Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Interlude On The Shinkansen

In December 2009 I took a short excerpt of the 'travelogue' about me and my brother’s trip to Japan and turned it into something more substantial (and better written!). Mentioning The Dark Tower in Saturday’s post about books reminded me of the piece you’re about to read; it is one of my favourites, which is perhaps not a surprise coming as it does from something very personal.

As a small celebration of books, travel, Japan, and Stephen King, all the references and 'in' jokes/statements are entirely deliberate. I can recommend only two things as remedy, and you choose which order to do them in:

1) Read The Dark Tower series.
2) Look up the Sanyo Solar Ark.

“Everyone takes a book on holiday.

As sweeping generalisations go, that’s probably more accurate than most. Books travel the world with us. Maybe I attach too much importance to that statement, but for me a journey to a corner of the Earth can be defined by the choice of reading material as much as my enjoyment of a book can be defined by the location – and therefore the hopefully relaxed manner – in which it is read.

Books get ‘adapted’ or ‘reimagined’ into films too. You can tell which of those is probably the preferred term by which one a computer spellchecker is willing to accept and which it isn’t.

Sometimes – and I’m thinking specifically of the Lord of the Rings films when I say this, because a lot of people have seen them – an adaptation is so bold, and the visual styling so confident, that it can reflect any number of moments better than the original text can, leaving you in the fantastical setting for as long as you choose to embrace it. So a particularly dramatic sunset over rural Staffordshire, when the horizon burns crimson and orange and seems to cast flames across the sky, can easily evoke the fiery presence of Mordor.

It can to me, at least.

Stephen King doesn’t need film adaptations. He certainly doesn’t need ‘reimaginings’. When you read a King novel, so many more things are “like being in a King novel” than are “like being in a Lord of the Rings film”. Which means a journey through the Japanese countryside is no longer just an opportunity to take in the numerous villages, with their traditionally constructed farms and vast plains of rice fields.

No; safely ensconced, and carried with quiet rapidity on a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, and with a friend’s copy of The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla firmly in my grip (both physically and mentally), the landscape outside assumes a wholly different complexion.

Suddenly every settlement is the next Calla, in desperate need of a quintet of gunslingers to save it from a faceless menace that could ride out of the mountains at any time. You might suggest it should be samurai helping these villagers and their homes, and maybe it would be if I weren’t reading the work of one of the Western hemisphere’s best writers.

Even the mode of transport evokes an earlier book in the series. The Shinkansen is no Blaine the Pain, however. Travelling on a rail system designed 40 years ago, but which still looks and acts ‘futuristic’, there is no need for riddles to ensure safe passage on this journey. Not when ‘delays’ in the usual punctuality are measured only in seconds.

The Japanese have a wonderful ability to combine their cultural heritage with technology that the rest of the world probably hasn’t dreamed of yet. Like the Sanyo ‘Solar Ark’ – a giant boomerang-shaped building sitting unobtrusively in the middle of the countryside, a centre for solar technology that is difficult to believe even after you’ve seen it. This, surely, is the creation of a magician; a building you see from a gridlocked expressway, when the population has been ravaged by superflu and the only things that are truly real are the stories you tell.

Or the stories Stephen King tells.

Of course not. I’m in Japan and simply reading a very good book. A book lent to me by my equally good friend Marten (sorry, Martin), who opened the door to Mid-World for me and has the pleasure of knowing his copy of The Dark Tower V has been halfway round the world.

That is the truth.

The Tower is always closer. Even if in this reality it is only the red and white Eiffel Tower-copy that stands watch over the streets of Tokyo.”

… End of interlude

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