Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Art vs Entertainment

Although I'm not usually a fan of superhero movies, I've always liked Batman and so went to see The Dark Knight this week. It was exciting and fun. We all enjoyed it. So I'm skeptical of all the hype I've been reading about how it's a masterpiece and rises above the usual summer movie fare. Here, for example, is a bit from the nydailynews.com:

"In the battle between good and evil, Batman has always teetered precariously toward the wrong side," says David Hajdu, author of "The 10-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America." "That's what makes 'The Dark Knight' art instead of entertainment. Entertainment is our way of escaping the world; art confronts the world. It allows us to examine unspeakable horrors."

Now, really I don't know why we have to have such a dichotomy of purpose, or why it's all that important to distinguish between entertainment and art. History will sort that out for us, I think.

No one, at least no one I've read, is making such inflated claims for Naomi Novik's new Temeraire novel, Victory of Eagles. I'd even go so far as to say that it's not very good entertainment. Laurence, the hero, is depressed and whiny all the way through. The dragon, Temeraire, has a promising start at making a stand for dragon rights, but then it fizzles and he descends to the level of a first-grader pacified with promises of jam tomorrow. The only character who seems alive at all is Tharkay, and his main function is to come in and leave a few words of sense to which none of the starchy British will listen. Really, if you want to wallow in the pathos of people who must fail in living up to some kind of antiquated code of honor, read Thomas Hardy. Or even Joseph Conrad.

There are inconsistencies in the logic of Novik's created world, such as that men and horses are terrified of the dragons, and yet the men don't respect them as the fearsome creatures they can be, especially when their "captains" (the people they imprint on when they hatch) are threatened. It takes the entire book for Wellington to admit that the dragons are sentient, so he is not afraid that they will, for example, defect to France. And although at one point that danger seems very real, it somehow dissipates, mostly because of Temeraire's personal dislike of Lien.

My guess is that Novik wanted to set her next scene in Australia, and the pyrrhic victories of Victory of Eagles are merely a lead-in to the next one. Let's hope she hits her stride there, because returning to England was a bad idea. It's doubly ironic that the book is disappointing, considering that this is the first one to be published as a hardback. That will not make it last.

1 comment:

harriet M. Welsch said...

Thanks for the post at AJ's Clubhouse. I realized after you posted that when I changed templates, I had picked one that didn't list the author's name in the footer. So I've changed it again. I just wanted to let you know, in case you saw it the old way.