Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #27

Secret Lake, by Kechake
Suggested by: Jessica Richardson

The List:
The wilds of 'lost scotland'
Modern times
A deposit of blue clay

The Result:
"Beware of Fairies"
"Welcome to Inverness, Mr. Cartwright!" he rumbled in a thunderous voice.
William Cartwright, a man of scholarly disposition and slight build, set down his travel case and shook hands with a rotund, red-faced man.
"Thank you for taking me in on such short notice, Mr. McCreary," Will began.
"Tis nothin', laddie!" The man assured him as he gestured toward the waiting cab. "A right pleasure, that's certain! An' please—the name's Ben." The big man folded himself behind the passenger seat of the cab, leaving precious little room for Will, tiny as it was.
"Take us to The Wilds, then!" Ben McCreary asked the driver. 
Will felt a small thrill arc through him at the name. The Wilds—it sounded like the perfect setting for the novel he was researching. He pulled out his smartphone and jotted down a few notes.

"So tell me, Mr. William," Ben pronounced the name with only two syllables instead of three, "What is it you'll be wanting to do in our wee town?"
Will watched the packed city give way to rolling green his and majestic valleys as they coasted down the road. "I would very much appreciate as much of the local culture as you would care to show me," he answered with enthusiasm. "You see, I am writing a novel about the age of 'lost Scotland', and The Wilds seemed the perfect place to do my research."
Ben nodded with a wide grin stretching at the sides of his face. "Aye, that she is! Ye had good luck in the timing, I must say—we of Cailleadh Talamh are in the midst of Féile Sióga: the festival of fairies. You'll get a right eyeful everywhere you look, for at least another week."

Will leaned forward and stared in delight out the window. As promised, the whole town seemed to transport them into another realm, as flowers, branches, and vines covered nearly every surface, and swatches of gauzy silk in many different colors flapped gently in the breeze, suspended over every window and door. When the cab turned down a side road and pulled to a stop in front of a quaint dwelling, Will opened the door as a woman in an ample dress, long hair braided down her back, advanced to greet them.
Ben nodded. "That's me wife, Reyna; she tends to take the fairies more seriously than most people ye will meet," he muttered as they both climbed out of the car.
"Welcome! Welcome!" Reyna cried, reaching forward with both hands to grasp Will's. "Oh, ye must be tired from yer journey; I've got a nice stew for ye, and yer room all ready, so just ye follow me, lad!" She turned around and led him through the front door, pausing to brush her fingertips over a symbol painted on the door. She turned and winked at him.
"For luck," she offered.
Will noticed that the woman—well past middle age—wore no shoes. He heard Ben groan behind him, and saw the man doubled over, removing his own shoes. Will felt the burden of instinctive politeness to do the same, but Ben stopped him with a noise.
"Tis only a custom of the festival, everyone removin' their shoes," Ben muttered. "Tis no great offense if ye'd rather not."
Will shrugged his shoulders and decided to let his laces be.

Reyna McCreary led him upstairs to the small garret where he would be staying. Will surveyed the simple bed and small chest of drawers designated for his use. A small window in the gable provided a view of the gnarled elm that spread its branches over the house. Will crossed the room to the window as Mrs. McCreary spoke.
"The washroom is next door—Bear and I use the one downstairs, anyhow..."
Will caught sight of a dry, brown bundle hanging next to the window and reached to pluck it out, but his hostess ceased her chatter with a sharp, "No!"
Will glanced at her in confusion. Her eyes widened to saucer-size as if he'd nearly caused a catastrophe. 
"What is it?" he asked.
Reyna didn't answer him directly, but gestured to the door. "Never you mind now; just a bit of herbs to keep out the fairies—I can take them down when the festival is over, but you must not touch them!" Her voice carries a grave weight with it, so that Will experienced a decided aversion to the idea of taking down the weeds. He noticed more of them, tucked into eaves and lintels all around the room. His writer's brain lapped up the idea easily. What a fascinating plot device...
"Mrs. McCreary," he asked as he followed her downstairs, "why is it a tradition to take one's shoes off during the Fairy Festival?"
She blushed a deep and rosy pink. "Eh? The shoes, you say?" She glanced at her bare feet, pulling at her skirts in an apparent attempt to hide them from view. "Well, that's just an old superstition; a fairy will try to lure away during festival season, see—but if you aren't wearing any shoes, then the cold of the wet grass will wake you up and you won't be in their power."

It sounded so simple and straightforward when she described it. Will shook his head. He could tell he was going to have trouble telling fact from fairy tale here in such an enchanting place—or perhaps jet lag might have something to do with it. He sat down to dinner with the McCrearys. 
"Bear was telling me—" Reyna began, but Will coughed in confusion.
"Excuse me—Bear?"
Reyna laughed. "Oh, law! That's just me name for Bernard here," she patted Ben's shoulder. "Normally goes by Ben—I'm the only one who calls him Bear."
Will smiled knowingly. "Because of his growling voice, right?"
"Nay lad," Ben himself laughed. "Tis because of my rich pelt!" He rubbed the coarse, dark hair of his head.
"Ahem! As I was sayin'," Reyna repeated, "My husband tells me you'll be wanting to see the festival tomorrow."
Will nodded eagerly. "Oh yes! I would love to see something like that."
"All right then, it's settled." Husband and wife nodded.
Will stayed up to chat with them until he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. His hosts bid him goodnight and Will wandered up to the garret and fairly dropped into bed.

The time difference still managed to get the better of him, however; it seemed only a few hours later that Will popped wide awake in the still, dark room. He tried rolling over and closing his eyes, but his body had decided that it wasn't going to sleep any longer.
Something tapped on the window. Will tensed; the tapping came from just outside, and he could make out the light of a round lantern. Brimming with curiosity, he stood and moved closer to the window. By the light of the lantern he could make out the form of a young girl in a long white dress. She beckoned to him, smiling at him. Will became acutely aware of his pajamas and his bare feet, and mused how silly he must look to her. Digging in his suitcase, he found a sweater and pulled that on over his pajamas. 
The girl knocked on the window again, beckoning more insistently.
Will finally made the decision to unlatch the window and open it, even though the movement dislodged the sachet of herbs from its corner. It wasn't as if any fairies would come climbing through the window, anyway.
The girl smiled at him from her perch I the tree branch. "Hello," she said.
"Hi," Will stammered. "Who are you?"
She traced her finger over the rough bark. "Treenia," she answered. "Are you coming?"
Will squinted at her. "Coming where? To the festival?"
"The festival—" Treenia hesitated, but Will couldn't tell if she was asking or stating it. "Yes," she answered, grinning and picking up her lantern. "Come on! Quickly!" She began picking her way down the bark. 
Will Cartwright had to admire the way the girl's bare feet seemed to find purchase in the bark. He shook his head and automatically went back for his shoes. From somewhere, Mrs. McCreary's voice rang in his mind: "Fairies lure people away if they're wearing shoes..."
Then again, he knew that the climb would be more painful without them. If he saw any fairies, he could always just slip them off again. Will grabbed his shoes and slipped them on.

Treenia waited in the grass when he finally made it to the bottom.
"What are we doing?" He asked, but she only laughed and grabbed his hand.
"Come on!" She took off running over the dark expanse of grass before them.
"Where are we going?" He tried asking her. "The festival is back the other way!"
Finally, Treenia slowed to a stop. "We aren't going to the festival," she answered, crouching over something and setting the lantern in the grass next to her. "At least, not the human one."
Will detected an area in the darkness that wasn't grass. It was lighter in color, and it looked smooth.
"What is that?" He asked as Treenia made as if to out her hand into the substance. "Is it a deposit of blue clay, all the way out here?"
Treenia's delicate fingers played over the surface, and Will's eyes registered a subtle shift. In the space of a blink, he discerned a second Treenia, staring up at them from inside the hole—no, not two Treenias; the second one was merely her reflection, on a greenish-blue, glass-like surface. 
She smiled. "It's not clay," she murmured. The strange girl bolted upright and grabbed Will's hand. "You're going to be my guest at the Festival of Mortals!" 

Will hardly had time to comprehend before Treenia—the fairy—stepped forward and dropped into the magic portal, dragging him through it behind her.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hit List: 10 Times The Book Was Still Better Than The Movie

For all my raving about how much a movie can improve the visual aspect of a novel's story better than mere words penned by a single author (rather than characters shaped by actors interacting with one another)—really, when it gets down to it, the movie adaptation cannot exist without the book. In this "Which came first?" We don't have to wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg—the book necessarily came first.
Also, the thing we can realize most about books is that because books are not regulated in length the way movies are (could you imagine the horror?), one can absolutely pack as much extra detail as possible into the narrative, since one is relying totally on the reader's imagination to conjure ideas of what things look like, instead of giving them something to watch.

That being said, here is a list of my Top 10 Books That Were So Full Of Awesome Their Adaptations Cannot Compare.

1. The Princess Bride--William Goldman
The first example that came to mind is, of course, Princess Bride. This fandom is divided into several camps: 1) Those, like me, who realize that the story is not all about Buttercup and Westley—it's actually about a grandfather telling his grandson the Greatest Fantasy Tale Of Them All; 2) Those who had no idea a book even existed, but they grew up watching the movie; 3) Those who saw the movie, knew about the book, but were unamused with the edits and the running commentary in the "Good Parts Version" and would please like to know where they can find the original, unabridged work by S. Morgenstern—and then there's everybody else.
To Group 2, I would say: The book exists, and it's by the same guy who wrote the screenplay for the movie. And it is brilliant. You know the parts in the movie where Fred Savage interrupts Peter Falk and is all like, "What even IS this story??" Or like when reading the boring, stuffy "classics," how sometimes you wish that they had commentary and summaries like a CliffsNotes version, but snarkier... Well, this is kind of that. It's patterned after a fantasy novel pretending to be a historical adventure... But Goldman adds snarky comments and informs us when he's "removed" whole sections (Chapter 4 is my favorite... News flash for Group 3: THERE IS NO UNABRIDGED VERSION; S. Morgenstern doesn't exist; the book in its entirety is solely the work of William Goldman; so stop asking) and some people might not like it, but I absolutely loved it. It's essentially the same story as the film... But so much more.

2. I Am Number Four--Pittacus Lore
 I was intrigued by the movie trailer so I started reading the book. I had only gotten halfway through it when I actually watched the movie—and yet I still knew more about what was going on than the movie let on. With the choppy storytelling and the mediocre acting, one might not think much of the film—but it is a series, and I swear the writing is just fantastic. I am desperately hooked on the series. The movie doesn't explain things very well, and it sort of rides the high points... But not enough so that you actually care about the characters you should care about. The books, however, are intricate and well-developed. If you were even remotely interested in the idea presented by the movie, just skip it and go right for the books. It is totally worth it.

3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians--Rick Riordan
(nearly) Everything I know about mythology I learned from Rick Riordan...
This is another one where the concept and the premise were very intriguing—but the execution of the film left much to be desired. I came out of the film significantly less intrigued, but I decided to give the book a go.
Guys, I never looked back. Rick Riordan is a fascinating and highly entertaining writer, I have now read all of his mythological series (except the Egyptian one) and each seems better than the last. The movies do not even compare to the books. Poor casting (not to mention the casting/costuming changes that showed up in the second movie with no explanation—like they were just trying to pretend nobody would notice) had a lot to do with it, plus the fact that Riordan is very skilled at making his writing very clever and entertaining, and a lot of that stuff doesn't really translate to film very well... Apparently...

4. Voyage of the Dawn Treader--C. S. Lewis
After the rousing success of the first film, and the passable treatment of the second (rendered more acceptable just because it's my favorite book in the series, and they got all my favorite parts into it), I really had high hopes for this one. I mean, for crying out loud, they cast Will Poulter as Eustace! What could be more perfect? It does have its challenges, since a) it's at sea, not really a lot on land, and b) all of the strange and wonderful magic effects that happen in pretty much every scene--as I've stated before, the lower-budget BBC series left much to be desired, and I had every confidence that modern technology had really advanced to be able to do the film justice.
Not even close. Out of the three adaptations, the plot of the film deviated the most from its source. The resulting movie is so hopped up on pointless peril and overblown special effects that the story is basically unrecognizable as an adaptation, or even a continuation of the films already in existence. I can understand leaving stuff out because there isn't time to fit it into 100 minutes... but the stuff the filmmakers added to the story in an effort to bulk it out basically guaranteed it's placement on a list like this.

5. Eragon--Christopher Paolini
I was excited (at first!) to discover this book, because a) DRAGONS and b) it was the first fantasy book recommended to me by an adult, who positively raved about this book published by a homeschooler with an affinity for high fantasy--I read the book till I fell asleep, and then I finished it the next morning when I woke up. It was definitely cool, and I could forgive the distinct impression of a Lord of the Rings rip-off (without the whole big quest thing... and basically with the Fellowship reduced to a young dragon rider, his love interest, his mentor, and the Potential Traitor Who May or May Not Be Working Against Him). Unfortunately, the series basically died from there... I have read a sequel and a half of the 4-book series and got both bored of the fact that the protagonist seems fond of isolation and whole chapters of contemplative soliloquy, and angry that so much potential should be so wasted. But that's not what this list is for. The film adaptation of Eragon was only just slightly worse than the quality of the book, for just the reasons you would expect: there was just so much stuff that happened in the book that they couldn't possibly fit it all into film, so they did the best they could with what they had, and ended up with a lackluster adaptation of a mediocre fantasy novel. So the book was better, but only just barely!

6. The Inkheart Trilogy--Cornelia Funke
When I first heard of the movie, I had no idea it was a book, or even a series. All I knew was that it was a story about a guy who could bring book characters to life by reading out loud and I thought that was totally the coolest thing ever. I watched the film and really I did enjoy it--so I went ahead and placed holds on the entire trilogy from the library. Of course, as it so often happens, I got the second book before the first, but I figured that was okay, because I had seen the movie, so I basically knew the story, right? 
NOT. EVEN. I started reading Inkspell and got completely lost from page one... and I knew exactly why: they'd changed the ending. There were characters I didn't know, in situations I wasn't aware of ahead of time--because the movie had changed the ending so that it could be a standalone and they were never intending to do the whole trilogy. [Cue sad violin music] Hence the reason I added this one to the list--not because the movie was bad, per se, but because the books were better for the fact that it was a series and really went in-depth in exploring the worlds and the characters. Cornelia Funke is an absolute wizard at crafting a convincing and enchanting world for her novels. I loved it so much I was really disappointed that it would have to all be in my imagination, instead of on a screen. I did have the added comfort of being able to attach the movie characters to the book characters, so that worked out okay. 

7. The Alex Rider series--Anthony Horowitz

Picking out a movie for kid's night, we see one called "Alex Rider: Stormbreaker" and it looks like a cutesy kind of "teenage James Bond" type movie, so we pick it up. It was cheesy, and very clear that those involved were clearly expecting more from the film than what they got--
but at least the existence of the film alerted us to this cool new series we didn't know we needed. The movie adaptation wasn't all that great, but the books are just totally awesome. Anthony Horowitz is a very excellent writer (there are a few other books he's written that... not so much; but I can definitely vouch for this series) and the Alex Rider series definitely packs a bigger adrenaline punch than the movie ever did.

8. The Book Thief--Markus Zusak
I asked a friend once for book recommendations, and this was one of the ones she told me about. It has since become one of the "Books-That-Blew-My-Mind." First of all, Death is the narrator; second, the observations and musings of Death are as poignant as they are breathtaking. I seriously loved what this book did to my imagination. So naturally, when I heard they were doing a movie adaptation, I was beyond excited. I had been so taken up with Death's prose that I hadn't really taken the chance to get actually acquainted with the characters--and with Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush playing the old couple, I knew it was going to be good. 
Ladies and gentlemen, it was REALLY GOOD. The emotion, the timing, the colors, the acting--everything was fantastic. In fact, the only thing that was missing... Yep, you guessed it: the full effect of Death's narration. With the visual aspect of the film, there wasn't that much need for narration, so a lot of it was spliced out, truncated, omitted entirely--and there are some "text visuals" in the novel that didn't translate at all onto the film, but I thought they were brilliant to read--so the book is better. Read the book. Then watch the movie. You will die happy.

9. The City of Ember series--Jeanne DuPrau

I discovered the movie because Saoirse Ronan was in it. I toyed with watching it--frankly, I was intrigued with the story: the world's population living underground for so long, they'd forgotten what life on the surface was like, till one day the resources run out, then a young boy and a young girl must work together to escape the underground and find the surface again. I actually think I did read the book first, though, so that way when I got around to watching the movie, I would actually know what was going on. But there, I ran into the same trouble as with "I Am Number Four"--the bits they kept versus the bits they took out ended up not explaining things very well, and jumping around instead of straight-up telling a story. Also, it was the same problem as "Inkheart"--somewhere along the line, somebody decided that they would just take the first book of the series and make it a standalone so they wouldn't have to do the others, so the ending was changed. Frankly, I thought the movie ending of "City of Ember" to be significantly weaker than the movie ending of "Inkheart." There was still the same lack of closure as if the series might continue--while it was obvious that they wouldn't. So in the end, the movie had no closure. *Note: The series is quite good--if one ignores the third book, "Prophet of Yonwood"; it is the only one that first of all tries "retroactive continuity" (or, going back and trying to fill in "prequel details" in the middle of a series) and it just didn't fit as well; the other three books, City of Ember, People of Sparks, and Diamond of Darkhold are all directly continuous, and they are fascinating!

10. Timeline--Michael Crichton
I have been a huge Michael Crichton fan ever since I read Jurassic Park--without having seen the movie. Since then, there are only a few Crichton novels I haven't read that I probably won't read. (My favorites are "Andromeda Strain" and "The Great Train Robbery") But anyway, I had known there was this quirky, campy movie called "Timeline" starring Paul Walker and Gerard Butler--so I read the book, because MICHAEL CRICHTON. It was brilliant; he never fails to fascinate me with his obsession over creating a huge catastrophe that hinged upon this infinitesimal object and some chance accident that happens to set the chain of events in motion. His characters were engaging--I was only too happy to watch the movie.
Big disappointment; the scripting was far more campy than the book would have let on. Nobody took themselves or their circumstances very seriously--and I'm pretty sure Butler's character was actually supposed to be Norwegian (or at least Swedish... or something...) The movie came across with none of the intensity of the peril in the book. Rather blah.

How about you? What movies have you seen, that were so interesting/disappointing, it motivated you to read the book to see what the "real" story was? 
Is there a movie you've seen based on a book you've read that you can point to and say, "The book was so much better!" 
Share in the comments!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reader's Review: "Merchant of Alyss" by Thomas Locke

Synopsis from Amazon:
Life for Hyam is bittersweet. Admired by the citizens of Falmouth for his heroic rescue mission, he cherishes these peaceful days with Joelle by his side. Yet grief over the loss of his magical skills during the great Battle of Emporis threatens to engulf him. Sometimes he even wishes he had never known magic at all.

When Hyam comes into possession of an ancient Milantian scroll, he is thrilled to feel the surge of power that courses through him whenever he touches it. But what he discerns in the text could mean war. He embarks upon another journey to determine its true meaning and forestall any attack. But as Hyam is seeking answers, he is unaware that the merchant of Alyss is seeking him . . .


A Bit of Preamble:
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review.

Since I started reviewing books on my blog, I have generally reserved the featured reviews for indie reads, saving the "professional", mainstream-published books for the periodic Reading Lists, in general...

Then again, I haven't really received review copies of mainstream-published books to review before now.
So here is the trend-breaker, a book by a prolific and well-recognized author, Thomas Locke (aka Davis Bunn, for those who might be more familiar with that name). As it states above, I was part of the group lucky enough to receive the book in advance of the release, to read and review. Thus, without further ado, what follows is my review.

My Review:

Fantasy is without a doubt far and away my favorite genre for both reading and writing, and the prevailing reason is this: anything goes, so there is ample room for all kinds of creativity. Ergo, whenever I see a new kind of fantasy book in a new fantasy realm, I will, at the very least, take it off the shelf and explore the blurb.
Now, I am also a stickler for keeping things in chronological order, so the fact that this is a sequel to a book I have never read made it sort of difficult--but I believe that a good fantasy author will allow for just such a situation, and be able to effectively allude to the important bits established in the first book, to build upon them in the sequel and keep things moving forward. Aside from chronology, the other struggle is that I came to this book without having been immersed in the characters at all, and so I am meeting them after some cataclysmic event I am unaware of, and I don't have any context for names and relationships between them--yet again, a good fantasy author will also allow for this, and give readers a chance in the second book to fall in love with the characters, "all over again" for those who read the first book, and for the first time if (like me) one has not.
Unfortunately, this is where the story essentially "left me behind" from the very start. It began by setting up events for this book (somewhat) and progressed with only small allusions to the events of the previous book--but character connections were scarce and descriptions scarcer still, so that there were a couple characters with unfamiliar names that it took me a while to realize which gender they were intended to be! I felt like I should have been familiar with the characters first, because the events of this second book would have built upon that--they certainly didn't quite present a very strong first impression, anyway!
As far as the plot of the book, I felt like things really repeated in a cycle of wandering and talking and misunderstanding and reading scrolls for about twenty chapters before anything of true import actually began to happen. Fortunately, it took me to that point to get well enough acquainted with these new characters, so I guess if they had been cast into peril any earlier, it would have totally thrown me off--or it might have drawn me in that much faster. Nothing like a solid crisis to really get to know a character!

I was definitely fascinated by the unique aspects of the world. Generic high fantasy tropes abounded for sure--but one does not mind the tropes of one's favorite genre! The concepts of magic, the debated existence of dragons (yes! I love it when there are dragons in a story!), the way it is wielded through glass globes, and most of all the varying locations featured in the novel--these were all things I absolutely loved, things that definitely tilted my inclination in favor of this book. I loved the concept of Olom and the golems, of the way the author describes a dragon speaking--strokes of fantasy brilliance, however brief that candle may have been. I also really enjoyed the way the story tied into the title--the character of the Merchant of Alyss was I think one of the best characters in the book.

However, the writing style failed to "grab" me. The author's penchant for emphasizing clauses and phrases with periods felt too much like reading one of my own rambling blog posts--it nearly detracted from the fantasy "mood" at times. The language could have been strong, forceful, as flowing as the magic it tried to describe--and yet it was simplified, cliched. The inclusion of the "Valiant-Yet-Futile Attempted Romantic Triangle" trope was both poorly timed and wholly unnecessary, while multiple opportunities to shore up the sprawling plot, to populate the world just as thoroughly as the descriptions might suggest, to create the inexorable pull on the imagination, and to set the baited hook squarely in the reader so that they cannot possibly rest until they find out what will happen to these figments they have come to recognize as friends--

All this was lost, left unexplored in favor of the developing story I may have just interrupted.

On the whole it was fairly decent--if only this had been a debut instead of the "latest new thing." That's probably what irked me most, is that this man has indeed been writing for years, and yet the style of this story and treatment of the genre didn't quite reflect that. I would give "Merchant of Alyss" a ****FOUR STAR**** rating: the dialogue, the concept, the conflict/resolution were all very good, and plus one star because I realize I haven't read the first novel, Emissary. (I've linked it here, in case anybody is intrigued and wants to check it out!) Also, because it is clean and wholesome fiction, I will add an Upstream Writer Certified Recommended rating as well. For high-fantasy lovers who wish that more inventive books like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia existed--wish granted! The "Tales of the Realm" series certainly promises to answer an avid reader's hankering for all things magical and adventurous!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #26

Suggested by: Rachel Lindeken

The List: 
-Eunice Korngold
-the land of fairies and unicorns
-the fourth year of the war against the dwarves and the werewolves
-an enchanted mirror (enchanted by the fairies) that changes any unicorns that look into it into humans and then back again...

The Result:
"The Tides of Battle"

There wasn't much time. I could tell by the way my guide both slowed down and sped up; he slowed because he kept looking over his shoulder, expecting the enemy to spring within sight of us at any moment; he sped faster, with the hope that he could prevent such a thing from happening.
Finally, we came to a thicket large enough to conceal us both, and we paused for breath. I could feel my lungs heaving against my sides as we both panted.
"Well, Wandryn," he chuckled, speaking in tones too low for anyone but me to hear, "after four years, it was bound to happen. You don't think She'd just hand you over to Him? No," he shook his head and stroked my neck. "She has always looked out for you."
"She" was Queen Eunice, ruler of the Fae. "He" was Korngold, the repugnant dwarf chieftain who had declared a war of conquest over Phantasia four years ago, and we had been hard pressed to repel him ever since. Fairies and unicorns had always lived at peace, and now fought as allies to defend the realm, but Korngold had somehow secured the cooperation of werewolves, the shape-shifting creatures who could masquerade as innocent Fae till they were deeply entrenched, and then their forms would change and they would wreak havoc in our midst till someone managed to finally take the beast down.
I tossed my head to get the long, stringy locks of hair out of my eyes.  My guardian patted me on the shoulder. "Don't you worry, my lady; as long as I live to defend you, they'll never get That." He pointed to it.
"That" was a magnificent gem called a "gyth", a large gem with powerful magical properties only accessible by the Fae, set in gold and suspended from an intricate chain hanging around my neck. It was the single most powerful object in Phantasia, and it had been the duty of all my ancestors to carry it, before that duty fell to me, just barely before the start of the war. It's significance added the weight of the entire country to the chain around my neck. I didn't want to carry it anymore, I never wanted it in the first place—but no one else could assume such an important destiny. I twisted my head to look at it. Of course I couldn't make it out very well, what with the chain being so short it rested right up against my throat, but my companion understood. He placed gentle fingers under my chin to tilt my face toward him.
"Listen to me, Wandryn—you will succeed, and you will survive. You aren't the most important being in Phantasia by sheer luck or some unfortunate accident. Queen Eunice looked over all her subjects and chose you." He chuckled as I nudged him not too gently to let him know what I thought of his high-and-lofty hogwash. I let my head sag so that he could reach the spot at the base of my horn, and he rubbed it just the way I liked it.
"Who knows? It could have been a Fae, like me," he sighed, and his lips twisted into a little kind of smirk. "Instead of a unicorn."
I knew he meant well by it, but it still stung a little. I shied away from his rubbing and tapped the ground with my hoof.
"Not that there is anything wrong with that!" He assured me. I heard him take in a breath to say more, but just then, I caught the sounds of our pursuers approaching the thicket. Instinctively, I drew back and tried to make my body as small as possible.
"Hoi, you lot!" The raspy voice of the dwarf rang out over the snarls of the werewolves. "Sniff 'em out! You have the unicorn's scent, so it should be easy to find! Korngold wants the Heart! We get it away from the unicorn, and not even the long-lost Princess can stop us!"

There wasn't much time; there wasn't any time at all. We would be found for sure.
My guide crouched over his pack and pulled something out of it. It glinted slightly, and reflected the branches around us.
I leaned closer over his shoulder. A mirror? What good would that do?
He looked up at me with a serious face.
"Wandryn, there is something I need to tell you," he murmured softly. "You have not always been a unicorn. Your true form is here," he pointed to the mirror.
I shook my head, threatening to give us away; now he tells me? As far as I knew, I had lived my whole life as a unicorn; how in the world did he expect me to believe I had somehow been enchanted into it? What else could I be if not a unicorn?
He stood in front of me now, holding the mirror before me. I saw my face.
"You are Fae; more than that, you are the Queen's own sister, Darnwyn—you are the princess who can change the tide of battle."
These things he said, they were impossible! I wanted to back away—no, I wanted to run, but to do so would expose me to vicious werewolves.
He stood firm. "This mirror was enchanted to keep your true form and give you that of a unicorn. The spell is one that any unicorn could use to become human, storing the traded form for a time, and changing back again; but only you can actually regain your Fae form, and only from this one mirror. All you need to do is look into it, and see yourself as your truly are!"
A howl broke the quiet around us.
He thrust the mirror toward me. "Look into the mirror!"

I forced myself to focus on the bright surface. Staring into the eyes of my reflection, I felt a strange pulling sensation. When it stopped, I gasped. There really was a Fae in there! I stared at the pale skin and the thick, golden hair. Rosy lips, a small, round nose, and blue eyes stared back at me. There were even two pale hands holding the mirror.
My guardian drew back, dropping his hands by his side. The rosy lips parted, and I heard a gasp as I realized that the hands on the mirror were my own. I looked up at him as the hands released the mirror. The gyth—the Heart of Phantasia—had vanished from around the pale neck, replaced by a simple violet-colored posy adorning my dress.
He clapped his hand over my face as I opened my mouth to scream. I was small enough that he could wrap us both in his mottled cloak.
A twig snapped just outside the thicket.

"What is it?" The dwarf asked.
A werewolf sniffed again. "The unicorn," it grunted. "I lost the scent."
"Impossible!" the leader roared. "They can't have left the forest. Keep searching! A creature as large as a unicorn cannot be so easy to hide!"
We huddled in the bushes, my guardian and I, as the monsters circled around us. 
"Darnwyn." I felt him tense against me, and we locked eyes. He spoke one word.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hit List: Top 10 Film Adaptations That Were Better Than The Books They Came From

A good while ago, movies were original things, and you'd only see occasional adaptations of literary classics nobody read much anymore, most often done by the BBC. Nowadays, it seems like all the popular young adult novels are getting adapted... And sometimes, whether by fault of the director, or the lucky happenstance of great casting, the movie ends up actually telling a better story than the book did. 
So here are ten film adaptations I have seen, which I think ended up better than the books that inspired them.

1. Stardust
This movie is a prime example of how the limits of film as well as fortunate choices in casting will do wonders for an adaptation. Stardust has long been among my top favorite fantasy films, and with Neil Gaiman long heralded as foremost in fantasy literature, I eagerly turned to the book, expecting at least similar enjoyment.

How did it compare? Not even close. My favorite character in the movie was one by the name of Captain Shakespeare, portrayed with much heart and vigor by Robert DeNiro. In the book, Captain Shakespeare is little more than a set piece, a side character with few lines and even less character development. Then there was also the graphic nudity—nearly none in the film, so I wasn't expecting it, and got quite a shock when I started reading! Would definitely recommend the film, but I cannot say as much for the book.

2. The Spiderwick Chronicles

I discovered this movie because Freddie Highmore is in it, and he is one of my favorite young actors. He is really brilliant in this film, not just for his impeccable American accent—but he also managed to pull off the best dual role I have ever seen. I enjoyed the inventiveness of the plot, so again, I approached the books looking for a similar experience.

How did it compare? Once again, the books did not quite match my expectations after seeing the movie. It's one of those works that is a series of small, narrow "quartos", which the adaptation had combined into one, so I found it annoying to be essentially "switching books" after only thirty minutes of reading... Which amounts to about fifteen minutes' worth of screen time. The movie told a more cohesive story, with less "diddling about," and it was a lot more entertaining to hear the lines spoken by Martin Short, Nick Nolte, and Seth Rogen—so, movie wins! (Conversely, if you actually enjoyed the books, you might be very satisfied with the movie, if you haven't seen it yet!)

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy

I discovered The Hunger Games because my sister had checked it out from the library. I read the first book in one sitting... And ended up reading Mockingjay before Catching Fire. Oops. I was totally thrilled that they were adapting it for film, though I had to roll my eyes when they managed to stretch Mockingjay into 2 films... The nature of the plot intrigued me. How were they going to pull off all the mind-trips and the fanciful contraptions? What scenes would they keep or leave? Sometimes, when reading the book I would be so lost, so I kind of looked forward to the movies as a more linear way of figuring out just what was going on.

How did it compare? The adaptations just got better and better as the series went on, in my opinion—whereas the books just got darker and more "trippy." The casting was absolutely spot on, and the portrayals did more to build the characters sometimes, than the descriptions of the book. Both were good, but I definitely enjoyed the movies better.

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy

And here we have Garth Jennings to thank for this. Here is another movie that I watched because I was familiar with most of the cast (yes, that is Martin Freeman in the poster), and it made me curious so I got the book. Doug Adams is for sci-fi what Neil Gaiman is for fantasy, so I got the book, wondering if it was going to be perhaps more like Princess Bride book-versus-movie...

 How did it compare? I will say this, Jennings apparently did an excellent job of picking out the actual core of the plot amid all the bizarre references and side trails Adams threw in! The trailers might not tell you much, but the movie was very well done and the winks and nods to its sources (such as the "original" TV adaptation, as well as the book) were well-played, the effects were great—the movie is a wild romp of great and random fun!


5. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

I grew up reading the books. We had the BBC miniseries taped off the television, but after time and again of rewinding and watching them, the quality was less-than-stellar and the acting even worse. I was always really disappointed by this. The radio adaptations were really fun, I just really wished I could see it brought to life in a decent manner. It just seemed like they tried their best to find actors that just barely fit Lewis' descriptions... regardless of whether or not they could do anything beyond quoting the book verbatim. But it was all we had... Till 2005.

How did it compare? Well, the acting was more convincing, for one thing! The casting couldn't have been better. Yes, the movie deviated, but in this particular film the aberrations were subtle. I could live with that. I felt like the movie more than did the book justice, and I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching the story so fantastically portrayed in all the subtle moments, more so than reading the book for the umpteenth time.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany's

This was another adaptation situation where I watched the movie completely unaware of the book, ergo I eventually decided to read the book because the movie was so enjoyable. I mean, how could you go wrong with Audrey Hepburn being her normal, classy, whimsical self? After all, she seemed nothing more than just a girl with an absurd number of boyfriends and an "in" with a mobster--but I always thought that might be because Holly Golightly was just so beautiful and she had absolutely nothing else to do...

How did it compare? Well... I quickly realized that maybe I was a little too naive to have missed so completely the true nature of the story! Of course, the book contained greater detail, so there was no missing the actual "truth" of the fact that in essence it is the story of how two prostitutes find out that they truly love each other... The book ended very differently, and I think I will just continue to enjoy the innocence afforded by the skillful filming, thank you.

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This one was fascinating to discover. I am pretty sure I read the book because I was curious about the movie. This meant I read without any preconceived notions, and when I actually watched the film, I could do so with understanding. This is one of those "unorthodox style" books that employs "text visuals" (pages with all the words run together, or only one word on a page, or a page printed over so many times it is a scribbled mess) to communicate the emotions of the narrator. The book gave me a lot of feels, but there were also some graphic sections and some parts that confused me. I watched the movie soon after.

How did it compare? I cried, plain and simple. The casting was practically perfect. A film done in third-person when the book is written in first person generally means that the character in the role of the narrator gets the most screen time—and that young boy did a phenomenal job. He really held his own; a fantastic film!

8. Peter Pan

This was and is one of my favorite fairy stories. I read it repeatedly all growing up, and I would look at picture books, watch plays... Unfortunately, for the longest time, the only versions of Peter Pan in existence were of the titular role played by a woman, or the movie "Hook" starring Robin Williams as Peter... But that didn't exactly count. I wanted to "see" him fly. I wanted it to be an actual boy... I wanted a legit fairy, not just somebody shining a flashlight against the backdrop or inside a prop. So in 2003, Columbia Pictures released a version starring a boy as Peter Pan—one of only a handful in existence.

How did it compare? Vastly better! The story itself is imaginative, if the language of the novel was a bit... antiquated? So it was lovely to see a good, solid performance from a bunch of child actors, I love this movie and it came off as better than the book, for sure!

9. The Count of Monte Cristo
Okay, I'm cheating a little on this one. I didn't actually read the book; parts of it, but not the whole thing. But honestly, everyone who's read it talks endlessly about how arduous it is, how painstaking the detail, how protracted is each and every scene—so it's almost like I know enough to compare the two.

How does it compare? Movie wins. Opting for more of a straightforward storytelling, than a laundry-list of meticulous superfluity, the movie gets at the relationship between the two men, the transformation of the Count and the way it affects that relationship. Certainly I now know the tale well enough that I don't feel the need to actually read the whole book... (unless my geek-nostalgia gets the better of me...) The acting is stellar--Hello, Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce!--and it worked really well. An adaptation that kept all the "good bits" in and told an excellent story.

10. Divergent

I read the book after Hunger Games, because I was informed that they were similar. Not completely, as I rather liked Tris more than Katniss, and I felt like the tone of it all was very different, Divergent being much lighter and more hopeful than the heavily-oppressed tone of Hunger Games. Of course, the film adaptations came out relatively close to one another, so I was most curious to see how it would turn out.

How did it compare? The movie did a great job at communicating the story, and the casting was well-chosen. (I still cannot stand the actor that played one particularly annoying character... Guess that means he did a good job!) The thing I appreciated about the adaptation for Divergent is it really gave life to even the background characters—I really got the sense that even the extras were chosen carefully. I felt like the adaptation really came off well, and did ample justice to the movie, and yes, in some ways, it was better, more succinct in its presentation.

How about you? What are some adaptations you've seen where the movie came off better and more enjoyable than the original book?