Sylvie and Bruno

Maddd Science

Poetry aside, Lewis Carroll's only fiction works besides the two Alice in Wonderland books were his two Sylvie and Bruno books, published several decades later. You may not have heard of them. This is because they are bad.

A lot of jokes in Alice in Wonderland are kind of obscure 150 years later, and one of them is the fact that Carroll spends a lot of time making fun of the mushy moralistic kid's stories of the time, including parodies of "How Doth the Little Busy Bee" and "You are old, Father William" that have outlasted the originals. Weirdly, Sylvie and Bruno is a step back into that type of pious moral children's tale that Carroll was mocking in the first place.

I think this can tend to happen with creators who are obsessed with a specific style of story: They start out remixing it, get rich and famous because their love of the flawed original material shines through, and then are driven by that love and success to create a much more faithful recreation that ultimately isn't as good as the remixed version. The Pulp Fictions lead to the Hateful Eights.

... Granted, Lewis Carroll and Quentin Tarantino are the only two examples I was able to come up with. Another entry in the "half-assed theories" file cabinet.

Anyway, Sylvie and Bruno really does have a fair bit of fun Lewis Carroll-style vignettes and wordplay wrapped up in the treacle. I've always thought I should do an unauthorized edit, given that it's in the public domain. Maybe get some fun annotations in there. Hit me up, publishers.

Here's a review that explains the whole story and its flaws in a lot more detail than I could:

How Not to Write for Both Children and Adults: Sylvie and Bruno
Mari Ness,

The worst problem is Bruno, who speaks with an atrocious and frankly unbelievable accent combined with terrible grammar. Apparently Carroll thinks this is cute. It is not. This isn’t to say that the entire book is pointless. At one point, Bruno acts out bits of Shakespeare for a group of frogs.

Here's another article about it that makes an effort to make the story sound worthwhile. (My excerpt of the article does not.)

Sylvie and Bruno
Chris Sunami, The Pop Culture Philosopher

Even this summary hardly begins to tap the surface of the weirdness of a novel that was reportedly a key inspiration for James Joyce’s impenetrable classic Finnegan’s Wake. The book begins midsentence, and many chapters begin and end in the middle of a scene. [...] Then, in the middle of the book, apropos of nothing, a figure appears who bears a startling resemblance to one of the dream figures, yet who might potentially be an alien from outer space. After delivering a series of increasingly satirical tales of his home planet he vanishes from the narrative, never to be seen again.

Here's probably the best article I've read on a subject I enjoy following, the "dark and gritty cover of a pop song in movie trailers" trend.

How the Cover Song Conquered Movie Trailers
Alex Pappademas, The New Yorker

In both cases, a slightly reimagined song puts us in the mood for what’s always for sale in a blockbuster sequel— the familiar, rendered just unfamiliar enough. “You react by saying, ‘I feel like I’ve heard this before, but what the hell is this song?’ ” Simone Benyacar, a composer and producer who’s been providing music for trailers for nearly two decades, said.

I recently stumbled upon a random book review for a nonfiction book out from MIT press this year, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica and Visionary Experience in the Seventies. The exact paragraph excerpted below melted my brain somewhere between the phrases "dolphin researcher" and "Borg-like Solid State Intelligence."

New book probes the 'high weirdness' of Philip K. Dick and others
Tom Jackson, Sandusky Register

“High Weirdness,” the most absorbing nonfiction book I’ve read in months, draws parallels among the three men and their similar experiences. Davis also offers similar but briefer accounts of Leary, who thought he was receiving messages from the stars while serving time in a California prison, and dolphin researcher John Lilly, who once blamed a “Borg-like Solid State Intelligence” for shutting down the Los Angeles airport.

I saw Crawl in theaters the other week, and I'm a fan. It reminds me of the Netflix movie Hush, given that they're both lowish budget single-location horror movies.

The Rigorous Creature Feature Craftsmanship of Crawl
Gretchen Felker-Martin, Fanbyte

In short, Crawl is that rarest of animals in our current climate of slick, colorless Disney mega-blockbusters: a genuinely solid B-movie. It succeeds not on branding or name recognition but because it’s fun to watch a competitive swimmer face down a basement full of alligators, even and perhaps especially if the whole thing feels kind of trashy and exploitative. Makeshift tourniquets, lush and corpse-filled grottos, a conventionally attractive woman getting tossed around by ten-foot reptiles, parent-child friction; it’s one grimy shock to the hindbrain after another. Crawl’s relentless pace allows it to skate past moments of shaky CGI and lukewarm dialogue about alpha predators and divorce to be an enjoyable, if shallow creature feature.

I also enjoyed Amazon's The Boys a lot more than I thought I would.

The Boys demonstrates why evil-Superman stories are so popular
Samantha Nelson, The Verge

Each of these stories changes Superman as a way to explore the impact the Man of Steel has on the world, his fellow heroes, and even his villains. For instance, in Red Son Lex Luthor is repainted as a hero, Batman is a Soviet freedom fighter, Wonder Woman is a collaborator in Superman’s tyranny, and Superman’s active participation in the Cold War brings the United States to the brink of collapse. By recognizing how much of a lynchpin Superman is within the DC Comics canon, and how terrifying his powers could be if they were used amorally, writers have been able to tell fascinating stories exploring the motivations and capabilities of the rest of the DC Universe characters.

Next Time on Maddd Science: Why Indiana Jones Works

Header image: “Get well,” by Daniel Williams.

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