N is for The Neverending Story, the timeless fantasy story by Michael Ende. It was first published in the original German in 1979 and later translated into over 30 languages. Part of the story (roughly the first half) was turned into a film; Ende actually sued the filmmakers for using the book’s name without adapting all of it, but lost the lawsuit. Two more films were made, but did not follow the book too closely, only using some of its characters and drastically changing story elements. I won’t go into the films here; as an aspiring writer, the book is of much more interest to me.
One of the things that makes the book unique is the lengths Ende went to in order to have the book published the way he’d imagined it. I mentioned in my A to Z Challenge post on the topic of chapters the fancy artwork (by Roswitha Quadflieg) at the start of each of the 26 chapters, where an entire page is taken up by the drop cap for each letter in the alphabet from A to Z.
But wait, there’s more! This fantasy story is set in both our “real” world and “Fantastica” (the original German name “Phantásien” sounds much better to me, I don’t know why but can only guess that they couldn’t use “Phantasia” for copyright reasons), and, to emphasise when the story switches from one to the other, they are actually in different colours – red for the “normal” world, and blue-green for the world inside the book which the main character reads and into which he is drawn more and more as the story progresses.
There is also fancy scrollwork at the top of each numbered page and there are fancy fonts for chapter titles, including within the chapter body.
At the very beginning of the prologue, there is a mirror image of the inscription of the glass door of the antiquity store in which the story begins.
In short, the book itself, even ignoring the content, is a minor work of art. The story was written with children in mind (although Ende complained that he was being pidgeon-holed as a “children’s book author” while many other books received less attention), but also contains many lessons for adults. Another one I’ve added to my growing “must re-read pile”.
M is for Marvin, the Paranoid Android. If you remember my post on Douglas Adams for the A to Z Challenge on “D”, I mentioned that Marvin was worth a separate blog entry. Marvin is one of the (if not the) best characters created by Douglas Adams. Whether he’s complaining of “this terrible pain” in the diodes down his left-hand side, explaining his view of the universe to a computer (which then goes off to commit suicide), or solving all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the universe (three times), he’s always ready with a cheerful comment.
Based on a fellow comedy writer, Andrew Marshall, whom Adams met at Cambridge, as well as on himself, Marvin appears in various places throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. In the 2005 film, Alan Rickman voiced the character to perfection.
Here are just a few wonderful comments and snippets of Marvin’s joyful existence:
“It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”
“Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction?”
Marvin calculated to ten significant decimal places the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy.
[After being left in a parking lot for 500 million years due to time travel] “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million years, they were the worst, too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into sort of a decline.”
“You watch this door. It’s about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates.”
“Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I’m standing?”
“Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. Why stop now just when I’m hating it?”
“I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.” [Zem replies, “Er, five.”] “Wrong. You see?”
In a fit of boredom (after solving the universe’s problems several times over), he decides to compose a lullaby:
Now the world has gone to bed,
Darkness won’t engulf my head,
I can see in infrared,
How I hate the night.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
Try to count electric sheep,
Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
How I hate the night.
Another one of my favourites is from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Marvin is left behind (while the humans escape a tall building) to stop a “gigantic black tank”, heavily armoured and with weapons of enormous destructive power. When told that Marvin is there to stop it, the tank becomes suspicious and tries to figure out what mighty weapon Marvin is equipped with to make humans think he could stop the tank. After several wrong guesses, Marvin finally decides to tell the tank.
“You’re thinking along the wrong lines,” said Marvin. “You’re failing to take into account something fairly basic in the relationship between men and robots. […] Just think,” urged Marvin, “they left me, an ordinary, menial robot, to stop you, a gigantic heavy-duty battle machine, whilst they ran off to save themselves. What do you think they would leave me with? […] I’ll tell you what they gave me to protect myself with, shall I?”
“Yes, all right,” said the battle machine, bracing itself.
“Nothing,” said Marvin.
“Nothing?” roared the battle machine.
“Nothing at all,” intoned Marvin dismally, “not an electronic sausage.”
The machine heaved about with fury.”
“Well, doesn’t that just take the biscuit!” it roared. “Nothing, eh? Just don’t think, do they?”
“And me,” said Marvin in a soft low voice, “with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.”
“Hell that makes me angry,” bellowed the machine, “think I’ll smash that wall down!”
The electron ram stabbed out another searing blaze of light and took out the wall next to the machine.
“How do you think I feel?” said Marvin bitterly.
“Just ran off and left you, did they?” the machine thundered.
“Yes,” said Marvin.
“I think I’ll shoot down their bloody ceiling as well!” raged the tank.
It took out the ceiling of the bridge.
“That’s very impressive,” murmured Marvin.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” promised the machine, “I can take out this floor too, no trouble!”
It took out the floor, too.
“Hell’s bells!” the machine roared as it plummeted fifteen storeys and smashed itself to bits on the ground below.
“What a depressingly stupid machine,” said Marvin and trudged away.
Due to several cases of time travel, Marvin finally dies in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish at approximately 37 times the age of the universe. His last words are, “I think I feel good about it.”
R.I.P. (Rust In Pieces) Marvin.
In the original radio series, the character was meant to be a “minor joke”, but since they’d hired a voice actor for it, he “had to” write some occasional script for him. Another wonderful case of a writer’s characters taking on a life of their own.