How Jodi Picoult Wrote the Vampire Story I Wanted from Guillermo del Toro

When I picked up del Toro’s The Strain, I was ready for some vampire fun and some cool monsters in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth crawling about.

Of course, del Toro and his writing partner Chuck Hogan deliver on the monsters. The Master is especially a fascinating villain, but I didn’t care much for his interactions with the lead Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. The brief moments we had felt bland, generic. Instead, I was far more captivated by Professor Abraham Setrakian and the small snippets of his fight against the Master in the Treblinka extermination camp during the Nazi regime. That was the story that seized me by the throat. I could have read an entire book about Abraham’s struggle in that camp, flanked by human and vampiric monsters alike. Furthermore, the one solid interaction that Abraham had with the Master worked.

The small moment of these two – Abraham’s attempt to slay the Master, and the Master breaking his hands in return – felt like the birth of a true hero/villain dynamic. It was Javert and Valjean meeting at Fantine’s deathbed in Les Misérables. It was the duel of Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. It was the story that I wanted to read.

It was the story that was merely a frame for Ephraim’s, and I truly believe that the book suffered for it.

A year later, I had to select a novel from the genre of Women Literature for a university course. I was not looking forward to this assignment. Women Literature was rarely my genre and of course being a naysayer, I held tightly to the 90% of Sturgeon’s Law. There was no way I was going to find a novel that would capture my interest.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult proved me so wrong (That happens a lot when I step out of my genre box. Go figure).

Like The Strain, the story is told in two time periods, the past interlacing with and affecting the future. The past story also revolves around a Jewish protagonist surviving in a concentration camp.

Just as Abraham’s attempt to kill the Master was a way to save his people, so is Minka’s struggle. Within the camp, Minka begins to write a Gothic book about a pair of upiór brothers, vampires, terrorizing a town. This book, and her chapters day-by-day, help to keep the other captives going. It also catches the eye of the SS officer in charge of the camp, which is where the story connects to the present-day.

There is power in Minka’s storytelling and in her upiór tale. It comforts her fellow Jewish women, it helps a friend pull through an infection, and it allows her to enter the good graces of the camp’s officer. In a sense, it’s both through and against the upiór that Minka finds the strength to win.

The biggest win that Minka’s tale has over Abraham’s is that it is given much more time and breath to be. It’s not just a framing device – it’s a story on it’s own, even if it’s just half of the book.


Christian Novels That Don’t Stink

I went through a phase in middle and high school of reading almost exclusively Christian novels. I purchased a ton of Christian fantasy from Barnes & Noble online. I scoured through Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. As a result, I discovered something – most of it was really, really bad.

Of course, that’s Sturgeon’s Law in effect – 90% of everything is crap. Even books by Dekker and Peretti, who have solid story and writing skills behind them, have released iffy pieces, and their one collaboration read like a Christian version of the Saw franchise. What?

Christian films, games, and books all tend to get a bad rep due to the slimy word “agenda.” There’s an assumption from the seculars that these books are trying to convert people, and there’s an assumption from the Christians that these books should convert people. So any story gets lost in a pile of morals and wagging fingers and symbolism that is as subtle as a thousand anvils falling from the sky.

However there are those novels out there that achieve excellence in storytelling and character development while being imbued with the canon of Christianity. Here are some of my favorites.

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Five Books that Brought Me the Thrill of Wonder

I love books. I devour them. There are books in my life whose covers are worn thin and books that make the English language sing. And then there are the books who fill me with a sense of wonder.

It’s a strange experience. Books have the capability of eliciting many emotions from me. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry, I’ve been afraid, I’ve been impressed. But wonder… Wonder is a strange emotion that occurs rarely in my perusal of fiction. I still can’t describe it fully, but a part of it is that these books are the ones that capture me so fully that I stop processing what is happening in the world outside of the pages.

These books were the ones that devoured me.

Continue reading “Five Books that Brought Me the Thrill of Wonder”

Peter Jackson’s King Kong: A Female-Lead Adventure Film?

When I first watched this movie in the theater, I did not like it. It dragged on for far too long, had that bizarre romance, and the whole bit with the natives was all sorts of wrong. Ten years on, I can articulate issues with the film even better but that’s for a different post, or for CinemaSins.

My recent rewatches has firmly set the movie among my favorite popcorn-munching flicks. Mostly because of Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, but we’ll get to her in a moment. Let’s start with some smaller appreciations

Continue reading “Peter Jackson’s King Kong: A Female-Lead Adventure Film?”