Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Hamlet's Father

Sometimes you hear about a work of fiction so outrageously insane, so utterly stupid, that you know that you would never forgive yourself if you passed up the chance to experience it. Call this phenomenon what you like: bile fascination, a simple love of so-bad-it's-good-cheesiness, The Room Syndrome... For some unfathomable reason, psychologists don't seem to have gotten around to assigning it an actual term. But I'm beating around the bush. You see, some months ago, I read a review of a novella, written by respected Sci-Fi author Orson Scott Card. It was a re-imagining of Hamlet and was printed in a collection of four stories called The Ghost Quartet. Well, I have finally gotten around to reading this... fascinating... piece of literature. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: "Hamlet's Father.

Fair warning: I am going to assume that you, the reader, have at least a basic grasp of the plot of Hamlet. Come on, it's a classic. You gotta know this story.

Let me just start off by saying that, despite it's reputation, the story actually isn't that bad. It's an interesting new take on Hamlet for about the first 90% of the text. It's not until you get to the truly baffling ending that the whole thing falls apart. Still, despite its good ideas, the story does fall flat in a few places, even before you get to the hilariously awful non-sequitor that is the climax.

You see, in this version of Hamlet, the title character did not, in fact, love his father. He grew up believing that his father despised him. You see, Hamlet Senior never took Hamlet Junior out on any hunting trips, and he never spent any time with him. Despite this, Hamlet Senior spends a hell of a lot of time with all of Hamlet's little friends. Hamlet is, obviously, hurt by this, believing that his father loves those kids more than him. Hamlet's friends, for their part, feel terrible about the whole thing. They tell that they feel terrible because they don't want to take his place. They express this feeling with a lot of tears and irrational. Or perhaps rational anger, seeing as their butts are sore from riding in a saddle all day. And it's not just the cheeks that hurt. And it wasn't just a saddle they were riding.

Oh, fuck it. There's really no use hiding this. Behold, the big twist of "Hamlet's Father:"

Are you ready for this?

Seriously, if you've somehow managed to avoid hearing about this story, be prepared to be shocked.

Brace yourselves.



If there was ever an occasion for Osaka's "my brain just shut down" face, this is it

Wow. I mean, wow. I knew that that was the twist going in, but the ending still felt like it came right the fuck out of nowhere. You see, Hamlet kills Claudius, and then kills Laertes by skewering him with the sword that still has Claudius' body hanging from it. Gertrude is in hysterics, and then Horatio reveals that it was he who killed Hamlet's father, but slitting his throat while he slept. He did this because Hamlet's dad molested all the kids except Hamlet, because Gertrude caught him fondling a baby Hamlet and threatened to kill him if ever laid a finger on their son. Yes, Hamlet's dad fondled a baby, and continued molesting kids into their adulthood. Because pedophiles are attracted to all non-adult age groups. Including teenagers.

Furthermore, Laertes had vowed revenge and was studying swordplay in France to do it, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were gay lovers because they had been gay molested, because that's how sexuality works apparently. Then Horatio started molesting a kid, had a "My God What I Have I Done" moment, and killed the king.

So after this is revealed, Gertrude kills herself and then Hamlet kills himself. And watches the spirits of Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius, Claudius, and Gertrude all ascend to heaven, but Hamlet has to go to hell, where his father is waiting to rape him, because his father set the whole thing up so that he could finally have a chance to bone his son.


So, now that we've established that this story may be one of the most hilariously homophobic things ever written, let's take a look at the Good. Or what Good there is left that hasn't been tarnished by the stupidity of the ending.

Well, I liked the idea of Hamlet and his father not being close. Hamlet actually likes Claudius in this version, and has no aspirations to the crown, and no objection to Claudius marrying Gertrude. But while I like the idea behind it, the execution leaves a bit to be desired. Rather than Hamlet's conflicts regarding his duty to his father, and the question of whether or not Claudius is truly guilty, and all those other things Hamlet goes on about in the original play, in Card's rendition of the tale, Hamlet is basically bullied into swearing an oath of vengeance by the ghost, and then spends the rest of the story whining about how he doesn't want to do it. Well, up until he goes on an inexplicably homicidal rampage at the end, anyway.

Another thing I liked is that Yorick actually has a role in this version. Rather than being some random dead guy, we actually get to see Hamlet and Yorick interacting with each other during Hamlet's early years, and I think Yorick may have been my favorite character. He actually kid of reminded me of the Fool from Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, which is kind of funny, considering all the homoerotic undertones in that character.
Actually, just do yourself a favor and go read Farseer instead of this garbage.

Unfortunately... that's it. That's really all there is to like about this story.

Everything else is just done so clumsily. The foreshadowing about Hamlet's dad is fairly competent, but is ruined by the stupidity of the climax. Card attempts to capture the feel of the dialogue from the original, but these attempts are inconsistent, resulting in characters randomly spewing out a bunch of puns and wordplay before abruptly going back to normal speech the next sentence. Events are out of order from the original, and the entire play-within-a-play thing is dropped. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear for about three lines and seem almost an afterthought, tossed in solely because Tom Stoppard mad those two characters mandatory in all Hamlet adaptations.
I hope you're happy, Stoppard.
The characters themselves are all grossly underdeveloped, and come across as completely nonsensical. When Gertrude learns that Hamlet was visited by his father during the climax, she just accepts it at face value. She even basically goes "oh yeah, that sounds like him." What.

Oh, and lest we forget: Hamlet is condemned to be raped by his father for all eternity at the end of the novella. What the flying fuck was Card thinking?

There you have it. An immortal play reinterpreted as a warning that all gay people are pedophiles who will molest our children in order to infect them with their gayness.

Orson Scott Card, what happened to you man? You used to be cool. Your books used to be the epitome of awesome. Not this ignorant homophobic nonsense. Remember Ender's Game? Come on, everyone loves Ender's Game. You bring a man who didn't like Ender's Game, and I'll punch him in the balls for being so terrible. The point is that Ender's Game had what "Hamlet's Father" sorely lacks: interesting characters, an interesting story, and a universal and uplifting message. Card didn't try to push his own religious or political agenda on us with Ender's Game, he just challenged us to think. Why can't he go back to moral lessons like the one in that book. You know, how just because people think differently from you, doesn't necessarily make them evil?

...Hey, wait a minute!

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