Tag Archives: Jennings

Jennings, a Genius and television: books read

JENNINGS AND DARBISHIRE by Anthony Buckeridge wraps up that omnibus volume TYG bought me, as Jennings and Darby’s efforts to launch a Form Three newspaper leads to stuffing a parcel of fish up the chimney, wandering on the Sussex moors in the dead of night, trying to master algebra, eating way too many donuts and learning the dark secrets of Mr. Wilkins’ past. While I don’t feel the urge to seek out any more of the series just now, this was a fun one to wrap up with.

EVIL GENIUS by Catherine Jinks is a bizarrely engaging twist on that popular figure of Y/A and younger fiction, the Precocious Kid Too Smart To Fit In. The perpetually frustrated, outcast Cadel discovers he inherited his brains from his supervillain father, who then enrolls Cadel at the equivalent of Evil Hogwarts to train him into a master criminal. This is a lot of fun, though it runs out of steam at the end — the action packed climax doesn’t fit the rest of the book, and Cadel spends much of it acted upon rather than acting.

I read WELCOME TO THE DREAMHOUSE: Popular Media and the Postwar Suburbs by Lynn Spigel primarily because her chapter on paranormal sitcoms such as Mork and Mindy is relevant to Alien Visitors. Spigel’s thesis, which my friend Ross had told me about, is that the sitcoms subvert the cliches about suburban life much the way an ethnic family might have done in the 1950s — The Addams Family, for example, shows that while the Addams are unfailingly friendly and helpful to the neighbors, their utter nonconformity makes them outcasts.

Despite Spigel’s academic writing style, the rest of the book proved interesting too. Spigel discusses how TV was initially presented as a way to stay home with the family while seeing the world, the influence on family dynamics, the use of sitcom images as a version of historical reality, and The Truman Show‘s take on suburban domesticity as a trap.

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Books read from various series

PEACE TALKS: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is a disappointing return to the series after six years away. Part of the disappointment is that there’s no warning this and the upcoming Battle Ground are one large story in two volumes, which makes the Big Menace showing up midbook and the abrupt, unresolved ending unsatisfying (it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger as much as just chopping the book in two at the middle).

The novel starts out great as everything goes wrong for Harry (except his love life, because he and Murph are finally getting it on). Lovecraftian entities are hunting him. The White Council wants to expel Harry, leaving him vulnerable to anyone with scores to settle. Cops are investigating some of Harry’s past actions. The Fae Mab has ordered Harry, as her Winter Knight, to provide three services to a vampire queen, no matter what she asks. And all this while Harry’s working security for a conference of the supernatural world’s powers, none of whom get along well. And then Harry’s vampire brother Thomas suddenly attacks and almost kills a leader of the svartalfar.

As Thomas has no rational reason to do this, I’d expect the plot to be exposing whoever manipulated/pressured him into the attack. Instead we veer into a caper story like the previous novel Skin Game, with Harry and Thomas’ sister carrying out an elaborate plan to rescue Thomas from magical jail without collapsing the peace conference. I lost interest.

Oh, and the gimmick of Harry having “conjuritis,” where he constantly sneezes up random materializations, feels like something from a Bewitched episode.

By contrast JENNING’S LITTLE HUT by Anthony Buckeridge actually improves on the previous book in the series. Jennings and his friends have taken up building huts on a stretch of school property dominated by a pond and a lot of mud — but it’s conditional on them not getting too messy or into too much trouble. Needless to say, Jennings and Darbishire have problems with those conditions …. Will Mr. Carter notice Jennings walking around all day with a pane of glass? Will Sir Richard Grenville stop the Spanish Armada? Will Atkinson figure out why one Old Boy thinks it’s 1895? I enjoyed this.

ADVENTUREMAN: The End and Everything After by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson (who provided the cover above) is the start of a series, and on paper sounds like something that would work for me: a Doc Savage pastiche (though with a more diverse team of aids) plunged into an adventure straight out of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. Claire Fallon and her son Tommy are fans of the old Adventureman pulp stories, which appear to end with Adventureman and his team defeated. After a woman drops off a mysterious never-before-seen volume about Adventureman (equivalent to Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), Claire suddenly notices Adventureman’s legendary skyscraper HQ standing where an undistinguished tenement should be. And she seems to be growing bigger and stronger and smarter …

The art on this is great, but the story is lacking. It has all the right pieces for a great yarn, but the magic is just lacking, as if there’s no sincerity to the story (that’s a subjective interpretation, not an assessment of Fraction and Dodson’s state of mind). Still, I’ll check out V2 just to see if it improves.

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From schoolboys to soldiers: books

Anthony Buckeridge’s second Jennings book, JENNINGS FOLLOWS A CLUE has Mr. Carter introduce Jennings to Sherlock Holmes, who blows the boy away much as it did me at that age. So naturally, he and Darbishire set out to become the Holmes and Watson of Linbury Court Preparatory School (I had no illusions I could pull that off, just in case you were wondering). What follow are the inevitable misunderstandings and catastrophes as the boys spot crimes and thieves that don’t exist, before the equally inevitable climax in which they redeem themselves by busting a real crook. Not up to Jennings Goes to School, probably because kid detectives is such well-worn ground; fun, though, with more kid slang (I so want the opportunity to call someone a “prehistoric ruin!”) and the debut of General Melville, an Old Linburian who plays a semi-regular role in the series from then on.

TIME AND CHANCE by Alan Brennert has two alt.versions of the same man — one drowning in rage that he never left his small town, one a successful actor who misses the people he left behind — somehow meet and exchange lives only to discover, ultimately, that there’s no life like their own. I watched so many films like this for Now and Then We Time Travel Twice Upon a Time, Quest for Love and Family Man, for instance (all covered in this post) — that this was too familiar for me to really like, even though I read it all the way through. If you haven’t read anything like this before, you might like it better.

THE WAR FILM by Norman Kagan is a small but interesting book that tackles the subject both chronologically — Great War films, WW II, Korea (Kagan sees Korean War films as reflecting America’s awareness it was now the world’s policeman) and ‘nam (the book dates from the early 1970s) and thematically (anti-war films, films about understanding our allies or enemies, war comedies). A good overview, though not deep, with some interesting observations such as the emphasis in 1950s WW II films on the burden of command.

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From Pellucidar to prep school: books

When I first read AT THE EARTH’S CORE years ago, I hadn’t yet read Edgar Rice Burrough’s earlier Princess of Mars and didn’t realize how much they resembled each other. Like John Carter, David Innes enters an alien world — Pellucidar, the land inside the hollow Earth — and becomes enslaved by an alien race. Just as John Carter alienated Dejah Thoris at first by defending her without claiming her as his wife (on Barsoom, that implies he sees her as a whore), David Innes does exactly the same thing when fighting for Dian the Beautiful.

That said, this is a fun book to reread. Innes finances an experimental mechanical mole designed by inventor Abner Perry, but it locks up on its maiden voyage and doesn’t stop drilling until the pass through the Earth’s crust and enters Pellucidar. The perils here include dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, various types of man-apes (in one of Burroughs’ racist moments Innes compares one trace of monkey man to black Africans) and the Mahars, a race of telepathic reptile women (they eliminated their menfolk after developing the secret of parthenogenesis) that preys upon humans. In one scene Innes watches them engage in a ritual feast and seeing their hypnotized prey stand there, letting the mahars rip them apart, is chilling.

Another unique feature of Pellucidar is that with no day and night — the inner-Earth “sun” is a gaseous ball at the Earth’s center that provides constant, unchanging illumination — time ceases to exist. It turns out it’s a purely mental construct; while Innes escapes the Mahars and has multiple adventures, Perry has dinner, sleeps and wakes up, thinking less than a day has passed. There are other nice touches, such as a reclusive culture where your manhood is measured partly by the number of secret routes out of the village you can memorize.

The story does have a better framing sequence than Princess had. It opens with Burroughs meeting Innes after he’s returned from Pellucidar. ERB helps equip him for the journey home, but it’s unclear whether David made it before the neighboring Arabs attacked. Although Burroughs set up a telegraph relay for Innes to communicate with the outer world, we learn in the ending that a sandstorm has wiped out the landmarks in the area; he has no way to find the telegraph and learn if Innes made it back to Pellucidar or not (something resolved in the sequel, of course).

Edited by Kevin McCarthy, “THEY’RE HERE …” Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute proved just as useful for Alien Visitors as it was when I was writing about the film for Screen Enemies of the American Way. One article, for example, points out that no matter what interpretation you put on the ’56 film — anti-communist, anti-conformity, anti-consumerism — it’s success isn’t because of the underlying message but because aliens replacing everyone around you (and you’re next!) is an inherently creepy concept. The assorted essays cover Jack Finney’s career (they paint his nostalgia for the 19th century with affection I don’t share) and interview with Kevin McCarthy (remarkably entertaining), backstage stories on the first three films (this came out right after the 1993 Body Snatchers) and pondering about what the various films mean. Good, though it has its share of dud entries as well.

As a kid, Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings books — about J.C.T. Jennings and his best friend Darbishire and their experiences at Linbury Court Preparatory School — were among my very favorites, reread endlessly. So for Christmas I asked TYG to buy me an omnibus edition of the first four novels, then I spent Boxing Day reading Jennings Goes to School. Here the two protagonists arrive at school, meet the rest of the future cast, learn school slang, play soccer, run away from school, write a mystery novel (“All you have to do is think up some characters and a plot.”) and unintentionally send in a false fire alarm. Buckeridge’s flair for comedy, Wodehouse-style writing and incomprehensible kid conversations (“Isn’t it lucky I’m not him, sir?”) is as much fun as I remember. I was surprised, looking Buckeridge up online, to learn that this was actually written in the 1950s as I assumed them to be contemporary when I read them 15 or so years later. But from the point of view of a pre-teen boy, I guess the world hadn’t changed that much.

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