Review of JourneyQuest webseries

Long time readers of the blog will be delighted to hear that I have a new obsession. So instead of just hearing about how awesome the Emperor’s Edge books by Lindsay Buroker are, or why you should all drop everything and read Dorothy Sayers, you’ll also get to hear me talk about how much I love JourneyQuest, a fantasy comedy webseries free to watch on YouTube. It’s very unusual for me to find a tv show that resonates so thoroughly with me, but this one manages it. It’s absolutely hilarious. The characters are so interesting, you could just put them in a room for three hours and watch them interact and it’d STILL be worth watching. I recognize that it’s not for everyone – the language is definitely on the “creatively profane” side of things (strongly on that side of things), but for fantasy nerds who don’t mind that part, it’s pure gold.

JourneyQuest features an incompetent, cowardly wizard; a completely thick and reality-oblivious knight; an intelligent orc; a free-spirited bard constantly in trouble for breaking the rules; an elf who’s pretty much fed up with everyone; a priest who was accidentally-sort-of-turned-into-a-zombie (oops); and a barbarian king who’s forcing his heathen ways on his people (free education for everyone!). It’s mostly lighthearted poking fun at fantasy, though the zombie priest character’s story is (somewhat surprisingly) very emotionally compelling. He’s lost everything, and is still clinging to belief in his god’s mercy and forgiveness, in the face of rejection and temptation. They manage to balance the generally light tone while clearly showing his inner despair excellently.

The production values are surprisingly high for a budget internet show, and the world that’s been created is rich and multi-faceted. There’s action, romance, suspense, and long conversations about Orcish grammar in the midst of a fight. What else could you ask for? Watch it for free here.

Both JourneyQuest and The Gamers films (also great) are distributed by Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. As a crazed fan, I’m avidly watching to see when they’ll get the next season of JQ out. As an erstwhile economist, I’m avidly watching to see if their pricing/distribution model is going to work. This is an independent film company, and in the past they seem to have mostly funded their products through KickStarter (A program where you can donate in tiered levels to get varying rewards – e.g. when fully funded and created, your $10 donation gets you a digital download, $25 gets you a dvd, $1500 gets you a cameo in the film, etc.).

They’re currently running “Phase II” wherein they’re trying to move to a subscription model. Fans are asked to pay $10 a month, and the reward system is based on the total number of subscribers, not your contribution. I should note again that, by intention, all of their major productions are free to watch on the internet. This is somewhat similar to paying for a Netflix subscription, even if Netflix were offering all their films online for free.

I had a very long and boring article detailing why I think this won’t work, which I scrapped because it was, well, long and boring. It was fun to put on my Economist hat for a while and use terms like product differentiation, price discrimination, etc., but here’s the bottom line: they’ve set up a pricing system that caters to one rigid fan type – their model assumes all fans are interested in the same rewards, and willing to pay no more and no less than $10 a month for those rewards. This is a problem for fans who aren’t interested in these rewards in exchange for $120 a year, and also a problem because they’re not capturing fans who would be interested in spending more money, or who would be interested in spending $120 a year, but on different rewards/products, or even fans who would be willing to pay $60 a year.

The Kickstarter model as described above works well because it helps differentiate between these fans, and everyone is able to choose at what level to contribute, and in exchange for what.

If ZOE were to ask me (hah!) for some suggestions on increasing revenue without using Kickstarter, I’d suggest a) streamlining their website so you can find what you’re looking for more easily (content is spread out across several different websites, including some broken links) – i.e. make it easy to find things to purchase, and b) have more things to purchase.

Businesses make money by selling solutions to problems or products people want, not by giving away all their content. I do recognize some of the reasons they want to give content away, and I think it’s great. However, I think they should ALSO sell it to the people who would be interested in buying it. There’s no reason not to. Selling digital downloads of all of their content would be an easy step, and people who are tired of navigating episodes on YouTube (plus having to watch the intro/outros for every 10 minute episode) will happily spend $10 bucks to have it in one easy to watch format that can be transferred to their phones, tablets, ipods, whatever. As for myself, I couldn’t find digital versions of everything I wanted on their website (broken link for JourneyQuest, though I did buy The Gamers: Hands of Fate) so I bought the dvds of the first two seasons of JQ, and was happy to do so.

They’ve shunned ads and sponsors in order to keep their artistic integrity and maintain control over their products. That’s very noble, but I think there might be some level of ads/sponsorships that would have been acceptable and could have been a decent source of funding.

Also, I was shocked that there’s not more merchandise – they have some, but not much. It’s super easy to set up a CafePress or Zazzle store (I did find one of theirs that had some posters in it). These stores handle all the distribution, customer support, etc. and all you really need is some ideas and a basic ability to use photo-editing software. The hard part is the ideas, but they already have a ton of easily translatable ideas. I for one am generally not a t-shirt person, but I would love a “Bravery favors the Brave” t-shirt. It’s a line from an episode (and I think it’s the title as well). Or an “Onward!” shirt. Or maybe “Team Rilk”. That plus a JourneyQuest logo somewhere on it would provide revenue and more word of mouth advertising (word of t-shirt?). Nerds love nerdy t-shirts (see for example ThinkGeek – I buy a lot of Christmas/birthday presents on there), and the more obscure the better. It’s an easy win. It wouldn’t be a huge stream of money – the percentage royalties the stores give you aren’t huge, but if you couple it with an affiliate link it’s nothing to sneeze at, and once you have the ideas the amount of work to put it up once and then do nothing else is pretty small. I’ve been surprised that I’m able to cover the costs of running my site with the revenue from my CafePress store (/shameless plug). They could even let fans design t-shirts.

So anyways, I don’t think that the ZOE “Phase II” will be successful long term, but I hope I’m wrong, or at least that they’re able to find some way to fund JQ Season Three. Like yesterday. I can’t wait!

Do you watch shows on YouTube? What webseries are your favorites?

P.S. Guys, if you’re reading this, please can you make a “bravery” t-shirt? I will totally buy it. Here’s an idea:

Bravery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

 

 

Review of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990) (Jurassic Park Series)

Bottom line: A classic, both in paper and on the screen, that is worth the hype.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .

Review:

I had not read Jurassic Park, nor seen the movie, until a few weeks ago. I’d read maybe one or two other of Michael Crichton’s work, so I was looking forward to getting into this classic – and not just so I could then watch the movie, which I’d been hearing about for years.

Jurassic Park did not disappoint. It’s certainly a Crichton: full of action, a sense of impending doom, slightly flat characters, and very engrossing. As the proud holder of a math degree, I especially enjoyed his portrayal of the jerk-mathematician-academic-rockstar. I thought it started out a little slow in the beginning, building up to the “hey, look, we made dinosaurs!” part, but the beginning pieces did help add to the tension and mystery surrounding the park.

The movie was a fairly stressful for me. I realized about halfway into it that it’s really a horror movie: things jumping out at you from the darkness to rip you apart. Knowing who was going to die and approximately when just made it more tense for me as I waited for the bad things to happen. I don’t think I could watch it again.

I will say that I was completely astonished by how well the twenty year old special effects have held up. Because they used a mixture of puppets/animatronics and CGI (according to my movie consultant/husband), it doesn’t feel as dated as say, the Lord of the Rings movies which are about ten years old and rely much more heavily on CGI, which were perhaps not quite up to the challenge.

The kids in the movie were much more realistic and less annoying than they were in the book, although I thought the lone female academic was wimpier in the movie version. I also enjoyed the book’s more detailed exposition of both the science being discussed and the steps that led to the massive failures of the park. In the movie it was easier to keep track of the different characters – at least for me, since I had a hard time keeping Crichton’s more supporting characters straight in the book.

In all, I’m glad I finally got around to watching such an iconic movie, even though (as usual) the book was better. It was a fun and engaging read, but I don’t feel drawn to the world enough to explore other books in the series.

Get it (Book): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get it (Movie): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

Bottom line: A movie that is 100% fun, and the book that inspired it.

Rating: Strongly Recommended for the movie, Recommended for the book

Blurb:

William Goldman’s modern fantasy classic is a simple, exceptional story about quests—for riches, revenge, power, and, of course, true love—that’s thrilling and timeless.

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

Review:

The Princess Bride movie version gets about 10 out of 5 stars from me. It’s sweet, funny, memorable, and might just be one of my favorite movies of all time. I actually had no idea it was based on a book until very recently, and I had a recommendation for it, so I thought I’d give it a try – not without some trepidation, as in my experience either the book is good or the movie is good, but generally not both, and I was afraid of ruining one of my beloved childhood classics if I hated the book.

The book is quite odd in some respects. It’s framed as an abridgement of (the fictional) S. Morgenstern’s “classic” story of the true history of the nations of Florin and Guilder.  It’s a fairy tale fantasy wrapped in layer upon layer of fiction. I’m a very literal person, and I like there to be a pretty distinct line between fiction and non-fiction. I’m ok with books being framed as “truth” when it’s pretty clear that we’re reading fiction (as in the Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy). But Goldman is telling you the story of his childhood, and about his life with his wife and son, presented as fact. Frankly, he’s kind of a jerk about both of them, and I was relieved to learn that that part was also made up. To me it felt like the difference between a practical joke at someone’s expense, and just a joke – Goldman’s fake narrative of his life feels mean spirited at times. He’s at his best when he’s actually telling the story of the Princess Bride, although I kind of hated that in the book, Buttercup is really, really stupid.

I feel like the movie (which Goldman wrote the screenplay for) kept all the great parts of the book, and smoothed out some of the rougher edges, so that the result is just an incredibly fun, swashbuckling fairytale movie that can make fun of itself. I think the book is worth reading if you were a huge fan of the movie and want to see where it all started, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it in and of itself. I’m still trying to sort through whether I liked it or not – when I finished instead of thinking to myself “Wow, I loved it!” or “That was terrible!” or any of the usual things I think when I’ve finished a book, I thought, “Well, that was different.”

Have you read the book? How much did you love the movie?

Get it – book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get it – movie: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Movie Picks for Winter 2013

I’ll be honest: I don’t get out much. That’s true in general, but more specifically for movies. I don’t really enjoy the whole experience – ads, trailers, uncomfortable chairs, exorbitant prices, annoying seatmates, etc. and since I have a baby, if I’m going to get out of the house without him, I want to do something that I enjoy more.

However, I did see Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) AND The Desolation of Smaug (The Hobbit 2) in theatres (courtesy Nana, babysitter extraordinaire – thanks, Nana!) a few weeks ago (which is two more movies than I’d seen all year) and was reminded that for some movies, seeing it on the big screen does add to the overall experience. It’s also a great thing to do when the weather is miserable, or if the kids are off school and already bored with their Christmas presents.

So here are my top picks for movies currently out.

1. Catching Fire – this was truly amazing. I didn’t have a single moment of wanting to scream, “They messed that up from the book! That’s not how it happened!” Also, the epic-ness of the action and arena and all that really lent itself to the big screen. Plus, we went on a Tuesday evening and there were maybe eight other people in the theatre. Score. (See my review of the first Hunger Games movie here).

2. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (i.e. The Hobbit 2). I saw this in 3D, and it was the first time I saw a feature film in 3D. I HATED it. I found it distracting and annoying. The technology isn’t quite there, and so much of the screen just looks blurry to me. Plus, they add in things, like bees flying at you or whatnot, to be like, “look how great we are! this is in THREE D!” Anyways, this was an excellent movie. I’ve pretty much stopped thinking of this series as “The Hobbit” and am just thinking about it as a way to spend more time in Middle Earth. It did make me want to reread The Hobbit, just to remind myself of how much it was actually changed from the book. For what it’s worth, my non-Tolkein-obsessed husband enjoyed it the most of any of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies. (See my review of the first Hobbit movie here).

3. Thor: The Dark World. I’ve heard mixed review of this, but I’m looking forward to it. I probably won’t get to it before it comes out to rent, but I’ve been really impressed with the whole rash of Marvel superhero movies that have been released in the recent past.

4. Ender’s Game. I know, I know. I’m like months behind on this. See the whole “baby” thing above. But I would still like to see it in theatres, though I realize the odds of that are dwindling – it’s down to two showings locally. (See my review of the book here.)

5. Frozen. I have a baby, ok? Plus it’s by the Tangled team (which Disney is REALLY pushing hard), and I absolutely loved Tangled. I almost certainly won’t get to see this one while it’s out, but it’s high on my rental list.

What about you? What’s on your holiday movie viewing agenda?

 

Short Christmas Mystery

Last night, my mom and I watched The Theft of the Royal Ruby to help get us in the Christmas spirit. It’s a perfect Christmas moment for those of you who like a little crime, and a little 1930’s England thrown in with your “bah, humbugs!”

The Theft of the Royal Ruby is available to watch on both Netflix  (Series 3, Episode 9) and Amazon Instant View (currently free for Prime members), and is part of David Suchet’s fantastic Agatha Christie’s Poirot series.

It’s really fun – Poirot’s quiet Christmas plans are interrupted by a spoiled prince, a stolen ruby, and a plum pudding – and it’s only a TV hour, so you’ll still have time to wrap presents afterwards.

I’m having trouble finding a rating for it, but there’s no language, no sex, and there is only one scene that might be a bit scary for children: a girl is found outside with a knife through her back, and quite a bit of blood. This sounds much scarier than it is, but if you’re not sure about whether your children would find it disturbing, I’d recommend previewing it first (as is always a good idea!). But it is really quite tame and civilized.

What are your favorite Christmas mystery TV shows/movies?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Young Frankenstein (1974) Movie

In celebration of Halloween on Thursday, I’m going to review Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. For those of you who are familiar with Mel Brooks, those four words pretty much tell you all that you need to know. It’s Mel Brooks putting his classic touch on the Frankenstein story. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mel Brooks, I’m sorry for your difficult childhood, and please go watch Spaceballs immediately. The humor is crude, the acting is over the top, the lines are ridiculous – in other words pretty much everything you could ever want in a movie.

If you’re still not sure if this movie is one you’d enjoy, let me give you a hint: my female relatives are reading this and wondering where they went wrong with me, while my male relatives are reading this and thinking “man, it’s been a while, I need to watch it again!” It is certainly the type of movie that you need to be in the mood for – slapstick comedies don’t always fit the bill for an evening in, but it is really funny and showcases some greats: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Khan, and even Gene Hackman has a small bit.

My plans for Halloween are set: dress my baby up as Luke Skywalker, eat candy corn, and watch Young Frankenstein. I’m also wishing I could sedate our dog for the evening, as an anxious terrier plus trick-or-treating kids ringing the doorbell every five minutes is not a happy combination, but that’s neither here nor there.

Side note: It’s rated PG, which by today’s standards is probably technically accurate, but I’d call it more PG-13 lite. Apart from the rauncy bits, there are some parts that might be scary for younger children, so I’d definitely make sure you are very familiar with the movie before deciding whether or not to let your kids watch it.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What’s your favorite Mel Brooks movie? Can’t stand him? Anyone want to watch my dog on Oct. 31?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Firefly (TV Show)

Bottom line: Intense and yet often hilarious – a rare example of a good sci fi show.

Rating: Shiny (Strongly Recommended)

Blurb:

The blurb that follows is lifted from the Barnes and Noble page, and it’s a bit long, but it does a reasonable job of answering the question “but what is it about?

Joss Whedon, the executive producer behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, reached for curious new heights in the fall of 2002 with the Fox series Firefly, and the fruits of his labor are collected in this four-disc set. Set 500 years in the future, Firefly falls in the category of sci-fi space adventure, yet its flavor is rooted in the Wild West. Earth is pretty much spent, and a totalitarian government known as the Alliance rules the planets where most of its earlier inhabitants have spread. Nathan Fillion stars as Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, who fought for independence from the Alliance in a civil war, and now captains the Serenity, a ship of outcasts. His crew includes his second-in-command Zoe Gina Torres, a pilot named Wash Alan Tudyk, engineering maven Kaylee Jewel Staite, and career soldier Jayne Adam Baldwin. Also aboard are Inara Morena Baccarin, a highly respected prostitute; a preacher known as Shepherd Book Ron Glass, of Barney Miller fame; and a mysterious pair of siblings — Simon and River Tam — portrayed by Sean Maher and Summer Glau, respectively. Although Whedon’s Farscape- meets- Bonanza concept clicked straight away with many fans, the series failed to meet Fox’s ratings needs, and crashed after 11 episodes, all collected here, in addition to a trio of unaired episodes. Fox could not permanently ground this crew, however; Serenity, a big-screen reunion movie directed by writer-producer Whedon, opened in theaters in September, 2005, drawing generally favorable reviews.

Review:

This show has many things that I would normally hate – there is lots of tension, drama, and unhappiness – but there is also excellent characters, strong morals, and subtly hilarious lines. Essentially, it is Joss Whedon (god of the nerds) at his finest. Shoot, it might be TV at its finest. It was cancelled after eleven episodes, and strong fan outrage prompted a follow up movie, Serenity, which is also amazing, but difficult to watch because there are so many sad moments in it. (Note: Firefly also has its very hard to watch moments. Don’t be scared off: I am a total wimp and want everyone to be happy all the time. Tone-wise it’s very similar to Castle – see my review here.)

So what is it that prompted such a small but incredibly intense following? Everything about it is done well. The casting, acting, writing, special effects, everything is just fantastic. The characters feel like real people and you root for them even when they screw up. Whedon developed the show after reading the book The Killer Angels (strongly recommended, even for non-history buffs, like myself) about the Civil War and wondering what happened to those who fought on the losing side.

This is the kind of show that you find yourself thinking about days, months, even years after watching it. I can’t watch it too frequently because, as I said earlier, it can be dark and there is definitely violence, language, and sex. Even with all of that, it still feels hopeful. Loyalty and family bonds are very strong themes throughout – family being those we are related to, those we gather around us, and those we somehow fell into it with. And if we have our family standing with us, we can face anything.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Are you a Browncoat? Does it sound like something you’d try?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Wimsey Wednesday, Part III: The Seventies Series (Mostly) Satisfies

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. Loyal reader (and father) intexplorer continues his Wimsey Wednesday series. See here for part 1, and here for part 2.

This is the final installment in my Wimsey Wednesday series.  Two weeks ago, I introduced Dorothy Sayers and her fabulous literary creation, Lord Peter Wimsey.  Last week, I reviewed the mid-80’s BBC serializations of three of the four Wimsey murder mysteries that feature Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, mystery writer and the object of his affections.

Today I will review the earliest BBC serialization of some of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.  These were done in the 1970’s and are probably best seen by those who share my not-altogether-unhealthy obsession for the world that Dorothy Sayers created around Lord Peter Wimsey.  These early television adaptations of Lord Peter Wimsey star Ian Carmichael and dramatize five Murder Mysteries during Wimsey’s pre-Vane days as the quintessential “man about town.”

Ian Carmichael, a popular English comic actor, was in his early 50’s when these series were made, and it feels like he is a bit long in the tooth for the part.  Interestingly, Edward Petherbridge was virtually the same age when he played Wimsey, but he doesn’t feel too old.

These pre-Vane stories introduce most of the key supporting characters in Peter Wimsey’s world and also some key parts of his back story.  We learn, for instance, that Lord Peter Wimsey served as an officer in World War I and a sergeant, named Mervyn Bunter, saved his life.  After the war, Bunter looks up Wimsey and secures employment as his Valet.  Also, we learn that Lord Peter suffers from shell shock (what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and, after the war suffered a nervous breakdown.  These (and other) elements from Wimsey’s history make him more full bodied and likable.  I have always wanted to learn more about his nervous breakdown and how he was treated.  The stories reference him recovering on the Continent, but I WANT TO KNOW MORE!

Clouds of Witness

A murder at a hunting lodge during a shoot sponsored by Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, serves as the centerpiece for this unhurried tour through the family of Lord Peter Wimsey.  Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is discovered leaning over the body of the fiancé of Peter’s sister, Mary in the middle of a dark and stormy night.  The Duke of Denver is charged with the murder as he will not offer any comment on why he was out of the house at three in the morning.  Bunter plays a key role in helping Peter save his brother, as does Peter’s good friend, Chief Inspector Parker, of Scotland Yard, who eventually winds up marrying Mary.

Unhurried is an important word to use in describing this series.  The story is told over five episodes, and the viewer gets the chance to enjoy the ride in an unhurried manner.  This loving attention to detail more than makes up for lack of sumptuous production values.  It seems reasonable to me that a series created for television in the early ‘70’s would not be as lavishly produced as were later series (when it was beginning to be understood that television shows had a life beyond their one initial and one repeat showing).

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

An old man is found dead in a gentleman’s club (a real one) on Armistice Day.  It turns out that the old man’s sister died at about the same time, and the question of who died first becomes important to determining how the sister’s considerable fortune is to be distributed.  Lord Peter Wimsey is called in to investigate and is able eventually to unravel the actual sequence of events.

There are at least two things that make this four-part murder mystery especially enjoyable.  The first is that one of the people who helps Wimsey resolve the mystery is an former girlfriend, who is wonderfully played by a very young Phyllida Law (also known as the mother of Emma Thompson).  The second is the very sympathetic portrayal of George, a grandson of the old man.  George is suffering from a very active case of PTSD, and his erratic behavior creates some incredibly poignant and memorable scenes.

Murder Must Advertise

Dorothy Sayers once held a job working as a copy-writer at an advertising agency, and she uses this inside knowledge to create an intriguing murder mystery.  After a copy-writer is murdered at Pym’s Publicity, Wimsey goes to work at the agency, using his two middle names (Death Breedon) as a pseudonym.  The murder turns out to be related to some drug trafficking, and Wimsey has to enter that world to unravel the puzzle.  He plays the part of a mysterious Harlequin, who appears and disappears, apparently at will, to prey on the drug-addled delusions of a young woman, Dian de Momerie, to get to the bottom of the case.  This works well within the confines of the novel, where the Harlequin exists as if in a dream.  The scenes, as played for a television camera, cannot achieve the same mystical quality, and the Harlequin’s appearances detract from this very fine story.

Two interesting cameos: one of the protagonists is played by Christopher Timothy, who later achieved fame as veterinarian James Herriot in the BBC series, All Creatures Great and Small. And, Shirley Cain, who plays one of the typists at Pym’s Publicity, later plays Miss Climpson in the Petherbridge Wimsey Series.

The Nine Taylors

A random driving accident on New Year’s eve leads Peter Wimsey to be pressed into service as a replacement bell-ringer at a country-church as the local vicar fulfills his ambition of performing an epic (and very long) peal.  While there, Wimsey learns of an unsolved robbery from many years ago and a recent mysterious murder.  It turns out that the key to this entire intrigue is unraveled through Wimsey’s knowledge of campanology.

The Five Red Herrings

While vacationing in Scotland, Wimsey meets a colony of artists, one of whom is unusually odious and loathsome.  Mr. Loathsome gets murdered, and any one of six artists is suspected of the crime.  Hence, there are five red herrings and one murderer.  Wimsey eventually sorts it all out and identifies the guilty party. IMHO, this is the weakest of the Ian Carmichael set.  In the book, the story take place during a glorious Scottish summer.  This series was filmed during the winter, and they tried to create a summer ambience.  To me, the landscape looks cold, bleak, and dreich, not warm, vibrant, and glorious.

DVD Series Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Wimsey Wednesday, Part II: Petherbridge Personifies Peter Wimsey

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. Loyal reader (and father) intexplorer continues his Wimsey Wednesday series. See here for part 1.

Last week, in my first ever blog post, I introduced Dorothy Sayers and her most famous literary creation, Lord Peter Wimsey.  There have been two BBC drama series created from her Wimsey Murder Mysteries.  We will discuss the earlier series, from the ‘70’s, next week.  Today, we will discuss the more recent series, made in the ‘80’s.  The three murder mysteries in this series feature Wimsey as the Wooer of Harriet Vane, played to perfection by Harriet Walters.

I’m starting here as these are the Wimsey Mysteries I first started watching.  The production values are high, the sense of London between the two wars seems pitch-perfect, and the casting is mostly perfect.

To me, the mysteries are secondary to the ambience of the stories.  I tend to find murder mysteries somewhat unsatisfying when judged on the technicalities of the cases in question.  Whether it is Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the eventual solution to the mystery is generally something that COULD have happened, but is extremely unlikely to have happened.

Strong Poison

This story starts out with mystery writer, Harriet Vane, on trial for the murder of her former lover.  Lord Peter sees Harriet’s photograph in a newspaper and decides to go to the trial.  Being a Lord, getting into the SRO courtroom seems ridiculously easy.  Wimsey is instantly besotted and sets about proving that Vane is innocent of murder.  He is able to gain time through the helpful obstinance of one juror, Miss Clemson, who holds out for a verdict of innocent.  The fact that she runs Wimsey’s charitable affairs hopefully had nothing to do with her decision.  Wimsey, with lots of help from the loyal Miss Clemson and his faithful Valet, Bunter, is able to eventually work his way through a series of clever encounters, establish the truth, and save the day.

This three-part adaptation ends with an unfortunate editorial decision.  After Vane is vindicated, Wimsey goes to congratulate her (after all, she is the girl he wants to marry), and she coldly turns and walks away.  My wife assures me that the book portrays this final encounter in exactly the opposite manner.

Have His Carcase

After her acquittal, Harriet decides on a walking tour through the West Country.  Her attempt at escapism fails when she finds a blood-soaked man, dead on a rock on the beach.  She notifies the police and then notifies a newspaper man as a means of gaining free publicity for her new novel. By the time the police arrive at the scene of the crime, the body has washed away and the coroner is unable to hold a hearing on the case because of a rule of English law called “Have His Carcase.”  In the meantime, the newspaper man has notified Wimsey, who immediately comes along to offer his assistance.

A panoply of interesting characters is introduced as Wimsey and Vane try to unravel the apparent suicide, and Wimsey woos Harriett at the same time.  Her refusal of Wimsey’s advances creates some helpful dramatic tension: she needs his sleuthing help but seems tired by his persistent proposals of matrimony.  Wimsey and Vane are eventually able to prove that the dead man was murdered and to identify the murderer.  Wimsey doesn’t make much more progress with his wooing of Harriet, but he is able to get her to agree to see him from time to time.

Have His Carcase translates to the screen very well and is, IMHO, the best of any of the filmed Wimsey Mysteries.

Gaudy Night

In this mystery, Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, at Oxford, for an alumna reunion and finds that a “poison-pen-poltergeist” has created an atmosphere of high suspicion and anxiety.  The dons of the college ask Vane to investigate, because of her background as a mystery-writer and their desire to avoid a scandal.  Vane asks Peter for help and they are eventually able to solve the mystery.   More importantly, Wimsey also finally wins the heart and hand of Harriet Vane.

Unfortunately for true Wimsey aficionados, the producer/director did not successfully remain faithful to the core depth of the book.  It is clear in the book that Harriett Vane is Dorothy Sayers, and the psychological self-exploration, combined with some intensely interesting characters (including a nephew of Wimsey, who is matriculating at Oxford as the story unfolds) make for a fabulously entertaining read.

This means that the more you know the underlying story, the more you will cringe at the choppiness and alteration of key moments.  For the less familiar, there are some wonderfully satisfying glimpses of both academic and aristocratic life.

Bonus: Busman’s Honeymoon

The fourth and final Wimsey-Vane novel that Dorothy Sayers wrote is, Busmans Honeymoon, which was originally written and presented as a stage play.  To my eternal regret, the BBC was not able to secure the rights to the play and was, therefore, unable to create a series around it.  This is a major bummer.

In the play (and the thoroughly excellent book), Wimsey and Vane get married, go on honeymoon, and discover a body in the house Wimsey has purchased as a honeymoon present for his new bride.  The exploration of their new relationship as Husband and Wife, including the necessarily-different dynamic with Bunter, the faithful Valet, are beautifully explored, and the mystery, while satisfying, is secondary to the marriage.

My wife and I learned that a theater company in Chicago was staging this play, and our not-entirely unhealthy obsession is such that we flew to Chicago to see it.  To our chagrin, we learned that the company has done each of the Wimsey-as-Wooer mysteries in turn.  To our delight, we learned that the daughter and son-in-law of some great friends from our time in Scotland were members of the theater company, and we randomly bumped into our good friends in the foyer of the theater, before the opening curtain.  This inside connection gave us a chance to hang out with the cast afterwards.

 Series available on DVD: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

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Wimsey Wednesday: an Introduction to a Not-Altogether-Unhealthy Obsession

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. You may recognize today’s guest blogger from the comments as “intexplorer”, but I just call him “Dad”. As you will see, I come by my love of both Dorothy Sayers’ work and alliteration naturally.

When I was a teenager, I was a voracious reader with tastes that were either very eclectic or not-very-discriminating.  I read science fiction, mysteries, adventures, history, political tomes, fantasy, and more.  When I first read Lord of the Rings, I remember being struck with how complex the sentence structures were.  Whereas the fiction of C.S. Lewis and Alastair MacLean were always easy reads and instantly accessible, J.R.R. Tolkien and, later, Dorothy Sayers, required a bit of literary recalibration.  Looking back on this, I think that my reading diet contained so much light fare that my brain was not accustomed to the meaty writing of a Sayers or Tolkien without some extra effort on my part.

Mind you, I’m not equating the quality of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy with The Guns of Navarone, but I guess it does follow that part of the genius of C.S. Lewis was that he wrote superb fiction which is instantly accessible to the average reader.

Dorothy Sayers created the character of Lord Peter Wimsey after World War I as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster.  Wimsey is a member of the English aristocracy, but as the second son, he has no title, few responsibilities, and lots of money.  So naturally he decides to devote some of his spare time and ample intelligence to solving the mysteries that spring up all about him.

Author Dorothy Sayers was one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford (in 1915) and was a friend of C.S. Lewis and other members of an Oxford literary club called the “Inklings.”  Sayers seems to have been unlucky in love and, clearly, Lord Peter Wimsey was her perfect man.  He is introduced as a somewhat cardboard-ish figure in Whose Body, but as Sayers develops his world and character over the course of eleven novels, he becomes as real and interesting as any person I’ve not personally met; and more interesting than many people I have met.

The books are a marvel to read, with the mysteries being of secondary importance to the sense of time, place, and manners.  Most of the books are also available as audiobooks and some as dramatizations, with the former to be preferred over the latter.  The late Ian Carmichael read most of the novels in unabridged format for the BBC Radio 4 “Book at Bedtime” series during the 70’s and early 80’s—long before audiobooks became popular.  Carmichael completely owns the characters, and any of these books make an excellent way to pass the time during long car trips.  Many is the time we have listened to some—or most—of a Wimsey mystery on a road trip, and then been forced to spend the next week or so finishing the audiobook in one or two hour segments every night: they are that addictive.

The Lord Peter Wimsey novels can be divided into two groups:  Wimsey the bachelor, and Wimsey the wooer (of novelist Harriet Vane).  Perhaps coincidentally, the two Wimsey television adaptations are divided the same way.  Next week, I will review the better (and more recent) series, which covers three of the four Wimsey/Vane novels.  And then I will review the earlier adaptation, which stars an already-too-old Ian Carmichael.  This series is also excellent, but likely to be of more interest to those who share my not-altogether-unhealthy obsession with the Wimsey characters and series.

*Janie again here! For my take on Dorothy Sayers, see my post here.