A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
Worldbuilding with Dorothy Sayers
I’ve been slowly working my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series by Dorothy Sayers. My mother is a great fan of mystery fiction, but she never owned any of the Sayers novels for some reason. As a result, my introduction to the charms of the series has come relatively late and by a third-party—a close friend of mine with whom I have made a point of exchanging favorite books and films. My feelings about Sayers are positive on the whole, though somewhat mixed.
A master of the “series of red herrings” style of detective fiction, Sayers has a wonderful knack for constructing intricate mysteries that keep the reader guessing and a keen attention to detail that manifests most enjoyably in her depiction of assorted oddball characters and least enjoyably in her tendency to excessive worldbuilding. Though Sayers is a builder of social settings rather than physical ones, in her desire to reconstruct the world of Wimsey she is no less meticulous than Tolkien in his creation of Middle Earth. Her reconstruction of British society in the interwar period is undoubtedly skilled, but that reconstruction doesn’t always have a bearing on the plot. Sometimes it slows the action right down to a crawl.
It’s not a style of writing that I particularly enjoy, though I can appreciate it in moderation, and I recognize that I may well be in the minority on this opinion. To my way of thinking, story and character development is the be-all-end-all, and anything that doesn’t serve them inevitably feels out of place. I don’t enjoy getting tripped up on the minute descriptions of place and custom that some authors revel in—a preference that may explain my particular love of visual narrative mediums like films and comic books where the visual components often do the worldbuilding for you. As it stands, I have read all but two of Sayers’ Lord Peter novels, and my enjoyment of them hinges on whether or not she is able to achieve the right balance of story, character, and setting. Most of the time, she does.
A History of Horror
One of my favorite internet discoveries of the week is a brilliant little supercut video of horror films released from 1895 to 2016. Selecting one film per year, A History of Horror incorporates superlative editing with a striking musical score to present a fantastic tour of some of horror’s most memorable cinematic entries. While there’s always room to debate the appropriateness of choosing one classic film over another, the list is a good introduction to the genre. I might raise my eyebrows at the inclusion of comedies like The Ghost Breakers and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and wonder at the efficacy of including both original and remake versions of certain films, but I’m generally satisfied with the films that appear. And it’s a truly beautiful little film.
Check it out…
Final Thought: The Inescapable Impermanence of Life
2016 has already seen a lot of famous deaths, but none—I think—so tragic as that of Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak accident today in the early hours of the morning. Yelchin, a film star who appeared in numerous Hollywood blockbusters and indie films, was 27. His life and talent have been lost and lost far too soon. In the cases of elder statesmen of the creative world—like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, who were both 69; Garry Shandling, who was 66; and Prince, who was 57—it’s possible to find some solace in the knowledge that a full life was largely lived. Not so in the case of Anton Yelchin, who reminds us all of the sovereign importance of making every moment count because life is messy and you never know when it is going to come abruptly to an end.
Be at peace, Mr. Yelchin, and thank you for sharing your time and talent with us.