Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
"Hell's Bells" count: 9
When a book about werewolves has a joke taken directly from Young Frankenstein (“Werewolf? There! There wolf! There castle!”), you know you're in very good hands. That's the kind of joke that a very small percentage of readers is going to get, but it's guaranteed that those readers who do get it will be very appreciative.
Once again, consulting magician Harry Dresden has gotten himself into trouble. A few months ago, he nearly got himself killed taking down a drug-pushing warlock who wielded disturbingly strong levels of dark magic. Now, he has a different... hairier problem to deal with.
People are being ripped apart in Chicago. Not normal gangland killings, or even comfortable, familiar drug shootings, no. People are being literally torn apart, limb from limb, guts for garters, that sort of thing. The killings are violent and frightening, and both the Chicago police and the FBI would really like to know who's behind them all. Unfortunately for Harry Dresden, all avenues point towards the supernatural.
If that weren't bad enough, his talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time has made Harry an object of suspicion almost any time something weird goes down. He's used to that, though. What with just being relieved of the Doom of Damocles (a rather pretentious-sounding magical probation), and still being in the bad books of the White Council of Wizards, to say nothing of the powerful mobsters, Harry has more enemies than he can really keep up with. He doesn't need any more, and he most certainly doesn't need enemies that are red in tooth and claw.
For that matter, it would probably be simpler if it were just one werewolf. But it isn't. Of even if it were just one kind of werewolf. Which it isn't. Or even if all the werewolves in question were relentless, evil killing machines. Which, of course, they aren't. Not all of them.
So now Harry has to throw himself into the fray again – to the wolves, as it were – and risk life and limb for people who don't quite appreciate all the hard work he does. At least, not until a ravaging loup-garou nearly kills them all. But that would help anyone through a crisis of faith, I think.
As with the first volume in this series, I really enjoyed this book. Jim Butcher has an excellent sense of humor, and it really shines through in Harry's narration. Dresden often breaks the fourth wall in his narrative, acknowledging to both himself and the reader that he's about to do something that most people would consider to be insane.
One of the things I really enjoy about reading these books is the multi-sensory experience of reading them. Butcher knows that we have many senses, and also knows that a great number of writers only engage a couple of them. So he throws as much sensory information as he can at us, engaging our senses of touch and taste and smell to make the scene that much more convincing. What's more, he has a gift for an economy of description – what's the most important sensory input for each scene? He knows it, and focuses our attention on that.
Plus, he's put together a very well-ordered magical universe. The rules are clear and binding, letting us know exactly what Harry can and cannot do in order to get out of his troubles. The work that Butcher has done in preparing the world of Harry Dresden shows up very clearly.
Of course, werewolves are fun monsters to play with, mainly because of their symbolic significance. Man and beast in one body, a loss of control and a joy in doing so – the werewolf is the beast we all fear to become. And this is important to Harry as well – as he tells us in this book and most of the others, he has a dark side to him. He knows what it's like to reach into the bleak recesses of his soul and to use magic towards evil ends. He's done it before, and the understanding that he could do it again is a shadow that constantly follows him. When he sees the various werewolves that are terrorizing the city, he sees himself in them. He sees the monster he could become, and he rejects it. Or at least holds it at bay for as long as he can.
It's great to watch Harry, because he's such an underdog. He gets beaten up, outsmarted, outclassed again and again, but he keeps coming back. He keeps finding that one little way through his problems that allows him to come through victorious. As far as he's able to, anyway.
And in the end, isn't that true for all of us?
“Well, we'll just have to hope that this wasn't a loup-garou, I guess.”
“If it was a louper, you'd know. In the middle of this town, you'd have a dozen people dead every time the full moon came around. What's going on?”
“A dozen people are dying every time the full moon comes around.”
- Harry Dresden and Bob, Fool Moon
The Dresden Files on Wikipedia
Fool Moon on Wikipedia
Fool Moon on Amazon.com
Jim Butcher on Wikipedia
Harry Dresden on Wikipedia
Jim Butcher's homepage
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon
In a small corner of the world, tucked away from the great nations, there lives an isolated community full of colorful, down-to-earth people. One of those, considered a hero by some and an oddball by others, is getting ready to face the greatest challenge of his life - delivering a Ring of Power into the fires that made it, thereby saving not only his soul, but the world along with it.
Yes, you know the story. Just not like this.
The young Frito Bugger, a Boggie of the Sty and nephew to the famed Dildo Bugger, has been tapped by Goodgulf the Magician to return the Ring of Power to the Zazu Pits in the center of the deadly kingdom of Fordor. It is only then that Sorhed, maker of the Ring and the greatest threat to Lower Middle Earth, can be defeated.
The first time I read this book, I nearly soiled myself laughing. And I wasn't even a real fan of the originals at this point, either. I knew enough, though, to see how well the venerable trilogy was being skewered, and I loved every minute of it. Since then, I've read this book more times than I've read Lord of the Rings. Partly because it's much funnier, but mostly because this volume only clocks in at 150 pages.
As with all comedy, repetition kind of diminishes the effect, but there are still laughs to be had. Just from the beginning, when Dildo Bugger throws a party for the gluttonous freeloaders of the Sty, and then foists his Magic Ring off on his hapless nephew Frito, you know things can only go wacky.
Much like in the original, this Fellowship travels across a land fraught with peril, and despite the funny names, their journey is recognizable to anyone who knows the story. The folks at Harvard Lampoon did a brilliant job here, warping the characters of the original story (with the utmost love and respect, of course, for the money they're making from sales of the book) into funhouse mirror-images.
Thus brave Aragorn, son of Arathorn becomes Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, wielder of Krona, Conqueror of Dozens, whose foolproof strategy for dealing with overwhelming odds is to play dead. Or wise and resourceful Gandalf becomes Goodgulf, the shifty con artist and 32nd degree Mason who is all too willing to let the Shadow win if it means he can escape with his hide and the majority of someone else's gold. Legolas and Gimli become Legolam and Gimlet, sniping at each other with the kind of accuracy we could have only wished for in the films, and Merry and Pippin twist into Moxie and Pepsi, the blundering brothers who wish they were dead. And so does everybody else.
What really differentiates this book from a lot of other parody books is that the Harvard Lampoon writers have allowed these warped characters to evolve in their own right. Instead of forcing them along the path of the original story, the writers have broadened the guidelines a bit. We see new relationships evolve, and old ones twist into new shapes. Some parts of the story vanish entirely, while others take on whole new significance.
In other words, if you're looking for a one-to-one event correlation with the original books, you'll be disappointed. But the major events and characters are all there. A lot of the themes have been inverted, of course, for comic effect. The great friendship and loyalty that defined the original Fellowship are sorely lacking in this volume, but they were never meant to be there in the first place. Probably the reason I found it so funny was that the twisted versions of these characters resemble a lot of my attitude towards them when I first read Lord of the Rings - Merry and Pippin as an obnoxious pair of bumblers, Gandalf as a manipulative old coot, Boromir as utterly disposable and, of course, Tom Bombadil as, well, himself.
I never could stand Bombadil in the original books, but Tom Benzedrino? Him I could read over and over again without hesitation....
As I think about this, I wonder how many people read this and actually got offended. People talk about LotR and J.R.R. Tolkien as though they are perfect in every form, untouchable and Not To Be Criticized. I remember watching the DVD special features, and the son of Tolkein's editor said, "You simply did not edit Tolkien." That kind of reverence must certainly feel good for a writer, but it doesn't produce good writing. Every writer, whether it's Tolkien or Rowling or King or anyone else who's really made it big, needs people willing to take them down a peg.
Look at the Harry Potter books for example. When they were relatively unknown, they were slim, tight little volumes that moved at a good pace and could be devoured on a long bus ride. As soon as Rowling made it big, however, they became massive tomes that required ten minutes of warm-up time just to pick up, and an occasional shot of caffeine to get through. Don't get me wrong - I like Harry Potter. I like it more than I like Lord of the Rings, in fact. I just don't think that fame or literary pretensions should make an author exempt from vicious editing. Or vicious parody.
A book like Bored of the Rings is not a criticism of the story, or of the dream that Tolkien had - it's a vindication of it. It's a testament to the book's strength that it can be ripped apart with such wild abandon, yet still maintain its popularity. Every author should be so lucky as to have a book like this written in their honor.
So just sit back and enjoy it. Whether you've read the books or just seen the movies, as long as you're not one of those who worship at the altar of the Unassailable Tolkien, you should be able to get a lot of good laughs out of this.
"Observing this near impossible escape from certain death, Frito wondered how much longer the authors were going to get away with such tripe. He wasn't the only one."
- from Bored of the Rings
Bored of the Rings on Wikipedia
Harvard Lampoon on Wikipedia
Bored of the Rings on Amazon.com
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles
Sing to me, O Muse, of a long damn poem,
which saddled the backs of many a Freshman English Major before me
and brought the mist of term papers down around our eyes
Can you tell me, O Muse, of the deeds done in this book
in less time than it takes to fight the actual war
in which the blood of many a legendary, some say mythical, figure
was spilt and lost, fed into the hungry earth of Troy?
Sing to me of feasting and fighting and the filching of treasure
of Dawn and her Rosy Fingers as they greet the tenth year
of the War of the Acheans (which are also known as Greeks,
but only by the terribly uneducated)
against the great city-state of Troy.
Tell me of ten years' warfare, the great hollow ships
ranged against the shining walls of Ilium!
Of all the Acheans, only one could be the Hero of this war
a man spawned of a Goddess, a son of the oceans and a scourge
on all who oppose him, who would flee and crap their singlets
at the very sight of his blazing armor.
As a three year-old child sits in his room and sulks
upon not receiving a bicycle for his birthday,
ignoring all the treasure heaped upon him by otherwise doting parents,
crying to the walls and his toys in the closet
and raging against the injustices of those older than he,
so does Achilles, the greatest of Egos in the Achean army
sit in his tent and whine about Briseis,
the woman he won in warfare, only to have her taken by Agamemnon.
"Help me Mother, goddess of the ocean's foam," he cried.
"Agamemnon's pissing me off and I want him to suffer for it!"
And so did his doting mother appeal to Zeus,
he of the Thunderbolt Libido with a Thing For The Ladies
and the King of Gods did make it so,
giving the troops of Troy and their leader, Hector, advantage
only to crush them in the end so as to increase
the glory of Achilles.
Who can sing the insanity of this plan, this war?
Should I live a thousand lifetimes, I would wither of age
before I could recount the acts of treachery and pettiness
brought about by gods and men on the blood-soaked plains of Troy.
Would that I had the time to list the dead and dying
the blood and the viciousness of unholy war,
balanced by rare acts of humanity and kindness.
If only I possessed that rarest of gifts, the patience
to list the atrocities of the Gods wrought upon men.
Such was the gift of Homer, to do so long ago
what we cannot, weak as men are now.
Great Agamemnon, whose pride and stubbornness rival Father Zeus
Himself. Achilles, the mighty, the hero who becomes human
only when all that he truly loves is taken from him.
Hector, breaker of horses, the father and defender of a city
doomed from the outset.
Priam, Aged King of Troy, watching his sons die one by one.
The libidinous Paris, whose inability to think
with the right head started all of this,
and Helen, would that she drowned before reaching Troy,
watching the terrible battle from her rooms.
And her rightful husband, the red-haired Menelaus
whose rage brought a thousand ships across the wine-dark seas.
Patrolcus, incapable of following one simple little instruction.
Godlike Telamonian Ajax, clever Odysseus, and aged Nestor
always with a long-winded, vaguely relevant story at hand.
These are the heroes of this play, O Muse.
And there are certainly villains -
those immortal Gods whose every whim costs the lives
of noble mortal men.
White-armed Hera, scheming against her husband
Zeus, who grants the ascendancy of Achilles at the cost
of uncountable Trojan and Achean lives.
Aphrodite and Ares, fighting for Troy,
grey-eyed Athena and Poseidon with his blue hair, urging on the Argives.
All playing their games, and in the end, the same as they began.
For, being deathless Gods, they cannot change
and what cannot change cannot learn.
And so the Gods, whose machinations set this tragedy in motion
escape unscathed during the passage of many a mortal soul
into the dark arms of Hades.
And the mortals, playing parts in Zeus' puppet show
dying to bring greater glory to Achilles.
Would that I had the time to underscore the glory of this tale
and how centuries of the written word have been built upon it.
Give me the strength, O Gods, to tell of this cornerstone!
As a single oak tree, growing tall and splendid towards the sky,
reaching for the sun and spreading its roots into Demeter's
fertile earth, put forth leaves whose numbers are unknown to man
so has this epic poem inspired more works than can be counted
by a writer as simple and humble as myself.
So reach out, dear Reader, reach out and find this tale,
and as a vast tank holds enough rainwater to replenish
fields and fields of fecund earth, bringing forth
crops to feed people by the thousands,
so will you become a repository of literature and history
and be able to show the world just how utterly
cool you really are.
Come with me, O Muse. I need a drink.
"And now as the armies clashed at one strategic point,
they slammed their shields together, pike scraped pike
with the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze
and their round shields' bosses pounded hide-to-hide
and the thunder of struggle roared and rocked the earth.
Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath,
fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood."
Homer, The Iliad (8:71-77)
Homer on Wikipedia
The Iliad on Wikipedia
The Trojan War on Wikipedia
The Iliad on Amazon.com
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Well, now I reckon y'all have seen the movie, so there's probably not a whole lot that you need to know about this book.
You know Tyler Durden.
He's the Id, the unchained spirit that wants what he wants and he wants it now. He's the voice in your head that tells you that everything is worthless, that chaos, death and the end of civilization would be better than anything our so-called "society" could ever create. He's the one standing over your left shoulder, whispering "Burn it all down. It'll be fun." He acts in secret, he has an army of minions, and he has a plan.
Oh yes, you know Tyler Durden.
The narrator of this dark and strange cautionary tale knows Tyler all too well, and tells us of how he and Tyler tried to change the world. It all started very simply - with basement fight clubs where men could let out their rage and frustration on each other. There were very few rules to fight club, but that was okay. Rules were, in fact, the problem. The regimented society in which we live imposes constant rules on us - social rules, cultural rules, corporate rules - that tell us who to be and what to think. The rules of our society have sapped us of our strength and purpose, making us soft. Pliable. Weak.
But Tyler's plan doesn't end there - the fight clubs morph into Project Mayhem, a well-oiled anarchist movement, determined to bring down the very fundamentals of our society. With an army at his beck and call, Tyler is sure that his plan will succeed.
It's a book with a couple of very powerful messages, one overt and incorrect, the other subtle and accurate. The overt message is Tyler's message - we are a generation with no cause, no purpose. Our lives are governed by what we buy and what we wear, and none of us will die having done anything with our lives. In order to be Real Men, we need to strip away the veneer of civilization - our Ikea furniture, our make-work jobs and our cornflower blue neckties - and rediscover the inner core of ourselves. The brutal, unafraid, unapologetic beast that is Man.
This, to no one's surprise, appealed to a lot of people when the film came out because it's a very believable world view. Those of Gen X and beyond are reminded over and over again that the generations before us were the ones who actually did things. The Baby Boomers got herded into the slaughterhouse that was Vietnam, toppled a President, faced down the chaos of the Sixties and fought to change the world. Their parents, of course, were the Greatest Generation - a label that I have come to despise - who fought Hitler and freed Europe. Their parents struggled through the Depression, and their parents fought in the trenches of World War One.
What have we done? Until the beginning of the 21st Century, how had we suffered? What had we sacrificed? Not a whole lot, and I think a lot of us secretly believe that we're not only not pulling our weight in the world, but that since we have not suffered, we're not really adult. Our miseries have not been those born of chaos, war and destruction. Ours have been tiny, personal tragedies that are, in their way, insignificant.
I can see where Tyler Durden is coming from on this point - I do sometimes look around me and ask, "Where are our great challenges, our Normandy or our moon landing?" And I fear that without these milestones, my generation will never really be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, this is about where most folks stopped thinking and decided, "Shit, man, he's right! I wanna start a fight club!" And short-lived fight clubs sprang up all over the country, lasting about as long as it took for people to realize that while Brad Pitt on the movie screen can get beaten within an inch of his life and still look cool, a normal human cannot. They missed the subtle message because it wasn't one that they really wanted to hear.
The book is not about the triumph of nihilism over a consumer-driven culture. It's not about being a Real Man. It's not about being a unique snowflake or a space monkey.
It's about overcoming both the desire to destroy society and the desire to be completely subsumed by it. It's about the need for purpose, and the need for connection with other people, and what can happen when one is deprived of those things. Tyler doesn't show up because the narrator is rootless or bored - Tyler shows up because the narrator has forsaken people for things. He has replaced personal achievement with material gain, and that's not a very fulfilling way to live.
It is a cautionary tale for our generation - you are not your tragedies. You are not the club you belong to. You are not your scars. You are neither worthless nor undeserving.
You are what you make yourself to be, no matter what Tyler Durden wants.
"If you could either be God's worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose?"
- The Narrator, Fight Club
Fight Club on Wikipedia
Chuck Palahniuk on Wikipedia
Fight Club on Amazon.com
Official Chuck Palahniuk Fan Site