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Orwell: Animal Farm

Dixon; Shakespeare

Dixon, as you will have guessed, is Franklin W. Dixon, the author's name on the cover of the Hardy Boys books. He did not actually exist, at least not as the author of those books, which were a group effort, and not always the same group. Usually there was at minimum an outline written by one person and a manuscript produced from the outline by another. You can read an overview of the various people involved here, and details of who did what in each book here. It was all done at the direction of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Knowing that, you won't be surprised that the same company produced the Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, and other similar books. Goodbye to Carolyn Keene.

All of that suggests something less than a sincere creative effort on the part of a Mr. Dixon, and I'm glad I didn't know that when I was ten or twelve years old and discovered the books.

I used to spend the night sometimes at the home of my maternal grandparents, and the little room I slept in had a bookshelf which held a number of books belonging to my uncle Al. He was the youngest of three, and only a dozen or so years older than me. I had been sleeping in that room for a while but apparently had not thought the grown-up-looking books would be of interest to me until one day I picked up one with the intriguing title of What Happened At Midnight. I was quickly hooked, and eventually read all of the two dozen or so on the shelves in that room. As best I can remember in consultation with a chronological list of the books, I read every title from the first, The Tower Treasure, published in 1927, through The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, published in 1949 (though of course I had no idea of their order of publication, or interest in it, but just picked up another when I finished one). 

It seems there were at least two that I took home and never returned: The Disappearing Floor (1940) and The Clue of the Broken Blade (1942). How they managed to stay with me from my late teens  until now is a mystery. Perhaps they didn't stay with me; perhaps they just stayed at my parents' house for over thirty years and I appropriated them when they moved in 2000.

A few weeks ago, partly because those two books had surfaced even though most of our books are still in boxes after moving (awaiting final determination of bookshelf placement), and partly with the thought that it might be a pleasant exercise in nostalgia, I decided to read one of them and picked up The Clue of the Broken Blade.

What a disappointment. The book is colorless and lifeless. Frank, Joe, and their father are blanks. The prose is not just wooden but ill-made, like furniture banged together crudely from the pieces of a shipping pallet. The plot seems barely coherent but that may be partly my fault, as I chose to read one chapter a night in bed, when my mind is pretty sluggish at best. I could not find in my reaction any trace of the enjoyment I had at twelve or so, or even a perception of the reasons for it, even though if no longer operative, as might happen with an old episode of Gunsmoke. I must have thought the story was exciting and suspenseful, and I know I liked what Frank and Joe represented, and wanted to be like them. Maybe, just maybe, if I had not been reading when drowsy, I would still have felt some sense of the mere what's-going-to-happen appeal of the plot. But the best I can do is assume that I must have felt it at the time. 

The most I can say in favor of the book is that the simplicity, naivete, sincerity (by which I mean the absence of irony), and absence of vulgarity were mildly refreshing in contrast to much or most of what's offered to, or pushed at, young people today. But it's so very unreal--and maybe that sheds some light on what's happened over the past half-century. 


At the opposite extreme: two unrelated incidents caused me to watch a 1980 BBC production of The Winter's Tale. First, a recent issue of The New Criterion includes an article on that play by Anthony Daniels. He's always an interesting writer, but although I had read the play some years ago (twenty or so, maybe?) I didn't remember it very clearly, and I didn't want to read the article without better knowledge of the play. And my Shakespeare is still packed away in one of a dozen or so large heavy boxes stacked in a hallway, and I don't know which one. 

Second, a comment on some post somewhere online informed me that subscribers to the BBC's streaming service, BritBox, have access to the BBC Television Shakespeare, which includes essentially all the plays--thirty-seven of them, and I say "essentially" because there is apparently still some scholarly disagreement about a couple of them. I had not known that the series even existed, much less that I had access to it. 

So I immediately looked for, and found, and watched, The Winter's Tale. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed it. I was almost rapturous. The marvelous Mozart-like flow of language was a non-stop pleasure. It was just as well that I didn't have the text handy, with notes, because I would have been constantly stopping and starting the film to figure out some knotty figure or to explain an unknown or obsolete word or usage. After twenty minutes or so I decided to just let those go by, since I could follow well enough without them, and surrender to the flow. 

And the story: this is a late play, and it seems to share with The Tempest a sort of mellowness, neither tragedy nor comedy, and it ends with events described by that term Tolkien gave us, eucatastrophe. The "catastrophe" part of that, as we commonly use the word, is applicable: it could almost be termed violent in its reversal of what came before. And a critic could fairly call it dramatically unconvincing, or worse. 

Moreover, the play is oddly constructed, and fairly criticized for that. It's in two parts, and the first part is a sort of mini-Othello story, the second part a sequel which takes place some years later, and redeems the tragic first part. This makes for something of a stitched-together quality, and it can't be considered one of Shakespeare's best. But I was greatly moved by it, and will certainly turn to it again. I guess I'm something of a pushover for a story which has that general arc. I like to think that's because it is fundamentally true to...well, I shouldn't say "true to life," because in general use that  phrase implicitly refers to earthly life, but true to the deepest realities. At any rate I was greatly moved, and will certainly turn to this play again. 

And I hope this video will continue to be available so that I can turn to it. A list of the play's productions (on Wikipedia, I think) called this one "orthodox." That's probably not meant to be a compliment, but it's fair enough: there is nothing gimmicky about the production, nothing that smacks of someone trying to put his own personal stamp on the work, or to render it somehow more fitting or engaging or palatable to a contemporary audience. In this case "orthodox" means excellent acting and appropriate, fairly simple, stylized but unobtrusive staging. I could quibble with this or that detail of either, but it would be just that, quibbling. 

Somewhere online in the past day or two I saw an advertisement for a Shakespeare in modern language. Well, it's true enough that in many cases the plot alone of many of the plays, and the plain matter of much of the dialog, has plenty of appeal. Still, that seems like Raphael in monochrome. 


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I never read Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew as a kid. Maybe because I was the youngest of three with two older sisters. I don't know. Nor did I read them when my own kids read them.

My son, who is married with two boys, made sure I got his copies to him. We had to buy a couple of volumes at a used book store because we had lost track of them.

I did read The Mad Scientist Club, and the Brains Benton series (six books) because my friend, Terry, introduced me to them. I read Encyclopedia Brown because of the Scholastic Book Service.

I was more into science fiction--Heinlein, for instance, and the Mushroom Planet books.

My Shakespeare class in high school senior year was one of the worst classes I ever had. The teacher was newly graduated from teacher school and had absolutely no ability to instill in us an interest in the plays. We wound up just reading them out loud together--which may have been the best thing we could have done. I love Shakespeare.

My kids and son-in-law have performed in several production: Richard III, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, King Lear. My son who wanted the Hardy Boys books was one of the murdered princes in Richard III in a production by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Well, obviously I can't say you missed some great reading, but you may have missed some fun. In spite of the negative things I've said about them, I'm pleased that your son liked and still likes them.

I was *very* into sci-fi but it was a bit later. Every now and then I've revisited some of those old books, the ones I read at the time (mid-'60s) and mostly found them pretty bad, if not terrible.

I guess I had good Shakespeare teachers in high school, because I certainly learned to love the plays that we read. On the other hand, I took a Shakespeare course in college and it made no impression. It may have been the teacher's fault but more likely mine. Richard III was one of those I read then and I should probably revisit it.

Something about being tied up on a warehouse.....

I've been really lucky. I was introduced to Shakespeare through community theatre productions, beginning with a Twelfth Night in the park, and I grew up thinking of it as fun. We never read him in our francophone Quebec schools. In grade 10 in England I had a terrific teacher who took us through a close and appreciative reading of Romeo & Juliet.
This past Sunday we saw a production of the Tempest designed to emphasize Prospero's magic, co-adapted by Teller. As it turned out, the magic was not the most impressive part; I don't think any Shakespeare has moved me as much as Miranda and Ferdinand's love scene or Prospero's paternal care for Miranda.
I never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, but I enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown and the Three Investigators. My sisters and I tried to found a detective agency like theirs and were stymied by the lack of clients.

It was probably one of those situations where it was difficult to get word of your services to the people who might have needed them. I'm not familiar with the Three Investigators, but the Hardy Boys didn't have that problem because their father was The Famous Detective Fenton Hardy and he kept giving them work. It didn't occur to me to wonder about the existence of a Famous Detective, and how he might have gotten that way. I certainly had never heard of one.

Sometime in the past 5-10 years while visiting in DC I saw a performance of The Tempest at the Folger. It certainly ranks with this recent viewing of The Winter's Tale as a high point in my experience of Shakespeare.

Encyclopedia Brown just had a crate with a sign and a coffee can in front of his garage. Of course, his dad was the police chief.

Small-town nepotism and corruption at work, obviously.

The new Famous Detective is Benoit Blanc!
I read Hardy Boys books. They may still be at my parent's house. I remember that one or both Boys seemed to get knocked unconscious regularly. Heinlein is pretty unreadable as an adult. His brother taught history at the university I attended in Missouri. They were from one of those towns on I-49 on the way to Kansas City from SW Missouri. Butler, maybe.
The only Shakespeare course I ever took was at the Catholic college in Miami I ended up graduating from. It was a wonderful course and I enjoyed all of the plays we read/performed/went to see.

I saw the first Benoit Blanc movie and never could decide whether his Foghorn Leghorn accent was meant to be funny or not. People who have seen the next one seem to think it's either much better or much worse.

I don't think either of the Hardy Boys gets knocked unconscious in the one I'm reading, but I haven't quite finished. But I think Fenton was. At any rate he was forcibly kidnapped and locked in a shipping crate from which the boys had to rescue him.

"At any rate he was forcibly kidnapped and locked in a shipping crate from which the boys had to rescue him."

Aha! Just so!

I guess kidnapping is pretty much forcible by definition. What I mean is that I think some physical force was involved. Not that it matters....

Never read the Hardy Boys, although I had a number of friends that did. I didn't really start reading in earnest until the sixth grade, and at that point it was mostly "adventure" books and the occasional science fiction novel. I had a friend who subscribed to Fantasy and Science Fiction and he would occasionally pass his copies on to me when he was done. I liked some of the stories but others of them were very "adult." I remember one that really put me off which was about a human male prostitute on another planet who serviced aliens. No offense, but what the hell?

I've always found Shakespeare to be much easier to understand when watching or listening than when reading. Which in a certain sense stands to reason, and also brings me to my next question: is there a good movie/video version of King Lear?

I don't know. I mean, I know there are some, but don't have any idea of the quality. I'll be watching the one in this BBC series at some point.

As far as I can remember the only one I've ever seen was back ca. 1970 and was said at the time to know--bold, daring, original, etc. It was shown in theaters as just another movie, and I remember reading a review of it and being intrigued. The "original" aspect of it was said to be that it attempted to put the play in a very primitive early medieval setting, which meant partly that it was *very* grim. I think it was black-and-white. I remember finding it powerful but I don't remember many specifics except for a scene which in most productions would be a swordfight, movie style, but in this was two big lumbering men facing each other with axes, getting in only a few swings before one of them connected, and that was the end of the other one. A few (?) years ago I was thinking I would like to see it again but could find very little trace that it ever existed. It occurs to me that it may have been called just "Lear" rather than "King Lear." I think I'll look for it again. On the basis of my memory I wouldn't necessarily recommend it but it was striking.

This is it:

Seems to be or have been available on dvd. are mixed on that one. The Russian one from the same year looks interesting, if you can get it. But then you wouldn't be hearing the English.

Nothing else on the wikipedia page seems very compelling (I've see Kurosawa's "Ran" any number of times).

There are some rave reviews on Amazon. But it isn't available on Prime, or Netflix, or the Criterion Collection. So I won't be seeing it again anytime soon.

Unless it's on DVD I'm stuck too.

"Every now and then I've revisited some of those old books, the ones I read at the time (mid-'60s) and mostly found them pretty bad, if not terrible."

Does that include Dune?

I didn't read Dune back then. I think it came out just about the time I was beginning to lose interest in the genre. I may have read a little of it in Analog at the time, as I vaguely recall part of it appearing there, and Wikipedia confirms that it did. But I forgot whatever I read, and didn't read the whole novel until I was around 30. I liked it but didn't become an enthusiast.

I'm sort of interested in seeing the recent movie. The SyFy channel did an adaptation a decade or more ago which I thought was pretty decent.

I read original six Dune books. The first one is worth reading.

I haven't seen the new Dune movie - I'm waiting for part II. I have to admit that i really like the absurd David Lynch version.

I wasn’t going to bother mentioning that one :-). But I did see it, on tv, and mainly remember thinking “how bizarre.”

The new Dune looks very good, but to be honest I didn't really enjoy it much. I guess for one I am beginning to dislike that actor. But probably more than that is that I know the outline of the story so well from reading the book several times that I just do not find a movie of it interesting. And the characters are all so grim. I need to revisit the David Lynch version; I last saw it in the theatre back when it came out. Of course he famously hates it. LOL

"That actor" being Timothee (?) Chalamet? I don't know that I've ever seen him in anything, out of it as I am where movies are concerned.

Yes, that is the actor. He seems to be in everything I see, Mac. Apparently we do not have similar watching habits. :-)

My watching habits have deteriorated badly. I hardly watch any movies, and no recent ones at all. My wife and I have descended to watching tv while we eat supper, and what we watch is 80-90% British crime dramas made over the past 20-25 years. You'd think we'd run out but there are a *lot* of them. Inevitably we will run out and I don't know what we'll do then. Maybe I'll rent the new Dune this weekend.

By the time you run out of British crime dramas, you may have forgotten the first ones you watched, so you can just start over.

I've been listening to Agatha Christie on Libby, our public library's free audiobook borrowing platform.

I'm mainly interested in the new Dune because it was made by Denis Villeneuve, who I don't think has made a bad film yet. I don't know Chalamet, but the rest of the cast seems pretty strong. The visual effects are supposed to be outstanding.

The last new movie I saw was 'Bullet Train,' which was great fun. That was back in November, I think. I also wanted to see 'The Menu' but it didn't stay in the local theaters very long.

"probably more than that is that I know the outline of the story so well from reading the book several times that I just do not find a movie of it interesting"

That's exactly how I feel about the LOTR and Hobbit films. I watched the first trilogy as it appeared, but do not plan to watch it again. Didn't bother with The Hobbit.

The LOTR films are sort of a "don't get me started" thing for me. The very first post on this blog was about it.

That was 20 years ago, and commenting wasn't available (actually it wasn't a blog, strictly speaking), but there are three recent comments on it. People continue to have pretty strong opinions on the subject.

I guess visual impressiveness is my biggest interest in seeing the Dune movie. I just rented it on Amazon Prime (for $0..??) and will let y'all know what I think.

Libby is great. I don't listen to many audiobooks, mainly when traveling, and when I have a trip coming I end up spending an hour or more trying to pick one from Libby. Usually the ones I want are checked out.

I like Agatha Christie but not as much as some others of her general type. I have a friend who a few years ago read all the Christie books. I can't imagine doing that. I would get pretty sick of almost any writer, reading that much in a short time.

Anne-Marie, that's all too true. We have once or twice started something and a few minutes in said "Haven't we seen this before?" and it usually takes a minute for us to decide. I remember my parents, younger than I am now, saying that they didn't mind watching tv re-runs because they didn't remember how they turned out. That was back in the days when there really were tv "seasons" that didn't last the entire year, and "summer re-runs" were a thing.

I saw the first Benoit Blanc movie and never could decide whether his Foghorn Leghorn accent was meant to be funny or not. People who have seen the next one seem to think it's either much better or much worse.

So glad to see someone else mention that ridiculous accent! And I'm one of those who think the second of those films is even worse, actually sort of icky.

I think a much more enjoyable comedy murder mystery is Confess, Fletch with Jon Hamm. Anyone here seen it? Hasn't gotten much press coverage, as far as I can tell.

I haven't. I think I read someone complaining that the Fletch character isn't true to the book(s), but not having read the books I wouldn't know. I can't remember whether that was part of a complete pan of the movie or just a complaint.

I'll pass on the second Blanc movie.

I did not btw get to watch Dune last night. Something came up. Sometime soon, since I have invested my $0 in it.

As it happens our library has six or seven video versions of King Lear, including the Russian one from 1971 (but not the one with Paul Scofield). Most of them are BBC productions with well-known lead actors, but we also have one with Orson Welles and one with James Earl Jones that appears to have an all black cast.

One of the BBC ones would probably be a very safe bet.

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