The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"If the landowner finds that one of the twain (and God knows whether he beat one or both, but this man is certainly beaten) be in the city, there will be a murder done, and then will come the Police, making inquisition into each man's house and eating the sweet-seller's stuff all day long."
From 'Gemini' by Rudyard Kipling, in The Man Who Would Be King and other stories. Date of first publication: 1888. Some things never change.


In Louis Cornell's notes to 'The Strange Ride of Morrowby Jukes' he writes that it "reflects the dominant influence of Poe's tales of the fantastic." In the introduction to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, John Seelye writes, "Setting out with Huck in search of buried treasure, Tom clearly operates under the influence of such fictions as Poe's 'The Gold Bug'." In the essay 'My First Book' RLS writes, "No doubt the skeleton is conveyed from Poe"; in his introduction to Treasure Island Seelye writes, "As for Stevenson's other, acknowledged borrowings, such as the parrot from Robinson Crusoe, the stockade from Marryat, and the pointing skeleton from Poe's 'The Gold Bug,' these are perhaps best regarded as tributes to authors Stevenson admired."

All of which makes me wonder if it isn't high time that I read some stories by Edgar Allen Poe. I've read about him, in Brian Aldiss's excellent Trillion Year Spree fourteen years ago, and I know that he's widely credited with having invented both the detective story and the science fiction story, but that's it.


Seelye goes on to write, "And so it goes, that joint interweaving between texts that is not only essential to the notion of genre but suggests the larger kinship, the DNA as it were, that joins the various members of the great family of adventure fiction in one common blood-bond."

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Not Andrew Motion, but William Wordsworth:
If the labours of men of Science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of Science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the Science itself.
A quote I'd never come across before, in Andrew Rutherford's preface to the Oxford World's Classics edition of Kim. The context is praise of Kipling as a "bard of engineering and technology". Not how we usually think of him, but Rutherford cites the poem 'McAndrew's Hymn' and the stories 'The Ship that Found Herself' and 'Bread upon the Waters' "in which he shows imaginative sympathy with the machines themselves as well as sympathy with the men who serve them".


A & C Black have recently published 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels in their Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide series. I took time to have an extended flick through, and noticed that much of the SF Masterworks list is duplicated therein, but the summaries are considered and well-written, as is the potted history at the beginning, and the 'Reading On' suggestions are excellent. Also, Yvonne is thanked and acknowledged for an unspecified contribution.


Found out today that Spider Kiss, Harlan Ellison's 1961 rock 'n' roll novel, will be republished next month by Dark Horse Comics. When Ellison's good he's the best, and when he's not I admit he can be pretty dire, and I understand why some people can't stand him. Nevertheless, I remain a fan. I've read reviews, criticism, essays, reportage, stories and screenplays by him, but never a novel (there aren't many, and all of them early) so I'll be interested to see what it's like. Apparently Greil Marcus called it "the finest novel about the world of rock in the past quarter-century". As an aside, Kipling is also generally held to have been at his best in the short format, only producing one novel which was wholly successful - Kim.


While looking for a reference to Spider Kiss on the Dark Horse site, I came across this. Excellent news that the Chaykin/Mignola adaptations will be republished. I have the original set, discovered quite by accident (I'm not a big comics fan) when they were first published around 1991, and they are first-rate.

As regards "developing the property as a major motion picture"... un-huh. We'll see.


Finished Kim. Brilliant writing, strange novel. Clearly a great book, but not quite sure what to make of it, probably because it doesn't fit neatly into any category, and doesn't appear to make use of any boilerplate in the writing or structure at all. Going to read it again, definitely. Begun The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as a prelude to tackling Huck Finn. And at the end of Chapter 8 what do we find but Tom and Joe Harper, kitted out with makeshift swords, bows and hunting horns:
"Hold, my merry men! Keep hid till I blow."
Now appeared Joe Harper, as airily clad and elaborately armed as Tom.
Tom called:
"Hold! Who comes here into Sherwood Forest without my pass?"
"Guy of Guisborne wants no man's pass. Who art thou that--that--"
"Dares to hold such language," said Tom, prompting--for they talked "by the book," from memory.
"Who art thou that dares to hold such language?"
"I, indeed! I am Robin Hood, as thy caitiff carcase soon shall know."
"Then art thou indeed that famous outlaw? Right gladly will I dispute with thee the passes of the merry wood. Have at thee!"
They took their lath swords, dumped their other traps on the ground, struck a fencing attitude, foot to foot, and began a grave, careful combat, "two up and two down." Presently Tom said:
"Now, if you've got the hang, go it lively!"
So they "went it lively," panting and perspiring with the work. By and by Tom shouted:
"Fall! fall! Why don't you fall?"
"I sha'n't! Why don't you fall yourself? You're getting the worst of it."
"Why, that ain't anything. I can't fall; that ain't the way it is in the book. The book says, 'Then with one back-handed stroke he slew poor Guy of Guisborne.' You're to turn around and let me hit you in the back."
There was no getting around the authorities, so Joe turned, received the whack and fell.
"Now," said Joe, getting up, "you got to let me kill YOU. That's fair."
"Why, I can't do that, it ain't in the book."
"Well, it's blamed mean--that's all."
"Well, say, Joe, you can be Friar Tuck or Much the miller's son, and lam me with a quarter-staff; or I'll be the Sheriff of Nottingham and you be Robin Hood a little while and kill me."
This was satisfactory, and so these adventures were carried out. Then Tom became Robin Hood again, and was allowed by the treacherous nun to bleed his strength away through his neglected wound. And at last Joe, representing a whole tribe of weeping outlaws, dragged him sadly forth, gave his bow into his feeble hands, and Tom said, "Where this arrow falls, there bury poor Robin Hood under the greenwood tree." Then he shot the arrow and fell back and would have died, but he lit on a nettle and sprang up too gaily for a corpse.
The boys dressed themselves, hid their accoutrements, and went off grieving that there were no outlaws any more, and wondering what modern civilization could claim to have done to compensate for their loss. They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.
Date of publication: 1876, and Twain says in his introduction that everything in the book, however tweaked, was common in boys' lives 40 years before. Similar games were being played in Scotland in 1980.

Idiots. Glad to see Joe having a go at them, too.

NB caitiff

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Following North Korea's nuclear test, we hear from the BBC tonight:

'Threat to peace'

President Bush told reporters that Washington remained committed to diplomacy, and had no intention of attacking.

Well, not now, anyway.



Re: Robin Hood

I saw nothing I hadn't seen 20 years earlier in Robin of Sherwood (though I was pretty glad not to see Ray Winstone's barnet); I heard some pretty dodgy accents (though none worse than Ray Winstone's east-endish); I saw no acting that would come within a spit of Ray Winstone's dust (though, to be fair, no-one on Robin of Sherwood came close to him, either).

I hated it, and I didn't want to, really I didn't. I wanted to be surprised, bowled over, whirled away, enchanted, ambushed, and instead I watched this - production, this piece of product - fall into every pitfall I'd feared it would. Style over substance - worse, style over story; characters not people; scenes dropped in like stray turds because they allowed those characters to display their characteristics; the same pop-video flashy direction that distracts more than it engages that you see in every goddamn TV programme these days (and it can be used well - Doctor Who being an example); infodumps and sore-thumb attempts to educate sticking out of a bland, featureless script; thrill-free "action"; worst of all, no consistency of tone. No-one uses contractions - which is the first, most obvious, most fundamental error that writers across all media should sidestep when they try to write something vaguely historical - and yet we have the Sheriff saying "Yippee" in a clearly modern, deliberately self-conscious manner. Robin is the Earl of Huntingdon, yet speaks with a northern accent; his manservant, recently freed, speaks RP, and there is no sense, none, of the social gulf which would have existed between them, let alone between Robin and his villeins.

OK, it looked good, mostly, but why did it have to have that ubiquitous grey, grainy look which seems to have been exported from NYPD Blue? Correction - it looked stylish. It looked like - like a Hungarian forest in style. I'm not asking for Technicolor, but where was the brio, the dash? Did that look like a Merrie English forest to you?

I am genuinely pissed off about this, not just missed, but fouled opportunity, because I fear that kids will look at this whale-drek and mistake it for action, adventure, excitement, things it seems to have heard about third-hand but is incapable of providing. I suspect, I hope, the kids will not fall for it, but it offends me that anyone should offer it to them under those auspices. How do you make Robin Hood dull? Robin Hood managed it.

Does it matter? Yes. Adventure, best coupled with charm, intelligence, wit and style, is a birthright of children. They should not be cheated so.


Funnily, Polanski's Oliver Twist has similar problems. The backdrop is three-dimensional while the foreground is two-dimensional. It's now a cliche to say "X's performance was terrific and clearly in search of a decent film to appear in", but I've never seen a better case of it than Ben Kingsley's (Keith Allen does not qualify). Avoid. Better, watch the Lean version again.

I do recommend a couple of what I call solid three-star movies: The World's Fastest Indian, which I admit is entirely predictable and a little slow in parts, but is honest work done well, with an excellent performance by Hopkins; and Around the Bend, which is similarly simple and straightforward, but affecting, a little quirky, with excellent performances by Caine, Walken and Lucas. And, incredibly, only an hour and twenty minutes long.


I am reading Kim for the first time. Riches! Wot riches, Pip!