Monday, 18 January 2010

Two different endings

It is strange when you watch a movie based on your favourite book and have to realize that the ending was changed. It’s even stranger when you read a book in two languages and there are two different endings to the same story. This is the case with “The Jewel of Seven Stars” by Bram Stoker.

Years ago, I read the German version of the novel, published in paperback by Bastei-Luebbe (a well-known German publisher who also still publishes a host of pulp magazines). It was published under the title “Die Sieben Finger des Todes” (the seven fingers of death) and had a happy ending. Well, the ending was happy insofar as most people survived and the evil Egyptian queen was dead. Not a happy ending for Tera, but for everyone else.

Some years later I bought the English version (you can see the cover of this edition on the left of the first paragraph, I wasn’t able to find a picture of the cover of the Bastei-Luebbe edition online). I read it and found a completely different ending: apart from the storyteller himself (whose diary forms the novel) nobody survived. Not Tera, not the other three people taking part in the ‘experiment’ of bringing her back from the dead. At first, I thought I had not remembered the end of the story correctly (although I usually keep in mind the plot and the ending of every story I’ve read or seen). So I checked the German paperback which I still have in my possession. I was right about the different endings.

I put it down as a strange idea of the German publisher and ignored the fact that they had, for some reason or other, given the story a different ending. But I was reminded of this fact this Saturday, while I was not even expecting it.

I have bought a couple of audio dramatisations lately, among them also a version of “The Jewel of Seven Stars” (this time with the German title “Das Amulett der Mumie” – the amulet of the mummy). On the whole, the version is quite good, but it features the same ‘wrong’ ending as the novel from Bastei-Luebbe. It seems as if the producers of this dramatisation have only checked this novel and thus not used the ‘real’ ending. I can hardly blame them for not reading the English version as well – you can hardly expect two versions in two different languages to have a different ending, too.

So I’m wondering about it again, now. Why did they change the ending in the German version? Okay, so the original did not have a happy ending, but so do a couple of other horror novels. While you can basically expect the main characters of a romance novel to have their happy end, a story about death, murder and magic does not have to end happy.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Royal Doll Orchestra

Kaori Yuki has done it again. One of my favourite manga artists has come up with a new story I will follow till the end of time (or at least till the last volume): “Royal Doll Orchestra”

I could write a post alone about Kaori Yuki’s work. I have done so in the past in my main blog (just check for the label “Kaori Yuki”). This post, however, is about the latest story published in Germany. It is called “Royal Doll Orchestra” and shows the traits I would expect from her stories: blood, interesting characters, gruesome creatures that were once human and blood. (Did I mention blood?)

The story so far (and currently there’s only one volume out) runs like this: in an alternate version of Earth and in a former era (could be something akin to the end of the nineteenth century, but not strictly Victorian), danger awaits humanity. It’s a strange decease, the “Galatea” virus. Galatea is a character out of Greek mythology, a statue so perfect its creator fell in love with it and begged Aphrodite to bring it to life. The virus, on the other hand, turns humans into mindless, aggressive dolls (changing the skin to something like porcelain and letting the joints appear like those of an old-fashioned doll) that will attack and kill every living being they come into contact with – or even worse, infect them, too, with the virus. The only real way to destroy them is some kind of maybe-supernatural death ray: a controlled bolt of lightning that will utterly destroy the whole area. This weapon, though, is only used if more than seventy percent of an area’s populace are infected with the virus.

The “Royal Doll Orchestra” takes another approach to it. The four musicians who make it up (one singer, one violinist, one piano player and one bassist) have the ability to play a very special music that will bring back the ‘doll’s’ minds for a moment and, in the end, even let them die and rest forever (as there’s no cure to the virus). They are, as the reader learns throughout the first volume, outlaws and not supposed to do what they do, but feel the need to do so.

Now why do I do a review of a manga here, in a blog about writing? For one thing, a good manga, graphic novel or comic also relies on good story telling. In addition, Kaori Yuki also works with special themes throughout her work. In “Royal Doll Orchestra” one of the themes is naming every main character after a gemstone. And we’re not just talking about well-known stones here, either. Rutil, Spinnell and Celestit, for example, aren’t the most famous gemstones around. In addition, the infected people in the story turn into “Guignols.” This is a French word originally meaning ‘puppet’ – but there’s also the ‘Grand Guignol’ around, a special form of theatre, popular around the time the manga is set in, where life-sized dolls were used for gruesome stories in which people were killed, maimed and tortured on stage. The name of the infested actually deals well with their looks, but also with their aggressiveness and their ultimate fate (to be destroyed by the orchestra). They move like puppets, have no mind of their own and usually end up in a bloody and gruesome way. (And if they don’t, their victims will…)

The story isn’t developed very far at this time. But then, I’ve only read the first volume. Kaori Yuki is well known for sudden changes in her stories (one more reason why I love her manga). Still, I’m sure the story will be interesting and so I will continue to read it.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The many faces of Sherlock Holmes

Yesterday there was a slight discussion (which might pick up or not) about the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie. The main argument against it is “there’s too much action in it.”

Now, most people who have seen the movies or TV-series might even agree to this. On screen, mostly Holmes’ high intelligence and ability to deduct have been show. Action did not really feature in it. Even “The Hound of the Baskervilles” isn’t exactly an action-packed movie. There’s the attack of the dog at the end, yes, but apart from that it’s showing us all the possible killers and then eliminating them by showing they either don’t have the capacity or the reason for it.

This leads up to an argument like “Holmes and Moriarty never really fought physically” (which is, of course, wrong as this happens in “The Final Problem”). On the other hand, the stories themselves show Holmes as a man who is both physically and mentally quite able. He is able to disguise himself as almost everyone he wishes to become. He’s a skilled fencer and boxer. He scales the sheer walls of a cliff after Moriarty has fallen into the waterfall (as we, and Watson, learn in “The Adventure of the Empty House”). In other words: he definitely has what it takes to be an action hero. (He has more than just what it takes to be an action hero, also being very intelligent.) If it becomes necessary, Holmes can definitely fight (and so can Watson, who was a military doctor, after all).

And he does have his dark sides, too. He’s an addict (even though he only indulges in cocaine when he’s bored) and he’s not always obeying the laws. It’s his personal idea of right and wrong he ultimately follows. That might mean to let a criminal escape, because his crime is ‘justified’ in a way. That might also mean to kill a criminal himself who cannot be touched by the law for some reason.

I’m pretty sure there will be parts of the movie (it’s not yet in theatres in Germany) which are not strictly correct with the stories (or with the way Doyle designed his character – whom he hated, by the way, for taking the public from the novels he thought to be better, his historical novels … which are dreadful, by the way). There will be a new character and at least one old one used in a new way (Irene Adler, ‘the’ woman, as far as Holmes was concerned). But that’s not the first time it happens and doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. Maybe it will be quite interesting and enlightening.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Strange ways of finding ideas

Yesterday, I went over three special non-fictional books I possess. They are part of the “Howdunit”-series and I simply wanted to get a little look at the topics again: “Forensics,” “Police Procedure & Investigation” and “Book of Poisons.”

The topics themselves can be easily guessed from the titles, of course, and while “Police Procedure & Investigation” is mostly based on the American structures found in the US, it still is quite interesting, as some of the stuff will apply everywhere.

Simply sheaving through the books gave me some new and evil ideas, actually. After all, you can’t really write a book about forensics without mentioning which ways people can be killed (accidentally and otherwise). And, naturally, a book about poisons mostly delivers information about what can be done with certain plants, animals, drugs, germs or other substances.

I’m far from firm in those areas yet, but will remedy that soon enough with those books and other information that can be found online. And it doesn’t really matter whether you write a crime story with a forensic as the lead character. The basics (how long will it take for a victim to die of a certain poison, what effects can be found etc.) are important for every crime story.

It’s always good to do a very varied reading as a writer. You never know what might become of a new area of knowledge you enter…

Monday, 4 January 2010


This is the right time to curl up with a good book – outside the weather is everything but nice and inviting.