The Stone Key – Isobelle Carmody

Stone Key

The Stone Key, written by Isobelle Carmody and published in 2008, is the fifth book in the Obernewtyn series. The series can be described as post-apocalyptic X-men. Humanity has gone medieval societies a nuclear incident, and there is a persecuted minority of mutated psychics. Our protagonist is Elspeth Goldie, a mutant messiah charged by long-lived eagles with dismantling the remaining nuclear weapons.

I was in primary school when I read the last book in the series, so I actually used the little name glossary at the back of the book. Back then I would’ve been impressed at my ability to read a book with a thousand pages, but now I feel that the ideal of length of a book is four hundred to five hundred pages. The names were all fantasyish, and really, any sort of name is plausible in a post-apocalyptic setting. There was a distinct Welsh influence, with characters named things like Gwynedd and Brydda. Even the title of the series has a gratuitous Y in it.

The most interesting theme of the book is animal rights. One of the mutant abilities is Beastspeaking, and as you may expect, it enables a human to telepathically communicate with a non-human. At one point a Beastspeaker invents a sign language that allows normal humans to communicate with quadrupeds. The Stone Key occurs after a political revolution which only succeeded due to animal sport, and the book contains discussion of what role they should play in the new society. Even if I could telepathically communicate with animals, I doubt they’d be as thoughtful as the ones Carmody writes. Still, a nuclear apocalypse is going to change some things up.

The Stone Key shows the strengths and weaknesses of first person narration. The big strength is characterisation, and Elspeth is shown to be thoughtful, lyrical, and increasingly gung-ho. The weakness is that the reader is stuck with her for a thousand pages. People besides Elspeth have adventures, and whenever they appear in the story they provide her with a paragraph of exposition. I don’t think this is realistic. I know a few people who talk in paragraphs, I can do it myself, but there are way too many paragraph-talkers to be believeable. It would have been better if Carmody broke up the first person narration with third person accounts of what these other characters have been doing, perhaps as psychic dream sequences.

I think the whole Obernewtyn series is suitable for a television adaption. You’d film it in Eastern Europe, and pitch it using the words ‘like Game of Thrones’. Any obvious anachronism, like a bicycle or a fire hydrant, can be dismissed as some weird Beforetime relic. The first novel is short enough to serve as a pilot TV movie, and there’s enough material in the books for at least six series. A television adaption could be good.

I wouldn’t recommend reading The Stone Key without reading the preceding books in the series. If it’s been a while since you read the other books, look for a summary of them, it’ll help. Obernewtyn would be a good series to get into, but you’ll need to read five other books before you work your way to this one.

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Turning Prose into Poetry

Okay, so I’ve turned poetry into prose, but now the time has come to do the opposite. I’ve chosen to operate on this paragraph from Jane Eyre:

My seat, to which Bessie and the bitter Miss Abbot had left me riveted, was a low ottoman near the marble chimney-piece; the bed rose before me; to my right hand there was the high, dark wardrobe, with subdued, broken reflections varying the gloss of its panels; to my left were the muffled windows; a great looking-glass between them repeated the vacant majesty of the bed and room.  I was not quite sure whether they had locked the door; and when I dared move, I got up and went to see.  Alas! yes: no jail was ever more secure.  Returning, I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed.  All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality: and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit: I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travellers.  I returned to my stool.

It seems that I have chosen my target well. Charlotte Bronte is an author who makes regular use of her punctuation marks, which will make this experiment considerably easier. I chose Jane Eyre because I like the book. It’s a romance in which the main protagonists’ lack of sex appeal is consistently emphasised. Besides, the book is famous enough that tagging it to this post will hopefully put it in front of many eyes.

Using the power of Microsoft Word, I will replace all punctuation marks with ^11 and see what happens. This is what happened:

My seat
to which Bessie and the bitter Miss Abbot had left me riveted
was a low ottoman near the marble chimney-piece
the bed rose before me
to my right hand there was the high
dark wardrobe
with subdued
broken reflections varying the gloss of its panels
to my left were the muffled windows
a great looking-glass between them repeated the vacant majesty of the bed and room
I was not quite sure whether they had locked the door
and when I dared move
I got up and went to see
Alas
yes
no jail was ever more secure
Returning
I had to cross before the looking-glass
my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed
All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality
and the strange little figure there gazing at me
with a white face and arms specking the gloom
and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still
had the effect of a real spirit
I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms
half fairy
half imp
Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone
ferny dells in moors
and appearing before the eyes of belated travellers
I returned to my stool.’

You breathe a lot more in the poetry version, don’t you? One of the reasons I chose an older author is that the stilted prose of the yesterday could be mistaken as the affected poetry of today.

So, any lazy poets out there should get acquainted with the public domain sources and hidden formatting symbols, that’s what I say.

 

Converting Poetry to Prose

So I say that the distinction between poetry and prose is linebreaks. Poetry breaks the line in mid-sentence and prose doesn’t. It’s possible to rearrange linebreaks with word processors, and therefore to convert poetry to prose.

You remember Hamlet, right? The indecisive Danish bloke? Well this is what he had to stay about being:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.

Thanks for that, Hamlet. Very existential. I liked the bit about the sea of troubles and the undiscovered country. So I copy the speech into Microsoft Word, and replace all instances of ^11 with nothing. I know what I’m doing, check out this neato site on hidden formatting symbols in documents to share in this wisdom. I also spellcheck and check the cases of each letters, and this is what I get.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause: there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life; for who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.–soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remember’d.

Would you read a whole book written in that style? Remember, this is but one paragraph of the hypothetical book. Each speech would get a paragraph, I imagine, and each break in the speech a linebreak. Throw in a couple of dialogue tags and simplify the stage directions, and you’ve got yourself a Hamlet novelization. While I might one day pursue such a project, it would only have value as an artistic novelty.

The moral of this, internet, is that you can turn any poetry into prose. Question is, do you really want to?