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August 3, 2005

Better bad sentences
Posted by Teresa at 04:59 PM *

As longtime readers of this weblog will (probably) recall, I’m no great fan of the yearly Bulwer Lytton Competition, where the idea is to write the best (that is, worst) opening sentence of an imaginary bad book. I don’t know anyone who reads slush who’s particularly impressed by their annual collection of intentional howlers.

It’s the judging that’s the problem: the sentences they pick just aren’t that awful. Here’s the 2005 Bulwer Lytton winner:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

Bleh. It’s the kind of bad sentence you only find in Bulwer Lytton competitions: long; tightly engineered; chiefly consisting of an elaborately overinflated metaphor or simile that in the end is punctured by a ludicrously mundane or trivial final clause. You can construct one of those by the numbers. It has none of the mind-warping swoop and grandeur of real opening sentences like “Before him, the road receded in both directions.”

In their book-length compilations, the Bulwer Lytton people occasionally include runner-up sentences that don’t fit that pattern—I have a lasting fondness for one of these, “I was a very, very, very sensitive child”—but somehow those never win.

The excellent Liz Gorinsky has turned me on to the Lyttle Lytton Contest, which has similar aims but much more astute judges. Quite a few of their selected sentences have the desired property of instantly convincing me that I don’t want to read the rest of that book. Here are some of winners from the 2005 Lyttle Lytton Contest:

John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, “How do you like surfing?” (E. Davis)

Man oh man, you’re gonna like this book; boy howdy. (D. Stevens)

2004 brought us the clueless self-importance of:

Now, you’re all aware of my vocal campaign against the global slave trade, so what I am about to confess may raise a few eyebrows. (A. Davis)

and the case of syntactical whiplash brought on by trying to figure out where the dependent clause attaches in:

The dame had balls, you had to give her that, and a Jetta. (V. Tobin )

The 2003 entries didn’t do much for me, but this one was up to spec:

For centuries, man had watched the clouds; now, they were watching him. (S. Sachs)

The 2002 entries were also a little thin. That year did did see one beautifully earless specimen:

“I raped your sister,” cruelly he sneered, “and now she is no problem,” and my friends that is the day my heart tore a sunder. (A. Plotkin)

but the only other entry that took my fancy really needed to lose its last two words:

Herein lurk delegitimized power structures and epistemological straitjackets and stuff. (D. Stevens)

By me, 2001 was the best year to date:

Turning, I mentally digested all of what you, the reader, are about to find out heartbreakingly. (T. Changwatchai)

A lone testicle lay in a barren field. (J. Tando)

and the masterful

In anticipation, John licked his own lips. (A. Lloyd)

It’s the real thing.
Comments on Better bad sentences:
#1 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 07:11 PM:

"A lone testicle lay in a barren field."
I have a very clear image of this as a painting rather in the style of Edward Hopper . . .

"The dame had balls, you had to give her that, and a Jetta."

One Jetta to the dame with the balls!

Has she been picking them from the fields?

#2 ::: rozencrantz ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 07:26 PM:

This must be the fourth or fifth time I've run across that site, and it makes me laugh just as hard every time. Adam Cadre and Andrew Plotikins (author of the "i raped your sister" one) are both geniuses in a hideously underrecognized field, I reccomend sampling "Photopia" by Cadre and "So Far" by Plotkins.

#3 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 07:27 PM:

I remember finding the Bulwer-Lytton winners reasonably funny back when they first started, but they might have chosen better entries then. Certainly this years' are not much good.

I think there is just one judge for the Lyttle Lytton Contest, namely Adam Cadre. He is also known for MST3K-ing "The Eye of Argon" (and for his interactive fiction and a novel, but I have no personal experience with either of those as yet).

#4 ::: Deanna Hoak ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 07:53 PM:

I wasn't very impressed by this year's winners either. I noted in my blog that any random chapter from our wonderful Atlanta Nights has, worse. :-)

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:25 PM:

Would anything uttered by our current Commander in Chief qualify for the contest?

#6 ::: Terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:26 PM:

But Eye of Argon needs no MST3King.

The problem I have these days (and maybe I'd have had it then, but when I started reading them I was not quite a teen) with the B-L contest is the sentences aren't that bad.

Tortured, a bit, but one's mind doesn't reel.

On the other hand, B-L could write a good sentence, just not one after the other.


#7 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:35 PM:

"A lone testical lay in a barren field."

That one has potential, but I'm guessing this is the case only for sickos like me. After all, one has to wonder how the testical got there, and why there is only one...


#8 ::: william ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 09:37 PM:

I always had a slightly different problem with Bulwer-Lytton: they never read like the first lines of actual books, more like a certain type of joke. Mr Lyttle makes the same point.

#9 ::: tom p ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:05 PM:

"...But this is not that testicle's story."

(Is how I want that one to continue.)

#10 ::: rozencrantz ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:53 PM:

Rather, it is the story of a young bollock bereft of its mate.

#11 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 11:01 PM:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single testicle in possession of a bad farm must be in want of a mate.

#12 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 11:37 PM:

I refer you to this menu item. No mention of where they were sourced, so fields are not totally ruled out.

#13 ::: tom p ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 11:52 PM:

There are testicles that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads.

#14 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:21 AM:

Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. His left ball lay far below him.

#15 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:22 AM:

The testicle on the barren field was the color of a mud puddle drying in an empty channel.

No, wait - I can do better, honest:

It was the best of testicles, it was the worst of testicles, it was the ball of wisdom, it was the ball of foolishness, it was the gonad of belief, it was the gonad of incredulity, it was the bollock of Light, it was the bollock of Darkness, it was the seed of hope, it was the nut of despair, it had everything before it, it had nothing before it, it was going direct to Heaven, it was going direct the other way--in short, the testicle in the barren field was so far like the present testicle, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There, who said only Bulwer-Lytton could write great opening sentences?

#16 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:37 AM:

Drifting . . . there is a restaurant in San Francisco which offers various dishes with fried Proton.

#17 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 01:38 AM:

"Egad, Holmes!" Watson exclaimed. "You're right again! It's obvious, after your explanation, that this must be... Hitler's missing testicle!!"

#18 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 05:38 AM:

riverrun, past Adam's testicle, from swerve of arse to bend of knee, brings us by a commodius vicus of bloodcirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs, where it's mayt lone lay in barrons field.

#19 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 05:47 AM:

Plus, I checked the winning passage with a friend who drives, or rather owns (occasionally he tries driving it and then something worrying and expensive happens to the cylinders and he spends the next few weekends underneath it, muttering to himself) a Triumph Spitfire. He points out:

1) Spitfires aren't vintage, they're classic - vintage is pre-war. Is he telling us that she's actually much younger than the writer thinks?
2) Stromberg carbs are neither highly functional or pleasingly formed. Ugly, useless and sold only to Americans who (ironically) had stricter emissions laws than Europe in the seventies. They are largely regarded as second-rate fake versions of the real thing. Oh, hang on...
3) If they were perched "prominently on top of the intake manifold", they would leave a large dent in the bonnet when he closed it - although perhaps this was the impression the writer was trying to convey...

Now that, my friends, is literary criticism.

#20 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 06:36 AM:

It looked bad for Hitler's remaining testicle, as the police were investigating no other suspects.

#21 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 06:41 AM:
"Egad, Holmes!" Watson exclaimed. "You're right again! It's obvious, after your explanation, that this must be... Hitler's missing testicle!!"

"Epididymis, my dear Watson," Holmes replied. "Epididymis."

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 07:55 AM:

Reading Teresa's comments about the Bulwer Lytton contest, I find myself thinking of "The Lost Skeleton of Kadavra" and why that sendup of bad old SF movies didn't work for me. Bad old SF movies weren't made WITH the intention of being bad. Things like "Kadavra" wind up feeling very self-conscious and thus not very funny. Same with the Bulwer Lytton entries...

#23 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 08:00 AM:

A testicle comes across the sky.

I still like the B-L contest; like a lot of us, as it ages it tends toward a very specific sort of beast verging on, or retreating all the way to, self-parody that has little to do with its ostensible aims, but it's still enjoyable for me for what it is: a particular kind of at least plus ungood writing.

But you might easily consider the above to be half a load of bollocks.

Godwin's Ball's Law: As an online discussion even tangentially mentioning but one testicle grows longer, the probability of a reference to involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

#24 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 08:22 AM:

Or A barren testicle lay alone in the field.

Of course it does, for what use is a barren testicle? Oh,well at least it is laying in the field rather than playing it (the field that is).

#25 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 09:29 AM:

I've always wished the Bulwer-Lytton awards were given for actual published first lines that were unintentionally bad. It wouldn't be as much fun for the honorees, I suppose, but it would be funnier and it might perform a public service. Something like that yearly roundup of worst sex scenes in books.

The problem is that the B-L's focus on a very specific type of bad writing that's really not in vogue these days. And when so many other kinds of bad writing are in vogue, that's a pity.

#26 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 09:53 AM:

Serge: I don't know if Garth Marenghi would be your cup of tea then. The TV series was awesome.

#27 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 09:55 AM:

I once won 14th place in a bad writing contest sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

(Well, what do you say after you've said that?)

#28 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Someone had to do it:

to wound the autumnal testical.

#29 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:07 PM:

AAAAAARRRGGGH!!! How could I do that?!?!?!?

[1000 lashes later]

to wound the autumnal testicle.

#30 ::: Eric Albert ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:26 PM:

My favorite Lyttle Lytton contest entry is the creator's first example, which I've quoted many times over the years: Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating.

As to Mary Dell's desire ("I've always wished the Bulwer-Lytton awards were given for actual published first lines that were unintentionally bad"), the Guardian does something along these lines with its annual choice of the worst sexual passages from mainstream books: the Guardian's Bad Sex contest winning entries. When a friend originally sent me some of these, I thought they were Bulwer-Lytton entries!

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:46 PM:

I'm not familiar with that show, SimStim. Where does it run?

#33 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Serge: It ran at the end of last year on Channel Four in the UK, there's supposedly a DVD coming out at some point. My favourite quote from the show: "She was like a candle in the wind. Unreliable!"

#34 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 01:50 PM:

Eric Albert posted a link to the Guardian's Bad Sex contest winning entries.

. . . I think it's the use of "otorhinolaryngological caverns" that really distinguishes the winner, _I am Charlotte Simmons_.

I also note how 'Dr Mukti' by Will Self briefly suggests bestiality through careless use of pronouns.

I need to go scrub my brain out, now.

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 01:52 PM:

"She was like a candle in the wind. Unreliable!"...

Reminds me of a calendar I came across once. Each month reproduced the poster of an old film noir. My favorite was about a Deadly Dame, with a great tag line:

"Her mouth was filled with broken promises."

#36 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 03:01 PM:


Yep, that's the contest I was thinking of - thanks for the link!

#37 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 03:16 PM:

I note sadly that I didn't win.

My entry was,

"Like an enema for the clogged arteries of L.A., the ambulance sliced through traffic."

What did I do insufficiently wrong?

#38 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 04:06 PM:

For actual published writing, there's also Readercon's Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition. It's not limited to first lines, which may be seen as either a bug or a feature; I believe one of the meta-rules is that Lionel Fanthorpe's work may not be used more than once per competition.

#39 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 06:51 PM:

rozencrantz, I think you mean Andrew Plotkin.

Serge, I had the same problem with Kadavra. They were giggling to themselves the entire time they acted.

#40 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 10:49 PM:

It's possible to get (probably pirate) dvds of Darkplace - the epic work of Garth Marenghi - on ebay. I also briefly became a Parent Not To Be Ashamed Of by scoring a set of Darkplace keychains for my son, with pics of the characters.

For bad published sentences, there's always Thog's Master Class.

#41 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 01:31 AM:

Are you looking for something really bad? I have something really bad.

Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber posted this:

From the back of a packet of Hans All-Natural Chicken and Apple Sausages, I discover the artistic urge that led to the creation of these distinguished offal tubes.

While touring alluring ocean fronts and majestic alpine passages, an epiphany occurred to Hans: create organic sausages as natural as the glistening of the snow and as genuine as the sunset's glow.

I don't know whether it was the wine's grip on my mind or the misuse of the reserved word "Turing" that attracted the attention of something which was probably not a muse, but what were once vices are now verses:

While touring alluring
oceans in motion
which reaches the beaches
dappled with apples

continuing viewing
the mountainous countenance
of blocks of rocks
quickened with chickens

Hans realized this was the Wurst

Bottom that!

#42 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 05:50 AM:

Thank you all for that thread of horribly funny testiclification of Great English Classics. Wow, my Literature studies are paying off--I recognized most, if not all, of those. (Well, Neuromancer isn't on our reading list yet, but everyone knows the channel tuned to static opening line; I personally think it's one of the strongest hooks I've ever read).

I particularly enjoyed the Finnegan's Wake spin on this ball; kudos to Martin.

I'll have to try my hands on testiclifying one of my favourite authors:

This is a tale of a testicle lying on a field which was getting more barren fast.

It was not a very interesting testicle, as far as testicles go; it was well inside the dimensions of what medical textbooks would call an average human testicle. The thing that made this testicle so special was the internet.

Listen! The internet was a global computer network that looked a little bit like this:

[insert doodle of an anus spread wide open by two hands]

And so on.

#43 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 07:59 AM:

And, of course, there are endings as well:

I feel exhilarated. Puppet masters -- the free testicles are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!

The dying man spoke, "Now God be thanked that all has not been in vain! See! The snow is not more stainless than her forehead! The testicle has passed away!"...And, to our bitter grief, with a smile and in silence, he died, a gallant gentleman.

(Actually, come to think of it, Dracula is perhaps the best piece of bad writing I've ever seen, veering from Gothic to porn to sci-fan to collection of railway time-tables with nary a care....)

And, aye of course: And went up. Without a single testicle.

#44 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 08:06 AM:

Loved starting my day with Lyttle Lytton. Then went over to to see what happened in Colorado yesterday, only to find this lead sentence:

As sure as the ball will fly 10 percent farther at altitude, The INTERNATIONAL will be delayed by rain.

You can't make this stuff up.

#45 ::: Martin G. L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 08:46 AM:

Why, thank you!

Here's another one, by the same fellow:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a razor and a

No! I'm sorry. I can't do it! Some sentences should never be written, let alone contemplated.

#46 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 10:05 AM:

I disagree about Dracula being bad writing. As far as I can tell, nothing else Bram Stoker wrote was any good: but Dracula is.

(fooey. now I should launch into a cogent and incontrovertible defense of the book's structure, characterization, pacing, language and um, theme, but I'm not up to it today)

#47 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 10:43 AM:

Limp, the testicle of Gorrister hung from the pink palette; unsupported—hanging high above us in the computer chamber; and it did not shiver in the chill, oily breeze that blew eternally through the main cavern.

Although i imagine the last line of the story would be more effective testicularized.

#48 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 10:56 AM:

Via Anna Tambour's website, a move to "defend" the original master:

#49 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 11:24 AM:


Three cheers for Dracula! Possibly my favorite book ever. How can you not love a book with likes like

He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake...

Mmm, chewy...

#50 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 11:35 AM:

I think the 2003 Lyttle Lytton 'B' contest (write a second line to follow the first line of Paul Clifford) was rather amusing. My favourite:

To unbendingly trudge through pelting precipitation, turn to Page 17. (P. Berman)


#51 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 01:05 PM:

One of the other regulars at my local used book store stopped by last night, in search of _The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants_. The owner is having trouble keeping copies in stock, because it's required summer reading at several of the local schools. The customer sighed. "None of the used places have it. I'm wishing we kept it, after my daughter read it a few years ago. But she didn't like it, and we didn't know my son would need it for school. I wonder if the schools would consider anything in the traveling pants line, but for boys?"

There appears to be a market (however small and half-assed) for an anthology based on the literary adventures of the traveling testicle.

#52 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 01:06 PM:

I liked that too, but my favorite was

Yep, dark and stormy.

I guess I'm a minimalist.

#53 ::: John Stein ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 03:09 PM:

Hilarious thread! But after seeing the Dali exhibit in Philly, I have to protest that the testicle in a field is surely a Dali painting, not Hopper! (Now that I think of it, you could probably get the inspiration for a lot of bad opening lines from Dali's stuff.)

Count me (p.i.) as another Dracula fan. Wolf's annotated edition is great.

#54 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 04:14 PM:

She had cleavage all the way down to her knees. That was the first two things I noticed about her when she walked in the room. The other was that she knew the effect she had on men. AS she bent to straighten the path of her stocking my mind was reeling that dame in like a fish.

#55 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 04:17 PM:

a barren testicle lay alone in the field. Tossed out, unwanted, I knew how the little fellow felt I thought to myself as I got up and dusted myself off. dust, dust, dust my hands flapped roughly over my slacks. I felt my tender jaw, ouch I said, that's tender. Heroically I began to limp back to the main road.

#56 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 05:29 PM:

The testicles were over.

*shrug* First thing I thought of.

And also, although not concerning bad first lines, this seems apropos:

The SF/F Opening Lines Test.

I expect everyone here to score at least twice as well as I did.

#57 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 05:44 PM:

Midway this way of life we're bound upon
I woke to find myself in a barren field
Where the right nut was wholly lost and gone

#58 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 06:33 PM:

I can't resist adding.....

Many years later, facing the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia would remember that remote afternoon when his father took him to discover the testicle.

Or how about:

It was a bright cold testicle in April, and the clocks were striking Thirteen.

#59 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 09:58 PM:

Last night I dreamt I was a testicle again.

#60 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 10:08 PM:

This is just to say:
I have released
a testicle
that was in
your scrotum

and which
you were probably
for procreation

Forgive me
it was your epididymis
so shrunken
and so cold

#61 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 10:22 PM:

My favorite slush first line remains "Because of what has happened to me, I am now 39 years old." The articficially created ones just can't compete with the sincerity.

#62 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 08:59 AM:

Far down in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western-garb clad masculine torso lies a small unregarded yellow testicle.

#63 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 10:31 AM:

For centuries, man had watched the clouds; now, they were watching him. (S. Sachs)

That's not entirely worthless as an opening. I hesitate over the punctuation, but I can see an opportunity.

Of course, if they are watching I suppose that they are clouds of witness. And it's likely that the following sentences turned out to be strong poison.

#64 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Alone in a field there lived a testicle. Not a freshly ploughed field, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy field with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a testicle-field, and that means comfort.

And since Mike brought us William Carlos Williams, I thought we might also invite e. e. cummings:






#65 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 01:36 PM:


Clearly editors are not paid enough for that sort of hazardous duty. They couldn't possibly be. I advocate a combat duty pay bonus for editors actively reading slush.

(And if one actually enjoys reading sentences like that out of perversity, I suppose the hazard then becomes choking on ones morning coffee.)

#66 ::: tom p ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 02:33 PM:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic testicle.

#67 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 04:25 PM:

My favorite slush first line remains "Because of what has happened to me, I am now 39 years old."

I've been thinking that that wouldn't necessarily be SO bad if the next line was something like "Yet I was born 75 years ago."

#68 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 05:48 PM:

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic testicle."

-Franz Kafka's "Testemorphosis"?

This thread should come with a warning: "CAUTION: May Cause Stomach Cramps."

#69 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 06:00 PM:

Or Metatestament?

#70 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 06:30 PM:

"Gad, Holmes, is that --"
"Orchidectomy, my dear Watson."

#71 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 09:14 PM:

I never said I didn't like Dracula, just that I consider it bad writing. It reminds me of a lot of s.f. from the Thirties and Forties, chock-full of interesting or compelling bits, but often awkward or embarrassing. I'm not talking about a camp "So bad it's good", but rather about something encrusted with kruft but still obviously bearing a strong light.

I reread an annotated edition every couple of years, and inevitably make paprikas; lately I've known enough to temper and baby the sauce so it doesn't curdle....

#72 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 09:41 PM:

The intriguing question about the chicken paprikas is -- after the events of the novel, does Mina make it for Jonathan?

Kinda want to go write that now, but otherwise occupied.

#73 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 12:18 AM:

My only reservation about Dracula is that Stoker lied about Renfield. What was really going on with Renfield was quite, quite different, and Stoker didn't have the guts to say what it was.

One of my projects down the line is to tell that story.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 09:26 AM:

What happened to Mina after the events of "Dracula", John? Read Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".

#75 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 09:57 AM:

oh wait a minute, I can finally do the opening sentence to the very first book of 'The Morganatica: In Bunburyland, a hero is burned on his buns. ' Referenced from
slush: noted in passing.

Bunburyland, thouroughly buttered on its innards with heroism, thought it had seen all the seasonings of bravery and strife. Alas, poor Bunburyland was wrong. There were strange and rare condiments in seed of the Distal clan, a fierce, proud, valiant, hairy people. Condiments that one evening fraught with the fragrance of spring would come to fruition. A son was born. Morganatic Distal! This is his story, and of the people he would meet and touch in his long heroic life. And of the effects he would have on them. Truly amazing effects!

#76 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 12:36 PM:

"My favorite slush first line remains "Because of what has happened to me, I am now 39 years old."

but I digress, it all started a year ago when I was 38. I'm older now, and a better writer.

#77 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 04:10 PM:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some 1.7 square inches of a foreign field
That are forever England.

#78 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 04:30 PM:

"Somewhere in the world, a forlorn scrotum was missing one of its testicles."

Sorry, couldn't help myself. :)

#79 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 01:44 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer: I'll be interested in your take on things. From my point of view Renfeld was the only real hero in the whole damn book: when he realized that the only way to save Lucy was to pit his strength as a madman against that of a vampire he did so and actually slowed the count down. Biggest display of guts in the entire story.

#80 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 12:16 PM:

Renfield seems related to a type I at one point seemed to see in every Doctor Who series: the man gone bad who redeems himself in death. Maybe it's because they wanted to show all but the worst as being redeemable, or maybe it's a "Boys' Own" trope they inherited, but it seemed very prevalent at one point. (If being a Texan of the rather the Adelphi Theatre type is a sin, then Quincy Morris also falls into this category.)

Script writers often merge Jonathan and Renfield because they want to avoid multiple maniacs; I like the middle ground of Coppola's version that continues to distinguish the two, but makes Renfield's madness apparently also Draculagenic. It also makes Renfield's proximity to Carfax Abbey less of a coincidence, given that most real estate listers in the mid-to-late Victorian era wouldn't accept an advertisement containing the words "deconsecrated 1-room fixer-upper with convenient madman nearby" (or "decons. f-u w/conv loon" as it would appear in the N.Y. papers).

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 12:37 PM:

It's been 30 years since I read "Dracula" so could someone enlighten me? What exactly happened to Jonathan Harker and what happened to Renfield? Like I said, I read the book long ago and my memory of it has gotten tainted by the various movie versions merging the two characters.

And speaking of Coppola's "Dracula", you should check the site of World o'Crap. The lady has an absolutely hilarious review of Branagh's "Frankenstein". My favorite version of that story is the early Seventies's TV adaptation, with Leonard Whitting as Frankenstein, David McCullum as Clerval, James Mason as Polidori and Michael Sarrazin as... what else?... the Creature.

#82 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 01:56 PM:

Here's the chapter dealing with Renfield's fate. And if you hop to the very end of the last chapter on the same site you can see how things end up in general.

(just trying to avoid spoilers)

Lucy, I'd love to hear your theory of what really happened...

My favorite Dracula treatment is the "Buffy vs. Dracula" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xander as Renfield is hilarious: "Where is he? Where's the creep that turned me into a spider eating man bitch?"

#83 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 01:59 PM:

"His testicles were cold. As cold as the bitter winter snow that was falling outside. Yes, cold and therefore difficult to chew..."

#84 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 07:31 PM:

Bruce - I like to think of Mina as the hero of the book. She's the one getting things done while Jonathan is swooning every five minutes and getting brain fever. She's tough and determined. When Lucy is being menaced by a fiend she flies at him with nothing but her outrage to protect her and she drives the monster off. She's strong and brave, she goes through terrible danger, she does everything she can to protect everyone around her. She's wonderful.

#85 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 07:53 PM:

Wait a minute. I'm confused, probably because every movie has a different woman die. Didn't Mina become the mindless vampiric "bloofer lady," or was that Lucy?

#86 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 08:33 PM:

That was Lucy.

It's easy to get confused because most films combine Lucy and Mina into one kind of bland character.

#87 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 09:21 PM:

Or they swap them. Mina is the mindless vamp in the Frank Langella version, whereas Lucy is the Count's chosen bride.

#88 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 10:02 PM:

She's tough and determined. When Lucy is being menaced by a fiend she flies at him with nothing but her outrage to protect her and she drives the monster off.

"I thought I drove you off."
"Something about you drew me back. I think it was your outrage."
"Excuse me?"
"It was so elemental. So -- straightforward."
"Surely the women of your country have outrage."
"In quantity. But Hungarian women are more likely to smile really big and then put something nasty in your gulyas, or else whack you from behind with a coal shovel."
"So what then? I'm supposed to move to the Balkans and sleep in a tip?"
"Compared to English hotel mattresses, you could get to like dirt. But I was actually thinking that I have a large castle with a great many historic papers that could use a good librarian. Would you like a new life . . . taking dictation?"
"Stereotypical Goth top."
"Says the switch in a shirtwaist."
"The Newcastle ferry leaves at 1:25. Train from Amsterdam, then via Munich and Vienna to Buda-Pest. There may be delays in Vienna due to trackwork."
"There are worse places to be stuck, to use an unfortunate expression. Renfield's filled a -- what are they? Disraeli bags?"
"Yes. We have your soil. From the flower garden."
"So I can lie back and think of England. Can your erratic assistant drive a coach?"
"For guests . . . I drive my own coach."

I wonder if there's a market for One Hundred Alternate-Reality Classics in One Hundred Pages. It'd almost be worth it just to read the Booklist review.

#89 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 12:29 AM:

I knew there was plaigiarism-detecting software, but I didn't know about this development. Frightening though it may be, do you think similar software could be useful for winnowing slushpiles? Or would it miss precisely the mss. one is searching for?

Most Accurate Automated Essay Scoring Engine Available
NEWTOWN, Pa. --(Business Wire)-- Aug. 8, 2005

... [product] uses a rich blend of artificial intelligence and the digitization of human expertise to accurately score and assess student responses to open-ended essay questions in a wide range of subjects. In a recent research study examining middle school-level writing, [it] matched expert human scorers 99 to 100 percent of the time and achieved correlations with human scorers as high as 0.96. The integration of new technology into Version 9.3 has optimized the scoring engine's performance, ensuring an even higher rate of accuracy combined with scoring times of one second or less, a claim unmatched within the market ...
(Thought about adding this to a specialist 'slush' thread, but they seem to be being subjected to incoming spam fire. Added it here since slushpiles are part of the discussion.)

#90 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 12:47 AM:

Gosh, I go to work and the whole world comes along to say interesting things about my favorite book.

Okay, Renfield -- I think that Bram Stoker actually knew the truth about Renfield but he couldn't bring himself to write it so he distorted it for publication. There are a couple of contradictory truths, which I believe makes it even more difficult for Stoker.

On the one hand, Renfield is a religious man. His beloved god offers him eternal life in exchange for honest worship and submission to the will of his god. (it's a false offer in this case, Dracula is not interested in having Renfield for an eternal companion -- there's al;ways somebody to be found for this job). Remember, Renfield's job was only to welcome the vampire into the building.

On the other hand, and this is more interesting to me personally, Renfield serves for the sake of serving. In this aspect of Renfield, he welcomes Dracula into the building because Dracula asks him to. In this aspect, Dracula has betrayed his trust even more than in the other.

Coppola's Dracula is the worst I've ever seen (I might be wrong because I don't remember the Hammer ones well, and I'm not including the obvious losers I haven't seen). Coppola didn't get anything right, starting with Lucy and MIna, who are depicted as sluts, especially Lucy. If you go back and read the book, you discover that their early conversations are about feminism and what it means to them. They're measuring their limited scope and trying to find a way to be "New Women" without breaking from their families, communities, and expectations. Mina's got it wired, since she's got a man lined up who brings with him a Great Work to which she can devote herself as a professional. Lucy doesn't have it wired. She doesn't know what she wants to do. She's accumulated a variety of suitors (which could double as a smaller, petit-bourgeois Village People, actually. When Dracula shows up, she's having trouble choosing because they are just guys and don't come with a Great Work, and she's not devoted to finding a Great Work anyway. That's why she's more vulnerable than Mina.

Then to return to Renfield -- Coppola doesn't understand Renfield at all either. The apparatus that Renfield wears in the movie is cute and all, but that's it. Dwight Frye's Renfield in the 1931 Dracula is changed from the book too, but it's its own weird thing and I'll forgive anything with Dwight Frye in it at least long enough to catch a glimpse of the poor guy.

Finally, one of the major things that the book is about is the relationships among the men, which are deeply romantic (not erotic, I don't think, though there may be some signifying there if you want to look at it that way), through their common purpose in defending the women.

The women's stories are stories of identity and agency, and the men's stories are stories of devotion and service.

#91 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 01:36 AM:

T --

I suppose it was because the song playing when I read the lone-testicle line was "Where the Old Red River Flows," but I immediately started hearing it as a country & western song. A lament, no doubt. Very sad.


#92 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 05:21 AM:
"Stereotypical Goth top."

"Says the switch in a shirtwaist."

I'm looking forward to the cover art for that piece.

#93 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 10:48 AM:

Lucy - your description is so interesting that I have to read Dracula now.

Sadly, I doubt that the dialogue will measure up to John M. Ford's little exercise above.

#94 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 01:30 PM:

Laura: You'll probably love the first seventy or so pages. They're great.

The thing I dislike about *Dracula* is that it's an epistolary novel in which all the characters write exactly like Bram Stoker. I stopped reading seventy pages from the end.

#95 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 06:40 PM:

My favorite bad line is from The Penetrator #29: Aryan Onslaught: "For the time being, though, his mind returned to the momentary happiness he could capture. His mouth watered at the image of buttery trout, frying in a cast-iron skillet and the tender arms and satin skin of one who loved him."

#96 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 09:01 PM:

Laura - you might like this version of Dracula. It's the book in blog form. I like it and I wrote about it in one of my May columns but it's not for everyone.

Mike - that was great and I would definitely buy your proposed book.

Lucy K - you don’t think there is a strong sensual subtext between the Count and Jonathan? I quite liked your synopsis/analysis.

#97 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 03:40 AM:

There's strong sensual underthingies in every direction in the book. My own theory is that Stoker carried this story around for a long time: he put himself to bed with it: he stared outtrain windows with it: he stood in line with it: he retreated from meetings and distressing conversations with it: he drowned out annoying music with it. Sometimes he was Renfield, and sometimes he was Jonathan, and sometimes he was Mina, and sometimes he was Lucy: but he was not the Count, and he was not Van Helsing. Those were always the Other in the imagined conversation (sometimes the beloved, and sometimes the adversary, always the force to be reckoned with).

That Draculablog is magnificent. I've bookmarked it naturally! Thank you.

#98 ::: Dave Tufte ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 02:33 PM:

One Suggestion - the compendium books are great for the navigator to read out loud on long road trips.

One Memory - a runner up from the 1980s had this scene, which still enters conversation about once a month in our house. It concerned an alien spaceship commander with heartburn brought on by the anxiety of his human hostages and his hope that (I paraphrase) "the next one wouldn't scream when he peeled it before eating".

#99 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 03:10 PM:

Lucy - you're very welcome. That's an interesting insight into Van Helsing and the Count. Good food for thought, thank you.

When I was in my early teens I did a script reading for someone who had written a script where those two were even more Other. They were condemned by something to chase each other from planet to planet, always destroying and always rising again. Sadly I can't remember if it was any good or not.

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 04:15 PM:
"Stereotypical Goth top."
"Says the switch in a shirtwaist."
Funny, but I can hear those voices in my head.
#101 ::: Therese Norén ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2005, 06:43 PM:

You are all bad people, and I need to wash my brain to get rid of the gonad imagery.

I'm thinking warm water, no centrifuging.

#102 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 06:41 AM:

Her ponderous goth bottoms fwapped in stereo as she swayed into the room. My boring testicles suddenly stirred to life, like a spoon in cold coffee.

This dame could be lethal. or legal. I didn't really care which at this point anymore.

#103 ::: Elettaria ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 10:08 AM:

There's another Dracula blog here, which has over 1700 readers and gets a lot of discussion. Someone over there told me about the the little dialogue between Mina and Drac by John M. Ford, it's great! We'll probably link to it next time there's an appropriate post.

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