Tron Legacy (Film review)

First Published 03/06/2011

Summary: Sci-fi retro classic Tron gets an upgrade in its 2010 sequel Tron Legacy, but is far less contemporary than it’s 1982 original.
 

Tron: Legacy

Disney in 1982 intended for their Tron movie to be the cutting-edge special effects laden film that would take immediate advantage of the burgeoning video games arcade culture. They barely succeeded with a so-so showing at the box office. Still, for all its faults, Tron is fondly remembered.

 

In Tron: Legacy both Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprise their roles as Kevin Flynn (and also alter ego CLU) and Alan Bradley (also Tron) respectively.

 

Sam, Tron Legacy’s New Hero

The story starts with Sam (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin’s son – now grown, and a rebellious youth – attacking his father’s company ENCOM, which he owns a controlling stake in, in light of Bridge’s disappearance 20 years ago. He sashays past security and into the mainframe room where he stops the launch of a new Operating System, a program which he feels should have been released free of charge to the public in keeping with his missing father’s mantra of freely distributed software.

 

Sam manages to escape ENCOM’s building in a way that would make Batman proud, and it’s while back in his bachelor’s hovel that his father’s old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) meets him. Alan’s just received a mysterious page from Sam’s father and suggests the son go investigate. And so the story starts to pick up when he gets to an old, abandoned arcade where his father set up his office all those years ago. Sam finds a hidden room and in there sees a computer that’s attached to some sort of machine. A few keystrokes on the keyboard and the machine comes alive and he’s suddenly transported to The Grid, a virtual reality world created by his father Kevin.

 

Rinzler and CLU – The Bad Guys

He immediately encounters trouble when he’s captured for supposedly being a rogue program, and is taken to a gladiator-style game arena where he’s pitted against Rinzler, the arena’s champion. Rinzler stops short of killing him when he’s identified not as a program but a “User”. He takes Sam before CLU, the Grid’s Führer-like dictator, and a program his father Kevin created in his likeness.
 

Quorra – The Girl

CLU challenges Sam to a duel on the Grid, hoping to kill him, but Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an ally of his father’s, rescues him. She takes him to Kevin who’s now grown old and sits apart from everything, meditating, and keeping Quorra (who it turns out is a program that carries answers to mankind’s problems) from his doppelganger CLU, who has destroyed all of her race in genocidal attacks. Bridges here is a peculiar if not sometimes incongruous mix of part Jedi, part Buddhist monk, and part The Dude from The Big Lebowski – you can’t help but smile at his The Dude-like “biodigital jazz, man” comment.

He explains to his son that CLU has held him captive in the Grid all this time but that Sam’s arrival’s reopened the portal to our world. They now have to journey back with all CLU’s might and resources against them. This inevitably leads to more light-based special effects action set pieces with the Daft Punk soundtrack – which received an Oscar nomination – playing in the background.

 

Box-office

The movie won’t be remembered for its convoluted story, but manages to impress in the visual department. It’s supposedly raked in over $400 million worldwide (boxofficemojo.com) and so one can only expect that Disney will be angling for more sequels to be made.
 

DVD and Blu-ray Release

Both DVD and Blu-ray releases have a sneak peak at Disney Channel’s new animated series, Tron: Uprising, as well as a documentary on Visualising Tron. The Blu-ray release has more documentaries and a Daft Punk music video, Derezzed.
 

Who Should Buy This?

Without a question fans of the original won’t miss this new instalment. Kids just entering teenage years may also find it entertaining. For everyone else Tron Legacy may only just be worth a night from your video club, with impressive visuals and a great beat from Daft Punk.

 

Sources: Tron Legacy (DVD), Production Year: 2010, Disney, Tron Legacy (boxofficemojo.com)

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

The Crossing, the second book in Cormac McCarthy’s the Border trilogy, continues the trend of self-reflection in the aftermath of grief. All 3 books may be depressing in some instances, but this also gives them room to engage in lots of soul-searching reflection on the meaning of life.

In All the Pretty Horses we followed a young love struck protagonist into Mexico and marvelled as he made wrong decision after wrong decision as he allowed his boyish impulses guide him. For most our years of teenage rebellion pass with nothing more serious than the occasional telling off by an adult, but for John Grady his adventures lead him from prison to a stint as an outlaw trying to outrun the Mexican authorities. He is made to pay for every wrong turn instigated by his obstreperousness.

In the Crossing, however, we have a new cowboy in the shape of Billy Parham. Parham is as different from Grady as oil is from water. Both are cowboys, a dying breed in their times (around the Second World War), but where Grady only thinks with his heart and passions Parham on the contrary seems to be the level headed one, a characteristic perplexingly lost to him at the early stage of the novel when he makes a decision to go into Mexico.

Let’s backtrack for a moment and start from the beginning of the story: Billy is with his younger brother Boyd, who is more like Grady in that he is headstrong and capricious, when they meet a mysterious Indian on their way home – a humble homestead where their dad keeps horses. In a scene reminiscent of the opening of Great Expectations, the Indian asks for some food but then starts to dig for information on the family, do they have dogs out at night at their home etc. Billy is dubious but polite to the man and promises to bring him something to eat.

Meanwhile, the livestock starts to suffer when a pregnant wolf starts hunting them. Billy and his father set out to hunt the wolf with traps, but the wolf, smart as it is, evades all their attempts to catch her. Soon enough Billy goes out by himself in the middle of winter to try and eventually nabs her only to then feel pity for the animal.
It’s at this stage that he doesn’t think with his head, as I suggested earlier. Inexplicably, Billy decides to return the wolf to her home country and starts off on his journey to Mexico, crossing the border and continuing on toward the distant snow-capped mountains.
On his journey he meets with a country devastated by war where he as a white man is immediately conspicuous and is by turns both marvelled at and despised, especially by those who’ve taken up arms. On the other hand he will find with the ordinary citizenry, who’ve often found themselves displaced by all the fighting – he’ll find kindness and people who share what little food and shelter they have happily.

It’s this contrast of kindness and wickedness through his journey that makes for such a riveting story. Billy is still a teenager but has for all intents and purposes he’s adopted his captured wolf and is strongly attached to it and is highly motivated to return her to the wilderness.

He makes for a striking figure, this cowboy on a horse and leading a wolf by a rope, and then he meets with some armed men who want to buy the wolf off him. Billy refuses. By and by the wolf is stolen and Billy, still feeling a strong sense of responsibility toward the animal goes out in search for it and finds her being used roughly to entertain the locals in dogfights. The scene is brutal and Billy is helpless in the face of such callousness.

Finally he returns to America and finds his home desolate. Knowing a great tragedy has occurred he goes out in search for answers. Boyd is staying with some neighbours and he finds out that they were robbed and both his parents were killed, most likely by the Indian he and Boyd met with at the start.

Both orphans now decide to go after their father’s stolen horses. They cross the border, now Billy’s second time, and consequently come upon their horses and manage to take them back after a gunfight. Then as they start heading for home they come upon a beautiful young girl who is obviously in trouble.

Boyd convinces Billy to rescue her and together all 3 continue on. But while Boyd, recalcitrant and difficult to reason with, is enamoured by the girl, who is a revolutionary in the war, Billy is left to watch helplessly as his brother falls in love with her despite his warnings against it. Boyd is then shot through the chest by pursuing gunmen, leaving Billy to carry his dying brother on his horse in an attempt to get away.

He comes upon labourers in a truck, and when it seems his pursuers will not let up with their quest to capture he and Boyd, Billy hands over his brother to the men and rides in a different direction to lead off the gunmen.

After he shakes off their pursuers Billy comes upon a cabin where he meets a blind man and his wife. They talk about the nature of misfortune. The wife tells the story of her husband and how he came to be blinded by a vicious attack while in custody as a Prisoner of War. She goes on to say he wandered in his new darkness and came to a town where he met her, recently enduring her own misfortune and grieving for her father and brothers who were executed along with all the men in her village in a war where so many of the locals have lost so much.

She then goes on to tell of meeting a priest at the cemetery where she’s come to pay her respects and this priest discusses the unfairness of life. Just like the author of Ecclesiastes he reflects on how the wicked seemingly prosper in their wickedness, and, contrary to what is expected, also live long lives, while others die young. The priest advises her to keep her dead family in her memory for in her heart is where they should reside.

Her blind husband then speaks, and says that he believes the priest doesn’t see the whole picture and therefore his judgement is incomplete. He advises that life instead, rather than have you hold on to misfortune, actually demands you start over again. “For the world to survive it must be replenished daily. This man will be required to begin again whether he wishes to or not.”
In his third crossing over the border Billy, now fully rested from his ordeal in Mexico, goes back to look for his brother. He finds that Boyd recovered from his gunshot wound but then went on to join the revolutionary, the girl they’d rescued before, and was consequently shot dead.

Billy goes for his brother’s remains but again finds it impossible in a country much different from what he has been used to, for the locals have adopted Boyd, who they see as a freedom fighter, as their own and won’t allow his bones to be removed. In other words he now belongs to the people.

Billy, refusing to leave Boyd alone to rest in a foreign land, steals the bones from the graveyard, but is then tracked by locals who stab his horse in the chest. Here he meets kindness again in the form of a local healer who nurses the horse back to some semblance of health.
Billy returns to the United States, broken and destitute with no family and no money to speak of. It’s a different place from where he’s just come from. Now he needs money for basics where as in Mexico he was welcomed into any home, no matter how poor, to share what little they had to offer. But it’s also much safer from violent men and revolutionaries, and even as he reflects on his misfortune, probably considering the words of the blind man, whether to carry the dead in his heart or start over as life demands, he sees a dog, beat up, and not unlike the wolf that started his adventures not so long ago.

Billy shoos the dog away and is mean to it. He’s apparently changed – he will not help this poor creature like he did the wolf and be drawn into something he’ll have no control over. But change is hard and certainly in this situation not called for. He realises he’s wrong and goes out to look for the wounded dog to make amends. Upon not finding it he finally breaks down and weeps.

Chaika – The Coffin Princess

All right, so for those who read my blog you’ll have sussed out that I’m a big anime fan. However, not everything works in anime and I can see lots of people being put off if they watch the wrong kind of this wholly Japanese export. The Japanese have made this art form their own with gorgeous visuals and splendidly detailed and impressive animation for most offerings in the genre, but with it though you also find mainly cultural quirks that may not translate well to other audiences. I’ll leave you to make up your own minds for what doesn’t work for you, however, these can seriously put people off if they aren’t used to them.

I got into anime as a child with cartoons like Battle of the Planets and Voltron but it wasn’t until my teenage years when I saw titles like Akira and Fist of the North Star that I fully embraced this animation style and culture. Now you’re likely to see me watching such shows like Naruto Shippuden and Fate Zero, while mostly ignoring others like Black Bullet and Sword Art Online.

With the latter I haven’t really been able to get into it because of the story structure: having 2 or more different worlds for me doesn’t work especially if an equal amount of time is spent in both. Dualities aren’t uncommon in cinema: the Matrix, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are 2 popular titles that spring to mind. And in these 2 stories the authors dedicate more time to one world, for instance, in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe  the children leave this real world and enter a fantasy one after entering a wardrobe. A similar thing occurs in the Matrix where Neo has to choose between staying in an artificial world created by machines or wake up to the real world where his mind is unshackled from the machine A.I. In both cases one world is chosen for the characters to fully develop and explore.

With Sword Art Online it seems the authors have chosen to dedicate an equal amount of time, developing both the real and online worlds. In the end I have to ask myself why I’m to care for either. I just don’t get the stakes, why I should invest time learning about one world: the rules, its culture, its people etc. if in the end it just won’t matter since the protagonist can just log out.

With Chaika there are no dual worlds for us to get tangled with. It’s just the one world. An evil empire has been defeated and the mage overlord dismembered by heroes of the rebel army. Chaika is the mage’s daughter and she desires to collect her wizard father’s remains so she can give him a fitting burial. Five years after the war, which saw her father dethroned, and she enlists a saboteur and his sister on her mission.

Chaika is something of a wizard herself, though not too skilled, and together with her new companions they avoid capture by the authorities, who don’t want to see the start of a new revolution with the disaffected rising to the cause of the displaced princess, as they search for her father’s remains, often times having to steal or win them from other powerful characters who use the parts as a powerful source of magical fuel. And oh yeah: turns out Chaika isn’t as unique as she thinks. There are other Chaikas! And all have the same mission of appropriating the wizard’s body parts, though they all seem to have differing reasons for this.

Chaika is a very likable character. Very cute and with a unique appearance, she’s often clueless and always seems to be a thought or more behind everyone else, which puts her in precarious positions. Put her back against the wall though and she’s surprisingly resourceful and equally handy with her magic weapon – an anachronistic rifle that seems out of place given the setting is in the 1600’s. But that’s anime for you.

There are 2 seasons already and like other anime titles this one might go on for ages, which means we’ll be blessed to see her parade her naivete like armour for a while longer, as she stumbles from dangerous incident to incident and all the while giving that trademark clueless smile.

Television this Winter

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Winter is coming as Game of Thrones characters are so fond of saying and with it a whole new slew of television programs to keep you warm when the rains and snow must needs keep you locked up indoors where it’s safe and warm and where no wargs will get you.

Already, if you are in the UK, you can already enjoy Boardwalk Empire starring Steve Buscemi. You can still get seasons 1 to 4 for about 3 more weeks, and season 5 is already airing on Saturdays at 9pm on  Sky Atlantic.

Also on Sky are Scandal, Legends, and Forever, where Ioan Gruffudd is a Dorian Grey/ Sherlock Holmes hybrid (can’t go wrong with that, can you?). And a brand new season of the Walking Dead airs on Fox. If you don’t already know you can get the NOW TV Entertainment Bundle for £4.99 per month, though this figure is set to increase to £6.99 from the 16th of October. NOW TV for me is the cheapest way of getting quality TV without being tied down to a contract. Just pay monthly for an entertainment or movie package, sit back, and enjoy.

gotham

Gotham will also be airing on Channel 5 in the UK on Mondays at 9pm starting from the 13th of October. Gotham is what a Batman movie would be without Batman. But wait! just before you skip the next few lines citing disinterest I would say give it a go. It has a great cast with headliners Ben McKenzie (Southland, the O.C.), playing Jim Gordon, and Jada Pinkett Smith (the Matrix films) staring, as well as a great premise, which you can see on billboards and plastered on red buses around London: Before there was Batman there was Gotham.

As a movie it may not have worked, but as a television show it’s bound to at least be different. And hopefully they’ll stir clear of putting their villains in costume now that Bats won’t be making an appearance. Batman villains have always been the best in comic books, and the most realistic to boot, and if their more eccentric traits are downplayed in favour of realism then this could be an enjoyable detective series.

And speaking of costumes the Flash will air on Sky 1 from 28th October 2014 at 8pm.

the flash tv series

Don’t forget Tyrant on Fox, as well as all ondemand shows: Mildred Pierce on Sky Atlantic; Prison Break, Lost, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Justified also on Sky, and Homeland (without Brody) on Channel 4.

Oh yeah, then there’s Leftovers on Sky Atlantic. Nobody likes leftovers. ‘Nough said. Let me know what shows you are stocked about this winter in the comments section. Peace.

Don’t forget to enjoy Honest Trailers’ the Walking Dead below.

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The Broken Sword – Book Review

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The Myth

In C.S Lewis’ God in The Dock the author explains of myth, “…the only realities we experience are concrete – this pain, this pleasure, this dog, this man. While we are loving the man, bearing the pain, enjoying the pleasure, we are not intellectually apprehending Pleasure, Pain or Personality… You cannot study Pleasure in the moment of the nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, nor analyse the nature of humour while roaring with laughter. But when else can you really know these things?” He goes on to answer: “Of this tragic dilemma myth is the partial solution. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.

From fantasy-faction.com
From fantasy-faction.com

The fantasy genre has time and again tried to help us experience as concrete otherwise abstract ideas. Take the most popular example The Lord of the Rings and you’ll immediately see not just how fine a story it is but also what this story might be trying to teach us. There have been arguments over the years on just how these stories should be read: should they be read as mere allegories, or should they be seen as simple stories that should just be enjoyed with no intended meanings lent to them. Is Frodo for example a picture of Christ or is he just Frodo – a construct of Tolkien’s mind, a hobbit alone?

Poul Anderson: Author of The Broken Sword

Over the years different authors have had different approaches to this, some leaning towards the power of the metaphor, others just towards telling a cracking tale with no moral or social commentaries attached. The Broken Sword was one of the originals, one of the first in modern fantasy; written by Poul Anderson – born of Scandinavian parents in 1926 in Pennsylvania, America – and published in 1954.

In Anderson’s foreword (The Broken Sword, Gollancz, 2002) the author seems to describe himself more as a historian, who won’t judge the truth or falsity of the tales he sets down, and less as a scientist or philosopher.

Anderson comments, “This is frankly a romance, a story of admittedly impossible events and completely non-existent places. Whether or not it is true must be settled by those scientists who argue the reliability of the annals of the faerie and those philosophers who are trying to settle what truth itself may be… For the benefit of the curious, however, it should be remarked that such parts of the story as deal with purely human beings are as accurate as the scanty records permit.

The authors of fantasy themselves may differ in their approaches to this genre and so inevitably will their readers. Whether you think fantasy tales should just simply be enjoyed as stories with no intellectual aspirations or you prefer to ponder deeper and regard them as allegories on life, stories like The Broken Sword will continue to entertain us for years to come.

The Story of The Broken Sword

Orm the Strong is fifth son of a great landowner. He decides early on to leave his inheritance to his brothers to prevent dividing their father’s sizable property. Orm instead goes out to look for his own fortune, saying to his brothers, “I will not be fifth man at the rudder, and so I will make you this offer: give me three ships, and outfit them, and supply arms to all who will follow me, and I will find my own land and quit all claim on our father’s.” (The Broken Sword, 2002, Gollancz)

He sets out, conquering at sea and acquiring more ships and more men to sail with him. Then he finally heads to land to seek a place of his own. The reckless Orm surrounds an Englander’s dwelling and burns it, killing the man, his brother’s and most of his household. But the Englander’s mother is a witch and survives the tragedy. She lays a curse on Orm that “his eldest son should be fostered beyond the world of men, while Orm should in turn foster a wolf that would one day rend him.” (The Broken Sword, 2002, Gollancz)

And so the story goes on to see Imric the elf-earl steal Orm’s newborn after spying the child suckling at his mother’s breast. To cover his tracks and prevent any from knowing what he’s done the elf-earl has a child of his own with a captured troll and replaces the human child with the changeling. The changeling looks exactly like Orm’s true son and no one notices the crime. He is called Valgard while Imric’s new foster child goes by the name Scafloc.

They both grow up to be powerful warriors, but while Scafloc does well with his new elf family Valgard is always ill tempered, and hated by everyone except Orm who overlooks his violence.

When the witch sees that Orm’s true son, Scafloc (now fostered by the elves), is prospering with Imric the elf-earl she decides to take her vengeance further. From his hunting, she lures Orm’s second son Ketil into a secluded house in the middle of a forest where she bewitches him with her love. Meanwhile his family begin to get worried when he doesn’t come back home and send out parties to look for him. Valgard, his brother (not his real one), preferring to work alone goes out in search on his own. He finds Ketil with a beautiful woman (the witch in disguise) and jealousy makes him want her for himself. They fight and Valgard comes off the better, burying his axe in his younger brother’s head.

He is in despair after he comes to his senses and hides the body. He goes back home and says to everyone that his search was fruitless. But Asmund, the last of Orm’s sons, does not believe him and goes in search himself. He discovers his brother’s body and brings it back home where he accuses Valgard of the murder.

Valgard kills him and when Orm moves in to avenge both his sons’ deaths Valgard also kills him. He then flees back into the forest to be with the witch, since now he has become a vagabond with no friends and family.

Now the witch reveals her true nature and also who Valgard really is – that he is the true son of the elf-earl, Imric, who substituted him for Orm’s real child, Scafloc. Enraged, Orm wants to kill her, but she convinces him to turn his rage instead on everyone else – on Orm’s family, because as it turns out they aren’t his real family anyway, and on the elves for using him the way they did. She then sets Valgard on a journey to make an alliance with the trolls who are enemies of the elves. It is in this alliance that he’ll find strength to destroy his enemies.

With nothing but sadness and bitterness in his heart concerning how he’s been used, Valgard takes the witch’s advice to see the trolls for an alliance. But first he must take the troll king, Illrede, gifts. He decides to use his sisters, Orm’s last 2 children, Asgerd and Freda, reasoning that they aren’t his real sisters anyway. He kidnaps them, killing the rest of Orm’s household, except his adopted mother, Aelfrida, Orm’s now widowed wife.

Valgard takes both his sisters to the troll King but then Scafloc, foster of the elves, attacks the troll stronghold – it’s just a routine campaign and a coincidence (one orchestrated by the hateful witch who cursed Orm) that he should attack the same place his sisters are being held.

During their escape Asgerd dies and thus Freda becomes the last (so she thinks) of Orm’s children. But she falls in love with her rescuer, Scafloc, and he seems to ameliorate her otherwise tumultuous life. And so the witch’s diabolical plan starts to reap its fruit at the union of Orm’s children.

 Tyrfing, The Broken Sword of Jötunheim

The trolls, meanwhile, make alliances with other races: dwarfs, imps, goblins, and winged demons from Baikal, and amass a force against the elves. Scafloc and his new love, Freda, thus find themselves in the middle of a great war. The elves are all but conquered and Imric captured and put in chains while Scafloc has no other option but to go into exile with Freda, leaving his doppelganger, Valgard, to reign over his captured lands.

Then Scafloc decides to use a sword that’s in the middle of the war between the Aesir and Jötun – mythical Norse gods. Tyrfing is that sword and it will turn the tables on the trolls. But the sword is evil and it is broken. So Scafloc sets out to Jötunheim, to the ice giant Bölverk who forged it. Bölverk repairs the sword but warns that the sword must draw blood whenever it’s unsheathed. So Scafloc sets back out to reclaim elf land.

Both he and Freda discover their true relationship as brother and sister, not husband and wife, and Freda, already overly burdened with the death of her family, flees from him. Scafloc, embittered, then engages in a bitter war against the trolls to reclaim all elf lands. He drives the trolls out of the land, in the process killing the troll king, Illrede, and setting his impaled head as his army’s standard.

In the final battle he surrounds Elfheugh, the last bastion of the troll’s defence in elf land, and confronts his dark double, the changeling, Valgard. This sets the scene for the final tragedy to be played out and the witch’s vengeance to be completed.

 Fans of Fantasy

Veterans of Fantasy will want to read this if they haven’t already, and it will also be a good one for newbies who may have finished Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicle of Narnia series and want some more books to read in this exciting genre. According to Michael Moorcock it’s “One of the most influential fantasy novels I ever read.” You can’t go far wrong if you add this to your reading list.

Sources: The Broken Sword (Poul Anderson, 2002, Gollancz. Originally published in 1954), God in The Dock (C.S. Lewis, 1971, Geoffrey Bles, London, This edition by Fount Paperbacks), The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R Tolkien), The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
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The Story of African Independence – Tunisia and Morocco

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We dealt with Algeria in our last look at the Maghreb. Now we’ll look at Tunisia and Morocco – the 2 other countries in the region –  before rejoining Algeria’s tumultuous independence story in our conclusion.

Both Tunisia and Morocco were run as protectorates and were not as important to the French government who would always consider Algeria a part of France.

Muhammad VIII al-Amin, The Bey of Tunisia
Muhammad VIII al-Amin, The Bey of Tunisia

Under International treaty the French still kept the Bey of Tunisia and the Sultan of Morocco. Technically the French had resident generals (and not governors general) who were supposed to be attached to the courts of these leaders at their pleasure. In reality though the French ruled and these leaders were more of figureheads.

The Sultan of Morocco came into power when he was 17 and the French assumed he would be easy to control. But contrary to their expectations he was actually a devoted follower of Islam and incurred the wrath of the colonists when he voiced support for the nationalists. Furthermore, he would refuse to sign French decrees, which then put the government in deadlock, because his signature was still needed before anything could be done.

Sultan of Morocco, TIME cover April 1957
Sultan of Morocco, Mohammed V, TIME cover April 1957

The French then stirred dissension among his rivals and encouraged them to protest the Sultan. Under pretext of all the upheaval caused the Sultan was exiled and his uncle put in his place. But this only granted him cult-status among his people and united everyone against the pieds noirs.

Meanwhile in Tunisia, the Bey was a very eccentric figure, and rather than get involved with politics and the nationalists’ call for independence he would spend time with his clocks and with alchemy sets in his lab. A revolution of ideas was thus never going to come from him. Instead it came from a powerful middle class movement led by Habib Bourguiba, a lawyer who trained in Paris and who was married to a Frenchwoman.

Bourguiba and JFK
Bourguiba and JFK

So struggle in both Tunisia and Morocco was on 2 fronts – the nationalists wanted independence, but the white pieds noirs wanted representation in government, which their Algerian counterparts enjoyed. The numbers of the colons were also growing, though in no way as large as in Algeria.

By the 50’s internal struggle from militant nationalists prompted the French to cut their losses in favour of concentrating efforts to keep Algeria at all costs.

Morocco and Tunisia were granted independence in March 1956 and the Sultan reinstated and formally recognised as His Majesty Mohammed V.

For Algeria the country was to endure 6 more years of civil war, as the French would be ever reluctant to abandon all their investment in the country.

The pieds noirs in Algeria pressured the French government into increasing the troops in Algeria to 500,000. Also, in a breach of international law, they captured Ben Bella.

Ben Bella had been getting support from Mohammed V but was also open to negotiations. He was supposed to get a ride back to Cairo in the Sultan’s private plane but in the end had to take a commercial plane because there was no space in the Sultan’s jet. The French got wind of this and forced his plane down and arrested him. He would spend 5 years without trial in French jails.

The Sultan was infuriated and this pushed both he and Bourguiba of Tunisia more towards helping and arming the FLN.

In 1957 the FLN changed its focus of rural warfare to an urban war in the city of Algiers. Many died in assassinations and bombings and the pied noirs then retaliated in kind killing many Muslims.

Acknowledging the deteriorating state of affairs in his country the governor-general, Robert Lacoste, effectively handed over power to the military.

Now under the command of one General Jacques Massu, a veteran combat officer, new regiments of paratroops were moved in from France, and Algeria effectively became a police state.

General Massu
General Massu

Muslim areas were cordoned off with barbed wire and subjected to searchlights, and became more like a prisoner of war camp – the kind reminiscent during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.

In his letter of resignation the Algiers police secretary-general, Paul Teitgen, condemned the torture used by the military, comparing it to the methods he’d suffered as a prisoner of the Gestapo during World War 2.

The gégène became a favoured method of torture with the military and referred to generators that delivered electric shocks to prisoners. Another much used method of torture was mock drowning. It is estimated that more than 3,000 Muslims went missing during that time.

International outcry on the situation grew steadily but the French now had yet another reason to remain in Algeria: oil, and by 1958 the first exports started to head for France.

Meanwhile the FLN effectively had been driven out of Algeria and made their new base in Bourguiba’s Tunisia. But the military set up a system of barrages – electrified wire fences, minefields, and radar that covered the border and made infiltration impossible. The FLN duly reported loses of over 6,000 men to the barrages.

While the military may have been successful in Algeria in mainland France there was so much suspicion, which led in the end to the fall of Guy Mollet’s government in May 1957. France went without a government for 22 days. In October and November there was again no government for 35 days.

As the politicians struggled to get their act together a leading candidate for leadership, Pierre Pflimlin, announced that if elected he would open up talks with the FLN.

In Algeria General Raoul Salan, the commander-in-chief in Algeria heard of this and was quick to criticize and threaten that the army wouldn’t stand for it. The army was at this stage getting more and more disenfranchised by the French politicians and were still angry about humiliating defeats in Indo-China and the Suez Canal backtrack from international pressure. They were determined then that Algeria remain a part of France.

General Raoul Salan
General Raoul Salan

The FLN then announced it had captured 3 French soldiers and would execute them in retaliation for executed FLN officers.

Outraged the pieds noirs, led by students, staged riots and took over the government offices in Algiers and demanded the military take over. Appearing in the balcony, Salan and Massu agreed to form a committee of public safety with pieds noirs representatives.

Finally forced into action by all the riots Pflimlin was voted into office and imposed a blockade of Algeria

In Algiers, the new Committee of Public Safety now demanded a return to power of the legendary wartime leader of the Free French, General Charles de Gaulle.

By 1 June, after 2 weeks of coup plots and tense negotiations, de Gaulle became French Minister. By 4 June he’d visited Algeria where he told the pieds noirs, “I have understood you!”

Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill
Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill

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All the Pretty Horses (Book Review)

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Warning! This is a story of exhilarating and dangerous puppy love: John Grady Cole is sixteen and a cowboy who knows and loves horses. Grady’s grandfather dies and the ranch he was born on is to be sold.

Grady decides he’d rather be a cowboy in the wilds of Mexico where he can continue to work with horses than go into the city to look for work. Without saying goodbye to his dad, who’s sick, possibly from lung cancer, Grady leaves with his best friend Lacey Rawlins who’s just one year older than he is.

Together they leave the United States and cross into Mexico where they marvel at the beauty and wildness of the untamed countryside. As they ride they are soon aware that they’re being followed. They try to shake their tail, but whoever it is he’s persistent and he won’t give up the chase.

Finally, they get down from their horses and lay in wait for their pursuer only to discover a kid – just 13 years at most. His name’s Jimmy Belvins and he’s riding a handsome bay horse, which they guess must be stolen. Belvins swears it’s not, that the horse is well and truly his.

However, Rawlins has a dark portent of what allowing this child to accompany them might actually mean for them in the end and he doesn’t hide his distaste for the kid who also just happens to be a marvellous shot with a colt gun that also seems (along with the horse) to be too fine a thing for him to own and which he also insists he did not steal.

They continue to travel south and run into a severe storm that leaves the Belvins kid shell-shocked. Stripping down to the skin he runs in the rain insisting he has bad luck with storms and that he’s sure to be struck by lightning. He runs off and they continue on alone.

When the storm passes they find Belvins limping with only one shoe on. The horse, it turns out, ran away with his things and his gun. Belvins begs them to go into town to search for his property. Rawlins has a bad idea about that plan. Something about the kid just doesn’t add up. But Grady decides they should help and together they go into town. Sure enough Belvins finds his horse, which is now in the hands of somebody else, and with no way to prove it’s his horse.

Impatient, and against advice, Belvins steals the horse back. They all ride out with the men of the town in hot pursuit. Finally Belvins insists on separating from the other two to throw their pursuers off. He rides off leaving them alone. For the moment it seems fate has finally removed him from their lives.

Grady and Rawlins head further south where they come upon a hacienda and get a meal and ingratiate themselves with the owner of the Ranch, a Mexican aristocrat, Don Hector, when Grady shows him how good he is with horses. Don Hector is impressed by Grady’s understanding of horses and makes him a breeder and sets him to breeding some wild horses.

But Grady falls in love with the aristocrat’s beautiful daughter, Alejandra, and they both start an affair. Meanwhile, Alejandra’s grandaunt, Alfonsa, becomes aware of the affair and summons Grady to her quarters.

They dine together where she reveals her past to him, that she also was wild and untamed like Alejandra and was also a romantic and also fell in love with the wrong man – a Mexican revolutionary who fought during the civil war. She cautions him: falling in love with the wrong man in Mexico is an unforgivable act. Her family had prevented her own marriage to her lover and rather than sympathise with her great niece she’ll instead oppose their union.

Grady, though, is completely enamoured by Alejandra and can’t break himself free from her enchantment. Rawlins, meanwhile, begs Grady to get over his infatuation, there’ll be no good to come of it. But Grady is unable to, and refuses to forget about her.

Don Hector, when made aware of his daughter’s salacious rendezvous with his employer, takes Grady out among the horses and for a moment it looks like he’ll take matters into his own hands and kill the young man. In the end he relents and opts instead to hand him over to the corrupt the Mexican authorities who take both Grady and Rawlins away to prison where they’re tortured.

In the prison they’re reunited with Belvins. He also has been severely tortured and it seems his spirit has been broken. After he’d left them it turns out he went back to the town to get back his colt gun and was captured, but not before killing a man.

The captain of the unit, an amoral man known as Raul, tells the young men that the only way for them to get out of their predicament is with a bribe. Seeing that they are American he assumes he’ll make a killing from getting them, or their families back in America, to pay for their freedom.

Grady and Rawlins, both broke themselves, tell the captain that they have no money and that they come from poor homes back in America and no one will be able to pay a ransom for them.

Raul is unimpressed by their protestations and decides to move them to a bigger prison where the hardships there are likely to cause them to rethink their position on bribing him. On the journey to the prison the company stops to rest at an abandoned ranch. Raul has taken a bribe from a relative of the man Belvins killed and both Grady and Rawlins watch on helplessly as the young boy is taken away and shot dead.

Their journey ends at the prison, which is a no-holds-barred-free-for-all cesspit of the worst criminals Mexico has to offer. Grady and Rawlins stay together, but are harried and beaten severely over their first few days there. And just as they would give up hope they’re summoned by Perez, a wealthy and influential prisoner who advises that money is the only thing likely to save their lives. They refuse to pay him for their lives.

Then Rawlins is stabbed – presumable on Perez’s orders – and he’s dragged off immediately so that Grady doesn’t even know if he’s alive or dead. It seems the whole prison has their eyes set on killing both Americans. Now Grady knows it’s his turn and he steels himself for the inevitable encounter with death, which seems to be on every corner of that godforsaken place.

Grady acquires a shiv as a weapon. When the attack finally comes he’s in the cafeteria. Grady barely survives the brutal encounter and manages to kill the assassin. He’s taken to the prison hospital to recuperate where he’s reunited with Rawlins who it turns out is still alive.

As they recover from their wounds they both agonize over going back where their chances of surviving for a second time will most certainly be unlikely. Then they’re released suddenly and are left to ponder why.

Grady can guess who was responsible for paying for their release. Still stubborn, and still hopelessly in love, he makes up his mind to go back to the hacienda. Rawlins for his part has had his fill of their Mexican adventure and though it pains him he can’t continue on with his friend – he’s simply had enough.

Grady heads back for the ranch where he confronts Alfonsa. As he’d suspected it was she who’d paid for their release, but only after Alejandra had begged her and only on condition she never see John Grady Cole again.

Angry, Grady leaves in search for Alejandra. When he finds her they spend one more passionate night together, but that will be the last time they are together. Alejandra can’t or won’t leave her family. Her aunty and father’s hold on her is too strong and she refuses to run away with Grady.

Left alone and with nothing left to lose Grady goes back in search of his horses and maybe a little retribution for his suffering. His, Belvins, and Rawlins’ horses are with the captain and his men. Grady confronts him, and after a shootout in which he’s shot he takes the captain prisoner, and then he’s chased across the Mexican countryside.

Grady considers killing the captain for the things he and Rawlins were made to suffer and for killing Belvins and just to be rid of him to make his escape easier, but in the end he doesn’t, and he comes upon some Mexicans who take the captain off his hands as their prisoner.

Grady is now free to return to Texas where he searches for Belvins’ family to return his horse. But no one knows Belvins and no one will take ownership of the horse. Then some men claim the horse is theirs and it was stolen from them. Grady is arrested and when he consequently stands trial he recounts his incredible story and everyone in court is mesmerised by the telling of his adventure.

Finally, the judge, who can’t believe anyone could fabricate such a story, rules in his favour and the horse is given back to him. Grady, though, can’t shake off all the evil that’s been done to him and that he himself has also done and seeks restitution. He goes back to the judge, this time seeking him in his house. They speak.

The judge asks him if anything he said in court was the truth and Grady confirms everything he’d told was the truth to which the judge consoles the young man:

Son, he said, you strike me as someone that maybe tends to be a little hard on theirselves. I think from what you told me you done real well to get out of there with a whole hide. Maybe the best thing to do might be just to go on and put it behind you. My daddy used to tell me not to chew on something that was eatin you.

Yessir.

There’s somethin else, ain’t there?

Yessir.

What is it?

When I was in the penitentiary down there I killed a boy.

The judge sat back in his chair. Well, he said. I’m sorry to hear that.

It keeps botherin me.

You must have had some provocation.

I did. But it don’t help. He tried to kill me with a knife. I just happened to get the best of him.

Grady leaves and resumes his search for Belvins’ horse’s owner. When he still doesn’t find the rightful owner he goes back to his own town and is reunited temporarily with Rawlins who confirms Grady’s dad is dead. Grady says he figured this was so as he had a premonition.

The last lines of the novel show Grady attending the funeral of one of his family’s lifelong employees. It seems all that would tie him to this country is now gone. As he’d said earlier when Rawlins had tried to convince him to stay, saying, “this is still good country.” Grady had replied, “Yeah. I know it is. But it ain’t my country.”

Then, riding on Belvins’ horse, he just goes on.

Style

The style is consistent with other McCarthy novels: the omission of quotation marks, the distinctive Southern American slang, and the use of polysyndetons, that is the repetitive use of conjunctions in a sentence.

Themes

Again, in keeping with McCarthy’s style, there is a deeply religious subtext and discussions of sin and wickedness. As with his other works it almost seems as if bad things happen to people until they take responsibilities for their bad actions. These themes are, however, not given as primary a role as other novels – the primary thing here is the romance between Grady and Alejandra.

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