Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Would that Will could answer back

This afternoon at our writing date, Eileen Gunn put me onto this: William Alexander's review, for Rain Taxi, of Orson Scott Card's Hamlet's Father. It's a novella, published by Subterranean Press, retailing for $35. It's meant to be a sort of Hamlet for Dummies. "Updated" for our times. Only...
In this adaptation, Hamlet was never close to his father. The prince is unfazed and emotionally indifferent to the old king's death, feels no sense of betrayal when his mother speedily remarries, and thinks that Claudius will make a perfectly good monarch. Hamlet is also secure in his religious faith, with absolute and unshakable beliefs about the nature of death and the afterlife. He isn't particularly hung up on Ophelia, either. Throughout the novella, Prince Hamlet displays the emotional depth of a blank sheet of paper.

Card has completely removed the dramatic stakes and haunting questions posed by the play, and the threadbare result is a failure of narrative craft on every level. Only one question remains: Is the ghost of Hamlet's father really a ghost, or is it instead a demonic liar? (Both, as it turns out.) But most of the novella is filled with pedantic moralizing, made all the more bland by Hamlet's smug and uncomplicated certainty.
But you'll never guess what Card thinks Hamlet is all about (Never, I say, in a thousand years):
Old King Hamlet was an inadequate king because he was gay, an evil person because he was gay, and, ultimately, a demonic and ghostly father of lies who convinces young Hamlet to exact imaginary revenge on innocent people. The old king was actually murdered by Horatio, in revenge for molesting him as a young boy—along with Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, thereby turning all of them gay. We learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now "as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple. I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house."

Hamlet is damned for all the needless death he inflicts, and Dead Gay Dad will now do gay things to him for the rest of eternity: "Welcome to Hell, my beautiful son. At last we'll be together as I always longed for us to be."
Here is Alexander's critical judgment:
The extent of the novella's failure is surprising—and embarrassing, given that Card is a skilled veteran novelist and Subterranean a well-respected press. The most polite thing for us to do would be to walk away and quietly forget the whole painful exercise. But Card does not deserve our polite amnesia. His failures should be known and remembered, because the revelation in his "revelatory new version" turns out to be a nightmare of vitriolic homophobia.

To which I say, Amen.


Nancy Jane Moore said...

Is it April Fool's Day? Or did I stumble onto The Onion by mistake? This is so nuts it's gotta be satire, right? RIGHT?

Josh said...

Nancy, The Guardian is reporting on it. Evidently Scott Card believes that lots of men are turned gay in that way.

Gregory.Frost said...

Wow. It''s hard to know whether to laugh or choke.

"The emotional depth of a blank sheet of paper"... certainly describes somebody involved with this project.

Cat Rambo said...

Willow Fagan has posted his reply to Subterranean's call for feedback here:

Timmi Duchamp said...

Thanks, Cat. That's a very moving post.