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Review: Wicked Ones: Children of the Lost by JZ Foster

Book Description:

What if the old faery tales were true?

You know, the best thing about nightmares is that they’re not real. It’s all just in your head, and as soon as you wake up, pop! 

It’s all gone. You’re safe.

It’s not like they could crawl out, creeping from your mind with long, slender fingers and milky yellow eyes sunken into heads with pointed horns bursting out.

That’d just be insane.

Daniel Tanner’s life is insane. A mysterious disease came to claim his son, seemingly pulling him into the grave with cold fingers named misery and hopelessness.

Now a stranger has come calling with an even stranger tale of monsters—horrible things that take children in the middle of the night and leave their own, things that crawled out of the faery tales our barbarous ancestors used to tell, things that they tried to warn us about.

We didn’t listen.

Because monsters aren’t real, are they? There’s no reason to fear the dark, no reason at all to believe the old tales about the creatures with a taste for human meat.

That would be insane… wouldn’t it?

*****

There is a lot of folklore regarding changelings, particularly in Western Europe – how fairies would take a human infant and replace it with one of their own. The reasons for these stories are as varied as the countries they took hold in – a healthy child was far more valuable to a family than one who was sickly and drained whatever resources was available. It was easier to believe that fairies took the healthy child and replaced it with one of their dying ones.

Why human children were taken ranged from the unbaptized being easy targets to the fae believing that being raised by humans was a respectable start in life to old fae being cared for as children. According to the folklore, the human child is almost never seen again, presumably living with the fae forever.

In The Wicked Ones, author JZ Foster attempts to re-imagine aspects of changeling folklore into modern times, where a group of wounded people seek out the fae who took their loved ones.

As the novel opens, Daniel Tanner is grieving the death of his son, Sam, who was recently buried. He is also bitter towards his ex-wife, and mystified by her inexplicably callous behavior towards their son. Recruited by Larry Maker, Daniel realizes he is not the only one who has suffered such a loss and is brought into a group of unlikely companions who are united in only one thing – to kill the monsters behind the changelings.

As a student of mythology and folklore, I’m always fascinated how these old stories can be re-invented and brought to newer audiences. With vampires and werewolves enjoying a kind of renaissance in urban fantasy and horror, it’s only natural to expand and widen storytelling to incorporate the fae. Using their myths as inspiration is a valid start, but from there, it is the writer’s responsibility to create a fully- developed and realized world, along with the characters that populate it.

So it was with anticipation that I began reading Foster’s novel.

With the amount of exposition used, I felt shut out and removed from a tale of grief, revenge and the fae that should have been engrossing and heartbreaking. The story itself didn’t seem to really begin until mid-way through Chapter Four (man in the basement), but most definitely with Chapter Five (how the fae and changelings are involved). The characters themselves didn’t seem fully developed – given that the cast is primarily male, it was difficult to differentiate between them. Jenna and Rebekah, two of the primary female characters, fared a little better, but Daniel’s ex-wife, Julia (seen only in flashback) came across as a one-note, cold-hearted woman who watched her son die and is the focal point of Daniel’s anger.

Even the brief phone conversation between Daniel and his mother could have been better utilized – a good place to put active dialogue, showing who they were and what their relationship was now after the death Sam. Instead of a short, active scene driving the story forward, it was two or three lines of exposition and I was left with no information about how Daniel felt about his mother, how she felt about him and what Sam’s death did to their relationship.

Sam’s death may have been the catalyst for Daniel’s pursuit of the changelings and his willingness to join Maker’s group to stop them. But I was never really allowed to feel it or experience it – I was placed in the role of passive viewer.

If stories about the fae and how it impacts mortals (with a twist) tickles your fancy, then this is the story for you. If not, then perhaps one of Foster’s other titles will satisfy.

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Review: IT: Chapter One (2017)

Before I even set foot into the movie theater, I felt surrounded by references to Stephen King’s IT.  When I walked into my favorite Irish pub, Smoky Robinson’s “The Way You Do the Thing You Do” was playing over the sound system, which is used during some of the Losers Club scenes in the 1990 TV adaptation (most notably, the dam building scene).  On the walls are the names of the counties in Ireland – Derry, Maine is named after County Derry, as King notes in the book. Having re-read IT twice in the last couple of months (and on another re-read currently), it felt like a good sign.

From my local Irish pub.

Interestingly, the two adaptations intersect at the same place – in the TV mini-series, 1990 shows the Losers Club as adults; 1989 is the starting point for the Losers as kids.  I remember seeing the TV mini-series when it aired.  Watching the current film, I remembered 1989 and where I was and what I was doing while the Losers were battling bullies, abuse, indifferent adults and Pennywise.  I picked up IT for the first time when I was 17, about two to three years before that intersection.  I read the book in three days. It was my life – except, you know, without the killer clown living in the sewers under the city (although, where I live, I would not be surprised).

Comparing and contrasting the two adaptations is a fruitless exercise, although many of the new film’s shots echoed the original.  Adaptations and re-makes are tricky, especially when the film-makers want to honor the sources that came before.  This was particularly noticeable at the beginning, when Bill and Georgie are building the paper boat.  When Bill sends Georgie to the basement for the paraffin, the shot of Georgie standing at the top of the basement stairs and his very palpable fear of the dark echoes the 1990 version.  Even the Denbrough house resembles its TV counterpart.

First one inside the theater – I had my pick of seats!

Seeing the 2017 movie was like falling into the book – all 1192 pages of IT.  Having read the book so many times, I could probably find my way around Derry without a map.  I recognized Up-Mile Hill as Mike cycled his way to make a delivery to the butcher shop.  The statue of Paul Bunyan watches over the park, just as he did in the book. The rotting house on Neibolt Street, where Eddie encounters the leper, has sunflowers in the front yard.  The Kenduskeag River that flows through town and into the Barrens, where Ben runs to while trying to escape Henry Bowers and his gang.

Derry, Maine is, as the book description says, as familiar to me as my own hometown.

The 1986 novel.

Many of the events that occur in the book happen in the movie and while, in some cases, the context remains the same, how it occurs is different.  The Apocalyptic Rock Fight, for example, is how Mike Hanlon meets and becomes a part of the Losers Club.  In the novel and the TV mini-series, Mike is running away from the Bowers gang when he stumbles upon the six kids who would become his best friends in the quarry.  In this adaptation, the Losers come upon Mike being beaten up by Henry and his gang.  Beverly strikes the first blow with a well-aimed rock that eventually drives the bullies away.  This scene is, in fact, the only time we see Beverly’s skill and keen eye – the sling-shot and silver slugs were removed from this adaptation, for what purpose, I am not quite sure.

As closely as the 2017 film adheres to the novel (or, at least, the kids’ story), it deviates in many ways from the source material.  Most of the deviation is with the characters – Ben (as the New Kid on the Block) is the historian of the group, not Mike, and his first encounter with It is not as a mummified clown, but a child victim of the ironworks explosion of 1908.  Bill is the one who uses a weapon against Pennywise in their final showdown, not Beverly. Instead of being chased by Henry Bowers and fellow bullies, Eddie breaks his arm falling through the ceiling of the Neibolt Street house.

The 1990 adaptation.

Adaptations and re-makes are tricky – fans of both the original source and the original adaptation are likely to hold a microscopic lens to the new interpretation.  Changes, re-shuffling of scenes and assigning one character’s skills/interests to another often occur to make a more cohesive narrative in a linear medium like film.  Even The Black Stallion (1979) bears little resemblance to the novel it’s based on, but it still tells the same story.

There are many references to the novel IT (1986) in this film.  Some went by so quickly, that I know I didn’t catch all of them.  More than once, I found myself anticipating and reciting bits of dialogue among the kids that came from the novel.  And it wasn’t until the end that I realized that the camera angles were at the same height as the Losers, making the entire experience told from their points of view.

Did I enjoy this film?  You bet I did.  Were there some quibbles?  Of course – I felt that the characters of Beverly and Mike were not utilized as well as they could have been, but it wasn’t my directorial vision on-screen.  However, I have many questions that hopefully will be answered in the follow up, featuring the Losers as adults.

I’ll be seeing IT again, perhaps this weekend, perhaps next week.  As I said, it was like falling into the novel that I didn’t just read, but lived.

And it’s a journey that I don’t mind repeating, to a childhood I do remember and the friends I shared it with.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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