Sunday, November 20, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats


There are books that should be read in pairs, and Neil Gaiman's The View from the Cheap Seats and Terry Pratchett's A Slip of the Keyboard are two that belong together. In fact, the introduction to Pratchett's collected nonfiction is the final essay in Gaiman's collection. If you need a third book (because trilogies are in these days), I would say add Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great.

All three collections are from fantasy/science fiction writers who are the best in the game. You will come away with lists and lists of "new" classic authors to check out. (Here's my compilation of Jo Walton's suggestions.)

Here's a short list of the titles and authors I gleaned from The View from the Cheap Seats: Shatterday by Harlan Ellison; The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker; Billion Year Spree by Brian W. Aldiss; Ghastly Beyond Belief: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of Quotations by Neil Gaiman; Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees; Cerebus by Dave Sim; The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton; The 13 Clocks by James Thurber; Votan and Other Novels by John James; Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise by Lucy Clifford; and The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany.

That doesn't include the authors who are already my favorites: Susanna Clarke, Diana Wynne Jones, C.S. Lewis, Douglas Adams, and so on. In fact, after years of reading fantasy and science fiction, lists like Gaiman's and Walton's make me feel hopelessly uninformed. And it seems Gaiman knows everyone. The literary world must be small!

I'm not going to go into detail about each essay, but there is one that goes with this picture that makes it just priceless.

Neil Gaiman with Rachel McAdams at the Oscars

So Quotable:

"Sometimes fiction is a way of coping with the poison of the world in a way that lets us survive it." - 22

"But then, I don't get only supporting the freedom of the kind of speech you like. If speech needs defending, it's probably because it's upsetting someone." - 74

"Kids censor their own reading, and dullness is the ultimate deterrent." - 85

"What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future, but the present." - 178

" would be a poor sort of world if one were only able to read authors who expressed points of view that one agreed with entirely. It would be a bland sort of world if we could not spend time with people who thought differently, and who saw the world from a different place." - 326

"And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art." - 459

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Secret World of Arrietty

Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese filmmaker with a genius for interpreting the magic of English children’s literature. As with Howl’s Moving Castle, The Secret World of Arrietty is an adaptation of a book that I adore.

When I say I adore Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series, I mean I was obsessed with it, even more so than with books like The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks. (This obsession struck me right after my horse phase, and seems as essential a part of my girlhood as anything.)  Riding in the car, I would look out for exposed tree roots and hiding places that would make good Borrower nests. In my bedroom closet, I used pins and string to make it easier for the Borrowers to climb to the top of my shelves. In the backyard, I used leaves and stones to furnish a tiny 'house', imagining what it would be like to see the world from such a tiny perspective.

A teeny tiny jungle of a room - just as it should be
So when I heard that my favorite filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, was adapting The Borrowers, I was thrilled. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect imagination to transform this book.

There are beats in The Secret World of Arrietty that seem strange to me: Sho casually telling Arrietty that it’s likely her kind is doomed to extinction (I realize that he is facing his own mortality, but it's still a dick move), the housekeeper’s strangely reckless attitude toward the little people she's heard so much about, and the uncertainty of the ending. Will Sho survive? Will the tiny family? The American version tidies these ambiguities up neatly with narration, but the Japanese version does not.

As with the placid lakeside scenes of Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki is interested in making us feel this world and how the characters live inside of it. The sound of a cat walking through grass is crashingly loud. Crows and rats are menacing, and a human boy’s casual attempts to “help” are disastrously disruptive and terrifying to his tiny neighbors.

Through Miyazaki’s storytelling, I understand why Homily loves her safe, comfortable home furnished with scavenged and repurposed items, and why Arrietty is eager to explore the unimaginably vast world outside. Miyazaki’s films succeed in the realm of fantasy because he is always interested in setting, and worldbuilding is crucial in that genre.

As with any Miyazaki movie distributed by Disney, it can be helpful to watch it twice—once in subtitles with the original Japanese voices, and once with the American dubbing. (Or watch the American dubbing with the subtitles turned.) The versions are noticeably different. For example, Homily Clock, Arrietty’s mother, is considerably altered between versions; her fussiness and nervousness are emphasized for comedic effect in the dubbed, but her concerns seem more rational and less self-centered in the Japanese.

A movie cannot fully match my imagination, but The Secret World of Arrietty transformed my memories and enriched them with Miyazaki’s vision. I love this movie, no matter what its miniature flaws may be.

I am thrilled beyond belief to hear that Miyazaki is planning on coming out of his semi-retirement to expand a short film Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar) into a feature-length film. More Miyazaki, please!