Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Worlds We’d Never Want to Live In

Top ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are talking about fictional worlds we would not want to live in.

In no particular order:

1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. This is one of the first dystopia that I read and still ranks as one of the scariest. The humiliations that the handmaid’s go through are almost beyond imagining. Atwood’s nightmare world is frighteningly convincing.

2. 1984 – George Orwell. I read this at school. I am sure that it is at least partly responsible for my own political convictions. It is a shame that things like room 101 and big brother have been stripped of most of their meaning by imbecilic television programmes.

3. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. I often feel like the savage in this book when I look at modern culture. I feel a little lost and confused when I see the things that people do, watch, listen to, post on social media.

4. Mad Addam series – Margaret Atwood. I haven’t read the third book of this series yet but the first two were really disturbing. As with The Handmaid’s Tale, you could really see the roots of reality in this book. Take it as a warning, folks. This is where we could be headed.

5.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick / Bladerunner. It is particularly unsettling not to be able to tell if someone is human or not. Even more frightening is the idea that you might not even know yourself. This one eats at the very heart of the reader.

6. War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells. Oh, I know, the Martians get it in the end but up until that point, there really is no stopping them. I can’t help feeling this is what  it would be like if any aliens found us. Why travel across space and time, if you’ve not already conquered everything nearer at hand?

7. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. I’ve not read the rest of this series either. I liked the idea of the games and the different sectors more than I liked the way the story played out. You know everyone would watch it, that’s what makes it seem real.

8. Animal Farm – George Orwell. Another early influence on me politically. I imagine I’d be like poor old Boxer. Well-meaning but ultimately useless. I’d soon be carted off to the equivalent of the glue factory.

9. The Road – Cormac McCarthy. This is probably the bleakest book I have ever read. Some unnamed catastrophe has caused society to break down. McCarthy really captures the way that it would go once those rules were gone.

10. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro. This is another book where I liked the idea better than the execution. Children being bred purely for their organs is a chilling – and not unlikely – idea that gets to the heart of the issues surrounding cloning.

The Fear of God and Rebellion

The Exorcist is not a film that scares me. It may be that as I am not religious I have no real fear of the devil or possession. That is not to suggest that it is a bad film. It is shocking, disturbing, difficult, even powerful, just, for me anyway, not scary.

Part of the problem was the lack of ambiguity. I thought there was no suggestion that Regan’s problem was anything other than possession. It was written on her face and on her body. Again, I think my lack of religious belief lets me down. This was just something I am not capable of believing in.  Last week, I saw the film again. As part of Sheffield’s DocFest, there was a showing of The Fear of God, a documentary about The Exorcist, a Q&A with Mark Kermode and then a showing of The Exorcist. I have to admit that the main draw was Kermode who is always incredibly intelligent about film and who I admire greatly. I have to admit that I’ve always been a little unconvinced by his championing of The Exorcist when I so often agree with his opinions about films.

The documentary was brilliant, not least because it showed how difficult special effects were before CGI and how borderline insane William Friedkin was. It is always fun to open up a film and find out exactly how it was put together. Well worth a watch if you are at all interested in horror.

Kermode was his usual charming and knowledgeable self. He dismissed notions that we are desensitized to violence these days, pointing out that this is a debate that has been running almost as long as the film industry itself. Most interestingly, he explained exactly what parts of the film impressed him even after more than 200 views. (Can you imagine seeing a film that many times? I’ve seen my favourite film, It’s a Wonderful Life 5 times.) I found myself excited by watching The Exorcist and spotting these things myself.

One of the things that Kermode said about the film was that when you watched it for the first time, it was unrelenting but watching it for a second time, you would be able to spot the more subtle effects. I found that hard to believe.

It was 1998 when I first saw The Exorcist and it was a completely jarring experience. It felt like one terrible moment after the other. I read once that one of the reasons The Exorcist was such a difficult watch was that it showed no sympathy for its teenage heroine. I could only agree. It was completely without mercy. Every image was shocking, sickening, utterly painful. I could completely understand people vomiting in the aisles or running into the nearest church.

So I found it hard to imagine that it would be different the second time around. And some scenes where just as difficult even when you knew what to expect. The sight of a teenage girl, plunging a crucifix between her bloody legs will always remain one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen. But Kermode was right, I was able to notice other things. For a start, one thing that disturbed me, that I barely remembered from the first time, was the horror of all the invasive processes that the medical profession force on to Regan. It is interesting to note that the problems really seem to come to a head after her father forgets her birthday. No wonder she was so very angry.

It became apparent that you could read this as something other than a religious parable. Regan’s bodily transformation could represent the changes at adolescence. It could be a manifestation of her very real anger. It could also represent the fears that adults have about the younger generation. So it became a much better, more interesting film on second watching. Still not frightening as such but certainly more interesting and more powerful.

 

 

 

Day 11 – Favourite classic book – Great Expectations, The Catcher in the Rye, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

This is a bit of a grey area for me, I must admit. I don’t do much in the way of reading classics and a lot of the ones I have read I don’t like very much. Tess of the D’urberville’s, for example. Really didn’t like that. Not a big fan of Jane Austen either. Some Dickens I have loved, some I have hated – A Tale of Two Cities is a good example of a book not enjoyed. For a relatively short book, it took a long time to read because I could hardly bare to pick it up. I have tried to read Middlemarch three or four times. (This is another area that I fall out with my father in law about. Hardy is his favourite author. Middlemarch is one of his favourite novels. It is definitely a case of what I love he hates and vice versa.)

My first choice is a book I first read when I was at school and have since read and taught myself. Great Expectations is a great story and

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I think as a teenager, it was the pace and the plotting that I appreciated. That is why there have been so many adaptations of this novel. Even when you know how it all works out in the end, the run up is tense and exciting.
Then there are the great characters – the ones that everyone knows even if they have never read it – Miss Havisham in her wedding finery, Magwitch the archetypal convict and Estella, so very cold and proud. Even the minor characters are well written and convincing.

As a teacher, what I appreciate are the descriptions and the atmosphere that Dickens creates. The descriptions of the graveyard at the beginning are haunting as is the decay and despair of Miss Havisham’s quarters.

The Catcher in The Rye by J D Salinger starts with a reference to Dickens with the narrator, Holden Caulfield, saying I suppose that you want to hear about my childhood and all ‘that David Copperfield kind of crap’ but

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he refuses to go into it because ‘that stuff bores me.’ This is a good indication for the reader of what the novel is going to be about and also the nature of Holden’s character. He spends the a lot of the novel avoiding issues and his own emotions.

This is a novel about grief, alienation and the pain of growing up. Holden finds it hard to deal with his peers and has equal amounts of trouble dealing with the adults in his life. He feels that everyone else is phoney and so leaves his expensive school. However, he is unable to settle anywhere else. Whilst this novel could be described as a bildungsroman, it seems to me that Holden does not really learn anything throughout the novel. His psychological journey does not lead him to any new understanding. Whilst this may be a little depressing, it seems to me that this is apt. It would be unlikely for Holden to suddenly be able to see clearly. After all, he is still young at the end of the novel and is likely in a mental hospital. His psychiatrist asks him if he is going to apply himself when he goes back to school. Holden is still unwilling to play the game and give the answer that is expected of him. Instead he says it is a stupid question because he couldn’t possibly know. It seems unlikely to me that he will be any more able to cope.

Finally, I have chosen The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a masterpiece of horror. This is another story that has been adapted many times but unlike Great Expectations, I do not think that any of the films really live up to the horror of the original story.

The structure of the story describes events to the reader, suggesting and hinting at the horrors that have occurred and although there can

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be few who come to this book unaware of the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde, it is still a masterful set-up which leaves the full truth until the very end of the novel when Dr Jekyll finally getting to describe events from his point of view.

Jekyll’s story is truly horrific as he starts to lose control of the baser side of his nature. His horror at what he has done is unbearable, for him as well as the reader. Hyde represents the childlike, socially unreconstructed side of human nature which grows stronger as soon as it is given some free reign. The tale is a powerful metaphor about the nature of respectability and the binary opposition of good and evil. It suggests that we should look closely for what is hidden.