Reinvention Be Thy Name

Many genres have had a reinvention, and it normally only takes one person to hack a new path through the jungle for the rest to follow. Take for example Danny Boyle’s film 28 Days Later,’ I would say he reinvented zombies. These zombies run fast, real fast. They never did that before. With George Romero’s zombies, they were always shuffling, moaning, and stumbling. But these zombies, they sprint like Olympic athletes. Boyle’s zombie flick spawned a whole new generation of zombie movies. It breathed new life into an otherwise dead genre (pun intended). Although, if I went to see a Romero zombie movie and they ran fast, I would be disappointed. Often you need the old as well as the new.

Sometimes the reinvention of a genre goes horribly wrong, take Twilight. Vampires were already cool and not many people changed them. You had Interview with a Vampire and Dracula, all still very decadent and blood thirsty, it’s how vampires had been and how they should have stayed. Look at Fright Night or ‘Salem’s Lot, they can walk among us almost undetected but still pack a punch when it come to sucking blood. Twilight vampires do not. Even Robert DeNiro as Frankenstein had its merits and the new Wolf Man movie wasn’t so bad, but did these movies make as much as Twilight? No. They never branched out from the cliché, they never challenged what had already been paved in stone. Instead of a reinvention, in was a reimagining, and that’s not what I want. Change something that has been done to death and show me, if it sucks, well ok, at least you gave it a go and came up with something new from something old. But if it works, then that particular thing will never be the same again. I suspect with the new sparkly vamps there will be a backlash and we’ll start seeing movies with hardcore vampires again. But there will always be that scar across the Vampire genre now.

Typically, I don’t like fantasy. Not the dungeons and dragons, elves and swords fantasy. For me, it’s just old and dated and only really appeals to hardcore nerds. Now, I know I may have offended some of you by saying that, but hear me out.

When someone told me about Game of Thrones, I was hesitant. I wasn’t into political fantasy with the occasional battle scene and with boring old men with long robes and beards, clasping tomes and dribbling. We (my girlfriend and I) ended up giving it a go, and couldn’t stop watching it. I remember thinking that I must have been under a rock for the last few years and not noticed that Fantasy could be kick ass. I mean, I’ve read Lord of the Rings and I even had that old board game Hero Quest, but that was a long time ago and I haven’t liked Fantasy since, but this was different somehow. I really loved the characters, they were unique and the story lines between the Kings and their rule was intriguing. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, ‘Jeez, this sort of Fantasy has been out for a long time.’ But I’ve never seen it. I avoided the whole Fantasy isle at the book shop because I just thought it was all relatively the same. I’ve now got three of the Song of Ice and Fire books and plan on reading them later in the year, plus I’ve pre-ordered the graphic novel to read and I also want the sword with the white wolves head on it for my wall.

Tolkien may not have invented many of the species or races he wrote about, but he invented the way we imagine them. As an example, elves are a certain way because that’s how Tolkien wrote about them. Then came the hundreds of copycat books where the Elves and Dwarfs are all the same. Terry Pratchett took this and held a mirror up to them, making a joke out of what they had become, or what was expected of them as ‘Elves’ or ‘Dwarf’s’. JK Rowling then took magic to a new era. I never really thought about the wand before, the last time I checked it was used by lame party magicians to pull rabbits out of their hats. But after watching/reading Harry Potter, I wanted to collect them and know more about them. I liked the way they were made and how they were used.

I’m down for reinvention. I say let’s move forward so things can evolve. Eventually it will come full circle, but we have to do that loop before we can go back to the ‘old school’ versions of things. These versions are what we fell in love with, and we will again, after tasting a few different flavours. If you can write about, for example, ‘Giants’ or ‘Imps’ in a new way, and make them unique, then I say your progressing the fantasy field and giving it that nudge that it needs. Sometimes a push is what’s needed to make something move, but all in all, I only want to read something new and interesting, but kept real. Good luck.

Mitchell Tierney

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Literary snobs

I recently read a brilliant argument regarding a book I dislike.

Twilight. By Stephanie Meyer. It has the literary world divided. There are the pro-twilighters and the anti-twilighters. Recently, I came across a brilliant argument made from the I-don’t-care-other-way-ers. It was from a teacher in the US who said that say what you want about the series, he found that kids who didn’t like books, who couldn’t care less about reading were picking up these volumes and having intelligent literary debates and discussions with him about the text. And for the first time in their lives, they cared about the written word. In his book (sorry, no pun intended), this was a definite positive and I must admit, I see the point as being very valid, indeed.

I have re-assessed a lot of my reading choices. My bookshelf is overstocked with books and while I have continually promised myself that I will not purchase another book unless I have finished reading the one’s I have, I have continually broken that little pie-crust promise. And what sort of material stocks my shelves? Well, I have to admit, it’s not always the classics.

Much of the material I have is (much like everyone else, I assume) either that special something that caught my attention, or perhaps something I need to read for a particular project I am working on. For example, when I write children’s books, I spend a great deal of time reading children’s books. It’s a brilliant way to get acquainted with that world, and because I tend to write a lot of adult fiction, it’s a great way to switch between worlds.

And yes, those little gems I find out and about on my literary treasure hunts aren’t all the big famous Robert Louis Stevensons or Aldous Huxleys. But the truth of the matter is that I just love a good story. And I love a good story-teller.  Whether they’re world renowned or not. Whether they’re apparently the greatest thing to happen to literature since the invention of the printing press, I really don’t give a rat’s right femur. I just want to be told a good story. And so that’s what rocks my bookshelves.

So I have to ask the question, does this make me a literary savage? I don’t own a single Tolstoy. I’ve never read any Goethe. Right, it’s off to the jungle to live on piranhas, with me! But I might be saved from piercing my septum with bones, because I do appreciate Oscar Wilde. But then, does that mean…could I be…am I literary snob?!

When did we become literary snobs? When did the process of evolution involve excluding people from intelligent discussions because they don’t like the same books as you?  Oh, every writer has their particular gripe with certain other authors or books, but have we allowed ourselves to become snobs? Do we look down our noses at people who don’t read the same things that we do, or don’t spend their time on 3000 page tomes, like they should?

Holy Cheese! I hope not. I don’t think of myself as a literary snob. I mean I’ve met some real snobs out there who question your level of intelligence because you aren’t reading Tolstoy and loving it. And I’ll be honest, those people make me want to reach over with a Tolstoy and slap them with it. But, there are a small group of books out there that I remember as the “well, I’m not getting those hours back, again” books and the one’s that I don’t bother to look twice at, because I just don’t feel that some are worth the paper they are written on. But who the hell am I to say that? I’m appalled. I’m terrified that I may be a literary snob. I don’t like the mills and boons books. Crap, I’ve done it now. I’m going to have to join the ranks of the elitists, wear robes everywhere, grow a moustache and smoke a pipe.

But here’s the cheese, there are some ‘classics’ out there that I know as a writer and book lover I should read, but I’m putting off. I know Tolstoy is important. I’ve seen his books. That’s what scares me. I want to give it a shot, because I’ve heard all right things about it. But I hate war stories. Just hate them. So I don’t know how I plan to get through War and Peace… I don’t want to read them. There, I’ve said it. And now I’ve been kicked out of the Elite Book Club, with its capital letters and its holier-than-thou members. I have to hand in my robes and pipe. Damn, I’ll miss the arm-chairs.

I don’t like being defined by these boundaries. And who the hell came up with them anyway? Why should they even be there? Just because you enjoy books, just because you enjoy writing, doesn’t mean you need to be a literary snob. Everyone’s going to come across a piece of writing that they won’t like. Sometimes it’s about the story, sometimes it’s something else. Sometimes you can’t even put your finger on what you don’t like.  It’s just something that rubs you the wrong way. Likewise, I’ve read some books of critical acclaim and wonder who acclaimed it.

And yes, I did read the Twilight saga, and here’s my big take on it. I actually liked the first book. I thought it was well-written and the story wasn’t bad and I didn’t even care about the sparkly vampire sparkling, because it was a different take on a myth, so I let it be. And then it went down-hill. The other books didn’t lift the story for me, they did the opposite and I felt significant chunks could have been taken out of the books, because I didn’t need to hear the main protagonists moan their angst for each other over and over again.  I actually put down one of the books, while I was reading and screamed across the room “Oh, just get on with it for ****’s sake!” I’m not a fan. And that’s just my opinion. Several millions of people disagree and good for them.

The thing is, when something is consigned to paper it becomes almost immortal. And that’s brilliant, but that doesn’t mean all the ideas are taken. And it doesn’t mean that all the stories have been told. Books and writing evolve with the story-tellers who weave these tales. It’s only natural that people are going to find some good literary work out there and love it. And it’s only natural that an equal amount of people are going to not like it. And yes, sometimes it’s about the writing style, but sometimes it’s just about the fact that a particular book is just not your cup of tea.

I like Jane Austen books. I find them entertaining, but according to a friend of mine, Austen is trash. I rebuff this with the Mensa-like intelligent response, “You’re trash.” Having said that, some of my favourite classic authors include Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare (MacBeth – the darkness in that little genius bit of work, alone, is amazing!) but that doesn’t mean that just because you’re a ‘classic’ author, I’ll love the work.

I love Mary Shelley and love the way her evocative words still haunt me. I’ve had a similar experience with many Anne Rice novels. Supernatural fiction does things to me, I love it. But there are some supernatural authors whose works I never want to look at again. Just because the genre is awesome, doesn’t mean I like the way you weave a story.

Most people, myself included, look at a book as its own individual body of work and despite what people have said I like making up my own mind and deciding for myself if it is in fact a brilliant bit of work or not.

It doesn’t make us literary snobs to have an opinion on literary work. And likewise it doesn’t make us literary savages to not like what other people like. It makes us individual human beings. It makes us people who are willing to decide for ourselves what is truly deserving of such praise or not. And it’s a good thing that a lot of us disagree on things. We need to have discussions of this calibre. We need to debate why we liked a body of work and why we didn’t. We should question. We should read and decide. And to be honest, I’m sick of people who look down their noses at you because you disagree with their ‘fine’ opinion.  Screw you, snobs! I’m going to tell the world the truth about me right now, and shed this literati shame that follows people around, dragging its good friend, guilt, behind it.

I have no interest in reading Tolstoy! I’ve tried reading Dostoyevsky and haven’t even made it past the first chapter, but I’m keeping the book because the person who gave it to me means more to me than he’ll ever know! I’ve never read Dante’s Divine Comedies, though I plan to. I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I refuse to read Jodi Picoult’s work! The first and only time I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, I thought it was as boring as guano! Now, I want to try it again, because the premise is good and I think I could appreciate it more. I barely made it through Lord of the Flies! I think To Kill A Mockingbird is damn good!  I’ve never read Plato’s Republic or Marx’s Das Capital or anything by either Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. (Although I am intrigued by Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and I hate Tess of the D’Ubervilles because it’s an appalling piece of work that makes you want to slit your wrists and take casualties.  I think The Prophet is clever and wise and I love Terry Pratchett because he is the penultimate genius.

And I think literary snobs can kiss my literary dust.

By Sandy Sharma