In my write-up of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I said that,
if done right, I could totally get behind the upcoming five-part Harry Potter-prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie-franchise, as it (supposedly) expands the Harry Potter-universe, while leaving The Boy Who Lived the hell alone.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the movie) did just that: set in the 1920s, we follow Newt Scamander (wizard, magical zoologist, author) through New York, where he has to recapture the Fantastic Beasts that escaped from his magical suitcase. With subplots setting up something much bigger and darker that will have to be resolved in the next four installments. Just a few mentions of Hogwarts and Dumbledore, but that is it.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, J.K. Rowling’s first screenplay, is the original screenplay of the movie in book form. (“Well, duh!”) It is perfectly readable, and from what I remember, pretty close to the movie. Would I have preferred a proper novelization instead of a screenplay? I dunno. (Will we get one? Perhaps, once the series has played out.) I do know it was good fun.
- Book read
- J.K. Rowling — Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
- First line
- SCENE 1
EXT. SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE—1926—NIGHT.
A large, isolated, derelict chateau emerges from the darkness.
If it hadn’t been for my “thou shalt not put any books by authors of whom you have already read any work on thy list” rule, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Simarillion would most certainly have made my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday. It has that certain je ne sais quois, that mythical do-not-read-it-is-boring thing going on.
The Simarillion sets up the mythology of Middle Earth in five parts. Therefore, you do not get lots of character development or plot, but a huge smothering of backstory to The Lord of the Rings:
- Ainulindalë (“The Music of the Ainur”), in which we learn that in the beginning there was nothing, and in the nothing there was Eru, who is also called Ilúvatar, who first created the Ainur, and who through song created Eä, the “world that is.” It’s Tolkien’s creation myth.
- Valaquenta (“Account of the Valar”), the second part, gives a description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural powers in Eä.
- Quenta Silmarillion (“The History of the Simarils”), is the meat of the book. Set before and during the First Age, it a bloody chronicle of the rise and fall of Melkor.
- Akallabêth (“The Downfall of Númenor”), relates the history of Númenor and its people, which takes place in the Second Age. It also tells of its doom, brought about by Sauron and the pride of men.
- The final part, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, is a primer of how the events in The Lord of the Rings came to be.
Despite the nearly biblical tone used and the names — Oh! My! Freakin! God!, the names. ALL THE NAMES. All the names, all the time. It is rare for one character to have just one name. They have a name, and then they do a thing, and they get called something else based on that thing they did, and then there is an elvish way to say that name, but being the son of such and such they have the name of their fathers as well, and several other besides. One of the appendices is register of names, and by the Holy Mother of All Things Bright and Shiny, do you need it. — I found The Simarillion a quite enjoyable read.
But fear not! I do not think that you absolutely need to read it, unless you are one of those persons who is like super deep into stuff and needs to know like every bit of canon and lore there is to get maximum enjoyment of the thing you are perusing (i.e., you are a super-nerd). Sure, you might then not know where Sauron came from, or why pointy-eared elf-boy spoke with awe of a Balrog of Morgoth, or why Aragorn is so awesome, but like I said, unless you are really into stuff like that and cannot take things for granted, you might not give a damn anyway.
Or you could just watch a video explaining most of the book in four minutes:
- Book read
- J.R.R. Tolkien — The Silmarilion
- First line
- There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.
It is 1974, we are in South America, and witness Josef Mengele sending several SS-officers on a mission, which, if successful, should bring about the Fourth Reich. Elderly Nazi-hunter Yakov Liebermann gets tipped off, and we follow him while he tries to figure out what is happening, and then, trying to stop it.
My problem with Ira Levin’s 1976 thriller The Boys from Brazil is, quite frankly, that it was written in the 1970s, and I read it in 2017. Knowing what I know, a thriller about Mengele cloning Hitler (96 times), and arranging for these clones to have an upbringing similar to Hitler’s so that they would grow up just like him, well, it just does not have the same bite. I mean, cloning is not, as it would be in the ‘70s, indistinguisable from magic. Mengele is dead. The posed threat just is not that threatening anymore.
That said, it was a cracking read. You get pieces of information, you try to figure out just what the heck is going on, and it all slowly falls into place, and you are all, like, well I’ll be damned. That was fun. Then Mengele goes out to save what there is to be saved of his masterplan that is falling apart, and we get to worry about Liebermann. Sen from our technological advanced point of view, it is adorably cute to see there prehistoric Luddite cluelessly go about their business. The Boys from Brazil might be dated and not have aged terribly well, but it sure was entertaining me.
- Book read
- Ira Levin — The Boys From Brazil
- First line
- Early one evening in September of 1974 a small twin-engine plane, silver and black, sailed down on to a secondary runway at Sao Paolo’s Congonhas Airport, and slowing, turned aside and taxied to a hangar where a limousine stood waiting.
Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again got me.
There are plenty of reasons why the book should not work: most importantly, the story is completely bonkers — it’s 2024, the word is in shambles, and a former special-ops soldier gets involved in a plot set up by Sir Isaac Newton to travel back in time to 1914, in order to prevent the Great War from happening, which should Make Everything Great Again. As we all know, time travel is never that simple.
Also, our main hero seems a bit underdeveloped. He’s basically James Bond on steroids, but with loads of baggage. You see: he lost his wife and kids. Which makes him a Big Sad. All. The. Freaking. Time. Anyhow, he gets talked into going back in time. Which leads to a (probably well-researched) romp through 1914’s Europe, with lots of attention to detail and what-ifs and alternate history scenarios. But that whole set up takes a lot of time, leading to a somewhat rushed finale.
And that finale, that’s where he got me. Turning the whole thing upside down, time and time again.
No, Time and Time Again isn’t a particularly great book. But despite its flaws, it is very entertaining.
- Book read
- Ben Elton — Time and Time Again
- First line
- In Constantinople, on a bright chill early morning in June 1914, Hugh Stanton, retired British Army captain and professional adventurer, leant against the railings of the Galata Bridge and stared into the waters below.