A Christmas Miscellany

Just a short entry to share some gems of Christmas 2013.

docsavageDoc Savage – Man of Bronze #1 (Dynamite Comics)
Dynamite continues its trend of bringing classic pulp and adventure heroes to modern comics with modern comic art. The result is a triumph. I’m not a huge Doc Savage fan. I’ve read a couple of the books, and actually watched the entire movie with Ron Ely. On second thought, maybe I am a huge fan. Who else would sit through that movie? For the uninitiated, Doc is a genius and a superb athlete, one of a team of heroic geniuses who’ve pledged themselves to help those in need. All of them are engineers or scientists, all are capable of discovering the solution to a complex technical problem and thus saving the day. They’re idealists, too. Doc believes that criminal behavior is merely a disease and can be cured. It’s a very American concept. They’re both intellectuals and jocks (celebrating the American worship of both sports figures and men and women of science), their headquarters is on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building (celebrating both capitalism and technological advancements) and they have a healthy dislike of involving the legal authorities when solving problems (celebrating the American spirit of independence, even from American government.) The artwork is beautiful, and the writing crisp and entertaining. This is a promising series that I intend to keep following.

oliverOliver Twist, or the Parish Boy’s Progress by Charles Dickens
My libertarian friends and acquaintances don’t tend to care for Dickens. Especially in works like A Christmas Carol, he tends to advocate living for the benefit of others, and he dwells on the plight of the poor. Nevertheless, he develops characters wonderfully, and he’s witty in a stuffy way. I find myself not struggling at all to read my daily allotment of Oliver’s adventures, and I find that this past week, when I’m forced to do things other than read (the humanity!) I’m generally thinking how much I’d rather be reading Oliver Twist just then. Oliver Twist is not just a screed on the state of orphanages and the condition of the poor in England in the 19th Century, and it’s not an apology for the criminal behavior of some of the poor. It’s a tale that I think most of us can sympathize with, since we’re all born into a world which tends to send us where we don’t want to go, force us to carry labels we don’t want to carry, and demand that we pay for sins we did not commit. As I’m plotting a handful of Arbiter Chronicles shorts right now, I’m struck by the similarities between Oliver and Jan Atal or Terry Metcalfe. Strangely, in my eyes, more Atal than Metcalfe.

Being an example of 19th Century literature, it’s rife with plot devices like coincidence, and told through complex and laborious sentences. A lot of modern readers equate such things with bad writing, but I don’t agree. Complex sentences can be fun to decode, and coincidences do happen. I think it’s a little silly to leave them out of our stories entirely. One reflection, on the subject of Oliver being an example of an impoverished hero, and that’s that he’s not a very good example of an impoverished hero. After all, he learns he’s really born of a wealthy family. So it must have been no surprise, to readers of the time, that he succeeds in life where his cohorts like Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger do not. After all, he’s nobility, “good stock,” favored by the gods. He’s even more cliche than a Horatio Alger hero, because he doesn’t truly rise from nothing. But then, none of the meaner poor in A Christmas Carol were visited by ghosts out to reclaim their souls, either. Only Scrooge was expected to better himself, because he was upper class. For all that some might hold him up as a friend of the working man, Dickens was a classist who seems to have heartily endorsed the concept of noblesse oblige: “Of course I’ll give you food and money. It’s my job, because I’m better than you are!”

Still, great fun. Dickens was a wonderful storyteller. Third, and last, you have to have music to read by, don’t you? (Don’t you? I do. It helps me focus. Reading, for me, can be challenging. I have to get my brain to put aside distractions, to shut up and stop spinning so I can be receptive to the author’s words. Music helps me do that. It’s a bit like using some cutting oil when you’re sawing metal–it lets you glide over the rough bits.)

cc1984A Christmas Carol (Original Television Soundtrack by Nick Bicat)
So, yeah, even though it’s every libertarian author’s dream to write a version of A Christmas Carol that shows the dangers of altruism (and L. Neill Smith has written one), I still love the George C. Scott film version from 1984. Directed by Clive Donner, it features Scott and David Warner as the Scrooge and Bob Cratchitt, and these film legends bring an extra layer of dignity and likeability to their roles. Scrooge, in this version, is not a pathetic old man who’s frightened into obeying the ghosts, he’s a guy who evolved into what he is, and who’s capable of learning where he went wrong, and how it would benefit him to change. Even when he’s being a bastard in this movie, I still like him, which makes it understandable why his long-suffering nephew (Roger Rees) won’t give up on him. And I don’t think any actor has ever invested in Cratchitt the sense of strength and optimism that Warner brings to the role. He’s not some poor slob who’s defined by how much life has kicked him around, he’s a man who’s doing the best he can, and, despite hardship, considers himself “a truly happy man.”

But enough about the film. It’s the soundtrack I’m really enjoying this Christmas season. I watched the movie, as I do annually, in early December, while wrapping some gifts. I’ve always loved Nick Bicat’s score for it, and it occurred to me that, hey, everything is available on CD now… So I checked the forums at Film Score Monthly  (Hey! They’ve got a clip of Patrick Doyle in the studio this week!) and discovered that, while you can’t buy it on Amazon, you can buy a CD or MP3 downloads directly from Mr. Bicat himself, at his website. This was a great find. I’ve driven the family crazy listening to it over and over.

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