Reader’s Corner: ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’

The latest novel from Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings), is the start of a planned fantasy trilogy set in a world of African-inspired mythology.

My review of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is at PopMatters:

Unless they’re killing or trying to avoid being killed, nobody in the otherworldly Africa of Black Leopard, Red Wolf knows how to stop talking. Part of this is because this fantasy is being told to us by a garrulous wordsmith, a trickster and fixer known as Tracker. He’s spinning a tale, certainly tall but shot through with memory pangs and bone ache, to an unspecified “inquisitor” and seems to have plenty of time on his hands…

Screening Room: ‘Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin’

My review of the new documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was published at PopMatters:

Hard times are coming,” author Ursula K. Le Guin said in her fiery 2014 speech accepting the National Book Foundation award. Her tone was somehow somber, yet also chipper, as though she had already acknowledged the worst and now was girding for battle. She was fixing her bayonet in bright spirits and about to go over the top…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Eddie Redmayne in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ (Warner Bros.)

The second entry in J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter Wizarding World movies, the Newt Scamander series, is opening everywhere tomorrow.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

The fun but more predictable Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald moves the new series forward, but only incrementally—all the better to maximize the potential for six or seven more sequels to be strung out for Thanksgivings to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Shape of Water’

A nearly sure-fire debt for some awards in both acting and design categories is Guillermo del Toro’s ravishing fairy-tale romance The Shape of Water, which is playing in theaters now.

My review is at PopMatters:

The Shape of Water is ostensibly a love story between a solitary woman and a merman. But the true object of the movie’s affection is its star character, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), and rightly so. Elisa is just about the fiercest woman on screen right now; a less complicated but no less determined heroine than Frances McDormand’s blowtorch vigilante Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A mute cleaning woman who lives above a grand old movie palace, she has a closely-followed a litany of daily habits that are treated more like chiming celebrations than rote compulsiveness…

Screening Room: ‘The Dark Tower’

A mash-up of elements from the novels in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower fantasy series, the movie of the same name is hitting screens tomorrow after a long and convoluted production history. Theoretically, it’s the kickoff for a TV series to follow next year.

My review is at Film Journal International:

According to what little mythology the script provides, the title’s looming structure isn’t just a tower, it’s a linchpin holding the entire fabric of reality together. If anything happens to the Tower, then the hosts of ravening Lovecraftian beasties lurking beyond the Tower-guarded boundaries of the universe will destroy everything. At least, that’s how Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), a stoic warrior tasked with protecting the Tower, explains it to Jake (Tom Taylor), a New York kid whose parents thought he was insane because of all his visions he was having of Roland, the Tower and a frightening Man in Black…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘The Last Days of New Paris’

LastDaysNewParis

In the latest novel from China Miéville, the year is 1950 and World War II is still dragging on. Paris is in Stalingrad-like ruins from years of battle. Oh, and a crack in the fabric of reality has resulted in major works of Surrealist art coming to life and joining in the fight themselves.

My review of The Last Days of New Paris is at PopMatters:

Time is a slippery thing in China Miéville’s writing. Reality, too. Whether he’s cracking open the concept of language (Embassytown) or layering dimensions and urban histories on top of and through each other like so many strands of literary string theory (The City & The City), Miéville plays with the nature of consciousness in a way that few other writers of the fantastic manage these days…

Reader’s Corner: Tolkien on the Battlefield

somme1

In 1916, a 24-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien went off to fight for his country. He arrived in France just as the Battle of the Somme was about to erupt. At the end of the first day of fighting, almost 20,000 British soldiers were dead. The butchery went on for months. It would be a transformative experience for the young scholar.

lordoftherings1Joseph Loconte writes in the Times that Tolkien actually started writing The Lord of the Rings by candlelight at the front. It’s not hard to see the inspiration of the Somme’s blasted landscape, reek of poison gas, and corpses, in his descriptions of the Siege of Gondor and particularly Mordor.

Of course, the battles of Tolkien’s trilogy were quite different from what he saw at the Somme. His alliance of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men were combating a complete and all-encompassing evil that threatened the entire world. The German soldiers being faced by all those young men in the muddy trenches cut through the devastated French countryside were closer to mirror images than existential threat.

Loconte concludes:

Tolkien used the language of myth not to escape the world, but to reveal a mythic and heroic quality in the world as we find it. Perhaps this was the greatest tribute he could pay to the fallen of the Somme.