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.

Review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!

Review:

This originally started as a radio drama on BBC Radio, and has been adapted to novels, and a not bad movie. Please, please, PLEASE, do yourself a favor and listen to the radio drama. It is perfect for long road trips. Although comedy is a matter of taste, this is one of the funniest things out there. You need to appreciate science fiction, and dry sense of humor, but it is so funny. I re-listened to it a few weeks ago (I generally don’t review things unless I’ve read/watched/listened to them within the last month or maybe two), trying to find the best lines to quote. I gave up about five minutes in because there are so many good ones. If you are involved in nerd culture at all, this is the source of many of the seemingly random jokes out there: 42 (the answer to the ultimate question of the universe), Don’t Panic (in large, friendly letters), and Don’t Forget Your Towel (or Towel Day, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Towel_Day).

My favorite part of the loose story arc is the beginning up through their meal at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The story does occasionally get a bit tedious in places, but the comedy moments are a great pay off for the weaker moments. This is full of incredibly random non sequiturs, strange ideas that seemed to have popped into Adams’ head and lead you on to interesting rabbit tracks around the vast reaches of space. If I haven’t convinced you to try it, I’ll leave you with what, after much internal wrestling, I think might be my favorite part. Or at least one of my favorite parts.

“Come now, or you will be late.”

“Late? What for?”

“What is your name, human?”

“Dent. Arthur Dent.”

“Late, as in the late Dentarthurdent. It’s a sort of threat, you see. I’ve never been very good at them myself but I’m told they can be terribly effective.”

Get the radio drama! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get the first book! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get the movie! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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