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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Oh, the Places We've Seen: Part 1

As we firm up our plans for this year's trip to England, it made me reflect on the special places we visited on our three previous trips, and I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

One of those special places was Rye, where author E. F. Benson lived and set four of his Mapp & Lucia novels. A ten episode "Mapp & Lucia" miniseries was filmed there in 1985. It starred Geraldine McEwan as Lucia (who also played Agatha Christie's spinster-sleuth Miss Marple), Prunella Scales as Mapp (who also played Mrs. Fawlty in "Fawlty Towers") and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie (who also played Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Minister" & "Yes, Prime Minister"). I bought the first five episodes in a five VHS set many years ago, which were adapted from the fourth novel titled Mapp & Lucia (from which, of course, the book and TV series took its name). A handful of years later, I realized that I really enjoyed them, as I periodically pulled them out and watched them again. More years later, I came across a second series of five episodes on DVD, which were based on the fifth and six novels. Then I discovered the novels, Mapp & Lucia first, then the first novel Queen Lucia, and gradually accumulated the entire saga. After that, as I enjoyed reading those novels so much, I began looking around for other Benson novels to read. 

Anyway: Rye. It's a beautiful seaside town, and the tourists certainty fill it up on the weekends. We enjoyed walking the narrow, winding streets, and seeing all the locations that inspired Benson to write his stories, as well as those the film crews used for the miniseries. One unexpected discovery was that E. F. Benson isn't the biggest literary figure who lived in Rye. That honor belongs to American novelist Henry James (but I haven't read him yet, so he doesn't count. Yet). Benson moved into the house after James died, and according to all reports, acknowledged him as a literary icon. Recently, I've learned that the British film "Yellowbeard," which featured some of the Monty Python gang in addition to Cheech and Chong, shot some scenes on the idyllic, cobbled streets of this medieval town. That was a wacky, funny movie. I'll have to watch it again.

Another great place I visited was Holmfirth, where "Last of the Summer Wine," the world's longest-running sitcom, was filmed. It was so neat to walk the streets and the surrounding countryside, take the bus tour, and visit Sid's Cafe, wherein Compo Simmonite, Norman Clegg, and Foggy Dewhurst often ventured for a cup of tea, and usually received far more than they bargained for from Ivy, the proprietor (and Sid's wife). The ability to sit down there, and drink a cup of was just indescribable. Amazing.

Even better, we never got an earful from the proprietor.

To follow up our love of James Herriot's books, and the TV series "All Creatures Great and Small," we spent several days in Thirsk, where he lived and worked. Later, we stopped in beautiful Askrigg, where much of the fictional Darrowby was set. It was such a pretty little town, set in the Yorkshire Dales, that we had to return there for another visit.

You no doubt recall our visit to Brighton, where we attended the World Fantasy Convention, and saw one of my favorite Fantasy authors Terry Pratchett. That week will always be special to me, as I got to see him before he passed away earlier this year. Meeting and talking with Peter F Hamilton, K. W. Jeter, and Mary Robinette Kowal was also lots of fun.

Another attraction of Brighton was that it served as the setting for E. F. Benson's novel The Blotting Book. We enjoyed walking the streets he mentions in the novel, and taking buses and trains to see places farther from the hotel where crucial acts in his story took place. A really, really special visit.

What amazes me most is how much we've been able to tailor these trips to our interests using the information so readily available over the internet. Planning trips like these would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, ten or fifteen years ago. One of the reasons we weren't visiting England back then was because we had little incentive to go. But now, my wife and I can look up places of interest, read about the authors who lived there, map out potential routes and travel times, and book hotels, all while sitting on the couch with our laptops, comparing notes and ideas. We can also find books online, often for free, from authors that are mentioned as living or writing in places we will visit. Reading those books may give us an enhanced appreciation for the places we will visit, and suggest additions to our itinerary. Back then, I was angry that the airlines were downsizing their telephone operators, and forcing us to book tickets online. I missed the personal service and interaction, and saw it as an unwelcome dehumanizing aspect of technological innovation. Now, although we may be spending far longer planning our vacations, we're following up ideas as we think of them, and those discoveries lead us to other points of interest, and so on, and so forth, without needing to visit the library, pay a travel agent, or book spaces on a tour. As a result, we can fine-tune our trips to our interests far more effectively than we ever could have back then

There were good old days in the past, but today and tomorrow hold the truly Great New Days.

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 24, 2015

Trusting In The Indestructible Hulk Part 2

In Mark Waid's comic book series "The Indestructible Hulk," Dr. Bruce Banner's new motto is "Hulk destroys, Banner Builds." He claims that he can better control the beast within him, and urges SHIELD Director Maria Hill to think of him as a cannon rather than a bomb. As much as Maria Hill would like to believe that Banner can control his transformations, and retain some conscious control over the Hulk, history is not on his side. Still, he's offered to take the Mad Thinker down for her. So, when he's not looking, she grabs a piece of wood, and takes the direct method of activating the Hulk.

Like SHIELD, Dr. Bruce Banner learned of the Mad Thinker's secret WMD manufacturing plant. Once he transforms, the Hulk charges off toward the facility. There he finds the Mad Thinker manning one of the large battle suits he developed based on Ultron's technology.

The Mad Thinker believes he has the measure of Hulk. Like so many before him, he learns it's all too easy to underestimate the Hulk's ability to absorb punishment.

With all the weapons and manpower operating at the facility, awaiting the "secret" SHIELD raid the Mad Thinker anticipated, Maria Hill is glad the Hulk was with her on this mission. 

After the raid, Maria Hill decides to grant Dr. Bruce Banner a trial period, begins hiring assistants for his laboratory, and sends him out on a few more operations. Given his new methods of controlling himself, she begins to see their relationship as doable. Still, knowing how volatile and dangerous the Hulk can be, she puts a few checks in place to make sure he's really keeping up his end of the bargain.

One is ROB, otherwise known as a Recording Observation Bot. ROB will hover around Banner, keeping him (and the Hulk) under constant scrutiny. Maybe Banner can change. Maybe he can gain control over his transformations. Maybe the Hulk can even learn to take instruction, and stay focused during missions, instead of just letting go and smashing everything in sight.

Dr. Banner may understand the logic behind Maria Hill's decision. That doesn't mean that he likes the constant surveillance.

Cheers, ROB.

Dragon Dave

For more on Dr. Bruce Banner's attempts to be a force for good while working under Director Maria Hill, read The Indestructible Hulk Volume 1: Agent of SHIELD by Mark Waid. Prepare yourself for a confrontation with Iron Man, a mission into an active volcano, an undersea battle between two aquatic nations, and, oh yeah, the return of ROB. 

(Way to hang in there, ROB!)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trusting In the Indestructible Hulk Part 1

It's amazing to think now, but despite the Hulk's incredible popularity, he was originally something of a flop. Unlike the Fantastic Four, Thor, and Spider-Man, readers of Marvel Comics didn't embrace Stan Lee's latest creation. It wasn't until the Hulk started teaming up with other superheroes that his popularity began to rise. But that makes perfect sense, because while we all admire the intelligence of Doctor Bruce Banner, and the incredible strength of his alter-ego, once he hulks out, he's just an uncontrollable beast of destruction. 

Well, isn't he?

In Mark Waid's series Indestructible Hulk, Dr. Banner seems to have found a way to get a handle on his emotions. While on the run from his pursuers, he sits down to assess his life, and decides it's time he changed his approach.

In the first pages of Indestructible Hulk Vol 1: Agent of SHIELD, Director Maria Hill is sitting in a small town diner, studying news reports on her tablet computer, and messaging with her subordinate Phil Coulson. She's there to capture the Mad Thinker, who is developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in a local factory. The minutes are ticking down until the planned raid. But while she waits to initiate the operation, her mind is really on something else. Or should I say Someone Else, someone she views as a far greater threat. 

The Hulk.

Despite her constant vigilance, and his continual rages, SHIELD has been unable to capture the Hulk. She feels guilty for leaving headquarters, and worries that a report on his location will arise and her subordinates won't be able to successfully follow it up. She wonders what damage the Hulk might be causing. Will she learn that news agencies' initial reports of earthquakes or hurricanes turn out to be destruction wrought by the Hulk? After all, SHIELD isn't the only group of people looking for the Hulk. Some want to capture him for nefarious purposes, such as analyzing his blood to create armies of super soldiers. In this modern world, with so many individuals and groups capable of manipulating information, what reports can she believe? And then there's the question of other groups, such as HYDRA, who might have subverted SHIELD with sleeper agents.

Imagine her surprise when Dr. Banner takes another chair at her table and hands her an experimental filtration device he's invented. He claims that, with a little development, it could help eliminate all water-born viruses. Then he tells her that he's tired of running. He's willing to accept that the Hulk, like Diabetes, is a disease he cannot cure. So rather than fighting it, he wants to embrace it, and use his Hulk-capabilities for SHIELD. 

Here's his pitch: if SHIELD will furnish him with a modern laboratory, and a capable team, he'll devote his brain to developing other inventions for the betterment of mankind. Additionally, when a dangerous situation develops that calls for his unique physical capabilities, he'll use his braun to damage, destroy, or (if you prefer) SMASH! the target.

Maria Hill is skeptical, but just as Bruce is tired of running from the authorities, she is tired of constantly coordinating efforts to find him. She can sympathize with Dr. Banner, who would prefer working in a laboratory to running. But just because Banner has had this epiphany doesn't mean that he'll be able to restrain himself from hulking out in a more controlled environment. Imagine living with someone emotionally unstable like that, who one moment can be perfectly rational, trustworthy, even loving, but then the next minute grows anxious, irritated, or downright angry, seemingly with no provocation from you. Some folks choose to live like that, to accept the good half of such a person along with the bad. But Maria Hill can't make decisions solely based on optimism. If Banner hulks out at the wrong moment, or proves uncontrollable during field work, missions could be compromised, and the collateral damage terrible. 

If you were Maria Hill, would you make a deal with someone like Dr. Bruce Banner, someone incredibly intelligent and capable, who seems rational right now, yet who has repeatedly lost control and inflicted incalculable harm upon yourself and others? Someone who's capable of turning into something like this?

Or would you lock him up, and throw away the key?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Steven Brust On The Importance Of First Sentences: Part 2

Last week, author Steven Brust issued a challenge on his blog: for readers to submit the potential first sentence for a story they'd like to read, if not actually write. While contemplating offering a potential entry, I surveyed some first sentences from Steven Brust's novels.

From Jhegaala:

Intubation time is short--eight or nine days--during which the egg is vulnerable.

From Issola:

I've heard it said that manners are more complex in primitive societies--that it is easier to give accidental offense in, for example, the Island kingdoms of Elde or Greenaere, or among the Serioli, or the Jenoine, or the various kingdoms of my own Eastern people, than among the more civilized Dragaerans. 

From Dragon (a novel in which Vlad joins an army and goes to war):

No shit, there I was...

From Dzur:
Vili glanced up, turned his head back toward the interior, and said, with no particular inflection, "Klava with honey for Lord Taltos."

From The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, a story about a penniless artist, and his Hungarian ancestry:
You want to know what good is?

With Steven Brust, it can sometimes prove difficult to discern what constitutes a first sentence. Often he starts off a story or a chapter with a snippet of dialogue, or a short tantalizing introduction, that isn't part of the first proper scene. 

Thus, the first sentence in his novel Taltos:
The Cycle: Dragon, dzur, and chreotha; athyra, hawk, and phoenix; teckla and jhereg.

Compare that with the first sentence of the first proper scene in Taltos:
Some two hundred miles to the north and east of Adrilankha there lies a mountain, shaped as if by the hand of a megalomaniacal sculptor into the form of a crouching grey Dzur. 

As an author, it's tempting to pick the latter example, to clutch it to your chest and cheer at such a wonderfully written sentence. But really, for the reader, sometimes simplicity provides an easier entry to a novel.

From Tiassa:

Sethra greeted me with these words, "There's someone I'd like you to meet, Vlad."

In case you're wondering, I decided to provide my own entry. I took the first sentence from the novel I need to finish, the first one I wrote about a dragon. Here it is:

Douglas stood on the narrow strip of beach and stared at the glowing, vigorous water.

Not exactly one to bowl you over, right? I must have been influenced by some of Brust's simpler first sentences when I wrote it. Sadly, it lacks the short, sharp (and humorous) shock of his first sentence for Dragon.

Lots of readers responded to Steven Brust's challenge, including some professionally published writers. As in any contests, not all entrants can win. To those like me, who watched another crowned the champion, Steven Brust offered these consoling words:

From Iorich:

Even if things don't work the way you'd planned, it's good when you can take something useful away from the experience.

I'm guessing I'll pay more attention to the first sentences of my stories after this.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Link

Steven Brust's First Sentence Challenge

Monday, April 20, 2015

Steven Brust On The Importance of First Sentences: Part 1

Author Steven Brust places great importance upon the first sentences of his novels. He crafts them carefully, knowing how the right words, stated in just the right way, can really launch a reader into a story. Recently, he issued a challenge to his readers, to compose the best first sentence they could, for a story they might like to someday write (or, at the very least, read). 

I thought it might prove instructive to survey the first sentences of some of his novels. To follow are a few examples.

From Agyar, a novel about a vampire:
I feel the need to write something more before I go on my way, something that can go on top of this pile of papers, and the last shall be first, as someone or other said in a different context.

From Sethra Lavode, a fantasy written in the style of a historical:
Having, on the occasion of introducing the previous volume of this history, said all that needs to be said concerning the wisdom, or, rather, the lack of wisdom, of dividing a story into sections, we do not feel the need to repeat ourselves.

From To Reign In Hell, written (it seems to me) in response to Paradise Lost:
Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun into and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazened black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence.

And then there are his novels about Vlad, who starts off as something of an antihero, and as the series develops, gradually reforms himself (or at least becomes a little less villainous. Maybe).

From Jhereg:
There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife's blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck.

From Yendi:
Kragar says that life is like an onion, but he doesn't mean the same thing by it that I do.

From Teckla:
I found an oracle about three blocks down on Undauntra, a little out of my area.

From Phoenix:
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like when things are going wrong--your wife is ready to leave you, all your notions about yourself and your world are getting turned around, everything you trusted is becoming questionable--there's nothing like having someone try to kill you to take your mind off your problems.

What do you think? Do these sentences offer you an inkling of what each story might be like? And more importantly, do they make you want to go out and buy his books? Or would any old sentence have done equally well? They certainly make me wonder if my first sentences have the power to grab an editor's interest, and make him or her read more of my manuscript, when so many other submissions arrive each day in the mail.

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 17, 2015

Screen Superstar Tells Star Wars: The Full Story

The other day, while perusing a comic book store, I noticed this magazine, published in 1977. 

Measuring a magnificent 9" x 12', this extra-large special edition of Screen Superstar, titled "Star Wars: The Full Story," sported numerous photographs from the movie, some of them two-page spreads.

Despite the promise on the cover, it wasn't packed with full-color photographs. But it offered lots of black-and-white photos, which had been developed using different colors. 

I thought this effect added drama and interest to the movie stills. Don't you?

Having read The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler, a coffee table-sized book offering a wealth of information on Lucas' first installment in the series, I didn't expect to learn anything new about my all-time favorite movie. But I thought it might be fun to revisit reports from Sci-fi entertainment writers back in the day, and compare them with the officially approved version released from Lucasfilm thirty years later. There was the expected, such as a spotlight focused far more intensely on the contribution of John Dykstra to the special effects team than later official versions would credit him with. And then there was the unexpected. One special effects worker, who was not named, actually describes the process of filming model spacecrafts as boring. Try to find a statement like that in an official publication from Lucasfilm!

Additionally, I enjoyed experiencing the passion of the writers and the editorial staff who had put this special magazine together. The writers argued that Star Wars built upon the literary foundations of modern Science Fiction, such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Frank Herbert's novel Dune, and finally delivered on the potential that previous movies--even great ones, like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Forbidden Planet" had failed to capture. 

Well, I won't argue with that.

Oh, and I loved the artwork. Gorgeous two-page spreads, made by passionate fans of the movie in the year of its release, before Star Wars-inspired art became something we all took for granted.

Great stuff, right?

In those early days, news about George Lucas was even harder to come by than the facts behind the production. As everyone loved the new movie, the news media fought over any available scraps of information on the reclusive writer/director. The magazine reports that after the revenue from "Star Wars" started rolling in, Lucas purchased "a $500,000 Lear jet, the interior of which he redecorated to match the interior of Solo's Millennium Falcon." It probably didn't happen, but what a lovely story.

Just like my all-time favorite movie. 

Dragon Dave

P.S. Find your own copy of Screen Superstar's "Star Wars: The Full Story" at, on ebay, and wherever else good Star Wars books, magazines, and other necessities of life are sold. And yes, in case you're wondering, that includes comic book stores.

Related Dragon Cache entries
Jeremiah & George Lucas: Part 1
A Vintage Star Wars Interview
The Power of Star Wars: Part 1

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thor Vs. a Dragon, a Robot, and Rock Men from Saturn

In Marvel Comics' "Journey Into Mystery" Issue 83, published in August 1962, handicapped American physician Donald Blake picks up a gnarled wood walking stick, and transforms into the Norse god Thor. After learning to wield his new weapon, the mighty hammer Mjolnir, he acknowledges his responsibility to his fellow humans by launching himself into battle against an invasion force of Rock Men from Saturn.

The Rock Men transform their mothership into a dragon. This scares Earth's normally brave fighter pilots, who eject from their jet planes.

On the ground, Thor sees that the dragon is mere illusion, and so he takes on the Rock Men from Saturn in hammer-to-hand fighting. Earth's lesser gravity increases the strength of the Rock Men, but when Thor proves a more fearsome adversary than anticipated, they activate the weapon they've held in reserve.

Several times the height of a human, the fighter-robot advances.

Thor stands in his path, looks up at his giant opponent, and swings his mighty hammer.

Thor is the first human the Rock Men have directly battled. They can't help but wonder if more humans are like him. 

In reacting to their first impressions, the Rock Men emulate the NATO fighter pilots, and make a mad scramble for their ship. Thus
, when the military arrives...

It's easy to see how the mighty Thor could defeat a Dragon, a Giant Robot, and the Rock Men from Saturn. It's equally easy to understand how NATO soldiers might not envision a crippled man like Donald Blake as Earth's greatest warrior. Appearances can be deceiving, and first impressions often flat-out wrong.

The story also begs a question. Could Jane Foster, suffering from cancer, sneak away from her sick bed occasionally to grasp the hammer Mjolnir, transform into Lady Thor, and battle the Dark Elf Malekith, Frost Giants, and Dario Agger, the sometimes-minotaur CEO of Roxxon Energy Corporation? Odinson's quest to discover the identity of Lady Thor continues today, when THOR Issue 7 hits the stands. To prove your worth, make picking up your copy of this top ten reader-rated Marvel comic a priority. But please, first demonstrate your responsibility to your fellow humans by finishing and filing your income taxes. 

Dragon Dave

For more classic Thor action, check out The Mighty Thor: The God of Thunder, volume 1 in Marvel's Epic Collection series on the mighty Norse god.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Building My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List: Book 9

Selecting the stories most important to us may be easy, but ranking those stories in a meaningful way is far more difficult. Most difficult of all can be explaining why particular favorites don't rank higher, or even make it onto the list. But to label all the stories you love Essential would be untrue, and do no justice to any of them. With this goal in mind, I set out to determine the ten books Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) books most important to me. I didn't realize how difficult this exercise would be when I started it, but then, the important things in life are never easy. 

My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List

Book 9: Shaman

How many great cave man stories have you read? I've seen a handful of movies set in that era. "10,000 B.C." by director Roland Emmerich, better known for his films "Independence Day" and "2012", features our ancestors and some great computer-generated mammoths. "1,000,000 B.C." stands out for its star Raquel Welch, and the dinosaurs and pterosaurs of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Also worthy of mention is the first-ever Doctor Who story, titled "An Unearthly Child" or "100,000 BC",* written by Anthony Coburn. In this four-episode story, a tribe of cavemen capture the Doctor and his companions and demand that they teach them the secret of fire. It's an interesting story, which Terrance Dicks revisits in his later novel The Eight Doctors (the first BBC novel featuring the eighth Doctor), but is hardly regarded as essential by most fans of the classic series. It certainly pales in importance next to story that followed, the seven-episode story written by Terry Nation, and simply titled "The Daleks."

I've read quite a few time travel stories, in which modern man travels back in time. Uusually those trips take him to the dinosaur era rather than to visit his primitive ancestors, and when he does visit his stone era cousins, they function as minor characters in the story. Although I can think of a few that have been written, I can't remember any novels I've read that featured ice age cavemen as prominent point of view characters.** Perhaps this gap in my reading says more about my interests than proves a dearth of stone age literary fiction. But it seems to me that most of us, as modern humans, view our far-flung ancestors as less capable than ourselves, and therefore much less interesting sources for storytelling.

Of course, there's all the Hollywood grunting and growing, or the stilted limited dialogue that tends to color our perceptions of these early societies.

One thing you realize early on in Shaman is that Kim Stanley Robinson has done his research. He knows the minutia of these people's lives, and all this grounds us in stone age society. The other thing he demonstrates is that stone age man wasn't less capable than us, he was more capable, which was how they survived against animal predators and the harsh conditions of the Ice Age. These people had to be extremely inventive, and utilize everything at their disposal to survive. Many of us couldn't identity ten different plants accurately when taking a short walk. These people would know all the plants they saw, as well as each plant's nutritive and medicinal value. Most of us wouldn't have a clue how to store our food for weeks or months at a time, and so when there's a power cut, or our refrigerators malfunction, our food spoils within hours or days. Nor could we hunt an animal with the most primitive of weapons, let alone construct them. And as for utilizing every single atom of the animal: again, the cave people knew far better than us how to maximize their resources.

Care to set a broken limb by yourself, or sew up a major wound and treat it with nearby plants and any herbs or concoctions your mother has dried and mixed down by the river? I'm guessing not.

When we start to think about stone age man in those terms, he suddenly grows more interesting, don't you think? And that's all due to the extensive research and masterful storytelling of Kim Stanley Robinson.

Thankfully, he also gets around the dialogue issue, assuming that these intelligent, resourceful people could actually communicate meaningfully with each other. Which they must have done, or couldn't have survived under such hard conditions, could they?

Dragon Dave

*Is it just me, or do TV and Cinema like to title cave man stories with dates?

**I haven't read Clan of the Cave Bear, or any of its sequels, by Jean M. Auel, a bestselling series that explores interactions between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans. It's been on my list forever--well, at least for several glacial eras of my life--but so far I haven't gotten around to it. 

P.S. I was going to make this a Part 1, and tell you more of what I liked about Shaman, but I'd just would have been giving away more of Kim Stanley Robinson's great story. So I think I'll spare you from that. Besides, I think you've already got the idea why Shaman is important to me: the book changes my perceptions of Ice Age man, and makes me want to read more about how they lived. If you missed my earlier entries on this novel, or would like to read more about the protagonist Loon and adventures, follow the links below to my earlier posts.

Related Dragon Cache entries
Kim Stanley Robinson: Growing Up in the Ice Age
Brighton's Ice Age Hunter
Poole's Sacred Cavern
Ice Age Seven Sisters

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cozy & Secure with Paddington Bear: Part 2

As it turned out, my copy of Michael Bond's first novel, A Bear Called Paddington, arrived at a very appropriate time. For last weekend I fell ill with a sick tummy, even though I hadn't eaten a single marmalade sandwich that day. (In retrospect, perhaps that was the problem! For, given Paddington's admiration for marmalade, I imagine it must offer potent medicinal benefits).

That night we reversed our usual practice, and my wife read to me in bed before we turned off the lights. I following her delivery of Bond's prose, and studied the sketches by illustrator Peggy Fortnum. After a few minutes, my eyes sought out each page, and threatened to consume the text before my wife could deliver it. I had to look away, so I could relax, and let Bond's writing (and my wife's reading) ease my pain.

Paddington slips and tumbles onto his tea saucer.
Aside from the initial portion of the film, in which Paddington grows up with his aunt and uncle in Darkest Peru, the plot mirrored the basic structure of the novel. The book starts with Mr. and Mrs. Brown finding a lonely bear in Paddington station, Mr. Brown giving him a cup of tea and a bun while they wait for their daughter Judy's train to arrive, and then the family deciding to take them home with them. When the bear explains his name is unpronounceable by humans, the Browns name him after the train station in which they found him. As everything in England is new to him, Paddington has problems with his food and drink, and ends up wet and sticky. The cab driver doesn't like the idea of transporting the bear home, as he's just cleaned his upholstery, but accedes to the Browns' pleas and the bear's innate charm. Then he is welcomed into the bosom of the Browns' home, where he discovers that taking a bath is a more tricky business than he had envisioned.

Paddington leaps into his bath.
The filmmakers fine-tuned the qualities of their human characters, so Mr. Brown becomes a worrywart who initially refuses to house the bear for more than a night, and Judy seems particularly at odds with her parents. They also inflate Paddington's antics in the bathtub in spectacular fashion: instead of the floor getting covered in water, soap, and shaving foam, a tidal wave roars out when Mr. Brown opens the bathroom door. But while they played fast and loose with the particulars, apart from the origin segment in Peru, they seem to have remained true to the basic plot structure of Bond's novel. Or at least, that's what I can tell you so far, based on the first two chapters of A Bear Called Paddington

Even though Bond's novel exhibits none of the overall tension the filmmakers infused their story with, I can't wait for my wife to read chapters to me. Like Paddington, I look forward to bundling up into our cozy bed, and listening to more of his adventures. Far from being scared, Bond's story, Fortnum's illustrations, and my wife's readings make me feel just like Paddington after being welcomed into the Brown household: cozy, loved, and secure. 

Now, if I can just be patient, and enjoy the story in small, medicinal nightly doses, instead of giving into my desire to grab the book and consume it in one sitting. While doing so might not give me a tummy ache, I want to savor Bond's first novel for as long as possible, and as much as Paddington enjoys his marmalade sandwiches.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cozy & Secure with Paddington Bear: Part 1

I discovered Paddington Bear twenty years ago, as a series of short animated stories broadcast on the Disney Channel. I recorded them on VHS, then later onto DVD, and have enjoyed following his comic adventures numerous times in subsequent years. Imagine my surprise when I saw a trailer for his debut on the Big Screen. I faced his entry into the cinema with a mixture of hope and dread, hopeful that the film would do well, and dreading how the filmmakers might attempt to revamp Michael Bond's classic character.

The film was cast with big name British actors, and I was impressed by the authenticity of their performances. Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) plays an insecure but devoted husband and father in Mr. Brown. Peter Capaldi (the current Doctor Who!) portrays the small-minded penny-pinching neighbor Mr. Curry. And Nicole Kidman, who has starred in nearly every important movie of the last two decades plays the villain Millicent Clyde who plots and schemes to capture Paddington's hide. (In case you're wondering, I particularly enjoyed her 2007 performance as the elegant Marisa Coulter in the film version of Philip Pullman's fantasy novel The Golden Compass). But enough of the human actors: let's get onto the star of the show, the magnificent bear from Darkest Peru! The computer-animated Paddington won me over with his boundless courage and determination, his depiction and capabilities a far cry from how I discovered him, as a simple stop-motion character imposed on a traditionally animated background. Even if his antics and adventures adventures seemed a little silly and over-the-top in places, I left the cinema feeling like the filmmakers had honored Paddington, and done so with considerable artistry.

The film also roused my interested in Michael Bond's original stories. I purchased a picture book from, and while the illustrations were well-drawn and colorful, they reminded me of the animated shorts I had fallen in love with, which I knew were based on chapters of Michael Bond's novels. So I headed to the library, where I searched the computer system for his books. Like Paddington, I nearly fell over backwards when I learned that the entire San Diego Library system held but a single copy of his introductory novel, A Bear Called Paddington.

Needless to say, I gave the computer monitor a very hard stare.

Thankfully, offered copies of the book for sale. I ordered A Bear Called Paddington, and waited impatiently for it to arrive. Unfortunately, then I got a sick tummy, perhaps because of all the anticipation coursing through me. But not only is that a story to finish tomorrow, it demonstrates how much like the film version of Mr. Brown I am, with all my anxieties and insecurities, and how much more brave and adventurous like Paddington I need to become. 

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Taking A Year To Sketch Sam The Eagle

I visited the San Diego Safari Park twice last year. Both times my wife and I sketched the lagoon.

The way these Shoebill Storks survey the world with self-important eyes reminds me of Sam the Eagle, from The Muppet Show. I wonder if the Shoebills see themselves as the leaders of the lagoon, and insist upon a certain level of conduct among the remaining avian population. 

They're called Shoebills because (Shock! Amazement!) their bills are shaped like shoes. Hence, their appearance of self-importance, just like Sam the Eagle. But then, people who view themselves as moral icons, and hand down their important views on life from their perches on their pedestals, often look as though they've lodged a foot firmly in their mouths.

Either that, or like Maxwell Smart, they work for CONTROL, and are still using those outdated Shoe Phones.

Lots of other birds enjoyed the lagoon this weekend, including egrets, coots, Nene geese, and a Black Crowned Night Heron. These young Whistler ducks practiced the buddy system. I thought them especially cute. Perhaps they'll make it in to a later sketch.

The island on the lagoon bore little resemblance to the way it looked a year ago, when I started the sketch. It was also strikingly different last Fall, when I continued it.

It felt good to finish my sketch, even if it took me a year to complete. Maybe next time I visit the San Diego Safari Park, I'll sketch the Whistlers. Either that, or maybe I'll finish the sketch I started of the Asian Elephants on last year's visit.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lady Thor: The Case For Jane Foster

In Marvel Comics' "Journey Into Mystery" Issue 83, written by Stan Lee and published in August 1962, Don Blake picks up a gnarled wooden walking stick. The stick transforms into a hammer, and he transforms into the Norse god Thor. While thrilled to have overcome his handicapped status, and wield this new power, he ponders how his life will change.

He sits down on the grass, sets down the hammer, and recalls what he knows of the apparently-not-so-mythological god.

Moments later, he discovers he has returned to his normal frail self. The hammer Mjolnir has likewise changed back into a walking stick. He wonders what caused him to revert to a powerless handicapped man. Then he thinks back to the inscription on the head of the hammer.

When he touches the stick, he and the stick once more transform into Thor and Mjolnir. Obviously, he has a lot to learn, if he wishes to control and maintain his new persona. He practices using the hammer, and discovers powers most mortals could only dream of wielding. He also discovers a way to control his transformations.

Practice makes perfect, and soon Don Blake will be able to hold and use the walking stick without instantly transforming into Thor. A single tap on the ground is all that is needed to transform. However, in order to retain his appearance as Thor, he must not release Mjolnir, or sixty seconds later he will return to ordinary Donald Blake. Obviously, this wouldn't be a good thing to happen during battle. 

In THOR issue 6, written by Jason Aaron and published last month, Odinson seeks out Jane Foster to see if Mjolnir could have transformed her into Lady Thor. When he finds her in a hospital bed on Asgard, suffering from breast cancer and attended by healers, he decides it cannot be her, and marks her off his list of the women who might possibly have learned to wield Mjolnir. 

What do you think of Odinson's decision? Is the candidacy of Jane Foster as impossible as he believes? For if Donald Blake can be transformed from Thor into a cripple, couldn't Jane Foster, suffering from cancer, could temporarily take up Mjolnir with a consequent change in appearance, then revert to her former sickly status? 

Dragon Dave

P.S. To read more of Thor's early adventures, and written by Stan Lee (He's sublime!), pick up The Mighty THOR: The God of Thunder, Volume 1 in Marvel's new Epic Collection series of books on this hero. (He's divine! Or, at least semi-divine!)