21 October 2007

Machiavelli in a Skirt

I recently vacationed in a wonderful little parcel of forestland here in the Hoosier heartland and it put me in the mood for a read through Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Unlike most of his books, Stardust slipped by me unnoticed when first published, so I had the unusual pleasure of seeing the movie before reading it.

I liked the movie quite well (see my Stardust movie review: but am delighted that I like the book better. In summary, the book and the movie are like to varied novels of the same subject and time; almost like reading fanfic by the original author, if that makes any sense. Gaiman himself said, "it's astonishingly faithful to the spirit of the book" and I have to agree that it was, without being redundant of the book, which was quite a trick to pull off for what I think was his first-ever adapted book.

In the book, the slave-girl Una comes off as much more of a mover and shaker than she does in the movie, where she only seems moved and shaken upon. And that's a pity; for she was one of the most marvelous of Gaiman's female creations, even better than the redoubtable Aunts of Anansi Boys. As the various plot threads came together in the book - in a way the movie bypasses - her subtle, subtle role as a shaper of the politics of Faerie and superlative schemer come to light. Only Morgaine of the Mists of Avalon has struck me in memory as more of a Machiavellian Faerie. On the other hand, the Captain Shakespeare's character was considerably more watery in the book; I much enjoyed the conflicts in the man as played by De Niro in the movie, and the interactions between he and his crew.

One pleasure I had in the reading was to get a peek into Gaiman's writing process, via his prologue that revealed that the story of Stormhold and Faerie was originally just a backdrop for a book he'd envisioned of the inhabitants of Wall, the faux-normal town at the edge of Faerie. I will look for this story to appear eventually, and hope to read more of this fascinating concept. Also, I'd love to get my paws on the Gaiman-and-Vess graphic novel adaptation to share with my sons.

09 October 2007

Lincoln, Lincoln I've been thinkin'

Reading about the American hero Abraham Lincoln in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, I'm struck by the complexity of his character. And that leads me to wonder: What is a good person? Lincoln was by no means immune to faults; he campaigned to elect Zachary Taylor, a slaveholder, to the presidency, and did a few other questionable things. Was emancipation a political expediency? His relationship to Mary Todd was at some points judged callous. At no time, however, am I inclined to consider him less than a hero of the republic. The vast accomplishments of his presidency, his grace in dealing with morally repugnant choices and his clear vision of the rightness of the American Union subsume all his faults. But, for us ordinary mortals, what faults are subsumable? Is it proportional to the greatness of our deeds?

In any case, the overriding trait of Lincoln's that Goodwin focuses upon is his magnanimity, and consistent adherence to an ethical standard that permitted him to be generous in forgiving past faults in order to align people to his future vision. Quite an interesting read to get so close to such a man as Lincoln by seeing him from the perspective of his peers. Kind of an in situ analysis, vs. the more archeological-style museum pieces that some paeans of Lincoln turn out to be.