It’s that time of year again when we think back on the last twelve months and reflect on all the things we’ve done whilst, in my case at least, consuming a metric ton of chocolate. As 2018 trails to a close, my PhD thesis is slowly assembling, Frankenstein-style, into a fully-formed being. (That featured image contains all the notebooks I’ve filled with thesis-related ideas, thoughts and ramblings). Four years’ worth of work later and one era is ending while another peers over the horizon. It’s been a wonderful journey – the most challenging and fulfilling of my life yet – and it won’t quite feel real until I’m holding a bound copy in my hands.
This month, we’re treated to a guest post by indie author JD Estrada on his newly-released middle-grade novella Given to Fly. Named after a beloved song by Pearl Jam (a band whose influence on Estrada’s writing cannot be understated), the story follows the whimsical adventures of 11-year-old John Rivers, a boy whose dreams of flying lead him on an adventure filled with magic and mayhem, and maybe a few hard-earned life lessons along the way.
I’ve collaborated with JD on this blog before now – and was fortunate enough to beta read his latest non-fiction books Peace, Love and Maki Rolls and For Writing Out Loud – though this will be his first guest post on this blog. I was also treated with an early glimpse of Given to Fly, and I found it to be an entertaining, imaginative, emotional thrill-ride that deftly manifested the abstract into the actual, and which actually brought tears to my eyes by the last line. It’s out today, so let’s hear from the writer himself on the inspiration behind this new magical story: over to you, JD!
One of the very first posts I ever uploaded to my blog was a review of Penny Dreadful, in which I enthused over the Gothic decadence and intriguing introspection of this singular series. I love Penny Dreadful very much, but it had many faults and missed opportunities that still plague me. For one, I was always annoyed that the main cast didn’t ever fully ‘assemble’. Secrets that should have been revealed, weren’t, and characters who should have met, didn’t. I still highly recommend the show, especially to anyone with even the vaguest interest in the Gothic, or anyone who wants to see a better version of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Penny Dreadful was a five series show that only got three, and here’s how I would have handled the two seasons it was tragically denied.
I loved Venom.
Not because it’s good: it’s not. I loved it because it was fun and weird and wacky and totally unlike any comic book movie from the last decade. Brimming with Lovecraftian ickiness and Freudian innuendos, the movie exists in the strange, temporal hinterland between Batman & Robin and Catwoman in terms of tone and execution – despite the fact it came out in 2018.
The movie’s tagline declares that ‘[t]he world has enough superheroes’, and it’s right; this isn’t your typical comic book flick at all. Imagine, if you will, that The Mask, The Odd Couple, and Me, Myself and Irene got into the pod from The Fly: Venom would emerge as the macabre mist-baby of that unholy union. Less the dark anti-heroic gore-fest the trailers sought to portray, and more a body-sharing buddy comedy, Venom is at its best when it leans into its weirdness with fearless aplomb and just has a good time…
Public Service Announcement: go read these books! If you love Gothic anything, you’ll love these, and even if you don’t you’ll get a fantastic, feminist adventure series with a preponderance of tea and cake. Okay, now on with part two, which involves monsters, vampires, and other immortals – plus my casting ideas for an inevitable and much-needed adaptation (Netflix, hear my prayer…)
‘Why were adventures always so much less glamorous than they sounded?’ ~ Mary Jekyll
The Athena Club’s adventures continue in Theodora Goss’ fantastic follow-up to her glorious debut The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. The lady monsters of 11 Park Terrace are tasked with rescuing Lucinda Van Helsing from the Alchemist Society’s (SA) sinister clutches; their mission takes them across Europe, from the winding streets of Vienna to the ghoulish forestlands of Styria and further still into the dark heart of the nefarious SA.
It’s thrilling to see Goss weave together her already tight-knit group, seamlessly stitching in even more iconic figures from Gothic literature and threading them into the increasingly tangled mystery. Every character has a part to play in the story, in each other’s lives, and in remoulding our perception of female monsters. Once again, Goss deftly twists the classic tales and characters in myriad ways; every recognisable name that appears from the Gothic pantheon is thrilling (especially to Gothic geeks like myself). And every time a woman speaks to another woman about something that isn’t a man – whether that’s about their exciting escapades, philosophical discussions as to the nature of monstrosity, or the precise ways in which Diana and Mary irk one another – it’s another beautiful, subversive step towards reconstructing the Gothic canon.
There’s mystery, intrigue, romance, angst, frights, delights, thrilling escapes, daring rescues, and above all a deep love and respect for, and between, the characters who were wronged by their original creators (both in the text and in their real-life authorial inventors). If you have even the most passing of familiarity with the names Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, or if you just enjoy a ripping good yarn, then I highly recommend this series. Spoilers from this point on for the two books in the Athena Club series from here on out…
In my opinion, fantasy movies are at their best when they’re made on a smaller budget.
‘But Lord of the Rings!’ I hear you cry. That’s an outlier, okay? The exception that proves the rule. My personal favourite kind of fantasy is the sort of movie you stumble across on the Syfy channel at 3pm in the afternoon; the kind that looks like it was filmed in someone’s garden for a fiver and a Twix.
Even billion-dollar blockbusters can lay claim to some dodgy CGI, so the un-Hollywood effects of the humble Syfy original movie don’t bother me in the slightest. What really counts are the characters: whether you believe in them, empathise with them, and root for them. This is partly why the Lord of the Rings films endure while the Hobbit movies, though more recently released, are far more forgettable. It’s also why the Mythica series has quickly become one of my absolute favourite things of the past decade or more.
When the BBC first broadcast their adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ marvellous Musketeer novels way back in 2014, it seemed as though they had an instant hit on their hands. Swashes were buckled and bodices were ripped, and Luke Pasqualino (d’Artagnan), Tom Burke (Athos), Howard Charles (Porthos) and Santiago Cabrera (Aramis) became the Musketeers for a whole new generation, not to mention household names, along the way. Sunday nights on the Beeb hadn’t had this much sex appeal since Richard Armitage smouldered the nation into submission with his scowling, scene-stealing turn as Robin Hood’s arch-enemy, Guy of Gisbourne, back in 2006.
And then The Musketeers got… dull. Season 1 was a total thrill-fest. In season 2, the cracks began to show, and season 3 was a big ol’ boring mess. Characters were side-lined, storylines were recycled, and it left viewers saying one for all – and all for what? Yes, the show ended two years ago; yes, I’m still annoyed. And I’ll tell you for why…
As promised, here’s the second part of my blog series on Theodora Goss’s magnificent novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. You can find the first part here. In this post, I’ll be looking into the way the book interrogates, explores and approaches gender, and how that plays into the characters’ perceived monstrosity; I’ll also be focusing a lot on Goss’ reinvention of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If you haven’t read The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I urge you to rectify that grave oversight as quickly as a hansom cab or noble steed could carry you – for this post will contain ALL OF THE SPOILERS. For those of you who have already gorged themselves on its Gothic grandeur, read on…
Sometimes a book comes along which seems like it really gets you. Something which captures who you are, and captivates you from the first word to the last. I’ve been blessed by a number of those in my lifetime: Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, Tanith Lee’s White as Snow, Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, to name a few. Theodora Goss’ gloriously Gothic debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, is newest addition to that hallowed list. Knowing my personal and professional interest in all things Gothic, my dear friend AJ Muller recommended it to me – and I’m forever thankful, because this is the best book I’ve read in quite some time.
This book was born from a question Goss asked herself during the writing of her doctoral dissertation: ‘Why did so many of the mad scientists in nineteenth-century narratives create, or start creating but then destroy, female monsters?’ (p. 401). As a response to such gendered destruction, Goss set about writing a Goth-vengers assemble of all the female monsters the nineteenth-century left behind, giving them voices, opportunities and agency that their original counterparts lacked, or were robbed of. The book centres on the daughters of Jekyll and Hyde, who team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to solve a spate of gruesome Ripper-esque murders that culminates in the uncovering of the mysterious Alchemical Society. And if THAT alone doesn’t persuade you to pick up this book, I don’t know what will. Because of its Gothic nature, there are doubles EVERYWHERE, and so in this post I’ll be unpacking the delectable duality in Goss’ skilful twisting of these classic tales.