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Kimba the White Lion

7 Jul

With the pending release of the ‘live-action’ remake of Disney’s animated classic The Lion King, now is perhaps the perfect time to look at one of the strangest controversies ever to follow a Disney cartoon. At the time of its release, The Lion King was a unique production from Disney. It was the first animated film from the studio to feature an original story created by its team of writers. Over the years, however, this claim has faced several credible challenges from the Japanese anime, Kimba, The White Lion, made in 1965. That cartoon, about African wildlife, was based on a Manga comic called Jungle Emperor Leo by animator Osamu Tezuka. Whether Disney was inspired by Kimba isn’t the problem here; rather, it’s that Disney has long asserted that The Lion King was its first original animated film, and that it’s never heard of Jungle Emperor Leo or Tezuka. When you see the side-by-side glimpses afforded by YouTube it’s pretty impossible not to see the similarities, whether it be in the characters themselves, the design flourishes, or even specific shots. Yes, Kimba’s dad dies by drowning rather than wildebeest stampede, but his clamber up the rock wall and denial of saving by the story’s nefarious antagonist still looks familiar. Obviously, this isn’t a cry to disavow The Lion King or any such thing; it’s still a great film. But this may be one controversy that merits a closer look – after all, it was even once parodied, famously, in an episode of The Simpsons (you remember: the one where Mufasa appears in the clouds, bidding Lisa to “avenge my death, Kimba—I mean, Simba”)!

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An Interview with William Horwood

19 Feb

I’m delighted to post today an exclusive interview I recently conducted with William Horwood, author of the Duncton Wood series. Dedicated followers of this blog will be well aware of the high regard in which I hold William and his Duncton novels in particular, so it was a real pleasure to chat with him about a range of topics, including what got him into writing in the first place, inspirations for his work, the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of being a writer and, perhaps most interestingly, the potential forthcoming re-publication of the Duncton novels with Unbound, an award-winning crowdfunding publishing company. As you’ll see from the interview William was very open and incredibly generous with his time, giving answers that were sincere, full, interesting and, often, quite amusing! Read on for more…

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The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

17 Jul

For almost the whole of his life, Kenneth Grahame’s first love was ‘the cool and secluded reaches of the Thames, the stripling Thames, remote and dragonfly-haunted’ – in short, that section of the river between Streatley in the west and Windsor Castle in the east, which he first came to from Edinburgh, in sadness, as a boy of nearly five. Grahame was grieving for his mother, who had just died from scarlet fever and for his father who, broken-hearted, had fled abroad to live by himself. Kenneth, his two elder siblings and his younger brother Roland were taken in by their grandmother at a large house called The Mount, situated on the banks of the Thames at Cookham Dene. Henceforth, Grahame’s happiest childhood days would be spent playing about on the river, sometimes ‘messing about in boats’ though more often on foot, so that he came to know the life of the river banks intimately. At first it was a new and unusual world to this city boy, whose knowledge of meadows and rivers was as limited as if he had spent his whole life underground. But soon came the awakening of his interest in boats, and the love that every country child has for long summer days and the woods under winter snow. Many commentators have spoken of literary creativity arising from some terrible loss in an author’s life. Whatever it was, as a result, Kenneth found the need to daydream, and many of his dreams are re-created in that bedtime idyll of a pastoral England, already disappearing in Edwardian times, The Wind in the Willows.

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Kine: Saga of a Secret World

12 Oct

A R Lloyd’s saga of Kine is a little known but utterly bewitching trilogy of animal fantasy novels, written very much in the epic, heartwarming and unforgettable tradition of Watership Down and Duncton Wood. The word ‘Kine’ comes from an Old English word for weasel and Lloyd’s books chronicle the life of a wild least weasel named Kine. One of the smallest predators in the world the least weasel is, despite its size, a fierce hunter, capable of killing fully-grown rabbits, as well as larger prey 5-10 times its own weight. As such, Lloyd’s story is not in any way cute or fluffy – the weasel is realistically depicted as a solitary predator, the natural world around him red in tooth and claw. This is perhaps unsurprising given Lloyd’s background growing up in rural Kent with the largely unspoilt English countryside all around him, complete with all its wild creatures. Indeed, the countryside is as much a character in the Kine saga as the eponymous weasel himself. Lloyd depicts a hidden world, where solitary creatures prowl secret paths and hedgerows, and whiskered legions gather for battle. This is the lost realm of the least weasel – enter it at your peril…

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In the Company of Wolves

20 Jul

The wolf has always been a creature of legend and romance, of all animals one of the most invoked, celebrated and feared. In the Dark Ages, kings offered rewards, or pardons for wrongdoings, to those who collected sacks of wolves’ tongues. January, the leanest and harshest time of year, was known as ‘wolf-month’. Saxons and Danes used the word ‘wolf’ as part of the personal names of warriors and leaders, such as Aethelwulf or Cynewulf. A wolf was associated with St Edmund, the 10th century East Anglian king and martyr, who was for long the unofficial patron saint of the English. It was said to have guarded his head and helped monks and the king’s followers to find it. Despite this, the wolf was usually reviled by church scribes, carvers and illuminators. It is depicted as a sly and slinking beast, and as a symbol of evil and sin. But its fierceness and prowess was also acknowledged. Medieval lords took the wolf as their emblem in heraldry, while outlaws and renegades might be likened to wolves, and relish the comparison. As fairy tales began to be fashioned out of traditional and courtly fabric from the 18th century onwards, the wolf’s loping form was seldom far away. Little Red Riding Hood was by no means the only tale to feature a Big Bad Wolf. Wolves, along with ruined abbeys or castles, saturnine villains, immurement, phantoms, graveyards, decay and wronged heroines, were also very much part of the macabre landscape of the Gothic novel in the early 19th century. To begin with, wolves were also traditionally given the role of villains in fantasy literature; examples include J R R Tolkien’s White Wolves, who terrorised the Shire during an exceptionally cold winter, and the Wargs that are in league with the Orcs, in addition to Maugrim of C S Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. More recently, however, wolves have increasingly been given the role of heroes in fantasy fiction. Any journey into the fictional realm of the wolf therefore invokes no little trepidation, as well as excitement, in the heart of any reader.

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Watership Down

26 Dec

There is a long and proud tradition in fantasy of anthropomorphically presented animals having epic adventures that are usually reserved for more standard (human) archetypes, like warriors and wizards. Whilst Watership Down is perhaps the most famous example of this fantasy sub-genre, Richard Adams’ novel is by no means on its own. Greatly influenced by Adams’ work was William Horwood’s equally epic Duncton Chronicles, the story of a mole kingdom almost as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, as well as a number of lesser known works like A R Lloyd’s Kine Saga, a heroic fantasy trilogy which charts the life and struggles of a weasel named Kine. Despite its many qualities, a lot of fantasy readers tend to be put off even by the thought of reading Richard Adams’ bunny-centric epic, perhaps imagining that any book that involves talking rabbits must be for children. However, Watership Down rarely fails to win the love and respect of readers, regardless of age, because like most great novels, it is a rich story that can be read (and re-read) on many different levels. The book is often praised for its many thought-provoking themes but also it’s equally praiseworthy as just a corking good adventure.

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