For me, reading Darkwind was like witnessing a pretty caterpillar become a stunning butterfly. Allow me to explain:
While reading the first chapter, I was certainly intrigued – in the same way a caterpillar’s cocoon-building is fascinating to watch, but it’s not overly spectacular – YET. Our story begins with an introduction to Princess Cistine in her home of Talheim. Though she didn’t immediately grab me as a lovable character, she was certainly layered from the get-go and I found her interesting, and likeable (a term even she would use to describe herself). Little did I know how attached I’d soon become.
The world of Talheim becomes vivid pretty quickly, and by chapter 3 I felt like I had a good sense of the atmosphere. My initial thoughts were that the pace was a tad slow, and there was a sense that I was waiting for something a little more; a kick to get it going (bear in mind, I was also reading small sections at a time in between other things, so this could have mostly been because I wasn’t reading enough in one sitting to become engrossed).
As Cistine began to train with the cabal, I was a little skeptical of the prospect – often in movies, there’s a short ‘training period’, after which a previously incompetent character is supposedly capable of holding their own in a fight. The same goes for when a character is severely injured, but can magically walk normally again in the following scene. So, I was worried that the same rushed unrealistic trope might show up here. BOY WAS I WRONG, and I how could I have expected anything less from Renee?! Cistine’s training and Ashe’s leg recovery are THE most realistic progression-over-time depictions I think I’ve ever come across. And yet, the subject never gets boring!
Even though this time span is quite a chunk of the book, there is a perfectly-paced drip-feed of new information that consistently adds interest to the mix. It is pitched so well in fact, that by around chapter 10 I realised there was this…almost magnetic pull towards the story, and I began to really savour – crave, even – the steady pace and rich level of detail. I felt like I was in safe hands, listening to a wise storyteller beside a campfire as the story unfolded in real-time. While not flashy or overly grand, the tale gradually builds momentum, gathering more texture and layers as it rolls on.
Cistine is one of those characters who – like the book itself – gradually, slowly, grows on you until you realise you absolutely adore her. Cistine’s progression is inspiring and realistic, and I absolutely love the way her character is ever-changing, learning and growing before our eyes as we navigate the new environment alongside her.
Of course, being the main character, we also see all her flaws laid bare – so we’re bound to judge her more harshly. For example, there is an unexpectedly rash decision she makes that seems a bit out of character for her, and it might have been more a way of propelling the plot forward than a plausible choice on Cistine’s part. However, it is a sign of how she has progressed and the new ways she has been taught while being part of the cabal, and this is acknowledged in the narration. Additionally, the aftermath of the matter is dealt with PERFECTLY in book two. While consolidating the event, both characters are given their own reasons to argue for their strong view, which as a reader is incredibly satisfying to see.
Meanwhile, I absolutely fell in love with the other characters, one after another. By halfway through, I felt so at home with the cabal and already wanted to become a part of the team (if anyone knows where I can train with Quill, please sign me up!).
There seemed to be a bit of info-dumping at the end as revelations came to light – some were cleverly foreshadowed, while others seemed a little sudden and one was easy to guess (but I was so fixated on the fact I’d guessed it, I totally overlooked another thing – so there was still impact in the revelations!). This also set up higher stakes for going straight into the second book…
As I was ill for the second half of this week, escaping to the world of Darkwind was the perfect distraction from how awful I was feeling, and I found strength in the characters’ perseverance. Seeing them rise up and grow stronger imbued me with strength as I breathed through painful stomach cramps and dizzying nausea. It made me feel more connected with the characters somehow, like I was in sympathy as they recovered from injuries – and I found myself focusing on the question of ‘what would they do?’. I’m so obsessed with the world and invested in this wonderful found-family now. I really feel like I know them personally, and they’ve already been in the back of my mind while going about my day.
With Renee’s understated but beautifully flowing writing style, the magical world-building is second only to the luxurious focus on character, with personalities and relationships that come to life before your eyes. Wholesome friendships are accompanied by dazzling locations, some gems of inspiring quotes that wouldn’t look out of place on a bedroom wall, and sprinkles of humour to boot.
And so, from the cocoon emerges a beautiful butterfly – mauve and scarlet with shimmering gossamer wings, which it flutters demurely as the moonlight glints from its delicate mosaic surface. I can’t wait to follow as it swoops through the next instalments, where I’m sure its wings will become stronger, and glitter even more brightly – much like Cistine, though I think I’ve got carried away with that analogy…
My point is, this is a glorious book. Just you wait until the cabal become your family. You won’t be able to let them go.
I haven’t read Rebecca, but knew enough about it before watching this to have an idea of the general feel (though I knew absolutely nothing of the plot and characters).
First of all, I was immediately struck with how vivid and HD the visuals were, with a warm temperature and sunny highlights. The cinematography was pretty cool throughout, but this gave it a feel of rom-com or coming-of-age films, with a pink and yellow vibe, rather than the gothic mystery genre that the book fits into.
I think this contributes to the main difficulty I had with it: the tone. While the first half hour seemed like it could be a light-hearted romance film, it was weighed down by Maxim’s closed-off nature and the protagonist’s chaotic discomfort as she seems to be swept along without much agency to control her situation.
This does set up a good character arc for her, as she takes more control towards the end, but even then she’s still in her husband’s (and Rebecca’s) shadow in many ways. I also noticed after about 20 minutes that we didn’t know our main character’s name – they were clever to maintain having no necessity for her to be called by a first name, and it wasn’t noticeable within the narrative. Like in the book, this perhaps makes her more anonymous, leaving more ambiguity for the ending and disconnecting us from her a bit.
Despite this, I still felt fairly connected with her and enjoyed seeing Lily James take on the range of motions she goes through! However, I found in general that characters weren’t very deeply rendered. I didn’t have much of a sense for Maxim’s personality other than his situation, and Mrs deWinter’s wasn’t very clear. So as the film had such a focus on plot, it sacrificed character plausibility.
I liked how tension was sometimes balanced by having lighter moments of relief (which were almost startling on occasion, e.g. when Mrs Danvers starts helping her – that sudden change did surprise me for a bit!) But an issue I had was how there would be a few scenes of that golden sunlit aesthetic (for happier scenes), before suddenly some cold, blue-tinted scenes to show the gothic and oppressive aspects. While it’s fine to contrast the moods, it’s done so suddenly and back-and-forth that it ends up confusing.
Tension was often handled badly too, as it was frequently cut short so there was no payoff. For example, they built up a lot of suspense when Maxim was sleepwalking to the double doors – and stopped short of opening them, which made sense as it left tension lingering. But the next time we see those doors, Mrs deWinter is throwing them open without warning, and we miss the opportunity of feeling that tension build up further before the reveal. It’s also unclear as to what Maxim was actually doing each time he went into Rebecca’s room. Why did Danny close the doors with him still inside? A bit odd.
The main issue was that the bright & cheerful cinematography was evocative of a rom-com but not distanced enough from the underlying mystery to reach that status, while the gloomy atmosphere wasn’t gothic enough to give that wholesome creepy feeling (I mean it doesn’t have to be Tim Burton level, but perhaps a bit more creepy). So it fell somewhere in the middle, and I wasn’t just uncomfortable when the film intended to make us feel unsettled, but by the fact it couldn’t quite decide what feel it was going for.
Any creepiness came mostly from Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays the role of the strict, burdened and conniving housekeeper with such restrained ferocity and exacted composure that she made for a compelling (though deliciously detestable) antagonist through the whole film.
The presence of Rebecca is felt, seen in items around the house, and we see how she is stifling Mrs deWinter’s life. However, the only signs of how all-consuming this is are when she has a small outburst of anger, and when she almost seems to consider jumping out the window. But she quite quickly seems to overcome this arc that had been building from the start, and becomes a wholly new person who has forgotten her feelings of inadequacy as soon as she realised there was no need for jealousy. Maxim does point this out, that she’s no longer all bubbly and innocent, but the transition still seems too sudden to be believable.
Another difficult concept to grasp was the manifestation of Rebecca. It was effective that they had items of hers everywhere, so some eeriness was created by the imagination as a result. But they also showed the back of a woman as she walked away – was this an apparition of the protagonist’s own mind, or a ghost of some sort? While this could have been enticingly ambiguous, it was more just confusing.
The music was frequently off-putting, especially in the darker scenes – while it attempted to add to the atmosphere, it cut through scenes with heavy accents and unpleasant dissonance.
Why did Maxim never say to Mrs deWinter that she shouldn’t feel inferior to Rebecca? He seems to disregard his wife for most of the film until she takes over at the end and we’re supposed to back him and see his case as the morally superior. I think the pivotal point is after Maxim holds the gun to his chest. Mrs deWinter suddenly takes over and he becomes submissive, a swap too unrealistic to seem believable. There are distinctly different undertones once they are working together in this later section, as she does all the talking while he sits there.
Sure, it’s cool to have subverted their roles, but she’s suddenly so inexplicably different, and upholding his case despite his neglectful and borderline abusive behaviour. The transitions between these states is just too fast, and the pacing feels off for most of the film.
There is an argument against her supporting him, as her eyes flick directly towards the camera at the end. The director himself said this could indicate she will leave him, or has some sinister plan. Perhaps she is another ‘Rebecca’? But while it’s all well and good to speculate, none of this is actually foreshadowed in the film from what I can see, and that interpretation just doesn’t correlate with the character we see on-screen. So this final shot seems to be a weak attempt to add more ambiguity, but instead it seems forced and unnecessary.
The director said he hoped it would leave a bittersweet taste. I mean it’s definitely got me thinking, but I’d say the taste leftover is more just… bland.
Imagine sitting in the cosy living room of a small cottage, warming your hands by a crackling fire. A cup of tea sits on the table beside you, accompanied by a plate of golden gingerbread biscuits. The smell of woodsmoke and cinnamon coats the air, along with the faint scent of some unidentifiable herbs, and a hint of pine.
A tall woman dressed in black sits bolt upright in the wooden rocking chair opposite you, her sharp features fixed in an inquisitive stare. You get the impression she already knows what you’re thinking before you do. Mistress Weatherwax, her name is.
As you peer more closely at her neat grey updo, you’re convinced there is a shadow of a tall pointy hat atop her head. It is clear she is a witch. You venture to inquire about a witch’s purpose – but before you can formulate the question, she nods knowingly.
You carefully sip your tea, nodding in contemplation.☕
What edges do you look to?
My thoughts: I often try to find a middle ground between opposites. In this world, there are so many categorisations and labels for things – but nowadays we are better at seeing in a less black and white way. Spectrums and scales, rather than one or the other. Process and progress, instead of start and finish.
Recognising the spaces between categories can be vital to understanding things more deeply. For if we were to always separate things into immovable boundaries, we’d miss out on a lot of the nuances that come from variation and combination; ambiguity and chance.
Often, the indescribable, unanswerable and uncategorisable (is that even a word?!?) are the most perplexing yet fulfilling things to ponder over, as they are unanswerable. Yet, an important aspect of the human experience is that we question them anyway.
(The illustration at the back of the photo is called ‘Granny Weatherwax’s cottage’, by David Wyatt)
In this charming extension of the Once Upon A Time universe, Wendy Toliver weaves a short but enjoyable tale about young Regina’s experiences of friendship, love, manipulation and betrayal. We see her grapple with her mother’s overbearing nature, while navigating being a teenager, discovering who she is and attempting to form connections with others.
The Main Characters:
Regina Mills Regina in this book is a convincing continuation of the young girl in the show, and I actually pictured her more as Ava Acres than I did as Lana Parrilla. I think she is a bit more precocious and naive in this than the calm, sweet young Regina we see Parrilla play in flashback scenes. But that worked well for me, as she matched up with the child Regina we see in the series.
Henry Mills (Regina’s father) Gentle and respectful as we see him in the show, we really feel the sense of love and pride Henry has for his daughter – as well as his timid compliance as Cora dictates their lives.
Cora Mills (Regina’s mother) The notoriously cold-hearted Cora was captured perfectly here, and I completely pictured her as she is in the show.
Original Characters Claire was the other main character, introduced to us as the daughter of Henry’s friend. Her characterisation wasn’t overly deep, and she certainly wasn’t as well-developed as Regina, but the true purpose of her character comes to light later in the book, when we see the part she has to play in TV-Regina’s development.
Jesse, the stable boy, helped to make the setting seem more real and provide a background presence besides the focus on Regina and her immediate surroundings. I got him confused with Jasper at first, but later realised I’d merged the names in my mind – he’s the stable boy and Jasper is the artist that Regina takes a shine to.
Jasper – I thought his presence might somewhat take away from the story of Regina and Daniel, but actually I think their hint of a connection (and the collapse of it) almost foreshadowed the fate of her future relationship. Scenes with him had a palpable spark and vivacity, partly due to the almost tangible descriptions of the paintings and outdoor scenery.
Benjamin – The prospect of a marriage to the (much older) prince was a little odd to witness, but I can see it was an important part of the plot, to set up the ending. I didn’t feel that he was a very deep or interesting character – though that was perhaps the point, as we’re not supposed to think much of him.
[Minor spoiler in the following paragraph:]
I did notice a bit of a discrepancy: in the show, she hadn’t met Snow White before saving her from the bolting horse, had she? I believe Snow introduces herself then, yet in this book they meet and spend some time together, on good terms. At first, I thought the memory potion Regina obtains was going to be for herself – which would explain why we never hear of these events in the show. But what she does with it seems like a shortcut way to avoid explaining things to a particular character (also perhaps to show her beginnings of ruthlessness and controlling people). Snow was a little more ‘bratty’ than in the show, but the onscreen version does have this air about her, and I can see why Regina would view her that way at first. There’s quite a sudden turn at the end, but it is true to character for Regina (based on how we see her react to events in the show).
The writing style came across as quite simplistic to me at first, but of course it has to cater for different ages, and I actually warmed to its tone as I began to see it was more complex than it first seemed. References were woven in, with effective descriptions and frequent moments of emotional depth. There was also a key allegory that Henry tells Regina towards the start, which comes to light at the end. I like how it matches up with the events that play out, though the content of the parable isn’t so obvious as to ruin the impact of the surprise.
Overall, I really enjoyed it! Notably, the scenes of painting and riding were most memorable for me – described in particularly beautiful detail. Other highlights included descriptions of sweet treats at the Blind Witch’s cottage, a rebellious escapade through a grand palace, and a slight twist where we see Regina’s darker side peeking through! I also loved the subtle romantic vibes from interactions with Jasper, and the fun friendship with Claire. There were little references to other characters and stories from the show (Geppetto, Hansel & Gretel, the Blind witch, and the fact that Regina is “Cora’s ‘only’ child” [wink wink]).
It also had a nice overall aesthetic, and was a lovely (yet subtly sinister) read that was perfect for during my October holiday. Thank you Wendy for this tale based on one of my favourite characters of all time!
I’ve always found that old saying rather ominous, and I think Bonfire Night itself is unsettling. What makes it so harrowing for me isn’t the historical origins (of Guy Fawkes nearly blowing up parliament), but the people standing by a blazing fire and watching as the life-sized mannequin of a person goes up in flames…
Usually we’d go to the fireworks at our local park, where they also light a bonfire and sell hot dogs. In more recent years we haven’t actually gone, but watched the fireworks from my bedroom window. I hadn’t realised how much of a tradition that was until it didn’t happen this year.
I know burning Guy Fawkes is a symbol of victory for England, and perhaps a disguised warning for future plotters, as it represents a condemnation of treachery… But it seems strange to me that we celebrate burning someone at the stake – an awful fate that many people faced throughout history (many of whom were innocent), and something that is now banned in our country.
Of course, it can be seen as a form of art, people coming together to share in creativity and community! There are many traditions and other things that have roots in darker origins, so perhaps it’s something to commend – that we find things to celebrate from within that darkness?
But witnessing what almost seems like mob-mentality still sticks with me, as we stand and watch a recreated image of something we would condemn if it happened for real… Then again, that would be a fitting description for many dramatic art forms – where are the boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘pretend’? Perhaps it can be considered parallel to theatre, where people act out conflict and murder with fake swords and blood and death, just as the human-sized Guy is fake…
But the flames are real.
(Ironically, accompanied by photos where the fire is clearly not real – there’s a juxtaposition for you! :D)
Hello all you from England, and those elsewhere! Do you celebrate bonfire night? For those of you who don’t, are you familiar with it?
[I have edited a few lines/wording of the lovely contributions made by my Bookstagram friends, only to improve clarity and flow when connecting them. My writing is in this brown, and the sections by my co-writers are all colour-coded! ]
(Context): I posted an idea that we could write a short story in the comments of one of my posts – and it worked out quite well! It sort of became a bit longer than a short story, but you’re welcome to just read as much of it as you’d like! Thank you to those who participated, I had great fun doing this!)
Wind whistled through the gnarled boughs of stooping trees, their branches creaking under the weight of darkness. Shadows flickered, warping and slinking behind tree trunks to evade the icy blue moonlight that clawed its way through a veil of dense cloud. My breath curled and dispersed in front of me, lacing the air with exposed fear as I walked steadily towards the chilling sight at the end of the pathway.
Never had the derelict mansion looked so imposing. These ruins of what had once been a 19th century gothic building looked like something out of a novel. Its central turret loomed above even the tallest trees, a crooked spire impaling the surrounding fog, as if threatening to plummet from its height to the thicket of gorsebush below.
A spine of this gorse prickled my leg through the thin layer of my tights, prompting me to flinch. I heard myself gasp in shock, the sound cutting through the thick silence. The air temperature around me was bitterly cold, and I could’ve sworn it had rapidly dropped in the few seconds since I’d arrived.
Reprimanding myself mentally for being so pathetic, I shrugged off the notion. As my heartrate slowed, I glanced downwards to where I had felt the sharp thorn against my calf. My stomach lurched.
There was no gorse bush beside the path. It was soft grass, coated in an icy lustre that formed a circle around my feet.
(chronicles.of.a.bookworm🙂 The glow from the icy grass surrounding me grew brighter with each slow breath.Soon, it became too bright for my eyes to withstand. As I closed them, I felt a rush of cool air blow pass me. When I opened my eyes, I could see that beyond the evaporating wisp of my breath in the air, the mansion that stood before me was now covered in a thick sheet of white.
Frost now coated the crooked roof tiles; ice gripped the once-ornate plaster detailing of the outside walls, and snowflakes dusted the broken metal tips of the turrets.
(chronicles.of.writing🙂 The mist surrounding the layer of white began to move, dispersing into a chill, eerie fog. Through the gloom, I could see the warm glow of a single lantern lit within the central turret.This area had been abandoned ever since the fire that burned the magnificent mansion to a shell, and the upstairs floors were so damaged that there was no way anyone could be up there. Yet, there was the light. Despite the warning in my gut, my feet began to move towards it, a strange unheard melody lulling their every step. Before I knew it, I was at the front door. But as I reached for the handle, a second gust of cool air rushed past me, throwing the door open and revealing an empty, crumbling ruin. Above me, the light in the spire winked out.
(lavenderbluestories🙂 All of a sudden, the lulling feeling stopped. An eerie chill crawled up my spine. I turned to flee – but behind me a crumbling, ivy-covered wall had appeared where there was no wall before, trapping me in the ruins.
(mybookisalive🙂 “Let me go!” I wanted to scream… but I didn’t. I knew that would be the most foolish thing to do. And I had done enough stupid things tonight. I looked at the newly-formed wall, then gingerly reached out to touch it. The feeling of rough stone against my near-numb fingertips confirmed that it was real, and tears began to prickle at the backs of my eyelids. I couldn’t stop the tears running down my cheeks. Before long, I began to notice that where each tear had fallen on the mossy ground, a new ivy branch was sprouting and linking itself to the wall.
(rizwan_adina🙂 I couldn’t believe what I saw. My tears fell effortlessly and the ivy wall grew and grew before my eyes. Considering how foolish it was to just stand there and witness my impending gloom, I wiped away my tears, took a deep breath and turned away from the wall. There was only one way out, and that was through the ruin. It took time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but finally I could make out a dim outline of a crumbling stairway ahead of me. Remembering a torchlight that I had kept in my small backpack, which was slung on my shoulders, I took it out and started moving towards the stairway.
(sarajoybow:) Uneasily, I noted the decay of the structure: from its uneven stairwell, to its bruised wooden siding, to its tottering spires— it looked as if the elements themselves had conspired to destroy this eerie place. I wondered if those same forces of the universe now considered *me* something to be destroyed. My heart seemed to flicker in the base of my throat when I grasped the iron handle of a large door at the top of the staircase. This must have been the entrance to all visitors, once. It occurred to me that I was no visitor now, but an intruder – and unfortunately it seemed the house was well aware of that. The door swung open to reveal a gaping maw of a foyer. It was probably once glamorous, impressive— a receiving room for the upper echelons of high society.
(kabyburton_music🙂 I took a step forward. Squinting in the harsh beam of my torch, I frowned as I realised that all the paintings on the walls were hung the wrong way around. I wondered what might be on them. I closed the door behind me, then I was sure I felt someone’s breath on my neck. I turned around swiftly in fear, only to discover that no one was standing there.
Convinced I wasn’t alone, and fearing that what was left of the ruin would collapse at any moment, my feet moved before I was even aware I’d chosen to run. Through the cobweb-coated doorway, across the splintered floorboards and up another rickety staircase, my trembling legs carried me as my heartbeat thundered in my ears. My whole body jolted as a wooden plank snapped beneath my right foot, and I would’ve tumbled to the pit of debris below, had it not been for a chunk of yellowed cornice that I managed to grab as I lurched to the right. In doing so, my torch slipped from my other hand and tumbled through the new hole to the mass of shadows below.
Upon impact, I heard the distinct crack of a bulb smashing, just as the light fizzled out. Pushing away from the cornice to stand upright, I stepped across to a lump of concrete, illuminated in the moonlight. In a vain attempt at self-reassurance, I decided it would be a safer vantage point than on the wooden planks – though in reality I knew it didn’t make much difference. The jumbled mess of materials reached a dead end before me, and I was trapped on my little island of crumbling stone with only the shadows to see by; flecks of a blue glow just visible in the negative space around them.
Glancing around me, I desperately tried to discern shapes amidst the darkness. Once my eyes had adjusted a little better, I clocked a lopsided window-space on the other side of the gaping hole. This was my only feasible escape, and I was not going to try and jump the gap only to go back the way I had just been. After a leap that was quick but far from graceful, I was at the edge of the building (if it could even be considered as such; it was more of a ‘falling’ than a ‘building’).
Judging the distance from the window to the ground, I reckoned it would be manageable if I could somehow jump from halfway down the wall. With shaking fingers, I unzipped my oilcloth coat and draped its hood over a section of broken stone on the window ledge. Thank goodness I chose an ankle-length trench coat, I thought to myself with a hint of smugness.
Tugging on the coat to confirm it was secure, I swung my lace-up boots over the edge, and lowered myself until I was sat on a surprisingly smooth edge of coving. Ironically, I was grateful that it was too dark in this instance, as I was spared having to see the ground spinning beneath me. Taking a deep breath, I prepared myself for the descent: slide down the coat, stretch to full height from the bottom of it; then land with bent knees on the ground.
I gripped both sides of the coat’s main body, and exhaled. But before I had the chance to jump, something pushed me from behind.
Screaming, I careened over the edge, limbs flailing as I struggled to maintain contact with the slippery material of my coat. With my right hand gripping the fabric, I was able to hold on, but the momentum of the fall caused me to move back towards the wall and slam into the uneven surface. Scraping my forearm against some jagged stone and grazing my leg against a loose nail jutting out of the first-floor window below, I yelped in pain, left arm struggling to grasp the fabric as I slid to a halt. Dangling precariously from the tails of my best coat, I took another deep breath, and let go.
It wasn’t a successful landing. The force of the impact was worse than I had anticipated, and my knees juddered uncomfortably as my boots slammed down into the not-so-soft ground. A searing pain shot through my right ankle, and it gave way beneath me. I cursed under my breath, frustrated at having not only lost an expensive garment, but also at failing to carry out my plan as I had envisaged.
To compensate for the foot that was twisted at a disturbing angle, I hopped on my left leg towards the pathway. The mysterious wall had disappeared, and I realised it must have been a figment of my imagination. I had been prickled by a gorsebush, the light was a reflection of a streetlight from the adjacent road, and the drop in temperature was due to the increasing amount of time since the sun had set. As for what had happened on the ledge, it was my own paranoia and haste that had made me panic, and jump too soon. Shaking my head at my foolishness, I limped back down the path, shivering without an outside layer to protect me from the icy chill.
Despite telling myself I was imagining it, the temperature did seem to be dropping at an alarming rate, and I began to fear whether I’d make it home before dying of hypothermia. My foot was so numb that I could actually walk on it. The bitter wind against my face had rendered my cheeks still, to the point where my teeth no longer chattered. In fact – it was so cold, I could no longer tell that it was cold.
I walked a little further, before realising that for quite some time, my ribcage hadn’t been moving. As I examined the air in front of me, there was no wisp of exhaled droplets dispersing through it. Despite trying to take a breath, I found that I didn’t need to. I felt lighter than air, walking on a carpet of snow outside my beautiful mansion.
Up ahead, I could see a silhouette coming into view. It emerged from the shadows, revealing itself to be a boy of perhaps sixteen or seventeen. He jogged at a fast pace, passing me without a glance as he neared the ruin. Turning back to follow him, I watched as he slowed to a halt, before scratching the back of his head with one hand. Footsteps sounded behind me – soon, three adults dressed in fluorescent green clothing had caught up with the youth. One of them muttered something too quiet for me to hear, and the young man replied, “I heard a shriek, and came as fast as I could. But I guess I was too late.”
Had I been able to feel my heart pounding, it would have shuddered in my chest. Beyond the four standing in front of me, I could see the shape of a body, sprawled on the grass and coated in a thick layer of frost. Hurrying over to the people, I went to speak, but my larynx refused to move. Panic rising in my throat – (or at least it would have been if I could feel anything) – I tapped the young man on the shoulder. He spun round, looking directly at me with a grimace. “Damn mosquitoes!” he muttered, waving a hand at the air in front of my face. I ducked to the side, but his fingertips grazed the space taken up by my nose – though I didn’t feel it.
If tears had been able to form in my eyes, I would have been crying from sheer panic. To my alarm, I watched as icicles began to sprout from my hands, like the vines that had grown from my tears earlier that night. The ice stretched and slithered, winding its way down to the grass and around the man’s feet, meeting on the other side to form a perfect… circle.
I attempted to gasp, though I knew it was futile. Focusing on the ruin, I remembered my imagined idea of what it might have looked like once. Grand, gleaming and symmetrical, like a castle for a fairytale princess. Suddenly, I found that I could blink again. In doing so, my eyes refocused, and I realised that the ruin was no longer a derelict mess. Instead, it was truly a building, adorned with intricate carvings and majestic spires, pointing perfectly towards the luminescent sky. The feeling of lightness built up inside me, and I watched in wonder as my boots lifted themselves off the ground, floating higher and higher until I was level with the ledge where my burgundy coat was left flapping in the wind. I reached for it but missed, the hood slipping through my fingers. It was no matter; I could retrieve it later.
Entering the room I had been in just moments before, I remembered the backwards frames cowering in the darkness like schoolchildren in detention. But here, I was greeted with a glorious gallery of portraits, all strikingly realistic as they peered out from within their golden frames, despite the darkness surrounding them. Spotting a lantern and a box of matches on the table beside me, I lit the candle and held it up to the first painting. It was of a woman dressed in Victorian fashion, her hair tied neatly into an elaborate updo. The label read “Elizabeth, surname unknown, 16th March 1876”. Rather careless to not know the surname of your subject, I thought.
I was about to approach the second painting, when I heard footsteps on the stairwell. Worried that I would face punishment for breaking and entering, I blew the candle out, relishing the sensation of air in my lungs as the warmth of the restored ruin brought my senses back.
“No one up here – must’ve been suicide, unless the murderer fled back down the stairwell. Don’t see why anyone would risk climbing up to there though – that hole in the floorboards is a major structural weak point.”
While the young man was distracted, examining the perfectly polished floorboards at the area where I had made a great hole in the ruin with my boot, I took my chance to escape. Tiptoeing silently behind him, I tried to creep past unseen. I marvelled at the rich mahogany banister and the green damask wallpaper, and at the transformation of the place. I beamed at the beauty surrounding me, forgetting to be cautious as I lost my balance on the top step.
Flailing to catch myself, I felt a wave of cold against my left hand, and whirled round in time to see my hand brushing past the young man’s shoulder. I chastised myself for being so careless – surely I was in for it now. They’d ask how the ruin was suddenly restored, and I’d have to tell them… what would I tell them? I twisted my ankle but renovated the mansion? Before I had time to contemplate this further, my eyes widened at the sight of the young man teetering in the middle of the corridor, behind me. It looked rather odd as he fought to regain balance for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was acting out what might have happened to the person who fell…
To my disbelief, he disappeared from view, and I could’ve sworn that I heard a shriek and three yelps. I then heard a faint voice, exclaiming “Oh, not another one. What an idiot for going up there! So unnecessary too – we already know how it happens.”
I knew I had to stop lying to myself. It was fun to pretend for a little while, but I could no longer deceive my own mind.
To check my theory, I returned to the gallery, trying to ignore the pangs of guilt pooling in my chest. After relighting the lantern, I held it up to the portraits on the other side of the room. Opposite Victorian Elizabeth, a shiny new painting hung in a pristine golden frame. It wasn’t facing the wall now, though I wished it could have been. Staring back at me were two familiar eyes, an unmistakable nose and a mouth that would have been trembling, had it been my reflection in a mirror. Below the painting, etched in black lettering, was my name, and today’s date.
As I accepted the truth of my fate, the pink paint coating the plaster began to peel away. One by one, the portraits turned to face the wall, and the floorboards ruptured and split. In the corridor, the mahogany darkened and the hole I’d kicked in the floorboards emerged, larger than it was before. Escaping the damage, I half-ran, half-floated down the stairs and into the brisk reality of the outside. My eyes fell on the contorted body of the young man, stretched out on the grass with a circle of frost surrounding him. It was now that I saw the true detail of the dreadful scene.
Gasping internally, for once again I couldn’t feel anything, I wondered how I could have missed it before. With my head in the innocent dreamworld of what once was and what could be, I had failed to notice the array of bodies laid out on the ground, all evenly spaced around the ruin.
As I came to terms with the events that had passed, I made my way towards the body beside the poor young man’s. Just above it, my burgundy oilcoth trench coat swung in the wind, hanged by its neck from the window ledge like a monk’s habit in prayer, blessing or cursing the body on the ground. My body.
My body… I allowed myself to float back to it, and become one with it again, where I belonged. And as I slept, I dreamed of my beautiful mansion on a blanket of lush green grass, its gleaming spire pointing up towards a vivid blue sky. It would be so breathtaking, no one would notice the frost creeping across the ground. They wouldn’t see it connecting the remnants of its victims, to form a perfect circle.
Imagine life as a game of cards, and your opponent is Time.
Time is ever-moving, unrepentant as it passes, often rapid through moments of joy, and unhurried in periods of boredom or pain. But overall, it continues steadily. We are dealt an unknown hand of cards, out of our control. Instead, the power rests with Time.
Like an opponent in a betting game, Time picks up the present moment like a card from the top of the pile, and transfers it to your deck of used cards. You see a quick glimpse of the picture on the back – and perhaps you even grasp it for a split second – before it is part of the past pile. This stack of old cards can only be viewed in reflections in the glass table at which you are sat.
Around the room, cards from the past – or perhaps sketches of them – are displayed in frames that hang on the walls. They are impressions, imprints of bygone moments, captured and seen again like time capsules. They are spectators to the modern cards in front of you.
There’s another pile at the other end of the table, spread out in a long, winding row. Sometimes, you can see every card – laid out exactly as you imagined. Then without warning, a gust of wind will often scatter them onto the floor, extinguishing candle flames or making them flicker as shadows dance across the pictures. What you see may just be a trick of the light, without certainty.
But in this darkness, Time slows in pace as it transfers the cards across, letting you focus for longer on each card’s picture.
Time then leans forward and arranges a selection of cards on the table in front of you. You can’t pick them up, but you’re allowed to examine them and decide which one will go into the pack you have collated. In grief, when the past deck is tainted blue, Time will take pity and gradually build the colour back up to a brilliant rainbow, card by card.
Time is cruel. It will trick you and make you lose. But sometimes, when it’s feeling generous, it’ll help you heal, or slow a couple of minutes so that you realise you’re not as late to an appointment as you thought you were. Even though it often jogs ahead or trundles behind, Time will remind you that it’s a constant companion, running with you every step of the way.
I think I was about 10 when I first watched ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, the 70s tv series (based on the books written by Alf Wight, about his life as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales). Mum and I would sit on the sofa, probably with a cup of tea and some cake, and watch an episode together after school. We only got to the end of series 1, and never got round to continuing them. 8 years later, we have just re-watched series 1, in light of the new adaptation that has been airing over the last few weeks!
While the old series is certainly dated in places, it still holds a cosy charm that I think can’t be replicated – which is why I’m glad that the new series didn’t attempt to recreate it. Instead of trying to attach itself to the existing world we know and love, this adaptation has built its own presence beside it, with a similar atmosphere but a slightly different tone. There’s a more modern edge without taking it out of the time period completely, and each character has more agency and purpose.
I’ll admit, I was sceptical at first.
I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to watch it. But after hearing that my Grandparents had enjoyed it, that was the seal of approval, which meant I should give it a watch – and I’m glad I did!
Initially, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have the original theme tune, but it was a nice touch to have it playing during the end credits of the first episode. I know some were upset that this hasn’t continued for the rest of the episodes, but I think that would have been a bit excessive; treading too much on the old series. Having it in the first one was just a subtle nod, before they made the rest their own. I now actually love the new theme – it feels unique in itself, and has motifs that evoke the old tune without encroaching on its distinctive melody.
James Herriot is played brilliantly by Nicholas Ralph:
I immediately warmed to Nick’s portrayal, with his gentle Scottish lilt (as Alf himself had a Glaswegian accent), awkward charm and apologetic expressions. One difference I noticed particularly was how the old James (Christopher Timothy) seemed quite competent and calm in the first episode, but then comes across as quite bumbling and dopey in later episodes. While this is part of why we love him, it seems a bit inconsistent. Whereas, in the new series, we see this awkward side of him straight away – he misses a bus, struggles to become accustomed to Siegfried, and gets kicked by a cow. As well as making the character more consistent, this also beautifully highlights his characteristic determination, as he walks through the rain to his interview, puts up with Siegfried’s trials, and gets back up multiple times to continue treating the cow.
I also like how Nicholas conveys James’ strong sense of integrity in such a sympathetic way without seeming sanctimonious. Where sometimes I had found the old James a little self-righteous, I connected on a more personal level with this James. Though I will always love the original characters, I am gladly accepting these portrayals too, and they’ve done a great job of making the characters seem particularly real and accessible.
Samuel West makes a wonderful Siegfried Farnon, complementing the late Robert Hardy’s iconic portrayal:
Robert Hardy just WAS Siegfried, with his own eccentricity shining through as he had such a specific way of talking: jutting his chin out, the iconic frown, raising and lowering volume in quick succession and varying the speed of speech, all that sort of thing. However, I am incredibly impressed by how Samuel has approached the character.
As if sensitive to how beloved Robert’s version is, he subtly evokes the recognisable traits of the Siegfried we remember, with a twinkle in his eye and an air of unpredictability, but also gives him a softer edge. This goes along with his storyline in this series, where he has a closer relationship with Mrs Hall and a heavier sense of past loss attached to his character. Making him more sympathetic, he doesn’t mess James about quite so much – though his contradictory nature is delightful to watch in the first couple of episodes as he teases James, who is just settling in.
Callum Woodhouse’s portrayal of Tristan jarred with me a little at first, but that’s more to do with how the character is written:
Tristan was my favourite character in the old series, so I knew I’d have a hard time adjusting to a new rendition of him. Peter Davison managed to capture his mischievous, rebellious nature yet make him so lovable and gentle. He had perfected the cheeky schoolboy grin, along with the sympathy-inducing puppy dog expression he would always make when he was in trouble, with the slanted eyebrows and sad eyes:
Callum’s Tristan has the mischievous smile, but I found he was lacking the sympathy side a bit. Peter’s version was idle and rebellious, but he was dandyish and had an upbeat positivity. Instead, this Tristan gives a sense of wanting to cause trouble in an almost malicious way, and I wasn’t able to connect with him easily. It wasn’t until the episode where he spends time proving himself to Siegfried that I actually sympathised with him properly. Mostly I just found him a bit annoying, though the dynamic between him and the other characters works well – and this version is probably closer to how he was in the book/in real life. Having watched the fifth episode, I realise that I have warmed to him a lot more now.
While in the old series, Tristan and James got on well and would often tell each other things freely while keeping them from Siegfried (for fear of causing an outburst in reaction), here there is more tension between them at the start. But this works well to add more drama to the second episode. As their relationship progresses to a friendship, their dynamic has the same feel even if they don’t seem quite as close.
There’s also a sort of cyclical structure as their roles reverse – I like how they’ve used parallels and symbolic aspects to show progressions and mirroring throughout the episodes. One of them is in episode 2, when James has to pick up Tristan’s suitcase at the beginning (a nod to when this happens in the original), then at the end it is Tristan who has to pick up James’ – showing how the tables have turned. Another example is when Tricki-woo is misbehaving, and Siegfried talks about him while looking at Tristan, which creates a parallel between the younger Farnon and the dog with bad habits, so we see them improve in their ways throughout the episode… (though unfortunately it turns out that Tricki has not been so well-behaved).
Uncertain about Helen (Rachel Shenton):
More so than Tristan, Helen is the one character I haven’t quite got used to yet. I know that they have consciously given the female characters more of a role and greater agency in this series – which has worked beautifully for Mrs Hall. But I haven’t warmed to Helen at all unfortunately. I understand that they wanted to make her more independent, strong-willed and self-sufficient, but she comes across as brash, dismissive and quite one-dimensional, ironically. Rachel plays her convincingly, and I like her confidence and knowing-look, but we haven’t seen much of a gentler side from her yet.
I really liked Carol Drinkwater’s portrayal of Helen: she was slightly unnatural at first, but gradually grew into the character and exuded such a warmth and kindness that I do miss from this Helen. I don’t mind that she has a different personality here, that’s fine – it’s the fact we haven’t seen much range from her yet, and she seems to look down on James. She’s also surprisingly rude to him sometimes. For example, in one episode he offers to give her a lift home, then halfway through the journey they pass her rumoured-partner Hugh (Matthew Lewis – Neville from Harry Potter!), whom she insists she isn’t with, and she flirts with him in front of James before leaving with him! I’m honestly wondering if Helen and James will even get together at all…
Anna Madeley is a grounding presence as Mrs Hall, bringing a real warmth and sensibility to complete the group:
And then we have who I consider to be the stand-out character of the show. She’s the heart of this series, the moral compass and the voice of reason. Making Mrs Hall a main character was the best decision they could have made for this adaptation. I connected with her straight away, and she is fast becoming one of my favourite characters of all time.
The original Mrs Hall (Mary Hignett) was a minor character, but she still had a kindness about her and a sense of knowing. She had a charming relationship with Tristan, and always kept on good terms with Siegfried and James. But here, they’ve added so much more dimension to her character, given her a backstory (as a result, we see a range of emotions beneath her calm exterior), and built her relationships with the other characters. She is almost like a wife to Siegfried (though platonic, they share a close bond), a mother figure to Tristan, and a sort of sisterly presence for James. Honest, thoughtful and practical, she’s always looking out for others (e.g. helping Helen by looking after her younger sister – another addition to the character list). There’s also a few surprises about her along the way that make her probably the most intriguing character of the series.
Overall, there’s a cosiness to the setting, a sense of cohesion in the story arc so far, and a familiarity to the characters and story.
It’s fantastic that this reboot is introducing All Creatures to a whole new audience, and getting fans to return to it again. I’m also very pleased that it has been received so well! I believe there are plans for another series – so I’m hoping there will be more to come from these characters…
The final installment of this 6-episode season airs tonight at 9pm (6th Oct 2020).
Well, not *properly* anyway – at Primary School we sort of read the first two in class, but I am yet to sit and read them myself. Shocking, I know.
I love the films and would consider myself a fan – and I know a lot of the written story from reading Wiki pages (when I was writing a Potter-based story a few years back)! But I haven’t got round to reading the books themselves… until now.
It’s important to acknowledge how global perception of the series and its author has changed this year.
In light of J.K. Rowling’s comments, which have been offensive to many and have tainted how we view such a beloved story, the following question is raised: can we separate the art from the artist here?
The difficulty with books is that they are a direct creation of an author’s mind; their thoughts and views are infused into the words they write. However, it’s also necessary to consider how we still appreciate many works today that were written by people with questionable views and backgrounds. That doesn’t mean we accept or condone what they did, but that we are aware of it while reading.
For example, should we not read the works of Mary Lamb because she killed her mother? Should we refrain from reading Ted Hughes’ poetry because he was allegedly abusive? It’s a complex issue.
But can their work also be read without knowledge of the writer? We can’t know every author’s entire biography. But, in many cases, a few details will spread, and become a main part of what defines that author – just as Rowling’s comments have affected her reputation.
Of course, this means I won’t have ever read Harry Potter without the knowledge of the information that now ‘taints’ it. But it also means I won’t have the heartbreak many felt when the books they knew and loved were changed for them.
But they’re still the same books – we perhaps just need to view them from a different angle – as we should with everything, regardless of the background they have.
Should J.K. Rowling be ‘cancelled’?
I think it’s more important to focus on enjoying the books while keeping in mind how the characters and story have been depicted. It’s only like you would with any other book whose author had questionable views, or came from an era with different expectations.
But the fact Harry Potter is just SO popular means the recent revelation about its author has affected many across the globe, which is a shame.
I hope you can still enjoy Harry Potter, as I hopefully will too – though it is important to bear in mind the context in which we read it.
Note: As I’m reading the series, I will be looking out for whether Rowling’s apparent views come up in the way it’s written – if I find anything in particular, I’ll do a post about it.
5 min read | [Mild Spoilers – only what you’d see from the trailer or posters :)]
This is less a film to sit back and enjoy the scenery of (though it is pretty), than one to study and learn from. It’s filled with conviction and deep philosophical dialogue, which takes quite some concentration to take in, though it is rewarding to do so.
I found a lot of sense in it, and much of the dialogue was profound, especially John Davinier’s impassioned speeches:
“Does the law not have a duty [to] progress our morality, not retard it?… Surely as humanity evolves so too must its laws.”
– MISAN SAGAY, FOR THE CHARACTER OF JOHN DAVINIER – BELLE (2013)
The visuals were often delightful – which, along with the music and John’s voice having a quality similar to James McAvoy’s as Tom LeFroy, reminded me often of Becoming Jane. This is because despite the beautiful visuals, there is a grave tone and subject matter that is put under the spotlight.
In the case of ‘Belle’, the central themes are not only societal class and sexism, but also race – and while the latter is obviously the main one, I’d say class is of equal importance in Dido’s case. She is of higher status than her adoptive sister, but due to her colour she is beneath her in eligibility, so it’s an interesting situation.
The premise is fascinating – especially as it’s based on a true story – and shown from just the right angle as the issues are laid bare on the surface. They aren’t tiptoed around in a way that would discredit the relevance in our present-day realities (very topical as of late, too).
There is a satisfying ending in both the characters’ stories and the larger-scale problems they were trying to solve, so the film could also be seen without the political context. But watching it in that way would, I think, be to disregard the importance of its message.
Because of the driven focus on the political aspect, much character depth and authenticity is sacrificed. In this way, we don’t know a great deal about the background and personalities of the characters, and quite a bit of the dialogue is unrealistic for a spontaneous conversation – unless the speaker had scripted it beforehand. However, it is powerful and gets its meaning across.
I found that the discussion was pitched just right, unafraid to still make Dido as flawed a protagonist as any other. While I fully sympathised with her, she did go behind the backs of her family and is almost too forceful – considering what they gave her, regardless of background. But this is part of the point, as unfortunately, she is required to go to such extremes in order to have her message heard. She might be ‘lucky’ to be in her situation, loved and looked after despite her origins, but she shouldn’t have to feel ‘lucky’ for that – just as she says to Ashford:
“You will pardon me for wanting a husband who feels ‘forgiveness’ of my bloodline is both unnecessary and without grace.”
– Misan Sagay, for the character of Dido Elizabeth Belle – Belle (2013)
There is an important distinction here between how John and Oliver see her: John views her as his equal (in mind – regardless of class and colour), and never shows ‘pity’ for the fact her mother was black – for why should she have to be pitied in that regard? Dido and John are also aligned in their vision.
Meanwhile, Oliver’s angle is problematic:
“(My brother) cannot overlook your mother’s origins, as I do. Foolish. Why should anyone even pay her regard when your better half has equipped you so well with loveliness and privilege.”
– Misan Sagay, for the character of Oliver Ashford
Instead of accepting all her origins, he disregards her mother (implying that, had her father been the same, not a “better half”, Dido would have been of no value to Oliver).
Poor James Norton often seems to play characters who are so bland and slightly questionable in their opinions that they are pushed to the sidelines. Belle agrees to marry him, before going to see John behind his back and then revoking her agreement to marry him, without an apology. But…he kind of had it coming, and I think a lot of her anger was actually directed at his brother (played by a post-Draco Tom Felton).
I felt that the gravitas of hardly knowing her father isn’t fully felt or explained, but Matthew did an excellent job of giving a real presence, kindness and emotion to the character, conveyed only in about 5 minutes of screen-time. As a fan of his, it was worth watching just for that scene alone.
Gugu was excellent in her portrayal of Dido, sympathetic but clever and bold. Sam was charming as John, and I warmed to him immediately. The dialogue between the two was passionate and profound, though I wish we’d had more scenes with them together – getting to know each other as well as focusing on the task at hand.
I was a bit unsure about the portrait (replicating the real-life one) as it almost looks like Elizabeth is pushing Dido away to the side, while herself sitting in the prime central position. But as they are both smiling, it could actually be seen that she’s grabbing her arm to keep her close, breaking that boundary, just as is shown in the scene.
I liked Elizabeth and Dido’s close friendship, and found it interesting that Elizabeth never sees her adoptive sister’s race as an issue – only vaguely implying it in their explosive argument, after which they quickly reconcile, and trust between them is always maintained.
Overall, it was an enjoyable but also philosophically stirring film, based on a true story that should surely be an influence in how we address such matters in our current times, and in the future.
At the moment, Belle isn’t available on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video for UK/US, but it might well be in future. It’s available on DVD and to purchase digitally on Amazon.