Prisoner’s Game

I haven’t been doing much reading of late. Or rather, I have, but it’s mainly been things like news or blogs (so purportedly-non-fiction). However, the other week, with a bout of bad weather closing in, I emerged from the library struggling to balance a stack of books.

They were all things I’ve been meaning to look up for a while, so it was good to get a round tuit.

Ender’s Game (graphic novel)

Since first seeing adverts for the movie version a couple of years ago, I’ve been pondering reading this without much passion. I spotted the graphic novel* version, which seemed like a good alternative. However, I found it somewhat … meh. I had a sense of there being some interesting ideas involved, but it didn’t really focus on the bits I wanted to know more about. Like “who are the aliens?”, “are these kids genetically engineered, or what?”, “WHY is it so important that they use kids?”.

It’s possible that some of these come through in the original novel and have been pruned in the conversion. If so, this seems a sad case of a work losing it’s perspective/tone in being adapted. The graphic novel comes across as cheerless, unemotional, and quite brutal in places. The way certain scenes are portrayed could be the difference—more than plot needs to be preserved to achieve an authentic translation**.

One thing I particularly found annoying was that, following the ending (which I won’t spoil), the remaining kids (who have spent the last few years being trained for war), essentially brush it off with a “Well, I guess we go back to school now. That’s what kids do, after all! Haha!”. This seems far too simple and abrupt, and I’d hope it was just an artifact of the graphic novel.

The Prisoner of Zenda

An old-timey swashbuckler (from the late 1800s), this presents an interesting variation on the prisoner’s dilemma. The hero is visiting a foreign country, and happens to resemble the current monarch. The villain drugs and kidnaps the king on the day of his coronation, so the hero is roped in as a double. The rest of the plot develops under the cloud of this cold-war-esque stalemate: neither the hero (impersonating the king) or the villain (holding the king prisoner) can denounce the other without revealing their own duplicity.

It’s otherwise fairly straightforward, and fun, but with an interestingly non-Hollywood ending (list of spoilers):

  • The main villain is killed offscreen by one of his underlings
  • The second-in-command villain (The Dragon in tvtropes idiom) essentially causes the villain’s downfall, and escapes with barely a scratch (apparently reappearing in later novels by the same author)
  • The hero doesn’t receive any major tangible reward (e.g. money, title, position, etc), instead being satisfied with having an adventure (that he cannot admit to anyone) and saving the day
  • The hero and his true love never marry, and never meet again, all for the sake of duty

Up next … The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

* Comic book. 🙂

** And it is a translation. The descriptiveness and depth of prose is replaced by visuals, staging, actions, etc. A graphic novel is closer to a film representation than a book (probably part of the reason comic adaptations have become so popular in Hollywood of late).

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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Other, Review


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Dive Urgent

A quick note on the ending of Treasure Island—it’s not Jim that lets Silver go, but Ben Gunn. This makes a lot more sense in terms of the story (Gunn is afraid of Silver, so is unlikely to stand up to him). I suspect a lot of adaptations make it Jim instead because they’re playing up the disreputable-mentor relationship between Jim and Silver, and that moment of “I don’t agree with your life choices, but I’ll give you a chance to have a quiet retirement” puts a nice cap on that. Anyway…

What I really want to mention is the Divergent series, so there are potential spoilers in the remainder of this post. Having seen the first film, we decided to read the books*. I got in first, and have currently read the first two, but Rose Red leapfrogged me and has finished the third. She looked unhappy about it, but was unwilling to say more until I’d caught up, so I’d better get a wiggle on.

It’s an interesting case where in some ways the film was better than the book (or at least the first one—I can’t say yet about the second, or the obligatory 2-part-finale). The training process was clearer, especially with how Tris needed to treat the simulations so as to do well, but not reveal her deviance. Also, the finale worked a bit better given the showdown with Jeanine. Minor details, but they seem to help. I’d probably put it down to the author being an inexperienced student (boy oh boy is it inspired by Psyc101) versus experienced filmmakers.

Most seem to view it as cookie-cutter young-adult fiction, entertaining in places but not worthy of examination. For the most part, I would agree; Harry Potter or The Hunger Games are much stronger thematically, and more worthy of analysis and discussion. But what am I if not someone who thinks too much about things? 🙂

The Factions

I rather like the idea of the factions as being reactionary based on minimising what each thought was the flaw in society: Abnegation and selfishness, Amity and discord, Candor and deception, Dauntless and cowardice, Erudite and ignorance. Through the books/film each faction shows both the benefits and the weaknesses of this: Abnegation deny themselves, harming interpersonal relationships; Amity follow the majority rule, even if individuals are harmed by the decision; Candor tend to be rude, nosy and blunt; Dauntless are ruthless and bullying; Erudite are dispassionate, lacking in empathy.

What’s more interesting, is that the flaws and mistakes of each faction are in many ways an example of the trait they are trying to remove. Abnegation are passive-aggressive, treating all information on a need-to-know basis, but pridefully assuming they know who needs to know. Amity will enforce peace, even at the cost of subjugation. Candor are in denial about the potential costs or harm from the truth***. Dauntless are afraid of showing any weakness or vulnerability. Erudite are unaware of life from other perspectives (other factions or the factionless). And all seem to have a signature serum tied to their perspective (well, except Abnegation, so far).

I can’t help but be reminded of the start of 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the languages of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (from the NIV)

The factions are trying to fix people, but are too focused on the letter of the law rather than the intention of it, hence rigid enforcement of “Teh Rules” when a more nuanced approach would (potentially) be better.

The Ending/Cliffhanger

In many ways, the big reveals at the end of Insurgent (the Factionless want to dismantle the Faction system; the whole society is a breeding programme for “divergents”, though how being divergent helps is still unclear) are not surprising. There is plenty of foreshadowing in terms of people forming alliances but having their own agendas, the wall designed to keep in rather than keep out, many things seeming real but turning out to be a simulation, etc. What is bad about the ending is that it feels like it’s missing a chapter or two: between-book cliffhangers need to be given a little more padding. The story should still be self-contained, and feel like it’s reached a conclusion. The end of the first book achieved this: we knew there was still a lot to be resolved, but if no sequel had eventuated, it still feels like an ending.

This seems to be an annoying habit (mainly recently, but there’s probably several older examples as well) of the middle book/film in a trilogy. Fade to black. “To be continued”. Come back next year. I guess it’s a likely outcome given advance deals, but it could still be done better. The Empire Strikes Back is rare example of getting it right. Imagine if George Lucas had been run over by a submarine, and Return of the Jedi never happened; sure, we’d want to know how things worked out, but the film doesn’t feel incomplete. It has an ending, albeit “things are bad, but we’re quietly hopeful” rather than triumphant. Hopefully the filmmakers have done the same with Insurgent (I’ve heard it diverges from the book quite a bit, anyway).

So, off to read Allegiant (probably swiftly followed by being vented at by Rose Red).

* Many reviewers (including family & friends) thought the series got progressively worse, and advise against reading the third. We’re gluttons for punishment**, so we decided to anyway.

** Bearing in mind, we thought the Matrix sequels were okay. Not mind-blowing like the first one, but acceptable don’t-think-too-much-about-it entertainment.

*** I’ve mused in a bit more depth about this topic over on my other blog.

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Posted by on April 18, 2015 in Harry Potter, Other


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Pale Grey Woollen Underwear

Yes, I know I'm a terrible person.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to re-read Treasure Island. Or sort of. I’m not sure if I ever actually read it properly in the first place, but I’ve watched enough adaptations, and pored over the puzzle activity book version* I had as a small child, so I’m fairly familiar with the story. It’s also the ur-example of a pirate story**, so there’s an awful lot that you sort of absorb by cultural osmosis***.

But it is fun, and very well written—the main narrative having the detached nostalgia of a young man reminiscing on a boyhood adventure, and the brief interlude from the doctor/magistrate having a clipped, clinical air: the salient facts without any emotion, or any speculation of the thoughts or motivations of other characters.

Obviously, despite Jim Hawkins being the protagonist, the main character is definitely Long John Silver: the most focused on, and most explored character in the entire piece. Shrewd, ruthless, and quick to adapt, it’s no wonder he’s a formidable figure, even to the other pirates. But at this point (roughly 2/3 through), he seems completely villainous, so I question (*spoiler alert*) Jim’s eventual decision to let him go. Presumably he does something mitigating/redemptive later, but as I cannot remember the details of what happens I shall have to wait and see.

Watch this space****.

* A heavily-abridged version of the story with associated mazes, spot-the-difference puzzles, and similar.

** Or perhaps that should be arr-example? 🙂

*** A messy and unpleasant process it’s not worth getting into here.

**** It has a penchant for generating copious footnotes if left unattended.


Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Other


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