Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #60: The Gold Bat

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Today we'll be looking at The Gold Bat. No, not this gold bat:
Gold Bat

...nor this gold bat:
Gold Bat

Much to your disappointment, I'm sure, we shan't even be discussing this gold bat:
Gold Bat

No, no, no. None of those. This is P. G. Wodehouse's novel The Gold Bat (1904), his fourth book and the first in his Wrykyn boy's school series. Wrykyn appears in two other novels (The White Feather and Mike) and is most famous (or is that infamous?) as the alma mater of Ukridge, one of Wodehouse's earliest series characters. Like The Pothunters and Tales of St. Austin's, The Gold Bat is one of Wodehouse's earliest books and like most of those, one of the "school novels": high-adventure, low-romance, very-British teen boys at English private boarding school sagas. The sort of lad of that period who might call The Dangerous Book for Boys a "ripping good read" would be the sort who would have attended, like Wodehouse, one of those schools. Wodehouse provides a solid enthusiastic exploits for this audience, and if they are a little dated or mysterious in tone and lingo, well, it's a wonderful nostalgic look at a brightly colored world in which all that mattered was scoring at rugby and putting a trick over on the Latin master. Altho' they've fallen a bit out of fashion (and often have been out of print over the years), I very much enjoy Wodehouse's school novels and especially the Wrykyn books. Why Wrykyn? Can't explain it in definite terms except that even more than St. Austin's, Eckleton School or Beckford College, Wrykyn feels real and solid and more distinctly and colorful drawn: there are wonderful details of the school buildings, rooms, grounds, woods, and even secret passages (Hogwarts owes a lot to Wodehouse and his fellow writers of this genre) that seem to occupy a place of reality yet a pictured with a truly rosy enthusiasm and optimism. One reason for this might be that Wrykyn, while fictional, is probably the closest to a real place among Wodehouse's school stories. That real place? Wodehouse scholars generally agree it's Dulwich College.

Dulwich College

Wodehouse attended Dulwich College himself as a teenager, and his (then-recent) memories of Dulwich are used to solid effect in the Wrykyn books. He held the college in high regard and they him (once he made his fame, of course). He's prominently celebrated as one of their most prestigious former students or "Old Alleyneans", which also include Raymond Chandler, C. S. Forester and Michael Ondaatje. Fine company indeed. Wodehouse's so revered there that there is a permanent display devoted to his life and works in the college's public library. Wodehouse later described his years at Dulwich (1894-1900) as "six years of unbroken bliss"—which may be why, unlike the other schools, Wrykyn not only is more detailed and vibrant than the other school settings, but also has a life beyond the school novels as occasionally being mentioned in the later, more typical Wodehouse books. And it's to my great shame that despite it being just a short train hop from London, I've never visited Dulwich during one of my several trips to the UK. (Next time, I promise!)

The book itself? Well, it's a fairly straightforward fast-paced Ripping Yarn, concerned with sport, brewing sausages in school studies, playing tricks on the teachers and occasionally doing some schoolwork. I'm not entirely certain if the dialogue is authentic for the period, but it's one of those cases where fiction should be the truth. If all British turn-of-the-century schoolboys didn't talk like this, well, by gum, they jolly well ought to have done:

"Don't be an idiot, man. I bagged it first."

"My dear chap, I've been waiting here a month."

"When you fellows have quite finished rotting about in front of that bath don't let me detain you."

"Anybody seen that sponge?"

"Well, look here"—this in a tone of compromise—"let's toss for it."

"All right. Odd man out."

All of which, being interpreted, meant that the first match of the Easter term had just come to an end, and that those of the team who, being day boys, changed over at the pavilion, instead of performing the operation at leisure and in comfort, as did the members of houses, were discussing the vital question—who was to have first bath?
Golly. When I grow up, I sure hope I can go to a British public school.

The light plot concerns a feat of minor, and much-lauded, vandalism: a small group of boys tar and feather the statue in the town square of the local Member of Parliament (rightfully so; he's a frightful stick-in-the-mud and prig). In the commission of this dire deed, one of the boys accidentally drops a watch-fob in the shape of a gold cricket bat, which he had borrowed from star athlete Dick Trevor. With the bat missing, it doesn't take the crime-investigating skills of a Batman or a Bulldog Drummond to link Trevor to the crime falsely. But who's got the bat now, and how will they use it to blackmail Trevor?

Meanwhile, the resurgence of a mysterious "League" threatens the comfort of our group of young heroes, when school studies are trashed in exchange for imagined wrongs:
"I tell you what it is, Trevor, old chap," said Milton, with great solemnity, "there's a lunatic in the school. That's what I make of it. A lunatic whose form of madness is wrecking studies."

"But the same chap couldn't have done yours and mine. It must have been a Donaldson's fellow who did mine, and one of your chaps who did yours and Mill's."

"Mill's? By Jove, of course. I never thought of that. That was the League, too, I suppose?"

"Yes. One of those cards was tied to a chair, but Clowes took it away before anybody saw it."

Milton returned to the details of the disaster.

"Was there any ink spilt in your room?"

"Pints," said Trevor, shortly. The subject was painful.

"So there was here," said Milton, mournfully. "Gallons."

There was silence for a while, each pondering over his wrongs.

"Gallons," said Milton again. "I was ass enough to keep a large pot full of it here, and they used it all, every drop. You never saw such a sight."
But in truth, that's only the plot. The main thrust of the book—and the part that takes over even from the adventure aspect—is just the basic simple enthusiastic school life in which sport is king, and schoolwork a definite afterthought:
Tuesday mornings at Wrykyn were devoted—up to the quarter to eleven interval—to the study of mathematics. That is to say, instead of going to their form-rooms, the various forms visited the out-of-the-way nooks and dens at the top of the buildings where the mathematical masters were wont to lurk, and spent a pleasant two hours there playing round games or reading fiction under the desk. Mathematics being one of the few branches of school learning which are of any use in after life, nobody ever dreamed of doing any work in that direction, least of all O'Hara. It was a theory of O'Hara's that he came to school to enjoy himself. To have done any work during a mathematics lesson would have struck him as a positive waste of time, especially as he was in Mr Banks' class.
In fact, as the omniscient narrator (Wodehouse himself?) opines, if you aren't interested in outdoor competitive games you're not respected, whether you're a boy:
"Hullo, Trevor," said Ruthven.

"Come over to the baths," said Trevor, "I want to see O'Hara about something. Or were you going somewhere else."

"I wasn't going anywhere in particular. I never know what to do in term-time. It's deadly dull."

Trevor could never understand how any one could find term-time dull. For his own part, there always seemed too much to do in the time.

"You aren't allowed to play games?" he said, remembering something about a doctor's certificate in the past.

"No," said Ruthven. "Thank goodness," he added.

Which remark silenced Trevor. To a person who thanked goodness that he was not allowed to play games he could find nothing to say. But he ceased to wonder how it was that Ruthven was dull.

...or even a master:
There is usually one house in every school of the black sheep sort, and, if you go to the root of the matter, you will generally find that the fault is with the master of that house. A house-master who enters into the life of his house, coaches them in games—if an athlete—or, if not an athlete, watches the games, umpiring at cricket and refereeing at football, never finds much difficulty in keeping order. It may be accepted as fact that the juniors of a house will never be orderly of their own free will, but disturbances in the junior day-room do not make the house undisciplined. The prefects are the criterion. If you find them joining in the general "rags", and even starting private ones on their own account, then you may safely say that it is time the master of that house retired from the business, and took to chicken-farming.
In short, it's sport that makes the man. And it's sport that settles the differences between wholesome O'Hara and the sneak Rand-Brown: the two boys box it out in an exciting penultimate chapter in which, to put it kindly, Rand-Brown gets his knickers handed to him on a plate. As he does in several of his later, more mature novels, Wodehouse curiously tells rather than shows the bout: two younger students excitedly discuss the boxing match and its knockout finish as they rush to classes. At first this might seem to be a violation of fiction's rules of narration and pacing: after a book of firsthand observation, why switch to a third-person view? I like to think—as Wodehouse did when he'd pull the same trick in later novels—that he's commenting that the results of the competition are less important than the effect it has had on the rest of the school, and the breathless exhilaration of the retelling celebrates the grand tradition of storytelling and larger-than-life adventure that the book itself has been a part of. Or, maybe I'm just blowin' hooey, and Wodehouse was working fast on deadline and had to wrap up the book quick. The world may never know. But it's certainly a nice chapter that contains this exchange:
"What's up?"

"You mustn't tell any one."

"All right. Of course not."

"Well, then, there's been a big fight, and I'm one of the only chaps who know about it so far."

"A fight?" Harvey became excited. "Who between?"

Renford paused before delivering his news, to emphasise the importance of it.

"It was between O'Hara and Rand-Brown," he said at length.

"By Jove!" said Harvey. Then a suspicion crept into his mind.

"Look here, Renford," he said, "if you're trying to green me—"

"I'm not, you ass," replied Renford indignantly. "It's perfectly true. I saw it myself."

"By Jove, did you really? Where was it? When did it come off? Was it a good one? Who won?"

"It was the best one I've ever seen."
You said it, Renford.

A Wodehouse a Week #69: The Gold Bat

Up until recently, The Gold Bat has been mostly unavailable—as have been many of Wodehouse's earlier, non-romance or non-series books that were perceived to have less appeal to a modern audience. It was briefly reissued in the 1980s by Penguin in an omnibus edition of three of the school novels (also contained in this volume: The Head of Kay's and The White Feather); this is the edition I've got. If you've waited this long to read The Gold Bat, eee by gum, you're in luck, my lad. Not only has our good mate public domain brought it back into print through inexpensive and inelegantly designed editions like the Manor House paperback available from the Amazon link to the right, but, if you're as thrifty as a school lad and have spent all your shillings and pence on jam tarts at the tuck shop, well, then sprint over to your local Internet and find the full Gold Bat as an online e-text. It's a jolly right rag and spiffing rip. Whatever that means.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Separated at Birth: I haven't got time for the Bane

Detective #664/Batman #500/Detective #668
L: Detective Comics #664 (Late July 1993), art by Kelley Jones
M: Batman #500 (October 1993), art by Kelley Jones
R: Detective Comics #668 (November 1993), art by Kelley Jones
(Click picture to Jeep Swenson-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: "Storytime" by Terry Gilliam

"Storytime" by Terry Gilliam (1968)
plus "The Christmas Card" by Terry Gillian (1968), from Do Not Adjust Your Set

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Night Fights, Ladies Night: This Post is Rated PG for P'Gell

The Spirit

The SpiritCast yer peepers on any one of those girlie posters advertising Frank Miller's Will Eisner's The Spirit (coming this Christmas to a theater near you...oh what a surprising gift from Santa!) and when you're done oculatin' and screw your eyeballs back in, you'll notice something's missing. Sure, there they all are: Sand Serif, Silken Floss, Plaster of Paris, Rory Gilmore, Deadly Little Miho, Gerard Butler, The Professor, Mary Ann...but is there a poster to commemorate the Spirit's deadliest, smartest, most successful antagonist? And I'm not talkin' about that guy with the striped gloves here. Because no: the greatest foe the Spirit has ever faced ain't in the movie: P'Gell, as beautiful as she is deadly and as deadly as she is...well, you get the picture. Even tho' she's not in it. It's prob'bly just as well...I can't think of a single contemporary actress who could adequately personify the wily, dangerous, breathtaking P'Gell. Despite her appearance in the modern-day Darwyn Cooke version of The Spirit, P'Gell's character is from a time gone, when femme fatales roamed the Earth like herds of fatalely things. No, you have to go back to the divas of yesterday to capture the essence of P'Gell: Marlene Dietrich, or Miriam Hopkins, or maybe Jane Greer:
Marlene Dietrich, Miriam Hopkins, Jane Greer

Or, hey! Let's do something revolutionary...let's not cast a real or imaginary movie. Let's just go straight to the Master, Mister Will Eisner, to show just how deadly the female of the species is:

The Spirit
All panels from The Spirit section, May 25, 1947,
by Will Eisner and members of the Eisner-Iger Studio

"...Really," bemoans P'Gell in the splash panel to this Spirit adventure (see the original pencils and inks here), "what is there about me that simply invites trouble! (sigh)" I dunno, Miss P'Gell, you're purty and all, but you certainly look like the sorta dame Mama Bull told me to keep the heck away from. Aside from the fact that you're smokin''re also holding a cigarette. Well, what is she gonna do to our hero Denny Colt, the eponymous Spirit? Blow smoke in his face until he goes into a coughing fit? Uh uh. P'Gell is both more elegant and more physical than that:
The Spirit

P'Gell must have seen the movie Casablanca...heck, she probably inspired part of quote Rick Blaine, she's a firm believer in the maxim "I'm the only cause I'm interested in." Which means that not only the law-enforcer Spirit but her criminal competitors are sure to fall foul of her forceful redecoration schemes:
The Spirit

P'Gell's not whistlin' Dixie (whatever that means). She must also be an adherent to the Gospel of Emily Post, for she makes sure the Spirit gets second helpings:
The Spirit

You tell 'im, sister.

P'Gell. Strong enough for a man, but hotchy motchy, whatta woman.

Bahlactus: his city screams. It screams "Don't eat me!"

Another serious note.

But this time it's good news: has initiated the Con Anti-Harassment Project,
...a grass-roots campaign designed to help make conventions safer for everyone. Our aims are to encourage fandom, geek community and other non-business conventions to establish, articulate and act upon anti-harassment policies, especially sexual harassment policies, and to encourage mutual respect among con-goers, guests and staff.
CAHP has a solid three-point action plan with realistic and appropriate goals to help work towards making cons safe and fun for everyone. Check out their campaign here, especially the thorough and well-written FAQ. I totally agree with CAHP's tagline: "Conventions should be fun." This promising grass-roots campaign is a great step forward.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I hanker for a hunk of Cleese

My internet's running too sluggishly to upload images for a full post. So how's about instead we watch John Cleese and a panoply of 80s BBC stars asking the musical question: "What's the BBC ever done for us, then?

Or how's about this advert for British grocer's Sainsburys featuring Mister Cleese?

Why not a clean, refreshing, caffeine-free, Cleese-thribbled commercial for Schweppes?

Not Britishy enough for you? How's about John Cleese meets Doctor Who?

Here's the tallest Python teaming up with those fabulous fellows of felt, The Muppets:

And selling computers that are much, much better than this fish:

Please explain the offside rule to us, Mister Cleese:

No, he's not dead:

...he's just very, very funny.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is that you Hulk/Or just a brilliant disguise

Let's look at one of my favorite Thing/Hulk moments, ever. It takes place in the seldom-seen The Hulk and the Thing: The Big Change graphic novel by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson. The dynamic duo of Ben 'n' Bruce are stranded on an alien world, trying to fit in until they can find something appropriate to (respectively) clobber and smash. But even on a planet populated by weirdies straight outta the Star Wars cantina scene, a giant orange guy and a monstrous green stand out like a sore tentacle. The quicksilver mind of Benjamin J. Grimm snaps into action: the pair need disguises:

The Big Change
The Big Change
The Big Change
The Big Change
The Big Change
The Big Change
All panels are from Marvel Graphic Novel #29: The Incredible Hulk and The Thing: "The Big Change" (November 1987), written by Jim Starlin, pencilling and inking by Bernie Wrightson, coloring by Michelle Wrightson, lettering by Jim Novak

I know the Hulk these days is a hero all filled with angst, anger and tragedy these days...but you sure can't beat the days when he used to wear a silly squid hat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pepper Potts, Fashion Critic

And now it's time for another visit with America's top fashion advice columnist,
Pepper Potts banner

Hello, all you fabulous Pepper-groupies! Labor Day is coming up so that means it's time to slide those crisp white clothes into your walk-in closet and step into an ensemble of brilliant and rich autumn shades. As you know, I'm quite a fan of all things red and gold, but if you've had your colors done at any one of the many Pepper Potts salons around the country, you'll know which shades suit you when you order your fall wardrobe from the Pepper Potts collection available online or at the top designer shops nationally!

Our letter today comes from a Mrs. Bambi Arbogast, who writes:
Dear Pepper, I work at a large global electronics and heavy-industrial complex. One of my co-workers, the boss's chauffeur, in fact...well, let's call him "Cheerful" a pleasant enough man, but his sense of style is atrocious! He dresses like a former boxer who looks like he shops at Robert Hall. Our boss is a debonair man of style and quite a playboy with the ladies who dresses in custom-made suits that cost several thousands of dollars. How can I politely and subtlely convince "Cheerful" to improve his own wardrobe so he looks more professional at work and at events with our boss?
It sounds like your "Cheerful" co-worker is quite a chump, Bambi, and there's simply no reason to moddlycoddle along someone who doesn't realize that you simply must dress for success. Let me give you an example. Recently one of my co-workers, a brash and boisterous brute, asked for my fashion advice:

Tales of Suspense #58 panel
All panels are from Tales of Suspense #58 (October 1964), script by Stan Lee, pencilling by Don Heck, inking by Dick Ayers, lettering by Sam Rosen

When my expert opinion is solicited on the subject I know better than anyone, I snap into action to command the attention of all!:

Tales of Suspense #58 panel

A fashionista is nothing without her tools, so make certain you have the proper equipment to examine and critique the clothing of those around you:

Tales of Suspense #58 panel

And level your fashion criticism with directness and a witty bon mot! Your subject will appreciate your candor and expertise and thank you for your helpful honestly!

Tales of Suspense #58 panel

Well, I hope that solves your problems, Bambi! "Cheerful" will be sure to thank you and make sure he knows where the credit is due: with Pepper Potts, Fashion Critic!

Toodle-ooh for now, Pepper fans! You'll excuse me...I'm off to a fabulous party in my beautiful new ensemble!:

Pepper Potts on the town

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008