He was very weary; the day had been long, and full of dragons.
~Ursula K. LeGuin, The Farthest Shore
He was very weary; the day had been long, and full of dragons.
~Ursula K. LeGuin, The Farthest Shore
The Secret of Roan Inish (1993) (IMdB)
Director: John Sayles
Writers: John Sayles (screenplay) and Rosalie Fry (book)
Starring: Jeni Courtney, Mick Lally, Eileen Colgan, Richard Sheridan, John Lynch
Music by: Mason Daring
Length: 89 minutes
Rating (US): PG
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Young Fiona lives with her grandparents in a small fishing village on the Irish west coast and begins unraveling family mysteries while searching for her lost baby brother.
Reason for Watching: Selkie movie. Perfect movie.
Movie Re-watchability: Eminently, for me. It’s been a favorite film for many years and has never failed to inspire or move me.
Director Re-watchability: I haven’t seen Sayles’ other films, but have heard that each one is completely different. That speaks to a tremendous range in his abilities as a storyteller, but also makes it hard to determine whether I’d like his other ones. His style in this film, however, is one that suits me perfectly.
You probably know C.S. Lewis for his imaginative Narnia fiction or perhaps for his non-fiction works on Christianity, but many are unaware of the groundbreaking and brilliant work he did within his scholarly field. Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford and the premier professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge, so his knowledge of greater literature itself was deep and profound. His students and colleagues were frequently amazed by his astonishing recall of minute detail in obscure works. He would play a game with you when you came to his office where he would have you pull down any book off his shelf and read a random passage out of it. He would tell you the work, author, and quote the surrounding context. Suffice it to say, the man knew his stuff.
Being that Lewis had his ears to the ground with his students…
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Recommend a classic book that you think translated particularly well to screen (even if the adaptation was not entirely faithful).
Happily there are many films that count as successful adaptations of their source books. Some changed a lot in order to make a unique and successful film, such as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Princess Bride, and most adaptations of The Three Musketeers. Others managed to be remarkably faithful to the book’s plot, tone, and themes. One classic in particular has always seemed to be particularly suited to adaptations.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson may be one of the most easily-adapted of classic books. It has over fifty adaptations for film and television, and most of the ones I’ve seen have been pretty faithful. The book’s plot is clear, efficient, and colorful. It doesn’t need elaboration, condensation, or drastic changes. It contains no extraneous subplots, which would either distract in a film or be first for the cutting floor. The action itself develops the characters and plot so well that an adaptation needs only to follow Stevenson’s layout to get an exciting feature length movie that doesn’t leave much out. Even the looser adaptations, such as the anarchic Muppet Treasure Island, still feature scenes and dialogue lifted directly from Stevenson. Why mess with what works?
My favorite adaptations are the 1934 and 1950 versions, starring Wallace Beery and Robert Newton as Long John Silver, respectively. These actors exude so much slimy charisma and chew their lines with such mischievous relish that it’s a delight to watch them. And each also brings out the desperate menace and corrupted dignity of Stevenson’s iconic character.Honorable mentions go to many of Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet, which has been faithfully adapted in many surprising ways, and Richard Lester’s two-film adaptation of The Three Musketeers, which is shockingly and successfully faithful to a book whose many adaptations rarely resemble its actual plot.
Which of Dumas’ Musketeers is your favorite, and why?
For the musketeers of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling stories, we have D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. They are the most interesting and effective when all together, which makes it a bit difficult to single one out as a favorite. Additionally, it is worth considering their various portrayals in adaptations, since the characters of The Three Musketeers are probably better known in adaptation than in their original novel.
Speaking generally, I can say my favorite musketeer is Porthos. He’s the loud, boisterous, fun fellow, always ready to make others laugh, even when being threatened with a duel. Always loyal to his friends, though I suppose that rather characterizes all the Four. He’s fun in the book, but I also admit to my choice being influenced by the 1993 Disney film, where he was played with cheerful wit by Oliver Platt. Behold:
Frank Finlay also played Porthos quite well, if drier, in the excellent 1973 film. Witness his unique solution to uncorking a wine bottle while the musketeers seek a peaceful breakfast and private conversation in the middle of a siege:
Portho’s charisma and enthusiasm for life makes him a natural favorite for many fans, and I suppose I’m not immune to that charm either.
Which children’s classic couldn’t you read enough of when you were growing up?
Several books could probably be mentioned here, especially given a loose definition of “classic,” but the ones that stand out to me are the Picture Classics graphic novels Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, adaptations of Mark Twain’s famous novels.
As I flip through them now, I’m impressed by how detailed and faithful they are. Twain’s novels deserve to be read unabridged, but their size and age can sometimes be intimidating to younger readers. The Picture Classics adaptations zip from adventure to adventure and an avid young reader can easily finish both in a day—perhaps more than once each!
Much of the flavor of Twain’s prose is also kept. Characters speak with Twain’s dialects, and the bits of narration in Tom Sawyer reflect Twain’s third-person prose, while Huck Finn preserves the boy’s distinct first-person narration.
In some graphic novels the art doesn’t always make clear what is going on, but in both of these the art is easily readable. It also complements the text well and does a good job of evoking stories’ settings.
These adaptations were my first introductions to Mark Twain’s famous heroes, and I’m glad of that. While nothing quite compares to reading the full novels, Picture Classics did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the stories. Even though the focus is on action and adventure, Twain’s deeper commentaries still linger in every frame. Characters drive the action on every page, rather than merely reacting. These books thrilled me as a young boy, letting me imagine I was a fellow-adventurer with Tom, Huck, and Jim on deserted islands, creepy caves, cool woods, and the long, storied Mississippi River.
Forgive me for this departure from my usual discussions of fiction and writing, but this is a film I want to share. It touches on a way that people can find meaning and release through art. I can’t even imagine the horrors of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, but Abu Raja has had to watch it take his family and most of what he loves. But rather than let his grief and anger consume him, he turns to creation. Out of rock, he makes art.
The director, Jake Viramontez, is an old high school classmate of mine, but he did not personally contact me or ask me to share. After seeing a general notification about the film’s release and viewing it myself, I knew I wanted to share it. He and his crew made the journey out to Jordan to find a story worth telling, and they told it well. May God use it to open our eyes and our hearts.
If you appreciate the film and are able, consider sharing it on whatever platforms you can.
“Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.” ~Picasso
The horrors of the Syrian war are recounted through the eyes of 60-year-old artist and refugee Abu Raja as he embarks on his mission of sending a message to future Syrians through his sculptures. The film explores pain, loss, and the importance of creation in the face of overwhelming destruction. Shot in Ramtha, Jordan just 5 kilometers from the Syrian border where war continues to rage on.
To give, go to:
Director: Jake Viramontez
Director of Photography: Tristan Nyby
Produced by: Wjd Dhnie, Jens Jacob
Executive Producer: James Shani
Production Company: Madison + Vine, Sypher Films
Co-Producer: Brent Madison
Editor: Jake Viramontez
Sound Design: Defacto Sound
Original Music: Ryan Taubert
Colorist: Bryan Smaller, Company 3
Story Editor: Jarod Shannon
Shot on: Red Weapon Helium w/Kowa anamorphics.
Which Jane Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?
I am again at a disadvantage. My familiarity with Regency-era literature is so poor that my only Austen novel is Emma. I do have a general understanding of Pride and Prejudice, however, and it happens that the only Austen adaptation I have fully seen is one of that novel. And I must admit I like it a lot.
It’s a very…streamlined production. Lower-budget than most, and far from anything Hollywood would produce. Certainly it fails to capture the breadth and texture of Austen’s work. Nevertheless it wears a charming directness that manages to get to the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Using a clever modern-day framing device, it makes the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy immediately relevant to young people of our day. With a nicely balanced mixture of gentle humor and disarming sincerity, it manages to entertain while still driving home the story’s moral. Additionally, its severely abridged nature and short length directs the interested viewer to the source book.
Which adaptation is this?
I speak, of course, of the Wishbone adaptation.
This was one of the best children’s shows produced by PBS in the 1990s. In it Wishbone, an adventure-loving Jack Russell Terrier, accompanies his boy, Joe, through adventures in middle school and literature. Whenever Joe faces a particular situation in his life, Wishbone will find a similar situation in a work of classic literature and relate the story to the audience. The audience gets to see Wishbone’s own imagination of the classic story interspersed with Joe’s modern-day story playing out in parallel. The result was a children’s show that was highly literate, thoughtful, and empathetic to older kids, and just happened to star a cute and energetic dog.
The episode entitled “Furst Impressions” is no exception! It’s truly the only Austen adaptation I’ve seen all the way through, so I can’t argue that it’s among the best. But this isn’t completely a joke answer. While the half-hour show only has about fifteen minutes to spare for the Austen sections, it boils the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship down to its essentials, and then takes those essentials quite seriously. Despite the ever-present humor of seeing Mr. Darcy being played by a Jack Russell Terrier, Austen’s story itself is never made fun of nor spoofed.
We see Elizabeth and Darcy both make snap judgments about each other and allow themselves to believe false rumors. In time, through humility and honesty, they sort out their prejudices and discover their mutual love, and end up happy and healthy. Parallel to this we get a story of Joe and his friends, Samantha and David, who are agonizing over a school dance. False rumors set Sam and David against each other, and it looks like the chance of a fun, drama-free dance is gone. Feelings are hurt, tempers flare, and Joe finds his two best friends are unable to be near each other without shouting and accusing the other of lying. Finally, honesty and humility bring about forgiveness and understanding, and their friendships are restored. And just as in Austen’s book, the source of the rumors can be traced to an envious socialite who ends up lonely.
Far from the most nuanced or complete adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Wishbone episode “Furst Impressions” nonetheless entertains with a direct, honest paraphrasing of the book’s most essential relationship. By showing Austen’s story side-by-side with a situation any modern kid can relate to (and adults too), it gives its audience a wise message of forgiveness and honesty, while quite possibly arousing interest in the source novel.
And it also stars a cute, energetic Jack Russell Terrier!
What’s your favorite Jane Austen adaptation? And did you ever watch Wishbone or read the Wishbone book series?
Next up on Classic Remarks: What children’s classic couldn’t you get enough of as a child?
The Legend of Tarik
by Walter Dean Myers
Spoiler-free Synopsis: A young African captured into slavery in medieval Spain seeks vengeance for the murders of his father and brother, becoming a legendary hero in the process.
Reason for Begining: I’d never read a story following a heroic African in medieval Spain before, and it sounded quite interesting, especially since I know a thing or two about medieval Spain.
Reason for Finishing: A quick, reasonably entertaining read.
Story Re-readability: It’s easy enough to reread considering its length and quick pace, but it doesn’t hold enough interest for me personally.
Author Re-readability: I’d certainly be willing to read Myers again, although his story felt a bit rushed and didn’t have quite as much texture or unique interest as I would have liked.
Recommendation: It’s worth a read for dedicated bibliophiles, and may be quite appreciated by younger readers who are less picky than me about having fully fleshed-out stories with unique elements. Also recommended if you are starved for fantasy quests featuring non-European heroes.
Following from the post on some of my favorite history podcasts, I want to let you know about some of my favorite literary podcasts. Today, it’s The Tolkien Professor!
Look, if you’re a fan of Tolkien and have some listening time, you should check this one out. Corey Olsen is a professor of things medieval, Christian, and literary, and is a MASSIVE fan of all things J.R.R. Tolkien. His long-running podcast has grown to include several different series. He has seminars on several Tolkien and Tolkien-related books, courses on other famous fantasy books, Q&A episodes, interviews with people like Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, and even fascinating reviews of The Hobbit films.
If you just look at his podcast list in iTunes, it can be overwhelming, but fear not! His website organizes all his many series and links to each episode. And they’re all lively and entertaining to listen to!
Some of my favorites are his courses going through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion chapter-by-chapter. Even after some two decades of being a Tolkien reader myself, I still learn new things from these. Olsen’s work has also expanded to include courses on other subjects, such as medieval literature that Tolkien knew and loved, and even free courses through Mythgard Institute on other great works of fantasy and science fiction.
If all this college-level material (however entertainingly delivered) sounds too intense for you, fear not! He’s also been leading a merry band of conspirators on dreaming up just what an ideal Silmarillion TV-show would look like –freed from the depressing constraints of money and marketing, of course! It’s a fun exercise in speculation.
And don’t forget you can get a taste of what he has to offer by tuning into his livestream of the latest Lord of the Rings seminar on Tuesdays at 9:30PM EDT, or checking out the videos of the stream that get posted on his YouTube channel.
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Tolkien and medieval researcher, adjunct academic in East Tennessee, PhD candidate at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
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P. M. Gilmer: Let's Talk About Books: Reading, Writing, and Reviewing. Member of ACFW
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