Showing posts with label leftover Anglo-Saxon narrative impulses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leftover Anglo-Saxon narrative impulses. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Retellings: Sherlock vs Elementary (jillian)

'Tis the season of retellings... particularly on terms of television.  I've been trying to wrap my head around the new CBS series Elementary, which sees Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in contemporary New York with Lucy Liu as his sidekick Joan Watson.  The Telegraph has a nice article on it, today. I've not seen it because television in general tends to eat time, but I have to admit I am curious now to see if it works or if it flops. 

As a devotee of BBC's Sherlock, I came to this as a bit of a biased snob.  "What?  Making Watson a woman?  Taking Sherlock out of London?"  Etcetera, etcetera.  But, of course, people probably said the same when Sherlock came out in 2010: "How can Benedict Cumberbatch possibly be better than Jeremy Brett?  The idea!"  But... while these misgivings are valid in their own way, I've come to realize or remember with humility that these are all retellings, not the original story. 

Like my argument about viewing a book and its subequent film or films as different animals (i.e. Pride and Prejudice), I think we need to look at the different versions of the stories as equally legitimate renderings.  There cannot be one "true" film or television verson of a story.  Each will be different.  Elementary chooses to emphasize Sherlock as a brilliant drug addict with tattoos, and Watson as a woman and the doctor assigned to keep him sober.  In Sherlock, he labels himself a "high functioning sociopath" and texts compulsively, as Watson is the roommate who keeps him in line and keeps him human.  One show is American, the other is British.  One is slated as a regular series, the other is a miniseries.  The comparisons continue, but neither is wrong.  Both are a celebration of the original seed of the Sherlock Holmes stories that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in the late 19th century.  To nitpick about Watson's gender or Sherlock's hair color is to totally miss the point.  The details are just colors, shadows and angles.  The writers, actors and directors of both shows have distinctly different ideas about what makes those stories and characters so compelling.  That's why I sit humbly on my hands when i think about my ire for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.  No one owns Robin Hood.  No one owns Sherlock Holmes.  They belong to everyone.

Retellings are in our blood, those left-over Anglo-Saxon narrative impulses.  Our version of Beowulf isn't the original, but it celebrates the original seed of the story.  Same with King Arthur and Robin Hood, and Homer's tales.  In this era, the stories have evolved from oral anonymities to published works.  I ask again, how many times has Pride and Prejudice or Great Expectations made it to a miniseries or theatrical form?  Many times celebrated.  If anything, film versions always bring the most intrigued back to the source, back to reading how the "real" Sherlock Holmes solved mysteries, made meticulous observations and shot cocaine when he was bored.  (No, I don't condone him.  We're not supposed to.)  So how can multiple versions be a bad thing?  And can't they co-exist? 


So... pick your poison!

Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  CBS.

Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  BBC.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 12: Ossuary

Rendered in more rudimentary calligraphy is today's word...

An ossuary (noun) is a depository box for the bones of the dead.  Creepy, no?

Why on Earth didn't I save this for Halloween, you ask?  Well, on a basic level, I say, creepiness is not bound to one particular day.  Anyway... in perusing the lexicon today, I came across this word and was struck with a memory.  I first learned that "bone boxes" or mortuary chests existed when Michelle and I studied abroad at Oxford and took a trip to Winchester Cathedral.  As I remember it, there are six such chests situated on the presbytery levels of the cathedral, each containing the remains of Anglo-Saxon (and one Danish) king of England.  I believe these bones were buried deep in the crypt of the "old minster" and were moved to a place of honor when the new cathedral was built in the 1100s.  Occupants of these chests include Cynegils, Aethelwulf, Cynewulf, Ecgbert, Cnut, Emma (wife of Aethelred the Unready and Cnut) and an assortment of bones that could be Edred (who could also be someone named Edmund). 

What I find to be so fascinating about the ossuaries is how old they are (we're talking pre-1066 here), and how certain facts are lost with time, how a few of these kings made no impression on history at all (or were erased from history), or were mixed up.  These mysteries only prompt discussion.  Like the mystery of Richard III's bones in Leicester and those of the Princes in the Tower thought to be unearthed from under the staircase of the Tower of London, there is always the knowledge that we will never know - and probably never should - what or who rests inside.  Here is a website with more interesting tidbits on these memorials.

This is the only clear picture I have from Winchester of one of the mortuary chests.  We were allowed to take photos, but the flash of my camera could only go so far.  Yet, even from here, you can see how ornate these chests are, beautiful in their ancientness. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 4: Journeyman (Jillian)

The Earth is turning towards Autumn, and slowly the cooler air is forcing Summer into a corner.  It is in the 40s, and I can hear the echoing sound of the gibbons just a few blocks away, mingling with the morning sounds of the occasional dog in a yard and birds calling to each other.  I will never stop finding their call a hilarious sound to be heard in an otherwise quiet Midwestern neighborhood in the ides of September.  Monkeys.  Ha!

Anyway... today's word:

Journeyman (noun): a worker who learns a trade and works under another person; or, more specifically, reliable worker, athlete or performer (actor, musician) especially distinguished from one who is brilliant and stands out.  Oxford Dictionaries indicates this is a Middle English word indicating one is no longer an indentured worker and is paid by the day.  If you think about it, the French word for day is jour, and there was (and is) a lot French flavorings in English.

This is one of those words that sounds more exciting than it actually is.  It does indeed sound like it could mean "man who takes journeys for a living" or "wanderer" or "hitchhiker" or something poetic that vein.  But... I think this is actually pretty cool.  Why?  Words like this open the door for we crazy writers to turn them into something new.  Who says it can't be about a man who takes a journey? 

Several years ago, NBC had a brilliant concept for a television show called, you guessed it, Journeyman.  It starred Kevin McKidd as a journalist (there we go with the "jour" again) who begins to find himself backwards in time, sometimes a year, sometimes decades - suddenly without his cell phone, sometimes in his old apartment with his long-dead girlfriend.  So journeyman, an unassuming noun, now has a world of double meanings.  Oh, he's on a journey all right.  He's a time traveler! 

I have to say NBC cancelled Journeyman in its "freshman" year, but I still remember it, as time-travel is one of my favorite planes of creativity (thanks to Doctor Who).  The word journeyman has never been the same for me since.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why NOT combine jewel thieves, flying buses, wormholes, and man-eating aliens? (Michelle)

So, a few days ago I watched an interview with Russell T Davies in which he discussed the (then) upcoming (now past) Doctor Who Easter special, "Planet of the Dead." This is (more or less) how he summarized it:

So, the Doctor gets on a bus which, by coincidence, has also been boarded by an international jewel thief. They're actually in the middle of a police chase when the bus is transported through a wormhole to an alien planet, and they have to somehow get this bus moving when it's buried in sand, and the Swarm is on the way, so it's a race against time...really, a cautionary tale about the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

Perhaps this sounds like drivel to you, but plots like this are the reason I doubt that I will ever get tired of Doctor Who --- it is composed of sheer narrative exuberance. This is how Doctor Who "saved my writing": at a time when I was very, very tired, and very, very sad, it helped me remember that story-telling is, above all, tremendous fun.

Russell T Davies' creations constantly remind me to enjoy my writing and my imagination, because the stories seem to start from this place of, "Hmm, what would I like to write about? Oh! I know! Jewel thieves! That's fun...and...wormholes! That's fun too! And desert planets! We could even film in Dubai, maybe..." And yet, from this place of ludicrous, larger-than-life, over-the-top, incredibly hyphenated narrative exuberance, comes what Julie Gardner calls "full-blooded emotion." It's possible to enjoy a rip-roaring good yarn and at the same time think about really important things like, say, the transience of the created universe.

Er...I'm trying to think of some clever way to end this post, but all my ideas are sort of trite. Another "All hail the BBC?" Another apology for posting on Doctor Who again? Mostly, I'm just wondering why I feel the need to start so many posts with "So." I think it's some leftover Anglo-Saxon impulse. Perhaps I should switch to "Hwaet" whenever I want to say "So."


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