Shortcut #60: The Looking Glass Wars

I will admit it.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I won’t finish everything I start.  If I begin a book that’s utterly horrible AND holds no redeeming factor in it (i.e., I don’t feel like I’m learning anything about what not to do from it), then I will put that book down and pick up another.

I admit, I’m not quite there with movies.  Mostly because I watch bad movies with a chorus of friends, all of whom are with me on the Making Fun of the Bad Movie train, and whose comments make the experience worthwhile, even enjoyable, no matter how bad the bad movie is.

But it’s hard to do this with books.  So, if you will, join me on the train as I discuss

Shortcut #60: Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars

Let me start by saying two things:

1. This book is bad.
2. I found a review on-line that praises this book.  That review includes this sentence: “Gerard Doyle reads with asperity and speaks the copious puns without any added slyness.”

What you might note from point number two is that the person who wrote this review didn’t actually read the book, but listened to it.  This fact is important.

(But it also reminds me of a former student who wrote the following, in her review of a book she was supposed to have read (in this case, The Color Purple): “The character of Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey)…”, a sentence that was sort of a dead giveaway).

Now, I don’t doubt that the audiobook of The Looking Glass Wars might be good.  It only makes sense, given that the novel is told as though it’s a dream recounted as a dream without allowance for the fact that the person wasn’t there in the dream dreaming along with the dreamer.  By which I mean, a good actor can make almost anything sound gripping.

However, that still doesn’t prevent Beddor’s book from being that sort of badly-recounted dream, the kind where you can tell the dreamer was completely engrossed in their own fantasy, and that fantasy might well be awesome, but such a fantasy does not a great novel make.  Or even a good novel.  In this case, barely a passable novel. (I’ll stop there because it’s still clearly recognizable as a novel.)

But what’s the problem with the book being told like a dream recounted?  The problem is that it’s boring.  It’s barebones.  All the details are missing, the colors and details that the dreamer unconsciously brought to the table while dreaming are missing in the words on the page.

For example, the father of a main character is killed.  A very important moment, we can all agree.

However, the actual death isn’t described at all.  This character (Sir Justice Anders, for those who want to experience this book themselves vicariously) faces off against the Cheshire Cat who, in this incarnation, is a seven-foot-tall beast.  Said beast “swipes” Anders and the good knight goes down.

A few paragraphs later, we find out that Sir Anders is dead when his son runs, grief-stricken, to his body.  Dead by a swipe?  Okay, but a swipe doesn’t sound especially fatal or dangerous.  It’s more of a slap than a slash. (This is really just a token of how Beddor fails to use language precisely.)

And then, a few chapters later, Alyss (the main character, as you might suspect) remembers the knight’s death and how she saw his stomach ripped open by the Cheshire’s claws.  Details, again, which would’ve been nice to know at the time.

The whole book is like this, with details often spread out over chapters (when they should be put together) or missing altogether.   Really, what the book reads like is a plot outline that’s been fleshed out the bare minimum.   Beddor is a production person, more interested in the big picture (he’s created several companies to push his ideas forward in live-action, book (including graphic novels), and video games), and that seems clear to me in this book.

Why is this clear?  Because, at base, Beddor’s idea about taking Alice in Wonderland and revisioning it is a great one.  Many of his creations are really interesting (the Mad Hatter as a secret agent bodyguard) and his imagining of a full Wonderland world, at base, is very intriguing.

But that’s where the magic stops, mostly because The Looking Glass Wars lack one very vital ingredient: imagination.

Beddor’s world is called Wonderlandia, for god’s sake.  The capital city?  Wondertropolis.

With Beddor’s book, this lack of imagination is a fatal flaw.  If The Looking Glass Wars had nothing to do with Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, then the book might be simply a little undercooked.  The wildness of a number of Beddor’s creations might carry the book along, making a decent, if not stellar, read.  But the problem here is that Alice in Wonderland is a master-class in imagination, and Beddor cribs from it as much as he can without going about the difficult process of re-envisioning Carroll’s masterpiece.

Take the Mad Hatter.  Beddor renames him Hatter Madigan which is, well, okay.  But he’s the head of the Wonderland secret service, and what are they called?  The millinery.  Why?  Because it’s a pun, based on the Mad Hatter.

However, Beddor’s premise for his books is that Alyss was real, and Lewis Carroll took her story and translated it into his classic.  But his classic is so much more imaginative and interesting than Beddor’s story, it’s clear that his initial premise — in the logic of his own universe — makes no sense, because everything in The Looking Glass Wars is a clear descendant of Carroll, not the other way around.

It would take a mind of remarkably powerful imagination and genius to take Beddor’s original idea and make it work.

Sadly, what his book actually delivers is a constant stream of annoyance (at the lack of imagination on display) and vaguery (since scenes are sketched out rather than inhabited).

I really, really, really wanted to like this book.  Not because I knew anything about Beddor or The Looking Glass Wars, but because I’m in love with authors re-working/incorporating the works of other authors/mythologies (see Zelazny’s Lord of Light and Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz).  And there’s no denying that the book is a pretty package, designed with love and artistic flair.  If only the same could be said about the text.

p.s. if the beginning didn’t make it clear (and i admit that it didn’t), i didn’t finish this book.  so there.

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2 Responses to Shortcut #60: The Looking Glass Wars

  1. Jason Myers says:

    Can I have it? (assuming it is yours and you haven’t just thrown it away).

  2. Andrew says:

    Gave it to a friend in my writing group who is also working on updating/working-in-the-world-of an old classic. I’ll ask if she’ll give it back once she’s done, and then it’ll be all yours.

    Lucky you. 🙂

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