media consumption update

January 23, 2020

I’ve just finished reading The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. I love Conrad’s writing and there are still a number of books of his I haven’t read. I’m working through them. This one is slow, but great, if that makes sense. So one of the things I love about Conrad — he’s been elevated to the canon, he’s considered a classic, literary author. But that wasn’t how he published. He was a contemporary of folks like H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, and he was writing the same kinds of things they were — adventure stories, mysteries, and so on. I mean, he’s such a good writer and his work is complicated and deep. . . but read him back-to-back with Haggard and you suddenly realize that Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim are adventure thrillers. I love that.

The Secret Agent is a crime novel. It’s also a whole collection of character studies. But the chapter where it all comes together, the murder that marks the climactic moment. . .it’s masterful. Whew. I’m taking notes.

Moving on to my current obsession, The Witcher, which I have now watched through twice. How long do we have to wait for more? Hrm.

Wanting not just a fantasy fix, but the very specific fantasy fix I feel like The Witcher offers, I rewatched Dragonslayer.  I know I’ve sung the praises of this 1981 movie before. But it’s still great!  And it really does push the same buttons as The Witcher, which made me happy. I’m trying to figure out what makes this kind of fantasy tick. I think Willow and Ladyhawke fall into the same category.

What I’ve got so far:

Likeable, competent characters who are basically good people trying to do good. Even if they are wearing black leather.

Magic that is commonplace but also wondrous. That is, this is a world where there’s a kind of standard magic technology — but that only makes it all the more surprising and inspiring when someone pulls out some real genuine badass wild magic. It’s about pushing past what the characters think is possible.

The world may be grimdark, but the characters aren’t. The protagonists coming together to look out for each other in a grimdark world is one of the great appeals of this kind of story.

Doesn’t take itself too seriously. Jokes are allowed. Poking fun at itself is allowed. Silliness is allowed.  Something Connie Willis says about romantic comedies — for a romantic comedy to work, the story can make fun of everything except the feelings of the main characters for each other. Mock and satirize whatever you want — but that relationship has to be real and genuine and honest.  I feel like there’s something similar going on with this kind of fantasy.  It can be funny, it can be cheesy. But there’s a core to the story — the goodness of the main characters, the power of magic when it’s used unselfishly — that has to be in earnest.

And that’s what I’ve got so far.

 

6 Responses to “media consumption update”

  1. mdkanner Says:

    I use The Secret Agent to talk about terrorism and the anarchist movement in fin de siecle England.

  2. David Hack Says:

    Have you seen All is True? Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in retirement. Also with Judi Dench, Ian McKellen.

    It provides an answer to the Second best bed Question and is a great palate cleanser to Anonymous.

  3. mdkanner Says:

    I have seen “All is True.” I thought it was wonderful. Of course, I’m biased, I’ll watch anything Dame Judith is in.


  4. Conrad is one of my favorite writers, for all that some of his work is overwritten. For instance he tries to turn Lord Jim into this profoundly mysterious character, and the problem with that is that Jim is completely transparent.

    Nostromo is my favorite of the long novels, leaving aside the sea stories, which are in a special exalted category reserved for works dictated by angels.

    I recommend the movie Hitchcock made from The Secret Agent, which was called Saboteur because he’d already made a film called The Secret Agent, based on Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden stories. (Also recommended)

  5. mdkanner Says:

    The BBC did a good mini-series (3 episodes) with Toby Jones in 2016.

  6. carriev Says:

    I have a totally different read of Lord Jim. Jim is Conrad’s critique of the British Empire’s conception of its own heroism. Jim is tragic — and the object of Marlow’s near constant pity — because he desperately wants to be that heroic ideal, but his one huge and astonishing failure prevents him from ever reaching it.

    Have not yet seen “All is True” but I want to.


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