Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Importance of Imagination: Stephen King's Misery (1987).

My last post was an attempt at offering a snapshot of the pitfalls and hazards of the current state of both pop-culture and the creative arts in general.  Researching that book, and it's adaptation was a bit of a discouraging and thankless task.  I say this based on the mindset the reader is forced to endure when making it through both versions of Ernest Cline's text.

With that in mind, I thought it fair to offer a positive contrast to the negative impacts of a story like Ready Player One.  Perhaps a horror novel by Stephen King seems like an odd choice to make as a light and positive example.  I think it works, however, because of several factors.  The first factor is that as a story in itself, it's pretty darn great.  Part of the reason for the book's literary worth has to do with it's creation.  In his non-fiction study, Danse Macabre, King shares a series of recurring nightmares, some of which might have acted as inspiration for his own published works:

"In another dream - this is one which has recurred at times of stress over the last ten years - I am writing a novel in an old house where a homicidal madwoman is reputed to be on the prowl.  I'm working in a third-floor room that's very hot.  A door on the far side of the room communicates with the attic, and I know - I know - she's in there, and that sooner or later the sound of my typewriter will cause her to come after me (perhaps she's a critic for the Times Book Review).  At any rate, she finally comes through the door like a horrid jack from a child's box, all gray hair and crazed eyes, raving and wielding a meat-ax.  And when I run, I discover that somehow the house has exploded outward - it's gotten ever so much bigger - and I'm totally lost.  On awakening from this dream, I promptly scoot over to my wife's side of the bed (88)".

Later, in his semi-autobiographical On Writing, King reveals that the basic setup for his plot came from a dream where the main character and the antagonist appeared in a kind of tableau.  King barely knew who they were.  All he knew is that the image presented to him was enough to suggest the outlines of an actual plot, one that might be worth setting down on paper.  However, he did admit one piece of information that could be telling: the protagonist of his dream "may or may not have been me (161)".  I think a case can be made that the idea for Misery was always swirling around somewhere in King's mind for quite a while.  It started with the idea of being stalked by the ax-happy, witch-like figure.  Over time, this image progressed and developed until the madwoman had morphed into the form she now appears in between the covers of her own book.  All this germinal idea needed was time to marinate in his imagination until it was ready to trod the boards.

The second reason for Misery being a good example of a positive contrast is that no matter how dark the subject matter, it's ultimate vision is, at it's heart, a positive one.  It is the art of writing, and the viewpoint King brings to the table for his reader's consideration that makes the novel stand out as the exact opposite of the mercenary nihilism of Cline's work.  In Misery, we are presented with an idea of writing, and it's relation to real life that has a genuine substance to it.  Part of the approach to this subject matter is to realize that Misery is very much a novel of layers, and it helps to reach a deeper understanding of the book if we dig through one layer at a time.  With any luck, this method of approaching the novel will help readers gain an understanding of why it is able to work so well as a story, and why it has been able to hold on to its staying power after more than a whole decade.  It is also this approach that will help illustrate the substance at the heart of King's story.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Descent into Escapism: The Problem of Ready Player One.

I thought there was more to talk about.  Turns out it's just not worth it.  When it comes Ernest Cline's Ready Player One my opinions tend to be somewhere on the strong negative side of things.  Because of this, I thought there might be enough material to devote to a multi-part review.  However, as I dug further into the novel and it's cinematic adaptation, I soon realized that it's hard to talk for a long time about little to nothing.  If you can't guess already, I have issues with this book.  It doesn't all have to be a bad thing, though there's no way I can call it good.  The benefit of Cline's text is that it does present a useful picture for examining the state of the modern pop-culture audience, even if it's not pretty.

For the longest time, one of my concerns has been what to make of the current state of both pop-culture, and the ways in which it is discussed, examined, and talked about.  I think the first time I ever realized this was a topic that needed looking into was when I ran into the phenomenon of professional YouTube vlogging.  I should stress here that some of it is worthwhile.  However, I was struck by the lack of knowledge or literacy on the part of the creators of a lot this content.  What I mean is that I would run across a critic who would try to tackle cinematic classic like the Godfather, or Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars.  These are two films generally regarded as classics.  However, all this millenial vlogger could think about is how dull or slow moving the action or plot is.  He seemed unable to grasp the finer shades of characterization and tension building that has to go into making a story work.  His entire aesthetic outlook was limited to the modern blockbuster mindset.  The irony is that he wasn't too far removed from the mindset of Cline's novel.
From there, I began to discover a similar lack of critical insight in other places like actual journalism.  In some ways, Cline's writings are best thought of as a resource where I can pinpoint all that is wrong with the state of the arts today.  It has helped this much in that I can now point to something that explains the plight of both the audience and the arts at early start of the 21st century.  I'd like to examine the book and it's adaptation in order to take a closer look at the problem of this lack of modern cultural literacy.