August 31, 2009

The Stars’ Tennis Balls

Posted in Literature tagged , , at 12:34 am by j128

The Stars Tennis Balls
The Stars’ Tennis Balls

The Stars’ Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry, published in 2000, is a modern retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo; set during the Internet age, specifically the dot com boom. It was released in the United States with the alternate title Revenge.

The original title comes from a quotation taken from John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, in which the full quotation reads: “We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded which way please them.” It’s also quoted in full at one point in the story by the character Babe.

Plot summary in a nutshell

“It all began some time in the last century, in an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used coloured inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing paper with scent.”

The year is 1980 and it’s a good year for Ned Maddstone. He has it all: looks, talent, he’s popular in school, and is in love with a girl. He’s the son of the cabinet minister of Sir Charles Maddstone, and like father like son, he is considering entering a career of politics. As is the basic psychology of when there is a fortunate, happy person with seemingly everything going for him, others less fortunate are quick to despise and hate him. Ned is so innocent, like a baby, and blind to the world’s cruelties and injustices that he does not see or even detect malice towards him: everyone is a friend, yet it is not so. Early on in the novel, it is let on that there are a few fellow pupils who have grown an intense dislike for young Maddstone: it’s generally shared and agreed upon that Ned Maddstone is arrogant and is seriously asking for it. (Yes, there is foul language again, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Meanwhile, Ned is completely oblivious to this. All is fair in love, and…later on, war.

The early stages of trouble start brewing early on when Ned accidentally reads a fellow student’s (Ashley Barson-Garland) diary in biology class. Ashley immediately suspects Ned, noticing a pressed four-leave clover left on his seat which had previously remained in his diary for three years, and this quickly builds up even more resentment until it is just hatred. This mutual feeling is shared by Rufus Cade, another student, who lives something of a hedonistic lifestyle smoking joints. Later on, when his girlfriend Portia’s American cousin comes to stay with her family, the air tingles even more since he begins wanting Portia for himself as he is in love with her also and is intensely jealous of her relationship with “arrogant Ned” (yet still Ned is as unaware as ever).

Ned really lands in the soup while sailing in Scotland, when the captain entrusts him with a letter to deliver at a confidential address before dying. With a little help from his “friends”, a prank in which a joint is planted in his sailor’s jacket, while waiting outside on the street for Portia while she’s at a job interview he’s arrested initially for illegal drug possession, and is then sent to an asylum as a mentally unstable patient, where he is told that his previous life was just a fantasy and his original name and life are so deeply embedded in other fantasies that it has been lost, he almost believes this until he meets Babe, the oldest patient in the asylum. From there Babe teaches him, an education, and at the same time Ned slowly learns as to how his arrest came about, and he plots revenge on those who wronged him. To do this, he escapes from the asylum and with the help of a fortune left to him by Babe he reinvents himself as an Internet entrepreneur, making huge profits by doing high-risk ventures and garnering massive media attention until he goes back to England and unleashes his revenge, driving all four men who did him wrong to their deaths.


As previously stated, The Stars’ Tennis Balls is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. With that in mind, Stephen Fry wrote it in a way that makes allusions to the original work, such as in the characters’ names seen here in a chart copied and pasted from the Wikipedia article. Of course, I think the one that probably gets the most kicks is Portia’s name.

Monte Cristo The Stars’ Tennis Balls Notes
Edmond Dantès Ned Maddstone anagram
Mercedes Portia pun: Mercedes-BenzPorsche
de Villefort Oliver Delft anagram
the Abbe (Faria) the Babe (Fraser) partial anagram
Fernand Mondego Gordon Fendeman anagram
Noirtier Blackrow translated literally (calque)
Capt. Leclere Paddy Leclare homonym
Caderousse Rufus Cade translation: rousse = red = Rufus
Baron Danglars Barson-Garland anagram
Monte Cristo Simon Cotter anagram
Albert de Morcerf Albert Fendeman homonym

The novel opens with some letters of correspondence between Ned and Portia, and that helps set the tone of the novel and helps to introduce its characters and their idiosyncrasies. Stephen Fry does an excellent job of capturing the modern, typical style that teenagers express themselves in the written word, whether letters sealed in envelopes or email, that is often seen and is associated with youth – Portia even uses “prolly” instead of “probably” in her letters – and in the manner in which almost everything, except their love, is written passively: one “boring” thing after the next and a certain amount of swearing just to keep it real – it is considered typical and sometimes is even expected for older teenagers to cuss, right? (At least, in Western society.) It’s just another part of their vernacular.

After Ned is arrested and imprisoned, and later meets the Babe the story picks up pace. Not that it wasn’t already fast-paced before, but let’s say that it starts sounding more like a real novel and not like reading a bunch of young people’s love letters and the like with all their pubescent idiosyncrasies; it starts sounding less like stereotypical “oh-my-gawd”-high-school-cadence and more realistic, how people really talk, and toning down on the #&!%*-bombs. Of course, there’s still a bit of swearing but not exactly to the same extent or usage as it was by the adolescents of 1980 at the start of the novel.

Once Ned has escaped the asylum and has reinvented himself as a wealthy Internet entrepreneur that appeared out of the blue – so far as becoming even bigger than Harry Potter – this is when things really speed up. It’s one bam! after the next, in almost immediate succession. No sooner has he returned to England than the cold-blooded revenge begins and systematically one by one, he knocks down his enemies like dominoes to their ultimate downfalls, all of which end horrifically. Rufus Cade ends up being murderously killed and mutilated by a drug gang whom he’d unwittingly done business with through one of Ned’s henchmen and dies in his own blood; Ashley Barson-Garland commits suicide after being publicly disgraced by the scandal of his secret gay, perverted Internet habits (looking at images of young boys) while he had been promoting Internet security for children; Gordon Fenderman, Portia’s cousin, is ruined and disgraced by apparent unethical actions in his ethical coffee and tea business from Africa and apparently dies from the same reason his father did all those years ago, and finally Oliver Delft is taken to the house where he had first interrogated Ned Maddstone, at the start of the whole mess, and he is given the choice of being admitted to the asylum or swallowing hot coals like Portia from Julius Caesar.

That’s one difference between this and The Count of Monte Cristo is the protagonist’s revenge, and how he decides to execute it. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes infiltrates himself into elite society and makes himself a figure of considerable influence, with Paris practically before his knees, and with strategy he tactfully knocks down those who wronged him one by one, though not always with death in mind: just enough so that they are ruined and/or disgraced, but also at the same time he recognizes the innocents and helps them get what they want with his influence and different aliases. Here in this modern retelling, Ned’s sole motivation is revenge and to make his enemies pay dearly, with their lives. There is no Maximilien and Valentine, etc. It is just cold-blooded revenge.

At the end of the novel though, I feel sorry for Ned. He has his revenge but he isn’t fulfilled, for he still feels the human need for love, but it is not consummated. In Dumas’ story, Monte Cristo made it clear with Mercedes that he couldn’t go back and share his life with her after all he’d been through and after the completion of his redemption he finally allows himself to realize that he does love Haydee, a Greek slave but of noble birth, and it is suggested that at the end of the novel he starts a new life with her. In The Stars’ Tennis Balls, there is a brief hint of a start with the female character Cosima, whom he meets early after escaping from the asylum as he sells the prescription drugs that he smuggled from there, and when he is famous Internet entrepreneur Simon Cotter, celebrity gossip circulates that he is in a relationship with her as they have been seen together, yet it is made clear that his heart is still with Portia. However, after Gordon’s death, Portia flees with her son Albert, only leaving behind only the old love letters between her and Ned.

He stood on the deck looking back towards England. He let the pieces of paper fly from his hand and dart like butterflies in the wake. They came from the last century, an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used coloured inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing-paper with scent.

He slowly ripped the last of them, just glimpsing down at a halved sheet.

I picture your hair flopping down as you write, which is enough to make me writhe and froth like a…like a…er, I’ll come back to you on that one. I think of your legs under the table and a million trillion cells sparkle and fizz inside me. The way you cross a ‘t’ makes me breathless. I hold the back of my envelope to my lips and think of you licking it and my head swims. I’m a dotty dippy dozy dreadful delirious romantic and I love you to heaven.

Ned let the wind whip it from his hand.

August 15, 2009

A Room with a View

Posted in Bildungsroman, Classics of World Literature at 12:05 am by j128

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster was first published in 1908, and is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, in the repressed culture of Edwardian England and her journey of self-discovery, thus it may also be considered as a Bildungsroman. It is E.M. Forster’s most romantic and optimistic work.

Major themes that are developed and explored in the novel include repression, growing up, and true love, while touching upon many issues concerning society and politics in early 20th century Edwardian culture. Symbolism is also equipped in illustrating binary opposites, “rooms” and “views” are often mentioned. Characters and places associated as “rooms” are conservative and uncreative: characters such as Mrs. Honeychurch are often pictured in a room; whereas characters such as the Emersons are portrayed as having a “view”, being “outside”, that represents their open and forward-thinking, modern character types. Such symbolic representation is also expressed in the contrasts between “Medieval” and “Renaissance” characters. (Click here for an explanation of major themes in A Room with a View from Wikipedia.)


Part One

The first part is set in Florence, Italy, and describes the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch’s confused feelings over a young Englishman staying at the same hotel. She is touring Italy with her older cousin and chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett, and the novel opens with their complaints about the hotel; their primary concern being that a “room with a view” had been promised to each of them, their rooms look over a courtyard instead, upon which a Mr. Emerson offers to swap rooms as he and his son George look over the Arno. Before Lucy has a chance to speak, her chaperon cousin refuses the offer as, in her prim fashion, looks down at the Emersons due to their unconventional behaviour and thinking that it would place her under an “unseemly obligation” towards them. Later, however, after the persuasion of another hotel guest, an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe, she accepts the offer.

The next day Lucy embarks on a tour of Florence with another hotel guest, Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who shows Lucy the back streets, takes her guidebook, and subsequently loses her in Santa Croce, whereupon Lucy meets the Emersons again, whom she likes despite them being deemed as socially unacceptable by other guests. Lucy continues to run into them in Florence. One afternoon when she witnesses a murder, George Emerson happens to be nearby and he catches her just as she faints; on their way back to the hotel they have an intimate conversation. Afterward, Lucy decides to avoid George as she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep Charlotte, her cousin, happy. However, when a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy  drive to Fiesole, she accidentally meets George on a hillside, and George, overcome by her beauty, kisses her. They’re interrupted by Miss Bartlett who is outraged, and Lucy promises her that she will not tell her mother of the “insult” as Miss Bartlett would be blamed. The two women leave for Rome the next day, before Lucy has a chance to say goodbye to George.

Part Two

In Rome Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, whom she knew in England, and he proposes to her twice, upon each occasion she rejects him. She returns to her family home, Windy Corner, in Surrey, England, where Cecil proposes once again and this time she accepts. Cecil, as described by Lucy’s mother, Mrs. Honeychurch:

“…He’s good; he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s well connected –  Oh, you needn’t kick the piano! He’s well connected – I’ll say it again if you like: he’s well connected.” She paused, as if rehearsing her eulogy, but her face remained dissatisfied. She added: “And he has beautiful manners.”

Yet the irony here is that, in the words of George Emerson, “he is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people.”

An ironic, catalyst twist occurs when Lucy’s brother Freddy befriends George Emerson and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Lucy, initially mortified at having to face both George and Cecil, also visiting Windy Corner the same Sunday, braves her fears and resolves to be gracious. Her reserve is shaken though by a passage Cecil reads from a light romance, in which a scene is described that suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence.

” ‘Leonora,’ ” he read, ” ‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.’ “
Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

” ‘A golden haze,’ ” he read. He read: ” ‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved, Antonio stole up behind her–‘ ”
Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George, and she saw his face.
He read: ” ‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.’ “

George finds Lucy alone in the garden and, for the second time, kisses her again. She realizes that the light romance was written by Miss Lavish, the novelist acquaintance from Florence, and that Charlotte must have told her about the kiss. Furious with her cousin for betraying her secret, (“Why did you tell Miss Lavish, when you wouldn’t even let me tell mother?”) she forces Charlotte to watch as she tells George to leave and never return again. George argues with her, saying that Cecil will only ever see her as “an object for the shelf” and will never love her enough to grant her independence, whereas George loves her for who she is:

“He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people. That’s why I’ll speak out through all this muddle even now. It’s shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held it back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would have never let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of the great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over – playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for you to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it had been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore – not “therefore I kissed you,” because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I’m not ashamed. I don’t apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore – therefore I settled to fight him.”

Lucy is moved, but remains firm. George leaves. The scales fall from Lucy’s eyes when later that evening Cecil refuses a game of tennis, confessing himself as the chap “who is no good for anything but books”, and she breaks her engagement with him. She decides to travel to Greece with acquaintances from Florence, but shortly before her departure she encounters the elder Mr. Emerson, who is not aware that she has broken her engagement with Cecil. As she cannot lie, Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she’s loved George all along. The novel ends in Florence, where Lucy and George have eloped to without her mother’s consent and although she has perhaps “alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever”, it ends on the note of lifelong love for both her and George.


A Room with a View – Wikipedia

Read A Room with a View on Project Gutenberg

August 14, 2009

Welcome to The World Is Quiet Here 101

Posted in News & Updates at 12:51 am by j128

Hello again and welcome to The World Is Quiet Here 101.

What is The World Is Quiet Here 101, you might ask? The World Is Quiet Here 101 is what used to be The World Is Quiet Here at With a simple export and import job, I transferred the old blog to its new home here. You can find everything that was ever published before on the old blog, along with a few new features that includes better navigation, RSS subscription with options (see the small dropdown menu appears when you hover over it), page categorization (my best attempt), and every time you refresh the blog page, or click on any post or page, in the sidebar to the right random posts appear. You also may rate any posts or pages on this blog from 1 to 5 stars, noting that you must view the post or page’s permalink first by clicking the post or page title.

A note on the pages “categorization”: hovering over “Start Here” will display this post as a page and the about page in the dropdown menu; “The Silver Screen” has the Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo page and the Comedy TV: Jeeves & Wooster page.

The only thing that I could say I’m not too thrilled about with this theme is the tag cloud. I think the blog would just look tidier without it.

I’ll have some new reviews rolling out soon.

In the meantime, keep in the loop!

June 26, 2009

Jeeves and Wooster: "The Mating Season"

Posted in Comedy, Jeeves & Wooster at 6:21 pm by j128

The Mating Season The Mating Season is the first full-length story featured in one of the Jeeves and Wooster omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse with a foreword by Hugh Laurie, published in 2001. The Mating Season was first published in 1949.


Bertie Wooster finds himself in turmoil on all sides. A friend of his, Claude “Catsmeat” Cattermole Pirbright, has profuse love for a young lady by the name of Gertrude Winkworth, but is seemingly unable to acquire her as there are two things blocking his way: Gertrude’s mother and her four aunts and a particular young man Esmond Haddock, the son of the owner of a “widely advertised patent remedy known as Haddock’s Headache Hokies.” Allegedly, Esmond Haddock is in love with Gertrude and he intends to marry her.

Then there is Augustus “Gussie” Fink-Nottle engaged to Madeline Bassett. He is low-spirited as he has to face visiting the five aunts of Esmond Haddock, one of which is Gertrude’s mother, and he expected Madeline to accompany him on this visit; however, Madeline altered her arrangements at the last moment to cheer up an old schoolfriend who is suffering from romantic depression. Gussie later comes to meet another character, whom we describe below, Corky.

Meanwhile, Catsmeat’s sister Cora “Corky” Pirbright leaves her newly-acquired dog Sam Goldwyn in Bertie’s care as the vicar, her Uncle Sidney, is not strongly approving of dogs. Corky is also known by her stage name, Cora Starr, and she is in Hollywood.

Bertie is also caring for his Aunt Agatha’s son Thomas, who is a fanatic with celebrities and will go to exremities to get their autograph. When he learns that Corky is Cora Starr, he acquires fifty of her autographs and plans to sell them for six quid apiece. In later developments in the story, Thomas becomes more acquinted with Corky and is even let into her plans.

The ball begins rolling when Catsmeat, under suggestion of Bertie, gives Gussie dinner, as both chaps are low-spirited. Afterwards, at five o’clock in the morning, Gussie wades into the Trafalger Square fountain in search of newts. (Did I mention Gussie is a newt fancier?) Catsmeat had persuaded Gussie to wade and look for newts otherwise he’d bean Gussie (in other words, hit him on the head with something hard). It is not long when a constable arrests Gussie and the magistrate holds Gussie – thus suspending Gussie for a period of time and it is not possible for him to visit Deverill Hall.

It is up to Bertie to go to Deverill Hall impersonating Gussie Fink-Nottle, which will be somewhat easy as the Winkworths have never set eyes upon Gussie. Catsmeat also journeys to Deverill under the alias as Meadowes, Bertie’s valet, as Jeeves is Gussie’s valet since Gussie finally arrives at Deverill as Bertie. Love is in the air, “the mating season”, and it is up yet again to Jeeves to smooth out the tangles and give everyone a happy ending.

June 25, 2009

Arthur: The Seeing Stone

Posted in Literature tagged at 12:16 pm by j128

First paperback edition of Arthur: The Seeing Stone is the first book in an Arthurian trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, retelling the Arthur legends in a first-person view by the protagonist named Arthur de Caldicot, who lives in England/Wales Middle Marches during the Middle Ages, around 1199 just before the Fourth Crusade.

The chapters are in varying length, sometimes only one page, and total in one hundred chapters. For those who have not seen the book’s size and are overwhelmed with the idea of so many chapters, rest assured: it is nowhere near as thick as, for example, The Count of Monte Cristo and, the paperback version, is only three hundred sixty-six pages long. It is probably around the size of the paperback version of Jonathan Stroud’s Buried Fire. (Another book that I will also be writing a review on sometime in the future.)

During the course of the story, there are two plots that overlap each other: that of the world of our protagonist Arthur de Caldicot and within the Seeing Stone in which Arthur watches the eventual rise of King Arthur.


Arthur de Caldicot, our protagonist, is thirteen years old at the start of the story and wants to be a knight, but first he must become a squire and this want of his is put at stake as it is hinted at that his father, Sir John, might wish to make him a scribe as his reading and writing are very good.

His parents are Sir John de Caldicot and Lady Helen de Caldicot of Camelot and his siblings are his sixteen-year-old brother Serle whose disposition towards his younger brother aren’t always kind and his younger sister, Sein, who’s only eight.

One day Arthur helps his friend, a girl named Gatty whose only a year younger than him, pen the two bulls who accidentally escaped and are now in the same field. He and Gatty get into trouble: he, for helping her as it was not his place, and she is severely whipped by her father as she had torn his best coat to put the bulls back in their proper pens. Arthur is also punished in accordance to his actions.

One of the reasons why he wishes to become a squire and then a knight is because as he is not the firstborn of Sir John and his wife, he isn’t applicable to inheritance of his father’s land and must get his own. There are obstacles to be faced, nevertheless, especially as he is left-handed and due to the times back then, has to practice with his right hand in skills such as jousting and sword-play, which makes him not particularly good at them. The other obstacle, as already mentioned, is the possible prospect of Sir John making him a scribe.

His uncle, Sir William de Gortanore, is a rough and tough old man and he is the father of Arthur’s cousins Tom and Grace, whom he is to betrothed to, and the two like each other very much and await the day they should be united. Another important figure in Arthur’s life, who lives with Sir William, is Lady Alice and she is described as being beautiful with almond eyes.

Early on in the story, Arthur is given a magical stone, which is obsidian, by Merlin, who is Sir John’s friend and also becomes Arthur’s guide throughout the story. Only Arthur is to know about the Stone and no one else is to see it or else the Stone’s power will cease. When Arthur looks into it, he is able to watch the legendary King Arthur’s rise to power. Our protagonist Arthur comes to believe that this could be himself in the near future and indeed often times the Stone’s plot is parallel to the boy Arthur’s world.

The Stone’s plot begins with the birth of King Arthur, who is taken away by the wizard Merlin to foster parents and is raised to believe that his foster parents are his birth parents until the truth is revealed to him and he succeeds to become the King of England.

This part of the plot, in particular, mirrors Arthur de Caldicot and his discovery of truth: all anxiety of becoming a scribe is dissolved when, on his fourteenth birthday, Sir John reveals that Sir William is actually Arthur’s true father and this creates a growing subplot about the fate of Arthur’s true mother as it is said that Sir William killed his mother’s husband due to jealousy.

While Arthur is happy to know that he will inherit land, he is also sad because that is the death of his and Grace’s formerly marital future as she is his half-sister. The book ends as Arthur accepts being a squire, in service to Lord Stephen de Holt: the lord of the Middle Marches.


The story continues in the following sequels: Arthur: At the Crossing Places and Arthur: King of the Middle Marches. In 2006, Kevin Crossley-Holland published a follow-up to the trilogy, titled Gatty’s Tale, a story about Gatty joining a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


Kevin Crossley-Holland’s personal website

All Creatures Great and Small (TV series)

Posted in Film & Television at 12:12 pm by j128

All Creatures Great and Small was a British television show based upon the books by James Herriot. It ran seven series from 1978-1990 with a break in 1980 when the characters were drawn into World War II so two specials were made in 1983 and 1985. In 1988 the series was revived and continued.

Unlike the two previous films, the TV series was able to have more character development as there was so much time available. James Herriot was played by then-unknown Welsh actor Christopher Timothy, well-known actor Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge in two of the Harry Potter movies) was Siegfriend Farnon, and his ne’er-do-well brother Tristan Farnon was played by Peter Davison. Helen Alderson, later James Herriot’s wife, was played by Carol Drinkwater (series 1-3 and specials) and Lynda Bellingham (series 4-7, as Carol Drinkwater became unavailable). Mary Hignett was Skeldale House’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, who is replaced by a new houskeeper Mrs. Greenlaw (Judy Wilson) in the revived series as Mary Hignett died shortly afterwards at the end of the first three series.

The series is very enjoyable to watch and it is quite easy to become glued to it, wondering what happens in the next episode, etc., etc. It’s available on VHS and DVD, some of the DVD special features include “Who’s Who”, a list of the actors and their filmography.

All of the episodes I have seen so far are immensely enjoyable and there are always the moments of wit and humour. The episodes are at least an hour in length.

The role of Tristan was increased during the first series as Christopher Timothy suffered a car accident and broke his leg (in one episode he is walking with difficulty, the made excuse is that he hurt his ankle) so the script and filming locations were redone (Christopher Timothy was subsequently restricted to studio shooting) for Peter Davison.

As far as I know, series 1-6 are available on region 1 DVD (plus the specials). See the article All Creatures Great and Small on for more information and a list of the episodes according to the series.


All Creatures Great and Small on – the article mentioned above concerning the TV series and two films previous to the series.

My Neighbour Totoro

Posted in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli at 12:10 pm by j128

Disney version; avail. on DVD My Neighbour Totoro is a 1988 film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and the title “Tototo” is the Studio Ghibli mascot, which features in the opening titles of all their anime films. This was one of my first Studio Ghibli films that I saw, the other being Kiki’s Delivery Service, and both are heartwarming and enjoyable children/family films. Saying that, it is important to note that unlike many Western children/family films, Studio Ghibli films are unique in that despite being animated, they are enjoyed by audiences of all ages and can be seen again and again without the usual feeling of resentment or that “not again!” feeling that can happen from a too-much-viewed film.

History of My Neighbour Totoro

Totoro was released in North America alongside Hayao Miyazaki’s mentor Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, a strategy that is believed that was done for two reasons: 1) Totoro, at the time, wasn’t believed to be successful, and 2) while I haven’t seen it, many who have seen Grave of the Fireflies say it is an extremely depressing and tearful film, and so Totoro would act as a lighter film that would balance out Fireflies.

On that second note, some reviews that I have read have made a distinctive parallel between Totoro and Fireflies, being that these two films star two young siblings who have a bond with each other, but at the same time their relationships are ironic in that one is a happy, bright relationship, while the other is miserable and tragic relationship.

Originally, Mr. Miyazaki had planned on the story centering on an only child and her childhood wonderland, but later this only child diverged into two sisters, being Satsuki and Mei, their names both translating as “May”, being the fifth month of the Gregorian calendar. Their names stem from the said fact of the original only child. This is the reason why there are promotional posters with a single girl and Totoro, having been released before the character change.

For more information about the film, I’d recommend reading The Art of My Neighbour Totoro, it contains tons of original art, character development and design, etc. It can be found at


Set in the 1950’s, in the Japan countryside, the protagonists Satsuki and her sister Mei have moved into an old house with their father. They moved to the countryside so as to be nearer to the hospital their mother is recovering in from tuberculosis (confirmed by Mr. Miyazaki, whose mother suffered from this disease when he was a boy). Within the short opening of the story, they meet some of the locals, including an old lady known as Nanny and a young boy named Kanta, who develops an ambivalent relationship with Satsuki, and she with him. The sisters also discover mysterious black, puffball-shaped creatures variously translated into English as “dust bunnies”, “soot sprites”, etc.

Despite only being eleven, Satsuki is shown being quite able of making her family breakfast and bento lunches (obento). While she’s in school, their father studies (he’s a professor of archeology and anthropology), and Mei plays outside where she comes across a small white creature, and she follows it into a brier-like thicket – reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland – and falls through a hole onto a larger version of the strange creature, which Mei learns is a “totoro”, or a kind of troll. (See the Wikipedia link for more details.) Mei soundly falls asleep on top Totoro and is found by Satsuki and their father in the thicket when she wakes up. Mei tells them about Totoro and they go to the Camphor Tree, where Totoro lives, and they make a prayer, full of gratitude and thankfulness.

One day Satsuki, Mei, and their father travel by bicycle to the hospital. They arrive and the girls are naturally happy to see their mother, as their mother also is to see her daughters. They tell her excitedly about the dust bunnies and the big Totoro and the little totoros. On the way back home, they discuss the anticipated visit from their mother when she is able and well enough to go.

The rest of the movie follows the girls’ course of adventures with Totoro, including the bus stop episode where Totoro gladly takes their father’s umbrella, after Satsuki offered it to him, and in return he gave them a small leaf-wrapped package of magic nuts and seeds, which seem to grow into a huge forest overnight and the girls fly over the countryside holding onto the giant Totoro.

While their father is at the university, Satsuki and Mei are looked after by Nanny, and after harvesting some vegetables, Kanta comes running with a telegram from the doctor. Satsuki uses Kanta’s family’s telephone to contact her father and tell him. Later Satsuki and Mei find out that their mother can’t come yet as she caught a cold, and will come next week. Mei and Satsuki have a terrible argument, leaving Mei crying.

Satsuki and Mei are sensitive girls who care for their mother, and Satsuki also breaks down – both are scared and don’t want their mother to die. Mei overhears Satsuki and runs off. Later, it is apparent that Mei ran away and Satsuki is insightful enough to realize that Mei has gone to the hospital! A search begins for Mei and Satsuki runs all over the countryside to find her sister.

As a last resort, Satsuki calls for the help of Totoro and she takes a ride on the Catbus and they find Mei. Soon after the sisters’ happy reunion, they go to the hospital where their mother is, and while they don’t visit her, they see their father visiting their mother in the hospital and before they go back home, Mei leaves the ear of corn on the window sill, with the following inscribed: “For mother.” It is possible that their mother saw Satsuki and Mei in the trees.

As the credits roll, Satsuki and Mei are taken home, and the Catbus disappears into the night sky. Nanny and Kanta soon meet them and they walk home. Their mother comes home, has baths with them, and reads stories to them in bed while Totoro and the small totoros are in the background, until they aren’t even noticed by the girls. As indicated through the closing song, Totoro can only be seen in childhood.

My Neigbhour Totoro opening

I couldn’t find a Totoro trailer that satisfied me, so I chose the opening from the Fox Video version and the Japanese version with English subtitles. Both the opening and closing songs are sweet and they are very sing-along songs. The English and Japanese versions slightly differ from each other in translation.

English opening (Fox Video)

Japanese opening, with English subtitles

Recommended Editions of Totoro and Recommended Reading

The Art of My Neighbour Totoro (published by Studio Ghibli), available on and other stores, online and walk-in stores.

As with all foreign films, watching them in their original language is best and with subtitles. This goes for anime, too, and I wholeheartedly recommend watching Totoro in Japanese, with English subtitles, a thing made possible for viewing in North America thanks to Disney.

But of course, some may wish to view this film in English, so I would recommend watching the Fox Video version because in my opinion it’s a better dubbing than Disney – many people praise the Fanning sisters (Dakota and Ella) with their dubbing but personally I think that Disney overdoes dubbing of little kids in Studio Ghibli films – Satsuki and Mei sounded way too high-pitched and simplified for my liking. I know they’re just little girls (Mei and Satsuki) but in the Japanese version and even in the Fox Video version, they have more dimension in their characters than their Disney counterparts. Anyway, that’s enough from me, how about I just let people go watch this movie and see which version they like better? I’ll make one final note, however: the Fox Video and Disney versions are not the same – the opening and closing songs are the same but it was sung by someone else and the tune was not favourable for my liking (I prefer the Fox Video version) and the scripts are somewhat different.


My Neighbour Totoro at Wikipedia, see note about the word “totoro”

The Camphor Tree – A fan’s website dedicated to My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro at IMDB

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Posted in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli at 12:07 pm by j128

Disney cover of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (or Castle in the Sky) is a 1986 anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and it is loosely based on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. As with Mr. Miyazaki’s earlier Studio Ghibli films, several English translations were made, and sometimes there were characters’ name spellings and pronunciations changed, etc., and it wasn’t until Disney made a deal with Studio Ghibli that Castle in the Sky was officially released in North America.


The English translation of the Japanese title (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, translated as The Sky’s Castle: Laputa) was changed to Castle in the Sky upon release in several countries with Spanish speakers, and even some countries that have little Spanish influence such as the U.K., as the word Laputa, though meaningless in Japanese, English, and French, it translates as “prostitute” ( la puta) in Spanish. This was perhaps Jonathan Swift’s intention when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, as he claimed that Spanish was one of the many languages he was fluent in; however it should be noted that Mr. Miyazaki hadn’t been aware of the word’s meaning until after the film’s release and he said that had he known of the word’s meaning, he wouldn’t have used it, and he apologized. For Spanish speakers and readers, Laputa has been replaced by a euphemism such as Lapata.

History of Laputa

Within the storyline of Castle in the Sky, in the opening credits and throughout the story the history of the floating island is alluded to, connecting this story to our world, which is strengthened by the obvious European influences, such as mediaeval castles, miners, etc. According to legend, humans have always been fascinated with the sky and flight, and as they ventured further into making aerial exploration possible their flying machines became more sophisticated. The most famous of these legends was Laputa, a floating castle in the sky that was an entire city hidden within a violent storm and that within the storyline had been abandoned seven hundred years ago, and most people have ceased to believe in it. Only a few believe in it now and competition to find it is dangerous and tense. See Wikipedia for more information on the history of the setting.


The story opens in the sky, a young girl is being held by agents under the command of Colonel Muska on an airship, being taken to an unknown destination. The airship is attacked by sky pirates, who seem to be after the girl. In the resulting confusion, Muska tries to send a message using Morse code, while doing so, the girl suddenly hits him on the head with a wine bottle and knocks him out. She takes a crystal from him – at that moment, the pirates barge into the room and she and the crystal are almost seized, causing her to fall from the airship.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Pazu sees the girl, who is now no longer falling, but floating and a blue light is emitting from the crystal. He catches her and within a few seconds, the crystal’s light ebbs and disappears. He takes her to his home, where she wakes up next morning to the sound of his trumpet and he feeds his pigeons that he keeps in a coop. Pazu apparently lives alone.

While there, the girl whose name is Sheeta, sees a photograph of a floating castle in the sky. Pazu explains that his father took the photo and that he was an explorer, he tried to find a legendary city called Laputa, and he shows her a copy of Gulliver’s Travels. (In the Disney dubbed version, it is his father’s journal.) Hardly anyone believes Laputa exists but Pazu believes the city does exist and wants to find it.

Suddenly the pirates arrive that had tried to get Sheeta and she and Pazu quickly try to leave the town, with Sheeta being disguised as a boy, but when she stumbles when Pazu tries to go to his master for help, her braids give her away. A riot ensues in the small street while Pazu and Sheeta go through the back and go down the railroads and get a ride. It’s not long, though, that they are followed by the pirates and then they’re surrounded by the military – the agents that had held Sheeta hostage in the first place.

While running, Sheeta and Pazu fall, only being saved from death by the crystal, and they float down into an underground tunnel where they find an old miner called Uncle Pom, who reveals Sheeta’s crystal to be “volucite” (“aetherium” in the Disney adaptation) and that’s what keeps Laputa floating.

When the children emerge, Sheeta reveals her secret name to Pazu, which is Lucita Toel Ul Laputa, an ancient name she has inherited meaning “Lucita, True Ruler of Laputa” in Laputan. The agents appear and surround them and take them by force into custody. They are taken to a fortress, a mediæval-style castle, and are separated: Pazu into a prison cell and Sheeta is treated like a princess and is shown an old Laputan robot that fell from the sky.

Pazu is released, being given some gold, and he goes home only to find the pirates have taken over and he is tied up. He realizes his foolishness at going, being paid gold for Sheeta’s capture, but Dola, the pirate leader, comments on Sheeta’s courageous action for Pazu’s escape while she faces danger. She compares Sheeta to herself when she was a girl and advises her sons that when they marry, to marry a girl like Sheeta.

The pirates and Pazu go off to rescue Sheeta. Meanwhile, Sheeta remembers an ancient spell for help that she learnt from her grandmother when she was a little girl, and repeats it. Suddenly, the crystal glows blue light and the robot awakens. Chaos ensues in the fortress and the robot protects Sheeta from the guns and bombs that are directed at it. It manages to fend off the offensive forces until Pazu and the pirates arrive, who successfully rescue her. Unfortunately, when Sheeta fainted, the crystal bounced off down to the ground, and is found by Muska, who can now touch it without being harmed, and everyone sees the light is pointing in the direction of Laputa.

Meanwhile, Sheeta and Pazu are taken aboard the pirate ship where they lend a hand. Pazu helps Dola’s husband, a mechanic, while Sheeta is employed to work in the kitchen, which she has to clean up first before cooking anything. Soon, Dola’s sons are all helping her in the kitchen, who all seem charmed by her. In the Japanese version, she is seen as a potential motherly figure to the sons, while in the Disney English dub one of the pirate sons even makes a profession of love to her. (“I’m in love with you!”)

The pirates and Muska’s fleet compete in the discovery of Laptua – Sheeta and Pazu get to the island first on their own in some sort of aerial contraption that is separated from the pirate ship during an attack from the government agents when they enter the violent storm.

There Sheeta and Pazu find another Laputan robot, and many more like it, but they’re all asleep. The moving robot takes care of the flora and fauna and looks after it. They soon hear gunfire and see that Muska’s fleet has also arrived and the clouds have parted; the pirates have been captured and the children persevere to rescue them, in the process Sheeta is captured by Muska and disappears with him into the deep interiors of the city where Muska displays the terrible power the crystal can unleash. He kills all his fleet using the Laputan robots and the power of the crystal. It is revealed that Muska is also in line of inheritance.

Sheeta finally manages to get the crystal back and runs, with Muska in pursuit, and she finds Pazu again who’s been looking for her. She gives him the crystal and tells him to throw it away before being caught by Muska.

In the final showdown, Muska is defeated by the children when they both use the crystal, uttering a spell of destruction, and Laputa disintegrates. The pirates manage to push off just in time. Muska is blinded and supposedly killed. The children are saved by the roots of the giant forest and they find their flight contraption, still in good condition, and fly away from the island, that steadily floats up higher and higher until apparently being caught in Earth’s orbit while the pirates and the children depart, going their own ways.

Original Japanese Trailer


  • During one of the Laputan sequences, two fox squirrels are seen, from another of Mr. Miyazaki’s films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
  • A crystal similar to the one that Sheeta wore is one of Howl’s accessories in Howl’s Moving Castle.
  • At the Studio Ghibli Museum there is a life-size statue of a Laputan robot.


Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Posted in Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Mystery at 12:02 pm by j128


Book cover of "Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?"

Montmorency: Thief Liar, Gentleman? is a novel by Eleanor Updale and was published in 2003. It is the first in the Montmorency series followed by Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency’s Revenge. Stephen Fry has heralded it as “one of the most original, witty, and delicious books” in a very long time. It is set in Victorian London, specifically, 1875-1880 and it details the story of a petty thief and his rise to high social standing.


In Victorian London a thief crashed through a glass window on a rooftop when he had been trying to escape from the police after he had stolen a bag of something. When inspected, it was apparent that the thief was sure to die – he was beyond repair, yet a young doctor defied death by sewing up the thief again through a series of complicated procedures and surgeries.

Once the thief is recovered enough from his injuries and operations, Dr. Robert Farcett (the young ambitious doctor) decides to display the thief at social gatherings attended by first class Victorians. It is while attending these gathernigs that the thief learns of a new development in London: the underground sewer system. Slowly, the thief begins formulating plans and plots his new life once he has been released from prison.

The thief, though, understands that he will not risk being caught again and decides he wants to be wealthy and he realizes he must have an accomplice. The accomplice in question is himself and he decides to take on the challenge of a double-life.

His alter-egos are as follows: Scarper, a disgraceful, grubby thief and also a manservant for the sophisticated, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Montmorency. Now Montmorency only has to wait until he is released into the world and begin his new “lives.”

On the designated date, all of the prisoners are reviewed and are selected as to who will be released and left behind. Montmorency is one of those who are released and he is given a package with something that could have helped him along in his new life – unfortunately, a guard takes it away from him even before he can take a chance to inspect the documents.

Now out in the streets of London, alive and free, Scarper/Montmorency begins by stealing articles of clothing, even paying a call to Dr. Farcett’s house where he removes articles of clothing for Montmorency. Scarper arrives at a hotel where he requests a room for Montmorency.

The hotel is somewhat of first-class and while Montmorency resides there the owner’s childish and lisping daughter is attracted to him, unfortunately for her, Montmorency is not interested and tries to avoid her at all costs. Scarper takes care to scare off the daughter to stay away from Montmonrency’s room or she’ll know what will happen.

Meanwhile Montmorency becomes the star of the show and even goes to the opera as well as attending a lecture by the one person that Montmorency ever liked when he was still only known as Prisoner 493. He also rescues a man from an out-of-control carriage and the man becomes Montmorency’s first true friend and his name is Lord George Fox-Selwyn.

Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency become fast friends and Montmorency is admitted as a member of George’s club. Afterwards, George gives Montmorency a job as a spy in the British government – the first assignment being to break into a Mauramanian embassy and prevent a European war. The success of the assignment gives Montmorency a permanent position and casting aside Scarper and all of his vile deeds, Montmorency returns every stolen possession to every rightful owner, and begins his new life as government spy with George.

Links – Eleanor Updale’s official website. – Article describing brief summaries of the Montmorency books.

The Amulet of Samarkand

Posted in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy at 12:00 pm by j128

The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.


Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.


The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.

Links – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

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