Sad, So Very Sad: The Ink-Black Heart’s Connections to Victorian Cemetery Art and Mourning Customs

The Ink Black Heart by Robert GalbraithHappy October! Although some of us are pretty spooky all year ‘round, and the Hobby Lobby has had pumpkins out on shelves since July 5, there is just something about the beginning of October that puts us in the mood for all things Halloween, from stocking up on Frankenberry cereal to watching Linus rolling in the pumpkin for Lucy to kill it once again.

So it seems quite appropriate that we take a few moments today to look at the way in which our latest Strike installment draws upon traditional Victorian mourning customs and cemetery art in this appropriately Gothic tale of a murder that takes place in a cemetery because of a cartoon set in a cemetery. It’s a topic with plenty of motifs that are currently adorning the yards and homes of otherwise respectable people during the traditional season of spooky, so grab your walking shoes and mourning armband, and let’s take a stroll through the cemetery to uncover some Victorian traditions and motifs that wander through The Ink Black Heart.

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Official Casting News for ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Film Adaptation

Last month, we noted that pre-production had started for the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s brilliant novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. A couple of weeks ago, the announcement was made regarding the casting of the actor set to play young Coriolanus Snow. Yesterday, the actress playing Lucy Gray Baird was confirmed. As usual, the Hollywood people have made decisions that book people might find perplexing, but let’s take a look at these two actors, Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler, to see how well they might fit into this complex and riveting story of Panem’s tenth Hunger Games.

Hollywood Business as Usual

First of all, I do not always gripe about casting in film adaptations of books. I often love the casting of films adapted from books I treasure. I am quite happy with most of the original Lord of the Rings cast, for example. I also understand that actors do not have to look exactly like their characters’ textual descriptions in order to be good fits. Daniel Radcliffe’s eye color, of course, does not match Harry’s, but he was a generally acceptable choice to for the role. Sometimes, I even get the casting I want. When I was reading The Martian, I remember thinking, “You know who they should get to play Martinez? Michael Pena!” Lo and behold, Pena is actually cast in that role in the film and is predictably perfect. Alan Rickman was the Snape in my head (and the heads of many other readers) even before he was cast in the first Harry Potter film. However, most of the time, the Hollywood mindset is one of dollar signs rather than one of literary artistry, resulting in predictable decisions.

Ideally, I would have liked to see the two leads in this film played by complete unknowns. I especially hoped that for the character of Lucy Gray Baird, as I know there is some young woman playing at a music venue or heritage festival this weekend, in eastern Kentucky or western North Carolina, who would suit that role to a T, but she doesn’t have a big Hollywood agent or an impressive resume. She just has a gorgeous voice and the right look. Those are clearly not enough for the Hollywood machine, which already gave us “too-tall-too-mature-too-beautiful” Jennifer Lawrence in the original films. So, let’s take a look at the tributes, er, actors, who will be playing the leads in the film. Unlike the folks doing press releases, I will follow the example of Effie Trinket: ladies first.

Rachel Zegler

On Monday, actress Rachel Zegler tweeted out a cryptic message, the first letters of which spelled out LUCY GRAY BAIRD, so it was not a big surprise when, on Tuesday, she was announced as having been cast in that role.  The casting itself is a little surprising. Zegler, likeWest Side Story's' Rachel Zegler finally gets Oscars invite - Los Angeles Times Lawrence at the time of her casting in the first Hunger Games film, is a big media darling these days. She starred as Maria in the highly successful Steven Spielberg version of West Side Story that ran away with armloads of awards, and she’ll be playing Snow White in (another) Disney version of that story, due out next year (I’m still partial to the adorably quirky Mirror, Mirror, so I am not sure why we needed another Snow White reboot).

Obviously, her casting as Snow White is a little unconventional, but that seems to be a theme with that film so far, and casting her as Lucy Gray is also somewhat surprising. Certainly, she can sing, which is a requirement, but, according to her Internet Movie Database page, one of her big musical claims to fame (in addition to her work on West Side Story) is covering a Lady Gaga song. That doesn’t exactly fit the mold of Lucy Gray, singer of folk tunes and murder ballads. Zegler, from New Jersey, comes from a  theater school/performing arts background. Unfortunately, that background has probably not given her much experience singing “Down in the Valley.”

Physically, at least Zegler is close to the right height (unlike Lawrence), and she can play an ingenue.  Lucy Gray could be said to be playing that role herself, creating the engaging image that attracts sponsors as surely as it does Snow, so that is good start. She is not the Lucy Gray Baird in my head, but perhaps she’ll do. She is a Hollywood sweetheart: diverse, multi-talented, professionally trained, and raking in the big bucks starring in big films, so her casting may seem surprising from a literary perspective, but not from a show business one.

Tom Blyth

At first, I was quite excited about the casting of English actor Tom Blyth, primarily because he has just been playing Billy the Kid on a television series. Mr. Bonney, like Mr. Snow, was a sociopath who killed any number of people, but who also had a charm of his own. Plus, he was only 5’8, and Snow bemoans the fact that his wartime near-starvation has stunted his growth. However, it appears Mr. Blyth is actually six feet tall, so he’s too tall for both of those roles, technically. One would think that Hollywood, after giving the charming 5’7 Tom Cruise years of highly lucrative work, would be comfortable with hiring people who were under six feet tall, but apparently not. The Hunger Games prequel ropes in Tom Blyth to play Coriolanus Snow | Entertainment News,The Indian ExpressOther than that, he looks like a good fit for the role.

He has piecing eyes and the charisma he’ll need. Of course, hair color is easily altered, so he may be made to fit the role fairly well. Time will tell. He could have real “authority.”

More players?

Now that the central two roles have been filled, it remains to complete the cast. We’ll need a compelling Sejanus Plinth (I’d like Josha Stradowski in that role, if he’s not still busy with Wheel of Time. He does anguish well) and a couple dozen mentors and tributes of varying degrees of ability, guile, and longevity (I am still holding out hope for some unknowns here). I hope actual Appalachian musicians are used for the Covey. Unfortunately, all the Little Wharvey Gals from O Brother, Where Art Thou are far too old now.

For the horrible Dr. Gaul, a heavy lifter is needed, someone like Glenn Close, whom I think would be fantastic, and the other “adults” should likewise be “names” who can handle the nuances and the political dance that equates survival in the world Collins has created.

What are your thoughts, insights, and suggestions?

Standby for more comments from me, whether you want them or not!

Animagus at 10 Downing street?

Many of us love the company of one or more cats, especially if we are not, like Hagrid, allergic. Larry the cat, though, I suspect, may beLarry the Cat on Twitter: "“If you're over 40 you can now get your booster jab 3 months after your second dose of vaccine. Please book today and the NHS will look more than he seems, and that is because Larry lives at 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minster. Larry, a shelter cat, has lived at the Prime Minister’s residence since 2011, and, unlike presidential pets that leave the White House with changes in administration, this handsome fellow has stayed through with each new government. Adopted when David Cameron was in office, and bestowed with the title “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office,” Larry now has his own book,  has a children’s book, has met numerous heads of state, and is on Twitter (@Number 10cat).

Personally, I am curious as to whether or not Larry is an actual cat. He does seem quite spry for his age and capable of a variety of amazing feats (like sticking around in politics). Is it possible that, instead of relying on a magical portrait to communicate with the Muggle Prime Minster, that the Ministry of Magic has installed someone “closer to the ground”? Inquiring minds want to know, so perhaps some nosy Rita Skeeter type will get the scoop. Or maybe this is one for the Quibbler. In any case, Larry seems like a government official that it’s easy to support, unless, of course, one is a cat. Check out Larry in action here! Wait, is he reading a map?

Film News for Hunger Games Prequel: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Planned for 2023 Thanksgiving Release

As we knew they would be, the Hollywood Gamemakers are hard at work on the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s brilliant Hunger Games prequel: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. It really is a remarkable novel. If you need a refresher, check out mine and our Headmaster‘s thoughts from its release in 2020, as well as a run-down of connections to the original trilogy. If you have not read the novel, you have time before the film’s planned 2023 release. If you have read it, you are probably wondering how the filmmakers will deal with the main character, the young up-and-comer Coriolanus Snow, as well as some of the complex and fascinating Machiavellian themes.The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins).png Of course the movie business loves unpleasant protagonists, from the Joker to Venom, so they are doubtless planning another humongous blockbuster, once again without the slightest indication that they understand the irony of these splashy productions that hit theaters during the Thanksgiving season. The film is still in the early stages, with little known except that the director will once again be Francis Lawrence, and that other production staff and writers (including Collins) involved with the previous films will be joining this one.  No casting has been announced, but I would love to start taking suggestions. If you have ideas about who should play the deviously charming Snow, the talented (and also devious) Lucy Gray Baird, the hapless optimist Sejanus,  the horrifying Dr. Gaul, or any other of the fascinating characters, let’s start discussing those now, before the Hollywood people invariably make choices that make us scratch our heads. What are your expectations for what will, sadly, always be called “the fifth Hunger Games movie”?


Celebrate Sir Terry Pratchett’s Birthday with New Editions!

Since I first discovered that Sir Terry Pratchett shared a birthday with a family member (who is also a big fan), I think of theAbout Sir Terry - Sir Terry Pratchett beloved and belated author every year on April 28. Today, which would have been Sir Terry’s seventy-fourth birthday, is the first official Terry Pratchett Day, which will be celebrated this year with new editions of his novels, beginning with six of his fabulous Discworld books, the ones in the “Witches” series plus one stand-alone. If  you have never experienced the joy and madness that is Discworld, these books are a great place to begin. Discworld often has connections to another wizarding world, although the Unseen University is probably less enticing than Hogwarts if one were choosing an institution of magical education.  Rincewind, Pratchett’s endearingly failed “Wizzard,” undoubtedly flunked his OWLS, but he is good value as entertainment!

Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, and Carpe JLords and Ladies Paperback 2022ugulum, along with Small Gods, are all getting splendid new covers, released today. This summer will see new-cover releases for the Wizards series, and, appropriately, on October 27 the Death series, WILL ALL BE RELEASED (I am rather partial to Pratchett’s cat-loving fellow in the long black robe, capital letters and all). That group will include the wonderful Hogfather. Next year will see the release of the City Watch novels and several others. So, if you love Discworld and need an excuse to buy new editions, or if you want to share this wonderful series with someone else, this is a good time to gift yourself or a loved one in honor of Sir Terry on his birthday! If you are not yet a fan of the fantastic world that travels through space on the back of a turtle (really!), and you need a place to start, you can begin at the beginning with The Colour of Magic, but Discworld is the sort of place you can just drop into from anywhere, so I highly recommend the re-working of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lords and Ladies, which is in the series being released today. Happy Terry Pratchett Day!