Friday, June 18, 2021

two book talks and a play

I had a very busy day online on Thursday. Besides a previously-scheduled Zoom meeting, I attended two online book talks and a play. It was useful to see how much of these I found it physically possible to sit through.

First, the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy held a Zoom interview with Katherine Langrish, a children's author who's written a book called From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self. Immediately I thought of The Magician's Book by Laura Miller, whose childhood Narnia fan was crushingly disillusioned by the books when older. Langrish isn't like that. Though she says she has some criticisms, her talk suggested that her book is mostly about the greater appreciation adulthood brought, for instance realizing Lewis's use of literary antecedents, e.g. Sir Gawain in The Silver Chair. (At which point someone in the chat mentioned looking forward to the upcoming movie of Sir Gawain and others replied, "There's a movie?!" Yes indeed, and here's the trailer. Looks a heck of a lot more authentic to the source than that Beowulf movie was.)
Langrish said some gratifying things. As a child she wrote Narnia fanfic, but gave it up because "I found that writing about Narnia wasn't the same as reading about Narnia." Yes! And this is why I have no interest in fanfic of my favorite worlds. She's avoided movies of Narnia because she prefers the vivid pictures in her own head, another sensible reaction. I don't understand people whose reaction to a vivid book scene is to want to see it depicted in a movie. Langrith also praised both Lewis and Tolkien for the sense they give "of the physicality of the world." If you thrust a shovel into their landscape, there'd be real soil underneath, unlike some fantasy worlds which feel like you'd break through into empty air.
Unfortunately Langrith also had some gratuitous criticisms of Tolkien (as did Miller). She found The Hobbit condescending to the child reader where Narnia is not. Where Narnia is not? Really? She did see the Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings and thought they captured the book's essence, which is ludicrous, and offense even to suggest; and worse, she thinks the negative responses were for leaving parts of the book out. No, no, no! It's for the nonsense the films put in in its place.

Second, the Wade Center had CS Lewis scholar Michael Ward for a book launch: his book, After Humanity, is a gloss on CSL's The Abolition of Man. The talk was rather abstruse, but then Abolition is a rather abstruse book. Not their fault, but I had to bow out of this one before the Q&A session.

Third, I'd bought a ticket for the livestreamed version of a live performance of a local theater company's production of a one-man play, Shylock by Mark Leiren-Young. Doug Brook plays a Shakespearean actor who's frustrated by having drawn abusive criticism for his interpretation of Shylock. It emerges over the course of his monologue that, for all his paeans to artistic freedom, he believes it's just wrong to portray Shylock sympathetically. He's the villain of Merchant, so he should be played that way. So this actor does, and he gets slammed and literally spit on for being racist and a self-hating Jew (he's Jewish).
But then he starts drawing parallels to reinforce his argument against this response, and by the time the play's 2/3 over, it's devolved into a right-wing rant against a caricature of "cancel culture."
The second problem is that I've seen many productions of Merchant over the years with many different readings of Shylock, and it's usually seemed to me that Shylock portrayed as a pure villain comes across as a litigious crank; you can't even be sure that any of his accusations are real. It diminishes him. And the third problem is that the actor in this show gives some examples of his readings of Shylock's lines, and no, it doesn't sound like a particularly villainous reading, so that kind of undercuts the anger he claims the audiences showed.
I didn't give up before this was over, though I thought of it, and I did think that if I were there in person, I couldn't leave without causing a fuss.

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