Random Box 01: Silicon Valley and Cinderella

sort of…

My sister and I binged the first season of Silicon Valley over 4th of July weekend. I’m a fan, even if Erlich drives me nuts.

Last night I had a dream that Jared (the one who knows what a business plan looks like) was actually an evil mastermind who took over Pied Piper from the inside once they were funded. Maybe not great storytelling, but it was pretty entertaining. Dreams are weird.

What my subconscious did with Silicon Valley is something I do for kicks with friends —  armchair revisions of tv or movies. How would you fix that one episode? Or, if they just didn’t tack five endings on… etc… etc…

Now theoretically,  outside of our modern era of global media and mass distribution, my revisions could be heard/consumed with as much authority as my voice could lend them. But because I’ll never get to remake Silicon Valley, Jared will never take over the world outside of my subconscious. Not that I really want him to.

But this is something I think about a lot — the definitive power of ‘permanent’ stories. What does it mean that one version of a story is definitive? How does that effect our culture? And what are the virtues of the mediums that don’t create static stories?

Obviously live theater is where it’s easy to see mutable stories. Different people in different costumes bring different interpretations and allow a certain life that something like a film is denied. It’s something I love about the traditional ballets  — I’ve seen Swan Lake with a bunch of different endings. But of course, when you start doing film versions of stage shows, the film gets a permanence (and from that permanence authority), denied to live theater.

Hence mixed feelings for the forthcoming version of Macbeth. (Okay, I’m mostly excited, but…)

Inevitably, this is tied to representation. One of the reasons it’s important to see diverse representation in popular culture is that we only get so many definitive versions of stories right now — a couple popular movies, a tv show — overpowering thousands of versions retold to small audiences. If you are an American talking about Cinderella — you’re probably going to think of the new Disney or old Disney versions. Maybe something like Ella Enchanted or Cinder or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister will come to mind. Imagine the world if this were the definitive version of Cinderella (by Lauren K. Moody — it’s short, go read it), the Disney version so to speak.

It’s a different world.

Anyway. Penny for your thoughts?

Box 14 – Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters

This box is another chosen to expand my reading horizons. This is the first Terry Pratchett novel that I’ve read. I knew going in that I would like his style. The worry now is how I’m going to offer a variety of titles on this blog when all I want to read is more Pratchett.

But, we’ll deal with that day to day. For now: Welcome to our newest box: Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters.

I started here because a dear friend and Pratchett fan suggested it. He guessed that I would love the three formidable witches of the title. He guessed quite correctly. Now, I am new to the universe of the Disc, so bear with me.

From here on, expect SPOILERS.

So, the Wyrd Sisters are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Oog and Magrat (the young one). All three are witches and they never meddle in politics or anyone’s lives. Until they start rescuing babies, standing up to tyrants, playing with time itself and, of all drastic things, encouraging the theater. I think that will be enough to go on with. While this may seem a strange laundry list rather than a plot, the plot itself has an abundance of perspectives and switchbacks. So I don’t think I could really do it justice without using “and then..” often.

Speaking of perspectives: Pratchett seems to casually add POVs wherever he feels like it. This makes for a rich story that feels like a collaboration between all the various people of the kingdom of Lancre. One of the several reasons this works is that rather than name the many temporary POVs, they are called by their professions: the steward, the guardsmen, the taxman, etc…

Lesson #1: We don’t need a name for the steward. What we do need is to clearly understand what the steward’s place is in the story, and the perspective from which he views our story’s central players. Just using the profession is a useful shorthand in a book that bounds delightedly from one POV to the next. 

Next we’re going to talk about high school English classes. I don’t know about you, but mine spent quite a lot of time on literary elements such as metaphor, simile, hyperbole and all the rest. You could easily build a highly entertaining and educational class on the use of the English language with this book. There would be ample examples of just about any literary element you could wish for.

Lesson #2: Just because it is very easy to write a bad simile, doesn’t mean you can’t write a good one. I would suggest digging up an old list of literary terms from your high school lit class (or use this one) and have a treasure hunt in this book. It was a brilliant refresher for me. 

Now, this book is not precisely a retelling, an adaptation, a parody, or even an homage, but throughout it we seem to be ducking in and out of Macbeth (with the occasional excursion into King Lear and Hamlet. And despite this, we do get a happy ending). You don’t necessarily need to be familiar with those plays to enjoy the book, but it didn’t hurt. We get a play within a book, the king’s ghost looking for revenge over a “foul and unnatural murder,” several “is this a dagger?” moments and a continual Lady M reference with the villain. And of course, there are the witches. Three of them. That’s naming a mere handful, but you get the idea.

Lesson #3: A story doesn’t have to be a direct correlation to one myth or fairytale or Shakespearean plot, in order to deliberately draw from those subjects. 

The last corner of this box holds some human history. Shakespearean plays are heavily referenced, but so too is a time period slightly before Shakespeare’s heyday. During the events of Wyrd Sisters, the permanent theater is born (the Disc, incidentally, since they don’t live on a globe…). Sprinkled in with the magic and mayhem is a lot of specific historical reference to the development of theater during the English Renaissance.

Lesson #4: When I look at historical inspiration for fantastic fiction I tend to look at weaponry and the development of political systems. But the search should be expanded to when x sort of painting developed or a modern banking system. How exactly did telegraph towers, irrigation channels, the waltz, three masted schooners or the tulip exchange work? And what were the social ramifications and influence surrounding each?

I zipped through this book and loved it. And I learned and relearned a nice handful of writing tricks from it. Whether you’re writing comedy or not, you can’t go wrong looking at the craft in Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. Thanks for reading and see ya’ll next week!