Thursday, March 1, 2012

Scones, Soccer, and Spaceships

What do the above three items have in common besides their initial letter? They are things the British do extremely well. While I love scones and have little interest in soccer (well, they call it football but that ruins the rhythm), it is the “spaceships”—aka speculative fiction of Great Britain that attracts my attention. Even before genres were invented, British writers were turning out tales of wonder such as Paradise Lost and The Fairie Queene. As the genre dawned in the early 1900s, George MacDonald and Edith Nesbit were exploring fairy tale worlds in new ways.
The founders of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, were professors at Oxford University, with Tolkien even stating his goal of creating a new mythology for England with his Middle-Earth mythos, while Lewis’s Narnia series had thoroughly British roots, and even his Space Trilogy shows amazing development of ideas. A third author who approaches their fame is J.K. Rowling, whose saga of a wizarding academy captured the hearts of millions. Other British authors include Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Brian Jacques, and M.I. McAllister (who should have more readers). The former two are known for their dry wit and satirical fiction, while the latter are authors of beast-fable.
Douglass Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series features such side-splitting lines as “the ship hung in the sky in much the way that bricks don’t” and “The word yellow wandered through his mind in search of something to connect it to.” His dry style brings a sense of humor to such dreary topics as the end of the world, androids, and evolution. Terry Pratchett takes a similar approach to fantasy in his Discworld novels, a world held up by four elephants on the back of a giant turtle where things happen according to the rules of narrative causality. Characters like Bruatha, Captain Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, and Death’s granddaughter Susan merely turn the world upside down and milk the sacred cows for all they’re worth.
In the realm of beast-fable, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series focuses on an abbey built by woodland creatures and defended against all invaders. Famous on both sides of the Atlantic, his tales of feasts and fights were sadly cut short when he died in February last year. Fans can still enjoy the twenty-plus books in the series. M. I. McAllister’s Mistmantle Chronicles quintet crosses Narnian atmosphere with more Redwallian beasts. All the characters are amazingly realistic, to the point it’s hard to tell minor characters from major.
In the realm of television, the BBC is responsible for Doctor Who, one of the longest running sci-fi drams in the world. Since 1963, viewers have been enjoying the exploits of a Time Lord and his companions exploring the universe in a steering-challenged TARDIS. In the past few years, the show has produced two spinoffs; Torchwood for adult views and Sarah Jane Adventures for CBBC. The later was cancelled after the death of the main actress last April, but is much closer in tone to the original series than Torchwood’s dark, sex-filled mania. Rival station ITV has produced “Primeval,” which follows a rag-tag team of scientists investigating rips in the space-time continuum that leak prehistoric beasts into Southern England. There’s also BBC’s Merlin, of which I have only watched the first episode and was turned slightly off by Prince Arthur throwing knives at a servant for amusement.

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