Saturday, December 28, 2013

Walter Mitty: The everyman who became a war hero

By Lars Trodson

“War thundered and whined around the dugout and battered the door.” James Thurber wrote this sentence, which can be found in his short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The story has gained new currency because it has received its second big-budget Hollywood treatment, this time by director Ben Stiller.

The quote is important, in fact it's essential, because it is precisely this backdrop of war that gave the Mitty story its heft and meaning when published on March 18, 1939 in The New Yorker. One did not have to be a geo-political strategist to understand that the threat of war was growing throughout the world at that time and that the lives of men and women, in and out of uniform, were already in danger.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Greatest Gift: The Story Behind 'It's A Wonderful Life'

The story behind the story: The Inspiration for 'It's A Wonderful Life'

By Lars Trodson

If you go back to the beginning, the real beginning, there is no Bedford Falls, no Mary Hatch, no Zuzu or her petals, no Clarence Oddbody, no Sam Wainwright, no Violet Bic and no George Bailey. George Bailey had to be created in order to make all these other people and the town where they lived come to life.

This is the world of “The Greatest Gift,” the original short story on which “It’s A Wonderful Life” is based. Almost none of the characters, and not one with their original name, appeared in the little self-published story, written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943. The story was based on a dream Stern apparently had in 1939. It's a kind of reverse image of a famous story that also appeared in 1939, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," who dreamed not of never having lived but rather of doing great heroic deeds.

Reading “The Greatest Gift” today —it’s widely available online — is interesting for a couple of reasons. It’s not a great work of art, but the shadows and echoes it contains that are now so familiar because of the famous movie that came out of it. It's a cultural curiosity, because "It's A Wonderful Life" has been memorized by its fans, just as people anticipate each line in "A Christmas Carol." The source material also is instructive: the movie is an extreme example of how to turn what is essentially a vignette into a much broader, more fully-realized feature film.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Christmas Short Story: "December, 1977"

By Lars Trodson

But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
"Christmas At Sea"
“Boys.” The father’s voice was stern, but not unkind. The three boys bolted upright in their beds just as he spoke. Their father was poking his head around the bedroom door. “Get ready,” he said softly.
            The boys rolled out of bed. They were fully clothed except for their boots. They were even wearing their caps. Without a word they grabbed their blankets and flashlights and boots and ran out of their room. It was dark and in the middle of the night.
            When they went downstairs their father had turned on a Coleman lantern that was sitting on the kitchen table. The boys silently sat cross-legged on the floor to put on their shoes.
            "Longjohns?" their father said without looking up from the table, and all the boys nodded to say that they had them on.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ron Burgundy marketing campaign is no game changer

Anchorman 2

By Lars Trodson

The media blitz otherwise known as the “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” marketing campaign is not the game changer that so many media outlets have proclaimed it to be.

Is it innovative? Yes. Is it entertaining? Certainly. But it is not a game changer. 

Let's look at a sample quote that's indicative of the hyperbole surrounding the launch of the movie: “The campaign is not only very 2013 but is also a model for the future of movie marketing. It encompasses native ads on The Huffington Post, including taking over the news site’s homepage logo on Dec. 16. And in an Onion-like gag, Burgundy will take to Huff Post to pontificate for several hundred words on something, well, newsy,” writes AdWeek’s Christopher Heine in an article titled “Will Ferrell’s Anchorman 2 is changing the way movies are marketed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Short Story Review

A beautifully written short story is one of the great pleasures of literature. It can have the sudden impact of a thunderclap. Whether it's Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" or Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" or Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," a short story can create a completely realized, fully populated world in just a few pages. For some reason, short works are rarely reviewed on their own. Why not? Individual paintings or sculptures often inspire reviews, and of course, movies are reviewed as single entities, not as a connecting component to a writer or director's overall body of work.

This is our attempt to right a small wrong. We'll be reviewing short stories published in a variety of print and online publications, and we thought we'd start with the current story in The New Yorker.

Romesh Gunesekera's "Roadkill"

By Lars Trodson

Romesh Gunesekera
The metaphor in the beginning of the story is all wrong. The name Kilinochchi does not conjure up images of “a Clint Eastwood character striding in and notching the stock of his rifle with yet another senseless killing.” Kilinochchi sounds nothing like a town in the American west of the 19th century. It is, rather, the setting of Romesh Gunesekera’s short story, “Roadkill,” which appears in the Dec. 2 issue of The New Yorker. It doesn't help that Gunesekera’s attempt at continuing the western-fable terminology, “guns blazing” and “showdown” also appears lazy and off-key.

The plot of the story is simple: an unnamed taxi driver brings a couple into Kilinochchi, the site of former rebel trouble that now may be on its way back to stability, although that's not a given. The couple, the Arunachalams, make their way up their room at the Spice Garden Inn, and the tax driver sits alone at the hotel restaurant and eats a very poor meal that reminds him that prosperity has not fully emerged in Kilinochchi. He encounters the hotel manager, a Miss Saraswati, who is enigmatic and intriguing — to both the taxi driver and the reader.