The Bujold Nexus

August 2004

Subject: (chat) Hidalgo and reflections thereon
Date: Sat, 7 Aug 2004

(These posts were in response to a discussion of the movie in my conference on the Baen Board, which grew extensive, or discursive, enough to be worth sharing and archiving, I think.)

Watched it a couple more times before I took it back, as it was an expensive two-day new release rental, and I'm weirdly economical that way. Have upgraded it from, "not sorry to have seen it" to "will buy DVD". Though I may wait for a used one, when the vid store purge their shelves.

I thought the scenery was pretty good, myself. They were filming in Morocco -- and South Dakota. I believe some viewers complained about the slow (i.e., realistic) parts in the middle; I could have watched them all day long.

It would have been a different and even more interesting movie had it stuck closer to historical reality, instead of going the bog-standard H'wood-action-adventure route. Potentially more powerful, yet still with thrills enough. It brushed against those possibilities several times, but then kept veering back, as if not trusting the younger audience to follow.

The "making of" segment on the DVD had some interesting sidelights. The script writer himself looked a fairly young man, come to think. So maybe he knew his audience.

Caught the credits -- that really was Annie Oakley at the Wild West show, as was historically correct. Another Ohio gal, that. Read her biography back in grade school.


I read up on that era/area back in my teens when I was fascinated by Lawrence of Arabia, when that film (which is, quite possibly, the greatest of the 20th Century) first came out in the mid-60's.

[My correspondent observes that she wasn't born then...]

Yes, and here's another layer that I caught that you couldn't. In the 50's and 60', when I was growing up, the last gasp of the great cultural craze for the Western, which had been going strong since the 1880's, was just dying away; I caught the tail end of it. It was interesting to note that the real Frank Hopkins didn't die till 1951. I was born in 1949, so my life crossed his in reality, if but briefly. The film touched a peculiar dual vein of nostalgia in me, square-on; for the lost West, which I never knew, and for the lost vision of it, which I did. The late 19th - early 20th Century was a time that grew conscious of its own change in a way that only the rise of modern communications could create.

Not to mention my having read all the Walter Farley (and Marguerite Henry) books mutiple times in my youth. The Black Stallion, King of the Wind... Oh, yeah.

And also having read The Virginian, Smokey, and of course, all of Mark Twain. I particularly recommend his memoirs of his first time out West, just during and after the Civil War, when he deserted the Confederate army and turned to Journalism in Nevada. The title, maddeningly, evades my failing memory, but I'm sure someone will supply it. (Later, light comes on: Roughing It.) Wonderful stuff. My father loved Twain's writings, especially Life on the Mississippi, as my Dad grew up in Pittsburgh on the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela where they join to form the Ohio, and was in love with the whole mid-American river system in all its aspects all his life.

My main frustration with the film comes from a sense that with only a little tweaking it could have been a great movie, especially with its underlying theme of "coming home the long way around", and it didn't go that route. Would have taken a genius scripter, and what they had was just a good, enthusiastic for his subject scripter.

[However,] The more times I watched the movie, the more complex and meditative my response to it grew. A movie that can do that to me is a good movie, however the effect is achieved.

Adding to my own post, because I'm just back from my walk, which I spent thinking more about the movie and its personal connections. I think the adjective I want for it is "stirring", on account of the startling amount of memory-sediment it managed to stir up off the bottom of my brain, much of which I haven't thought about in years.

Starting with the opening scene, where Frank whistles for his horse. My first pony, Sunny, used to get up and come running across the pasture to me with much that same equine expression on his face, when I called him. Much to the bemusement of the old gentleman who owned the hobby-farm up the road where we boarded the pony; none of the other ponies did that for anybody. I never noticed, at age 8 or 9, that it was anything unusual. So for any viewers who thought Frank's calling-for-the-horse bits hokey, no: it works just like that. (Not, granted, without lots of treats and mutual conditioning changing hands first.) And the initial conversations between both competitors and their horses, while written to supply backfill for the audience, were dead-on in tone, too. You talk to your horse in human, he talks back in horse body/ear language, which is very expressive. Somehow, it turns into something disturbingly like telepathy after a while.

The bit in the Wild West show where Frank & Horse have the assorted disagreements and that parting of the ways was dead-on, too. I was wincing right along with Annie and Jack. And laughing, and remembering how many times I was dumped on my head/tail/whatever by Sunny. (Seven.) Familiar trajectory. I was much smaller and lighter, and bounced better, back then. Fortunately.

And then I wondered how many other "bits" in the film were more accurate than one might have guessed at first. (Slavery, ferex, was not abolished in those regions till 1920, so the slave-market bit was quite place-and-period-correct. The custom of, mm, human gelding was also still practiced there, then.)

Another thing that stirred meditations were the dates. Hopkins was born in the late 1860's, if my arithmetic is right. Now, it happens that my family is both small and generationally stretched. My grandfather was born in the early 1880's, which would make him only about a decade and a half younger than the real Hopkins. My parents were born in 1912-1913. (I was late and last-born to them.) (In addition, my father was raised by his very Victorian grandmother, on account of his own mother dying from complications of childbirth in 1916.) So that turn-of-the-20th C. time period was almost close enough to touch when I was a kid; living memory, even if anything prior to 1950 did seem to come from another universe from my POV.

Mark Twain, harking back to the prior post, died ~ 1911, so he was a full generation-plus earlier than Hopkins. But Hopkins would certainly have read him as a contemporary author.

I have a half-hour audio interview that my father made of my grandfather in 1959, reminiscing about his youth in the late 1880's - 1900 period. (Which almost ought to be subtitled, "Nifty Industrial Fires of Washington, Pennsylvania", but that's another issue.) I really ought to get it converted to MP3 and put it up on my website, come to think. It was going to be a series, but they only got around to doing the one.

Ta, L.

Subject: (news) HH done
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 2004

Hi all --

Just posted this (in part) to Baen's Bar, so you should get it too...

It Went Away Friday.

137,000 words, 24 chapters and an epilogue, fully revised and delivered in content and form acceptable. Don't have to look at it again till the copy edit wafts through. I can release these obstreperous people and their problems from my brain and purge the buffers at last. Core dump, core dump, yay!

And the first person who chirps brightly, "So, what's next?", I'm hitting in the knees with a virtual sledgehammer. (Well... no, probably not. I'll just push the button and roll the tape loop about "I contract my books one at a time &etc." I really ought to keep that paragraph on file somewhere, so I can just cut and paste it.) But I am, finally, on break. At least till Worldcon...

Projected hardcover pub date: May 2005. Cover artist/art not yet chosen but in process. Will not find out if there is to be a book tour till late winter sometime.

In other, related but less happy news, HarperCollins UK has declined to purchase The Hallowed Hunt because their sales figures for Paladin of Souls were so very poor there. You know, that New York Times Extended list bestseller, multiple award-nominated and, already, couple of awards-winning fantasy novel? I was afraid that Pillsbury Nazgul cover they slapped on it was going to be the kiss of death, sigh. Sometimes, it's no fun to be proved right.

This does not necessarily mean that The Hallowed Hunt will not see British publication; it will be shopped around. But it does mean publication will be delayed, and so American publication will be first, undercutting British sales numbers still further as usual. I really do not know how those people stay in business; clearly, it's not by selling books.

:-), L.

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