everything happens the same, but the boy turns to the camera and cries to the audience as he acts, “THIS IS SAD! I FEEL SO SAD RIGHT NOW!” Granted, this is an exaggeration, but this is the basic concept of show don’t tell- the idea of allowing the reader to interpret what they see or read, rather then spelling it out for them.
What Writers Should Know
One thing to stress is that while show don’t tell is important, it is not all consuming. Certain scenes, such as dramatic events or important moments can certainly be expanded upon, because it heightens the sense of drama and story for the readers. It can be the difference between a scene being described as a swordfight, when it is in truth…
However, the issue with many new writers is feeling they need to do this for every scene. While important scenes need to be painted clearly, many writers over do this for fear of not getting their point across. Everything is described too much- the scenery, the motives, and worse, the character’s motivation. Like the Yeller scene above, writers may simply tell the readers what the characters are thinking and feeling, rather then letting their actions speak for them. Or they will overdo scenery and slow the story down. This not only hurts the story, but the reader as well. To a degree, reading and even watching are mental exercises. The audience needs to be challenged slightly, or else they will not learn to appreciate the experience.
One of my greatest experiences in reading and viewing was knowing enough to guess a character’s motivation and use them predict what will happen in the story. But this was only because I read stories that did not tell me everything and forced me to think and anticipate how events might play out. Denying viewers this will make them feel as though the story is overburdened, or that they are reading something far too simple for them. It is the same reason that stories with subtle villains are far more revered then stories with obvious ones- both are important but stories that make a viewer guess engross us more.
What Writers Can Do
Simply put, writers need to know when and how to show. As I mentioned, a major scene should be described fully. But spending as much time describing a kitchen as the Gates of Hell is a waste of time. Scenery must never overtake character or story. And writers need to have faith that the actions described are effective at molding character and motivations. Remember, the reader is smart enough to interpret a scene, if you are careful. But no reader wants to be told what to feel or what something means. So for a final example, I leave you with a recent example of breaking this rule. Below is an original scene from Return of the Jedi, in which the evil Darth Vader watches the Emperor torture his son….
And here is the version George Lucas put into the recent blu-ray re-release.
See what I mean?
Hello and Merry Christmas readers. As we close in on Christmas Day and I prepare for a short holiday break, I find the need to end this edition of Points of Light on a strong note. It requires one of the best examples of strong writing I can think of, and for this season, there is only one piece that holds up along with A Christmas Carol and The Grinch. It is a simple tale of years past known simply as, A Christmas Story.
A Christmas Story is the childhood memories of author Jean Shepard, who narrates the film. The story focuses on his nine-year old self (here called Ralphie) and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Along the way, he deals with bullies, childhood dares, and his family, who each deal with plots of their own. As Christmas comes closer, we see Raplhie’s father win a ‘major award,’ his brother’s odd habits, a secret decoder ring, and a mental break that eventually lead to a surprising Christmas morning.
What Writers Can Learn: Common Ground, Reality
As the plot indicates, A Christmas Story is fairly disjointed. There are numerous small subplots along the way to Christmas morning, and not all of them are resolved. The film did not revive acclaim on it’s initial release, and was considered a sleeper film for many years. However, it is now considered a holiday classic, and is shown each Christmas in a 24-hour marathon on cable network TBS. So what is it about such a disjointed, fairly simple story that has given it such praise?
To put it simply, the very fact it is so simple and disjointed. The movie may be set in Shepard’s childhood of the 40’s, but the events that transpire are familiar to everyone. Everyone has stories about how strange and crazy their families were as a child, and Ralphie is no different. Watching the Old Man eternally struggle with the furnace and the neighbor’s dogs, or Ralphie’s mom trick her younger son into eating like a pig bring to mind our memories of the strangeness of growing up. The scenes of dealing with bullies, idiotic dares, and heroic fantasies are all reminiscint of the baisic nature of childhood and with Shepard’s narration, it is further enhanced. We remember our own childhoods watching it and fall into nostalgia that manages to ring truly, but differently for everyone who watches it.
However, the holiday element is never abandoned. For every piece of childhood remembered, we also see Christmas through a child’s eyes. Ralphie’s desire for his BB gun is the desire of everyone that every wanted that one special toy at Christmas. We relive our own desires through him, and remember our feelings of hope, disappointment and/or relief on the big day. But watching the quiet moments, like Ralphie’s family gathered around the tree also remind us of the togetherness and near perfection the holiday brought us in our youth. And because no CS piece would be complete without mentioning it, Ralphie’s reaction to the horrible gift of his Aunt Clara reminds us how much we had to fake smile during the holiday as well (and still do even now)
The strengths of this movie are how well it resonates for people of any generation. For a writer, this is a vital skill for anyone that wishes to write about their life or a specific series of events. Writers always need to convey something that readers can see in their own lives- a struggle, an emotion, a mindset, that brings to mind something that they have experienced. Even a half-elf warrior can struggle with common concepts like family and isolation. A man that can punch steel can deal with wanting to be like everyone else. And while this movie may not hit such deep notes, it reminds us of our own lives while managing to be its own entity, which is something a great life-story should be.
On that end, Merry Christmas to my readers, and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year.
Happy Holidays once again, as we continue with the holiday edition of Points of Light. For the last two weeks, I’ve been examining different versions of A Christmas Carol. This week, I WILL be moving onto a different story, though I will again return with a familiar story of Yuletide cheer. So strap on your climbing shoes for the top of Mt. Crumpit, as I open up Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
As this is also a well-told and familiar story, I will be brief. The Grinch, a green monster that lives above Whoville, is tried of the incessant noise and spectacle of Christmas, and makes up his mind to ruin it. Dressed as Santa, he ventures down on Christmas Eve, stealing decorations, presents, and everything associated with the holiday, intending to dump it when he hears the cries of the Whos on Christmas morning. However, the reaction he gets makes him realize that Christmas is much bigger then his stolen loot, and with a new perspective, returns to Whoville, gives back all the stolen items, and joins the Who in celebration.
What Writers Can Learn: Commentary, Hidden Meaning, Personal Meaning
The Grinch is well regarded as a Christmas classic because it works on a variety of levels. At the very least, it is an engaging children’s story, with a happy ending and a simple moral. However, it also works for adults as a commentary. Seuss himself has admitted that there is a part of himself in the Grinch, and he largely wrote it to reconnect with a holiday he felt he’d lost something with. Anyone that’s ventured out into the Christmas season can agree. Each year, we are bombarded with endless decorations, shopping sprees, preparations and celebrations, and enough forced commercialism to make anyone hate the day. That is largely why the book resonates so well. Everyone has been the Grinch at some point- tired of the spectacle, seeing the holiday as nothing more then an exercise in greed, forced cheer, and commercial excess. In fact, one of the few strong moments in the live action adaption is when the Grinch admonishes the Whos for driving themselves into debt each year to buy presents that largely end up in the dump where he lives.
However, the Grinch’s journey, as it should be for the reader, is about seeing past the immediate façade of Christmas. The Grinch sees Christmas as nothing more then baubles and parties, and so that is what he steals. And like those tired of the holiday, he fully expects the day to be ruined because there are no longer any gifts or food to be had, no decorations to moon over. However, instead of anguished cries, he hears joyful singing, as the Who come out to give thanks for the day. Though he is confused, he comes to the revelation that while presents and parties and decorations are a part of the Christmas season, they are not all of it. Christmas is shown as a time when being with friends and family, and experiencing their joy and togetherness is all that truly matters. That’s why the Grinch cannot steal it, and it is the moment that makes the book a work of genius- by turning around expectations and giving a lesson that we realize was evident from the very beginning. That is a trick that only the best writers can accomplish, and the reason Dr. Seuss and his work is so beloved.
The Grinch is both a great moral tale and a family classic, that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Writers that are looking to write clever lessons and surprise readers should study it, as well as anyone that wants to write for children the way Seuss did. And readers who want more need go no further then the classic Chuck Jones animated special, narrated by horror icon Boris Karloff. The more recent live action version is impressive for the visuals and some of Jim Carrey’s performance as the Grinch, but it ignores the book’s subtlety for a sledgehammer approach to the moral (see the Nostalgia Critic’s video review (completely in rhyme) for a bigger picture). But it is entertaining enough, and does contain some well done moments. Come back next week, when I end the month and lead into a Christmas with a strong holiday masterpiece.
Welcome to the next entry of this Yuletide Points of Light. Last week, I divulged into A Christmas Carol and mentioned its many adaptations. Today’s entry is one of them, a recent comic adaptation of the last few years. However, this version adds in one of the more recent modern literary trends, with frightening results. With that, I present Marvel Comics’ Zombie Christmas Carol.
While this story follows the basic outline of its source, it adds many new elements. England is in the grip of a zombie plague, with the people attempting to barricade and placate the ‘Hungry Ones,’ inside hospitals and workhouses. Unfortunately, the endless hunger of the zombies has drained resources, causing those in charge to beg for funds from Scrooge. He of course, recants, but is later visited by the zombified remains of Jacob Marley, who says Scrooge has a hand in both starting and ending the plague. The Three Sprits (suffering from the zombified world) show Scrooge how his past actions have played in the zombies creation, the current horrors, and the dark future that awaits. Scrooge eventually realizes that his abandonment of basic human kindness and belief in his fellow man is the very source of the ‘greed’ that infects the world, and it is only be reigniting that belief that he can save it.
What Writers Can Learn: Morality, Horror Elements
To begin with, I want to stress that this version DOES exist, and is not a fanfiction. Second, that despite what could be a rather gory and ludicrous story, this version still manages to capture the overall theme of Dickens’ novel. Of course there still IS gore and violence, but it serves as the backdrop for Scrooge’s redemption. The writers still use them well however, as they emphasize the darker nature of greed and selfishness that Dickens wrote against. And just like the novel, the comic shows Christmas under attack by these dark forces, not only through the zombies, but through the very Spirits themselves.
As I mentioned, each of the Sprits is affected by the horrors affecting their holiday. Christmas Past retains a feminine form with a connection to Scrooge, but is presented as a ragged corpse bride constantly dying and returning to life (a nod to the past itself, always leaving but never fading). Christmas Present begins much the same, but as he travels with Scrooge, his joy is slowly changed to melancholy and madness, as he shows Scrooge the happy world he should have entered into, and the world of death and endless hunger he is in. This version also contains the often-cut scene of Ignorance and Want, who literally spell the end of Christmas Present. Christmas Yet to Come, already a fearful specter, is little more then robe and jawbone, as he shows Scrooge a horrific zombie apocalypse where Bob Crachit’s beloved family devour him whole, Tiny Tim is damned to wander the earth, forever hungry, and Scrooge himself is shown a grave with a not quite dead occupant. Because of all these horrific twists, the often worn message of the story gains new and frightful resonance, even more so when Scrooge sets out to correct the world
Scrooge himself is shown with far more moral dilemmas then money. We see that his greed comes from an early misfortune of his youth, that hardened him to believe that man can never help his fellows, only starve them of love and life. As such, he has spread this sickness to other men and women, causing the very zombie plague his world is engulfed. This is an intriguing mix of Dickens’ original character and modern zombie elements, made more so by the revelation that Scrooge also carries the cure within him. His nephew Fred, originally a minor character, is given a major life, as he seems to carry a cure as well. (Spoilers Ahead!). It is through him, and his deceased mother, Scrooge’s beloved sister, that we learn the light of kindness and generosity is the only way to cure the zombies. When Scrooge ignites that within himself, we are again shown Dickens’ morals, but in an entirely light. For now, that basic human kindness and belief in goodness is enough to bring rest to legions of unhappy, hungry wanderers and save the very world. There are few who could read such a story and not look at their actions a bit differently as the holidays roll around.
Zombie Christmas Carol is a unique twist on a classic story, which would appeal to any who enjoy zombie gore and violence. However, it still retains the high minded ideals that Dickens originally set down, along with the requisite darkness and horror a good zombie story should have. The idea of love and goodwill restoring the dead is also a fresh, if slightly heavy handed spin, which seems to have gained ground in Hollywood (the film and novel Warm Bodies explores similar ground). While this is cannot be recommended for children, adults and teenagers looking for a fresh version of a Christmas classic should certainly pick up this volume.