Tag: books

Roald Dahl: Macabre Sensibilities, for Young and Old

Plenty of children’s stories tend to be thought of as light and fun. In truth, they are not all fun and games. There is normally some darkness that lurks within these stories, darkness that helps to make the light and its messages shine brighter. Even the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, regarded as some of the original tellers of children’s stories, contain plenty of mentions of cruelty and violence. Now, some might feel that this could be too intense for children, that these should be scrubbed clean according to a certain set of standards. In truth, there is a certain value in not talking down to children about this. One such author who understood this was Roald Dahl. His stories for children, remembered for whimsical touches and adapted in plenty of media, also possess plenty of darker elements. Perhaps it might be worth looking at what inspires an author to not shy away from these darker elements.

Born on September 13th, 1916 in the town of Cardiff, Roald Dahl was the son of Norwegian parents. When his sister and father had both died when he was three, his mother had the choice to remain in Wales after their passing, even when she had the option to return to Norway. Dahl first began the life of a schoolboy at the Cathedral School in the district of Llandarff. It was that time that he and his friends had gotten into trouble for putting a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers) owned by Mrs. Pratchett, a local sweetshop owner who was mean to the boys. He would go on to be transferred to St. Peter’s boarding school, where he and other students endured a fierce faculty. However, the school which would be a pivotal place to Dahl was Repton School in Derbyshire. Beginning his time there at age 13, he endured cruel treatment at the hands of both students and teachers. From the brutal corporal punishment he suffered and witnessed dealt out by the teachers to the demeaning work of having to serve senior students, Dahl’s experiences there would develop a definite cynicism in him about humanity. His main joy in that time were the candies and chocolates that the chocolate company Cadbury would send to the school for students to test.

As Roald Dahl got older and World War II began to roll in, he would come to join in the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Among the many missions that he flew in, one flight would bring him to Libya. Having trouble finding the airstrip as night approached, He was forced to make a landing in the desert. The result was a crash, one that landed him in the hospital with a fractured skull and blindness. Eventually, he would regain his sight and continued to serve as a pilot, until he was grounded for suffering from a series of headaches serious enough to cause blackouts. After that, he was made an attache to serve in the British Embassy in Washington D.C. From there, he would come to serve in the intelligence division alongside such noted officers as David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming (best known as the creator of James Bond). During this time, Dahl would come to meet the famed novelist C. S. Forester. Forester had been approached by The Saturday Evening Post with writing a story, and he in turn wanted to write a story about Dahl’s experiences as a pilot. Dahl wrote and compiled a number of anecdotes from that time, then provided them to Forester to work from. Instead, Forester provided the story exactly as Dahl wrote it. Thus was born Roald Dahl’s first story, “A Piece of Cake”, which The Saturday Evening Post had published as “Shot Down Over Libya” in order to have a more exciting title. It was also the story that would go on to launch Roald Dahl’s writing career.

Before he became renowned as a writer of children’s stories, Roald Dahl first began as an author for adults. Most of his early work came in the form of short stories. Plenty of these stories concerned deadly gambles, acts of revenge, and bitter spouses. Most of all, they frequently came with endings that served as a macabre punch line to the proceedings. There is no doubt that Dahl’s more cynical view of humanity comes through in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, about a wife who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and tries to cover up the deed, or “Parson’s Pleasure”, about a deceitful antiques dealer who poses as a clergyman for his cheats. However, it is actually his children’s novels where Dahl really cranks up this cynical attitude. While a few stories concern monsters like witches or giants, nearly all of the villains in his children’s novels are rotten, vile adults.

Sometimes they may lord their wealth over others, sometimes they may be verbally abusive to those they see as weaker or lesser, and sometimes they may simply be sadistic with physical cruelty. In any case, these parents are the sort of commonplace evils of which even children are familiar. As dark and imposing as such cruelty may seem, Dahl balances things out with how he presents goodness. The children that serve as the heroes in his stories are not generally portrayed as extraordinary. In fact, they frequently are presented as rather average. Instead, they possess an innate goodness, recognizing the wickedness around them and rising above it. In that way, Dahl offers a way to challenge and overcome the commonplace evil in their own lives. He also delivers it in a more playful, slightly morbid manner than the squeaky-cleaned stories that some believe children should be given. The result is a more naturalistic approach to teaching children about the cruelty of the world and preparing them for it, treating them with respect and understanding they can grasp it without being directly moralized.

For those who have never read any of Roald Dahl’s stories, there are two avenue I might offer, depending on if you wish to try his adult work or his children’s stories. For those who wish to explore his more adult-oriented work, Tales of the Unexpected is an anthology that collects some of his yarns of the macabre. With such stories as “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Man Down South”, and “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, this collection will help to show how Dahl’s writing career was launched thanks to his clever writing. As for his work for children, the best example I would guide new readers to would be Matilda. Centered around an intelligent and kind-hearted girl named Matilda and her challenges overcoming her obnoxious parents and a cruel headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull, this novel stands to me as a great example of the kind of whimsical yet morbid stories that he crafted for children.

Things I Can’t Explain: Growing Up Darling

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon first began to explore having their own original live-action shows in their line-up, alongside their cartoons. Among these shows was a series known as Clarissa Explains It All. Starring Melissa Joan Hart, the series follows Clarissa Darling as she navigated the murky waters of adolescence. Along for the ride were her eccentric parents Janet and Marshall, her scheming little brother Ferguson, and her easy-going confidant Sam Anders. The series struck a chord with audiences, offering a fun take on a teen sitcom with a style that incorporated fourth-wall breaking and info graphics, while also dabbling in a subtle touch on more risque subjects like sex and teen partying. In fact, the show’s popularity even proved that a series with a female lead could garner a male audience, paving the way for numerous Nickelodeon shows which would be centered around female protagonists. In the many years since, the show’s creator Mitchell Kriegman has decided to revisit his old creation. In this case, it is not with a television series. Rather, it is with a novel. With his new novel Things I Can’t Explain, Kriegman gives a look at Clarissa’s life that feels like a natural progression from his show.

Though she has left her hometown in Ohio for the energy and excitement of New York City, Clarissa Darling is finding that life is not quite as understandable as she expected. Her parents are exploring the realm of a separation, an aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Her brother Ferguson is in prison, the result of insider trading and messing with Russian mob money. Even her dream of being a journalist has hit some snags, as newspapers have begun to fall out of prestige. Still, she has managed to find some positives. For instance, she finds herself with a golden opportunity at an internet news source known as Nuzegeek as a potential financial reporter. She has also met a local guy named Nick who shares a spark of desire with her. Unfortunately, even these perks have their hurdles. The financial editor is a snobbish jerk who looks down upon Clarissa, while Nick is plagued by a punk rocker ex-girlfriend who knows just how to sink her claws into him. That is not even mentioning Clarissa’s ex-boyfriend, a slacker named Norm who insists that they are still together. Even with all of life’s hard curve balls, Clarissa sets out to persevere and achieve her dreams.

Mitchell Kriegman’s new novel makes for a fun read. Even for those who might not have seen Clarissa Explains It All, the book works well in hooking readers with its world and characters. There is a sense of history to Clarissa, whether she is talking about her old newspaper internship or when she is hanging out with her group of friends. The lived-in sense is also complimented by the novel’s breezy prose, which does not drag on and allow the pages to flow by for the reader. The result is a novel that is easy to pick up and get into, something to enjoy. Now, there is the occasional reference or character that is made to be topical that comes off a little rough, such as a friend of Clarissa’s who speaks largely in abbreviated words. These moments come off as more stereotypical and cartoonish of current-day elements, but such lapses are generally outweighed by the positives over the course of the story. As for people who have seen Clarissa Explains It All, then the novel will make for a fun return for that familiar audience.

Even as the novel works for those who have not seen the original show, the novel works well as a continuation of Clarissa Explains It All. Stylistically, it carries over a lot of elements from the show. For instance, the info graphics return with their familiar appearance. The writing and presentation of Clarissa’s challenges are also akin to the approach to the show, which had a more irreverent take on teenage issues than most teen sitcoms of the time. That slight irreverence is now used to examine the hurdles of adulthood, from romantic relationships to workplace struggles. Along with that, other characters from the original series turn up. In addition to her family members, the book also explores the unsteady relationship history between Clarissa and her confidant Sam Anders, which traveled an unsteady path between friends and something more. In fact, that is part of what works well with this novel. It feels like a natural progression from the original series. The strengths of the show are allowed to bolster and develop, thanks to the room of a novel. It allows itself to explore more mature problems for this older audience, while still maintaining the spirit and voice that had made Clarissa Explains It All such a hit. In essence, the audience for the show has grown up, and Clarissa Darling has gotten the chance to keep up pace.

Back in the early ’90s, Nickelodeon had a hit on their hands when they began airing Clarissa Explains It All. Now, the show’s success is continued with Things I Can’t Explain, which ages up and tackles more adult issues while preserving the winning voice and spirit of the original show.

A Christmas Carol and Endless Adaptability: The Hallmark of Humbug

When it comes to stories involving Christmastime, no story has had quite the impact as that of A Christmas Carol. Who hasn’t heard the classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich man visited by three ghosts of Christmas who help him to see the error of his ways and become a better human being? Not only is this classic piece of literature still remembered, it has become fodder for numerous adaptations. From films to live theatre, television shows to comic books, nearly every medium has had some take of A Christmas Carol. Of course, with all of these numerous adaptations, there is something interesting to consider: why? After all, there are plenty of great works of literature that only possess a few adaptations to their name, or even none at all. What inspires people to turn to the story of Scrooge and craft a new telling of the familiar story, when plenty of other storytellers have trod down the familiar path? Before I discuss the elements of the story itself, I feel it would be worth discussing the world from which this story emerged. After all, context can offer an interesting viewpoint.

In the early 1800s, Christmas was not the widely celebrated holiday that it is today. In fact, it seemed to be on its way out. The Puritan era had possessed a displeasure in Christmas, seeing it as a Pagan holiday due to the elements that had been incorporated into the holiday. Likewise, Protestant reformations shared a similar dislike in these Pagan elements, leading to infighting among how best to handle the holiday. As for Christmas itself, it was seen as a secondary holiday, merely a religious celebration for churches and communities that was second to Easter. That would change in 1843, with author Charles Dickens. Horrified by the reports of the conditions endured by children in factories and mines, he sought to write a story that would serve as a sledgehammer to the public consciousness. To that end, he had turned to nostalgic thoughts about the past of Christmas and its traditions, merging them with his concerns for the poor. With this combination, he crafted a narrative that not only moved the hearts and minds of his readers, it fundamentally reshaped how Christmas was seen. No longer was it merely a community holiday. Instead, it was reformed into a time about good will and helping out the fellow man. In fact, this story ended up inspiring a movement to revive Christmas, setting into place many of the traditions and philosophies that remain entwined with the holiday to this very day.

The impact when it was first written cannot be doubted, but there is still the question of why it is so adapted. Part of it, I believe, stems from its structure. The story is written in five parts, which can easily be translated into a three-act structure. Its first act lays down the introduction of Scrooge, along with the ghostly visitation of Jacob Marley. Its second act brings the visits from the Ghost of Christmas Past (who presents Scrooge’s past and shows how much he has changed) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (who shows the meager home life of Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit). Finally, the third act brings the Ghost of Christmas Future (who offers a haunting vision of a potential future) and Scrooge’s redemption into a more caring person. It is a lean structure, but an effective one. It offers a core structure that is steady in the trajectory of its character arcs, while offering plenty of room for tailoring and adjustments when it comes to exploring Scrooge. The story can be adapted into a darker tone that captures the ghost story nature of Dickens’s literary sledgehammer, or a lighter tone that leans into the heart and appeal for the betterment of humanity. Really, the overall structure and flow of the story is incredibly well-crafted. Paired up with the memorable characters and evocative imagery that flow from Dickens’s words, it is no wonder how it would catch the eye. However, the structure is only part of it. The other part is its heart.

Charles Dickens had seen firsthand how terrible life was for the poor. At a young age, he had to endure harsh working conditions to help his family survive. The harmful and humiliating conditions he had to go through planted that formative seed which would become a recurring theme in his work, namely the conditions and suffering that the poor endured. It was not until that report on labor conditions, along with witnessing conditions in a Manchester factory and a ragged school (a charitable organization that offered free education to poor children), that finally launched Dickens to craft this literary sledgehammer and swing. The passion in wanting people to look towards helping out those less fortunate can be felt all throughout the story, such as in Scrooge’s growing change as he sees the misfortunes that plague Bob Cratchit and his son Tiny Tim. In fact, that growing change is a fundamental key here. That potential of change, that idea that people can grow past their flaws and see beyond their selfish desires, is a powerful ideal. People want to believe that individuals can change for the better. Whether in the bitter stings of the past or the concerns of the present, they want to see things improve. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his change from cold miser to big-hearted gentleman is a powerful story that takes this nebulous idea and paints a very personal picture of it. It offers a face to this idea, giving it life and a tangible form. In that way, a general desire to see things change for the better is granted a sharper clarity and thus makes for a stronger impact.

Ever since Charles Dickens first crafted his immortal tale back in 1843, A Christmas Carol has found its way into nearly every form of media with a multitude of adaptations. With its well-founded structure and a powerful appeal to helping others, it is no wonder why the story still moves the hearts of many to this very day.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Here There Be Franchise Building

In recent years, one of the biggest new franchise to emerge is Harry Potter. With its tale of a young boy learning of witchcraft and wizardry while faced with a major destiny before him, the series of books clicked fast with readers and made a household name of J.K. Rowling. That fandom grew even more with the film adaptations, which managed to largely capture the spirit of their source material with a skilled cast and crew. Even though the series has come to a close, the wizarding world still enchants its fans. It is only natural to revisit this world with a new line of films. After all, the world that J.K. Rowling had created has so many nooks and crannies to explore, so much history to examine. Of course, sometimes the potential for fascinating stories can risk the chance of being corrupted by the desire for steady money from a franchise. Such feels like the case here, unfortunately, for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What could have been a fun film is instead hampered down by building blocks for future films in the line.

The year is 1927. The Wizarding World finds itself embroiled in the rise of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, whose series of attacks against non-magic people threaten to expose the Wizarding World’s existence. In particular, the American wizarding community finds itself teetering on the brink as a mysterious force causes incredible damage in New York City. It is this world where Newt Scamander finds himself, as he travels the world writing a book about magical creatures. During his stop in New York City, he ends up crossing paths with an aspiring baker and non-magic person named Jacob Kowalski. An accident causes the two of them to mistakenly take each other’s suitcases, with Jacob ending up with Newt’s magic suitcase. This suitcase is far bigger on the inside, serving as a personal zoo and transport case for all sorts of magical animals. Unfortunately, some of these animals manage to get loose and bring havoc to the city. Desperate to protect these creatures from potential harm, Newt brings Jacob in tow as they set out to reclaim the animals, with a pair of sisters named Tina and Queenie Goldstein joining them along the way. Unfortunately, their activities have caught the attention of an auror named Percival Graves, who believes that Newt’s animals might have something to do with the series of destructive attacks around the city.

Now, there are some good points to this film. Eddie Redmayne does a fine job as Newt Scamander, capturing his somewhat eccentric feel along with his deep compassion for the natural world. Dan Fogler is a real delight in the film, working well as the audience surrogate in Jacob Kowalski. He is by turns shocked and amazed by the wonders of the Wizarding World, but he embraces this newfound world with a twinkle in his eye and enthusiasm in his action. Unfortunately, the film itself is really hampered by its muddled approach. In addition to the main story about Newt reclaiming his animals, there are subplots that explore a variety of elements. From the anti-magic activity of the New Salem Preservation Society to the growing threat of Grindelwald and his followers, the plot is muddled up in so many strings that serve only to be explored in later films. This desire to set up all of these threads is done in a way that also robs the film of room where it could have explored and developed its characters, leaving plenty of them feeling rather flat and under-developed. When added up with sequences that do not have that spark of real fun and inventiveness which the Harry Potter series had possessed, the result is a film that had honestly bored me at points. Perhaps this might have been avoided if there were more of a focus on this film, rather than trying to cram in the building blocks for a whole franchise.

As I mentioned before, the Wizarding World offers plenty of strong material that could be explored and examined in future stories. For instance, plenty of the threads in this film could have been their own films. A tale of Newt having to reclaim his animals would have worked fine on its own. The story of Grindelwald’s rise to power and the eventual war that encircles it could make for ripe material for perhaps a trilogy. Even a story about the New Salem Preservation Society could offer an interesting springboard, looking at persecution and hate which can arise against witches and wizards. However, these strands have not been given that breathing room. Instead, they have all been crammed together in one film as a means of propping up a line of movies. I feel that this is a mistake, for it means putting all of these eggs into a singular basket. If the basket breaks, then so do all of these eggs. What would have been better would be to have given these different aspects their own films, allowing them room to breathe and grow. In essence, it would be a Wizarding World Cinematic Universe. With such an approach, Warner Bros. could have been able to continue making movies in the world of Harry Potter while allowing for films tailored with different styles and subjects. Instead, these separate pieces have been crammed into a dull mixture.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could have been an interesting film, had it kept itself more focused on a singular story. Instead, it has been hampered by being made into a  hodgepodge of threads solely there for later movies.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Page is More Peculiar

Inspiration can strike a storyteller from anywhere. Such was a case for author Ransom Riggs. For him, his inspiration came from a hobby of collecting old and odd photographs. One day, he approached a publisher with the idea of creating a book of these pictures. His editors suggested taking those pictures and crafting a narrative from them, using the pictures as his guide. Using these old pictures, Ransom would come to create a young adult novel known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Telling a delightful tale of adolescent adventure and morbid curiosities, its story was heightened by the use of these old photos to give an added depth of realism to its world. Of course, with the book and its sequels gaining popularity, the eye of Hollywood certainly caught sight of the work. Now, the book has been brought to the big screen, with Tim Burton leading the project as its director. Though the film does offer some inspired moments and fun performances, it loses a bit of the spark in the adaptation process.

Jacob Portman has faced a harsh turn in his life. Once, he was entertained by his grandfather’s stories about monsters and a home for children with unique gifts, until schoolyard mockery led him to stop believing in those tales. Now, he has witnessed the death of his grandfather and, for a brief moment, saw a glimpse of the monsters that his grandfather had described. Of course, most people believe that it was just a hallucination, an image conjured by the mind from the stress of seeing his grandfather die. When he finds a postcard in a book left for him by his grandfather, though, he remembers his grandfather’s dying words to “find the bird” and convinces his parents to let him journey to an island from his grandfather’s past. On this island, Jacob finds out that his grandfather’s stories were true. Though the home is destroyed in the modern day, there is a portal to the past where the home still stands. It is through this portal that Jacob meets Miss Peregrine, a sharp-minded shape-shifting woman who protects children with “peculiarities”. These peculiarities grant the kids unique powers, but having these gifts has put a target on their head. Monstrous, tentacled, invisible monsters known as Hollowghasts seek to hunt them down the kids and feast upon their eyes, led by the villainous Mr. Barron. Now, Jacob must take up his grandfather’s work and help protect the peculiar children from these monsters.

The film itself is alright. Though there are some flaws, there are still some strong elements to the film. For instance, Eva Green makes a wonderful pick as Miss Peregrine. She captures the playful brilliance of the character, displaying her keen wit and mind along with her concern for the peculiar children. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson turns in a fun performance as Mr. Barron. Though there is definitely a threat that he presents, he plays Mr. Barron with an almost self-aware sense of his villainy, noting the tropes and realities of their situation with a sardonic flair. Aside from these performances, the film best shines when Burton is able to play around with the morbid elements of the story while using a playful touch. For instance, one of the peculiar children is a boy named Enoch, who possesses the power to bring dead things to life. Though it is displayed at a few points, there is a scene where he uses his power to revive a gang of skeletons. The result is a delightful sequence of Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons doing battle with the Hollowghasts, all in a carnival location. However, there are some definite flaws in this.

For one, Asa Butterfield does not turn in that good of a performance as Jacob. He comes across as rather wooden in his delivery, almost feeling like a blank slate in his approach. More than that, however, is in how standard parts of this film feel. Ever since the success of the Hunger Games franchise, studios have been looking for that next hit based on a young adult novel. However, the process that they take also changes the work along the way, trying to make a story fit into a formula that might lead to success. The result is the tropes and standard elements feel magnified, while the more unique components are not always given their due. Things like Jacob’s relationship with his father and his falling in love with a peculiar girl named Emma Bloom are familiar tropes for these stories and given focus, while some of the mythology and world-building of the story feels underdeveloped at the risk of the audience not totally understanding. That is really the biggest issue with the film: that it files away some of the uniqueness in favor of familiar formula. What made the original book special was not just its well-written story, but the unique idea of incorporating vintage trick photos as a part of the narrative. As for the film, it is able to shine when Burton can channel his unique approach in tackling the macabre with a playful tone. It is those moments that are the strongest, amid plenty of pieces that feel made to fit a checklist of young adult expectations.

Though there are some good performances and some delightfully morbid sequences, the film as a whole feels hampered and filed down to cash in on the successes of other young adult novel adaptations. The film can still offer some fun, but I would recommend more to check out the book.

Understanding the Arch-Enemy: Corrupt Reflections, Flipped Coins, and Personal Attacks

The Arch-Enemy. The central nemesis. The big foe. They are the ultimate counterpoint to the Hero. Whereas the Hero stands most frequently for the side of justice and good, the Arch-Enemy towers upon the side of villainy and wickedness. However, the simple choice of pursuing evil is not what makes an arch-enemy a fascinating villain. It extends beyond just that basic notion. Rather, what makes the arch-enemy so fascinating is the hero that they stand against. Both are frequently intertwined, their fates tied together in such a way that they are bound to each other in their opposition. Along with that is the sort of reflective nature of their conflict. Thus, our study begins with two familiar approaches frequently used for the arch-enemy, two methods I’ll refer to as the Corrupt Reflection and the Flipped Coin.

The Corrupt Reflection is a take on a villain that serves a particular purpose. Specifically, the Corrupt Reflection shows what the hero may have been like had they gone down a more selfish path and sought merely their own desires instead of going for the greater good. This is frequently presented through an arch-enemy who bares a resemblance to the hero, whether in personality or powers, but twists that resemblance . For instance, Sherlock Holmes is forever remembered as being locked in battle with Professor James Moriarty. Both characters possess an astounding intellect that allows them to pursue their goals, but while Holmes uses his intellect to solve even the most baffling of crimes, Moriarty instead uses his to puppeteer a massive criminal network and become a “Napoleon of Crime”. Another example of this can be seen in Marvel Comics, with the classic rivalry of Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. Both men are scientists, they received their new gifts in scientific developments gone wrong, they even both take their monikers from eight-limbed creatures. Where they differ is in how Spider-Man fights crime having learned how great responsibility is a part of great power, whereas Dr. Octopus seeks to selfishly  use his new gifts to pursue scientific research and cultivate power at the expense of others. Through the similarities, the Corrupt Reflection helps to show just what makes the hero shine by presenting a counterpoint in a villainous light. Of course, the Corrupt Reflection is not the only way to present an arch-enemy. Another, more obvious approach is that of the Flipped Coin.

If the Corrupt Reflection shows a hero’s greatness in comparison to a villain through similarity, the Flipped Coin makes its presentation through differences. The Flipped Coin, like the term suggests, is the other side of the coin from the hero. If the hero represents one thing, then the Flipped Coin is its opposite. For example, consider Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando, from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Jonathan is a benevolent man raised by a loving father and eventually learns martial arts that allow him to channel the power of the sun, while Dio is a cruel psychopath brought up by an abusive father and gains the powers of a vampire. DC Comics has its fair share of Flipped Coins, as well. Superman is a hero who possesses incredible power and strength while devoted to helping others as much as he can, while Lex Luthor is a figure of great brilliance who seeks to advance his own standing over others. Batman is a dark and brooding hero who is fixated on the notion of bringing order and not killing others, while the Joker is a colorful clown that seeks chaos and will gleefully slaughter others with abandon. Thus, two opposing forces come to be and serve to high-light each other through their differences. It is a simple, but effective, approach in portraying a hero against their arch-enemy. Now, while the Corrupt Reflection and Flipped Coin may be two different methods of presenting the arch-enemy, there is one critical component that must not be forgotten: for the hero and arch-enemy, it must be personal.

Sure, villains can be depicted as engaging in all sorts of criminal or nefarious activity. However, the personal touch is what helps to elevate the arch-enemy above the rest of a rogues gallery. Perhaps it is a shared background the hero and arch-enemy possess before a rift splits them apart, or perhaps one side strikes at the other in such a way that it becomes more than simple hatred that locks them in combat. In most adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki begin as equal members of the Foot Clan before forces (whether the love of Tang Shen or the use of the Foot Clan) drive them apart and down the paths that forge them into Splinter and Shredder respectively. In the Metroid franchise, it is the space pirate Ridley’s attack of planet K-2L and the murder of Samus Aran’s parents that starts Samus down the path towards becoming a skilled bounty hunter. It is not just a villain’s actions that can make things personal, though. It can just as easily be the hero who ends up sparking the rivalry. For example, many depictions of Lex Luthor present him as being so hateful of Superman because he sees his very being as the end of human achievement, for who would possibly do what Superman can do? It is an element like that, the personal component, which elevates the arch-enemy and make them such a fascinating figure when challenging the hero, likewise elevating the hero by giving them real stakes both general and personal.

Though the hero is always the one in the spotlight, one must never forget about the importance of the arch-enemy. Whether they compare as a Corrupt Reflection or contrast as a Flipped Coin, it is the personal relationship to the hero that makes both so fascinating.

Brewster’s Millions: Enduring Pages of a Millionaire’s Mayhem

It can be a surprise when one discovers that a particular story in fact has its roots in an earlier work. However, it should not come as a complete shock when it happens. After all, the lengthy course of human history has led to all sorts of stories being written and told. Sometimes, these stories may be reshaped or molded with a new lens or angle to tell them. Sometimes, it is simply a case of an adaptation channeling the core of its source. Such is the case with works like Annie, a beloved musical based upon the old comic strip Little Orphan Annie, or A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western with its roots in the detective story Red Harvest. The subject of today’s post is a novel called Brewster’s Millions, a comedy all about the ups and downs of financial spending. Though it was adapted numerous times on stage and screen, most people would probably be most familiar with the 1985 film adaptation that stars Richard Pryor. In truth, the story started as a novel written in 1902 by George Barr McCutcheon. As it turns out, the original novel is still worth a read, offering a fun story thanks to a light touch in the writing and its inspired idea.

Montgomery Brewster is a young man who has been spending his days trading stocks and hanging out with his friends in the “Sons of the Little Rich” club. One day, he receives word that his grandfather has passed away, leaving him one million dollars. His friends and business associates all praise his luck and his newfound wealth. Soon after, though, his uncle dies and leaves him seven million dollars. However, there are some conditions that need to be met before Brewster can gain this inheritance. It turns out that the uncle had hated the grandfather and had noted in his will that his inheritor could not have a cent of the grandfather’s money. Thus, Brewster has one year to spend every cent of his grandfather’s million to gain the uncle’s seven million or else he will gain nothing. This proves to be a greater challenge than expected, considering all sorts of rules in the uncle’s will prohibit how he can spend the money and specify that no one is to know of what he is doing. The result is people seeing Brewster as a sudden spendthrift, all as Brewster does whatever he can to earn that seven million dollars.

The book still holds up in my opinion, thanks to the strength of the writing here. It presents its narrative with a breezy tone, chronicling the exploits of Brewster as he figures out how to spend this million dollars. It revels in the sorts of opportunities that can arise in such a scenario, whether in more serious moments like saving a bank from falling apart in a run or in humorous moments like a sure-fire terrible investment turning into a money-making hit. It also showcases his hurdles in relation to Peggy Gray and Barbara Drew. Barbara Drew is a socialite who Brewster has fallen hard for, while Peggy Gray is a sweet girl who has known Brewster throughout his life. The romantic triangle that plays out between Monty and these two women serves as another avenue for how the story explores Brewster’s pursuit of the inheritance, showing their responses to his excessive spending. In fact, their reactions and how Brewster deals with it are a big part of the central idea of this novel: namely, the importance of strong morals over money.

Throughout the book, Brewster is spending his cash in every which way that he can. The results are plenty of people who see him as a man who can not manage his money and burning through every penny he can spend. However, while he is working his hardest to spend that million, he demonstrates that he is also a good man. Though others may only see his spending habits, he is also doing his hardest to help out others while he keeps his eyes on the prize. For instance, when he holds a massive cruise, he is the only one who rushes to help a passenger who has fallen overboard. He shows such moments of courage and selflessness throughout even as people only pay attention to his spending habits. That is what makes this book such a strong idea: it is a tale of a good man who acts reckless and is seen as reckless, yet still performs good deeds for their own sake. There are plenty of people who try to do good, but find their efforts ignored as people focus on their more negative or sensationalist elements. They find themselves toiling away, with others blind to what they achieve. This story captures that idea with a delightful pace and humor, catering with laughs of all the challenges in excessive spending while keeping its heart on the importance of selfless action and a strong heart no matter the financial circumstances. It is no wonder that this novel has been adapted to stage and screen time and again.