Monday, 29 April 2013


Sometimes it seems as if I'm just repeating myself ad nauseum. It's a sensation of 'deja vu' that permeates my whole existence and every conversation. In every discussion I am convinced that it has very specifically occurred before. Now some of this is down to the shear number of conversations I've had with people in the past (not as many as you would think), and surely some of these incidents are related to imagination and half-remembered dreams but is it normal to have dejá vu with every single chat? It's a little creepy. Presumably it's a function of not having talked enough during my life and so exchanges have more significance than they should, but it certainly raises the bar of difficulty for people trying to talk to me if everything feels like a repeat. Oh, chat is so dull!

congruity (plural congruities)
i) The quality of agreeing; the quality of being suitable and appropriate.
ii) An instance or point of agreement or correspondence; a resemblance.

It's as if every conversation has a congruity with a previous exchange. Mathematically a congruity is represented best by the second definition above. Two triangles are congruous if they have the same size and shape. One may be rotated to a different angle than the other but it would still be congruous, as you could rotate it and overlay the two in either order and not be able to see the lower triangle. Deja vu is just the sensation of an infinite number of congruous triangles all overlaid upon each other so you can't see any but the most recent one. It's annoying. Have I written about all this before? Who can know without reading through the hundred-plus previous posts?

More than a hundred posts... It's an impressive number. I never would have thought that could be possible, and still don't entirely believe it, or the shear number of page views on my stats page. It is madness. It's fun to write this nonsense, especially as the stories provide scope for just splashing ideas into a narrative and seeing what happens. It's obvious that the stories don't really work in a serialised form but individual segments are passable and the ideas will be used far better in the future. It's mostly the form that is the problem rather than the substance.

Now it's time to touch on something else that has a conflict of substance versus format and that's 'Doctor Who'. Look away now, Who-haters. After a run of exceptional episodes in this waning half of the seventh series it seems as if the main problem with 'Doctor Who' is that forty-five minutes is just too short a time for some of the stories they have to tell. It's almost as if someone somewhere should have a nice big button somewhere marked 'sixty minute special' that can be pushed twice per season, and maybe there should be an additional plunger switch under a glass shield for the super ninety minute special that can only be pushed once per season at most. The forty five minute limit really seems to affect the Grand High Moff (current showrunner), who has such a pedigree and so much material that his episodes are stuffed to popping point. He has also, up until very recent memory, had very little consistent backup resulting in very uneven series. Now, however, if he can hold on to Neil Cross and Neil Gaiman there's potential for a few more really good series ahead. As far as I can tell, no-one else is even worth their weight in tapioca in practical show writing terms. The lack of backup is quite evident in 'Sherlock' too but that's a whole other story. That's a lot of pressure on the Moff.

Wow, I've broken my 'Doctor Who' silence. If only there were 'Star Trek' to talk about too but that show is dead and the JJ Abrams movies are something else pretending to be Trek. Maybe it's best that way.


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Story: 'Triangles', III

(Part II , IV )

Some people say there's only one universe, and others that there are an infinite number, all subtly different. The truth is unknown, except for a handful of clues at the Junction, amidst the ancient mysteries and labyrinthine passages.

At the beginning of time, when the Other let the universes out of the pen for another trip around the block, he noticed a strange thing. Whereas before every universe had been utterly different and distinct, on this occasion there were... congruities.

In particular, there was this portion of space, a galactic sector in size that was remarkably similar in every case, except for a freakish change in the physics of geometry. In one reality there would be a predominance of squares, while in another circles, and in another dodecahedra. There were even mindboggling realities typed after shapes no-one could even imagine in three dimensions and those that resided in little pockets of one-dimensional space. Far out on the periphery the Other even spotted a complex dimension, half imaginary and half real, dragons spitting fire at technologists while dolphins laughed.

The Other liked dolphins. They always popped up somewhere every time the Release occurred. He also had suspicions about the dolphins... Beings that laughed and played all the time had to be up to something...

The Other found the congruities clustered most exactly around a small world, orbiting a little yellow star. It was the third planet. Looking in from the extra-dimensional void - wondering momentarily what might be looking in on it - little tunnels could be seen travelling from every little third world to its doppelgangers. Little fragments of sutured reality from one dimension to the next, built to last and very very worrying. In all the uncounted cycles this had never occurred. There was even a tunnel to the Junction. Annoyingly there were dolphins on most of the third worlds.

And then something even more worrying occurred. A tiny speck popped from one dimension to another. Something was beginning and worse, these tunnels weren't natural. The Other hadn't made them, so something else had.

The Other wasn't as alone as he had thought.


NOTE Obviously a junction between realities is a very CS Lewis idea, and Douglas Adams did the dolphins.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Clicks and Clacks

The keys of the keyboard click and clack as words stream. A furrowed brow emerges from time before retreating under a fresh onslaught of words. Occasionally there's a twitch at some pain both inside and outside. The words trickle on.

Sometimes the words are on topical events. For example, on this day the National Library of Wales - which is next door to the University of Aberystwyth - had a fairly major fire and lost part of its roof. It's somewhat horrifying to hear of the damage and the lost items and treasures contained therein. On other occasions, the words are those of fiction or of criticism.

The clicks and clacks cease for a moment and the writer pauses to think and evaluate the reasons and whys and wherefores. The pause lengthens and pace is broken. Finally a piece of music emerges from the computer and clicking and clacking begins again. An idea has landed from nowhere, albeit not for the piece in question. For something else involving triangles.

'Can you see the clouds flying by in the sky where you are? Does the weather change like a bee's direction in flight? Is the world a place full of wonder?' An old and favoured theme is re-emerging from a long hiatus as if summoned from the depths of the Earth, from a prison of doubts and uncertainty. Some people say you can't do the impossible, that the world is a grim and untidy place that will always need saving and can't be saved.

The typing goes faster, as the words tumble in and tumble out in a bizarre mixed up torrent of zoomable madness.

The world is so full of people that there's not enough food or water. We can't produce enough electricity to keep everything working and have plundered and polluted to the point of madness. 'Do you wonder how it got this way? Is it inevitable as a product of who we are and what we do as a species? Will nothing ever change?'

A long pause.

Some people say we can't save the world...

'Yes, but what if we could?'

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Book: 'The Sign Of The Four' (1890)

There is one Sherlock Holmes story that excels above all others for me. It is 'The Sign of the Four' (TSOTF, Four), with 'The Speckled Band' as a close follow up. While 'Four' is the second story written it is the first, and perhaps the last to truly capture the character of Sherlock Holmes, defining him as it does outside of his work and the periods of ennui that assaulted the fictional Great Detective between cases. It is also the story that truly grants Watson status as a lead character as opposed to the narrator. It is the balanced narrative between Watson and Holmes that drives this to being the ultimate Sherlock Holmes story, as well as the preponderance of story elements that would be repeated in subsequent tales.

Within 'The Sign of the Four' we find an incompetent police detective, Watson noticing the female client (and marrying her!), an exotic theme to the mystery, a simple And difficult problem, and of course a stunning final chase. It's really the tour de force of adventure/mystery stories with no exceptions. 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is legendary for perhaps slightly different reasons, it being far more of a Watson story and merging mystery with horror instead of adventure. While 'A Study In Scarlet' originated Watson and Holmes as characters it also featured an incredibly dull historical flashback relating the story of the 'villain'. This story has no truck with that nonsense, with a brief backstory told by the criminal in interview instead of narrative, and magnificent opening and ending sections. You can almost perceive the whole career and existence of Holmes and his career in one tale, and the demons that plague him.

The problem with talking about good things, as I know from extensive Film Bin experience, is that there are no details to dissect. Quality entertainment has no interesting cracks to look at and dissect. 'The Sign of the Four' is iconic and introduces - I think for the only time in the canon - Sherlock's explicit drug use, which is an incredibly minor part of the canon but is massively overrepresented in other media. There are no screen versions of Sherlock that don't at least mention the cocaine and many over egg the pudding ridiculously. It's probably because this is the novella that introduces the effective screen versions of Holmes and Watson, and the dynamic that allows them to endure through the rest of the stories. It's ironic because 'The Sign of the Four' is a tremendous adventure that would be a wonderful movie if not for the midget dart-blowing native, while 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' has been made numerous times despite being less exciting and in many ways a far weaker story for the character of Sherlock. It's interesting that the very strength of 'Four' is what makes it unsuitable for adaptation into other media; Exoticness not really translating well into film or television.

One of the most impressive facets of 'Four' is that it was published in 1890, which as of this post is 123 years ago. While you can expect quality writing from any era, the language here is concise and modern, and fantastic. The first person narrative is well constructed, as it allows Sherlock to spin his solutions and deductions using data that Watson hasn't noticed, which by proxy you are totally unaware of. You can't even pretend to try and solve the problem because Watson is unreliable in his narration, or rather very reliable in his inability to notice anything of any value.

I'm reasonably sure that this has been mostly waffle on the subject of Sherlock Holmes and 'The Sign of the Four' but it's a story that really doesn't get talked about enough. It is one of the most influential stories ever written, both in the cleanness and modernity of the language, and the scope of the plot. It's the best Sherlock Holmes story, with the second place being taken by 'The Speckled Band', which also has strong Indian connections. It might be time to read the canon again and check for linkage between quality and Subcontinental connections. Almost none of them, though, have Watson as a strong lead character in addition to being narrator. For that you need 'The Four'.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Movie: 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension' (1984)

Can you imagine that there's a brilliant physicist? Can you conceive of his also being a neurosurgeon? What about his being world famous? Or his leading a bar band composed of his mysterious and enigmatic friends called 'The Hong Kong Cavaliers'? Yes? An international organisation of followers called the 'Blue Blaze Irregulars'? What if, finally, he had a jetcar that could cross into the Eighth Dimension? If you're still reading, then meet Buckaroo Banzai, scion of Japanese and American geniuses and the only one standing between us and the eventual domination of the Red Lectroids from Planet 10.

'Buckaroo Banzai' is a mad movie, deranged even, and designed to document the adventures of someone who never even existed. Even the director's commentary is an in-universie in-joke. Does that explain how this movie is intended to be?

It's been a while since I did one of these pieces, and 'Buckaroo Banzai' is hard to write about, but shouldn't that also make it easy to talk about too? This movie is intentionally bizarre and some people just can't stand it. I, on the other hand, love it. The world is goopy, fantastic, colourful, gigantic and silly in the playful manner rather than the cynical. Silly and crazy in the cynical manner is unendurable but if it's heartfelt... then it works in a way quite unlike any other.

'Buckaroo Banzai' is a flawed gem, marred by the gloominess of it's last quarter. The cast is full of people about to become famous and infamous: Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Weller, Clancey Brown, Dan Hedaya and... someone so out of his mind that he can be only John Lithgow. That band of theatrical madmen conspire together with the director W.D. Richter to create a new myth based on no comic books, no television, no films and no previous source material. Armed only with a three hundred page manuscript build in preparation they made this loopy epic filled with piles of yellow pigment, errant watermelons and mangos, red-headed villains, bubble wrap masks and wild visuals.

The music is unobtrusive but fitting, the effects are wonderful except for the spaceship mattes, the cast chemistry is offbeat and the plot half-baked. There is no way this movie should work at all, especially with Lithgow hamming it up to high heaven. But it does, and it needs to be seen simply so you can work out who you are.

Dare you take the risk, Monkey Boy?


Saturday, 20 April 2013


Oh, what sweet pleasures go on in service of Film Bin! I will have watched 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai' three times over the course of this weekend: Once listening to the official commentary, once without, and once while recording our own commentary. It's going to be fun, I think, with some great reactions to the preposterousness of it all. Go, Buckaroo, go! It's really an awesome and divisive film that defies convention, embraces cheesiness in a heartfelt manner, and is stupid at numerous points. There shall be a review.

Words are not flowing. It's like being coated in molasses. Argh. It was a strange week. Today I was wandering around Morrisons and picked up 'The Brady Bunch Movie' for two pounds, fighting the impulse the whole time. Really, I can not understand articulation problems as I've been reading a lot this week and that should compensate for too much mathematics or scientific thinking. 'Strong Poison' was a pretty good novel, by Dorothy L Sayers, and Glen Cook's 'Sweet Silver Blues' is proving to be mildly diverting but the stand out novel of recent weeks has been a rereading of 'The Sign of the Four'. That last book was so good as to demand a review of its own. It is just awesome and is perhaps the most significant Sherlock Holmes story of all, yielding just as much Watson story as it does Holmes. Oh, everyone should read it and 'The Speckled Band'.

It probably hasn't featured much on the Quirky Muffin but I am a proper Sherlock Holmes fan and go nowhere without the stories. The first three novellas and the first two sets of short stories are as close to creative perfection as is possible, with the exception of a particularly dull historical interlude in the very first 'A Study In Scarlet'. There is literally nothing to compare to those stories anywhere. Some of the GK Chesterton Father Brown stories are good but fill a different niche, Dashiell Hammett's short stories are awesome but less romantic, and Stanley Ellin did some remarkable pieces but they were more tragic and not detective stories. Conan Doyle created a one-off masterpiece and then eventually milked it for all the living money he could. But every story before he officially resurrected Sherlock Holmes is a gem and cast in gold.

Looking back on memories new and old it is fascinating to note how few sets of stories have really struck home and registered with me. Jasper Fforde's 'Nursery Crimes' books, Sherlock Holmes, David Eddings and his 'Belgariad', Dashiell Hammett, 'The Three Musketeers', 'A Tale of Two Cities'... I was expecting Pratchett's 'Discworld' to be more important but somehow it's more of a bystander in the world of personally important fiction. 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution' by Nicholas Meyer is good, and the 'Star Trek' adaptations by James Blish are excellent. Actually... those are on a par with the Sherlock Holmes stories. The third season adaptations especially really make you wish more effort had been put into the screen versions. Really, I would recommend the James Blish 'Star Trek' stories, based as they are on early versions of the scripts rather than the polished final products. They are subtly different!

Has that established my mock-literary credentials? No? 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' and 'So Long And Thanks For All The Fish'. Done deal.


PS On further thought James Blish strikes again when you consider 'Cities In Flight' as a whole. Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Story: The Disappearance (II)

(Part IIII )

The plain chocolate digestive detective force was never intended to be a long-term division of the police force, but circumstances conspired to make it perhaps the most consistently respected and enduring police presences in London. Since plain chocolate digestives are relatively unknown outside of Britain, the PCDD is also one of the most travelled divisions, being dispatched throughout the world to countries unsuited to biscuit phenomena. My name is Wilson, I work at the PCDD, and this is not a joke.

Pure disintegrations were quire rare in biscuit phenomena, and the incident at Tinkerton Gardens was was also unusual in that we had no way of identifying the now sadly non-existent victim. Carter's sensors had registered a complete absence of DNA, presumably indicating a Quantum Fade of some kind. The Lab had been getting closer to understanding the basis of the Plain Chocolate Digestive's power, but only in the sense of getting closer to a black hole or maelstrom. Apparently the latest theory was that the specific combinations and ratios of ingredients caused a singularity in the probability field that surrounds us, allowing for extraordinarily unlikely things to happen. Before that theory, it had been alien interference in early biscuit design, and before that the Egyptian Gods. I still like the Egyptian Gods theory, but then I took Egyptology at university and like the costumes.

In our dingy office we waited for a classification on the biscuit from Cheryl and Stan in the Chamber. They had been working on it for two hours, which wasn't unusual, but this long an analysis indicated a genuine Biscuit Phenomenon and not just a coincidence with an inert specimen. Carter was filling in a latest transfer application, being unsatisfied at last with the lack of promotion prospects from the PCDD, and I was reviewing notes from the Zurich Imports incident. Five people were missing, but it seemed that the incident fitted the pattern of the Plymouth Avenue dispersal event from five years earlier. I dispatched a message to Zurich with the likely locations of the missing people and carried on.

A note arrived from the Chamber, that doubly reinforced research room downstairs: 'Come down at once. Classification unknown. Protocol G.' Now that was unusual, a protocol G warning meant that they were worried about airborne effects of some kind. I showed the note to Carter, logged us in for a Chamber visit and then we descended to the lower basement. Security and monitoring around the Chamber was vital, and each of the ten pairs of PCDD agents were trained to diligence of the utmost reliability. I would have to complete that same training on Carter's replacement once she finally left.

Signing the entrance sheet at Chamber's entrance and pushing the bell button, we waited for Fred and Cheryl to either emerge or summon us inside. Two minutes passed, then three and finally five before we rung a safety alert, donned the safety suits reluctantly, and entered without permission into the domain of the Analysts. As I somehow expected, Fred and Cheryl had been removed from consciousness and were lying on the floor in almost comical positions. Neither of them had the specimen and the testing instruments were all empty.

The evidence was gone.

There will be more...


Note: It's quite derivative of the great Jasper Fforde but I still quite like it.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


The BAMC is over and now regular service is resumed after a lovely weekend visiting friends in Glasgow. No matter how well or badly any trip goes there is still nothing better than getting back to your own kitchen. Having put everything together in my head I can now reveal to you the key points of a typical conference day, which is far more suitable to a generic conference than the BAMC (covering back):

1> Wake up, get confused, get breakfast.
2> See some talks, get thirsty and tired.
3> Coffee and biscuit break. Get sugary and caffeinated.
4> Watch more talks, get thirsty and tired. Begin mood swings.
5> Lunch. In Britain this is typically sandwiches and cake and possibly some crisps and fruit. More coffee and tea.
6> Watch more talks. Start more erratic mood swings and lose focus. Sugar saturation. Get thirsty.
7> Coffee break. MORE COFFEE AND BISCUITS. There may be posters to look at.
8> If unlucky, MORE TALKS! Get thirsty and mildly deranged.
9> Possibly more coffee. End of scheduled day.
10> Go out for dinner, wait three hours for group to assemble. Faint of hunger and sugar low.
11> Leave as the others start getting drunk and doing funny looks. Get lost looking for hotel.

There is one variant of the above routine, which is the night of the conference dinner. On those nights you wait hours for a small amount of food, end up seated with strangers and then struggle to make it through the after-dinner speech. The more enterprising diners will scour surrounding empty tables for spare wine bottles. Non-drinkers such as myself will leave early. People will look enviously as you go.

It's interesting to be a delegate at a conference though as you can observe the different character types at large: The schmoozers, the incredibly able who don't have to schmooze, the disinterested people on a free holiday, and the Big Cheeses stalking around like lions on the veldt and never speaking a wrong word. It's fascinating, especially at the BAMC where there is also a large proportion of postgraduate students giving their first conference talks, and people get nervous. Oh, the funny looks and nerves...

Oh, and as someone who has been behind the organisational curtain in a relatively minor capacity, there's even more madness behind the scenes. If anyone ever asks me about a programme font again there will be ructions.


Monday, 15 April 2013

Grand Reopening

The return from conference has occurred and even though I can't use any of the topical content from that week due to confidentiality and threats from the relevant authorities there shall be a grand reopening of the Quirky Muffin tomorrow, coupled with a revision of this stump of a post.

Good times are coming, MuffinQuesters.


Sunday, 7 April 2013


As the dust settles on another Spoiler Filled recording, and I dust off my bruised ego and wonder why I'm the only one who likes 'Speed Racer' it is time to close down the Quirky Muffin for a week as I'll be away at a highly unspecified BAMC conference in Leeds. Oh blast! There's never secrecy when you need it. Count on many odd and unusual stories on my return or numerous shifting on the feet as I struggle to get back into the habit of writing.

It has been a very wobbly week, with bike breakdowns, mixed podcast recordings, a horrific time in trying to adjust to Daylight Fakings Time and sickness to boot. It seems likely that things will improve but we never can tell. It's entirely possible that this blog has secretly been requisitioned by Venusian Intelligence Forces in an attempt to slowly acclimatize the United Kingdom and indeed the world to the idea that not only might there be life out there, but it could be custard-based life. The idea of custard-based life is not as bizarre as you might thing, being based in the legendary science fiction writings of E.P. Soblott, noted raconteur and hat maker. Soblott proposed the concept while manufacturing a particularly lopsided fedora for one of his more shady clientele before vanishing off the scene in the late 1930s. We miss him still, and his legendary prose in the service of speculative fiction has never been replicated.

To all you Jasper Fforde fans out there, I should really apologise for not mentioning the man before as I've read and enjoyed many of his novels. This year, the Quirky Muffin's field correspondent will be composing a dispatch from the site of the Fforde Ffiesta 2013. Hopefully the dispatch will make it through the security clampdown by the Legion of Danvers without extreme methods of concealment being undertaken. If anyone out there appreciates the works of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett then you should definitely at least check out the novels of Jasper Fforde. I especially recommend 'The Big Over Easy', 'The Fourth Bear' and 'Shades of Grey'. Our correspondent is even now being loaded down with the books he hasn't read and scolded strongly for his negligence. Sometimes we promote the wrong interns and it is sad.

Roaming madly around in a sleep-deprived bubble the word 'intern' sparks off a recollection of 'Parks and Recreation' which I have greatly been enjoying on DVD recently. The intern in question is the lovely and extremely scary April Dwyer nee Ludgate as played by Aubrey Plaza. She is so awesome in that role, even if she is barely acting, and my Aubrey Plaza infatuation continues. It's amazing what she and Chris Pratt pull off in that show, and her shafts of either evil or impish moods are refreshing in their spikiness. I wish there were more Aubrey Plazas.

It's entirely possible that one more post will be generated by the automatic writing machine before departure but for now I will assume the Quirky Muffin closed for about nine days unless a mystery guest poster can be secured.


Friday, 5 April 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', XII

Even though I will be away, dear crazy Muffinquesters, please rest east. The evenings at an academic conference leave much scope for rest, leisure and recreation for the teetotal and noise-sensitive delegate. Even now I anticipate many hours spent with a notepad and pen, doodling and scrawling new material for the Muffin which then noone will read except for bizarre smut networks and the James May Pro Boards. I'd like to thank that same James May page for make the 'Toy Stories: Flight Club' my most read article ever, getting SIX TIMES as many views as the next post in popularity. That was some horrifically accidental plug!


Night Trials: Part XII
(Part XI)
In the days since being knocked out, waking up to find his own town taken over by hostile and slimy aliens, escaping, surveiling, travelling to the next town for help and finding still more aliens, Sheriff Bob had not for an instant really known what to do. He had been confused, non-plussed, and ultimately taking the only options he'd seen left to him at every juncture. Now, huddled in a house in Poon Hill, as building after building was collapsed around him he inwardly snapped. It wasn't his town, but he was the law, and blast it all it was his job to enforce that law or die trying.

Outside, the six aliens were shuffling slowly forward and looking nervously around. They almost jumped in fright when the door to Bob's refuge burst open and the Sheriff busted out in the sprint of his life. He took two of the aliens down in a low tackle, where they lay stunned on the ground as their floating discs hovered without direction. The other four were plainly in shock, so Bob punched another in the head and he promptly collapsed too. Three left now and they were slowly coming to terms with their situation, raising their weapons. Bob stole two guns from the fallen invaders and mentally dared the aliens to take him on, before shooting two of them and watching them fall stunned to the ground. The sixth alien fled and stunned faces watched from the windows of surrounding houses.

The battle wasn't over yet though, and even though a abhor gunplay it shall be recounted. Bob had been standing two houses up from the saloon, in the middle of the street. He realised he was a sitting target for a cowardly sniper, and that that was probably how the aliens did business. Then, two houses down from the saloon, a bizarre sight met his eye. An alien floated into the middle of the street, packing a six gun and a cowboy hat with a star. Evidently there was a twisted sense of humour in the alien psyche or someone had simply snapped like a twig under the pressure of life on an inhospitable and dry alien planet... In any case, they clearly wanted a showdown, and as a lawman he clearly he had only one option open to him. He shot the alien between the eyes before he'd even settled and then went over to disarm him. It gurgled a little and tried to get up so he kicked it and then rolled it toward Justice Hall.

Now Bob was in an extremely bad spot, with houses all around and who knew how many snipers watching. He was lucky though, as then the troops galloped into Poon Hill, and Bob was spared the horror of being horribly outnumbered by a host of alien invaders before being forced into some horribly clichéd showdown where he could only win in the most unlikely way possible. He'd had enough of those situation when he left Tombstone during the vampire infestation. Poor Clara, it had been a shame to slay her.

Turning to a nearby soldier, he asked about his own town. It was next. It was time to go home. The woman watched him from a window and started packing her bags and the child's.

The End, for now.

PS Yes, it was anti-climactic. I know. Extemporising is hard!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Book: 'The Three Musketeers' by Alexandre Dumas (1844)

I read this book when I was little, for I was precocious, and now I have read it again in preparation for the Film Bin commentaries on the Salkind movie adaptations and there are certain aspects of it that are truly classic. It is an adaptation of Dumas's serialised version which progressively overcomes its origins as the narrative moves on. It's a comedy that lapses into romance and then tragic vengeance with a glint of hope. It's a metaphor for growing up as the tone changes. It's a Catholic metaphor for how women are ultimately a bit evil and treacherous while in the coolness of their intellect, and men in the grip of their passions. It's also a peek into historical attitudes to infidelity, marriage and cultural norms in fifteenth century Paris, and the power struggles rippling through the nation between King Louis and the Cardinal Richelieu, who was his first minister. It's also a lesson in having caddish protagonists who are both good and bad, noble by any standard but also immoral by our own contemporary thinking. It's all those things.

The core of the novel, at least at the beginning, is the story of the young Gascon called d'Artagnan and his adventures in Paris whilst waiting and hoping to be commissioned as a Musketeer of the King. After initially trying to sequentially duel the three Inseparables, the eponymous musketeers of the title, he becomes their fourth cohort and eventually their comrade in arms. d'Artagnan and the musketeers are characterised in their actions far more than their words - except perhaps for Athos - and that is quite reasonable considering their status as cavaliers. They are, however, cavaliers who serve under assumed names and for unknown reasons. If there's one thing that's never fully exploited, it's the mystery behind the Inseparables, again except for Athos. Athos is the lynch pin to the whole story in many ways, and as the narrative continues it becomes plain that it has become the continuation of his story, and his infamous ex-wife's, entangled as they are with d'Artagnan's travails. Aramis and Porthos are, in comparison, sketchy at best.

Interestingly, the fictional narrative is intertwined with the semi-fictional story around King Louis, his mistrusted and abused Queen Anne, the Cardinal Richelieu who was rejected by Anne, and her star-crossed love with the Prime Minster and de facto leader of Britain, the Duke of Buckingham. That higher narrative, along with the siege of La Rochelle and international politics really drives or complicates the action in the personal narrative when complication is needed and allows for the introduction of the first antagonist into the direct narrative, the Cardinal. The Cardinal is a rather interesting antagonist, as his machinations are mostly directly for the glory of France rather than himself, but also indirectly but deliberately for vengeance against the Queen and weakening of the King. He is at once selfless and selfish, complicating and solving some of the problems that propound in the story. As the first villain he is icily efficient but pales in comparison to his agent Milady, and is even grateful to be rid of her.

The latterly revealed drama of the novel is in the interaction of the mercenary beauty Milady, and her previous effects on Athos and present and ultimate effects on d'Artagnan and his mistress Constance, his landlord's wife. Mistresses are rife in this piece. Rife! It's as if it were a different country, and indeed it was, being France and not the United Kingdom, and six hundred years ago. The final chapters of this book are hard to read if you're of a sensitive disposition, they being where Milady effectively hijacks the story and revels in her villainous ways before making the final insult and meeting her end. It's actually quite traumatic and not to be spoilt, but an incredible denouement when you consider how little of the subtext is spoken. On the surface it is a truly superficial work and yet the wheels turn and the beans spin and the evil spreads until it is cut away at the root leaving only its devastation as proof of its existence, and a mass of emotion slurping over the floor sucking at d'Artagnan's feet and soul.

I firmly believe that enjoyment of this novel is dependent on finding the best translation, or on reading it in its original French. The one I read and enjoyed is probably quite bowdlerised but very enjoyable while more modern translations might be more explicit, although to what extend I truly could not say. I have wittered on at length now and should stop, being aware that I have rendered no firm guidance on the novel and only a precis or summary of its salient points.

'The Three Musketeers' is a deeply held classic, an epic adventure, and a novel everyone should read or at least every boy and man, whether they be precocious or not. Never have lackeys been so well defined, nor heroes shown with so many caddish tendencies. It's interesting to note that Athos's past is actually quite morally murky in many ways but we end up on his side anyway. It's an excellent historical adventure, with a mass of detail and a deeply sad ending. It is also very, very long.


PS The Quirky Muffin will be taking a break next week as I must go to a conference next week and visit a dear and distant friend thereafter. Normal service will be resumed eventually in mid-April.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Legacy

People seem to get hung up on having a legacy. Perhaps it's the idea of being forgotten or not having an impact after death, or even just a defence against the idea of death, but it is important to some. Of course it is also kind of silly because we leave legacies in every interaction and everything we do, although some are imperceptible and others even immediately forgotten. My legacy will hopefully lie in inspiring just a few people to be unconventional in useful and experimental ways and not just in obeying custom for custom's sake. That's not a bad legacy to have. Perhaps it is the only legacy to give. In the most part, however, thinking about legacies really just puts too much pressure on everything we do, and makes things seem so much more significant than they are. And it is, of course, rather morbid.

Instead of legacy, perhaps we should think about the effect we have now. The future is an unknown, and unknowable, and a thousand things could happen to spoil what we've done, but a niceness from day to day and gentleness in our affairs can only be good. Also, the practice of being good on a day-to-day basis and having a legacy in the present instead of the future is very comforting, unless of course there are selfish goals in hand, and things expected in return. Altruism is an end in itself, after all, and there ends the patronising lesson.

Easter is over and the Easter Bunny lies at the bottom of her burrow all exhausted and unconscious. She won't be seen for months until the next Easter season ramps up and she gets the seasonal manufacturing factory back from Santa at the North Pole. Even now, one the Easter Bunny personal assistant is sticking the snowmobile into reverse and heading back to Lyons at breakneck speed before Father Christmas discovers the damage to the main power generator and the problems with the self-perpetuating wind power turbine. They were right, though, it was a great way to bias chocolate thickness toward the thick end of the egg and an excellent way to mix cake batter.

The holiday draws to an end, and as I recover from some rather upsetting news it is time set back up for work and head to Aberystwyth, the Land of the Bold and Cold. For another few months at least it will be home and a wonderful place it is. I do wish it had a Wilkinson though. Oh gosh, how I wish.