Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lewis: Whom the Gods Would Destroy

Someone kindly loaned me a copy of the first episode of the new Lewis series "Whom The Gods Would Destroy", written by Morse regular Daniel Boyle. Starring Kevin Whately as the eponymous Lewis, and Laurence Fox as his sergeant, Hathaway, this episode focuses on a middle-aged Oxford graduate, an artist, who was found murdered near his houseboat. Lewis and Hathaway find themselves investigating a murder case that risks implicating some of Oxford's most esteemed social and academic figures, such as the potential candidate for the Vice Chancellor's job at the University of Oxford. Both the victim and the potential Vice Chancellor belonged to a small group of men known as "The Sons of the Twice Born", who are named after an epithet of Dionysus - relating to his birth. The group's activities are shrouded in Greek codes, quotes from Nietzsche and a Dionysian fondness for drugs. The title is part of a quotation from Euripides: "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first send mad."

This was a good episode - the writers have clearly developed Lewis from the man who was always a steadying influence on Morse into a man with a darker side and I was impressed with then writers and with Whately himself. Lewis is no longer Morse's moral centre, following his wife's death as a result of a hit and run accident three years earlier. Instead he gets angry - and I mean scarily angry - I actually thought he was going to punch Hathaway at one point when he was raging about a character who had been involved in a car accident when he was high on drugs; the character got himself a good lawyer and got off, and whilst he was left in a wheelchair, the other driver was killed outright. The character shows great contempt for Lewis and Hathaway when they visit to talk to him about the murder and it's after this that Lewis gets really angry. But his anger is understandable and I sympathised with him, which is very important. I think the series wouldn't work if they had made Lewis into an unsympathetic character. You might not condone his anger, but you understand it.

I must say I'm puzzled by accounts of negative reviews of this episode in the media - apparently one reviewer commented that "Lewis" aspired to mundanity, which made me wonder if they'd watched a different episode to this one !

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

King Of Shadows: Book Group Discussion

Welcome to the Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group

And to its first discussion. This month, we're discussion Susan Cooper's timeslip tale, King of Shadows. The title refers to these lines of Shakespeare's:

"This is thy negligence. Still thou mistak'st,
Or else commit'st thy knaveries wilfully."
"Believe me, king of shadows, I mistook."

- Oberon and Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III Scene 3

And as you will know, if you've already read the book, the tale centres on two performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that are performed 400 years apart.

Here are some of the things I love about this book:

1 - The opening: "Tag." - just one word and yet my attention was snagged and I found myself rushing into the tale...

2 - Nat's introduction to Will Shakespeare:
"'Greet Master Shakespeare, boy.'
It was as if he'd said, 'Say hello to God.'"

If you're a big fan of Shakespeare (or any other author), you know exactly what Nat means by this comment.

3 - The way the time-travel element is handled, with Nat asleep, so the mystery of how it happens is preserved. You don't have to worry about the science, you can just enjoy the magic of the story.

4 - The use that Cooper makes of Shakespeare's own words, with the quotations both from the plays and the Sonnets. I've long known and loved

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

the last two lines of the latter are ones that Nat mentions after Arby gives him a copy of the Complete Sonnets (chapter 19).

5 - The way the tale invites you to see or read A Midsummer Night's Dream for yourself. I hadn't seen it before reading this book, but I rented a DVD of Michael Hoffman's movie (with Stanley Tucci playing "Puck"). And I'm quite sure I got more out of the story, having read Cooper's book first.

So what do you like about this book ? What don't you like or what do you feel doesn't work ?

Oh and if anyone is interested, the carol that the Guy's Hospital nurse sings to 16th century Nathan Field in chapter 9, is the Coventry Carol, and you can find the words here and the music here.