April 30th, 2006

earthsea

April Books 13) The Moon Pool

13) The Moon Pool, by A. Merritt

Have been reading this adventure story, first published in 1919, on my Palm T|X over the last few weeks, really reminded of it by Charlie Stross' use of the phrase "moon pool" in The Jennifer Morgue. The plot is classic enough: on an isolated tropical island, the Moon Pool is in fact the gateway to an underground world where the struggle between the forces of good and evil (each led by a beautiful priestess) is resolved by the agency of our narrator and his chums.

The characters are utter clichés. The Scandinavian sea-captain is, in fact, a Viking; the Russian is villainous (apparently a German during first magazine publication); the priestesses are both beautiful and nearly nude at all times. Most striking of all is the central character, Larry O'Keefe, with whom both priestesses (and, pretty clearly, also the male narrator) fall deeply in love. He is supposedly an Irishman with strong American connections, but I bristled rather at the cod-Oirishness of his dialogue. The son of The O'Keefe of Coleraine (that well known haunt of the old Gaelic aristocracy), he reminisces at one point:
An’ once I saw an Annir Choille, a girl of the green people, flit like a shade of green fire through Carntogher woods, an’ once at Dunchraig I slept where the ashes of the Dun of Cormac MacConcobar are mixed with those of Cormac an’ Eilidh the Fair, all burned in the nine flames that sprang from the harping of Cravetheen, an’ I heard the echo of his dead harpings—
Carntogher is real enough, and credibly reachable from Coleraine, but the Annir Choille, Dunchraig and Cravetheen are all taken from the works of Fiona MacLeod (real name William Sharp), at least in the first instance.

For all that, Merrit's descriptive prose has power, coherence, and energy, and you can see his influence on Lovecraft; the first few scenes after passing through the Moon Pool in particular are very reminiscent of Lovecraft's Land of Dream. There is still something a bit more visceral and twisted in Lovecraft's writing that I think makes him the superior craftsman, even though his prose is sometimes just a bit more over the top than Merritt's.
doctor who

Books, and An Unearthly Child

My birthday haul was (mostly) waiting for me when I got back from Sweden, and was much appreciated:
  • The Medieval Cookbook, by Maggie Black;
  • Old Man's War, by John Scalzi and Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (actually not explicitly a birthday present, but happened to arrive at the right moment)
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The DVD set of Doctror Who: The Beginning
I am going to watch last night's episode again later on, but Anne and I watched the very first ever episode of Doctor Who from November 1963 more or less as soon as I could got the wrapping off. It is rather surprisingly good.

Did the theme music continue playing over the opening scenes with the policeman, after the title sequence had finished, when it was first shown? An awfully good touch.

Susan's line about decimalisation must have sounded a bit irrelevant in 1963. In 2006 it is a really palpable hit.

The title character does not even appear until over halfway through the 25 minutes, and unless I missed it, he is never once addressed as "Doctor". The answer to the question "Doctor Who?" is really given only in the closing credits, when you have to work out that he was the character played by William Hartnell.

Once he is there, though, he totally owns the show. The lines themselves could have done with a little fine-tuning, but are delivered with great conviction:
You have heard the truth. We are not of this race. We are not of this Earth. We are wanderers in the fourth dimension of Space and Time. Cut off from our own planet and our own people by aeons and universes far beyond the reaches of... err, your most advanced sciences.
The "aeons and universes" are at the centre of a dubiously mixed metaphor, in that they are both a mechanism for cutting off the Doctor and Susan from their home, and also potentially within the reach of sufficiently advanced science. But if I hadn't had the subtitles on, I would not have picked up on this point.

I was actually expecting also the lines, "Have you ever wondered what it's like to be travellers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles?" - and am now wondering if I accidentally watched the pilot episode by mistake. No doubt someone knowledgable on my friends list will put me right.

When I first saw this in 1981, the repetition of the title sequence over the Tardis dematerialising seemed to be tedious and long, but trying to imagine how it would have seemed to a new viewer in 1963 I felt it was pretty memorable and effective.

Some day I'll read through all this commentary. But in summary, I thought it was pretty good.