Reviews by Richard T. Bohan

The Exploits of Elaine

by Arthur B. Reeve

Thirty years ago I was sitting having lunch in a Detroit cafeteria with a friend. My friend, with a huge grin on his face suddenly shouted, "This is a REALLY BAD SANDWICH." When I asked why he seemed so happy about it, he told me that there was too much mediocrity, and it was a pleasure to find something "REALLY BAD!".

In fairness to the author, I should note that this is the novelization of a film serial for which Reeve provided the original story. That serial, with the same name, has been selected by the National film preservation board, and has been regarded by many critics as the best of the film serials.

There are a number of problems with trying to turn a film serial into a novel.

First of all, movie serials tend to be melodramatic. Good writing can tone this down, although that requires more work than simply following the script. Reeve did not put in the extra work.

Second, movie serials depend on cliff-hanger chapter endings. These work well in srials,whether they are moview serials or magazine serials. But the suspense they create only works because the viewer or reader has to wait a week or a month to find the outcome. In a book, the reader has only to turn the page. Not much suspense in that.

Third, movie serials use a visual tag which becomes a trademark for the series. But a clutching hand, the trademark of the criminal mastermind may be effective on the large screen while being nothing but annoying. "Somewhere a hand is clutching, clutching" does nothing for a novel.

These shortcomings of a novelized film serial are not enough for Reeve. He adds the additional irritation of tryin to tell the story through the single view point narrator. This leads to strange and clanking language such as getting twenty pages into the story and having the narrator say, "But this is what I was able to find out later what had happened before I got there and after I left." This should have been a warning to Reeve that he should drop the narrator and go to the omniscient narrator (which he used in the novelization of THE MASTER MYSTERY, or allowed the narrator to narrate the discovery of that additional information. In the last chapter, the narrator even gives a gripping description of what is going on while he is unconscious.

I have never seen the serial (which stars Pearl White) but given its reputation, it might be worth seeing. The book is worth reading only it you are like my old friend and would like to read a REALLY BAD BOOK!

Reviewed on 2006.10.06

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