Sunday, December 13, 2015

I've Made Some Things For You: A Review of "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams"

It's Wednesday, November 4, 2015 as I write this.  A new King book -- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, natch -- came out yesterday.  My copies (I bought two, one to take notes in) came in the mail yesterday, and I did a strange thing: I didn't start reading it.
Long story short: I had a few projects I wanted to finish up because I knew that if I dove immediately into a new King collection, I'd put them off and possibly never get them done.  
Projects are now finished, however, and I'm typing these words in preparation for sitting down and getting to work reading.  I'm not planning to do what I normally do, which is to read it in a mere day or two.  Since this is a collection of stories (the vast majority of which I've already read via their original appearances), I figure on taking it slower.
Plus...?  A new James Bond movie comes out this week.  I'll be seeing it tonight, which means that I've got to get to work on my review of it for You Only Blog Twice.  The plan there is to watch it three or four times: at least once for enjoyment, and at least as-many-more-as-I-can-squeeze-in for note-taking purposes (no, I won't be taking notes right there in the theatre; that would be lame).  Do the math on that and you'll see that that is going to consume a goodish portion of the next week.  
That doesn't leave all that much time for reading, so this post is going to take a bit of a backburner.
I know what you're thinking: this sonofabitch who writes a Stephen King blog is shoving Stephen King over the side of the boat in favor of James Bond!  Traitor!!!
It isn't so, folks, cry your pardon.
The fact is, I have read the majority of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  So while it's exciting to have it in hand and to integrate it onto my shelf, it's a very different thing than if a new King novel had come out.  "And," you ask, "if it had...?"
Man, that's a tough call.  My King fandom is probably superior to my Bond fandom, but my Bond fandom is much older.  Still, if I have to choose, I choose King.
But I'd still give preference to the new Bond movie.  Here's why: seeing it on the best possible screen is important to me.  It's going to be playing in IMAX near me, so I will be watching it on that screen every time I watch it.  And that's a thing with an expiration-date on it: it will only be there for two weeks, until the new Hunger Games movie comes out.  A new King novel, on the other hand, will be in hardback forever, and my armchair and reading lamp will be in the same place.  My cats are still going to want to get in my lap in a few days.  King can wait, because the experience will be the same, whereas the experience of Spectre will be different in a couple of weeks.  Not hugely; but enough to make a difference to me.
Now, here's a question: what if it was a new Dark Tower novel?
In that case, I think my brain would probably explode, negating the need for a choice of any kind.
In any case, it's irrelevant.  The format of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams means that I can go ahead and start reading, and take it a story at a time.  If 007 muscles Uncle Steve out of the way for a day or two, well, I'll pick back up with a new story once that has passed.  Simple!  No fuss, no muss.
My plan, then, is to write this review piecemeal, story by story as I progress.  It won't be super-intensive, and there won't be spoilers, so it ought to be quite easy to write.  Hell, I've already written about most of these stories anyways, so it's possible that I'll mostly be comparing this read to the first one to see how my opinions have or haven't changed.
I love it when King gives us an introduction or an afterword to his books, and he's typically in fine form when it comes to doing so for his short-story or novella collections.
This one is no different.  "I've made some things for you," he says at the beginning, by way of creating the atmosphere of a midnight street-vendor hawking his lovingly-handmade wares.  It's a lovely device that (A) immediately turns me into a fan of this collections's title whereas I'd only been so-so on it before; and (B) reminds me of the beginning of Aladdin.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Truth Inside The Lie votes "NO"

I like Idris Elba.  I really do.  I haven't seen most of his most noted roles, such as The Wire or Luther.  But he was great in the things I've seen him in.
He's not Roland Deschain, guys.  He just isn't.  And yet, Hollywood is apparently thinking about it.
Here's my problem with that: Roland's race is actually rather important to the story of The Dark Tower, and there are three reasons for that (at minimum):
  • He's intended to be visually reminiscent of old-Hollywood cowboy gunfighters in general, and of Clint Eastwood specifically.  Last time I checked, Eastwood was as white as it gets.
  • He's intended to be a Twinner for Stephen King himself in some ways.  Last time I checked, King was as white as it gets.
  • The racial component of Roland's (and, to a lesser extent, Eddie's) initial-stages relationship with Detta/Odetta/Susannah would be changed utterly by making Roland a dark-skinned man.
There are arguments to be made as to how you could easily alter all of those things and still have the result be a good piece of cinematic art.  For example, you could cast both Roland and Eddie with black actors, cast Susannah as a white woman, and have Detta call them both . . . well, you know what she'd call them.
But that doesn't really have the same meaning, does it?  Susannah being a crippled but privileged young white woman in the sixties just doesn't carry the same weight.  Will she go out to colored-only roadhouses and pick up black dudes and cocktease them in the parking lot?  Not quite the same thing.
Similarly, it's not the same casting a black man as a cowboy archetype.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's the difference between Clint Eastwood and Cleavon Little, but the fact is that a dark-skinned man in this role is going to elicit a different emotion when he strolls into Tull and everyone looks at him funny.  Unless they are all dark-skinned, too; which would be an elegant and interesting solution to the matter.
Elba would also be ill-suited to play an American West avatar; not that that is an absolute must, because there is room to argue that the High Speech of Gilead could sound like just about anything.  I was fine with Javier Bardem as Roland for that reason (and also for the fact that he looks like he could walk into a room and kill everyone in it without blinking, a quality Elba also possesses to some degree).  But if they're casting Elba, they're going to have him do an American accent, and his Southern accent in Prometheus was horrendously awful.  Good performance; terrible accent.
All of this makes me think that fidelity to the source material is almost certainly the last thing on the mind of the people making this film.  If you're confused -- or disdainful -- of the impact Roland's skin tone has on the subthemes of the movie, then you're not concerned with the books themselves, I'd imagine.  You're not interested in intricacies.  You're intrigued by the dozens of articles you read -- or that your intern read and told you about -- covering the buzz surrounding the idea of Elba playing James Bond.  You're seeing dollar signs; you're seeing people clapping you on the back for the diversity of your casting.
You're not seeing The Dark Tower.
Now, all that said, I'm a great believer in diversity when it comes to movies and television shows.  And -- as I've been arguing at least as far back as 2011 -- when the race of a character doesn't have any impact on the story, I think the movie producer who isn't actively pushing for diversity is making a woeful mistake in 2015.  Same goes for gender and sexual-orientation concerns.  So, for example, you couldn't -- and shouldn't -- get away with making a lily-white version of The Stand in 2015.  And that's fine, because I'd argue that the majority of those characters can be white, black, brown, red, yellow, or just about any other color.  A few, not so much; but mostly, it's irrelevant.
I don't think the same is true of Roland, or Eddie, or Jake, or Susannah.  Other characters, sure.  For example, good lord but Elba would make for a hell of a Father Callahan.  You might want to consider changing him into a former Baptist minister instead of a former Catholic priest, granted; but otherwise, he'd own the hell out of that role.  He'd be a beyond-awesome Cort.  He'd be a beyond-awesome Eldred Jonas, or (if you were okay with this causing changes to the themes of the hypothetical film version of Hearts In Atlantis) Ted Brautigan, or the Tick-Tock Man.  What a Gasher he would be!  I'd buy him as Walter, too.

As Roland?  I can't get there.  I'm a great believer in the idea that no one race is better than another; and I'm a great believer in the idea that eventually, our species can get to a place in ourselves when we no longer see racial differences.  But that time has not yet come, and pretending that it has won't get us there.  So in some instances, I think you can change a character's race and have there be no impact on the story as a result; in others, I don't think you can.  Not for now.  Someday is not here yet.
And hey, while I'm at it, sure, why not, I'll go ahead and be that guy: you never hear these arguments going any direction but one.  Nobody is out there demanding that there be a Murder, She Wrote remake starring Hugh Laurie as Jesse Fletcher; nobody is out there demanding that we redo In the Heat of the Night with Jennifer Lopez in the Sidney Poitier role.  Nobody is calling for a Hawaiian Doctor Who.  I've heard about a gajillion people ask this, but if James Bond is destined to be played by a black man, why isn't Shaft destined to be played by a white man?  I have yet to hear anyone actually answer that in a satisfactory way, except to say that Shaft's race is important whereas Bond's isn't.  
This ignores the fact that Bond's race is actually immensely important; he was a wish-fulfillment stand-in for his creator, author Ian Fleming, whose race was assuredly important to his own life.  That, my friends, means that if you don't have Bond be a white dude, you're failing to ground the character in Fleming.  So be it; but I think that's the wrong move, just as I think it would be a mistake to fail to ground John Shaft in Ernest Tidyman.  I'd be just as opposed to seeing a white Shaft as I am to seeing a black 007.  Put a good enough actor in the role, and I'll grit my teeth and go with it; but there will be teeth gritted.
Ultimately, my problem with this movement is that it's focused (without anyone admitting that this is the case) on stamping out Whitey.  And hey, I get it: Whitey sucks.  Historically, he has sucked ass.  This is not lost on me; after all, I am of the clan Whitey, so I have seen some of that from the inside.   (Similarly, I am of the clan Male Oppressor, and I know what sort of bullshit we've been perpetrating on you ladies for eons.  Sorry about that.) 
But here's the deal: why would you want to kill Whitey and then wear all his old shirts and all his old underwear?  Why would you want to drive his old station wagon and live in his old house?  I'd think it would be more satisfying by far to get my own house, my own car, my own clothes, and then drive my awesome self past old sourpuss Whitey every day and flip him the bird while laughing about how awesome my life was.  Even if my life wasn't that awesome, that's how I'd want to play it; if I can't have an awesome life, I'd at least want Whitey to think I did.
I think there needs to be less focus on co-opting white characters for non-white actors than on commissioning stories told by non-white (and non-male) (and non-straight) storytellers.  It's the story, guys, not he who tells it.  Except that's kind of bullshit, isn't it?  Because to a large degree, I think the two things are one and the same.  
Let's start looking not for the black Roland, but for the black Stephen King.  I don't want to read or see a gay Spider-Man; I want to know what the gay Stan Lee would be like.  Where's my Muslim equivalent of Larry McMurtry?  Find me a Native American Tolkien, or a Japanese Gene Roddenberry, or an Indian Jim Henson.  
Don't take the short road, guys.  If you want actual diversity as opposed to a diversity mirage, you do it through the stories, not through the pictures between the pages.
All that said, if Big Dris ends up playing Roland, I'll go see it, and I'll try to do so with an open mind.  Give me Jennifer Lawrence as Susannah and Grumpy Cat as Oy, and maybe it'll be a classic.