Episode 25: Treasure Island Finale

With the URI grad conference only a few days away, updates will be sporadic and probably shorter than usual. You have been warned. Okay, so I finally finished Treasure Island last night after a weird and interesting day of Dungeons & Dragons and ice skating. My survival at both was expected but still surprising. The book was pretty good and you can see why a lot of people have done their own adaptations no matter what the type of program. It was not nearly as bad as many other things I’ve read for hours at a time but it’s not nearly as much as a page turner than say a Terry Pratchett book, those are freakin awesome. Here are some things that bothered me while reading.

First, eleven year old Jim Hawkins becomes even more important to the story. He runs away from the good guy base and decides to take the crappy raft from marooned pirate turned barabarian Ben Gunn. Jim takes sails out only to take back the actual boat that he himself had cut loose while everyone was busy/drunk. Oh and he sails that boat back into the island but soon after fights with the remaining crew member. First rule, always make sure your guns are properly loaded, Jim ended up being chased by drunk guy with knife all over the boat. Once reloaded, he threatens to kill drunk porate who was climbing the mast or something with knife in mouth, which he then throws at Jim and hits him in the shoulder. The immediate reaction was to fire both guns and thus the little kid is now a killer and shows no remorse. The injury doesn’t even bother him that much. He even bluffs that he killed another person when he was taken prisoner and acts all super macho with the old, “kill me if you want, it won’t solve your problems” speech and it worked.

Something that confused me is the different names by which one character is referred to. Long John Silver has so many names and I only realized it was the same guy somewhere beyond the halfway point. Sometimes he’s John, at others Silver, another time he’s the cook, then the quartermaster, then the captain, sometimes they throw PC rhetoric out the window and just call him the cripple. One of the reasons why I love comics is that you literally have a clear visual indicator as to which character is saying what.

Weird thing I found is that they make a big deal about honor and following proper parlamentary procedure when it comes to people talking but ambushes and killing people with surprise sneak attacks with gun shots on both sides are business as usual. Besides the more important characters, there are really no indications as to which evil red shirts get to die and survive. I think like one guy beyond the good guys and Long John survive until the end of the novel and he gets like two lines throughout the entire book. I guess once a Red Shirt always a red shirt. The epilogue gives that guy a surprisingly complex ending while Jim just continues referring to things in the past tense with a weird smug sense of superiority over the somewhat competent adults of the novel.

Perhaps the only interesting serial moment comes with the footnotes of another book that says that one installment ends 20 paragraphs into chapter 24, just before Jim goes on solo boat chase. The next installment provides the remainder of Chapter 24 and the next two chapters. It’s odd because the break is important enough to warrant a division of installments but not one for chapter separation in the novel format. They could make a new chapter no problem but didn’t. Robert Louis Stevenson and editors, why u no maintain textual unity between formats?

Episode 23: A First Look at Treasure Island

The other day I went by the library and renewed my search for more books that were relevant to my research. Having given up on finding awesome graphic novels in the campus library, I decided to look for the fun and classic pieces in my reading lists. FYI, my outside professor from my major committe has given a thumbs up to my current version of reading lists. ust remember to continue to bribe him with tostones at some point in the near future. Anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was serialized and earned a spot so I decided to pick it up. There’s something eerily satisfying about picking up a book in the library and being the first person to take it out. Reading pace is not at its best and doing about 20 pushups in between the equivalent of each installment keeps me interested and awake but my random chest pains have come back with a vengeance so let’s not try that particular form of a serial reading experience again. I’m only about halfway through but here are my thoughts so far. Oh and in case it wasn’t obvious spoiler alerts from here on out are implied.

First off, the plot seems pretty familiar and pirates are cliched to the point of parody. That is the first impression that you will get until you remember that it is a classic for a reason. This book has inspired just about every book, film, and whatever about pirates and finding lost treasure (Johny Depp’s eye shadow not included). If it wasn’t in the public domain, I’m pretty sure that lawsuits would have been made on a regular basis. Also, a lot of forms of serial fiction have done the Treasure Island episode at least once so don’t feel surprised if you have literally seen these events before. Also, movie versions are quite common, most famous of course are The Muppet’s version and multiple Disney versions including the animated one done *insert booming echo voice here* IN SPACE! with Treasure Planet. Don’t remember seeing either so still good.

Reserach into the book shows that it actually was not well received as a serial but became super famous as full novel. It makes some sense in that a lot of the better cliffhangers occur at the end of chapters but not at the end of installments. The action is surprisingly good and you can see why it’s considered a page turner even back in the day. There has only been one illustration so far and it came in the middle of a chapter, browsing through the book I found a few more. Need to check if my version is the only one that does this or if original publication also lacked images. Things you notice very quickly:

1) if he looks like a pirate, he is a pirate and is actually evil. Expect betrayal/mutiny within the next few chapters.

2) The 11 year old protagonist Jim Hawkins is apparently an integral and competent part of any plan done by any responsible adult within sight. I don’t know why but I am getting a Lisa Simpson vibe from him.

Things that make you freak out if you are old enough/know wnough obscure trivia about seafaring: Jim is brought on board the ship looking for the titular island/treasure as a cabin boy. At first you think he does odd jobs, keeps moral up, and genuinely helps out in little ways while learning about different duties around the ship. I would believe the same thing except for a weird English class I took several years ago about “Films of the Sea” where they explained cabin boy. Not to go into graphic detail but remember how ancient Greek/Spartan/Roman soldiers would have a young apprentice of sorts and a homosexual relationship was implied if not completely factual. Now imagine that but in a boat and the ratio of man to boy being exactly what you would imagine . Let’s just say that doing barrel or peg duty is not what it sounds like. The book never even suggests anything like that but man did I want to call the Victorian Chris Hanson when i heard that he was hired as cabin boy for the voyage.

Plot wise: Expect anyone to die and be revealed to be evil, not necessarily in that order. Let me give you a brief history of death in this novel. First was Jim’s dad who died of mysterious illness, thus elevating Ji to man of the house and suddenly responsible and expected to bring in money for is mother. Then there was mysterious old man, later revealed to be Bill Bones, who is actually a pirate, who was evil and buried a treasure and died from wounds sufferred after Black Dog, also revealed to be a pirate, who once worked for Capt. Bones. Then old blind guy, named Pew who is (you guessed it) a former pirate who is looking for the map but his crew ends up abandoning him and then he slips and dies, because he was blind and it was dark out when he stumble over a cliff or something. Wait was darkness actually partly responsible for this book? A few chapters later once the mutiny starts, redshirt good guy who just got a name Alan dies off screen. Not two pages later, another good guy Tom was killed in gory detail. The details are actually awesome and worth talking about. Long John Silver (yes, THAT Long John Silver) who has a really big peg leg lets Tom walk away after he says that he does not want to get involved. From about 15-20 feet away, the old crippled dude removes his peg leg, throws it like a javelin, hits the guy in the back in a way that apparently shatters his spine. He then hobbles/hops rather nimbly until he jumps on the guy and stabs him repeatedly. Freakin awesome.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll report the ending.

Episode 22: Late Night Revelations and Trying to Understand Them

There are many reasons to do something important through the tried and tested method of pulling an all nighter. I really respect people that function in a competent manner in the am hours after the sunrise but I apparently do my best work before that moment. As my productivity levels need to increase like crazy in order to make taking comps this September a realistic goal I am considering becoming nocturnal once again much like I did durning thesis writing. Probably saving that trump card until mid April at least. Anyway, I prefer all nighters because of the one thing that no other method of writing/reading/studying has ever provided has given me. Fun fact: sleep deprivation at some moments gives the same effect of being high out of your mind. Now I’ve never taken any kind of drug beyond the prescription kind that has actually been prescribed to me, so I have no idea what being high or drunk feels like. What I do know is that every so often, all nighters suddenly lead to an awesome revelation. Apparently intellectual exhaustion summons my muse. Two pretty awesome quotes have come from said moments, both having to do with my research in serial fiction.

The first came after a long night of thesis chapter writing two years ago. During those months I would work from midnight to 6am on a fairly constant basis to then sleep until noon. After one such night I was getting a glass of water as my parents were getting their coffee. My mind wandered as my responses to their questions were simple and mostly monosyllabic. Then it suddenly hit me:

The serial remains in narrative flux until the final installment is published.

It sounded like brilliance collided with simplicity. It seems perfectly obvious now, especially if you have been cordial enough to hear my explanations on serial fiction and/or read this blog. But then I was starting out with all this research and friends and professors alike were doubting whether or not I could pull off the epic crazy fun thesis I had planned. The sentence illustrated my ideas perfectly. Anything can happen so long as the story has not finished. The author has powers that go beyond any kind of expectation that readers or logic could surmise. It becomes extra crazy with webcomics, where the entire narrative is often a one person operation with no editors or executives. Add in the point that one could technically make additional installments long after the final official chapter has been written means that the story is never over and closure can never really be achieved. I’m pretty sure that fans of something like Harry Potter are losing more sleep than myself thinking about how JK Rowling can write a sequel whenever the Hell she wants and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

A few days ago I had another such revelation after working on stuff with the URI Grad Conference. By the way, the conference is looking amazing and I hope that you local readers definitely go and help out. I actually got some sleep in when somewhere between rest and dream the following suddenly dawned on me.

The temporal nature of serial fiction and periodicals require a visual component (big headline, illustration, etc) that goes beyond the standard print format to make a more immediate and contrasting realization of the most recent installment.

I have been putting a lot of thought into how serials are multimodal/multimedia in nature. There is something extra that the standard novel doesn’t have. There is certainly a business aspect of having readers clearly see that this is not yesterday’s newspaper or last month’s comic or the previous installment in a poular book series. Again, this seems obvious and logical but it’s academic value lies when the serial version suddenly becomes compiled into novel format. You see, Victorian serials had illustrations as a fairly common part of the narrative. But if you ever peruse the classic literature section in your nearby library/bookstore you will rarely find the same works with any sort of image. You need to find the super authoritative defninitive critical edition to get the original illustrations from the serial version of each installment. Vanity Fair by Thackeray for example has really good illustrations, one of which did suggest that a character’s natural death was actually a murder, did not show up in the book version I saw. Only through crazy Internet stuff did I even get the idea to bring up the images in an MA class where we were studying the novel. Let’s see what inspiration brings us next.

Episode 21: Of Anecdotes and Indexes

A few people have been saying that I should include some of my interesting stories based on my actual real life. I figure I might as well follow the example of the serial authors I’m studying and alter some installments accordingly. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about some literary research and you will sonn see why. So last week in the middle of Spring Break I get an email from Higher One. If you do not know who they are then you are a lucky person for these are the people in charge of all things relevant to federal student loans. My financial aid is pretty much non existant throughout my PhD so these loans have made it possible that I not take crazier economic choices or empty out a big chunk of my parents’s retirement/savings to continue my education. A lot of the emails they send are about as helpful as your overly worried Aunt sending info on the newest “computer virus” or how crafty criminals are out to get you. This time however they sent me a notice that I would start paying off my student loans in a few months. WTF explitives and quizzical looks were constant for a while and I just wanted to wait and call them up the next day so that it would be a conversation and not a string of screams and insults. Just before I was about to make that call my parents emailed me that Higher One sent them a letter, an actual snail mail letter, which they scanned and sent as well. Apparently, and I did not know this, it is not enough to be a part time student (aka taking some kind of credits) in order to get loans and to still be considered a student for the issue of not paying back yet. Luckily, Spring Break did not stop administrative buildings on campus from operating and I was able to ask around for the appropiate course of action. Another issue arose in that the loans for this semester now technically didn’t exist either so now I needed to pay this semester’s tuition out of pocket if my situation didn’t get fixed soon. My one option was to get extra credits added to my curriculum of my thesis dissertation research class after the add drop deadline. I was worried but my major professor had no problem with this. Long story short, the graduate school didn’t even bat an eyelash before giving me the stamp of approval and sending me on my way to enrollment services to make the appropiate changes. So yeah, this means that I technically almost doubled my workload in order to prove my research abilities. The realization that I needed to up my awesomeness and responsibilites by a lot came in full point today when I met up with a guy who was looking for an editor for an epic fantasy book he wrote. I was in the top 3 people considered for the job but I explained to him that I needed to focus on my reading lists for comps. The money wasn’t great for the job but the experience and cv building would have been good.

Because I’ve decided to work a lot harder on finding cool books for research. The campus library unfortunately had no Batman titles so I decided to look more in a classical literary direction. I found “Victorian Novels in Serial” by J. Don Vann and thought I hit the jackpot. Looking through the book I suddenly found that my expectations needed to be culled and quick. The book itself is more an index and list of serials done by different authors, where they were originally published, when, and division of chapters per installments. Fairly interesting but nothing that will revolutionize potentiatl dissertation ideas. Some of the cooler stuff is the footnotes that put how original installments would have weird differentiations between original serial fiction and the novelized chapter version. Also, freakin Treasure Island was serialized so awesome. One additional author that needs some extra digging into is William Wilky Collins, more of a sensationalist novelist but he had a really cool saying about writing serials: “make em laugh, make em cry, and make them wait” Definitely need to add him in.

Episode 20: Adaptation Immigration and How the Work Is Ever Changing

When the popularity of a given serial hits its stride, you can bet that someone down the line will think that making a movie is a good idea and actually has the cash to back it up. If the serial runs long enough and/or if it becomes mainstream fairly early on, then there is a good chance that the movie will be filmed and distributed while installments of the original are still being published. While most of the original readers go to the movie and compliment the visual effects while having reservations about how true it is to the book, there will be a lot of new people that have no idea what’s going on will perceive that this new version is the true one. The weirdness of reader reception of book vs the movie, comic vs cartoon, and even the old school conflict of novel vs play comes into an interesting moment when the actual author is part of that audience.

The most recent example of this can be seen with the Harry Potter books and movies. The first film came out about the same time the fifth book was being written. Now I’ve seen some of the movies and I am planning to work through the books so when I end up reading I’m going to visualize the actors being the characters and not the other way around. The performances of some of the actors are good enough that they end up influencing how the actual characters are being described. JK Rowling in an interview actually said that seeing Alan Rickman being Snape was so impressive that she ended up writing the last books with this vision in mind. I’ve got some friends that insist that Alan Rickman is a real dreamboat and he has an awesome accent so the decision, be it active or subconscious is a pretty obvious one.

In my research I recently read about Charles Dickes going through a similar scenario between Oliver Twist the serial novel and Oliver Twist the theater performance. The novel was barely halfway through when someone got permission to do the stage adaptation, and basically guess what the ending would be. Both in the novel as in the play Fagin was the clear antagonist but at the current installment he wasn’t the full out bad guy. Dickens realized this and had to step up the villainization process in the upcoming episodes. The previous example doesn’t really work in contemporary forms of serial fiction, except maybe with fanworks of something. Imagine if Batman had Two Face with full back story in the movie while Harvey Dent is still pretty much a normal guy.

Speaking of Batman, the best example of one medium interpretation influencing the original can be seen with a narrative strategy known as the canon immigrant. Batman has been going around since pre WWII and shown up in a bucnh of different ways accross the years. One such format and one of my personal favorites was the animated cartoon from the 90s in the WB channel. It had some of the best storylines from the original comics and put stuff in that the movies had also worked on. What made it interesting is that the original content was also very good and made its way into the comics. Amongst these forms of immigration came the character of psychologist Harley Quinn who would become the sidekick and love interest for the Joker or as she calls him “Mister Jay.” The sexy psychopath ended up becoming a fan favorite, showing up in the comics, got her own title, and even has a major role in the most recent Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City videogames. Also, fun fact: the voice of harley Quinn in the videogames is done by the same person as Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony fame. Crazy huh.

Episode 19: Back to Basics and Definitions to Follow

It suddenly hits you after writing for over two weeks that I’m using a lot of terminology that I take as common knowledge because of the years of research I have put into this field of study. While I’m quite sure that all of you readers are quite intelligent and my material is not exactly at the levels of quantum metaphysics, there is still some material that just does not click immediately for you. Most posts provide a historical context towards the term to which special attention is being given to but let’s go to the most basic of words so that we are all on the same page here.

The most obvious word is of course “serial” which is considered to be part of a series, often used to describe a particular kind of killer and most likely to be confused and mispelled with the cereal you eat for breakfast. There are many definitions for serial within the realms of literature but the one I go by for my academic work is that of Michael Lund and Linda Hughes in the book The Victorian Serial where the very first page provides says that it is “a continuing story over an extended period of time with enforced interruptions.” Now let’s really break up that definition to its base elements because we want to gain a better understanding of this area and I want to show you just how much I overthink everything when it comes to serials.

Now the word story is basic enough but ask any academic and you will get a different definition each time. It is often used as a synonym for narrative but that’s a bit tricky. For sake of argument, let’s give the rudimentary definition of a story as the telling of an event through a given medium in which an event occurs in its entirety from beginning to end. The continuing part is tricky because that means that the story is divided into smaller parts that only when put together contain the entirety of said story. Divisions in stories occur in just about everything. Theatre plays have scenes and acts, songs have verses, chorus, and bridge, poetry has verses and stanzas, tv shows have commercials, and novels have chapters. Hell, every page, sentence, and space puts up some sort of break into a particular story. What makes serials so interesting is the last part of the enforced interruption. Serials divide the story in installments all of which have to be significant enough to deliver a meaningful fraction of the story to make the reading experience worth it but leave enough information out to entice readers to look forward to the next part. All of the previous breaks in the actions exist but ultimately is up to the reader to decide when and where to stop. Except for serials where the remaining installments are not yet published or maybe even written, so there is something hysically and temporally stopping you from culminating the story. You have to wait and in that time you speculate, you talk to your friends, you read the installment a second time, you might go over previous points in the story, and you continue to live your life. And the cycle continues until the final installment is published.

The weird part is that anything can become a serial long after the initial story was deemed to be finished. Sequels, prequels, inbetweenquels, and reboots can be made at any given moment by anyone. Hence the story is never over but the journey of reading is one for the search of closure, something that serial fiction delays and deters as its own nature. The process is exhausting enough with one serial but chances are you are following various television programs, book series, movies, comics, webcomics, etc. Some say that this makes society crazy but I think it makes people come together and talk about their facorite stories over these enforced interruptions. But of course, the key is moderation.

More definitions later. Sleep now. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz