William Blake is one of my favourite authors, creator of some of the wildest, weirdest, most spirited and beautiful writing in the English language. He was also talented enough, and cool enough, to add startling illustrations to his work, laying the foundations for the idea of graphic novels hundreds of years ahead of schedule. For example –
Ghost of a Flea by William Blake
G. E. Gallas is a screenwriter and graphic novelist whose blog, The Poet and The Flea
, is an illustrated imagining of the life and times of William Blake. It’s a great way of bringing Blake online, with dramatic drawings that weave around quotes from his poems, and I’ve enjoyed reading through its pages ever since I started my own blog, back in May.
It was by virtue of following The Poet and The Flea that I read a recent post by G. E. Gallas in which she asked fellow bloggers with a love of R L Stevenson to write a positive/insightful blurb in support of a projected film of his life, called “Death Is No Bad Friend.” For me, the magic of Stevenson’s writing can be summed up by the fact that on my bookshelf I have a copy of Treasure Island that I first read, as an adult, not too many years ago. It’s a hardback book, with the spine hanging off; the pages are wonderfully mottled and darkened around the edges (so it almost looks like a manuscript that was lost at sea); its original owner was a schoolgirl, and on the inside cover it bears the legend “angela mannell, class 7” in studiously neat, joined-up writing. The book has been in my family since the 1950s. It’s a fantastic story that was loved when it was first read in Stevenson’s time and loved in the 1950s; and, if I started re-reading it today, its effect would still be the same.
1950s edition of Treasure Island
And so this explains why I wrote the following in support of the fundraising drive for “Death Is No Bad Friend” –
R L Stevenson is one of the well-springs of modern fantasy, a genre and mode of thinking that increasingly influences the mainstream of both literature and cinema. Besides this, he remains one of the major proponents of Scottish culture worldwide. On both counts, it is fitting that we take this opportunity to celebrate his achievements.
This script captures Stevenson as he balances precariously between the competing demands of life and death – his genius and joy of life pulling him back into the world, while his sickness ushers him out. Feeling himself “unable to go on farther with that rough horseplay of human life,” he yet struggles on. Why? The script answers that question in two ways.
Firstly, Stevenson remains energised by the great literature he feels still latent within him: “Thence, as my strength returns, you may expect works of genius […] And when is it more likely to come off, than just after I have paid a visit to Styx and go thence to the eternal mountains?” It would be unbearable for him to let that promise go to waste, especially after the nightmare of illness and suffering he endured in order to retain his grip on it.
Secondly, when speaking with his fiancé, planning a honeymoon on Mount Saint Helena, Stevenson assures her: “We are to fish, hunt, sketch, study Spanish, French, Latin, Euclid, and History. And, if possible, not quarrel.” This is a moving portrait of a man seeking to hold onto life by summoning to mind its most simple pleasures. The attempt to keep his wishes small and within the bounds of realism (“if possible, not quarrel”) lends it a pathos that most people will recognise and relate to from their own lives.
Equally, I’m sure Stevenson speaks for almost everyone when he announces, with knowing irony: “Lost? Not lost at all! We only cannot find our way.” This script honours the achievement of a man and a writer who fought hard to find his way and, in doing so, provided the world with classic stories that still enthral and entertain people today. It promises to produce a film that will be an insightful and moving tribute.
Anybody who shares our enthusiasm for R L Stevenson is encouraged to visit G. E. Gallas to find out how to send their own message of support.