Tuesday, May 14, 2013
December 25 of this year will see the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone, adapted from T. H. White's original book. This was the last animated feature premiered in Disney's lifetime, and I have always felt that it has never had the popularity that it deserves. The timing of the movie was, perhaps, unfortunate: President John F. Kennedy (who for many people had embodied the spirit of "Camelot" inspired by Lerner and Loewe's play and film adapted from White's Arthurian material) had been assassinated only a month before, and few people were in the mood for light-hearted fun. It has always had a warm spot in the hearts of many Fantasy fans, however, sometimes even more so than Disney's straight-out fairy tale movies: for many it is their first introduction to the genre and to the "Matter of Britain."
Compared to other Disney properties, The Sword in the Stone has had little marketing or off-shoots. A film whose main theme is education ("Knowledge and wisdom are the true power!") and not adventure, and which is firmly set in a past and a tradition, might not have a great deal of room to play around in. The main break-away character was Madam Mim, who as a witch might live for centuries, and whose wacky and unbalanced nature could really stir the pot. She appeared in a few comics as a not-so-wicked villain, sometimes in cahoots with Uncle Scrooge's nemeses, the Beagle Boys. Merlin has turned up here and there, but never as a main character . In the Kingdom Hearts games, he is the trainer in magical practice. As for the Wart, who turns out to be King Arthur, he is absolutely nowhere on the popular culture map. He might have had better luck being a Disney princess.
But back in 1963 (the year that I was born!) there was plenty of advertising and marketing and hope and tie-ins to be found. Here are a few items I have gathered that were scattered around (mostly on eBay). Before there was any VHS or DVD, this was how you remembered movies and brought them home with you. The world was different then, my children.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
"At this point, I'd like to point out that the card index I started for the original Discworld Companion back in 1992 is still just as accessible and readable as it was when I started it. In total contrast, trying to extract the text of the original Companion from what counted as state of the art IT storage back in the 1990s has been a little more of a challenge. Technology, eh?" --Stephen Briggs, Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion...so far.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art and Design
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters
Written by Daniel Falconer, Published by Harper Design in conjunction with WETA.
This is a beautiful pair of books, not only to look at, but simply to hold in your hand and brush your fingers over their embossed covers. They are lovely artifacts, as might be expected of items produced by WETA, the crack design team responsible for developing the look of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies, and now his Hobbit films as well. These books chronicle how every detail of The Unexpected Journey was created, refined, and signed off on, from the mug in Bilbo's hand to the look of each dwarf to the last pus-filled bubo on the Great Goblin's face. Picture after picture of beautiful art made by pencil, paint, and computer is revealed with each flip of a page, and we get to see the might-have-beens for every new character and place as people like Alan Lee and John Howe and a score of others strive to pin down a precise vision of how things would eventually be shown. Background stories and ideas that helped bring peoples and places alive for the designers and actors (things not necessarily shown or mentioned in the film) are revealed in the text.
I found the first Chronicles: Art and Design especially delightful, as it contained both a full size, detachable copy of Thror's Map and a completely readable two-page printing of Bilbo's contract with Thorin and Company. Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters has nothing comparable except a size chart in the back, showing the comparative scale of everything from a Rock Giant to a Rhosgobel Rabbit. It does have more intrinsic interest, however, as it deals more with people and less with places and things.
A rather expensive set at about $40 a volume, but worth it to the fan, I guess, and at some places (such as SFBC, where I ordered mine) available for a little less.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The Wizard of Id: 1972 Daily and Sunday Strips, by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart, Titan Books.
I think everyone likes to remember certain periods of the past by the best products of the time. When I recall what it was actually like to live in the 1970's, I think of ubiquitous cigarette smoke, awful synthetic fabric, and social and political unrest everywhere. One of the best things that came out of the Seventies (and one of the few things that made them bearable to live through) was the humor. And I find that some of the best humor is now preserved in these yearly collections of The Wizard of Id.
Created by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart, punched up by gag writers Jack Caprio and Dick Boland, the comic is set in the pseudo-medieval Kingdom of Id, ruled over by a short and short-tempered King. His main advisers are the Wizard (an incompetent magician) and Rodney (a cowardly knight). The concept of the strip allows for a broad spectrum of humor, from full-out jokes on human nature, to jabs at the social problems of the day, to fantasy-specific gags about magic and fairy tales (these last I particularly enjoy). Because of the Cloud-Cuckoo-Land setting the humor seems less of a period piece and more perpetually applicable.
The Complete Peanuts: 1985 to 1986, by Charles Schulz, Fantagraphic Books. Foreword by Patton Oswalt.
Few people reverence the art and achievement of Charles Schulz or love his creation, Peanuts, more than I do, but I have to admit (which I think few connected to the project of publishing the complete strips would) that by the mid-Eighties the comic was definitely on the downswing. Much of the humor seems to be Schulz saying "Look at these wacky trends! Aren't they funny?" rather than making any real gags. It's kind of like seeing your grandfather, if he been an elegant champion-grade ballroom dancer, trying to stay relevant by attempting to break dance. Patton Oswalt in his introduction points out how much of the comic during these years are "shadow autobiography," dealing with lawyers and product licencing; other parts seem recursive, the characters and established themes feeding in on themselves instead of blossoming outward.
But there are occasional nuggets of silver in the silt, if little gold, and I intend to keep collecting this series to the end, which should come in seven more volumes. As I said, I love Peanuts, and this complete collection will make obsolete a ton of the old Fawcett-Crest paperbacks I've been collecting since I was in second grade. With this volume I finally noticed a design feature of this set. On the spine of each cover is a little oval cartouche with a different Peanuts character. On the books from 1950 to 1974 the characters are walking to the left; on the 1975-1976 volume Charlie Brown stares straight ahead; after that, the characters are headed to the right. They seem to be headed to the future. I am going that way with them.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
"...We might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I
have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?
Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of
fondness or affection for myself, and 1 do not even always enjoy my own
society. So apparently "Love your neighbour" does not mean "feel fond of
him" or "find him attractive." I ought to have seen that before, because, of
course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of
myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and
those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In
fact it, is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice,
but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does
not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief.
For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out
that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain
that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only
do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I
can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So
apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.
Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me
long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or,
as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.
For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting
distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But
years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been
doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own
cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been
the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the
things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to
find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently,
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for
cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have
said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the
same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man
should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that
somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again...
I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about
them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply
because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way
and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out on our
own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule
to all the other selves. Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that
is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have,
but just because we are the things called selves."
--from "Forgiveness," Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis.