Tuesday, June 23, 2009

After 126 years Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio still holds up as a true classic.

"Geppetto, having returned home, began at once to make a puppet, to which he gives the name of Pinocchio."
----Chapter III----

Every one knows the story of Pinocchio, right? It is one the most cherished classic children books even after being published 126 years ago. So much that it has never been out of print since it was first published in 1883(with the exception of the Bible there are really not that many books that can say that).

But when most people think of Pinocchio they automatically think of the 1940 Disney animated classic. Kind of like when most people think of the Wizard of Oz. They tend to think of the 1939 movie with Judy Garland but not L. Frank Baum's original classic book(which is really a damn shame).

Now don't get me wrong. Disney's version is true classic in animation(as is the 39 Oz though it was flop when it first came out). It stands the test of time as much as Collodi's novel. But sadly, as with most of Disney's adaptations of the classic it is a very watered downed version(and I'm not going to get into that discussion).

That is why it was a real wonder to re-read the original book. And as an added treat with illustrations by Gris Grimly.

Where to start? Well, it starts with "Once upon a time..." or more in fact it starts with a piece of wood. Woodcarver Geppetto brings homes a piece of wood and decides to carve a puppet. And as we know with stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." this puppet comes alive.

At first Geppetto is happy to have a boy, even if it is a puppet as a son. But Pinocchio turns out to be a troublesome boy instead of the well behaved boy Geppetto wishes for. See Pinocchio rather run and play and just have fun than go to school and learn.

As the story progresses he meets up with all sorts of characters, both human and non-human. Both good and bad. There is the Talking Cricket(in the book he never has a name) who tries to set him straight. Tells he should take of his father and behave or face the consequences. Though Pinocchio is having none of that in that he squishes the little critter(how could Disney miss that one?). But it alright, he comes back as a ghost to give more advice whether wanted or not.

As each adventures comes and goes, though he tries to do what is right he is pushed and prodded against his better judgement by those who are only looking out for themselves.

A long the way he meets up with a puppet show, the fox and cat, a blue haired little fairy girl(who grows up to be his fairy godmother), assassins, Death(in the form of 4 black rabbits), becomes a watch dog, finds a city were loafing and begging is not tolerated, a dogfish(not a whale) and other beings who will either help him or try and hurt him.

But for all of the mischief he gets into, Pinocchio really is a kind hearted soul. He does tries try to keep his promises and not to tell lies(it really doesn't happen in the book as near as it does in the movie). But like all of us there is a part of him that wishes to be free to of responsibilities of learning and working. When don't we all at one time or another wish we could just take off with out a care in the world, forget bills, work and just do nothing but play or do nothing at all?

And that is what makes Pinocchio a timeless classic in as much as the original Brother Grimm's tales are.

It is as much a morality play as it is a children's adventures tale. But it is still a much a product of it's time as anything. Why?

It doesn't sugar coat the truth. Or in today's vernacular, it isn't Politically Correct. It shows there are harsh consequences for ones actions especially for children who haven't knowledge or experience to know these things.

What makes Pinocchio so great is that Collodi blends the morals and the adventure side of the book so perfectly. So when your reading it you almost forget there is a moral to the story. You are so invested in Pinocchio's well being you forget there is another meaning underneath the surface.

It's a hard trick for a writer to pull of in any time and Collodi pulls it off like a flawless magic act. Where you are so amazed by the magic you forget it just a trick.

As mentioned above another treat is that this version is gorgeously illustrated by artist Gris Grimly. Gris has done numerous illustration for picture books for other writers as well as his own work. He has done several adaptations of Edger Allen Poe's work in which his style matches Poe's style beautifully.

As he is a perfect match for Poe he is also a perfect match for Pinocchio. Look at the illustration posted here. Pinocchio looks like how a puppet would have been carved in Collodi's time(Disney's version was more in line with the modern version of how puppets look). But it just isn't Pinocchio that looks like a puppet of the time but the illustration as a whole are styled to look like they were done at the time of the books original publication. And thats Grimly's magic, the power to suit his style to the story at hand, enhance the pleasure of the reading but never taking you away from the story.

Between the first and last page the version of Carlo Colldi's Pinocchio is a true treat. If you haven't read this book in years this is the one to pick up. Relive a little bit of your childhood. And if you are only familiar with the Disney's version they you really need to pick this up. See what you missed with Uncle Walt's version. But just don't keep it to yourself, no. Read it your kids, neices, and nephews. It is a perfect gift to add to a kids library at home. One that they will love now as much as they will when the grow up.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Duty to the Dead a wonderful introduction to a new mystery series.

" Your concern does you credit, my dear. A duty to the dead is a sacred matter."

As I mentioned in a previous blog one of the great things about working in a bookstore is the chance to grab an advance copy of books when they come in. For especially if it a mystery or horror(sadly,though they don't seem to send science fiction ones out).

Now I have always has a love of mysteries. The the first ones I have read when I was a kid growing up were The Hardy Boys(just couldn't read them fast enough) and then Sherlock Holmes. I would say reading Holmes was and is the reason when it comes to mysteries I prefer historical mysteries over modern day ones(though I really like those). I suppose that is why writers like Anne Perry, Micheal Jecks have always interested me.

Now Charles Todd(actually mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) who are know for their Inspector Rutledge series of mysteries(which I have as yet read). Rutledge is an Inspector who served in World War I and must try to return to a normal live while trying to live with what he saw in the trenches.

It is with their new series that the Todds introduce their latest sleuth Bess Crawford. Unlike the Inspector Miss Crawford isn't a professional sleuth. Like many woman in her time she is a nurse caring for the wounded during the war. Miss Crawfords is what at the time(1916) would be considered a modern woman. Independent(actually owns a car which was rare for woman then), intelligent, speaks her mind. She is not your typical upper-middle class woman of the times.

It is one a ship caring for one of her patients, a soldier named Arthur Graham, she makes a promise to take a message to his brother before he dies. A promise that she hasn't had a chance to fulfill either because of the war or that she is hesitant to do it.

The message: "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for mother sake. But it has to be set right."

It is this message that will lead Bess, while on leave, to Oswald, Kent and into a fifteen year old murder by an insane brother of the soldier she made her promise too. And family with a dark secret that could get her killed quicker than the trenches of any battlefield.

Being the first book by the Todds that I have read I must say I was really pleased by this book. I actually finished the book in a matter of hours when I have a stack of book waiting with bookmarks in them.

Everything about this book was right on, the characters(major and minor), plot and just over style of story telling.

First lets talk about Bess Crawford who is a wonderful rounded character. She isn't some damsel in distress as many woman of the time period can be written. Many times period pieces such as this will have women who are the main character who still always needs to rescued by a man. She can stand on her own feet and do what is needed. A trait I'm sure she got from her father a retired colonel and from dealing with the severely wounded soldiers. But she not a cold hearted person. She still feels for the people she helps but just learns to hide those feelings of attachment for the most part. She does harbor some feelings for the late Arthur Graham which may or may not cloud her judgement later as the mystery deepens. But she doesn't stop no matter what her feelings tell her. For above all she believes in justice and the truth. It is this that drives her even when everything and everyone tells her she should stop.

Also It goes back to the quote(told to her by the wife of the Inspector who was involved in the murder fifteen years ago) at the top of the blog. Bess just doesn't believe in duty and doing what is right for the living. To her a promise to a dying soldier is just as scared as her duties as a nurse and to the living.

Now, the plot. This story keeps up the suspense right up the end. And there is enough twist and turns that keep you guessing on who committed that murder those many years ago and who is will to keep killing to keep the truth from ever coming to light. It was done so nicely that I wasn't really sure myself who was the murderer right up to the end.

Finally story telling. Bess is our narrator for this book and what a wonderful voice it is. Her voice brings alive the feeling of living in a WWI era England. You believe the horrors she has seen while a nurse. Not only that you feel the under current of distress the people who live in the shadow of war. But it never over shadows the mystery of this book to where you feel like your reading a history novel not a mystery. Too often writers trying for authenticity tend to over do it and the main threads of the novel get lost.

So overall I would say between the first and last page this is an wonderful introduction a character that I really look forward to reading in the future. It is a novel I know with confidence that I can suggest to my customers that also read mysteries. And not only that I will be reading the Inspector Rutledge novels as well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Lone Ranger comes alive with fresh look at his origin.

"There is much darkness, Kemosabe. Light it up"
--- Tonto issue #4--

Ever since the The Lone Ranger first aired on WXYT(AM) out of Detroit, Michigan on January 30 1933 it would become an instant classic of the Golden Age of Radio that would cross over into novels, TV(both live action and animated), movies and of course comics.

The Lone Ranger was created for the radio by George W Trendle and developed by writer Fran Striker. The radio show would last until September 3, 1954 and leave it mark on a generation who grew up listening to the radio back then.

Though most likely most fans come to know of the Ranger from the well know TV series(there were two now rare and hard to find serials by Republic Pictures in 1938 & 1939 in which the only existing copies are incomplete and are subtitled in Spanish or dubbed in French) starring Clayton Moore(from 1952-1954 Moore would be briefly replace by actor John Hart due to a contract dispute)and Jay Silverheels as Tonto that ran from 1949-1957.

And with its popularity it only makes since that The Lone Ranger would cross over into comics.

Dell Comics would be the first to publish the Ranger for 145 issues from 1948-1962. At first, the series would reprint the newspaper strip(1938-1971) distributed by King Features Syndicate but after six issues it start to produce original content. With it's popularity growing Tonto would get his own spin off series(31 issues) as well has the Ranger's horse Silver(34 issues). Then Gold Key Comics in 1964 would start it's own series. Though at first it was reprints from the Dell series(as were many Gold Key comics would reprint stories from Dell Comics of other series as well), starting in issue 21(1975) it would start to produce it's own stories that would end with series with issue 28 in 1977(If your wondering why the low numbering for all those years, it is that most comics early on were only printed bi-monthly or even quarterly. It was really until the sixties that comics started to come out monthly).

The Lone Ranger after that would appear sporadically in comics until Dynamite Entertainment in 2006 would bring the Lone Ranger back into comics.

The series would be written by Brett Matthews and interior art by Sergio Cariello with covers by John Cassaday. It is with the series first six issues that these gentlemen bring the Lone Ranger back with style. It is these first six issues reprinted in a beautiful hardcover trade that I'll be discussing.

But first I should talk about the Ranger's origin for those not familiar with it.

The story goes that The Ranger whose real name has never really been revealed except his last name of Reid(though since the 1981 movie most use John as his first), with his brother(his name was Dan) who was a Texas Ranger and 4 other Rangers were ambushed and killed Butch Cavendish and his gang. John was founded by Tonto and nursed back to health. And to make it look like he was dead The Ranger and Tonto dug six graves. It was with pieces of his brothers clothes that the Ranger made his mask and swore to fight injustice were ever it is and vowing never to kill. And Tonto agreed to help him with this task.

Writer Brett Matthews sticks very close to the original origin while updating the material to make it seem fresh and new.

With this series we still have the brother Dan but we also have the father who is a Ranger as well. With the addition of his father though(through a flashback sequence) we have a better understanding of why later when he becomes the Ranger he chooses not to kill.

As I said Brett sticks close to the origin. The Rangers are ambushed and John is the sole survivor saved by Tonto who killed the gang. OK so that differs from the original radio and TV series.

But that is what makes this series so great. This is the west as it was violent and harsh. More realistic. With that in mind we don't see John putting the mask on right away and riding off after the villain here. At first like any man he wants revenge for the death of his father and brother. But as the story progresses we see that really isn't the kind of man he is. He especially realizes this after confronting a man Julius Bartholomew who has been hired by Cavendish to kill any one who is connected with the Rangers ambush and to track down the family of the Rangers and kill them.

Also The Ranger and Tonto don't exactly hit it off at first. Though Tonto tends to John's wounds and help him heal we don't know exactly why. And this Tonto kills. And here we don't know Tonto's reasoning for helping the Ranger. Tonto is the one who makes the mask for him and the blue shirt that he is known to wear. He also keeps things from him like the death of the the Rangers family. It is though Tonto is looking to redeem himself for his past through the Ranger.

As each issue unfolds Matthews unfolds the layers of the Rangers origin for the ambush to the finding of his horse Silver and the use of silver bullets. But the real fun is reading the John learns to become the Lone Ranger. A with the radio and TV show he just doesn't suit up with a mask and go off. He has to learn what it is he really wants, revenge or justice. We see the steps that will lead him to become a legend.

Now lets talk about the art of Sergio Cariello. This isn't the bright shiny world of superheroes but the old west. It is a dirty and rough land and the people who inhabits the west that Cariello draws look like they belong there. With each character both major and minor you can see that they belong living in the out reaches of the west were the railroad has yet to bring civilization. And it just isn't the people but the landscape that is drawn so beautifully that it just brings into this world of the old west. Each panel and each page is brings these characters to life.

And the violence is never over done. Most if the real violence happens off panel. And when you see some one get shot as in the ambush the blood is kept down to a minimum.

Add the coloring of Dean White. Dean colors are not all bright. Look how he colors the landscapes. you can see the dust in the air. Look at the people. the faces look tanned from a life living outside in the elements. In other words they look like what you would expect people to look like living in that time from the old pictures.

And icing to the cake is gorgeous covers by artist John Cassaday. The covers by themselves art worthy of being framed and hung in any museum in the world.

Between the first and last page this team has done a great job of bring the Lone Ranger to it's legion of fans. And introducing new fans to the fold. Though there are some purist that claim this series is too violent. That this is not the Lone Ranger they grew up with. But today's audience expects more realism in their stories. Also I would say by keeping up the violence you show that there are consequences for a persons actions. To be realistic if you are going to carry a gun then you have to expect to use it. And to use there will be violence. To say you will never kill some one and not carry a gun is one thing. But to carry one and say that you won't kill takes a different kind of man. It takes a Lone Ranger.

The hardcover trade that includes the first six issues also includes character sketches and designs from Cariello and cover artist John Cassaday.

This trade is a must for any fans of The Lone Ranger or westerns in general. It shows that after 76 years the Lone Ranger is still as strong and viable character now as he was in 1933 when his adventures first aired on the radio.