Once again… the YouTube algorithm has recommended a gem!
Another year, another round of books leaving copyright! Check out the list here.
Most notable (to me) is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence. I wrote an eight-part review series on it a while ago. I’d like to think Ned would be pleased it’s now more widely accessible; hopefully more people will learn from its lessons.
Another one that caught my attention is The Land of Mist by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the last book in his Professor Challenger series—and a most disappointing end, I would add, since it abandons sci-fi for spiritualism, which was Doyle’s fascination in later life. I can’t recommend it, but it’s certainly a memorable read.
Thirdly, Franz Kafka’s The Castle. I regret it’s one of his more famous novels, since it was my least favorite, a book I had to force myself to finish. As it is, I do not know if there was a 1926 English translation, so it may be that only German readers will be able to get it in public domain for a while.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Winnie the Pooh, which headlines most articles about this year’s public domain releases. I suspect Pooh Bear is still a trademarked character …ah yes, it is possible to have trademarked characters within public domain books.
The character of Sherlock Holmes has been interesting in this way. Trademarked for years, he was finally ruled public domain in 2014 (a fact I actually only learned today), yet Doyle’s estate continues to file lawsuits about his portrayals. I have my own thoughts on authors’ estates/legacies, but all I can say is… if you’re a fan fiction author with a view to publish, you’d best err on the side of asking permission. Frankly, I’m just looking forward to next year, which is when The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is due to be public domain the US, and then perhaps I can finally get a nice box set of the collections in individual volumes (a girl can dream).
It is past midnight, and Old St. Nicholas just passed by. Luckily, we are very good friends, so instead of getting upset I was awake, he sampled some gingerbread cookies and hot apple cider while I showed him my Christmas decor.
“I scaled things back this year,” I admitted, as we stopped in front of the bookcases. “I wanted to do more, but I’ve really been feeling a bit sad and… not myself.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed he, so boisterously I was afraid he’d wake the neighbors. “You’re forgetting something very important, my dear.”
“And what’s that?”
“Well, just this: that you will never celebrate the same Christmas twice. In spite of all the traditions and rituals, every year leaves a little of itself in your holiday. It is very nice to think about past Christmases—even I have my favorites—but don’t measure up the now to the then. All the things you have managed to do this time, in spite of this year and in spite of yourself, are quite enough.”
This seemed sensible. Still, in a stubborn gloom, I could not help thinking about those past Christmases, as he rode away into the chilly forest sky.
There was that time when I was little and we had all stayed home really ill, but someone gave me the most gorgeous porcelain doll (with a burgundy red dress and brunette curls), which made things better. Or the year when my aunt’s friend’s son showed us Mad Libs for the first time and put us kids in stitches with hilarity. A whole string of Christmas Eve candlelight services flutter by, bittersweet memories in their absence this year. Except that one where they had me play Joseph… now that was silly. I should’ve retired after my first role in preschool: an angel in a white gown with a tinsel halo!
But Christmas is not just for children; you just have to look harder for it these days.
And it shows up… in happy wishes from friends far away. In carols and Baroque strings on the radio. With Santa parades (in spite of the rain and cold!). When neighbors line their tiny deck with multicolored lights. In precious time spent with family, eating and giggling and playing games. And always, in a life spent with Jesus, the Light of the World.
Merry Christmas to all celebrating, and peace to everyone. ❤️
Sometimes you just need a good holiday movie, something not too fluffy but not too serious. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed watching, each with a literary connection:
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
Anthony Hopkins plays a British bookshop manager who strikes up an accidental correspondence with Helene Hanff, an outgoing and enthusiastic bookworm from New York. Their decades-long friendship spans both book recommendations and the hardships of WWII, along with Helene’s life changes and a great yearning to visit Britain. This is based on a true story and very heartwarming.
The Anne of Green Gables trilogy
I don’t know if they still play this on PBS anymore, but the 1980s Anne movies (the first two particularly) were rewatches of mine growing up. While perhaps not a purist’s adaptation of the Green Gables series, the script nonetheless stayed true to the spirit of the books, and the cast was incredible.
And now for something completely lighthearted! I never thought I’d love a Paddington movie (the books were “meh” for me as a kid), but on a whim I gave both movies a try and really enjoyed Paddington 2. Our well-meaning bear with the red hat goes through a number of ups and downs, at one point landing himself in prison (!!). The humor was more on point in this sequel, and Hugh Grant’s role as a shady actor (yes, actor) was hilarious. Give it a try; you might be pleasantly surprised.
Little Women (2017)
A couple of years before the Hollywood adaptation, PBS aired this BBC production of Lousia May Alcott’s novel. After watching it through, I had to admit it surpassed even my affection for the Winona Ryder classic. The script is quite true to the book, Emily Watson is perfect as Marmee, and the Christian themes were left mostly intact. I loved the costumes and felt that the movie struck a good tone between joyful and sober (Beth’s struggles are given more attention than usual, and rightly so). All in all, a lovely costume drama that will leave you feeling cozy-hearted.
Nancy Drew (2007)
If you’re not looking for a purist adaptation but just a cute movie with some laughs, Nancy Drew is fun to watch. Emma Roberts plays a quirky old-fashioned girl who moves to LA with her dad. Unable to fit in with the hip crowd, she can’t resist turning her attention to more interesting things, like solving the mystery of a deceased movie star. I love the innocent, quasi-90s vibe of this film and feel it’s underrated!
Finding Neverland (2004)
So of all these films, I would say Finding Neverland is the one I hesitated to add, since I had mixed feelings about it (3.5 stars). It’s basically a fictionalized portrayal of the friendship between J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and a widow and her sons, which becomes the basis for his Peter Pan story. While it’s unknown exactly how platonic the relationship was in real life, it’s an interesting basis for a movie, and Depp plays Barrie pretty convincingly as a man who lives in his own world, struggling to fit into social norms and yet yearning for friendship. Though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or anything, I’m glad I saw it.
Today we finished viewing the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This production was directed by Jack Clayton and based on a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola (of The Godfather).
I say “finished”… yes, this was our second sitting. At 146 minutes, this is a loooooong movie for such a short novel. And we felt it. The script, to its credit, is extremely true to the source—much of the dialogue is word-for-word. But, as I’ve learned over the years, an accurate adaptation does not a good movie make, especially if it is lacking in the areas of cinematography or just editing. One reaches a point where you ask yourself, why not read the book instead?
I read the book again recently, and one thing is for sure, it is nice to see a tasteful film version. My biggest gripe with the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Gatsby was that it is anything but tasteful…a lot of vulgarity (to the point I turned it off halfway in embarrassment and finished it later alone 😅). By comparison, the 1974 movie is more refined, still glamorous but not raunchy. It’s just… poorly paced and boring in parts, especially the first half.
On to characters… The two Gatsbys are both convincing, but rather different. Robert Redford plays up the gentler, war-veteran side of Jay, the handsome first love with a wistful longing for Daisy. DiCaprio, on the other hand, exudes more of the bootlegger with a dubious past and dangerous obsession.
I really didn’t care for Daisy in either production. Nothing against Carey Mulligan or Mia Farrow, but neither one really has the screen presence and charisma that Daisy needs, IMHO. Between the two, I’d probably give a slight edge to Mia, but her affected way of talking is more annoying than endearing.
As for Nick Carraway, Sam Waterston’s performance (1974) blew me away. He really saves the movie in many ways from being a total bore. I couldn’t stand Nick in the 2013 film (sorry, Tobey Maguire fans!), but it may have had more to do with the cringy narration than the casting. There’s narration in the older film, too, but it’s done so much better, featuring more lines from the book instead of ramblings about alcohol.
My other critique of the 2013 script is that it is so… cartoonish, for lack of a better word. It’s a shame, because I did somewhat like the second half of the film, where things get more serious by nature of the plot. But as a whole, it’s just lacking the poetry of Fitzgerald, which, for all its faults, the older adaptation manages to convey.
Last thought… when it comes to aesthetics, the older version makes some effort towards “believable glitz,” while the newer film amps up the sets in a very theatrical/operatic style. I don’t like sets that look too pristine and orchestrated, even if that’s the intention, but a little style and art makes for a better movie. So I think my ideal Gatsby aesthetic is somewhere in-between the two… think Downton Abbey, or pretty much any BBC production from the mid-2000s. Indeed, if the 70s version had been made today, I think it would be right on the money. (um, no pun intended.)
That said, here’s a few stills from 2013 which certainly make for nice eye candy: