PRESENTING: THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTECRISTO!!!

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Dear Imaginary Reader:

SO, I am a complete failure at self-advertising (my idea of pushing my stuff is close to: “I have a book. It’s terrible, I’m sure….You don’t have to read this… I mean… I wish you would… But I understand… You’re busy… Reading is for nerds… Oh Gosh I’m so sorry for Having Wasted Your Time… This is so embarrassing…“)  That said, my new book,

THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO 

is now available for sale at Amazon!!! I’m kind of excited to share it with y’all, and I hope it’s the beginning of a longer journey for us. I say “new book” with some hesitation because, as some of you may know, the project took a few years to complete. (Time-Traveling Memo to Self About Seven Years Ago: Maybe Don’t Tackle a 1,350 Page Novel as an Inexperienced Young Fool!)

Anyway. There it is. I hope you buy it, rent it, check it out, steal it, I don’t care, as long as you read it and it makes you smile. If it doesn’t make you smile, then my revenge shall be slow, methodical, and implacable. You have been warned.

Below, is the Prologue, in case you haven’t read along with some of my earlier, less polished experiments like The Super Remixed Marie Antoinette Saga (now in the process of being renovated from the ground up, so as to make it actually presentable to human eyes):

PROLOGUES AND EXPLANATIONS

Q: What the heck is “THE SUPER REMIXED ™ COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”?

A: It’s Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the famed and perpetually popular epic saga of revenge, intrigue, and redemption! Except now it has been SUPER REMIXED ™ by me, Hans. That’s self—explanatory, peeps!

Q: Ok. So is this Fanfiction?

A: ALL OF LITERATURE IS FANFICTION. No book ever issued unsullied out of some artsy abyss. Writers do what they do because at some point in their susceptible youths they read SOMETHING and their reaction was: “Well, I want to write THAT…but MY WAY. And I want X to have sex with Y instead of with Z.”

The rest is just a magician’s act of misdirection, usually accomplished by merging two or maybe three of the writer’s favorite obsessions. If something ever strikes you as truly “original,” it might be that it’s merging FOUR of the writer’s obsessions into some unholy “original” mix. Say, a novel that simultaneously honors James Joyce, Star Trek (and specifically DS9), Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha”, and the Ramayana. Go ahead and give that mix a try! You’re bound to win a National Book Award and / or  puzzle people with your dazzling originality!

There is no shame in fanfiction. Go back as far as you can, to “Genesis”— and that’s already Sumerian fanfiction. John Milton’s ”Paradise Lost”? “Genesis” fanfiction. Dante’s “Divine Comedy”? Basically a feverish mash—up of the “Book of Revelations” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” “The Aeneid,” of course, it’s Homer fanfiction. There’s hardly a Shakespeare play that didn’t start as someone else’s characters and situations. Willy just contributed his iambic pentameter, his incredibly filthy jokes, and…you know… his unrivaled poetic genius.

Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” often gets shouted out as the “First Western Novel”— and it’s already a loving parody of “Amadis de Gaula.” Which borrowed its best bits from the “Matter of Britain.”

(As an aside, do yourself a favor and check out DQ’s wondrous Chapter 6, in which we get a glimpse of the many works of fanfiction “Amadis” inspired: “Son of Amadis” “Amadis of Greece!” “The Return of the Son of Amadis!”)

So to reiterate,  it’s fanfiction turtles all the way down.

Except this. This is not fanfiction.

Q: But you just said…

A: Next question.

Q: So fine, if it’s not fanfiction, what is it? A parody?

A: Nope. A parody attempts to imitate certain exaggerated features of a writer’s style, usually for the purposes of mockery. There are MOMENTS of parody within, but this is not, overall, parodic of Dumas’ style. There’s plenty of other places for that.

Q: Ugh. Is it an abridgment, then?

A: Good question! You would think so, right? But not exactly. The main purpose of an abridgment is to make things shorter, and the main purpose of this enterprise was to make things… weirder, I guess? I may actually have EXPANDED upon some sections. Also, I hate abridgments and find them sacrilegious. It’s a SUPER REMIX ™, I told ya!

Q: Can you further discuss what you consider to be the similarities and differences between SUPER REMIXES ™, fanfiction, homages, pastiches, remakes, sequels, parodies, retellings, up—datings, and reboots?

A: I *CAN* but then my Portobello and Pesto Panini would go uneaten, and that would make me hostile. It’s almost lunchtime, you know.

Q: What would you say to your Dear Imaginary Readers who wonder why they should read something so familiar? I mean, SPOILER, the COUNT ESCAPES PRISON AND GETS HIS REVENGE!

A: I say there are FOUR Great Reasons:

  1. If you’ve never read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and don’t know what awaits, then you’re just a lucky critter, because you’re about to jump into one of the most timeless, powerful, thrilling, immersive novels of all time, except now it has 27% more baguette jokes. I wish I could be you!!!
  2. If you HAVE read it, then here’s your chance to experience it entirely anew in a SUPER REMIXED ™ version that nonetheless hopes to retain everything that made you fall in love the first time.
  3. If you started to read it at some point and somehow your eyes glazed over when you saw the cast of characters was 10 pages long… I getcha! The times have a—changed! This is speedy, accessible and with 1/3rd the literary calories.
  4. If you started to read it and somehow your eyes glazed over and you were like: “Forget it, I’ll Netflix the movie” and now you think you know the plot…YOU KNOW NOTHING, JEAN NEIGE. No wimpy 2—hour movie can do justice to the tangled web the Count weaves. None of the versions even try: they keep the premise, a couple of early scenes, and then abandon the plot altogether. Except that anime where the Count was a psychedelically inspired alien-elf. That one was exactly what Dumas envisioned, obviously.

Q: Who’s Auguste Maquet, aka Auggy Mack?

          A: Dumas’ main homey. Maquet collaborated with Dumas during the intensely prolific period that saw “Monte Cristo”, “The Three Musketeers Epic,” “The Valois Trilogy,” “The Marie Antoinette Saga,” and a handful of other gems like “The Black Tulip,” “Olympe de Cleves,” and “The Bastard of Mauleon.” Maquet was far from Dumas’ only collaborator. His collaborators number the dozen, and of note are Gerard Nerval, the Countess Dash, and not one but three Pauls: Paul Bocage, Paul Lacroix, Paul Meurice. Think of it like a television show. Very rarely does the creator actually write every single episode by themselves- they have a writer’s room!- and Dumas was very much a showrunner. It is safe to say, though, that Dumas’ biggest novelistic hits were with Maquet. The Mack kept Alex on schedule with tight outlines and historical research, on top of which Dumas added his wit and flair. Also, you can bet Maquet was the one in charge of keeping the coffee hot on the pot.

Q: How many volumes will there be?

A: I love the concept of the serial, the “roman feuilleton.” In classic Dumasian tradition, there will be 5 volumes: “The Fall,” “The Rise,” “Patience and Faith,” “Deaths,” and “Resurrections.” They will be released every three months for your reading delectation. I’m hungry, let’s wrap this up.

Q: No one reads prologues anyway. Why is this one so long?

A: It’s a long project, it deserves a long prologue. I have a lot more to say, but you may be right, I’ll save the rest for an equally long epilogue.

Q: Speaking of long: what possessed you to tackle one of the longest novels of all time? Ambition? Hubris?

A: I may have bit off more than I can chew.

Q: Yeah! What were you thinking, you fool?!?

A: I was talking about my Portobello and Pesto Panini! This Prologue is over!

 

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Chalice in Blunderland : Margery Allingham – “Look to the Lady” (Albert Campion #3)

 

 

“The Gyrth Chalice Mystery,” or “Look to the Lady,” as it was re-titled in its American edition, is number 3 in Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion mysteries, (after “Mystery Mile.”) There is very little “Cherchez La Femme” going on here, but the original British title is accurate: there is definitely a quest for some unholy Grail, as Campion blunders his way into the life of the Gyrth family, the proud possessors of a supposedly millennia-old Chalice. Some editor thought that fancy words like “Chalice” might put-off the unsophisticated American readers, who presumably might be more interested in “looking at ladies,” a wide-spread and appealing occupation. Kinda of how “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” got changed into “The Sorcerer’s Stone” on its way to ‘Murica, because everyone knows we don’t philosophe over here. (Ok, ok, Gyrth is an ugly word.)

Anyway, the Gyrth’s family cherished Medieval chalice disappears just before the Scion’s 25th Birthday, and a woman is found dead with her face frozen in horror. Gypsies and witches might be involved. In comes Albert Campion and his untrustworthy butler, Magersfontein Lugg, finally defined as characters. Because Allingham’s reputation ties her to Christie, and specially Sayers in the mystery pantheon, I keep on expecting Campion to be a proper detective, and these books are yet yo measure up. Here’s how he “arrives at deductions”:

“How on earth did you know?” she said.

Mr. Campion sighed with relief. “The process of elimination,” said he oracularly as he picked up the suitcase and trudged back to the car with it, “combined with a modicum of common sense, will always assist us to arrive at the correct conclusion with the maximum of possible accuracy and the minimum of hard labour. Which being translated means: I guessed it.”

I have to accept him as some sort of roguish, malapropism-happy adventurer. Campion’s disreputable butler, Lugg, is the actual outstanding hero of the series: closer to the tough, knuckle-bruised Alfred of the more recent Batman incarnations.

Back in the Day : Mark Millar – “The Ultimates” (2002)

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Earth 1610. Not the year 1610. The Ultimate Dimension 1610. The year is 1945. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, plunges into the Arctic waters after de-routing a Nazi rocket aimed for Washington. Cut to 2002, New York. General Nick Fury recruits morning-drinking, Maxim-girl courting Tony Stark, newly-in-control Bruce Banner, and Mr. and Mrs. Pym (Giant-Man and the Wasp), to form the ULTIMATE superhero team. And hey, maybe that Thor guy over in Europe can help? Together, they will provide the blueprint for Joss Whedon’s smash hit “The Avengers,” while defeating the Chitauri menace, (the Chitauri are reptilian aliens that caused the rise of National Socialism, if you must know.)

What holds up in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run are the funny bits, such as Nick Fury’s prophetic conviction that only Mr. Samuel L. Jackson should play him in a screen version of the story. Tony Stark errs in aiming for Johnny Depp (although Robert Downey Jr. does get name-dropped.) The Wasp (of Asian descent in this version) complains that they’ll probably cast her as Lucy Liu even though they look nothing alike, but hey, ain’t that Hollywood. As for wimpy, neurotic Bruce Banner, casting suggestions include: “Woody Allen if he dropped a few pounds? That Stuart Little mouse that Geena Davis adopted? Steve Buscemi?” Overhearing this talk, poor Bruce runs out and transforming into the Hulk, howling: “HULK WANTS FREDDIE PRINZE JR!”

Which is funny.

Less funny? A bizarre marital conflict story-line that sees things escalate into what has to be one of the first cases of superhero-on-super-heroine domestic violence. Watching Gigantic, emasculated Hank Pym attack his poor wife (“You shouldn’t have made me seem small”) has to be one of the cruelest moments in Marvel history.

And when Captain America white knights his way into beating the shit out of the wife-beater? Nope, that doesn’t feel right either. These Ultimates are Ultimate assholes. Working close to ‘Watchmen” territory, Mark Millar made a tense, gritty epic that would reverberate.

(Currently re-reading a lot of the Ultimate Universe, which was really my introduction to Marvel in the 2000s)

 

The Kingdom is Within You : Leo Tolstoy – “My Religion”

So who is this tall, dark, and brooding aristocrat?

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Hint: Heap 50 years on him, give him a crazy unkempt beard, and handsome young Count Leo Tolstoy morphs into one of those kooks howling incoherently about “The Kingdom of God” and terrorizing serfs in the Russian countryside.

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I was browsing through one of Count Leo Tolstoy’s many book-length spiritual essays, 1884’s “My Religion,” in a Christmas-related bout of spirituality… It felt SO familiar! It struck me that

A) either Leo and I have a startling kinship when it comes to these matters, our equally brilliant minds colliding in harmonic agreement OR

B) (and accurate); I had already read this when I was a kid, and kind of forgot.

In any case, it must have been highly influential and formative, because I still lean on some of Leo’s points. And yet, re-reading “My Religion” as an adult, Tolstoy’s eager, overlong exploration seems sometimes naive. He wrote this at 58! How old should a person get before becoming  “woke” to the dissonance between a society’s jibber-jabber about Jesus and its active refusal to engage in anything resembling Christianity? 58 is too old for one of the wisest novelists of all time to grab the reader’s lapels for some truthful shaking that involves “mind-blowers” like: “If we REALLY believed in Jesus- We would refuse to have ARMIES! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!”

Dude. We know. We read “War and Peace.” Or tried.

And yet that hideous disconnect between a society’s professed beliefs and its structures are always worth pointing out to the young because it hasn’t gone away and it never might, no matter how many Tolstoys write to expose our communal, pervasive conviction that, sure, Jesus had some cute ideas, but, let’s face it, no one has time for that hippie crap.

Tolstoy, a life-long believer of “faith-through-reason” who consulted with priests and rabbis, and who laboriously learned Greek so that he could dive into the unmediated Gospels, goes at length into the vexing paradox of how religion, by its existence, ensures that the teachings of Jesus go unpracticed. More interesting are Tolstoy’s Biblically-based conclusions that the ideas of Heaven and Resurrection are post-factum tacks. Jesus rarely brought up the topic and was far more interested in terrestrial justice and the under-privileged inheriting THIS Earth. As most rabbis of his time, he was likely to see the whole concept of the after-life as an intrusive non-Hebraic superstition dripping into the Scriptures by virtue of Roman rule. After all, it was the Romans who believed in some shade-laden Hades, not the more observation-based, “dust to dust” Jews. In his few pronouncements about Heaven, Jesus was either too evasively vague (“The kingdom of Heaven is like… A party that never ends?”) or so disappointingly clear that his followers bend over backwards to ignore his words ( Sorry, peeps, you do NOT get to meet up with your loved ones after you die. Not according to Jesus, anyway).

“The Kingdom of God,” (Tolstoy grows convinced) “is a place that exists right here, and right now, and within you.”

But you can’t get to it until you go looking for it.

As an adult, I see is that Tolstoy’s conclusions are predicated upon a number of fallacies. Chief among these are his unquestioning acceptance that the Gospels are accurate pieces of unbiased journalism – as long as he gets to chop out the lines he detects as obvious fabrications. This leads to some convenient, selective interpretations, such as several moments when, dissatisfied with Biblical verses, he decides that the half he agrees with is authentic divine wisdom, while the half he disagrees with is pure forgery, a human interpolation. Like St. Augustine- and truly, like most theologians- Tolstoy is torn between his overpowering need for faith, and the intellectual skills that allow him to see that the primary cultural source of his faith is… shall we say… of uneven literary merit.

Ultimately, Tolstoy becomes convinced that the greatest and most un-Christian of sins is believing that Earth God is NOT already Heaven: a Heaven we willfully prevent from existing by virtue of our refusal to listen to the Sermon of the Mount without condescension. Whether one agrees with the good Count or not, he walked his talk, and he did it on bare feet, if I accept this painting as Gospel:

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This Is Why You Don’t Run With Swords : Pierre Sales – “Sergeant Renaud”

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Once popular in France, Pierre Sales wrote a large number of morality novels under the “Parisian Adventures” uber-title, of which I tried “Sergeant Renaud.” Seduced and seemingly abandoned, Marie Renaud is a Parisian seamstress prepared to enter single motherhood at a time when that might as well have made her a plague carrier. What she doesn’t know is that her impregnating suitor only failed to “do the honorable thing” because he died in in an unfortunate, grizzly, eye-popping fencing accident. (Fencing as in the sword-related sport, not as in “white-picket fences” or “the disposal of illegal merchandise”). An easy, if morally antiquated, read, but I do not think I will pursue further acquaintance with this particular author, not when there’s Eugene Sue to cover the same milieu.

Independent Woman : R. Austin Freeman -“Helen Vardon’s Confession” (Dr. Thorndyke Series)

I know it’s been almost a century, but I still found it on the unclassy side when Dean Koontz casually spoiled the epochal twist in Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in the first few pages of “Odd Thomas”. Fine, everyone knows what happens there. But do they know what happens in “Helen Vardon’s Confession”?

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This addition to the Doctor Thorndyke series was published in 1922, four years before Christie’s more famous novel, and I can not help but think of it as a direct precursor, in that here we have the first-hand account of a crime (or a couple of crimes) from the perspective of a female narrator (unusual enough for the genre) who is not the investigator, or a Watson to the investigator, and who may even be a suspect.

Helen Vardon is a studious young woman who, while innocently questing for a particularly trenchant article from Addison and Steele’s “The Spectator” on the issue of Queen Anne, overhears that her father is on the border of economic scandal… And that the villainous blackmailer, a Mister Otway several decades her senior, will let it go if Helen agrees to marry. Her father refuses, but Helen bravely accepts the deal to save Dad from prison.

If this was a romance, she might grow to love the beastly blackmailer. Instead, Helen’s father dies right away under suspicious circumstances, making her sacrifice pointless, and the novel goes to some non-mystery places, as Helen separates from her new husband and learns to make a living for herself in a community of female artists. In fact, fans of Freeman’s previous whodunits were probably puzzled by the many pages devoted to Helen making new friends, learning a trade as a silversmith, developing an interest in the hypnosis fad of the time, and rekindling a relationship with a friend of her youth.  Only at the end does Thorndyke make much of a presence. This is Helen’s story; the story, to all extents and purposes, of a divorced woman standing on her own, and the bulk of the novel is constructed so that the reader of the 1920s can’t help but sympathize with what at the time was still shocking behavior.

As a mystery, the novel is much too long, and yes, Thorndyke is missed. Since Freeman tries to support the efforts of Helen to “self-actualize,” the forward-thinking thought in display is tampered by Helen’s perfect propriety.  The modern eye is upset by the idea that a century ago, people (men and women) could not get legally divorced without meeting any number of extreme legal requisites, whereas the one requisite needed is: “I no longer wish to be married to this person.” (We’re still working on this area.)

Also upsetting to the modern eye: Freeman’s many anti-Semitic barbs. Here, any number of Jewish characters conspire in greed, as though somehow the pure, civilized Anglican character is above the petty matter of money.