Cool Things: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Welcome to the merry month of May! For a while we’ve been looking at some old, black and white movies that are still worth the watching today. There’s still plenty of those out there, and I’m sure we’ll go back and look at them in time, there are a number of older movies, that you may not have heard of, which have been disqualified simply because they were shot in color. Well no more! This month we’re going to look at four great old movies that just so happen to have been made after the transition to color cinematography. Our first example is thematically appropriate in two ways!

The Adventures of Robin Hood is, in my mind, the definitive version of the legend. Why?

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. Basil Rathebone as Guy of Gisborne. Claude Raines as Prince John! Some of the greatest large scale battle sequences outside Cecile B. DeMille before the starfighter sequences of Star Wars. This film practically oozes with talent and creativity, even as it breaks absolutely no new ground in terms of plot or story.

If you know anything about Robin Hood you already know the basics of this tale. The Good King is in exile, the Evil Prince oppresses the people, the Hero arises and fights the injustice. Hero gets caught but is saved with the help of the Heroine. In the end, the Good King returns and justice is done. It’s not The Downfall of The Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King because not all struggles are on that scale. Sometimes evil is petty and mean and transient and we wonder not if it will ever pass, but why it’s come right now and why it won’t leave us alone.

This movie shines in the strength of the actors. Everyone, from Much the Miller’s Son and Friar Tuck to the nameless knights at Prince John’s table, is given a solid reading. Even the cheesier lines are heartfelt. Flynn is swashbuckling incarnate, even more so than his Zorro counterpart, Tyrone Power. And Rathebone… he’s everything you could ever want in a villain. A razor sharp spring waiting to explode out and slash through anything that gets in his way.

They fight, of course. I could talk about it for hours, but it’d be better if you watched it for yourself.

The next best thing, after the actors, is the eye candy. The costume work, outdoor locations and all the set pieces in this movie are beautiful. Technicolor was a new technology at the time and the images don’t really have the same quality as modern day cameras would provide but even now it’s still beautiful. It’s almost like a watercolor painting brought to life.

Most importantly, it’s fun. Lots of fun. Sure, this story has it’s dark moments. All the good stories do – how could the joy at the end be as joyful if there weren’t a few dark times along the way? But it’s still more than worth it.

There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen somewhere else. But rarely will you see it like in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Check it out.

Water Fall: Swept Away

One Week, One Day After the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Circuit

To say that Hangman was struck speechless wouldn’t be exactly true, but she did sputter helplessly for a second before snarling, “Dad wants me to come home? Did you come all the way here just to tell me that? Because I thought pastors weren’t supposed to lie.”

“No one’s supposed to lie.” He rested a hand on the railing of the catwalk and eased himself down to the floor, sitting cross-legged and looking very out of place, like a Cub Scout leader had decided to burn holes in his clothes with a six thousand volt current then strap on body armor before campfire. “I have a daughter – three, actually – and I know how I would act if one was missing and I wanted her home. Not eating, sleeping badly, losing focus constantly at work – your father has been acting exactly that way. I wouldn’t have come out of retirement if I didn’t think he was sincere when he asked me to. Especially not with all the hassle my wife has given me over it.”

She snorted. “Mom put him up to it. He wouldn’t have asked you on his own. You think I’ll just waltz out of here with you? Do you think it will be that simple?”

“Not after what I heard you saying a minute ago,” he said with a shrug. “But I know a lot about falling in with a bad crowd and I know it’s not the end, Elizabeth.”

“Forget it.” She put a hand on a pistol I hadn’t noticed on her hip. “I’m not going back. You didn’t really expect to come in here and rescue the screaming girl, did you? Because it’s not going to happen.”

Samson sighed. “You know, when all that time went past and there was no demands… I’d wondered. What you might be doing.”

“What do you care?” Hangman demanded.

His expression hardened, ever so slightly. “Calm down, you. I’ve been the angry kid, too. You think no one understands or should try to understand, least of all your parents.” He spread his hands. “But before I work for the government I serve a carpenter from Nazareth who was sent to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. I know homes aren’t perfect. I have three daughters and I’ve never been the father to them that I should be. I’m here talking to you instead of picking up one from a chess tournament. But things can be better. Won’t you try? For yourself, if for no one else? You’ll regret it if you never do.”

“I said-”

I put my hand on Hangman’s shoulder. “Don’t answer. Not yet.” She turned to look up at me, the thunder still raging behind her eyes. “He’s right. You will regret. Take time to think it over. Whichever of us is left standing, we’ll let you go home. No strings on my part, I promise. He’ll probably make you testify against me-”

“That’ll probably be a must.”

“-but you can go home. Think about it.” I gave her a slight push towards Simeon who took her by the elbow and started down the catwalk towards the exit. To keep Rodriguez’ attention on me I said, “That fine by you, Samson?”

He sighed. “I suppose so. Of course, you could just surrender and save us all this trouble. There might even be lenience in it for you.”

“No thank you.” I holstered my gun and switched on my maglev harness and charged the capacitors in my vest. Without another word I pitched backwards over the railing of the catwalk and dropped. There was enough damage done to the storage facility to reduce its capacity but the total storage down there was still more than enough for some clever tricks. With the magnets in my working rig active it was child’s play to jump current around and create just about anything I could want. I fell about two feet before catching myself magnetically and throwing myself towards the far wall.

Samson was back on his feet before I was half way across the bunker, leaping effortlessly from one section of the catwalk to another in long, flat jumps. But he couldn’t turn in midair and I swerved towards the bunker entrance as soon as he started one of those jumps, getting all the way to the door before he clattered to the catwalk again.

It wasn’t a light door, it actually had more in common with an old style bank vault entrance than a traditional fire door. It took a few seconds to cycle the locking mechanism and get through it. That put me in the small kill box just outside, a four foot long pair of concrete walls that would funnel any would-be intruders trying to reach the door into a lethal field of fire. Assuming they didn’t just tear through the back wall with their bare hands.

Plan A had been to fly up and out from the entrance then arm the land mines there, solving my problem as soon as Rodriguez tried to come out after me. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I was through the door and started it cycling closed again he was there, smashing his fist until he got a good enough grip to crumple the door to one side like wet cardboard. I got four feet off the ground before he had me by the ankles and dragged me back down.

I hit him in the chest with my taser, drawing out a grunt of pain and he spasmed, twisting shoving me back through the door and into the bunker. I flew a dozen feet before I got control of my flight path again. Time for Plan B. Instead of turning around I sped up and headed towards the hole Samson had made in the back of the building.

After extensive practice there are some things you learn to do by rote. In my case, early in my career disarming, arming and detonating explosives remotely using nothing but my talent and a specially rigged transmitter the size of a nickel was one of them. Like I told Hangman, there are some things that are just requirements of the job. Being able to cover your tracks effectively is one of them, and for operations on the scale of Chainfall the most effective way to cover your tracks is carefully applied explosives. As far as I knew the guards were still in the building and covering the fees that came with their deaths on the job would be more expensive than I liked, but the circumstances demanded that I accept the loss. The moment I heard the sound of Samson clattering across the catwalks after me I started the arming sequence.

There wasn’t quite time to get through the wall and out of the bunker before the small explosive packages went off. Fortunately these weren’t the Hollywood masses of raw pyrotechnics that you see in movies but rather shaped, directed explosions strategically built into the framework of the building that removed enough support it collapsed under it’s own weight. I still nearly got crushed by debris as I shot out the hole.

I got clear and pushed upwards, scanning the dust and rubble for signs of life. My earpiece chimed and Simeon asked, “Are you all right, sir?”

“For the moment,” I answered. A large chunk of rubble sloughed to one side and Rodriguez stepped out from under it, one of the guards slung under his arm. The idea that he might be unkillable nagged at the back of my head but it wasn’t very productive so I quashed it down. “Keep going, Simeon. Get everyone out of the command bunker that we can spare, it’s time to start evacuating. And keep Hangman with you!  Rodriguez is probably going to be looking for her as much as me and I want her out of trouble.”

“Yes , sir. Where will you be?”

“I’m going to meet Heavy. Take care.”

I suited actions to words, taking a zig-zagging path through the trees at a slower pace for the first minute or so, to avoid being spotted by Rodriguez. I had just popped back up over the tree line, intending to speed back to the crossroads where we’d been planning to greet the rest of Sumter’s agents, when Heavy called me.

“Boss, they’re at the dam! Guards there say the water’s freezing and it’s so cold they’re starting to change color. They’re bugging out, say they’re not equipped to fight frostbite.”

Once again I came to a sudden stop and started in a new direction. I hadn’t thought of the two women who froze the streets during our escape from the city. If they could freeze the whole river they could cut off more than half our power generating capacity. With the reserves out that would just leave the low headwaters turbines, not enough to power the full maglev relay network, much less charge empion grenades or allow the construction of CPC superconductors. “We have to keep the dam, Heavy. Get everyone there you can.”

“On my way, boss.”

The dam was farther than anything else in the compound, it took almost seven minutes to fly there, pushing the relays to their limits, and I could feel the available potential behind the network starting to drop off as I got close.

The dam was a surreal sight. The river wasn’t just frozen behind the dam, water had actually frozen as it fell from the sluice gates. A pillar of steam rose up from the surface of the ice maybe a hundred feet behind the dam. There were two people standing near the steam cloud, mostly obscured except for the long, blonde hair whipping in the unnatural winds of the altered weather they’d created. I stretched out to try and grab the building charges that wind had to be creating, to funnel the lighting down against them like I had with Helix outside the Diversy Street school building, but I didn’t have a full strength lightning funnel built into my current set of gear, they were too bulky to be practical and too heavy for  the maglev harness besides. I couldn’t extend my reach that far and, even if I could, there was no guarantee I could make the proper changes in potential without a funnel to back me up. The work is at once strenuous and delicate, I designed lighting funnels to do the heavy lifting and leave the detail work to me. I’d never attempted to channel lighting from a storm without one.

The only option left was the SIG. I dropped some altitude and drew my sidearm, fighting to stay steady in the winds that had kicked up. I mentally cursed Helix and all the other heat sinks and cold spikes in the world for their effects on the weather and did my best to get a couple of steady shots at them.

Heavy was yelling in my ear, “We’re here boss! Want us to just sweep up over the top?”

I glanced over to try and spot exactly where they were and yes, I could see Heavy and Grappler leading half a dozen other people towards one side of the dam. I was about to reply, something about tossing a grenade down the steaming hole in the ice I believe, when the world behind them seemed to bend and an incredibly intense, strobing light blinded me. With a confused yelp I threw my hands up in front of my face and, given all there was to think about, just for a second, I lost my concentration.

Suddenly I was falling, the magnetic fields that kept me aloft slipping out of proper balance and sending me careening wildly in all directions, but mostly down. Frantic, blinded and with no sense of direction I rubbed my eyes and blinked furiously, dropping my pistol in the process. My vision cleared enough to realize I was about to smash into the ground and I pushed out with my maglev harness, breaking my fall some but still landing badly. I gasped for a moment, fighting a new wave of stars in my vision and trying to get my wind back. The whole process took maybe five seconds.

I’d just pushed myself up to my knees when I heard a sound like a tectonic plate shifting. I didn’t have to be able to see to know the dam was breaking. Getting the focus and strength to push upwards again cost me a split second and it was just a split second too long. I’d just gotten clear of the ground, gone up maybe five feet, when a chunk of concrete clipped me in the leg and I tumbled into a torrent of icy water…

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Themes

Writing is the process of taking ideas and putting them down on paper. All ideas have consequences, both the immediate and the more abstract, and exploring those consequences is part of what writing exists for. Most of the immediate consequences of ideas are explored in the plot, the series of events that the protagonist and his or her immediate sphere of influence are involved in. And, of course, the characters themselves  Themes, on the other hand, are a little bit different.

Let’s take a fairly well known work of fiction and examine the themes in it, shall we?

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a classic work of literature. It goes beyond stagecraft – people read the play just to get at the rich literary depth therein. Among other things, we still occasionally hear of the dangers of becoming a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hopefully you’re familiar with the story already, if not, or if you’re rusty, the Wikipedia page can bring you up to speed.

There are basically three themes in Hamlet:

Death. (Newsflash – everyone dies at end of Shakespearean tragedy!) The play begins in the aftermath of a murderer and doesn’t end until almost every last character we’ve seen on stage for the past few hours has suffered of poison, blade or both!

Revenge. The death of Hamlet’s father is what sets things in motion and his quest for revenge is the driving force behind the plot.

Insanity. Not only does Hamlet feign insanity and his lady love actually go insane, the presence of a ghost that many people see, yet others do not, suggests that more might actually be insane than is readily apparent. Of course, Hamlet’s thirst for vengeance looks a lot like insanity as well, complete with grizzly consequences in the death of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And some might say that the drive to murder that we see in Claudius and Gertrude is a kind of insanity as well.

Now you might say that these themes are a part of the plot – and you’re right. But where plot and characters exist in a kind of dialog, with characters able to adapt to the plot or the plot following characters as they run off the beaten path, themes constrain them both.

In Hamlet there are many opportunities for characters to avoid death. Something as simple as not believing the words of a ghost that could be a figment of the imagination or a demon in disguise would have kept Hamlet from his path of revenge. Instead, the themes of the story keep the characters and plot from wandering off track.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the primary purpose of fiction is to provoke a reaction from the reader. Every aspect must be carefully tailored with an end in mind, every plot point drive towards the eventual end of the story. Now the audience might not walk away with your desired reaction in mind but that’s just the nature of art. The point is to allow the drive to structure your art, that it might be as clear and as meaningful as possible. Even if the audience sees things differently than you, the strength of your purpose will come through in some form.

Themes are what give your story that strength. Just as the skeleton gives your body a great part of its strength, anchoring your muscles, so theme is a vital part of what anchors plot and character and keeps them from fighting one another. Hamlet’s themes are what keep the character Hamlet’s rage strong yet let him give his despairing “to be, or not to be” soliloquy. They allow for glimpses of humor, but only from gravediggers plying their trade. Ultimately, they allow us to feel the full weight of the decision to murder and to avenge.

Your themes are an essential part of your story. If you are going to write, you must start with a theme. Let it shape your plot, your characters and drive you to your ultimate ends. Don’t throw out things that don’t fit with your theme – that’s what Graveyarding is for – but keep your eye firmly on the goal. It will make your writing that much stronger.