Nothing New Under The Sun

So I was explaining the Really Cool Idea I had for a story structure to my writing group.

“I haven’t seen anything like it before,” I said. “It just seems to fit with the story I’m trying to tell. This is how I wanna do it-”

insert long-winded and overly verbose explanation with copious hand gestures here

“Oh!” they said. “Just like Dracula and Lady Susan and-”

“No,” I said, somewhat annoyed. “Mine is different. It’s sci-fi.”

“Oh, like Frankenstein!”

This required a pause for rueful contemplation. At last, I was forced to admit that yes, it had been done before. I felt like kicking something. It was my brand new bright shiny idea. How dare Jane Austen et al use it before I did?

 

I’m going to do it that way anyway. For starters, it’s a great structure. Also, my twist on it is still just slightly different. And let’s face it, there isn’t an idea out there that hasn’t been done and done over time and time again. It’s just a matter of who did it best, really. In writing, as in all life, there is nothing new under the sun: variations upon a theme are all we have to work with.

Fairytale Tropes

I love fairytale tropes. I love the stories that take well-known fairytales like Beauty and the Beast and turn them into something new but the same, and I love the stories that reference the oddest, most out-of-the-way fairytales I haven’t heard before. So I suppose it was only natural that when I began writing, I would eventually begin to write a series of them myself. There’s just something so enjoyable about taking a well-known trope and expanding it, building on it, until it’s become its own story with its own aims and ideas. It’s fun to turn that trope on its head, or to deepen its characters, and make it all my own. Funnily enough, that’s not how I began to write the book that was easiest of all my books to write. I’d already written a reworking of Little Red Riding-Hood and was partway through re-writing my spin on Sleeping Beauty, and I was thinking about other fairytales that I wanted to play with. The Little Mermaid was high on the list (now lightly sketched out), but it occurred to me that my favourite fairytale (aka Beauty and the Beast), was the one fairytale I wouldn’t really want to rewrite. I’d no sooner thought that, than my brain said: ‘Yes, but if I did, this is how I’d do it.’  When I began to write the book, it was the quickest, most enjoyable book I’ve ever written.

There’s a heck of a lot of rewritten fairytales floating around out there. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ugly. I don’t know if mine will sell well at all, but I just got the cover for the first in the sequence, and I can’t stop sneaking looks at it whenever I think I’ve gone long enough without looking at it. Once I’m done with my first ebook release, I’ll probably even share it here.

But for now: if you like a really good fractured fairytale read, don’t walk past these ones-

The Perilous Gard by Elisabeth Marie Pope

Fire and Hemlock by the amazing Diana Wynne Jones

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

and last but certainly not least, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. (Skip the movie. Just read the book. Really.)

Edit: Can’t believe I forgot Goldenmayne by Kate Stradling!

Clipping From ‘The Margaree Moocher’

Kez and Marx seem to have popped up on Seventh World, in the small township of Margaree . . .

Clipping from The Margaree Moocher, Community Column.

 

Law Enforcement in the community

Robbery at Margaree Downtown Drive-through Grocer.

At 3.57pm local time, officers were called to the scene of a robbery at the Margaree Downtown Drive-through Grocer. The offenders broke into the secure back room via the bolted back door, using a welding laser to cut through the 3-inch steel, and kicked free the safebox in the back room.

Fellow staff say that when a female staff member went to investigate the noise, the robbers held an industrial saw to her throat and threatened to decapitate her if she did not produce the key to the grocer’s strongbox.

According to witness statements, it was at this point that a small girl wriggled out the window of the next vehicle in line and through the drive-through window. Her co-passenger, described as a small, angry man, fell out the vehicle’s window while attempting to restrain her, and entered the grocer by kicking in the drive-through window.

The level of noise at this point became so great that surrounding houses as well as waiting customers pinged the Margaree Law Enforcement Office on their emergency frequency. Officers arrived on the scene to find a female staff member in hysterics on the floor, two bloodied and battered offenders handcuffed to the cool-room door, and several other staff members in the process of emptying a bottle of scotch between them.

The uninjured female employee was transferred to Margaree Medical Centre without comment, but other staff members were heard to comment: “She hit him in the head with a spanner. She hit him in the ******* head with a ******* spanner.”

Margaree Law Enforcement has taken custody of the offenders, though the rescuers were not found in the vicinity.

Anyone with information regarding these two persons of interest should comment on the Law Enforcement community board or ping the Office directly. The individuals are described as a short, sandy-haired male in his early forties, and a young, dark-haired female of ten to twelve years old.

Incident at the Margaree Local Library.

An incident at the Margaree Local Library has resulted in the re-appearance of several ancient book-form readers once catalogued as lost in the fire of 3069. The book-form readers have since been burned for safety reasons. Residents are reminded that travelling to points in time before the advent of time-travel is strictly prohibited and will be investigated by the Time Corp as a serious crime. Any information welcomed by the Margaree Law Enforcement Office and Time Corp.

Community Interest

*The Margaree Dramatic Society’s production of The Fall of Fourth World will be playing in Donovan’s Dimensions Playhouse all week. Attendees are reminded that outside snacks and drinks are not permitted, and that any devices interfering with the stage effects will be promptly confiscated.

*Enquiring minds wish to know if the overflow of stage effects in last night’s performance of the above was an attempt to make the performance more real to the audience, or if there was a malfunction with stage equipment. Complaints are already flowing in from Margaree’s leading ladies, who complain of ruined frocks and soggy shoes in the wake of an unexpected flood that deluged the audience.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

I saw Walter Mitty first when he was the golden-haired Danny Kaye. He won my heart with his over-the-top imagination (‘A mere scratch, sir, a mere scratch! Set the bone myself!’) and his typically Danny Kaye comedy routines. Virginia Mayo plays his sometimes exasperated but always fond love interest, who is responsible for getting him into trouble to start with and who accompanies him to the bitter end.

Danny Kaye Walter Mitty

 

In this particular version are murder! mayhem! and spies! Because, yanno- murder, mayhem, spies! There’s the dead body in the car. There’s the little black book with Secret Information. There’s the overbearing mother that Walter lives with. There’s the dotty girlfriend. And of course, there are the men who are trying to kill Walter. It doesn’t take long for Walter to realise that as much as he loves daydreaming about adventure, the real thing is entirely terrifying.

What I loved about this version:

  1. The screwball comedy. Some of the best of the 40s.

  2. Danny Kaye’s comedy routines, worked brilliantly into his everyday life, and his larger-than-life daydreams.

  3. The hopeful, thoughtful outlook of the entire film.

  4. The fantastic wackiness to it all. And Virginia Mayo so calm and sedate through the madness, trotting in on her elegant high-heels to rescue Danny and push him on again.

 

I was understandably nervous when the new Secret Life of Walter Mitty was announced. I loved the old version so much that I couldn’t see the new one even coming close to being as good. I thought it might be passable, and decided to give it a go.

In the new version, Walter is a Negative Asset handler for Life! magazine. His job is in jeopardy as Life! magazine goes through the transition from physical to digital, downsizing its human resources as it does so. His new boss treats him with scorn and extreme disrespect, he’s in love with the new girl, Cheryl (who doesn’t seem to know he exists), and his dating profile on e-harmony (set up for the express purpose of ‘meeting’ Cheryl) is plain boring, because he’s never been anywhere/done anything interesting. Instead, Walter day-dreams in gorgeous HD.

In this particular version there are no spies or jewels or black books. Instead, there is a missing negative, the quintessential expression of Life! magazine that is meant to star on the cover of the very last issue. And to find this missing negative, Walter has to track down the photographer who took it, using only a series of moderately unhelpful surrounding negatives. The search for Sean O’Connell, who seems everything that Walter would love to be (adventurous, physically able, rakish, and casually cosmopolitan) occupies a large part of this movie. Walter is pushed out of his comfort zone, encouraged by Cheryl (in daydreams as well as in real life) to keep searching and leaping into the unknown, and finds himself stronger and wilder than he ever believed possible.

Things I loved about this version:

  1. The use of blue throughout to indicate Walter’s static state, and the likewise eyecatching use of red to indicate life, the seizing of opportunity, and adventure. Visually amazing.

  2. Walter’s realisation that his constant daydreaming (even in the presence of his dream girl!) is stopping him from achieving all that he could be.

  3. The sheer bombasticity of Walter’s imagination, in all its glorious HD ridiculousness.

  4. The point when you realise that as much as Walter admires Sean O’Connell (the wild man, the adventurer, the romantic), Sean O’Connell respects him.

  5. The fact that the plot didn’t make the mistake of ‘Trying To Save The Magazine’. The end was inevitable, graceful, and integral to the storyline.

 

To conclude: I never thought there would be a point in my life when I would say that the remake of a movie exceeds the original. But I’m saying it now. Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty has all the outrageous imagination that Danny Kaye’s Walter Mitty ever had, but where Danny Kaye’s WM is light and frothy and fun, Ben Stiller’s WM is rich, layered, and intensely satisfying. The more I watch it, the better I love it.

Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty

Happy watching, guys.