Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Sword Is My Penis

In May, I tackled the classic fantasy series The Dark Is Rising Sequence (full Goodreads reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark Is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree), by Susan Cooper (as read by Alex Jennings), and, hey, it was one of the most frustrating reading experiences of my life!

In Over Sea, Under Stone, Simon, Jane, and Barnabas Drew rent an old house in Trewissick, where they find an old manuscript in the attic. A manuscript that has directions to the Grail or something! Look, it's connected to Arthurian legend somehow! And who should help them on their quest but their Great Uncle Gandalf Dumbledore Merry, who informs them that there are good forces and evil forces after the Grail (he is on the side of good...probably). Well, these scrappy kids do run into the evil forces as they try to crack the code of the manuscript in a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys-style mystery adventure. The kids are likable (especially Barnabas, the Arthurian expert), and the villains are menacing, but the goings-on are surprisingly dull for the most part. Basically, the kids go out and do something, and they come home and talk about it, like, forever. And that cycle just repeats itself over and over. Also, because the clues in the manuscript are largely visual, it was hard for me to really engage with their sense of discovery (I do much better with clever riddles and codes and things). There is some excitement now and then, but the narrative is so simple—there are zero subplots—that, in the end, it doesn't seem like all that much has happened.

But, really, as the series went on, I appreciated that first book more and more. Because The Dark Is Rising introduces us to Will fucking Stanton, who, on his eleventh birthday, discovers that he is an Old One, some sort of immortal magical being embroiled in the age-old battle between the Light and the Dark. His duty now as the Sign-Seeker is to seek the Signs! Signs of POWER! Here, have a rhyming prophecy for good measure.

Basically half the book is exposition, and I know that this book probably inspired a lot of later fantasy, but holy Jesus Christ, the worldbuilding seems so haphazard and vague. Will has poorly defined magical powers and engages in poorly defined time travel and learns about poorly defined Concepts That Only Can Be Spoken of in Capital Letters (even though it was an audiobook, I could hear the capital letters). So here are various reasons I could never get into this book no matter how hard I tried. Will is boring. After the lively and interesting Drew siblings from the last book, Will is just...incredibly dull. He has his moments, but mostly I did not care about him at all. Maybe one of his seven million brothers and sisters would have been a better protagonist. Will just accepts that he has this destiny and then sleepwalks through fulfilling it. He's the Sign-Seeker, but he doesn't actually seek the Signs. He just gets them randomly! They just come to him because they're supposed to! HOW IS THIS NARRATIVELY SATISFYING IN ANY WAY. The entire book is essentially this: the Dark attack Will, Will puts on a feeble attempt to protect himself and then another Old One saves him, maybe some Sign falls into his lap, lather, rinse, repeat. The Dark just keep attacking over and over. It's like, oh, has it been two minutes? Time for the Dark to attack again. Boy, this book is full of surprises. And, of course, who or what the Light and the Dark are never clearly explained. It's just a generic fight between good and evil.

My favorite book in the series was Greenwitch, which is a story about the Drew kids investigating a mysterious painter of the Dark and trying to recover the stolen Grail, all while getting mixed up with the titular Greenwitch. The storytelling is more focused than in the first two books, the pacing is better, Will is less annoying, the Light doesn't just keep saving the kids all the damn time, and shit gets real. The battle between the Light and the Dark is still incredibly vague, but because the focus is more on the task at hand and the Greenwitch, the vagueness doesn't detract from this story.

But then came The Grey King, another book featuring Will fucking Stanton sleepwalking through his destiny in Wales, magically fulfilling the prophecy by waking the Sleepers by playing the Golden Harp, which is a Thing of Power. Also, he must defeat the Grey King or whatever. Thankfully, there's a new character, an albino boy named Bran, with an interesting backstory. But I struggled to pay attention to the actual story, which seemed to focus way too much on sheep and dogs and less on, you know, the Grey King and magic and stuff. Cooper's pacing and narrative structure are just not my thing; characters seem to do nothing for pages and pages and then magically end up somewhere important, do something significant, and then be boring for pages and pages. There rarely seems to be any real conflict or active struggle. There was a nice "Oh, fuck!" reveal at the end, but that was the most exciting part of the book.

And then goddamn Silver on the Tree, which I felt bad for disliking because I realized silveronthetree was clearly a fan. But I just plain gave up trying to pay attention about halfway through the book. This series is not about characters doing anything. This series is about little props fulfilling a rhyming prophecy by doing what they're supposed to do without any sense of conflict or real danger. Rarely is any actual insight required; instead they just know what they're supposed to know because they're supposed to know it. And when the final battle between the Light and Dark occurs, it's...basically a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and magic bullshit.

I tried so hard, you guys! I wanted to like these books! BUT THEY ARE NOT GOOD. WHY DOES EVERYONE LOVE THEM.

I needed—needed—to really enjoy my next audiobook, so I went with Fool, by Christopher Moore, as read by Euan Morton. Moore takes my favorite Shakespeare play, King Lear, and tells it from the perspective of the Fool, here named Pocket. It's a premise with a lot of promise, but, sadly, Moore seems more interested in telling as bawdy a tale as possible. The narration and dialogue are rife with ribald references, and Pocket basically shags everyone. It's a one-joke conceit that wears thin quickly.

I did like how Moore pulled in elements from other plays (the ghost from Hamlet, the witches from Macbeth, various lines), and, despite the rampant shagging, it was interesting to watch the events of the play through Pocket's eyes and discover how the Fool could have had a role (his relationship with Cordelia is particularly inspired, especially given that the roles are often double-cast). And because the play isn't actually about the Fool, Pocket is given a mysterious backstory (that was a bit confusing to follow because I kept missing the transition to flashback). And because the Fool famously disappears from the play in Act III, the story has to diverge a bit in order to keep him in the action, and things get a bit weird. Oh, did I mention that Pocket has an idiot buddy named Drool?

Overall, Fool has its share of amusing moments and clever reinterpretations of the text (along with some original material), but its incessant focus on sex, especially in a play that doesn't actually have any in it, kept me from really getting into it. I liked it, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped to.
Tags: books, lj friends, pimpings, shakespeare
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