May 31st, 2009

sarahjane

K9 and Company

Long, long before Torchwood or the Sarah Jane Adventures, the BBC made a pilot for a possible spinoff series, K9 and Company, which lasted for precisely one 50-minute episode in December 1981. The novelisation, by Terence Dudley who also wrote the script, wasn't published until 1987, as the third the last in another series of spinoffs, Target's Companions of Doctor Who (the two earlier books being Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma and Harry Sullivan's War). I picked it up the other day as a quick leisure read (more my thing than Elizabeth Spencer).

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tolkien

The BBC's Lord of the Rings

Over the last few weeks I've been listening to the BBC's 1981 audio version of The Lord of the Rings, having run out of Who audios to listen to. It is very very good, and I strongly recommend it. Ian Holm as Frodo, Bill Nighy as Sam, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, and John Le Mesurier as Bilbo are excellent in their roles. (Shout out also to Stephen Thorne as Treebeard and Jack May as Théoden.) But the two key performers, in my view, are Robert Stephens as Aragorn and Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum/Sméagol.

I would say the biggest performance gap between the audio and the Peter Jackson movies is that between Stephens and Viggo Mortensen. Stephens' Aragorn is tough, damaged, wise, and (as far as we can tell) not even particularly good-looking. He carries every scene he is in, and invests dignity and authority in every line, be it Tolkien's original words or new material from Bakewell and Sibley. (And unlike the Peter Jackson films, Aragorn's story is left pretty much intact.)

The gap between Peter Woodthorpe and Andy Serkis is smaller but it is still in Woodthorpe's favour. Gollum's internal dialogue (ie his habit of talking to himself) works well for audio, and indeed here we get a number of extra scenes with Gollum's adventures away from the main storyline. In his penultimate scene, told by Frodo that he can never have the Ring back, he complains bitterly that "nassty hobbitses doesn't realise how long 'never' is", a moment where he almost engages our sympathy. His final moments shortly afterwards are gorgeously manic and rightly expanded considerably from the few lines Gollum's demise gets in the original text.

I remember a few years back seeing an archive interview with Tolkien where he stated with an air of elderly innocence that the books were all about Death. I wondered about this at the time, since to an extent I still read the book through my own nine-year-old eyes, and it's not such an obvious concern of the Peter Jackson films. But it's clearly a theme of the audio. Boromir's funeral, to a minor key variation of the theme tune; Denethor's suicide; Frodo and Sam facing up to death in Mordor (rather than bickering); Bilbo gradually slipping into old age; not to mention the various actual battles; these are all real and awful events in the BBC version. And the music is good, too. It is truly gripping. Get it if you can.

(The Jackson movies do score over the BBC in some respects, of course. New Zealand is a major star of the screen version; also the other members of the Fellowship not mentioned above are given more characterisation and a bit more to do. Though that is sometimes at the expense of the integrity of the story.)
earthsea

May Books 32) Elric, by Michael Moorcock

I've read a certain amount of Michael Moorcock, but until now no Elric, so have filled that gap in my knowledge of sff classics. This is the Fantasy Masterworks edition which brings together The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer, which I think are the first two Elric books published though apparently several more were subsequently inserted into the internal continuity.

I found the stories a quick and undemanding read. Elric's tortured relationship with his soul-drinking sword and his own family heritage makes him an unusually complex hero. Moorcock's prose is always engaging and often rises to the entertainingly baroque. His roots in Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft are clear (I think a bit less Tolkien). As I have noted before, immersive fantasies don't always work for me but this was an entertaining enough ride.
body paint

May Books 33) Jewel, by Beverly Jenkins

Browsing through LibraryThing one day, I noted that Beverly Jenkins, of whom I had not heard, was one of the highest rated authors by the owners of her books - not many, but enough to reassure me that this was not astroturfing. Her particular subgenre - African-American historical romance - is not one that I had ever considered sampling, but I thought, what the heck, and BookMooched a couple of her books.

Jewel is actually a rather nice book. I particularly appreciated the historical setting, a Black community in the northern USA (specifically, Cass County, Michigan) in the 1880s. It's not an environment I had ever thought much about, and Jenkins has clearly done her homework: the book is perhaps intended partly as a didactic device to educate readers about that period of Black history, especially the increasingly important role of journalism, and I was happy to be educated.

I'm not a connoisseur of romance novels so feel less qualified to judge the plot. I found the setup a bit implausible (the eponymous heroine, a 24-year-old virgin, agrees to pose as a friend's wife and then finds inevitably that the fiction becomes reality). But the execution was entertaining, with lots of sexy newlywed moments. There were no really nasty characters in the book except for the husband's ex-girlfriend, and she is suitably dealt with. An uplifting and cheering read.