Saturday SkandiHorrar: Black Lake Parts 3 & 4


It may not be much cop, but we can at least adjust the banner to correctly define Black Lake, now reaching its halfway mark, to the kind of programme it is.

Not being, by instinct or inclination, a horror buff, I don’t know quite to what extent this programme is observing all the tropes, but from my position of ignorance I can’t see anything of significance being left out, except the frequent violent and bloody deaths. We do have one in part 4, but it takes place off stage and the method remains undisclosed, although it at least observes one given: it is the seemingly promiscuous blonde what gets it first.

We left Jessan collapsing in a heap after screaming something about killing the child, which causes more than one member of the party to be concerned. Whilst she sleeps it off, massively, Frank goes through her bag, discovering a pillbox that the medical expert Mette identifies as being for schizophrenia and psychotics. After she wakes, Jessan confesses to killing a child: an abortion in Berlin five years ago, the root of the psychosis.

It appears this two are about more than the wild sex, they have genuinely fallen in love. That doesn’t stop more uninhibited sex, during which Jessan binds Frank’s hands with his dressing gown belt, hooks them up to the bedpost, straddles him, undoes his belt… and proceeds to tighten it around his neck as our part 3 climax.

The other person much concerned with the wild-haired Jessan is, of course, the already-disturbed Hanne. Sarah-Sophie Bouusnina may well be dead lovely to look at, no matter what arrangement she has her hair in, but she’s already starting to get on my wick with her obsession with the killings 20 years ago, her belief that the strangled children are trying to communicate with the house party, and the insistence on getting translated the mystery words ‘gaadet jaamet’ (sorry, no Scandinavian fonts on this laptop).

This involves using the effeminate Jostein, who interprets her constant appearances as evidence of overwhelming lust for him and who steals a kiss Hanne makes no attempt to refuse in part 3 and then, after being pushed away because she tells him she has a boyfriend and is engaged to be married, comes back for more in part 4 that Hanne offers quite enthusiastically (though she’s already enthusiastically shagged the pallid and superior Johan without taking her zipped-to-the-neck jacket off).

But Jessan comes to with no memory of anything, though that doesn’t stop her and Hanne suggesting a seance, which is eagerly greeted by everyone except the disbelieving Johan and Mette. Maybe they should have listened to this pair because, after the glass lights on the letter M, the candles blow out, Jessan screams, scratches Lippi’s neck and disappears into the secret basement.

Where she is found with a cut on her forehead whose provenance we don’t get to see until late in part 4.

For the moment, we get the strangulation scene, from which poor Frank is rescued when his feeble gasps for help are overheard by Johan and Hanne. Jessan, struggling in a frenzy, is overpowered and the belt used to tie her to the bedpost whilst she’s locked in (the Police are 30km away, on an emergency).

And Jostein’s turned up seriously late, with a translation of the mystery words: ‘Kill or Die’. Or, as a conscious Jessan explains to Hanne in the morning, whilst wriggling out of her bonds, ‘Kill or be Killed’. An external compulsion was driving her, put in her head by Mikkhel. When Johan and co arrives, she locks herself in her bathroom, and is then barricaded in. Her death, leaving aa look of horror on her face, is called suicide.

Now the most sensible things to do under all the circumstances is to hightail it back to Stockholm at a rate of knots. Mette’s had enough and wants out, and funnily enough so does increasingly barmy Hanne. But Johan refuses to believe in Hanne’s ghosts, and is determined to close his deal to buy Black Lake and talks everyone into staying.

We all know this isn’t going to be wise because caretaker Erkki, big bad snowmobile seller Dag and even Jostein want the gang to leave. And in a neat echo of the end of part 2, Mette, having seen Johan snog the pretty but under-used Elin now sees Hanne snog Jostein. And when she tries to talk her sister out of smashing her own future, Hanne starts getting all petty/sulky (until Mette confesses to a miscarriage, which in the circumstances comes over as a pointless detail).

So: a mysterious force keeps chucking a set of architectural plans at Hanne until she spots the discrepancy between the 1950 and 1995 cellar plans that reveals a secret room, Johan completes his deal and sacks Erkki (did he seriously think he’d be kept on after the way he’s behaved?), the cellar door’s conveniently open all of a sudden, Hanne finds the boarded off secret room: quick flashback to Jessan banging her head against the wood which the fragile Hanne strips off like it was paper, revealing… a door. The cellar door shuts above her, the door proves to be unlocked and not even in need of oiling, and Hanne goes inside…

Leaving me hoping, no doubt in vain, that it’s a gateway to a better programme than Black Lake has proved to be so far. The lovely Sarah-Sofie can only stave off snarkiness for so long, you know.

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Eagle Volume 6


The Man from Nowhere

And so it came to pass. The classic Eagle, the mid-Fifties version of the paper that is the height of excellence and stability finally came together in Volume 6. You may date that to issue 4, when the last of the classic line-up finally made it’s appearance, George Beardmore and Robert Ayton’s Jack O’Lantern, a wonderfully atmospheric Napoleonic Wars-set series centred upon ten year old Jack York, son of a supposed traitor fighting to clear his father’s name, or if you want to be really pernickety about it, you could postpone that moment to issue 18, when Frank Hampson returned to Dan Dare with the first instalment of the ‘Man from Nowhere’ Trilogy, displaying a quantum leap in his art, not just from ‘Prisoners of Space’ but from Hampson’s own best work.
The difference between stories, replacing ‘Prisoners’ undetailed outlines, two-dimensional art and pallid, flat, primarily pastel colouring in which even the space scenes appear to be brightly lit, to Hampson’s rich, detailed art, its ranger and depth of colouring and, most of all, the subtle use of light and shadow to give everything a three dimensional aspect, is immediate. The difference in story quality is also immediate: I’ve seen Alan Stranks credited as starting his Dan Dare run with both ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Man from Nowhere’, but taking into account the latter’s bitty and inconsistent storyline, I can only believe that he makes his debut with Hampson’s return.
‘The Man from Nowhere’ ran for twenty-eight weeks, including the issue of Eagle published the day I was born, for which I have an obvious special affection. It segued into ‘Rogue Planet’: indeed, the entire series still had more than two full Volumes to go before it’s end and it was superb its whole length.
Stranks’ accession to ‘Dan Dare’ doubled his work for Eagle, with ‘PC49’ going strong on page 3. ‘The Case of the Golden Knight’ took until issue 21 to complete, and ‘The Case of the New Member’, introduced a new, stereotyped, self-important and prank-playing new character in Elmer Cheeseborough Nutt, not to mention his over-protective mother was still in action when the volume ended. This last, at an eventual 37 weeks, was the longest ‘PC49’ adventure to appear.
By this time, 49 was only appearing in Eagle, with the BBC Radio series having been discontinued in 1953, by which time Archie had not only married Joan but had been turned into a father, a continuity a world away from that enjoyed by Eagle’s readers.
‘ESI’s third series, consisting of two very long foreign journeys, to the Kalahari and the Middle East, only came to and end the week before Xmas. Professor Puff’ forged on, inexorably, though instead of travelling to far off and foreign lands, the Professor and his little Dog spent most of this year travelling to far off and implausible times.
‘Riders of the Range’ completed ‘The Heir of Duncrieff’, writing out the monocled Jim Forsyth by finally guiding him to his ancestral home and lairdship in Scotland before segueing into ‘The Terror of the Pecos’, as Jeff and Luke set off back to Texas with Jim’s young cousin, Matt, who’s coming to Texas to learn how to be a man. Unfortunately, he’s going to learn it from the Indians, and Matt, having given his word, is determined not to be rescued.
‘Luck of the Legion’ was dominated by ‘Earthquake Island’, in which a shipwreck distracts our familiar trio from a secret mission in the Far East by stranding them in India where they restore a young boy to the Rajahship usurped by his tyrannical uncle. Then it was off ‘South of Senegal’ for the next adventure, still getting up steam.

Page 1

And so to ‘Jack O’Lantern’ on page 10. This was the last, and in some ways the least of Eagle‘s great line-up, though most of that status derives from it running the shortest time: only nine serials, several of which, in the great Hampson manner, ran into one another, like phases of a greater novel. Jack York is the son of an accused traitor, Captain Yorke, and is being bullied in an orphanage when he is assisted to escape by Corporal Kettle. Though delighted to find his father alive, he is shocked that the Captain has become a Tobyman, or Highwayman.
But the Captain has been framed by his rascally brother Humphry, who has taken their ancestral home. And Humphry is the actual French spy, and the Captain’s new profession a means of searching guests to the house to find who is Humphry’s contact.
But ‘Stand and Deliver!’ ends with Captain Yorke trapped, wounded, arrested and thrown into Newgate Prison. Jack, who knows the truth, battles on alone to right the wrong.
Ayton’s art, in full colour on page 10, is firmly in the Eagle tradition of photo-realism. He is strong on period detail, just as Beardmore is full of the times. Jack is befriended by gypsies, who talk in the Romany manner, and by the thieves culture of London under the Bow Street Runners, who are full of their thieves cant. It’s bright, colourful and atmospheric, and if sometimes Jack’s actions exceed the plausibility required of his age, it never extends too far into the fantastic.
‘The Three J’s’ continued in their established manner, though matters were enlivened in the holiday story ‘Vive Le Northbrook’, which saw the boys travelling to France with a slightly older companion in a decrepit car, striving to keep a rendezvous with ‘Goosey’ Gander and his father, who are to transport them back to England. It’s a predictable but enjoyable deadline-story, up-against-the-odds stuff enlivened by the unusual decision to have the J’s driver meet and fall in love with a French Mademoiselle in the last chapter.
The half page format was not really working for ‘Harris Tweed’, there being insufficient space to engineer anything but cheap and obvious gags, so John Ryan decided to change to a serialised format himself, extending stories over six weeks or so, to much greater effect. There’s further evidence throughout this volume of his art gradually softening and rounding, to the point where it’s possible to see the connection to the animated ‘Captain Pugwash’ style that was so successful for so long on BBC TV.
After the conclusion of ‘The Silver Sampan’, Richard E. Jennings took a nine-month sabbatical from ‘Storm Nelson’, with Giorgio Bellavitis taking over the art duties for the next two stories, overlapping into the next volume. Bellavitis was a much less distinctive artist, with far less vigour and a less bold use of black-and-white, though visually the most obvious change was to stick a leather pilot’s helmet onto Bash Callaghan almost permanently. Jennings’s controlled exaggeration was definitely missed!

A Bellavitis page

Bellavitis came off the back-page Real-Life Adventures story, ‘Mark, the Youngest Disciple’, written by Chad Varah, to take over ‘Storm Nelson’, which saw Norman Williams return to draw the life of Abraham Lincoln, as written by Alan Jason, a pen-name for Sergeant Luck’s Geoffrey Bond.
Among the minor features, the excellent George Cansdale half-page, with Backhouse’s superb art, gave way to the writer’s ‘Insect World’, with similarly excellent colour art but slightly less appeal for one adult reader.
The other big thing of 1955, was the big promotion given to the Eagle Club, which got several full-page features on p15 when it was introduced, before rather dwindling away to a calmer position on page 6, alongside the sport, when more art was required.
So now Eagle had achieved a settled line-up of excellence and vivid quality as it hit the middle of the decade. How long would this last?

 

County Night


Though next weekend involves a working Sunday, putting a premium on Saturday relaxation (and shopping) time, I have discovered a need to tie up half the day by visiting my local football team, Stockport County, to watch an FA Cup Third Qualifying Round tie.

I haven’t been to Edgeley Park for over a decade, and having thought about it carefully, I think this is going to be only my fifth ever visit, which is not a particularly impressive record for someone who has lived in or about Stockport for over fifty years (the Nottingham years excluded).

And it’s not as if I’m going to support the Home Team, either.

Though I didn’t actually start to live in Stockport until 1987, my family had been on the border – literally: the pavement was in Manchester, the road in Stockport – since December 1966. United and City were both in the First Division and doing well, and I first became aware of County through the regular posters promoting “Friday Night is County Night”, the Club making Friday night their home slot to avoid clashes with whichever local giant was at home each week.

At the time, I was too young to be interested in football except for kicking the ball most unsuccessfully in the schoolyard or during games, and when professional football started to penetrate into my consciousness, a couple of years later, my thoughts did not turn to County, who were probably languishing in the Fourth Division in those days.

My first visit to Edgeley Park was at the instigation of my old schoolmate Steve Callaghan (pronounced Calligan). Cally was interested in non-League Football before I started to take up with Droylsden, his allegiance, for some reason, being to the long-deceased Sandbach Ramblers, Cheshire League members.

County weren’t involved. We were going to some form of local Cup Final, possibly to do with the infant Northern Premier League, founded 1968. This game was taking place in, I am certain, 1970, and featured Macclesfield Town and Northwich Victoria. Steve back Macc, as the ‘local’ team, but I as attracted to Vics’ green shirts, which were a bit of a rarety then, as now. Anyway, the game ended 1-1, and I never discovered the result of the replay.

Sometime within the next twelve months or so, he dragged me back to see County this time, or at least their reserves. The game bored me: my only recollection is wandering around during the second half, ending up at the top of the cinder bank that served as standing terraces at the ton end of the ground, an running to play ballboy at on point, to return a misdirected shot that had ballooned up to my ‘lofty eyrie’.

Time went on. We left school. I went to University, Cally into employment. Sometimes he’d go along to Droylsden games, and we’d meet on the bus, or else he’d appear, smiling around a cigarette, under the uncertain floodlighting. After he stopped coming, we lost contact.

It was thirty years before I entered Edgeley Park again, and once more it was for to games, albeit in separate seasons. County were at the peak of their success, fully-fledged members of the First Division (i.e., the old Second Division of my unconfused youth), bogeymen to the Bitters, doing the Double over them each season they shared that level.

Both occasions were courtesy of the Club, or rather free family tickets distributed to my younger stepson’s school. My stepdaughter was far from impressed, but everybody else enjoyed our visits, especially as County won both. The first was against then-Division leaders Norwich, who were beaten 2-1 thanks to a debut goal for ex-England international and new player-manager, Carlton Palmer. On the night, if a stranger had been asked to decide which side were leading the Division and which were hovering above the relegation zone, he’d have made the wrong selections.

But with two wins under our belt, and County struggling, we used to joke that the Club should send us free Season Tickets, since we invariably brought success with us.

I enjoyed the visits just for the change of scene, because I was no longer going to see Manchester United, and because they enabled me to put vital ticks on a mild obsession. Between various Clubs, I have to date seen football matches at every level in the Pyramid, or the English League System (which is a bloody stupid and non-descriptive name when the Pyramid was so spot on), except for Level 5, i.e., the Conference/Alliance Premier.

County gave me the second tier in that list, though I can’t remember where or when I saw a Level 3 game, unless my memory of both County games being in level 2 is incorrect, and the latter of them followed relegation.

But back to next Saturday. County’s fortunes have fallen far since that Level 2 spell. They were relegated from the Football League in 2011 and went through the Conference stage. For the last three seasons, they have been marooned in the Alliance North, level 6, which status they share with FC United of Manchester.

Since County have wound up in the same division as FC, I have wanted to see such a derby. Unfortunately, home games at Broadhurst Park have always been all-ticket, and the return matches at Stockport have all clashed with me being on shift. Not so Saturday week. I am going to catch a Derby, I am going to cheer on FC United. My only previous experience of an FC Derby was against Droylsden, both games going 4-1 to FC, but on the other hand, I have never seen County lose.

Incidentally, if we’re playing the completist game again, as to the FA Cup, I have the complete set: I have seen games in every round from the Preliminary Round through to the Final, so a Third Qualifying Round is familiar territory for me.

Though I have always had a fondness for County, and a wish to see them do well (especially when playing Manchester City), and though there will be a certain oddity about supporting the visitors in a stadium that is far closer to my home than my team are based, I will be up for’t’ Cup with FC United.

Roll on next Saturday!

Brief update 4


Doing the widow/orphan dance…

I use Open Office software, have done for a decade or so. There’s probably a knack to it that I haven’t yet discovered but one of the big bugbears about self-publishing books is formatting your source document for conversion into a Lulu.com pdf for ‘camera-ready’ printing.

Two problems arise. Firstly, Open Office seems to not want you to apply settings to complete documents. My drafts are generally unformatted so if I want to insert paragraph indents for the print copy, I frequently find myself having to apply these manually: set indent for para 1, carriage return, one space, delete gap tp bring next para up, backspace, repeat until hand falls off.

The other is widow/orphan control. This is a default setting, at two lines. It means that if a paragraph breaks over a page bottom so as to leave two or one lines isolated at the bottom of one page or top of the next, the entire paragraph will be dragged over into the next page, leaving unsightly and unprofessional looking white space at the foot of a page.

It will not let me uncheck it for a whole document so I have to comb through the print copy to eliminate widow/orphan in every instance it affects my format.

Then I upload the document. This has been carefully, indeed lovingly been formatted on Lulu’s template document for the book-size I am going to use, so that the pdf they prepare will look identical to my Open Office original.

It doesn’t. They always have to reformat it. This throws the page bottoms out of alignment. I have to download the pdf, scroll through it, mark all the places where there is an unsightly and unprofessional looking white space at the foot of a page, locate it in the print copy and eliminate widow/orphan.

I then have to check that this slight shift in the text does not introduce further widow/orphan instances later in the print copy. Finally, all such things eliminated, I backtrack in the book creation process. delete the existing source document, upload the amended version, wait for a new pdf to be created, download this… and start scanning for knock-on effects.

I’m on the second round, scanning in three-chapter bursts. There are fewer instances to correct this time. I’m currently taking a break, two-thirds of the way through. Doing the widow/orphan dance.

Xmas 1969


A conversation between colleagues overheard: a team-mate has bought tickets for the musical Hamilton, for his girlfriend’ birthday, but it’s a secret he has to keep whilst she is badgering him to go, or it won’t be the surprise he intends. This has brought back a bittersweet memory of my Dad’s last Xmas, in 1969.

He’d been in and out of hospital for over a year by then, though only my mother and her elder brother knew at that point that his cancer was terminal. Dad had been the one to urge our Lake District holidays towards the fells, and who had gently managed my initial reluctance to a burgeoning enthusiasm.

During his illness, we hadn’t been able to add to the three fells we had already climbed. There were no holidays, no Lake District, not even a Bonfire Night and Fireworks that year, just some sparklers for my sister and I, properly wrapped up, to have outside the French window at the back, because the noise who have disturbed Dad.

Wainwright had completed his Pictorial Guides, and gone on to the Howgill Fells, which didn’t attract us. He’d produced The Pennine Way Companion, which did nothing for us. But he’d begun a series of Sketchbooks, intended to run to five,  showcasing his beautiful and wonderfully representative pen-and-ink drawings. It would be available for December.

In my mind, it was the perfect Xmas present for Dad. He loved the Wainwrights as much as I was starting to do and I desperately wanted to give him this book for Xmas. I suggested it to Mam, but she was curiously unencouraging and vague. I brought it up a couple more times, unable to understand why this idea didn’t seem to be favoured. It was perfect, absolutely so, and I couldn’t understand why we were missing the opportunity to give him something so suited.

What ended up being my present to him, I can’t remember.

On Xmas day, at Granny and Grandad’s, the family together as we always celebrated Xmas day, I found out why they wouldn’t let me give my Dad that book as a present. I opened a hard, rectangular parcel, and found it to be Wainwright’s First Lakeland Sketchbook. I couldn’t give it Dad, because Dad and Mam were giving it me.

I’d forgotten that detail but it all comes back to me now, and whilst it was a lovely book, and I have it still, and after Dad died, I collected the other four as they appeared, the gift fell a little flat that year. I was just turned fourteen, and I wanted that book for my Dad. He could and did read it, and enjoy it as much as me, but I wanted it for him. There was never another Xmas, and though there was one more birthday, in January 1970, his 41st, I have the same no idea of what I bought him as a present.

Now I’m sitting here, remembering this, and there’s a tiny lick of pain behind the memories, because I don’t have the memory I should have had, of my Dad’s look of pleasure at a gift given by his son that was so perfectly what he would have wanted.

Most memories associated with Dad come with their measure of pain because the loss is uncontrollable. At least I have recovered one more moment to add to that inadequate store of memories that are all I can hold to.

The Hobbit at 80


I’m indebted to the Guardian for the news that today is the eightieth birthday of the publication of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, a hitherto obscure Oxford Don. Which makes tomorrow the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, but let that pass.

There’s a lot of hostile BTL comments, directed at The Lord of the Rings as a book, and The Hobbit as a three-film extravaganza, absolutely none of which I can concur, but there is also frequent mention of the ill-chosen description of the book as a prequel to LOTR. The films are prequels, but the book of The Hobbit came first, by the best part of twenty years.

I have mixed feelings about The Hobbit. I recall my first hearing of it, in a First Year English Class at Grammar school, discussed one late and lazy Friday afternoon near the end of the year by our English teacher and Form Master, Mr Bassett. He talked about the famous first line, which sticks in my memory, though nothing else does.

It didn’t inspire me to search out the book, not in 1967. I was still in the Children’s Section of the Library, and if Tolkien was there, as he must have been, I don’t recall even seeing the book. And whilst I vaguely remember LOTR being discussed at school, no doubt in another English class, I have no memory of when, or which teacher first put that book into my consciousness. It did not suggest anything that would appeal to me then.

I finished school in 1973, proud possessor of enough A-Levels to get me into Manchester University to study Law. This was the long summer of cricket I’ve referred to before, but cricket didn’t blot out reading, and I was at Didsbury Library at least once a week. I had eight ticket, and it was a point of honour to get out eight books every time.

One afternoon, I was carrying seven books around, and scratching for an eighth. Nothing appealed. Eventually, I ended up in front of Tolkien. I remembered The Lord of the Rings. I was not enthused, but I had already been there ages and I couldn’t leave with only seven books, so I borrowed ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, just to see.

I left it till last, a sunny Tuesday afternoon. I read it before bedtime. At 9.00am, on Wednesday, I was at the Library, returning my eight completed books and heading straight for the Ts for ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘The Return of the King’. They had the first of these, which was frustrating. I carried it home, flung myself down on my bed, and finished it by mid-afternoon.

All I needed was the third volume. I was desperate to know the end of the story. But it had vanished from Didsbury Library. For the next two to three months, I kept going in every two to three days, hoping that a copy had been returned, but eternally frustrated.

In the end, Xmas passed, and January 1974 arrived and one Saturday my family found themselves in Stockport. We were on the bus, something needing repair on the car, and we had to get to Droylsden by 1.00pm, for the usual Dinner and talk and tea. I had long since been getting money for birthdays and Xmas, to enable me to select presents for myself (I was an awkward bugger when it came to taste even that far back), and inevitably some money was left over after the day, to be used up.

In W.H.Smiths, I discovered the one-volume paperback of the collected LOTR, sans Appendices, with the wonderfullly evocative Pauline Baynes cover. It cost £2 for a book of over 1,000 pages, and I had £2 of Xmas money left over. Unless forced to enter into conversation, like at the Dinner table, I was lost to my family for the rest of the day, even on the bus here I wasn’t supposed to read because of what it could do to my eyes (big deal: I had been wearing glasses for over a decade by then anyway). I was straight into Book 3 and immersed until I finally got to the end.

And on my next visit to Didsbury Library, ‘The Return of the King’ had been returned to the shelf. Of course.

Just as Justice League of America 37 had done, almost ten years before, LOTR changed my life. Having read and loved this epic, immense fantasy, I wanted more, more of the same. I began to haunt the SF/Fantasy section of the Library: not just Didsbury, but the even more massive selection at Central Ref. For the next twenty years or so, this was my primary genre of reading, and I owe it to that afternoon’s frustration in Didsbury Library my absorption in Gene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, and the irreplaceable R A Lafferty, not to mention those other authors in whose work I have been, sometimes fanatically, interested down the years.

Naturally, once I had completed LOTR, I was enthusiastic to read The Hobbit, and I was barely back at University for the Spring Term before I was picking up the paperback in Boots. And boy, was I in for a shock.

Based on reading LOTR, and based on its references to event in The Hobbit that formed part of the overall story, I expected a similar book, despite the massive difference in style. I got a children’s story, some elements of which I would have found embarrassing had I been half my then age.

I still have The Hobbit, though I’ve long since up-graded to an anniversary hardback, and I also have John Rateliff’s two-volume history, analysing how the published version was built up from the original drafts, the equivalent of Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth series. But I rarely read the book.

I’ve always wondered how my opinion would have been affected if I had read The Hobbit first, and at an age nearer to that of it intended audience. There is a lot of adult support for the book as being infinitely better than LOTR, and a lot of that comment does command the book to an adult audience. I agree that the story gets progressively darker and more serious as it goes on, but this is as soon as Tolkien begins to attach this kiddie story about a jolly Hobbit on an adventure to the larger, and higher matters of the Silmarillion mythology he had been developing for twenty years already.

But I came with expectations of something high and adult and serious, and the actuality was a shock. I was eighteen, and just in the process of my first literary adult literary enthusiasm, and my response to Tolkien’s first book is permanently coloured. I cannot see past the childish tones and the silly song.

I’ve already given my opinion in respect of The Hobbit Trilogy. This is a prequel, unlike the book, coming after the LOTR Trilogy. It’s easy to understand the objections of those who love the book: turning a novel of that size into three epic films, totalling some seven and a half hours before you look at Director’s Cuts, and completely rejecting the style and tone of the source novel can be hard to understand for someone who loves the book.

But I don’t love the book. I love LOTR and the films came after that and were part of the same world, and the film Trilogyhad to reflect the tone and style of LOTR. And, despite the flaws, especially in the various story changes made in Part 2, I did and still do love the LOTR films.

There’s no escaping the fact that, without The Hobbit, none of this would ever have happened, and thousands of book, many of them crap but a great number of them beautiful, elegant, thoughtful, mind-expanding and immensely involving would never have been written. Having read The History of Middle Earth, I see almost no possibility of Tolkien’s earlier and higher mythology ever being published, or finding anything greater than an esoteric audience.

And without The Hobbi there could have been no Lord of the Rings, and without that book, what would or could have opened my eyes the way that did?

So Happy Eightieth Birthday to The Hobbit. I am in the middle of so many other things at present, so I can’t mark the day by digging you out again, but I promise to re-read you as soon as is possible. I may not enjoy you much, but I owe you, big time.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e16 – Cooked Goose


Since she plays a big role this week…

Just when I was thinking that Tales of the Gold Monkey was struggling to maintain its verve, along comes an episode like that to refute that notion. There was a neat little adventure story involving Princess Koji and Todo again, not to mention a hell of a lot of Marta DuBois’s cleavage, and a twist that I suspected only a minute or two before it was revealed, and parts to play for all seven members of the cast, which was a nice change.

But most of all what impressed was a separate strand to the episode, born of the adventure saga but not properly of it, which concerned itself with an emotional point that ignored the usual Saturday Morning shallowness in favour of a very deep look into someone’s psyche, and it was brilliantly enacted by a central character usually known for playing comic relief.

The set-up is conventional enough: newlyweds Alan and Phyllis Shoemate are enjoying her fantasy of spending a honeymoon on a desert island, Petit Bijou, south of Bora Gora. She comes from a rich Hong Kong family, he’s an ex-co-pilot friend of Jake Cutter, who’s flying them in and out. Except that on their final night, they’re attacked by Malay mercenaries, who kidnap Phyllis, badly beat Alan, and leave behind a malay kris that suggests the mastermind to be everybody’s favourite Dragon Lady.

Bon Chance Louie takes a very dim view of such things going on in the French Mandate, he being the local Magistrate de Justice, and arranges to be flown to Tagatiya by Jake. The Goose needs an overhaul, which means the disgruntled Corky has to work on things overnight to make it flyable.

Instead, he gets blind drunk, falls asleep and is still out when the Goose catches fire. Jake has to pile in with the fire extinguisher to prevent it burning out, but it’s not going to Tagatiya any time soon. He’s simultaneously furious and bitterly disappointed with Corky, yet trying to give his friend the fairest treatment he can, given that his drinking has been responsible for this disaster. Sarah tries to plead for the distraught Corky, but Jake lays out the circumstances and has to admit that he can’t think otherwise.

Louie is still determined to get to Tagatiya, and demands Jake go with him, since he’s the Princess’s favourite, which means leaving Corky behind. But not to work on the Goose. This disaster has gone to Corky’s heart, and to what remains of his pride behind the clouded memories and the alcoholism. Corky has seen himself in all too clear a light, and he doesn’t like what he sees. He’s let Jake support him for many years, let him cajole and console him, build him up, cover for too many things, but this is too big and too fundamental for more of that. Corky’s self-loathing drives him to taking full responsibility for what he is and what he’s done. He cannot stand to be around people he’s let down, and he’s packing up and leaving, on the next clipper. He’s going to disappear.

It’s a wonderful performance from Jeff MacKay, demonstrating a range and depth about a thousand miles on every side from what he’s usually asked to do as the bumbling mechanic, and it changes the story by turning what is essentially a cartoon figure, whose genuine illness is usually treated as a near-joke, into a real person, whose life has been undercut by booze.

What’s doubly effective is that, at the one moment Jake wants to devote himself to his self-appointed guardianship, he’s forced away. Corky won’t budge, no-one can change his mind, yet a subdued and genuinely worried Sarah promises Jake that Corky will still be on Bora Gora when Jake returns.

Which she achieves in splendidly comic fashion, with the aid of the Reverend Tenbaum and Gushie, the wheelchair bound waiter. As last call is made for the Clipper, Sarah dramatically denounces Corky for seducing her and running away, leaving her – gasp! – with child. In comes Willie, offering the Church’s ministrations and a fast-track to the altar (whilst copping a swift feel). Corky’s fellow-passengers are looking at him askance when suddenly the generator goes out, requiring Corky to repair it, thanks to Gushie yanking something vital out: Corky’s not leaving Bora Gora yet.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Alan’s intemperate accusations of the proud Princess on her own island get Jake, Louie and the deprived husband into hot water: literally. Koji threatens to make them pay, but a hot bath with geishas shaving their faces seems to be an unusual punishment. Until, that is, Todo turns up with a goldfish bowl full of piranhas which he starts slowly pouring into the bath…

But between Louie’s determination to make the French Mandate too hot for Koji if she allows innocents to die and the site of Jake’s bare chest, the Princess decides to take charge in her own way. However, before she leads her troops to Petit Bijou to exterminate the mercenaries who have forged her symbol, she’s just going to strip off and climb into Jake’s tub with him where, cornered at long last, he’s just going to have to submit to her fucking his brains out. Still, Pat Ryan never complained…

And so to the island, where the forces split up, and I had the first inkling that I knew exactly why things weren’t entirely kosher. Though for a moment I wavered towards the possibility of the mastermind being the red-headed Phyllis herself, out to screw her family for a cool half-billion bucks, my first suspicion was right: this was all set-up by Alan himself, out to trouser the cheque, and not for the first time either, the lothario.

Having stepped out into the open, Alan does a deal for Princess Koji’s co-operation, half the ransom in return for letting him get away, and kill all the witnesses. Unfortunately, this was where the plot slipped. I mean, it was all pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes, with Jake and Louie having their heads chopped off by Todo in one of those not-quite-in-plain-sight set-ups that’s a dead giveaway that you’re not seeing what you’re supposed to think you’re seeing leading up to a surprise attack from Jake and the cliched grapple-for-the-gun-which goes-off-and-kills-the-baddie, and all because Koji wasn’t going to jeopardise her French Mandate holdings for a measly quarter-million, but the logic was non-existent, since the moment Alan took his knife away from Phyllis’s throat, she could have had Todo stitch him up in a instant without going through this purposeless charade. Take three ticks off your homework there.

Then it’s back to Bora Gora where the still despondent Corky has worked miracles in  restoring, and repainting the Goose. Not even Jake’s pointing out that Corky has, not once but at least twice, built the Goose up from salvaged scrap to a beautiful flying machine, and that it would be wrong to even think of letting another mechanic touch her: Jake is only her pilot, but she’s Corky’s plane: no, none of this will shift him. Come the next Clipper, he’s going. He’s gad enough of being babied and will not burden his friends a moment longer than he has to.

But we all know that things will be reset, and the fact we never saw Corky get boozed up will be the key to it. And Jake now has the explanation that lets Corky off the hut: Alan put him out, with ether stolen from Louie’s medical kit. Let’s face it, there isn’t enough booze in the whole Monkey Bar to get Corky that blitzed!

It’s a decidedly dodgy joke that’s a sign that normal comic relief service is being resumed and that this will never come up again in what remains of the series, but that scene where Corky rejects any more help, and determines to be responsible for what he’s done was still performed, and will stick in the mind as a moment that showed that even the most deliberately shallow of shoes can go into deep water and can swim.