Poe’s party of books and murder

In what would make a fantastic musical in the vein of Million Dollar Quartet, Edgar Allan Poe once threw a dinner party for Emily Dickinson, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë, Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Louisa May Alcott, Ernest Hemingway, HG Wells, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Agatha Christie as an excuse to flirt with Annabel Lee. If you don’t remember hearing about it in your history/literature classes, it’s probably because it was an Invite Only, For Friends Potluck. Also, someone died.*

Honestly, if anyone thought this particular group of writers could get together for a Murder Mystery party without someone actually dying, they were mistaken.

We knew this night was coming. Poe and Lenore sent invitations last year. They crowdfunded their party games six months ago (I bought my internet invite, because I’m classy). They showed us all the people who were not invited.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s FOMO was my favorite.

Now the ravens have been (semi-) trained, the soup cooked, and the place settings laid. Lenore the Lady Ghost can carry plates and vodka, so it’s time to party and make no jokes.

Lauren Lopez as George Eliot is my favorite part of this first episode. “The name’s Eliot. George Eliot. Likes: beer, sporting, talking about sporting,” she says as she carries what looks like a single rib for the potluck.**

Who killed Eddie? Was it a jealous Edgar Allan? Was it an uninvited writer? Was it the uncast, unmentioned Alexandre Dumas, angry because this banker guy shares a name with his character? Was it John Proctor? Was it the bass from the barbershop quartet? Was it Lenore???

Time will tell. And so will Mondays.

*Half these people are probably ghosts or in possession of time turners, since Poe definitely died decades before Hemingway and HG Wells were born. But whatever, we’re dealing with an alternate reality here. Or magic. 

**None of these people actually brought enough food to share. Or eat. They should not be invited back.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child vs fanfiction

Now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been out for nearly a week, it seems that it’s finally safe to start discussing the plot. A number of the articles that I’ve read were written by people who were upset because so-and-so did such-and-such thing. Other people were upset because they had expected a different kind of story.

Honestly, as “done” and “fanfiction-y” as the play feels, I loved it. I got into Harry Potter when I was in high school; the same friend who made me want to read the books was the same friend who introduced me to fanfiction in 2009. It’s safe to say that at this point in 2016, I’ve spent a few hours reading Harry Potter.

If you’re not a member of a fandom, you might not know what fanfiction is. Essentially, people start asking themselves, “What if this happened?” or “What if someone was slightly different?” and start writing stories. A few examples might include Fred surviving the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry becoming pregnant with Draco’s child, and Hermione discovering that she’s the long-lost twin of one of her Slytherin classmates.

The first Harry Potter book came out in 1997, while the last novel about Harry was released in 2007. Fans have had 19 years to write stories about Harry Potter. They’ve known the names “Albus Severus Potter,” “Scorpius Malfoy,” and “Rose Weasley” for nine. At this point, it’s unlikely that any Harry Potter sequel or prequel that Rowling writes will have stories or plot details that no one has ever thought of before.

I think J.K. Rowling gave us a preposterous story because she wanted to show her readers that their fanfiction does not work in the world that exists in her mind.

If you haven’t finished reading the book yet, go back now, because there are spoilers ahead. If you want to read my previous Cursed Child post that doesn’t have spoilers, click here.

Continue reading

Coming soon: Les Mis marathons!

If you missed it, there’s going to be a miniseries of Les Misérables! (Links to articles/news about this here, here, and here.) It will be a six hour show written by Andrew Davies, who wrote the 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (you know, the one that was faithful to the book, but also takes six hours to watch?). Among his other adaptations of classic literature are the 1996 version of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale, the 2007 miniseries of Northanger Abbey with Felicity Jones and JJ Feild, the 2008 miniseries of Little Dorrit with Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen, and this year’s miniseries of War and Peace with Lily James, Paul Dano, and James Norton.

Basically, this is the perfect guy for a six hour period drama.

War and Peace and Les Misérables are both extremely long books. Their exact length honestly depends on who’s translating them from Russian and French, but the Penguin Classics editions with the paintings on the covers of the books are about the same length: War and Peace has 1440 pages, while Les Misérables has 1456 pages. If War and Peace can be done in six hours, Les Mis can too.

I’m excited. I’ve said before that there were scenes and backstories that were cut from the movies and musical. I’ve told my friends that I enjoyed the musical because its length allowed for character development that does not exist in some of the other adaptations. If you want proof, consider that in the 1998 movie with Liam Neeson, Eponine doesn’t even exist, and the story ends with the Javert and Valjean’s last meeting. In the musical, Eponine is indeed a character, and Cosette lives happily ever after. In the movie musical, Marius has a relative.

Hopefully, in the miniseries, Cosette will live part of her childhood in a convent. Marius will have a Bonapartist father. Gavroche will have siblings. Fantine will be a girl who fell in love with the wrong guy. Jean Valjean will meet a child called Petit Gervais.

The miniseries will be twice the length of the stage musical, and we’re going to get a faithful adaptation of the book. That makes me so happy.

It will probably take a little while for us to actually get to see this miniseries, but I’ll be ready with my velvet ballgown and a loaf of bread.

New favorite series: The Cate Morland Chronicles

Today I discovered a new webseries adaptation of my favorite Jane Austen novel. If you don’t know me very well, you might assume that I’m talking about a random new version of Pride and Prejudice, just because I’ve seen so many versions. Sorry, I’m actually talking about a funnier novel.

Northanger Abbey is a novel about a girl named Catherine Morland who believes that novels accurately depict reality. She goes from the country to a city, meets friends and flirtatious men, and basically learns what real life is. It sounds like a heartbreaking story about someone getting her dreams crushed, except that Catherine isn’t reading Nicholas Sparks or watching Disney. She’s reading Gothic romances, the trash novels of Austen’s day, which were known for being terrifying and sensationalist for the sake of being terrifying and sensationalist. The innocent maiden is being held by the villain in the haunted fortress, and only the dashing hero can save her.

Northanger Abbey is ultimately a reminder that real life is better than a stereotypical novel, and I love it.

Before I continue, I should say that another webseries adaptation of Northanger Abbey already existed before this week. Northbound already came and went. From what I could tell, it was well-loved in the Literary Webseries fandom. For me, I watched an episode and couldn’t get into it because I had imagined a different kind of adaptation.

Someone in Utah seems to love Northanger Abbey for the same reasons I do, because The Cate Morland Chronicles is like a better executed version of what exists as a “Hey this would be a cool webseries!” paragraph and folder on my Google Drive.

This adaptation speaks to me in the same way that Austenland and Classic Alice did, and I think it’s because Cate is so clearly a fangirl. I hadn’t realized it before, but in the book, Catherine is a rabid fangirl of these adventures that happened in dark castles. Here, Cate reads Harry Potter and writes about her favorite tv shows on her blog. She loves a good story, and she wants to write her own.

Lin-Manuel Miranda explains the “I Want” song in the footnotes of his book that’s dubbed #Hamiltome on Twitter (I honestly don’t know any other name for it). It’s the driving force and the realization that starts the Hero’s Journey in literature or another work of art. This first video is Cate’s I Want video. She wants an adventure, and she’s determined to make it happen.

I’ve only seen the first video, and this is already my dream Northanger Abbey webseries. I can’t wait to see the next episode.

Shakespeare without supervision, part 2

At the beginning of May, I wrote that I was planning to read all three parts of Henry VI, plus Richard III, in preparation for my June trip to Yorkshire. My thought was that I should probably read some of Shakespeare’s histories before visiting Middleham Castle.

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Reading four plays in one month might have been a bit optimistic. But, I finished Henry VI, Part One and read the beginning of Richard III on my trip, so all is not lost!

Here’s what I have learned so far:

1. Footnotes are your best friend when reading something like Shakespeare. At home, I read a Signet Classics edition that had lots of footnotes and commentaries. On my trip, I read the free ebook on my iPad, which didn’t have those things. Google and Wikipedia were my friends when I didn’t understand the historical events.

2. Henry VI, Part One is about the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. I think.

Plantagenet: If he suppose that I have pleaded truth, From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

Somerset: Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer, But dare maintain the party of the truth, Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me………. Ah, thou shalt find us ready for thee still, And know us by these colors for thy foes, For these my friends in spite of thee shall wear.

Plantagenet: And, by my soul, this pale and angry rose, As cognizance of my blood-drinking hate, Will I forever and my faction wear, Until it wither with me to my grave, Or flourish to the height of my degree.

3. Joan of Arc is a French heroine. She fought against the English. Shakespeare does not like her.

4. A significant part of the play is just kings talking about battles. I assume that’s why I don’t really remember many events in this 100-page play. The messengers talk about battles, aspiring kings debate who gets to be king…. and that’s about all that I remember.

5. You know when you’re watching a movie, and the villain goes off on a soliloquy or a monologue, and the prisoners sit and wait because they’re too polite to escape when their captor is talking? Absolutely no preservation skills. That’s how I feel about a scene near the end when the Earl of Suffolk has a captured Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret: Say, Earl of Suffolk, if thy name be so, What ransom must I pay before I pass? For I perceive I am thy prisoner.

Suffolk: [Aside] How canst thou tell she will deny thy suit, Before thou make a trial of her love?

Margaret: Why speak’st thou not? What ransom must I pay?

Suffolk: [Aside] She’s beautiful and therefore to be wooed; She is a woman, therefore to be won.

Margaret: Wilt thou accept of ransom, yea or no?

Suffolk: [Aside] Fond man, remember that thou hast a wife; Then how can Margaret be thy paramour?

Margaret: I were best to leave him, for he will not hear.

Suffolk: {Aside] There all is marred; there lies a cooling card.

Margaret: He talks at random; sure, the man is mad.

Suffolk: [Still aside, but more loudly] And yet a dispensation may be had.

Margaret: And yet I would that you would answer me.

Suffolk: [Aside] I’ll win this Lady Margaret. For whom? Why, for my king!

Seriously, Margaret, you could have escaped 15 minutes ago, and he still would have been trying to figure out who he could marry you off to.

6. The play ends with King Henry, who’s apparently an idiot, sending Suffolk back to France to “agree to any covenants” so he can marry the daughter of the guy he literally just fought in a war.

I’ve started Part Two, which begins with the logical result of “agree to anything they say because I want to marry this beautiful woman.” There’s quite a bit of a gap between the events in Henry VI, Part Two and Richard III, but Margaret seems to be the one character present in both/all. In a way, Shakespeare’s plays teach history, albeit a dramatized one that has puns and ghosts. They’re confusing, but entertaining.

Cheers to my first experience with a semi-historically accurate Shakespearean play! Once I finish the other three plays on my list, I’ll let you know how I feel.

Keeping some secrets of Harry Potter

I just returned from a trip to Europe for a wedding and some visits with friends, and while I was there, I got to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in previews. Audience members are sworn to secrecy, though apparently some have managed to share the secret with the general Internet. I, however, am determined to keep the secret and not invoke the fury of our literary queen, JK Rowling.

My friend asked me the other night, “What’s the Cursed Child?” and I’m honestly still trying to figure that out. There are multiple interpretations of the title, probably equally valid, and they all spoil the story. What I will tell you about the plot is this: Harry is trying to figure out this whole fatherhood thing, and it’s understandably difficult since he grew up without a dad. The kids are the children of people who fought for both sides during the wizarding war, and that’s hardCursed Child is an adventure story about family, and we understand everyone better at the end of it.

Here are some general thoughts about the play and/or story:

  1. It’s definitely worth the money. I mean, it’s new Harry Potter. We see flashbacks of Harry’s childhood, and we learn how the wizarding world has progressed in the 19 years following the Battle of Hogwarts.
  2. Rowling has obviously been listening to her fans. We’ve been asking, “What if such-and-such happened?” for literally years, and she shows us how that would work.
  3. If you’re into fanfiction, you’ll recognize some things. I mean, this is a next-gen story. It was bound to happen. But even if you read a ton of fanfiction, I think you’ll be surprised by some of the plot twists.
  4. Numbers 2 and 3 being said, some headcanons are canonized in the play.
  5. I had forgotten how funny Ron is. Fanfiction made me not like him, and Cursed Child again made me want to be friends with him.
  6. I feel like the kids are my babies, and I want to give them hugs. Albus Severus Potter, your dad will love you no matter what house you’re in, so give him a hug and get on that train. (I am such a Hufflepuff, and that’s not a spoiler because that’s literally part of the Epilogue)
  7. Did I mention the flashbacks? Yeah they made me cry.
  8. The script is obviously being published as a book, but I hope they record the cast and release it on dvd. The production design was incredible. I hope the lighting designer wins an Olivier Award, because that was one of my favorite parts of the show. And the effects! There were stuntmen flying near my face at one point. There’s some Polyjuice. When they cast spells, they shoot fire at each other. Then there’s some beautiful use of a turntable, and beautiful choreography. In short, this play is perfect, and it’s better than a book.
  9. The actors are the characters, and anyone who thinks Black Hermione is a bad thing needs to sit down, because Noma Dumezweni was absolute perfection. Of course she would be the grownup version of Emma Watson’s Hermione. When she’s acting, she is Hermione Granger, with all her faults and strengths. That’s what matters, and I hope we get some broadcast version so everyone can see that.
  10. Remember how minimal Ginny was in the movies? She’s better in the play, and she’s vulnerable and incredibly strong. The series was always about Harry Potter, so she’s a smaller role, but she doesn’t let us forget what Tom did to her. She doesn’t let herself be overshadowed, and she doesn’t stay in the background. I love that.

If you’re like me and it’s been a few years since you last read Harry Potter, I would definitely recommend that you reread the series before you read the play. They make a lot of references to the past. The program had a recap of the important details and characters from each book, and that’s helpful, but there’s nothing like reading the books themselves. If you don’t have time to read all seven books, I would say to at least reread the ones about the Second Wizarding War (Goblet of Fire through Deathly Hallows). You’re going to do it anyway, but that means you have four books instead of seven to read in one month.

Oh, and if you haven’t ordered the book yet, here it is on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Five gold stars, 10/10, definitely recommend.

Happy reading!

Love and Friendship and a Lady

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I saw a Jane Austen movie without knowing the original novel. What I knew going in was that Love and Friendship is an adaptation of Lady Susan, which is a different story than another novella called Love and Freindship. Jane wrote both stories when she was a teenager, before she wrote her famous novels. I read and loved Love and Freindship, and I was annoyed when I heard that the Love and Friendship movie was not an adaptation of Love and Freindship, but a story that I had never read.

Lady Susan is told through letters, and I read the first 3 of 41 this morning. Because I have to work before I can finish the novel, what I say next is based more on the adaptation than the four pages I’ve read.

While I’ve told friends for years that Jane Austen is a comedic writer, I did not expect to see a movie that focused more on her humor than her romantic words. Most directors focus on flirting, dancing, and broody Mr. Darcy. It’s not obvious in most adaptations that Jane mocks and parodies her society.

Then we get this movie with Kate Beckinsale as a widow who never. stops. talking. Lady Susan’s husband has died, and she has a teenage daughter with questionable education. They’re penniless, so they’re left bouncing around the homes of friends and family members until one of them can marry rich.

Did I mention that Lady Susan flirts with married men?

Before the story starts, Susan tries to talk her brother-in-law out of marrying his current wife, and then refuses to ever visit. Now that she’s widowed and kicked out of another couple’s home, she suddenly decides that it’s time to see her nieces and nephews and moves in.

If Lady Susan sounds harmless, maybe I should mention that her best friend’s husband has sworn that he will ship his wife back to America if the two of them don’t end their friendship. That’s because Susan is a homewrecker.

There are other men in the story, of course. Susan’s sister-in-law’s brother is young, rich, and susceptible to Susan’s charms. There’s a rich guy who tries to court Susan’s daughter, but he’s an idiot. There’s a married man who keeps trying to visit Susan in private.

Unlike the novels that Jane wrote later in her life, the protagonist is the one made ridiculous. She represents that relative who stays for a week, which turns into three months. She’s stingy and brilliant, and she gets away with the most ridiculous things (like not paying her kid’s tuition because it’s too expensive and that obviously means you’re not supposed to pay it). She’s beautiful and charismatic and toxic, and you can’t criticize her because everyone else in your family is in love with her.

Somehow, what sounds like an awful story ends up being funny on screen. Maybe it’s because Lady Susan is so over the top. Maybe it’s because no one seems to realize what’s happening. Maybe it’s because everyone else is so ridiculous. All I know is that I laughed the entire film, and that I’m probably going to see it three more times in the theatre.