Thursday, December 27, 2012

Villainous Villains of Villainy Part II

Picture her as she appears in the throne room to curse the infant Briar Rose.

Remember her entrance; the thunder and the smoke, the high and commanding lilt in her voice as she pronounced her words of doom over the little princess. Consider for a moment her dramatic exit, the ridiculously high-collared cloak of black and purple which she wears, and the horn-like crown she perches upon her brow. Plus, there's the whole idea of 'Death by Spinning Wheel'. Truly, whoever thinks of that? And then, wonder of wonders, she transforms herself into a dragon to fight her final battle.

Maleficent rolled in style.

Now ponder a moment: Would this scorned fairy have been as evil if she had no flair for the dramatic? Or would she have been ‘marginally disturbing’ at best and a ‘bothersome old woman’ at worst? After all, style was her weapon of choice.  This shows us that she is vain and has more than a generous portion of self-love.  Many of the classic fairytale villains are beautiful to look at—at least at the beginning of the tale. Does this mean that a good villain must be beautiful and conceited in order to be appropriately evil?
It is not her beauty, of itself, which makes her the villain. That beauty merely makes her evil nature all the more shocking.
While he does not cut a particularly handsome figure, Moriarty, too, seems to have a certain desire for flair. For example, the manner by which he grabs Sherlock's attention in the popular BBC series, and his line “Honey, you should see me in a crown” hints at this aspect of his character. Or the way he calls the standoff between himself and Holmes in Doyle's work “The Final Problem” beside a great, roaring waterfall.

He challenges and laughs and preens. According to the books, James Moriarty was not a man of good looks. He is described as being extremely thin with a forehead which ‘domes out in a white curve’, and his eyes deeply sunk into his skull. In contrast, the BBC version is a dapperly dressed man, though still pale. Doyle’s villain was still a man of cunning and style. His joy was in his chain of underlings, his spider’s web of informants and hired guns. Why should he dirty his own hands? The only conceivable answer to that is because he wanted to. And that, my friends, is a fashionable thug indeed.
The vain villains love themselves and thus hate the heroes who have something better than what the villain has. Such as when the wicked-and-perpetually-nameless-queen petitions her magic mirror 'who is the fairest of them all?' When the answer comes back as someone other than herself, said-queen rages. She hates Snow White for her beauty. Here’s a thought: If Snow were any less beautiful, would she still be the heroine of the tale? In this case, chances are that she wouldn’t. The queen would not have felt the need to destroy Snow and the princess would have happily gone on singing to birds and making certain her servants never swept dust beneath the rug.

If Maleficent were a dirty old hag, would we react in the same way to her? And Moriarty; if he didn’t insist on rubbing every little thing right under Sherlock’s nose, would he make us cringe so? Likely not. They would both be added to the growing pile of mediocre hooligans, quickly and efficiently dealt with.

It’s often the discord that a villain’s vanity creates in our minds which so ingrains their evil intentions upon us. Evil is not supposed to look cute, sound nice, taste sweet, or act kind. We think about monsters and our brains inevitably turn to such creatures as ghouls and trolls, rabid wolves and hideous serpents. We forget, often, the brightly colored frog, the fragrant flytrap, the white-furred stoat and the singing siren. All have elements of beauty but can be deadly—some in reality, others confined to the tales we tell.

In a spiritual sense, things of evil nature are made to look good in order to tempt us into doing the wrong things and this is often the case in stories. No one wants to harm the beautiful queen, nor harm a single fiber of the man sitting with such self-assurance in the courtroom. When they petition you, you often accept because it looks good, sounds good, tastes good. The proverbial Turkish Delight. But it is always just a mask. A pretty face concealing the alien creature underneath. One must be oh, so very careful and alert, always watching for the danger on every side. Whether in life or in tale, there is always a battle at hand.
Does your favorite villain have flair? What do you think of the differences between the pretty villains and the monstrous ones? All thoughts and comments are welcomes on this post and others, so share your thoughts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Reviews: “Floors” and “3 Below” by Patrick Carman

Title: Floors
Author: Patrick Carman
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 5

When I first read Floors by Mr. Carman, I cannot say that I was impressed. Not because of the book’s own worth, but because of the reputation of its author. Having begun with ‘The Land of Elyon” series, a Christian Fantasy which utterly enthralled me and gave birth to my first, unmentionable, completed novel (And please note that I use the term ‘completed’ in the very loosest of senses, as the story was written from a point of beginning and I somehow managed to drag it into an ending.), I had high expectations of quality. At that point in time I considered Mr. Carman one of my favorite authors. Since having read some of his other young adult/children’s literature works, I am wary of using those words, though they still hold a semblance of truth in them. For the sake of time and space, I will avoid mentioning his less-favorable books for the moment, although I might decide to come back and discuss them at a later date.

In any case, I opened Floors with mild senses of expectation and foreboding. I melted, however, upon reading this, said of one of the central characters: ‘“You will prosper in the field of wacky inventions” were the only words of advice Merganzer had been given. If only Merganzer had known they were spoken by a man who’d been talking gibberish for weeks. Things might have turned out differently.’ (Excerpt from the prologue.)

Floors, the first in a projected series now consisting of two children’s novels, is a wacky invention of its own and a peppy, bizarre thrill ride. It may be said of the book that it was rather poorly executed, as if Mr. Carman were in a hurry, or perhaps his editor was. A few things are just on the verge of being explained, but that explanation never comes. Sometimes you are waiting for the story to go in a direction it has hinted at for some time, but it turns a completely different way. When you are dealing with a hotel built by a duck-loving eccentric on a broad square of land smack dab in the center of Manhattan, on the other hand, things do tend to go a bit off-kilter. And, to be fair, most of the seeming inconsistencies are explained by the end of the book, or have a foreshadowing which leads to the next book.

The Whippet Hotel is quite possibly the weirdest place on earth: picture Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium from the film of the same name, only with less order, less magic, more mechanics, and a lot more ducks. Now picture that Merganzer D. Whippet, the owner and builder of the hotel, has been missing for one hundred days, leaving no clues as to how long he will be gone, what to do in the meantime, or whether or not he’s actually going to come back at all.

Running the Hotel, we find young Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence, the maintenance men. Not only do their duties include cleaning up after the guests, receiving messages from a shark head named Daisy, and walking the ducks; they must also keep all the rooms in full, wacky order. This means the robots must not be permitted to fight lest they disturb the delicate balance of a terribly famous author’s routine, and a great number of other calamities must be avoided on an hourly basis.

Amid an odd assortment of characters, Leo finds a friend in Remi, the son of the maid who acts as the new doorman while his mother works. Together, the two of them discover that Merganzer has left them a puzzle—aside from the gigantic one no one knows how to finish in the Puzzle Room. Following a mystery of puzzle boxes, clues, the shady MR. M, hidden floors, and messages drawn onto glass walls, the two boys discover a lot is at stake as someone schemes to wrestle the hotel out from underneath Merganzer’s capable—if not fully present—hands.

Floors is a good book over all. I might wish some more thought and character building had gone into the story, but I would recommend the book with very little hesitation.

Title: 3 Below
Author: Patrick Carman
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 4

3 Below is another story. (Aside: That pun was entirely unintended and would be a downright lousy one regardless.) It follows in its predecessor’s footsteps with its hilarity and off-the-wall humor. There’s even a mad scientist. And monkeys. Can’t forget about them. On the negative side, some irregularity is found in the makeup of a few of the original characters. Something in the character of the book itself is different and lacking. While I enjoyed 3 Below, I found the second half, or perhaps the last third of the book to be the best. This book also had a somewhat clumsy, unfinished feel to it. This disappoints me because, and despite my disagreements with him, Mr. Carman is a skilled and often lyrical writer.

Both books lack any distasteful language or vulgarity which always earns a plus from my side of things. In Floors, there is a Halloween party and some questionable characters show up, but not in an overtly offensive way. Also, in 3 Below, there is…well, ‘excessive burping’ sums it up nicely. I went along with this and it all worked out for the story and the plot. I also paused to remind myself that the two main characters are young boys and that the majority of boys tend to find that sort of thing funny.

In fitting with the colorful scheme of these books, one might liken them to a pizza covered with all the toppings you can imagine, but completely lacking the crust. These would not classify on the list of my favorite books, by any means, but they are good reads, and wacky ones.

And I like wacky.