Sunday, 13 May 2012

Fiction | An Exclusive Extract From George R.R. Martin's Upcoming Fantasy Novel, 'Lo! A Rapist'


Gavyn shivered.
He was always cold, up here, at the Bear's Pit, where the coldwinds blew down from Beggar's Point and the deadsnow fell from the great walls of the Nightcastle into the Stinkmarsh below.
Time for some pointless italicised interior monologue, he thought, as an easy alternative to actually giving me a personality.
"I could best any man here in single combat," bragged Ser Timothei, pounding at his shield upon which was emblazoned the crossed secateurs of House Johnsen. "The scissors slice through all that stands in their path."
"Aye," replied One-Eye Fotheryngton-Smithe, tapping a withered finger upon his own armour, bearing the boulder-sigil of his own household, "but the rock beats the scissors, lad. Best you remembered that."
"And yet paper covers rock," insisted youthful, blonde-haired Ser Aernold of House Broewn, the handsome boy keeping his hand upon his sword. "Let us trust that your blade is more cutting than your wit, good Ser Timothei."
Gavyn frowned.
"Something is moving," he muttered, but the men ignored him. "Down by the south wall. Something is moving."
"Tis of no matter," Ser Timothei growled. "Scissors cut rock, you see, so it's more of a-"
An arrow sliced through the night and embedded itself in Ser Timothei's skull. One-Eye rose, roaring, but was cut down by a spear that shot through the darkness and jammed itself into his belly. Ser Aernold went down, slowly, hacked apart by a dozen swords.
Oh, no, Gavyn thought. Oh, no. They're killing them all. They're killing them all. What should I do? What should I do?
An armoured figure loomed over him, raising its battleaxe.
So the old woman's prophecy has been fulfilled, Gavyn thought, falling into darkness.


"My lord, I refuse," said Daenerys.
The second sentence, as it always did, established a sense of time and place.
"But, my queen," Vizier Jyfar crooned, stroking his silky goatee, "surely it is more reasonable to make me your husband and lord, while reinstituting slavery, necromancy and bestiality in the city you currently rule? You are in Arabblaend now, you see, and cannot hope to understand our decadent foreign ways."
'Beware a bearded Vizier by the name of Jyfar', the sorcereress had warned her. Could she trust the prophecy? Obviously she could, since prophecies always came true in this fantasy world so long as they were uttered by weird loners and not by members of the establishment, but she should probably spend the next ten chapters debating the point, over and over again, nonetheless. 
"I will not marry you. I am a strong queen, an empowered queen, born to rule," Daenerys declared, getting her baps out. She had always liked her breasts, soft and white, their nipples standing on end almost as if they were being described in detail by a salivating middle-aged male pervert.
"So long as I have my dragons," she continued, "I have power. I am empowered by the fact that I am a maternal figure devoting myself selflessly to everyone and who has given birth to male phallic fire-breathing symbols of power, as opposed to the Evil Bitch Queen character who betrays everyone, becomes irrational and neurotic, and uses her feminine wiles to seduce those around her. At least one silly arsehole's going to write an article about how these books are pro-women, aren't they?"
"How long," the swarthy, bare-chested Captain Beegcoc enquired of his first mate, the Swan, "before her dragons are fully grown?"
"Ten more books, my lord."
"Fuck. Well, we'd better repeat this scene a thousand times and have an invincible army of eunuchs turn up to fight for Daenerys for a couple of battle scenes to break up the tedium, I suppose."


Jon Snow was nervous.
Die, a raven croaked beside him. Die, die, die. Polly want to overuse this device. Craawk. Polly want to overuse this device.
"Thank fuck ye've got earthy characters like us around," said Young Jimmei, farting loudly, "to say 'cunt' and 'tits', thus avoiding the series degenerating into hi-faluting self-serious gibberish.'
Too late, the raven croaked. Too late, too late, too late.
Over the horizon, a giant appeared. It was riding a giant spider.
"Shit," Young Jimmei said, "that was tone-deaf, generic and sketchily described, just the same as every single one of these forays into genuinely fantastic material are. Still, at least by having all of the weird stuff happen here at the Wall and in Daenerys' scenes, the faux-realistic politics of the central narrative won't be disrupted by...oh, wait, one of the main characters has been resurrected as a zombie for no particular reason. Never mind."


Gavyn opened his eyes.
"Hail," said the fleshy-faced man riding beside him. "You didn't really think you'd died, did you? Because the reality is that in this series praised for killing off its main characters, hardly anyone who matters seems to actually die. They always lose consciousness in the middle of a battle and then turn up again in the next book, or someone else gets executed in their place as part of a diabolical scheme, or..."
My head, Gavyn thought. My head hurts. I wonder if there'd be any simpler and more elegant way of conveying that my head hurts? Probably not.
"I am Chrastopher, priest of R'hllor," said the fleshy-faced man, "and this is Ser Allan and Ser Boeb. You're our captive, and we're taking you to the Whitefort. Lord Sebastean has declared war on the Dark Brothers, and the hosts of Pinecastle and Rainsummit ride to meet him. Though it is whispered that The Nicknamed has turned his cloak and taken Pisswiddle without a fight-"
"It doesn't matter," Gavyn said, depressed.
"What's that?"
"None of this politics matters. It's only there to kill time until the dragons turn up and use their *FIRE* against the *ICE* wielded by the monstrous evil gathering in the north in an epic battle in which everybody dies. Until then, we're just around to set off on journeys which never actually succeed because everyone always gets ambushed and then carried away in a different direction."
"Well, really," Chrastopher began. "That's a little cynical-"
There was a horrifying thunk as a throwing axe embedded itself in the priest's skull. Ser Allen and Ser Boeb fell before they could even draw their swords.
Gavyn fell off his horse, into darkness.
This time that's it, he thought. This time I really am going to die.


Tonei watched as the captives were flayed alive, raped, castrated, dismembered, beheaded, and raped again, upon the walls of the Deadtower.
"Gosh," he said, looking at his watch, "this is hard-hitting stuff. Truly, the fantasy genre has grown up."


Gavyn awoke to find a naked woman pressing her voluptuous boobies up against him. This made his penis hard.
"Stacei, stop it," someone said.
The naked woman retreated, playing with her boobies some more as she went.
"My apologies," said the mysterious cloaked figure riding at his side. "Stacei is ultra-horny. Like, crazy mega-horny. It isn't pointless titillation for adolescent boys, though, because later we'll have a scene when you try to have sex with her but you'll climax too soon and there'll be talk of 'shameful seed shining on her thighs' or something. Anyway, I am Ser Darkface, and we rescued you from Chrastopher because we're on our way to restore the Griffin King of-"
The falchion took Ser Darkface's head cleanly off his shoulders.
For fuck's sake, Gavyn thought, with a visible yawn, drawing his sword and stabbing himself brutally in the chest in a desperate attempt to kill himself off, was the editors' decision not to trim off a thousand pages of repetitive filler a cynical attempt to sell longer, more expensive 'epic' books, or do people really still think this nonsense has any sort of serious direction, focus or intent? 


Gavyn opened his eyes.
"A miracle," a voice declared, "that you have washed up alive on the shores on Perros. I am Grand Maester Dikwiied, and I intend to place a scion on the Iron Throne by-"
Gavyn screamed.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

That Establishment-Approved Avengers Sequel In Full

I'm not going to bother photoshopping the poster, but I'm pretty sure all you'd need to do is push the Hulk's hairline backwards and he'd already be a dead ringer.

These are dark days for the United Kingdom. Somewhat unfeasibly, the government is managing to be so incompetent, insular, cronyish and downright unlikeable as to be genuinely threatened by LOKI, (ED MILIBAND) a snivelling dweeb still harbouring obvious resentment issues against his own more charismatic and popular brother.

Thankfully for us all, a COALITION has assembled to face exactly this sort of threat, an alliance of heroes from all walks of life united by their DESIRE FOR PERSONAL GAIN.

At its head, once an ordinary human being like the rest of us, then given superhuman powers and the right to rule by an ETON EDUCATION, a man whose attempts to lead are constantly stymied by the fact that he's a character from a bygone age who clearly doesn't understand modern life, is CAPTAIN AMERICA (DAVID CAMERON).

With him is a sheepish, mild-mannered fellow whose occasional tendencies to go berserk with anger and begin attacking institutions that are meant to be on the COALITION'S side, such as BIG BUSINESS and RUPERT MURDOCH, mean that his so-called comrades have to spend most of their time restraining him, although they keep him around anyway for unspecified reasons (VINCE CABLE).

Also zipping around the place is an obscenely rich, laissez-faire playboy, coming from a background of privilege and following in his father's footsteps, who despite the many disagreeable things about him and his obvious personality clash with DAVID, seems to be wearing some sort of BULLET-PROOF SUIT (BORIS JOHNSON).

Then, of course, there's a BRAINWASHED STOOGE (JEREMY HUNT), one of the world's deadliest red-headed CHARACTER ASSASSINS (REBEKAH BROOKES) who works alongside the team despite the fact that she probably shouldn't be, a bizarre, aristocratic otherworldly being (GIDEON OSBORNE), and a MEWLING QUIM (NICK CLEGG.)

In the first half of the film, the AVENGERS are meant to be helping the country and rescuing the economy; instead, they bicker pointlessly and attack one another. VINCE starts chasing REBEKAH around, the DAILY TELEGRAPH, in between endlessly savaging the notion of gay marriage for the benefit of whatever CATHOLIC BISHOP is cearly on their pay-roll, writes a sea of articles praising BORIS in comparison to DAVID. Meanwhile, GIDEON decides to solve the problems of the recession by hitting the economy with a big HAMMER, and NICK continues to be a MEWLING QUIM.

Eventually the loveable agent COULSON (played by himself), loyal to DAVID to the very end, is caught in the crossfire, while the economy is rapidly collapsing, releasing a sea of identically-dressed CHITAURI (SKRULL for '1-PERCENTER'), who despite their hi-tech SMARTPHONES, fanatical fury and warlike attitude, turn out to be A BIT RUBBISH, as well as not really under ED's control despite his best efforts. It's up to unelected, hardass government operative NICK FURY (HRH QUEEN ELIZABETH II) to act. With a SPEECH.

There was an idea. That we could gather together a coalition of remarkable people - that when we needed them, they'd fight the battles we could not.
Which is why we're pushing through all these really important measures to help fix Britain, such as letting you guys place surveillance on Skype. And I bet the public will feel really uncynical about and engaged with these Lords reform proposals!

The AVENGERS vow that they will stand together from now and work towards a better UNITED KINGDOM. This DOESN'T HAPPEN, but ED is so rubbish that he can't really beat them, either.

After the end credits, in the vacuum of space, THANOS, a figure possessed of apparently limitless tactical ability, intelligence and power (ALEX SALMOND), turns to the camera and GRINS.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Film | Blabbin' In The Woods: Horror Needs To Stop Blaming Its Audience

Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In The Woods is a concept movie, or rather, a movie with a point to prove, one whose entire existence revolves around jabbing its finger into your chest and waving its pamphlets in your face, a parodic deconstruction of shlocky horror that many film critics deemed so ‘game-changing’ that their reviews were reduced to vague schoolgirl burblings about ‘the less you know the better’. I suspect the young couple sitting next to me in the cinema, who’d clearly gone hoping to shriek a bit and put their arms around each other during a good old-fashioned bit of scary-movie fun, would have preferred having some idea of exactly what they were in for, but John Updike disagrees with me. Anyway.

'Groundbreaking. A game changer'. Like to explain those superlatives, Total Film Magazine? Like to articulate exactly which ground is broken, and how the game is changed? Oh, they're just gabbled buzzwords without genuine value, are they? My, what a surprise.

Cabin features a group of attractive young adults who are drawn out to a familiar-looking one-floor cabin in amongst the pine trees, which handily comes with its own easily-destructible mountain-pass and eerie standoffish petrol station attendant who makes it pretty clear they’ll all be dead by sun-up. Meanwhile, we observe a bunch of middle-aged office drones in an underground facility beneath the cabin, who at first simply monitor the youths on closed-circuit surveillance, and then begin to actively change their personalities, pumping pheromones into the cabin, drugging their hair dye, and using all kinds of devious trickery to mutate the young 'uns into a bunch of familiar one-dimensional stereotypes. The sporty lad played by Thor becomes a dumb jock; his confident girlfriend starts wearing hot-pants and French-kissing stuffed wolf-heads; the fairly average male love interest suddenly dons a pair of spectacles and becomes known as ‘egg-head’; the slightly more reserved heroine transforms into the pure innocent virgin who’s probably going to survive until the end.

Before we know it, these meddling kids are sent down to the cabin basement, where a cornucopia of foreboding artifacts awaits them; far below, the drones are taking bets on which hideous monster the gang's going to unleash by tampering with the wrong Dread MacGuffin (the office betting pool whiteboard includes entries such as ‘Merman’, ‘Dragonbat’, and ‘Fornicus, Lord Of Bondage And Pain’). The youths read a diary, summoning a family of sadistic zombified backwater folk, and suddenly the office workers’ job becomes about encouraging their victims to split up, stand with their backs to windows, and generally behave like imbeciles in order to be picked off one by one.

Fornicus, in case you were wondering, resembles Pinhead, only with circular saws in his face instead of nails. As visual gags go, it seems surprisingly like something you might find in Scream If You Know What I Did Last Summer for such a groundbreaking gamechanger.

The joke’s spelled out very clearly, and it's sometimes very funny; why is it that, with so many fascinating ghouls at their disposal, certain entries in the horror genre can come up with nothing better than moronic, one-note characters being sadistically dispatched in semi-darkness, with some tits-and-ass thrown in along the way? It's in answering its own question, however, that Cabin makes a argument which, if we are to take the film's thoughts on horror seriously, (and given how hard it labours the point, albeit through an entertaining monster-mash bloodbath, we’re clearly meant to) deserves to be shoved in a sleeping-bag and battered against a tree. Because it is, as it turns out, all the Audience’s fault.

The drones are merely reluctant servants of a higher power, you see; dark Lovecraftian Gods who are said to be ‘watching’ and who will inflict savage punishments upon humanity if the gory show leaves them unsatisfied. The hot blonde has to get her breasts out, the office workers explain, while watching the spectacle leerily onscreen themselves, because that’s what the Audience wants to see. The virgin has to screech and suffer her way through the film, enduring more in the process than her corrupted friends who are killed more quickly, because the Audience is both rooting for her to survive and secretly desires to see her punished. Later, the Director (who should really, really have been played by Jamie Lee Curtis) shows up and interprets the ‘horror film’ as a ritual sacrifice carried out to satiate both the bloodlust, and the deep-seated desire for formulaic plotting, of those who are watching.

Perhaps great Cthulu only really broke loose, ravening for delight, because he felt that the groundbreaking, gamechanging third season of Skins tried too hard to break loose of the show's existing formula.

Drivel. Drivel that not only attempts to place moral responsibility with the audience, but aesthetic responsibility, too, and the curious thing about Cabin, which is ostensibly so much about the mechanics of making horror, is that it never bothers to seriously reflect upon the responsibility of the artist in all of this; the Director explains that she ‘has’ to carry out the ritual and keep it to its dull formula in order to please the Gods, and, by the end, she’s proven to be right. The film repeatedly portrays the drones as callous, detached and desensitised, but it’s only really interested in castigating them in terms of their role as an audience, and not as creators. So we see them whooping as the kids choose their otherworldly doom, drooling as the young couple gets naked, even celebrating with tequila, in one highly-pointed, extended sequence, as the heroine is beaten to a pulp onscreen. Jesus, we get it. We’re bad people for watching this. What about you for making it?

Are we really supposed to agree with the notion that not only sadism and voyeurism, but poor characterisation, derivative storytelling and illogical plots are all the result of audience expectations, and not creative bankruptcy on the part of the people making them? Because if that’s the case, then what are we supposed to make of the fact that The Others, a horror film that features none of these things (well, other than derivative storytelling), and no on-screen deaths, made $210 million at the box office, almost four times as much as Hostel Part I and Two put together, ($47 million and $19 million respectively), more than twice as much as the 2009 Friday 13th remake ($91 million), almost twice as much as the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake ($107 million), etcetera, etcetera?

I agree with Goddard about one thing; the horror film is heading down a bad road. But he’s taking pot-shots at all the easiest targets (lowest-common denominator films do rely on sleazy nudity to have an impact, yes. Any other shocking insights into the likes of Piranha 3 Double-D?) and, occasionally, long-outdated ones (the virginal heroine survives while her more worldly friends die, therefore the horror film displays a loathing of sexuality? Gosh, what a trenchant and unfamiliar analysis of 1978's Halloween) and using them to push a theory about the genre as a whole.*  

Groundbreaking! A gamechanger!

It’s all a bit off, and not least because Goddard isn’t particularly interested in coming up with a solution to the problems he raises - he admits, not ungenerously, via the pothead character who figures everything out, that Cabin’s own brand of self-aware commentary is only capable of bringing the whole stage crashing down - and actively tells us, at the end of his movie, that a humanity which ‘needs’ this kind of dull, sadistic entertainment isn’t worth saving. He does seem to push for the idea, once the marvellous menagerie of monsters makes its appearance, that the genre could find revitalisation in the sheer variety and inventiveness of its ghosts and ghouls, which is an appropriately Whedon-esque suggestion, but dead wrong; unicorns and mermen are funny, not scary, and horror is not about monsters - at least, not always**. It simply never seems to occur to Cabin, a ‘horror movie’ in name only, too concerned with its own sophomore thesis to ever bother frightening us, that the true purpose of horror is to horrify; to merely be horrible, which is all that the crappy movies it’s spoofing are capable of doing, is a perversion of the genre and always has been.

It also happens to be, unfortunately, horror’s real 21st-century problem. Not character stereotypes, not a reliance on attractive young actors, boobies or reheated stories; these issues are non-universal and symptomatic of bad film-making as a whole. But there's a false perception, which has persisted even since before Halloween’s bravura first-person prologue sequence or Peeping Tom's camera shots were said to be ‘turning the audience into a killer’, and which Goddard has entirely bought into, that horror appeals through being horrible and not through horrifying, that it's a genre whose fans are despicable voyeurs who enjoy watching the terror and pain of the characters onscreen, rather than seeking to pleasurably, vicariously share the characters’ fear at a comfortable distance (occasionally, too, they’re looking for a series of inventive, squirm-in-your-seat ‘squick’ moments, as in the Saw or Final Destination series, but it’s utterly cartoonish stuff, appealing to a young demographic who tend to see the films in groups for kicks; the difference between the intent of these movies and, say, Faces Of Death is fairly clear, I think); therefore, audiences are sadists; therefore, audiences must have their sadism pointed out to them and be chided - sometimes, actively punished - for their sadism.

How many clearly intelligent film-makers have scratched their nails up against this dead-end in recent years, with a startling lack of self-consciousness? Michael Haneke, in the detestable Funny Games, spent 108 minutes informing his audience that it was their fault that people like him made films like Funny Games, and considered this such an important artistic statement that he had to shoot the awful bloody thing all over again in English. Haneke’s movies often show a directorial interest in sadism, violence, and humiliation; so long as he has something to say, we shouldn’t place value judgements against him for that, so why is it acceptable for him to openly blame us this time around for the nastiness he's, quite characteristically, chosen to film? I doubt that any of the (few) moviegoers who went to see Funny Games were rubbing their hands with horrid glee, delighted at the prospect of seeing a loving family being threatened and murdered; rather, I suspect they’ll have attended based on the promises of a ‘shocking’, ‘provocative’ film. And yet many of these same highly thoughtful viewers were all too happy to agree with Haneke’s browbeating; yes, they were complicit in these sickening events by observing them, and what a brilliant point that was! (‘a truly great film, an incisive, artistic triumph’, the hard-hitting critics at IGN proclaimed the remake) This isn’t audience sadism; it’s audience masochism.

Groundbreaking! A gamechanger!

And for every Funny Games, there’s twenty pieces of genuinely woeful dreck - The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave - that justify an otherwise utterly pointless bit of wallowing in absolute nastiness by claiming to be pushing the boundaries of the levels of horror that audiences will find acceptable. They're punishing us for our collective desire to watch films in which people can be hurt and die by making films that are solely about people being hurt and dying in extreme and graphic detail. It’s a fallacy, a feeble pretence towards making extraordinary unpleasantness artistically respectable in its own right, without qualifiers, and a supreme abdication of directorial responsibility all in one, and yet their creators too often get away with it (Cannibal Holocaust and Hostel, to be fair to them, were canny enough to also mumble about imperialism and the international imposition of Western values to get the liberal crowd nodding in thoughtful agreement) because of the presumption that their movement towards pointless extremes must necessarily make them challenging or edgy.**

The uncrowned king of this pack of directors-armed-with-mirror-shields, incidentally, is Mr Robert Zombie. I’ve seen all of Rob’s films - but that’s misleading, since he’s only made one. The sum of the Zombie cinematic experience, whether his film revolves around a sadistic hillbilly Michael Myers or the sadistic hillbilly Firefly family, I feel is best explained through the following allegory. 

You duck into a bar one night that promises ‘entertainment’ of some kind. Onstage is a tall bearded man who proceeds to fuck a horse. It’s nasty, and prolonged, and the bearded man is clearly into the whole thing in a rather seedy and unpleasant way. Halfway through, the horse and the bearded man swap places, and an audience member declares to you that it’s absolutely brilliant how he’s managed to twist our sympathies around on themselves.

If I’ve slipped into delivering value judgements upon artists. that’s only what a rising crest of bile will do to you.

Groundbreaking! A gamechanger!

The absurdity, of course, is that despite these directors ranting on at us about the horror genre being driven by our basic human desire to see cruelties inflicted on others, the vast majority of sadistic horror films just don’t sell, despite arriving on tides of free publicity. The concept of a Human Centipede has entered our collective lexicon, entirely thanks to a thousand newspaper articles written by hacks who knew, just as Tom Six knows, that a shocking concept catches the eye; the movie itself made just $200,000 on its theatrical run. Compare that, once again, to the success of the stuffy, old-fashioned period ghost story that was The Others. Or The Sixth Sense, or 28 Days Later. The Descent, a limited release British horror, made $57 million worldwide. Even Let The Right One In managed $11 million, beating Elisha Cuthbert’s dire Captivity, which benefitted from extensive headlines and boycott-campaigns thanks to a ‘shocking’ US poster campaign. Everywhere you look, the enduring popularity of good, scary horror films, violent or non-violent, that base themselves around an honest humanistic sympathy for their heroes, stake through the heart this myth that modern horror is about our lust for the horrible. The problem is entirely in the perception of where modern horror is at, not the reality - a perception that’s driven by a cultural media that plays ethical watchdog, barking about horror having ‘gone too far this time!’ while gratefully colluding with these ‘torture-porn’ films by writing endless shocking headlines about them.

Interestingly, the Human Centipede sequel, in between its doses of attention-seeking ultra-violence, mocked its predecessor’s own absurd reception in the press by starring, tongue-in-cheek, a bulge-eyed, freakish ‘fan’ of the original film, unable to tell the difference between fiction and reality, who decides to make his own Centipede, even going to the lengths of kidnapping one of the actresses (Ashlynn Yennie, who surely needs to get more work. It should be pretty obvious by now that she isn’t a diva) to include her in his anatomical abomination. Personally, I think that joke would have been far funnier and far better if the director himself, Tom Six, had been picked to join the Centipede. But then I suspect, somehow, that Mr Six wouldn’t have been interested in doing that sort of thing.

Horror directors need to take personal responsibility for their own creations; more than that, they need to fall in love with actual fear again. This sustained movement to make monsters out of their own audience, then torch-and-pitchfork viewers with pointless, degrading unpleasantness in order to prove that point,  is far more virulent and dangerous than any amount of tired cliches about a cabin in the woods.

* Bizarrely, The Evil Dead, the film Cabin is most openly referencing, features a non-female, non-virginal, non-innocent hero who becomes increasingly, deliriously macho as the series goes on.

** Who was the monster in Suspiria, I wonder? Poor old Helena Markos, who does nothing but lie in bed and get stabbed with a peacock feather? The giallo-style serial killer who vanishes halfway through? The room filled with barbed wire? Something unseen in the sky? The seeing-eye dog?

*** This is not to argue, of course, in favour of puritanism. It’d certainly be possible to argue for hours about which indisputably ‘horrible’ films are interesting for reasons other than ‘oh, because it’s really, really horrible’. I’d suggest Tod Browning’s Freaks, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to name a few.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Theatre | Critical Dahl-ings

Last week I found myself in The Cambridge Theatre in London, watching Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Matilda, by Roald Dahl. On one hand, this confession should make it obvious that here at Silkworms Ink, a cutting-edge literary e-press, we lack the nous to track down any cultural events more significant or trailblazing than a children’s musical. On the other hand, I don't think there were actually any children present, other than onstage; the audience was rammed full of childless twenty-to-thirty-year-old adults, all of whom presumably went home afterwards and told their childless twenty-to-thirty-year-old friends that it was a show grown-ups and kids could enjoy alike.

            Anyway, I did enjoy it; it was a Tim Minchin musical, with the characters singing spoofy Tim Minchin songs in Tim Minchin’s favourite registers, making sly Tim Minchin polemic digs and being, in general, about as memorable as any of Tim Minchin's tunes. But it did remind me of the rather serious structural problem with Dahl’s novel; it’s two very different stories, tenuously connected, one of which sprouts out of the other and swallows it whole just as it's running out of steam. The second, eventually dominant story is a rousing, dark schoolyard tale, in which Carrie and Sheba Hart team up to defeat a villainous 1920s portrayal of a lesbian. The first story is the heartrending tragedy of a middle-class girl born into a working-class family, until eventually their inept criminality results in their fleeing to join their innumerable comrades in southern Spain, allowing her to return (hurrah!) to her own kind.

            Facile, yes, but both of the interlinked stories in the novel articulate two distinct sides to Dahl’s personality and his writings; the revolt of Matilda and her classmates against Miss Trunchbull is a characteristically dark and funny, rather wonderfully skewed fairytale in which the righteous young heroine actually gets to defeat the monster after the rescuer/woodsman figure (Miss Honey’s father, heroically named ‘Magnus’) has already been tragically swallowed up by it. Matilda’s psychic powers come out of nowhere halfway through the novel and never seem to relate thematically to her intelligence or her love of books; rather, they rise from her impotent fury at adult injustice, her innate sense of fairness and strength evolving into the power required to overcome the villain. And Trunchbull is, indeed, a fine villain, perhaps Dahl’s best; he could create a grotesque character without blinking, but like so many great monsters, the hulking headmistress is as pitiable as she is terrifying, an insecure obsessive who, similar to his Twits and Witches, regards children as an undefined species of louse - memorably visualised, too, by Quentin Blake as a buttoned-up mass of brawn just barely keeping its balance on two pin-slender legs.

            Matilda’s parents, however, have no such complexity; they’re bingo-playing, used-car-selling scumbag stereotypes who loathe their own daughter and her love of books mainly in order to give Dahl an excuse to bitch about television, a subject he thoroughly enjoys. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, I seem to remember, contains a room devoted to television for no other reason than to horribly punish Mike Teavee, a small boy who, as you may have guessed, watches too much TV. Afterwards, the Oompa Loompas, serving as Greek chorus, caution parents to throw away their own sets. A brief reminder:

The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!

There’s a triple irony in there; one, in advocating that an escape from reality via literature is somehow intrinsically of higher merit than an escape from reality via television, two, that it was written around the time of Nigel Kneale’s first glorious genre pieces and Dahl’s own Twilight-Zone-esque anthology series ‘Way Out’ (now available online; it's really rather good), and three, that a spiel about the medium of film rotting the brain was written by the man who inflicted You Only Live Twice upon the brains of adults and children everywhere. 

You can really tell this was written by someone passionate about creating intellectually challenging artforms.

I can’t bring myself to like this posturing, sneering Dahl any more than I like Boris Johnson for his godawful poetry collection The Perils Of The Pushy Parents, which steals openly from him;

Loving parents, learn from me.
If your children crave TV
Tell them, OK, what the hell
You can watch it for a spell ...


There will always be an argument, which is to me at least part-convincing, that Dahl was a nasty man. It is, in fact, almost obtuse to point out that a highly-refined nastiness of spirit is what is so often utterly glorious and appealing to children and adults in his work, from the giants that reach into kids’ bedroom windows and gobble them up to the macabre turns of his Switch-Bitch stories. 
What’s a little sad, though, is that when we’re young we read his books as a sensational dive into a land of horrors and marvellous weirdness; we don’t pay attention to the crude attempts at messages (I’m not sure Charlie And The Chocolate Factory scared me off watching television as much as my quaking fear of changing the channel and accidentally encountering Gene Wilder in the film version), we don’t really take in the uncomfortable fact that the Oompa Loompas were originally gurning, simpleton African pygmies, and we probably don’t find ourselves sitting through a children’s musical about an extraordinary genius being held back by a society that encourages mediocrity, thinking, ‘Hang on, this is the exact plot of The Fountainhead’. Maybe, despite the popular cliché, Roald Dahl’s books demand to be read and loved while you're young and before you start to panic about his politics.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chapbook | Vol LV, Mo (Movember Special Edition)

Vol LV, Mo

Mo: Special Movemeber chapbook from Silkworms Ink. Featuring Corey Mesler, Nicolas Pillai, Kyle Hemmings, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé and Teresa Chuc Dowell.

The chapbook is free for your enjoyment, but please consider throwing a couple of quid into the Silkworms Ink Movember fund raising page - HERE

Monday, 28 November 2011

Movember: Day 28 Update

Nicolas 'The Horseshoe'  Pillai - Film Editor
James 'Chevron' Harringman - Editor
Nearing the end of our Mo days now. We have raised a fantastic £185 so far, which I think is pretty good work. Although it's not over yet, so please chip in a few quid here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Voyage: Edited by Chandani Lokuge & David Morley

Welcome to The Voyage, an innovative new anthology of writing by staff and postgraduates from both Monash in Australia and Warwick in England. We believe all writing, at its best, is creative writing. To that end we have drawn our distinguished contributors not only from English and Creative Writing but also from other departments in Humanities, from our Faculties of Science and Social Science, and from our Administration. What's more, we invited writers and scholars who have some practical connection with Warwick and Monash from both within and outside the academy.
We were open to all forms and genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction including scholarship and biography, drama and most other forms of creativity you might imagine. We were happy for our contributors to write on any theme but we think that the core of the book is what it means to journey. These might be imagined or remembered journeys, physical or metaphorical journeys, or journeys into knowledge or across time.

See a video introduction of the book by editors David Morley and Chandani Lokuge here. Further, find below a series of readings by selected authors reading their contributions to this wonderful anthology.