Guillermo del Toro won praise, acclaim, and Oscars for The Shape of Water last year. He created a cult classic with Hellboy. He amazed audiences with Pacific Rim. However, his most legendary film is still Pan’s Labyrinth, which is now getting a novel-length expansion.
Image via Amazon
Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun is written by del Toro and New York Times bestselling author Cornelia Funke (Inkheart), and is illustrated by Allen Williams. It tells the story of a long-lost princess hoping to reunite with her family, and includes haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that expand upon the film’s world and folklore.
Image via Amazon
In spite of also including murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, and warring rebels, the dark fantasy novel is meant for readers of all ages. This is actually a little bit strange, given how frightening and violent (yet beautiful) the original film was. Remember that one tortured guy’s bloody messed up hand? I still do.
However, no one can argue with the richness of del Toro’s fairytale-like storytelling and worldbuilding. Fewer films deserve a book continuation and expansion more than Pan’s Labyrinth.
AMC’s adaptation of Deborah Harkness’ bestseller A Discovery of Witches, the first in the All Souls Trilogy, has been gaining critical acclaim since it aired on AMC on April 7th, and currently holds at 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The show, which follows Diana Bishop, a reluctant witch who discovers a bewitched manuscript which throws her into the world of magic, and compelling her to form a forbidden alliance with a vampire…
We were lucky enough to catch up with author Deborah Harkness to get her thoughts on the show, on writing, and on what’s happening with her wine blog…
The first book in your All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, has been adapted for TV and brought to AMC and BBC AMERICA in the US. How has the process been for you? Were you involved?
Yes, I was involved. I’m an executive producer on the project and I also wrote the initial series document or “bible” for the show. It’s been exciting to be part of a collaborative creative project. I try to approach each day as a learning experience. There’s so much to discover and all kinds of new challenges to explore.
What has been the most exciting thing to come of the adaptation?
For me personally, it has been most exciting to see the characters come to life on screen.
It is also wonderful to have a whole new audience come to the stories through the television adaptation, and then to follow them as they find the books and the energized fan community that has sprung up around them.
Was a possible adaptation on your mind when writing the book?
No, not at all. I thought it was a long shot the books would even be published so I was just focused on telling the story. I’ve been told I have a cinematic imagination, which I think is a fancy way of saying that I see the story in my head and try to capture what I see in words on the page.
Have you always been interested in the supernatural?
I’m not sure what you mean by supernatural. I am interested in how hard it has been, historically, for humans to figure out their place in the world and how to thrive in it. One of the techniques that they use to cope is to imagine a world outside of the one they occupy and to invest that world with all sorts of powerful beings. In my stories there is only one supernatural element—magic. Similarly, there is only one creature with supernatural abilities: the witch. The rest are preternatural. So by that standard, I guess I’m less interested in the supernatural than many other people!
You’ve said the success of novels like Twilight got you thinking about what it is that has always fascinated humans about the supernatural. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to try your hand at fiction, after publishing several non-fiction titles?
I found the modern interest in the supernatural puzzling, and wanted to be able to figure out how that could be sustained given that our scientific worldview doesn’t seem to support the existence of a world outside our own. So I started imagining – what if magic could be part of the modern worldview? What would that look like? How would someone with supernatural power fit in? It started out as an intellectual mystery to be solved, but as it progressed, my “what ifs” got more detailed and I realized I was writing a novel. It wasn’t planned or inspired in a traditional way.
Would you return to non-fiction, or is fiction the way forward for you now?
Sure. I wrote two non-fiction books and many non-fiction articles. I was also a wine journalist. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that my “way forward” has lots of twists and turns in it.
What is your writing routine like? Does it differ between fictional and non-fictional works?
I don’t have a writing routine. For me, a writing routine is something that gets in the way of actually writing. So many steps. So many rules. I used to feel a bit bad about that, and tried to distill a list of “a perfect day”. Even I found it intimidating. Writing is, and has been since 1982 when I went to college, part of my daily life. I do it as often as I can in a day, wherever I am, however it happens. I’ve written in my home office, my campus office, on airplanes, in trains, on napkins waiting at the drive-thru, and in cafés. You have to take the time when you can. And it’s no different whether I have an article due, a lecture to give, or a chapter of a novel that I’m trying to finish.
As well as your amazing writing career, you also have an award winning wine blog! Could you tell us a little about this? Is it important to you to have hobbies outside of writing?
I haven’t had much time to blog since I started writing fiction, so sadly my wine blog is on indefinite hiatus. Like all of my writing, it started out with me trying to solve a problem (namely, how to set up a blog for work more than a decade ago when there were very few of them). I had just come back from wine shopping, wrote about that, and then wrote about drinking the wine I bought over the next few weeks. Pretty soon, I had a wine blog. As for hobbies, I think it’s important to have a LIFE outside of writing. If not, what on earth are you going to write about? It’s pretty easy to see how my love of wine influenced the All Souls books, in all sorts of ways.
Can you tell us some of the books and authors who have inspired you?
I am mostly a non-fiction reader. My most important years as a reader of fiction were from the ages of five to thirty. During that time I devoured books, mostly biographies and novels. Clearly, I was most interested in people and their lives. I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries, and historical fiction (before I became a historian) most notably the works of Dorothy Dunnett, and the novels of Anne Rice. The only book I have ever stayed up all night to read was Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. One of the last novels I remember making a huge impact on me was A. S. Byatt’s Possession. I was a graduate student, and the ethical and scholarly dilemmas in the book were a perfect companion to finishing my PhD.
“Dear Sir. I venture to submit to your notice the accompanying tale ‘The actor’s duel’. I once before trespassed upon your valuable time by sending up a sketch which did not come up to your standard – I trust that this may meet with a better fate. However defective the working out maybe I am conscious that the denouement is both original and powerful, worthy, I hope, of the traditions of your magazine.”
The above excerpt is taken from a letter written by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The British writer would have turned 160 years old this past week (May 22). On Wednesday, The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh shared a picture of the letter on their Twitter account while appropriately hashtagging #SherlockHolmesday. Doyles’ words are indicative of a crucial period in the life of all creatives—a time when one is starving for success.
137 years ago, before knighthood, Arthur Conan Doyle found himself at the ripe age of twenty-two, (tactfully) pleading for publication. Like all young writers, Doyle was equipped only with a vague understanding of what he wanted to say to the world—it was just a matter of finding the right words. Regardless, his letter conveys obvious confidence in his ability to wow.
The “original” and “powerful” denouement Doyle refers to is the climax of his short story—after having stopped the abduction of his sister, a young actor (who had just won the role of Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) finds out that one of the kidnappers is a colleague of his, a fellow actor playing Hamlet in the same play. In their next performance, the two use real swords in a duel, which grants the production a realness that the audience uproariously applauds. The crowd is unaware the two are actually fighting to the death. The duel plays out in a very art-imitating-life/Aronofsky-Black-Swan-esque way that makes the reader question the integrity of artistic perception.
According to an article on edinburghlive‘s website, Doyle asked Blackwood’s Magazine to consider his short story, then entitled “The Actor’s Duel.” At the beginning of the letter, Doyle reveals the publication had previously rejected another one of his short stories, “The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe.” Despite his best efforts, Blackwood’s turned Doyle down again (idiots); however, “The Actor’s Duel” was eventually published two years later as “The Tragedians” in Bow Bells Magazine.
In 1887, A Study in Scarlett was published—the first of many stories concerning the adventures of detective Holmes and Dr. Watson. In addition to tales surrounding the famous detective, Doyle also wrote many science fiction and historical and novels, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, yadda, and yadda. The writer was prolific and will go down in history as the man who made Benedict Cumberbatch what he is today… whatever that is, exactly.
Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until she was forty-three, and she wasn’t published until sixty-five—two full decades later. Harry Bernstein didn’t get published until he was ninety-six. Susan Boyle didn’t “dream the dream” until she was forty-seven, and Colonel Harland Sanders didn’t franchise his fried chicken business until well past forty. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s successes may not have come as late in life as those of the other icons mentioned, but this letter is an important reminder: (Yoda voice) the greatest teacher, failure is.
If you were lucky enough, as so many of us were, to grow up with Judith Kerr’s delightful stories of Mog the Forgetful Cat, then you’ll understand the wonder and beauty that Kerr brought to the world of children’s literature. From picture books like the Mog series and The Tiger Who Came to Tea to her novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Kerr’s books continue to bring endless joy to their readers. Kerr’s death at the age of ninety-five was announced by her publisher HarperCollins this morning.
Judith Kerr began writing to entertain her own children when she was in her forties. Two years ago, at age ninety-four, The Tiger Who Came to Tea sold its millionth copy. Sorry, I have to stop here because I’m already crying. Please give me a moment.
Okay, I have (somewhat) composed myself. Judith Kerr was born in Berlin in 1923 to parents Julia, a composer, and Alfred, a respected theater critic and columnist. The family was Jewish, and Alfred Kerr was an outspoke critic of the Nazis, necessitating the family’s flight from Germany in 1933, initially to Switzerland, followed by France, and finally, England. The family received a tip-off that Alfred’s passport was about to seized, and thus the family left in a hurry, first Alfred, then his wife and children three weeks later, leaving behind almost all their possessions. The children were allowed to take with them one toy each, and Judith chose a toy dog over the pink rabbit that had been her favorite prior to the dog’s arrival. The pink rabbit was never seen again. This experience inspired her classic semi-autobiographical novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit which follows a little girl called Anna whose family flee wartime Germany.
The Guardian notes that when the family was granted British citizenship, a film director bought a screenplay from her father, which provided the family with enough money to start anew, albeit humbly. They lived in a cheap hotel, enrolling Judith’s brother in school while Judith’s education was entrusted to the governess of an American family, who taught her to speak English. According to her interview with The Guardian, “Three kind ladies clubbed together to send her to boarding school.” She left school at sixteen and took a stenotyping course before winning a scholarship from the Central School of Arts and Crafts.
She subsequently held a number of positions painting nursery murals and teaching, yet she had little success with her art. She married screenwriter Nigel Kneale in 1954 and then worked as a television script-reader. Her children were born in 1958 and 1960. Their entertainment was what spurred her to create the characters of Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
Mog, though she passes away in the books (an occurrence the illustrations of which make me dissolve into a puddle of tears every time I see them), she came back to star in a Sainsbury’s Christmas ad that also makes me cry. Observe:
I am not the only one moved, enlightened, and inspired by Kerr, who published over thirty books in her long and storied lifetime. Her death at the age of ninety-six has led to an outpouring of affection and fond memories from journalists, writers, and lovers of her work. Let’s take a look at some of the best. Please have tissues at hand.
i went to a judith kerr talk where she said that when mog was translated into german she was stubbornly rendered in the text as a male cat "because feminism hadn't really hit there yet". pause. small smile. "so i waited some years and gave mog kittens and let them sort it out."
Judith Kerr would always attend the annual HarperCollins summer party – a cramped, busy and very loud event that went on for hours – and she pretty much out-partied all the other authors in attendance.
While I am heartbroken about Judith Kerr, I know that to escape Nazis, build a life and family in a new country, create a wealth of books that generations of children and adults adore, and to go to parties in great frocks well into your 90s, is a well-lived life.
We're sad to hear that Judith Kerr has died. If you've never read The Tiger Who Came to Tea, read it today. If you've not read it for a while, read it today. If you've not read it today, read it today. 🐯☕️ pic.twitter.com/RF3U5aMbiB
According to The BBC, Ann-Janine Murtagh, Kerr’s publisher at HarperCollins, stated that it had been “the greatest honour and privilege to know and publish Judith Kerr for over a decade,” describing her as a person who “embraced life as one great big adventure and lived every day to the full.”
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein
It’s a popular assumption (or at least should be) that while most of the population retreats to the comfort of literate depreciation, devouring B-Macs and B-movies, intellectuals feast upon gold. The written word, written well, is the gilded currency of the realm. Knowledge is power and books are brain food. To quote a little-known dwarf from fictitious history:
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.”
The most illustrious entrepreneurs and CEOs devour puissant semantics and syntax—communing with minds, not unlike their own. Tech titans such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Melinda, and Bill-fricking-Gates have openly expressed interest in books sprung from the minds of creatives like David Foster Wallace, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo Da Vinci. The best way to avoid the mistakes of the past is to examine it and the minds engrossed within it—their souls on the paper.
The wealthiest, most ambitious, and most successful (regardless of your definition) people in the world tend to read more than the average bear. Being a voracious reader, the aforementioned Microsoft magnate has admitted to a weekly reading goal of ONE—one solid behemoth of a book per week. One can imagine the tech titan settling into his reading corner the way a blacksmith goes to work, the weight of uncertainty hammering wrought pieces into something malleable. As one would imagine, his ambitious reading list is no vacation.
This past Monday, Mr. Gates announced a list of five books he wishes to read with us this summer, which he often does via his blog, Gate Notes. These are not leisure reads. All of the books seem to concern the theme of sudden change—in a world carrying the weight of uncertainty, perhaps he wishes to embrace the productivity of malleable and uncertain public opinion.
“I’ve recently found myself drawn to books about upheaval… whether it’s the Soviet Union right after the Bolshevik revolution, the United States during times of war, or a global reevaluation of our economic system.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Jared Diamond’s book analyzes problem-solving tactics to solve major national crises—similarly to the way one would deal with losing a loved one or other such personal crises. The book has been bashed by The New York Times but not by Mr. Gates. On his blog, he calls it:
A discipline-bending book that uses key principles of crisis therapy to understand what happens to nations in crisis. [Jared Diamond] reminds us that some countries have creatively solved their biggest problems. Jared doesn’t go so far as to predict that we’ll successfully address our most serious challenges, but he shows that there’s a path through crisis and that we can choose to take it.
Gates has invested money in diagnostic blood tests designed to detect diseases like Alzheimers and cancer; he has previously recommended books like Bad-Blood about the Silicon Valley diagnostics company Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. He’s clearly fascinated by blood. That being said, Rose George’s book looks at the relationship business and health. The title refers to the amount of blood in the human body and Gates aim to emphasize the importance of that fact. The ways in which blood in the body affects the lives of women in particular. Gates mentions:
George writes about girls in poor countries having sex with older men simply so they can afford pads and tampons. “It’s called ‘sex for pads,’ and though it is hidden, it is common,” she writes, citing a report from a field officer in one African slum that 50 percent of the girls she encountered there had turned to prostitution to afford sanitary pads.
But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the book is all doom and gloom. Many aspects of the book were uplifting, especially the parts that reminded me of the life-saving innovations that emerge from a better understanding of blood and its component parts. Blood tests have already made it easier and faster to diagnose diseases and predict when a pregnant woman will deliver her baby.
Oxford economist Collier argues that three major battles divide contemporary society: cities vs. towns, educated vs. uneducated (at the college level), and wealthy countries vs. fragile states. Basically ruthless capitalism that focuses on profit=bad. Gates, being a billionaire philanthropist, obviously has an opinion on the matter:
I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Collier has to say. I was especially struck by the central idea of his book, that we need to strengthen the reciprocal obligations we have to each other. This won’t directly address the divides, but it will create the atmosphere where we can talk more about pragmatic solutions to them. “As we recognize new obligations to others,” Collier writes, “we build societies better able to flourish; as we neglect them we do the opposite…. To achieve the promise [of prosperity], our sense of mutual regard has to be rebuilt.
Bill Gates never served in the military, like most civilians, he wonders how he would fair in combat…
If I had been just a year or two older, I might have been called to serve in the Vietnam War. I think that’s one reason why I’m so interested in books and movies about the war. I always come back to the same question: If I had fought in the war, would I have shown courage under fire? Like many people who have not served, I have my doubts.
This book takes a look at how American presidents have dealt with war from the turn of the 19th century up until the 1970s (eight conflicts in total). Gates acknowledges the importance of understanding conflict from a historical point of view:
It is hard to read about today’s conflicts without thinking about how they might connect to the past and what impact they might have on the future. Presidents of War is worth reading, whether you are one of the nation’s leaders or just an armchair historian.
Gates’ reflection reminded me of Treasury of the Free World(a book that offers a glimpse into the minds of leading figures during the 1940s), where Ernest Hemingway writes:
We have come out of the time when obedience, the acceptance of discipline, intelligent courage and resolution were most important, into that more difficult time when it is a man’s duty to understand his world rather than simply fight for it.
The novel’s synopsis is as follows (via Goodreads):
A transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Gates claims, “at one point, I got teary-eyed because one of the characters gets hurt and must go to the hospital. Melinda was a couple of chapters behind me. When she saw me crying, she became worried that a character she loved was going to die. I didn’t want to spoil anything for her, so I just had to wait until she caught up to me.”
“It gives you a sense of how political turmoil affects everyone, not just those directly involved with it.”
Closing musing: I find the number of times Bill Gates mentions his wife, Melinda in every blog post awfully endearing—I see a disjointed, yet beautiful metaphor for how, with the right amount of awareness, compassion, and patience, we can walk hand and hand into an uncertain future…
No? Ignore this bit if I completely missed the mark…