Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Building Worlds: The Origins of Imaginative Fiction

by Bruce P. Grether

Much as I have always loved C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Herbert and other great world-builders of imaginative fiction, I’ve never wanted to write a book that resembles anything I’ve read. Thus the worlds I’ve created contain no Great Lion, no Elves, dragons or wizards, and no giant sandworms.

I’m not bragging, probably I’m just a stubborn individualist this way. Though I’ve seen speculation that readers of such books tend to two basic categories, wanting originality, or wanting the same basic thing over and over again thinly disguised, I’m not certain it’s so simple as either exploring something that seems new, or imitation.

Perhaps this all has more to do with the early influences upon writers, as well as readers.

Recently I’ve considered what stimulated my own creative imagination early on. Though I was not actually reading much fiction on my own yet at age five, I know that my mother was actively reading to me and my siblings almost every night, a wide variety of fiction: Mark Twain, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and various other classic children’s books.

That same year, I experienced a remarkable scope of actual experiences, only bits and pieces of which I clearly remember. We traveled westward from Thailand to the USA, and I saw the Great Sphinx, played at the foot of the Great Pyramid, saw mummies in the Cairo museum; in the Coliseum in Rome, I pretended a marble chunk was a piano; we saw the Crown Jewels in London; at Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois I was photographed pretending to smoke my toy peace pipe and wearing a feather bonnet. In Denver, I vividly recall that we saw Disney’s brand new film, SLEEPING BEAUTY.

During my sixth through my eighth year back in Thailand, my first three years of elementary school exposed me to an immense range of imaginative fiction, from fairytales, to detective stories, to Narnia, and many others. I’ve been both an avid reader and a writer ever since. Some of my first few completed novels were somewhat derivative, and we can certainly learn our art and craft by imitation. In my early teens, however, I consciously realized that I was not interested in creating worlds that much resembled any I’ve read.

Something different than conscious creation set my writings in motion, a form of inspiration, perhaps from the unconscious mind. The worlds I’ve fully explored by writing full-length novels and series of novels set there have all opened to me without exception through a vivid dream. Most dreams that I recall are not so detailed or clear, but the ones I refer to each created a doorway in my mind that I could always pass through again.

That’s how it works for me!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Magnificent MALEFICENT!

A review by Bruce P. Grether

(NO SPOILERS, or at least nothing very specific!) I’ll seek to avoid revealing major, specific plot points in this brief look at the marvelous new Disney film MALEFICENT, which I saw in a cinema yesterday. In fact, though I have read only a few reviews, on several points I would have enjoyed being totally surprised, though these points by no means spoiled the film for me.

I’ve been especially drawn to this production in part because as a boy of five, I saw Disney’s original animated SLEEPING BEAUTY that serves as the lunching pad for this new live-action film. The former had a lasting affect upon me, and now I’ve found the latter moving, beautiful and of rare cinematic quality.

MALEFICENT offers something I find missing in many contemporary fantasy stories: a meaningful, plausible origin and motivation for figures viewed as villainous. In fact, this revisionist version reminds me of the numerous versions of Greek myths, in which we sometimes still have older more “goddess-oriented” versions, later revised to give male gods greater importance. Though MALEFICENT is filled with magick and fantastic beings, the causes of evil behavior work the same way for humans in our “real” world.

Another aspect of the film I found delightful was the depiction of the “Fair People,” or inhabitants of the Fairy realm, which aligns quite accurately with actual western European traditions. This impressive re-telling does not demolish the original at all, but re-tells it with some surprisingly different slants, which I for one found extremely refreshing and satisfying. So bravo to all involved for pushing beyond the simplistic good-evil scenarios of so much contemporary fantasy!

One more touch of praise must go to Angelina Jolie, whose skilled portrayal of the eponymous character is a major part of why I’d call this film magnificent!