THE USE OF ARTHURIAN LEGEND IN HOLLYWOOD FILM: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings by Rebecca and Samuel Umland argues that Arthurian films are less faithful adaptations than borrowing bits and pieces of Arthur for their own purpose, which may be comedy, epic, propaganda or melodrama (they don’t deny that print writers have been doing the same for centuries before Hollywood). Thus Alan Ladd’s The Black Knight reflects the cold war (he fights to expose domestic enemies undermining the kingdom), The Fisher King uses the Grail Quest to explore manhood and male bonding, Modred is often the villain but rarely the product of incest and Connecticut Yankee adaptations emphasize humor and anachronism over Twain’s social commentary. Setting aside my own familiarity with Arthur and movies (so a lot of what they have to say I already know) this isn’t bad and did make a few useful points (The Bing Crosby Connecticut Yankee is the only one that isn’t set in the same era as the movie audience). Very heavy on academese, though.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE Or the Children’s Cruasde by Kurt Vonnegut unsurprisingly works much better than the movie: this bounces back and forth far more rapidly and to many more places, creating a much weirder adventure than the film presents (though given how much impact the firebombing of Dresden had on Vonnegut, I’m surprised he spends so little time on the event itself). On the downside, it’s even more sexist—Billy’s wife is treated more unpleasantly (at least in the film it seemed like he cared for her) and lover Montana Wildhack seems like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Entertaining, but severely flawed.
FLASHMAN: From the Flashman Papers, 1839-1842 by George MacDonald Fraser takes a supporting character from the Victorian once-a-classic Tom Brown’s Schooldays and follows him into adulthood (well, 19) as he joins the Army and becomes part of the disastrous First Afghan War (disastrous for England, that is). While Fraser is great at historical detail and avoiding infodumping, the real hook is a protagonist who puts the “anti” in antihero. Flashman is a bully, a toady (quite willing to kiss ass when need be), a liar, a cheat, a complete coward and thoroughly selfish—much more believable than the antihero of Prince of Fools but thoroughly unlikable (and that’s not even mentioning that he’s a rapist, though that probably didn’t stand out for readers then the way it does for me now). Interesting to read, though I don’t know I’ll read another.
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan is a surprisingly dull book given how much I enjoyed the same author’s Onxy Court series. The protagonist is stock (Victorian woman who dreams of More Than a Woman’s Place) and the story is interchangeable with hundreds I read as a kid, except for having a Plucky Woman on the adventure instead of a Plucky Boy. Adding dragons to the world doesn’t freshen it up any.