Most Underrated Stephen King Books

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I realize that Stephen King is a bestselling author, therefore nothing he’s ever done could be properly classified as “underrated”. Yet when someone has 55 novels and 11 collections of short fiction under their belt, some things are bound to get overlooked more than others. When readers discuss his works, there are a lot of usual suspects. The Shining, The Stand, It, Carrie, Christine, Misery, Pet Sematary, you get the picture. Stories that are so ingrained in pop culture that even people who’ve never read them or seen an adaptation know the plot and can quote famous lines. I love these stories, too, but let’s look at some that aren’t as widely known.

liseystoryLisey’s Story. This is a personal favorite of mine that I see get either ignored or generally panned. This book was inspired by King’s accident in June of 1999. A lot of his later work has pulled off of that experience, and in this case he explores the idea of… what if he had died? What if Tabitha, his wife, had been left to deal with the aftermath? And so we have Lisey’s Story.

Lisey’s husband was an author and an eccentric man with a strange past, and she spends the book piecing together what she knew of him. There’s a man seeking what’s left of her husband’s work and willing to do anything to get it. There’s some magic. There’s some of the scariest horror that I’ve ever read in one of his novels. Also, probably his most beautiful and realistic love story. If anyone has anything bad to say about this book, please don’t listen to them. Try this out. It’s unique in his catalogue of work, and it’s worth every page.

Gerald’s Game. Some might argue that this one is plenty popular, and most people know what it’s about. I don’t think that’s entirely true. A woman goes to a cabin with her husband. He handcuffs her to the bed. He dies. She’s stuck there. Most people know that much, but that’s scratching the surface. What Jessie Burlingame endures and discovers about herself makes this a page-turning thriller. It’s not for the faint of heart in any capacity, as it’s violent and disturbing on many levels, meaning he’s as Kingy as ever if that’s what you fear might be lacking. Again, like the previous book I mentioned, this has a female lead that King went above and beyond to give life to. All you Gillian Flynn readers out there ought to read this classic.

darkhalfThe Dark Half. This one is a personal favorite from way back. I’ve been reading King for many years, and this rocked my world the first time I encountered it. We follow Thad Beaumont on a truly bizarre journey. When he was younger, he had these headaches that resulted in an absorbed twin being surgically removed from his brain. Hooked in yet? No? Well, he has a pseudonym he writes under: George Stark. A real hardcase. One day, when a reader of his work tries to blackmail him regarding this pseudonym, Thad comes clean to the public and “kills” George. But George comes back.

That premise alone, people. King dips often into the well of psychic phenomenon, but he’s never done it quite like this. This book has been criticized as it was one of the first King wrote sober, meaning he was in a weird head space and maybe it shows. But considering King at rock bottom was The Tommyknockers, I’d call it an incredible improvement and recommend everyone take this wild ride.

From a Buick 8. I think this one got dismissed because “another evil car?” Definitely not that simple. This car and the strange driver that abandoned it were reported to the local police department (in Pennsylvania! That alone sets it apart!), and they’ve kept it under wraps ever since thanks to a high degree of weirdness surrounding said car. I don’t want to spoil too much, but King dips a toe into his trusty Lovecraftian inspirations for this one. If you want a story wrapped up neatly in a bow, Buick 8 is not about that. For that reason, the mystery of it will haunt you long after you’ve put the book down. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the individual, but I consider it very, very good.

dumakeyDuma Key. So many of King’s post-accident books are not as widely regarded as they should be, and this is probably the saddest victim of that. This has got to be one of the best books he’s ever written, and no one really talks about it. Edgar Freemantle gets in a terrible accident. He loses an arm, suffers brain damage, and the road to recovery is long and hard. King really unloads about physical therapy and trying to get back to normal, which makes the whole thing blisteringly real. But that’s not all.

Edgar starts to paint. He’s good at it, and he enjoys it. Then he starts to paint with the arm that’s not there, and strange things emerge. Again, psychic powers of the very weird variety are one of King’s favorites, but this is so unique. There’s a mystery here to be solved. There’s a monster. It’s all classic King but in new ways that make it feel so shiny and different, which is the best way an author can operate. Returning to old favorites but with new polish.

Those are my recommendations! If you want to talk about King’s work in the comments, I welcome you to it. And if you want to support this blog, check out my RedBubble shop. Purchase something. Share the link. It all helps. Happy geeking!

Discussion: Controversial Media

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What you’re about to read was inspired by this video from Words of a Reader. It’s a topic that comes up every so often in various communities: whether or not dark works full of dark things have merit. I’ll try to address this as sensitively as possible, but the truth is I have some strong opinions about this.

First, let’s define what is meant by “controversial”, as the word has many meanings. As Lesley says in the video above, specifically we’re talking about content and subject matter that involves heavy topics. The sort of things you don’t discuss at the breakfast table. Extreme violence, abuse, sexual violence, topics that make you uncomfortable when the subject is broached.

With that handled, let me show you a thing. There is a type of art known as Transgressive Art. The point of it is to be disturbing, disgusting, and immoral. Not for kicks but rather to challenge the audience to explore their feelings about why they’re offended. It’s a powerful tool, and it can provoke a violent response, but it’s a very effective way of broadening your horizons in art and discovering who you are as a person. What touches you, what moves you, and why you care about the things that you do.

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American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Is everything that offends us transgressive art? That’s a very deep discussion on its own, and I can’t answer that, but I can explore it a little. One of my favorite books is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, an incredibly controversial book. I believe it’s a fascinating exploration of greed and disassociation and the excess of the 1980s. I’ve seen some reviewers who were so deeply affected make the statement that if you enjoyed this book, you must be a “psycho” yourself. They can’t imagine someone gleaning anything from this book besides the enjoyment of violent acts. Naturally I find that to be a very narrow view of art and its potential audience, but really what does it say about them? That they couldn’t see past this admittedly gory frame for the story, is that more a statement about them than the book itself? I think so. Even if the only response that the story receives is deep revulsion, it still succeeded.

That’s the sneaky thing about transgressive art. No matter how it makes you feel, it’s done its job. Whether you appreciate it or despise it, it’s gotten a response. That’s the point of it. That goes for books, films, music, anything that can be applied to the genre. We live in a world now where frightened people want to guard themselves and be ever vigilant against the possibility of being upset. The internet has made it all too easy to stumble across something you didn’t want to see, didn’t mean to click on. I understand not wanting to see someone’s Instagram pic where they accidentally cut a chunk out of their leg when they fell off their bike.  I don’t understand cutting yourself off from potential art.

On a personal note, I want to be transparent here. I have anxiety. It’s something I deal with everyday in some form or other. I have panic attacks, and I take medication when they happen. Whenever I say this alongside the fact that I read a lot of horror and dark literature, people are typically stunned. Why would I do that to myself? I’m not doing anything to myself. Dark stories are the one place where I hold the reins. I control the pace of the story. If it bothers me too much, I can put it down, turn it off, do something else. What someone may go through in a horror story puts my own life and my own fears into perspective. Whatever I’m going through, I’m not going through that. It’s helped me build up a resistance to things that might otherwise haunt me. It’s given me a stronger constitution. It’s helped me explore what I fear and why, whether it’s rational or part of my illness and therefore something to be combated.

No one can hide forever, because the real world is scary. As scary as any story. Fiction and art, in all its forms, gives us an outlet for exploring that in a safe way. We can discuss those dark topics without anyone coming to any harm, and in fact we may learn things that will help us. So if the question is should controversial media matter, should it be appreciated by all? My resounding answer is yes.

The New York Times By The Book Tag

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I’m going to try my hand at a book tag. I really liked the sound of this one. It was created by Marie Berg on YouTube. Let’s get started.

1. What book is on your nightstand now?

Recently I was having the problem of being in the middle of too many books. It was all part of a slump I was going through, and I would start things and not finish them. I’ve narrowed it down though, and I’m focusing my efforts on The Secret Books of Paradys I and II by Tanith Lee. I did order My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix yesterday, so when that arrives, it’ll probably replace it. But generally that is what I’m reading.

2. What was the last truly great book that you read?

I actually just finished a truly great book that has become a new favorite. Swan Song by Robert McCammon. I get that “truly great” is meant to invoke this idea of classics and literature, which I also have a lot of love for, but I’m not afraid to say that this genre novel has greatness in it. Structure, plot, character development, theme, pace… It’s fantastic. I have zero complaints.

3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

Kurt Vonnegut. I can’t say I’d want to know anything in particular. In reading his books I’ve learned so much already about who he was and how he viewed the world. Also general life lessons, because he was cool like that. It’s more that I’d want to hang out with him and talk. Let the conversation go where it will, because he was a very wise man. Chances are just by talking and sharing I’ll learn a lot.

4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have struggled with this question. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised at all by the eclectic nature of my shelves. That there’s pulp SF and classics and horror and literature and Star Trek books and Salvador Dali art books and a huge Stephen King collection and graphics novels and kitschy books “researching” dragons and time travel. If you know what a proud weirdo I am, it will all make perfect sense.

5. How do you organize your personal library?

“Does that fit there? All right.” I wish I could say it was by author or alphabetical or even by color (which I don’t really get, since it seems more confusing, but to each their own). But I have a very limited space, so it’s mostly about maximum storage.

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?

I don’t think anyone should ever feel embarrassed about not reading certain books. Getting that out of the way first thing. Because we all have different tastes, and if a book doesn’t interest you, there’s no reason for you to feel obligated to read it. “Embarrassment” is not the word I’d use, though there are books I want to get to and I’m not happy with myself that I keep putting them off. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has to be the biggest one. And it’s fear. Not of tackling it or that it’ll be hard. All my friends love this book so much. What if I don’t? I don’t want to face having a different opinion on this one. It’s a silly thing, and I’ll get over it, but I think it’s what’s holding me back.

7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. A very ambitious piece of work that was absolute hell to read. I love McCarthy. I hated this book. And I definitely feel I should’ve loved it, which makes it more disappointing.

The last book I put down was Wool by Hugh Howey. I wasn’t impressed enough with it to keep going. The writing style was serviceable, the characters were serviceable, and the story was serviceable. It was a chunker of a book for it to be only meh, so I stopped. It’s actually taken me years to be comfortable with not finishing a book. I’m the sort that doesn’t like leaving things unfinished, but there are too many books in the world for me to read a super long one that I don’t even like.

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

I like the weird stuff. If it sounds like something off-the-wall that I’ve never encountered before, then I’ll be pulled in. On the flip side, if it sounds like the same old, warmed-over stories and characters we’ve all seen again and again, I steer clear.

9. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

It’s safe to say that Obama is a much more well-read individual than I am. I doubt seriously that there is anything I could recommend that he hasn’t already read. In fact, I think I read somewhere that he recommended everyone read Sula by Toni Morrison, and if I were going to nudge a book on anyone because of how important I feel it is, it would be that one. So Obama and I would like you all to read that book, please.

10. What do you plan to read next?

My TBR pile is immense, so it’s hard to say. Aside from what I mentioned being on my nightstand, there’s City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled by Harlan Ellison. I have a lot of things calling my name right now, and the hard part is going to be settling for just one.

Try out this tag for yourself, as it’s a good one to get the brain gears turning. If you liked this article, check out my Redbubble shop. There are tons of designs, some of them bookish, to be found there. And as always, happy geeking!

Review: The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

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The last book in Stephen King’s latest endeavor, The Bill Hodges Trilogy, came out June 7. End of Watch is an apt title for it, to be sure, but I’d like to do more than just review that book. I’d like to look over the series as a whole.

As far as series go, it’s not one of my all-time favorites. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed it or that it was bad, but crime/mystery novels are not what I typically go in for. I enjoy thrillers, but this idea of the older detective and his plucky assistants is not within my wheelhouse. But it’s Stephen King. I’m going to read it if it’s King, and even though this isn’t my preferred genre, he brings enough to the table that I was invested and read each book as soon as it came out.

Mr. Mercedes, the first installment, is my favorite of the bunch. It was fast-paced. Brady as a character in particular felt well-crafted. While Bill Hodges is a typical King hero, he steps outside of the box slightly with Holly Gibney. The singular drawback of this book, and this extends to the whole series, is the pulpiness of it. That’s such a personal thing for me to dislike, as well, so it’s not likely everyone will feel that way. It’s clear King is pulling from his favorite detective novels, calling Hodges “old-school” and giving him a fedora and molding him into a gumshoe. I’m sure he wants it to be charming, but often it feels hokey. That aside, the plot was very engaging, and the open-ended finale compels you to read the next one.

The next one being the least of them all in my opinion, Finders Keepers. It takes half the book to set up the case, and the other half is spent with Hodges swiftly putting the pieces together and ending the whole thing. A slow build to a thrilling, yes, but swift conclusion. As a ravenous book eater, the plot did intrigue me. This idea of a writer with a manuscript that he hasn’t published and his “biggest fan” stealing it. I think any one of us who loves books is fascinated by an idea like that, but King mostly takes the writer’s side. As you’d expect he would. So that the ending that makes all of us gasp with dismay probably feels just right to him. King is a fan of reading, too, so I don’t think this was intentional, but there are whiffs of an author’s rights in there that don’t read as fun to this fan.

Then there’s the latest, End of Watch. There were hints in Finders Keepers that he was going to take this series where it landed, and here we are. I think this was a bold choice. One some fans will celebrate and some will give the big thumbs down. Personally I love King’s crazy horror roots, it’s what I’m here for, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. This is a very close second to the first book, but it doesn’t quite match King’s initial inspiration and how on fire Mr. Mercedes felt. I did read this book in no-time flat, if that’s any indication of its worth.

This is one of those series that I want to love, but instead I like it a lot. There are a lot of reasons for that, like the one I listed above about not being a mystery reader. I’ve also read a lot of Stephen King. I am a Constant Reader from way back, so I know his tricks. He does manage to surprise me, but here he’s pulling out all the old favorites. Maybe that’s the fault of the person who read over 60 books by the same author, but there’s not much new to glean here other than him trying his hand at a different genre.

There’s more that irks me though. Like Bill Hodges being the perfect detective who is there to solve mysteries and have the outline of a likeable personality with little depth. Jerome, who is an excellent character if King could stop himself from giving him this little quirk… where he acts like the stereotype of a black man. A joke that King seems sure is landing beautifully when it truly isn’t.

And Holly. Holly has obscure mental illness syndrome, which makes her act in ways that indicate about a dozen different maladies. She’s “quirky” and “odd” and “peculiar”. She tends to make the other characters uncomfortable, so that when Jerome and Bill tolerate her, it elevates them to the level of saints. I love Holly for being representation of a thing myself and many people I know go through. I hate her for being a cartoony exaggeration of those things. I want to love her so much more, and I waffle and seesaw. She is one of the best worst characters I’ve ever read. One moment King has an incredible insight into people who hurt inside through her. The next she’s saying “fracking poopy” or quoting facts about a movie that no one wanted, and we’re all supposed to smirk. Such mixed feelings.

That’s a great word for my feelings about this series as a whole: mixed. This series is obviously great with a big scope. The books are utterly readable. Perfect summer reads packed with memorable characters and a wild ride. Overall I can say I enjoyed it and would give the thumbs up to anyone who is interested. But if asked to recommend King’s books to a newcomer, this wouldn’t be the first I’d jump to.

If you enjoyed this review and want to support me and my blog, check out my Redbubble shop. There are some Stephen King designs on there, if that’s what you dig. Buy something, share the link, every little bit helps. And as always, happy geeking!

My Journey With Doctor Strange: Part One

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I’ve been a Doctor Strange fan for a while now. When out-of-the-way, not-as-popular-as-the-rest superheroes were getting movies left and right, I found myself salivating, waiting for the day they’d announce Doctor Strange. I knew it was only a matter of time, and here we are only months away from the premiere.

Yet my knowledge of him from the comics feels so limited. Every time I encountered him, he was part of a larger story or someone else’s comic. Popping in to be awesome for a moment then gone again. I’d watched the 2007 animated film, but that doesn’t really feel like enough (though it was good, and I recommend it). So I’m diving deeper at long last, and trust me when I say this was overdue. Here’s a wrap-up of four miniseries I read recently.

Doctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak. Eh. I wish I could say more than “eh”, but it was very eh. This was a retelling of the good doctor’s origin story, and it really didn’t go the way I expected. It was clearly written to suit a newer audience, so the soul-searching you expect a man like Stephen Strange to do consisted of “he’s a jerk… now he’s good.” Not much of an arc there. Wong, his trusty assistant, is here, and wildly out of character. They spend the entire story sniping at each other and vaguely fighting over some randomly inserted woman. The whole thing felt like a buddy action flick, not the magical, paranormal ride I thought I’d signed up for. Funnily enough, this probably isn’t the place to start for new readers, as I think it gives the wrong first impression. Rating: 3/5

Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa by J.M. DeMatteis. Now this is what I’m talking about. This was all about Strange diving within himself, solving a spiritual mystery, changing the world, and learning what kind of man he is. The artwork was gorgeous. The writing was poetic and lovely. The story was secondary to the character development we get with Strange himself. This is definitely the kind of thing I prefer to an action-heavy, goofball plot. Highly recommended, and a good place to start if you’re looking for one. Rating: 5/5

Doctor Strange: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan. Vaughan has seen a huge burst in popularity with his series Saga, and this is not my first go with him. He’s a fantastic writer, and he proves that every time I pick up one of his comics. The Oath tackles not only Strange as a sorcerer but as a physician. The oath in question is his Hippocratic one, and I like that element being present. That Strange is the sort of person that, while he’s sometimes veered from the path, he wants to help people. His decision to be a doctor in the first place was part of that. This one beautifully balances that character study with a plot full of twists, turns, and crazy magic. Rating: 4/5

Strange: The Doctor Is Out! by Mark Waid. There seemed to be some backlash against this one, but I’ll say upfront, I loved it. Strange has, for reasons that were never explained within the comic itself, lost the majority of his powers. He can still do a few little things, but mostly he’s not the Sorcerer Supreme he once was. In trying to fix a little demon problem, he runs into a young woman with a special knack for magic. Adventure and possible apprenticeship ensues.

Casey, the apprentice in question, was a great character. I fell in love with her very quickly. The artwork was fantastic, and I especially have to compliment the monster design here. I also really loved this version of Strange. He was grizzled, world-weary, and Constatine-esque, and I saw nothing there to hate to be sure. I would’ve loved to see more from this version of him, since it was a great jumping off point for a “paranormal investigator” series. Again, for starting points, this isn’t great. But if you’re reading a lot about the character, this might be a refreshing take for you. Rating: 5/5

There you have it! And this is just so far. I intend to read more and report back. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know. If you’re trying to get started on reading more about this character, I hope this helped in some way.

Lastly, if you want to support this blog, check out my RedBubble shop. I have tons of designs on tons of products, and making a purchase or even sharing the link helps me out immensely. Happy geeking!

Tips for Reading Shakespeare

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Reading Shakespeare can be intimidating. I’ve only gotten back into it myself in the last couple of years, and I was nervous. His writing is so beautiful, but some passages can feel impenetrable. Once I got into it, I realized it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. To encourage any of you reading this to try as well, here are some tips that might make the way easier.

Context clues. What do I mean by that? I mean that if a phrase or word seems to mean something based on the context it’s said in, then you’re probably right. Pay attention to what the characters are talking about, where they are, the plot, and the meaning of difficult passages usually explain themselves. Once you get the hang of this, it becomes second nature.

Read in a quiet place where you can concentrate. This might seem obvious, but it’s pretty essential. Don’t try to read Shakespeare in a busy waiting room or with kids running around screaming or when you’re generally distracted. Read somewhere and at a time when you can really dig into it and absorb it. Anything else will leave you feeling too easily confused.

Keep Google on hand. If anything is so baffling that you just can’t, Google it. That’s the rule of life these days really, and it works here, too. There have been so many people over the years to give their two cents about his work that you’ll find a plethora of resources online for your needs. Research to your heart’s content. It can only help.

Pay attention to the editions you buy. Some editions have helpful glossaries right there in your hand. The Folger Shakespeare Library editions are especially good for this. They have the play on one side of the page and definitions of difficult parts on the other. You don’t even have to turn the page to get the information you need. Highly recommended.

Watch adaptations. Reading in a poetic language can leave one wondering how the hell someone even begins to talk like that. How that would sound. Luckily, these are plays. All of them have been adapted at one point or another. Watching someone perform the work can be a huge help in understanding how the words should be recited. It will help with the flow of your reading if you can imagine how that line would be delivered.

Read synopses before you read the play. I know. Those are spoilers, and that’s crazy talk. But really if you’re having a hard time keeping characters and subplots straight, spoil yourself. You’ll still want the beautiful writing and the great character development and the exploration of the human soul. You just won’t be as confused about what’s going on. Shakespeare is one of those things where the idea of being spoiled is silly, because it’s so much more than plot.

I hope this helped any of you who are feeling shy about trying him out. He’s not always easy, but he’s always rewarding. You’ll be glad you gave him a chance.

If you liked this article or found it helpful, check out my RedBubble store. It’s the surest way to support me and this blog. And there are a couple of Shakespeare designs for your perusal. As always, happy geeking.

Episode Review – Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

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I’m late to the game on this. I usually am. But I can officially say I’ve seen the Sherlock “Christmas” Special that everyone else has already seen and analyzed to death. Yes, I know how Sherlock fans are, being one myself. Mild spoilers ahead!

First off, “Christmas” is in quotes because it sort of takes place during Christmas for a space, but then it doesn’t really have much to do with Christmas. It’s even sort of lampshaded with everyone saying “Merry Christmas” and Sherlock being relieved they got that out of the way. So is this an episode you can watch during the holiday season and feel all cozy? No, but if you wanted that thin excuse, it is there.

“The Abominable Bride” takes on the traditional Sherlock Holmes set in the Victorian era with all the trappings. The characters are mainly cut from the cloth of the books and previous adaptations here with little flourishes that remind us of the modern take we’re accustomed to from the show.

There’s a grand twist in there, as well. For the case, yes, but also for Sherlock as a character and the entire reason we’re watching old-school Holmes and Watson running after ghosts. It’s enough to have any fan speculating for years to come, but I will say that I take it more at face value than some fans seem to. I don’t believe it’s going to destroy the whole series and become a cheap, it-was-all-a-dream cop-out that will echo through the ages. I did think it was clever, and this show always delivers on that front.

I’ve seen a lot of backlash from what the ultimate solution was. Many felt that the show-runners tackling feminism sent the wrong message. For my part, I was relieved they finally broached the subject. After Sherlock’s treatment of characters like Molly and Janine, their introduction of Irene Adler as a lesbian turned straight thanks to Sherlock’s awesomeness… They needed to answer for some things. They needed to address that Sherlock’s attitude toward women, and in some ways their own, is flawed. I use that word “flawed” very specifically. No one needs to be strung up from a tree, but improvements could certainly be made. This episode felt like an apology, a love letter to the women of the series, who are all amazing by the way. I appreciated it. Especially after Janine (has ever a fictional woman been more used, scorned, and tossed aside?), I wanted some form of apology, and this felt like I got it. So good job, I say.

That’s actually a nice way to slip into talking about Mary Watson. A character generally panned and hated, and I know people’s reasons. For me, the only one that might hold even an ounce of water is that she shot Sherlock. How can she be trusted after that? I find myself not questioning it, not caring about that part of things, and simply marveling at the character Mary is. Also, wishing she was much more a part of things. I love how unassuming she is, how her skills and prowess come as such a pleasant surprise. I love that she’s much sneakier than Sherlock and John. I just adore this character, and it needed to be said. Her role here is small, but I noticed every second of it.

Again, a little spoilery, but Moriarty is here. He’s sort of the main reason we’re here. He’s as fantastic as always, raising the bar of every scene he’s in. We get a lot more insight into the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock, both heartbreaking and making me wonder once again what Mycroft isn’t telling us. We get a tiny dose of Irene Adler. There’s enough in this episode for a bucket-load of squee.

This story, for me, was less about a case to solve (and the episode itself basically says that) and more about Sherlock’s psychology. In that way, it’s being picked apart by fans who want answers, but I don’t think all that is entirely necessary. Sherlock himself is all about details, but “The Abominable Bride” is about a general feeling, showing us the brush that his mind is painted with. Obsession, addiction, excuses, and sadness. And I hope Series 4 continues to explore these ideas.

If you liked this article and want to support me and my blog, check out my RedBubble shop. I put up new designs all the time. Take a look and see if there’s anything you like. Or just share the link. Promotion helps me, too. Thank you and as always, happy geeking.

New Design: Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

Here’s a new design I made, and the main reason I’m reblogging it here is because it ties in nicely with my article from a few days ago. If you like what you see, consider purchasing it. Also, feel free to follow my design blog for more updates to the RedBubble shop.

Robot Owl Designs

richardiii_ad.jpgNow Is The Winter Of Our Discontent at RedBubble

…made glorious summer? Not if Richard has anything to do with it. Check out this design on many different products at the link above.

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Why Is Richard III My New Favorite Shakespeare Play?

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Admittedly I’m not as well-read in Shakespeare as I want to be. I’ve read/experienced pitifully few of his plays, and I’m trying to rectify that as I read by choosing Shakespeare more often than I have in the past. Of what I had read, I was a Hamlet girl. 100%. I was fascinated by the depth of Hamlet himself and the tragedy of his situation and how it played out. How his youth and his grief resulted in what it did. I still feel that way, but Richard III sort of sneaked in and grabbed me unexpectedly.

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The edition I read. It’s very good, if you’re looking for a recommendation.

Is it actually a better play than Hamlet? No. It’s not as tightly written. The characters rather than being a pastiche of grayness are desperately black and white, which is not nearly as interesting to read. Some of the character motivations, especially Anne, my God, are baffling. As a historical piece it doesn’t work at all, because we know now that Richard III is propaganda as written by a man trying to appease the winners of the War of the Roses.

What about it works then? What grabbed me so hard? Richard. No, this is not an accurate portrayal of the man as a historical figure, but as someone who has gone on to inspire a plethora of villains and disabled characters unjustly viewed as villains (Tyrion Lannister, for example), this Richard is a legend.

I fully understand, by the way, the dangerous implications of Richard being disabled and also horrifically evil. This play was written at a time when disabilities were considered “God’s curse”, and in that we get into a lot of uncomfortable and hurtful territory. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not being able to stomach it on that level. For my part, and apparently for the part of many who adapt the play, it’s a lot easier to see that what turned Richard was hearing that for his entire life. Being treated differently. In a way, it’s still a valid play that we can constantly turn back to in an imperfect world.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hollow Crown

Which brings me to the recent BBC adaptation of Richard III via The Hollow Crown, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead role. He does play the character as someone who, being viewed as he was simply because of his appearance, has carried not only his disability but the pain others have heaped on him. It comes through beautifully, and I highly recommend this one as an adaptation to watch if you’re even halfway interested. His corruption by choice starts to become a whirlwind by the halfway point wherein Richard seems unhinged, losing his grip on reality, and the tragedy rings throughout it. They manage to balance Richard’s villainy with pathos and deepen the character substantially.

But what about a version where he’s gleefully evil? Ian McKellan is your man here. The film adaptation he starred in is titled simply Richard III, but it stands out uniquely. It’s set in England in the 1930s and takes on a World War II aesthetic. With Richard as an obvious figure. I say obvious, but it’s not a bad thing really. Richard lacks a bit of nuance because of it, but Sir Ian looking us dead in the eye and smirking over his wicked deeds is too good. It raises the level of heavy-handedness to incredible heights. Another I recommend.

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Ian McKellan in Richard III

I’m actually on a quest to watch more adaptations. I’d like to check out Laurence Olivier, of course. I’ve seen some clips, but I’d like to see the full film. Martin Freeman, Kevin Spacey… This play is so tempting for actors, and it attracts the very talented because of the opportunity to play Richard on so many levels, with both glee and regret. A clever, winking villain seems to be an actor’s playground.

Now to the real core of it all. The play itself. What makes these adaptations work, I’m surprised to say, is that they cut out a lot of unnecessary trifles. A lot of people die in Richard III. Spoilers, though non-specific ones. It’s a war for the crown. People will die, if we’ve learned nothing else from George R.R. Martin. Shakespeare was bad to introduce a character, seal their fate, and then give them a monologue about how sad it all is. It’s not very compelling to read. Apparently it’s not very compelling to film either, because I’ve yet to see anyone really use those moments without cutting them to shreds. Necessary shreds, I want to emphasize.

What the play needed more of, all of, was Richard. His lines sing. His banter with Elizabeth and Anne is quick and potent. Focusing in on him, perhaps to the exclusion of some other characters, works. It seems to be universally accepted that this is how you make this play great, by zeroing in on Richard. Because with all the excess, the fat that needs to be trimmed, it’s slow. You find yourself wondering when Richard will pop up to grin at you again.

This was one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays. He was still learning, still honing his skills. No writer, not even him, could achieve perfection right out of the gate. But he hit on something. A thing he’d continue to explore throughout his work. Why does an “evil person” do evil things? What motive do they have? Would they ever doubt themselves? How can they love themselves and do evil? In Richard he created a devil, someone who should seem entirely irredeemable, and made them tempting, fun, and even miserably tragic and sympathetic. For an early work, that’s very good.

I say again, as an overall play it’s not better than Hamlet. Yet Richard as a character fired my imagination and has clearly done so for others. For that alone, it’s taken a special place in my hierarchy.

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