Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice in Wo-- Wait, what the hell?

As we waited for the new Alice in Wonderland movie to begin, I was giving a friend book recommendations; in particular I was describing what I liked so much about the 'Nightwatch' series of books. It seemed a fitting discussion just prior to watching a Tim Burton movie, in a way, because what I like about the Nightwatch series is that the world has a very unique, and imaginative, set up (mechanic?), which twists the world as we know it into something much stranger, and that every book in the series is unfailingly dark.

And then we watched the Alice in Wonderland movie, which might have looked like something out of the most tripped-out Goth's fever dream, but had the emotional murkiness and darkness of, perhaps, Cinderella. Oh, Disney.

To top things off, I just finished Jasper Fforde's latest book, which is also incredibly quirky (Fforde pretty much defines quirk for me, because everything he does is illogical until you realize it is powered by a pun) and also incredibly dark. Dark in that my vision of the world is mostly in gray scale, with a few bright points of - usually red - color (perfect for a Tim Burton movie, perhaps?) and dark in that after reading it my heart almost broke and I was left blinking and thinking "Oh no, this is the first book in the trilogy. Just how bad is it going to get?"

Which brings me to a bit of a quandary. Tim Burton didn't set out to make Alice dark, he set out "to try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events." (Quoth Wikipedia, Quoth a Comicon 2009 interview). But because it was Tim Burton I guess I pretty much assumed that it was going to be dark, emotionally as well as visually. To be fair, he did make a movie with considerably more plot than the episodic and often diffuse nature of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But given that he wanted a concrete plot, why choose one which ran so shallow? Given that he needed a good-versus-evil battle, why make good synonymous with 'likes fuzzy animals' and evil synonymous with 'callously abuses fuzzy animals'? I mean, I'm all for fluffy puppies, but give me an ethical quandary bigger than "We have to kill this vicious, man-eating dragon in order to end the iron-fisted, tyrranical, and arbitrary reign of Queen Evil McTortureson, but we don't want to kill anything because we're the Good Guys and Good Guys Don't Kill Things (TM)!"

So, a continuum:
1) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the puppies win! Tea and cookies all around!
2) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the puppies win, but sustain heavy casualties! Tea and cookies for those who survive!
3) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the puppies win, but sustain heavy casualties and end up compromising and/or killing other, even more innocent and/or cute, puppies who just wanted to keep their heads down and go about their business. Somewhat tainted tea and cookies for those who survive.
4) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the puppies win, but in the process realize that they're no better than the murderers. By now the tea has gone cold and the cookies are stale bricks of remorse.
5) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the murderers win. Murderers don't so much like tea and cookies, but they have some Lipton and a box of Chips Ahoy for appearances' sake.
6) Murderers versus cute puppies, and the murderers win, and in the process you realize that this is the only possible outcome. Lipton is cold and/or already steeped, and the Chips Ahoy has been left out and gone a bit stale.
7) Murderers versus cute puppies, except the murderers and the puppies are revealed to be exactly the same, and no one wins, because the battle goes on eternally, causing untold destruction for no real reason. There's no one left for tea or cookies, and no tea or cookies to be had anyway.

On that scheme, Alice in Wonderland is reveling in its (1)-ness, I think the Fforde trilogy is (3) or higher, and the Nightwatch series is squarely (7). Does the fact that I like Nightwatch best make me callous, cruel, depressed, or just realistic? (And does the fact that (7) is possibly overrepresented in Russian literature reflective of Stalinism, the cold Siberian winters, or both?)


ayn said...

I love your continuum. I may have to borrow it or use as inspiration for something...

I don't think preferring Nightwatch makes you cruel or realistic; I think it's that a story leading to that conclusion is bound to be more nuanced than one leading to any of the other options, which are for the most part saccharine or cliched.

Aadhaar said...

I also admire your continuum concept. And I would like to quote it please in my blog also. I have stumbled here entirely by accident (the "next blog" button, would you believe?) and I really like it here. The writing is great, and the decor is appealing. Must do something about my decor..... Anyway, thanks, good blog.

Epii said...

Muahaha, I've tracked down your blog! The continuum made me laugh out loud... very well put. Also I bought Nightwatch but still haven't read it yet. Probably will by the time I see you on Saturday. And your description here makes me sure I'll prefer it too.