friday diary

The academy goes literary, literature goes anime.  There’s no catching up with some classics.

(c) Robin Matthews

With delighted hilarity, the Paradoxes are proud to report a case of due respect for one of the fantasy greats.  The Guardian Book Club has chosen for this month’s read/discussion the thirty-seventh Discworld novel.  That means unfettered glee for lovers of comic fantasy (read: Terry Pratchett fans) as Terry Pratchett talks with The Guardian about Unseen Academicals.

Say that title aloud, savor the promise it holds.

Already, book guru John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London, has discussed two great themes in fantasy–rules and jokes.  ‘Fantasy fiction,’ he writes, ‘is pedantically attentive to the rules governing its characters’ powers, and the dangers that test them.’  Proper alignment of the rules of a fantasy world, with studious breaking of them, buttress and house the tension of fantasy plot.

But, Mullan adds, ‘A joke is an intervention that the author cannot resist.’  The hallmark Pratchett joke, he explains, is ‘ to insert into tales of magic and mythical beings characters with unremarkable faculties and a colloquial turn of phrase.’  The rule is, subvert the rules.

It comes as no surprise that Pratchett’s book deals with Rules.  Mullan writes:

[T]he central joke is that the academics are forced by an obscure condition in a bequest to the university to take up the brutal and brutish sport of “foot-the-ball”. But it is more amusing than this, for what we see at the beginning of the book is a mindless, rule-less sport played in the street by large masses of people. With the help of Nutt, who becomes their adviser and trainer, the academics will turn this warlike scrimmaging into a game with shape, speed, and an unintelligible offside law.

Typical, beautiful, vintage Pratchett.  Pratchett himself explains that he wrote the book in response to Tolkien’s orcs.

They were totally and irrevocably bad [Pratchett said]. It was a flat given. No possibility of redemption for an orc, no chance of getting a job somewhere involving fluffy animals or flowers.

Must a tribe of creatures be of necessity evil, or could the leopard change his shorts?  ‘We have seen the world from space,’ Pratchett said, ‘and it isn’t flat.’

While fantasy might be taking on the academy, part of the academy has reverted to fantasy.  Uli C. Knoepflmacher, the distinguished Princeton scholar of fairy tales and children’s stories, an authority on George MacDonald, has written and illustrated a children’s fairy story of his own.  Adam Grybowski of has interviewed Knoepflmacher about the book, Franny, Randy, and the Over-the-Edge Cat Person.

It’s the story of orphaned twins, who strike an unlikely friendship with a magical old cat lover–a re-imagination, in fact, of the Jewish folktale hero Elias the Prophet.  Knoepflmacher acknowledges his literary debt both to E. B. White and Rudyard Kipling.  But it’s hard not to see himself in the story.  He describes himself as ‘a child with white hair’, and freely admits that he is an ‘over-the-edge cat person’.  The cat in the pictures is his.

With any good fortune at all, this Holocaust survivor turned acclaimed scholar turned storyteller may have spun a tale as lasting as any he’s studied.  Brace yourself for a thoughtful dose of classic marchen, whimsy, and chutzpah.  Knoepflmacher has enjoyed the adventure.

He’s found the transition from critic to author “tremendously satisfying,” he says. “It’s more of a continuum than you might think.”


Meanwhile, another children’s story is moving a different direction.  As seen in the Palantir, Studio Ghilbli announced this week plans to adapt Mary Norton’s neglected classic The Borrowers for screen.  About the seventh such adaptation of the book.  But this time, it’s anime.

Apparently, the legendary director Hayao Myazaki has dreamed of adapting the beloved story of his childhood for most of his career.  Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty) will fulfill that dream.  The story’s setting will be contemporary Japan, instead of 1950s England, and seems to be based on Myazaki’s recollections of the book, rather than the book itself.  But those recollections sound spot on.

There is an old house where two old women live [producer Toshio Suzuki explained at a press conference], one is the owner and the other is her housemaid. As they are old, the house and the garden are a little wasted. It is there where a small human family lives; father, mother and their 14 years old daughter, and they have the rule never to be seen by normal human being. One day a 12 year old boy moves into the house to get health therapy and is on that day that the 10 cm tall girl Arrietty is seen by the boy.

The studio remains optimistic about the power of a children’s story.  According to the Japan Times, ‘I think the film will give viewers suggestions about how to survive this tough time,” Suzuki said.’

Perhaps by borrowing thimbles from people very much bigger than we are?  Or by writing children’s stories of our own?  The rule, of course, is laughter.


One thought on “friday diary

  1. Pingback: ‘it’s not about football’ « The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond

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