Friday, April 13, 2012

Saturday Grab Bag on the Path of the Beam

Somehow I completely spaced out during my whole “how I kept the Gunslinger groove going in my mind while waiting to get the next Gunslinger volume” litany and forgot to mention one other piece of genre-bridging entertainment I turned to: How the West Was Weird. (Still available on Amazon!) It probably slipped slightly out of mind because I am ashamed to admit that the book has been out for like a year and I haven’t yet read every story in it. In my defense, I will acknowledge that the quality of the stories exhibits significant variance, shall we say. Couple that with the fact that one of the hurdles of completing any anthology of self-contained short stories is that it’s all too easy to set it aside for long periods of time between one tale and the next because there’s zero narrative momentum to carry you through the whole book, and so it goes. But yeah, I returned to it last week because, at the end of the day, “weird west” is exactly what the Dark Tower saga is, very much so at the outset for the first two or three books, arguably less so as it rambles along, but always essentially rooted there. At this point I’m very nearly done with book two and I’ve been dragging my feet about even ordering a copy of book three, so I’ll likely (finally!) finish HTWWW soon.


Speaking of Dark Tower, I had forgotten how good The Drawing of the Three was. Going into the re-read, my recollection was that the first three or four books of the series were a bit disjointed and really showed the seams that resulted from stitching together some short stories from the 70’s into one novella and then writing a sequel novel six years after that and so on. I also remember being significantly disappointed when the bizarre other-worldliness of The Gunslinger, with its small hints of connection with the real contemporary world, gave way in the next book to significantly more focus on our world and much less development of Roland’s. To cite another (far more atrocious) example, in the 80’s they made a live-action He-Man movie and rather than setting the entire story on Eternia like the cartoon (and the toy line for that matter), it involved dimensional travel to Earth so that He-Man could meet some plucky American kids who would help save the universe from Skeletor and blah blah blah. I never saw the movie, and I understand it’s total drek, but I was put off from the start by that unnecessary grounding. It basically sends the message that the studio thinks the audience is stupid, that if a story is self-contained in a fantasy setting then no one watching will be able to relate to the protagonists or care about the stakes no matter how universal they may be at their core, but as long as you connect those techno-barbarians and cyber-necromancers with the lives of fictional people dwelling on the East Coast in the present then all is well. As if tons of self-contained fantasy including certain stone cold classics just doesn’t exist. Anyway, I was invested in Roland’s quest from the get-go and desperately curious to learn more about his world, so the hard right turn into assembling his posse of 20th century New Yorkers rubbed me the wrong way. Now, knowing how the whole story involves parallel worlds pretty intrinsically, I’m much more forgiving, and without that chip on my shoulder I enjoyed The Drawing of the Three tremendously.

Spot on.

OK, at some point I’m going to talk about things other than The Dark Tower, I swear! But not today. One more thing, about a particular line that jumped out at me this time around. The second book starts out with Roland in a bad situation that gets a lot worse before it gets better, and as things are rapidly falling apart in ways which self-evidently must have dire consequences, he thinks to himself, twice, in his stoic interior monologue: I see serious problems ahead. Despite not having much natural faculty for it myself, I do enjoy a good understatement, but I think this one has particular resonance with me now for a couple of reasons. In the time since I first read The Drawing of the Three the Star Wars prequels have come out and I’ve re-watched the original movies many, many more times (funny enough this week’s HIMYM was about hat very thing) and, of course, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is a recurring line of dialogue from those movies which has only gotten embedded deeper and deeper in my brain over time. But then again, it also echoes “Winter is coming” (or “Winter is coomin’” if you prefer, certainly I do) in its repeated doomsaying and that’s been much bandied about lately, as well.


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