Capsule Reviews: January

One of the things I’d like to do this year is put a little more life back into my blog. To help me accomplish this, I’m introducing a new dynamic to my book reviews. Every month I’ll post some of the highlights from last month’s books, along with notes from my reading journal. Here are January’s notable reads.

 

The Legend of Sigurd And GudrúnThe Legend of Sigurd And Gudrún, J.R.R. Tolkien

Sometime before he wrote The Hobbit, Tolkien composed two epic poems, or Lays, based on Norse mythology. The Lays were written in modern English but use an Old Norse alliterative meter. Tolkien is actually one of my favourite poets, and now it seems he was a master of verse in every form. The sentences look small and choppy on the page, but flow smoothly. I appreciated Christopher Tolkien’s introduction to set the two Lays in the context of the original mythology, but some of his commentary was pretty dry so I skimmed through it. A pronunciation guide for the names would have been nice.

 

The Complete Making of Indiana JonesThe Complete Making of Indiana Jones, J.W. Rinzler

I’m a big geek of the filmmaking arts and love behind-the-scenes accounts from my favourite movies. So I’m sorry to say that this volume doesn’t quite satisfy, especially after the author’s splendid books on the original Stars Wars trilogy. The main mistake of this one is trying to cram all four Indy films into one volume instead of giving each movie its own. It starts strong with four whole chapters on Raiders of The Lost Ark, but gradually covers less and less detail with each sequel, until Kingdom of The Crystal Skull feels more like a press release with fewer on-set stories and anecdotes. The end result is that the book doesn’t feel complete or definitive despite the title. What’s here is good, but there could have been more.

 

22824The Star Wars, J.W. Rinzler (Art by Mike Mayhew)

A fascinating comic book rendering of George Lucas’ rough draft screenplay for his sci-fi epic — but it is very rough. The plot is a bit overstuffed and the dialogue somewhat stiff. The characterization is also kind of cheesy (when it’s there at all). But that’s not why this comic was made. This is Star Wars as it first emerged, and makes for a cool read when you consider it from the right perspective. It’s a glimpse into Lucas’ creative process and so much is in place already; character archetypes, settings, plot elements, themes. Some of the concepts wouldn’t find their final form until the prequel trilogy. It just needed a nudge or two. That’s what rough drafts are for.

 

TemplarTemplar, Jordan Mechner (Art by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland)

Legends and supernatural conspiracies surround the Knights Templar in popular imagination today, but this comic is couched in real history. A rollicking adventure set during the heresy trial of the entire Templar order, when the king of France conspired to bring down the heroes of the Crusades. But an unlikely band of mavericks cook up a conspiracy of their own: to steal the famous Templar treasure hoard. Tension abounds not only in the heist story, but also in the political intrigue of the inquisition. Plenty of lighter moments throughout, but there’s a hero to genuinely care about and root for, and even very poignant moments which I won’t spoil. If there was a weak spot it was the lack of exploration into the motives behind the antagonists. The main villain isn’t given the chance to reveal his point of view and what drives him until fairly late, although it’s less conventional than your typical moustache-twirling speech. Teasing hints of characters’ backstories make me long for prequels or spinoffs (given what happens in the plot, a direct sequel is unlikely and probably wouldn’t be interesting). One of my favourite quotes is a joke from a monk: “I’ve spent my entire life around every kind of Christian there is: ordained, consecrated, cloistered. Each one holier than the next. And out of all of them, the converted ones are the most insufferable.”

 

I’m already reading some great books in February so I’ll be compiling those capsule reviews in a few weeks.

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