Sunday, February 25, 2024

Three Types of Modern Prose and Their Readers.

In some ways, I owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Ebert for this one.  Even if what I'm about to write ends up on a different critical outlook from that of the beloved film critic for the Chicago Times, credit has to go where it's due.  It was Roger who got the gears in my mind turning.  This whole article is therefore best thought of as something like his accidental brainchild.  It also owes its existence to the work of one other famous artistic personality.  This would be the once noted Horror writer, Peter Straub.  In fact, it was an observation made by the critic about the author that got this whole thing started.  During the course of his review of a film adaptation of Straub's 1979 novel, Ghost Story, Ebert mentions how he once tried to get into the literary source material.  His own reaction to the book was that, in his words, "I plugged away at it for what must have been hundreds of pages before his unspeakable prose finally got to me. At least, he knows how to make a good story, if not how to tell it, and that is one way in which the book and the movie of “Ghost Story” differ (web)".  Ebert then goes on to qualify his judgment call in the following terms.

"The movie is told with style. It goes without saying that style is the most important single element in every ghost story, since without it even the most ominous events disintegrate into silliness. And “Ghost Story,” perhaps aware that if characters talk too much they disperse the tension, adopts a very economical story-telling approach. Dialogue comes in short, straightforward sentences.  Background is provided without being allowed to distract from the main event. The characters are established with quick, subtle strokes".  Then, he closes it all off with the simple judgment call of: "This is a good movie (ibid)".  Well, for what it's worth, I took his advice, or recommendation, and gave the film a watch.  Even after trying to keep as open a mind as possible, I'm afraid I'll still have to side with another critic, Bill Sheehan, who in his critical study, At the Foot of the Story Tree, described the movie version of Ghost Story, as "a marvel of missed opportunities (80)".  Nor does the divergence of critical opinion end there.  My own experience of reading the original novel was and remains a complete opposite.

I almost want to claim that Ebert and I must have been reading dissimilar novels by entirely different authors.  So here I was faced with a challenge.  How do I account for the differences of opinion between Sheehan and myself, versus those of one half of Siskel and Ebert?  
It was the kind of remark that didn't just get my attention, it sort of forced me to take what Ebert was saying with a certain degree of seriousness.  The trouble is that doing so kind of forced me to confront a series of interrelated question.  For instance, what counts as "good prose"?  How does this maxim translate into "good writing"?  In other words, what kind of prose makes for a "good story"?  More to the point, can there ever be anything such as a perfect, indelible, and unassailable prose style when it comes to judging the quality of any given artistic work, whether a movie, or a book?  I'm sure many of you reading this have already arrived at what seems to be the obvious conclusion.  If you are one of these readers, then you can go ahead and skip all of what I'm about to say next.  This article is not directed at any of you.

Instead, I think this is a topic that needs to be addressed to the novices in the audience.  I think it's worth devoting some time and space here to an examination of the different types of writing styles to be found in works of prose fiction.  I think it's worth making such an effort in an attempt to meet the kind of challenge that Ebert's words set before any attentive student of literature (which is what I at least hope I am).  It's also a subject worth trying to tackle because of the light it might be able to help us shine on the different ways there are of reading as well as the art and craft of writing.  In essence, what you've got here is the kind of work that appeals most to a former high school going on college level English Major.  The sort of work that "Book People" will get excited about, in other words.  Articles like this always tend to run the risk of vanishing into the hazy mists of academic thought, and leaving the casual reader lost in the forest, unable to tell the different between the woods and the trees.

My promise (or at the very least, my hope?) is to avoid making this a boring slog by avoiding both too much technical detail, and (again, trying, anyway) to provide what I regard as various snippets and examples of what I consider to be Good Prose in the most genuine sense of the term.  That being passages of narrative action and description that not only demonstrate what good writing is like, but also does something else.  I tend to think the ultimate value of any good work of fiction lies in its ability to entertain its audience.  This is the ultimate goal to aim for, before any other.  Even if you're someone like Jon Swift or Mark Twain, and you want to bear your heart and soul in an effort to awaken your readers to the danger of racial injustice, all the good intentions in the world will turn to dust in an arena like this if you can't make a compelling narrative that grabs your audience by the throat and won't let go until the last line has been written and read.  It is the story, and its ability to entertain, which is the deciding factor here.  Applying it to an article like this means I'm going to have to make sure each passage from a book I might choose for demonstration is good enough to help keep the reader engaged.

It also means above all that I shouldn't get lost in the woods, and that I make sure the same applies to anyone kind enough to give me their valuable time of day.  The good news here is that we don't have far to go.  A careful look around at the contemporary writing scene has let me know that there are just a handful of choices left open to any would-be word-slinger.  All current ink-stained wretches have the limited options of just three styles of prose manners or voices to choose from.  Each of them are easy to distinguish and arrange into their respective categories, and there are enough good representatives of the "best and brightest" of each class of style to make this an interesting enough romp for those who either care about this sort of thing, or else are just hanging around looking for useful recommendation of any book out there whose contents at least sounds good enough to see if cracking their spines open is worth the effort.  So, with that in mind, let's take a look at what we mean by the term: Good Prose.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose (2023).

I can't recall how I wound up learning about this movie.  All I can say for sure is that it was one of those "By Accident" situations that happen more or less all the time.  I might have stumbled across this by accident in the course of reading an otherwise unrelated article on a Media Entertainment website, somewhere.  Or else I stumbled upon it as a banner advertisement on IMDB, or a similar place like that.  In fact, now that I stop and think it over, the way it happened was this.  I was on YouTube and looking for some other video, and a trailer for this film either popped up as an add by pure chance, or else I saw the title of the film with it's main star, Simon Pegg in the thumbnail, and that was enough to catch my interest.  I think the reason for wanting to give this film a chance comes down to two factors.  The first was that Christopher Lloyd was featured in a supporting role.  In other words, the film was advertised as some kind of supernatural, paranormal mystery thriller, and Doc Brown was going to be a part of it.  I suppose it makes me look kind of stupid, considering that my immediate reaction was more or less, "Sign me up"!  My only defense for this reaction is the second factor that got my attention.  Neil Gaiman was touted as playing a key role as a mischievous prankster spirit.  I had to see what the final results were like.  And so, that was how I wound up learning about this peculiar anomaly of a film.