1978’s Dawn of the Dead is one of the most influential classics in the horror genre, and particularly in the zombie genre. At first blush, the idea that the novelization to such a film would be a quality book given the source material makes sense. A great story should translate at a very basic level.
That’s not entirely the case for the novelization of Dawn of the Dead, sadly. Originally published in 1978, shortly after the release of the film, the novelization has the feel of a slapdash cash-in. Co-authored by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow, the book adapts the screenplay of the film with minor additions. While paced fairly well, it is a pale imitation of its source.
What Works About the Novelization?
I can offer this much in the favor of Dawn of the Dead: It was good enough that I finished it over the course of successive nights before bed. It’s not a particularly challenging read, but there is some value in the familiarity of it. The core story is good, classic, even. Being lifted wholesale from the screenplay, all the strengths (and weaknesses) of the film are laid out on the page. Dawn of the Dead remains Dawn of the Dead. It is just the way it is experienced has changed. Regardless, the core story, the experience of Roger, Peter, Stephen, and Francine, is right there and it entertains and thrills on occasion. This can be enough sometimes.
Some of the additions are interesting and ultimately rather disconcerting. The novel’s first two chapters, our introductions to Stephen and Francine, and Roger and Peter are the best chapters of the book. This is where the book feels the most like a serious attempt at translating the screenplay to prose and is where the novelization is likely to hook most readers. The depiction of the chaos of the newsroom and the tenement raid in successive chapters is some of Romero’s social criticism in overdrive. It is also where the voice of Sparrow, as co-author, is strongest.
The novelization is breezy and the pacing is pretty good overall. If you have seen the film, nothing about what I am about to say is a spoiler. But the story moves into overdrive after the death of Roger and before I knew it I was in the finale, the final crush of zombies and all. At 232 pages, the last near 30 pages feel almost like a sketch in comparison to what came before. Regardless, it cannot be claimed that the book is at all slow.
What Doesn’t Work About the Novelization?
Ultimately, the flaws of the novelization come down to a couple of things, all related to the novel’s usage of a third-person omniscient point of view. The film uses this as a shorthand in echoing the cinematic eye of the film, but ultimately this does cause a great many problems and really drags down the experience of the book.
The first major issue is that we are told rather than shown a great many things regarding character thoughts and motivations. Peter, a fascinating character in his own right, played with magnetism by Ken Foree in the film, is almost a parody in this adaptation. Whereas the film could sell the quiet, calculating and ultimately tragic characterization of Peter with the emoting of Foree, the book literally lays out his internal thoughts in such a way it comes off as frankly amateurish. With so much access to the character’s heads, it all comes off as too much. And it is so, so much worse for Roger, the heart of the story’s damnation of greed and consumerism and masculine rage. All the characters have their moments on internal thought spelled out in such a manner. Subtlety and subtext completely abandoned.
Third-person omniscient narration can lead to confusion as well. Perhaps it was because I was reading the novel before bed and my concentration took a hit, but I often had to re-read paragraphs frequently. I found myself suddenly thrown by a jump from a moment with two characters in one location to another location with a different character, much later without so much as a transition. The irony is that in the film, these moments in the film are clear due tot he cuts; I was not so fortunate here. The novel does little to create some form of transition between scenes. It’s particularly a problem in the last third of the novel. A montage of excess and malaise in the film does not translate to prose without some sort of editing trick.
Ultimately, the book feels like a prosed-up version of the screenplay. Substantial additions are few and far between, primarily located in the first couple of chapters. From then on, however, the story is merely that of the movie without any real care of playing to the strength of the written word. There was so much potential. For example, there is the presence of a pet store in the novel and a puppy named Adam that comes off particularly alarming given the implications. Perhaps a more serious adaptation may have explored that further.
I think I can find no more damning praise for the Dawn of the Dead adaptation as a book than the fact the Amazon listing for the book lists the following under the synopsis of the novel:
“Dawn of the Dead is one of the best horror movies ever made.” Roger Ebert
The great zombie story deserved better than this hasty novelization. (3 / 5)
You can find the Dawn of the Dead novelization, published by Thomas Dunne Books and St Martin’s Griffin, on Amazon.
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.