Archive for May, 2010

Charlie in the White House: Roald Dahl’s unwritten sequel

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised to discover recently that there was to be a third book in Roald Dahl’s Charlie series, titled Charlie in the White House. It would’ve furthered the story started in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and continued in the considerably-less-well-known Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

It’s unknown what Charlie in the White House would’ve been about, beyond the obvious implied in the title. In Glass Elevator Charlie and Willy Wonka rescue an American space hotel overrun by Vermicious Knids (among other things; the scariest and therefore best part of the book comes when one of Charlie’s grandparents takes too many age-reversing pills and has to be rescued from Minusland, a gloomy underworld inhabited by the Gnoolies), and in recognition of their feat they’re invited to visit the White House by President Lancelot R. Gilligrass, a buffoon in the thrall of his strict nanny.

Presumably Willy Wonka would’ve mindfucked Gilligrass a little more in Charlie in the White House but Dahl only wrote one chapter, which is apparently on display in the Roald Dahl Museum in England. Unfortunately they don’t have said chapter available on their website – a shame, since there must be a tonne of adults out there with fond Charlie memories (like me!) who’d love to know what Dahl had in store for him next. Maybe next time I’m in England I’ll pop in and ask to have a quick read.

(Pictured: the Glass Elevator cover I had as a child. Probably the only Dahl book I owned that wasn’t illustrated by Quentin Blake.)

Book review: Coraline and Other Stories, Neil Gaiman

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

The last time I reviewed a Neil Gaiman book I noted that his authorial voice is one that people seem to either like (usually a lot) or they don’t. But, I don’t get how you wouldn’t like it! His writing is conveniently tailored to fit my interests: it’s imaginative, clever, eerie and a little bit creepy.

Coraline, I think, I would’ve been into bigtime as a kid: I loved (and still love) stuff that was scary but not gruesome, and Coraline fits into that niche with classics like The Witches. (Sidenote: I must’ve read The Witches a hundred times as a kid. I subsequently developed a terror of women with seashell noses, and I can’t wait for Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation.)

Much like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Coraline is about a young girl who ventures into a strange land, but where Wonderland is eccentric-creepy, Coraline’s otherworld is creepy-creepy. It’s ruled by the Other Mother, a sinister matriarch with buttons for eyes. Gaiman smartly declines to reveal too much about the origins of the Other Mother and her powers, or about the nature of the mirror world Coraline winds up in, and it’s the mystery that makes it spooky.

Also highly recommended: Henry Selick’s film adaptation of Coraline, which is also wonderful.

My copy of Coraline is part of the Bloomsbury Phantastics range, and includes several of Gaiman’s short stories. Some of them I’ve previously read, either online or in Fragile Things, but even the ones I’d come across before are definitely worth re-reading. The highlights are Sunbird, about an epicurean club whose members decide to eat a phoenix; October in the Chair, which ties nicely with The Graveyard Book; and Don’t Ask Jack, a genuinely unsettling tale about a spooky jack-in-the-box and its effect on the lives of the children who own it. (It’s one of the shortest stories in the collection, but also the scariest.)

I realise that at this point it’s cliche to profess one’s adoration of Gaiman, but: he is such a great writer.

The difference between British and American cartoons

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

… is exemplified by the opening theme songs of the respective British and American adaptations of the children’s book series What-a-Mess, about a short and scruffy Afghan hound.

The British theme song is kind stylish and catchy (sadly you must visit YouTube to watch the clip, on account of some jerk disabling the embed function. HATE).

The American theme song does not compare:

It rings of “generic wackiness” rather than “delightful quirkiness”, which is pretty typical of lots of American cartoons. (Not that all American children’s animation of inferior quality – I have very fond memories of some US cartoons, while there was plenty of off-putting stuff that came out of the UK.)