I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

This book came out at the end of last year and all I can say, is: what took it so long to be written and where has Ryan Britt been my whole life? Britt's book is a collection of essays, including: Out of the Sideshows; The Birds, the Bees, and Barbarella; I Know It's Only Science Fiction, but I Like It; Luke Skywalker Can't Read; Wearing Dracula's Pants; The Sounds of Science Fiction; Baker Streets on Infinite Earths: Sherlock Holmes as the Eternal Sci-Fi Superhero; All You McFlys: A Back to the Future Theory of Everything; Imagine There's No Frodo (I wonder If You Can); Regeneration No. 9; No, Luke, Captain Kirk Is Your Father; Hipster Robots Will Save Us All; Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes: Rise of the Relevant Superheroes; and The Fans Awaken.

As a librarian, one of my favorite essays is, of course, "Luke Skywalker Can't Read". At some point growing up, as he found himself relating to Luke, he noticed something glaringly different: Luke didn't have a favorite book, because he never looked at a book. Luke, the ultimate dreamer, who wants to go on a grand adventure, doesn't get this idea like a lot of us do, from books, but because he is bored to death with farming and wants to get the hell off the dusty planet of Tatooine. The more you look into the trilogy, you notice that those that inhabit it are basically functionally literate. They know enough to read something off a screen, but usually R2-D2 is there to translate. If you look at the controls on ships you see symbols, but these could just represent what it does, like trash compacter or tractor beam. For my Star Wars purist, he does go into Aurebesh, the "official" language of Star Wars written by John Hazlett in the 1990s for the Star Wars roll playing game, and later wrote an article about, "The Written Word". Star Wars, though is not the only place reading does not seem to take place. Narnia is another one. And in the places where reading does take place, there are different results. At Hogwarts, Hermione is the only one who really loves to read. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is always dusting off old scrolls and reading up to find out something that will help the group, while the Hobbits, bless them, have written a book: Bilbo's The Hobbit or There and Back Again. Battlestar Galatica and Star Trek, especially provide more scenes of reading or the use of books. I find it amazing that I never picked up on any of this, really, and I'm the person who is sneaking looks at you to find out what you are reading.

I heard Neil De Grasse Tyson give a speech on "An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies" and he had high praise for the Back to Future movies attention to detail. So I was surprised when I read the essay Britt wrote on it that pointed out some of it's, well, flaws is a rather harsh word, but I will go with it for now.  First thing is, that it brings about "fake nostalgia". Hill Valley in an every-city in California somewhere, but like "the other house" in Gaiman's Coraline, no one seems to ever be able to leave, or even seems to want to, including Marty who is in a sense an anti-Luke Skywalker. When it opens, its familiarity hooks you so that when it takes you back to 1955, you begin to get all misty-eyed. Next are the paradoxes of Marty and Doc and the Biff Tannen family tree. When you meet Doc and Marty they are "already friends FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL." Today, any blockbuster have most of the movie be about the origin story of the characters, but that doesn't happen here. We have no idea how or when these two became friends. And Biff seems to be his own ancestor in all three movies. My favorite is the George McFly writing career paradox. Some say that at the end of the first movie, George's comfortable living makes no sense if he had just published his first book. Of course he could have been writing for TV before, as they lived in California. "You could even say that in Marty's reality, George McFly sued both George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry over the use of his original concepts "Darth Vader" (Star Wars) and the planet "Vulcan" (Star Trek)....And if Marty McFly, through his father, actually created both Star Trek and Star Wars via paradox, Back to Future becomes a work of fake nonfiction and ubermetafiction simultaneously."  Also, there's the fact that the past and future in these movies are far from perfect. It gives a bizarre look at race in 1955, while at the same time giving a weird representation of whiteness as well.    

Basically the only reason The Lord of the Rings exists is because Tolkien's publisher bugged him about writing a sequel to The Hobbit. "I am a little perturbed. I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits." Tolkien believed it at the time, but ten years of thinking about it and his change of mind would change the world of fantasy fiction forever. He also wanted The Silmarillion to come out first, but was, thankfully talked out of that one. Britt compares Tolkien to Lucas, in that both are "insane historical revisionist..though, totally unlike Lucas, a wildly successful one."  Tolkien basically rewrote 1937's The Hobbit and it was republished in 1951 and that is the only copy you will likely find now. The two are radically different. "Specifically, Gollum goes from being a curious creature with funny opinions about things to a straight-up murderous psychopath. Furthermore, the original version of The Hobbit doesn't indicate at all that the Ring was bad news."  With it revised, it could be compatible with his vision of The Lord of the Rings. And you know what? No one cares. The plot is simpler than The Hobbit too. With a few exceptions such as Tom Bombadil, the main plot focuses on WHERE IS THE RING NOW? The Hobbit? Well, there's goblin attacks, giant spiders, eating, singing, etc... This is why it did not work out well being broken into three movies, Peter Jackson. "The characters in The Hobbit are forced in their film adaptions to sustain themselves over narrative distances they were not designed to cross. Peter Jackson tried to turn The Hobbit into The Lord of the Rings when he made his film adaptations of the novel, and If J.R.R. Tolkien had attempted the inverse--to make The Lord of the Rings a true sequel to The Hobbit--nobody would have liked The Lord of the Rings. The creation of The Lord of the Rings is Tolkien, effectively, and brilliantly, selling out, which is exactly like the Beatles firing Pete Best." And if that's selling out, I'll take it any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Because without The Lord of the Rings we would have no Star Wars and Harry Potter (Obi-Wan and Dumbledore, two wizards sacrificing themselves), or the popularity of fantasy fiction in the first place.

This book is both thought provoking and side-splitting laugh provoking. As well as eye rolling, saying out loud to yourself "That is So True!", or "No Way!". I really was up all night reading this book because time just ceased to exist. It was always just one more and then I'll go to bed. But this book totally hooked me. One lesson he really imparts is the importance to stand up and not accept a movie or a book or a show just because it is "geek". And not to slam one, just to try to prove something. I've had two good friends whose opinions matter to me give me offer alternate ways to torture myself, rather than go and see the Batman vs. Superman movie. It seems even Wonder Woman wasn't enough to save it. Yet, it is doing so well at the box office still. I read the title of an article call it "Too Big to Fail". I'll wait until it gets to the library to watch it on DVD (I can always fast forward), because I really want to watch the Wonder Woman movie and I imagine I will need the skinny from this movie before I watch it. It's important that we geeks speak plainly out there for everyone and call it like we see it. And I see you reading this book, because it is one of the best things I've read this year.

Note: At the end of this book is "A Totally Incomplete Glossary of Terms" that will have you rolling in laughter.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Luke-Skywalker-Cant-Read-Truths/dp/0147517575?ie=UTF8&keywords=luke%20skywalker%20can%27t%20read&qid=1462902717&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1


  1. I can't wait to read this book. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  2. You will really love it! I read it in maybe two days.