The list of sequels which surpass the original is pretty short. The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather: Part II… that might be it, really. Well, you can add to that list Alyssa Marie Bethancourt’s Trajelon. In her debut novel, Mornnovin, Bethancourt crafted the amazingly detailed and convincing fantasy world of Asrellion. Despite the presence of fantastical elements such as Elves and Fairies, Asrellion is utterly compelling and real thanks to the author’s meticulous worldbuilding. The nations of Grenlec, Telrisht, and Mysia feel like they could really exist. The cultural and geographic differences between these lands is vividly rendered, and the geopolitical struggles have an air of authenticity. Even the fantastic Valley of the Elves, Evlédíen, comes to life in a way that conveys awe and wonder while still feeling like a place that could really exist. There’s even a fully-realized Elvish language as convincing as Tolkein’s. The history of this world is conveyed through detailed descriptions of architecture and wardrobe that never detract from the main body of the story. Rather, they enhance the immersive experience. Against that backdrop Bethancourt weaves a complex tale of a world falling apart thanks to the vengeful manipulations of the evil sorcerer Katakí Kuromé. The result is an epic tale of the clash between two peoples and the Elf princess Loralíenasa Raia who struggles to bridge the cultural divide and stop the world from destroying itself.
If that sounds difficult to top, that skepticism is understandable. Mornnovin is an excellent first novel, a page-turner in which the characters are so lovingly developed that by the end they feel like family. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this review and go do so at once. If you have read it, however, you’re probably eager to read book II. In which case, stop reading this review and go do so at once. Trust me, it’s well worth it. Trajelon not only surpasses the original in terms of suspense and plot twists, it also manages to be more meaningful on a personal level. A word of warning, however: this book is dark. Really, really dark. Seriously, it’s not for the faint of heart. It would be impossible to discuss the book in detail without spoiling some of its best surprises, so if you want to go in blind, stop here, but if you need a detailed content warning, you can find it at alyssabethancourt.com/cw.
Still here? Okay, here we go. I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.
Trajelon can essentially be divided into two main segments. The first is an examination of depression, while the second is an examination of abuse. Linking the two is a look at how the first primes a person to be vulnerable to the second. The end result is a devastatingly powerful treatise on the emotional mindset of the victims of this brand of trauma; one which emerges not only as a standout entry in the fantasy genre, but as a literary masterpiece of the finest caliber.
The book opens where the first concluded. Loríen is dealing with the fallout from the first book, attempting to secure a lasting peace between Evlédíen and Grenlec. Things are tense, given the violent history between the two kingdoms, and this tension is made all the worse since Loríen cannot even give Queen Alyra news of her brother, Prince Naoise. That’s because Loríen has sent him off on a probably hopeless quest to claim his elven birthright directly from Vaian, the god of Asrellion. Meanwhile, toadies and sycophants vie for her hand in marriage, among them the creepily cunning Neldorí Chalaqar, and the day is fast approaching when she’ll have to make a choice. She can’t wait for Naoise forever. The law of the land says that once she becomes Queen, she must eventually marry, and if Naoise isn’t back by then, she’ll have to choose someone else.
Needless to say, Loríen is none too happy about this situation. She was never all that enthused about becoming the monarch to begin with, and without her beloved Naoise at her side, the prospect seems all the more odious. But her profound sense of duty leaves her with no choice, and as her time runs out, her zest for life goes with it. Gone is the plucky, adventurous Loríen we met in the opening chapter of Mornnovin, replaced with a sad and lonely woman who just goes through the motions and does what’s required of her. There’s nothing for her to look forward to, so joy is quickly becoming a memory.
If this seems bad, it’s nothing compared to the next blow Loríen has to suffer. Just before an important state function, the psychic bond Loríen shares with Naoise is severed, which can only mean one thing. Naoise has died on his quest, and the loss just about kills her. It’s heartbreaking to behold and achingly real. Within the universe, the breaking of this psychic bond, called the Galvanos, knocks a person flat and puts them just this side of death. It’s a poignantly accurate metaphor for the overwhelming grief that hits in the immediate wake of loss. But that’s only the beginning.
This is where the book begins to truly delve into its examination of clinical depression. When most people think of depression, they just think of being sad for a while. It’s something that passes. But clinical depression is something else entirely. It’s something you have to live with every day. It’s always there, like a song that gets stuck in your head, and somehow you have to find a way to keep going, even though there’s this nagging feeling of impossibility that you can’t get rid of. Some days are worse than others and you can barely hold it together, while other days you’re able to tuck it away neatly and almost ignore it. But never completely.
Because of the Galvanos, Loríen is one half of a whole. With one half of herself lost forever, she must go about her days and somehow ignore the swirling void of nothingness where her other half used to be. On top of that is Loríen’s self-blame for sending Naoise away while piled on top of that is her day-to-day duty of running the kingdom. In one of the standout scenes of the book, Loríen must accept her crown in an elegantly-described ceremony steeped in majesty and ritual and yet utterly cold and barren, tainted by a pervasive sense of loss, emptiness, and hopelessness. It reminded me very much of the excellent scene in the film Elizabeth when the Queen formally eschews love forever and “marries” England. It is a richly textured and beautifully filmed scene that captures the regal dignity of the crown while the staging along with Cate Blanchett’s amazing performance subtly convey the isolation of her character. Bethancourt executes her coronation scene with the same expertise.
As the days go on and Loríen’s emptiness grows, she slowly degenerates into self-destructive behavior, turning to drugs and finally to the arms of Neldorí Chalaqar, who shamelessly manipulates her emotions for his own gratification, leading to a particularly steamy (if disturbing) encounter. As repulsive as Neldorí is, he is nevertheless memorable and interesting. It would have been easy for him to be a one-dimensional character, but he’s not. He’s a sleazy cad and a shameless hedonist, an utter waste of flesh who contributes nothing to society and is the epitome of decadence. And yet buried somewhere beneath layer upon layer of conniving self-interest is a nugget of genuine concern for Loríen. Even as he goes about his machinations to possess her, a part of him really does worry for her safety. He wants her to love him, not because he loves her or wants anything truly wholesome, but out of a narcissistic need for worship. In this regard he’s truly repugnant. And yet when things go horribly awry for Loríen, he accepts blame for his part in it and immediately goes to her former guardian, Tomanasíl, to try and set things right. The action is not without a level of self-interest. Neldorí wants an important role in rescuing Loríen, both out of pure vanity and to soothe his own guilt. Yet that guilt is still there. A true sociopath would feel no guilt. Neldorí does. And he also feels genuine affection and concern for Loríen. None of this is enough for Tomanasíl, though, and both he and the book cast Neldorí aside into the irrelevance he deserves.
Speaking of Tomanasíl, he really shines in this book. In Mornnovin, his role was largely antagonistic. Despite being relatively young by elf standards, he is very rigid and set in his ways, and as father-figure to Loríen, he represents the clueless older generation standing in the way of progress. He hobbles Loríen’s efforts to stop Kataki, even throwing her in prison, and it’s not until the end of the book that he softens at all. But here we get to see a more nuanced portrayal of the character. Not that he didn’t have layers in the first book, but in this one he’s allowed to show a more caring and nurturing side. The old rigid Tomonasíl is still in there, and there are moments where his uncompromising nature throws him into conflict with Loríen, but the overwhelming sense this time is much warmer and more sympathetic.
However, no amount of warmth from Tomanasíl or anyone else can alter the devastation that has befallen Loríen. The walls close in on her, and just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, the whole axis of the story shifts. A mysterious message arrives from an unknown sender, written in blood and beckoning Loríen to the distant island of Trajelon with the hope that Naoise may yet be alive. This pushes Loríen to make to dangerously questionable decisions. Driven by desperation, she slips away in secret, unwittingly blundering right into a trap.
By now, readers will have begun to suspect the truth, but I’ll keep that one a secret. Suffice to say that as the book’s second phase begins, the full ramifications of Loríen’s mental state are turned against her. The guilt she has felt for her part in the events of the first book are weaponized against her, taking her to new lows of self-hatred. As she undergoes both physical and mental torture, she loses her perspective and begins to believe the lies her captor is force-feeding her. Constant gaslighting, aggressive attacks, and impossible choices eventually take their toll. Gradually she loses her sense of identity and any sense of life being worthwhile. It’s a starkly accurate portrayal of how abusers exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims.
One of the most heartwarming things about this book, though, is how Loríen’s loved ones snap into action to lend her aid. Tomanasíl leads the charge, but also returning from the first book are Loríen’s sister, Lyn, and her human husband, Cole. The lovably abrasive elf guardsman Sovoqatsu is back too and in perfect form. Together they speed to the rescue against all odds, but whether the cavalry arrives in time or not, it will be up to Loríen to win the real battle: the one for her soul.
On every level, Trajelon is executed flawlessly. With utter precision, Alyssa Bethancourt tackles her subject matter, weaving multiple layers of character and intrigue to deliver a stunningly beautiful and masterfully crafted work. She pulls no punches in delivering the emotional blows and does not shy away from ugliness and tragedy, yet there is beauty on every page in her sweeping descriptions and her agonizingly accurate insights into human emotion. Not a single word is wasted, with every line in service of the whole. Bethancourt does not dally with filler or needless action, nor does she indulge in violence or smut for their own sake. Everything in the story serves a purpose. Every character, even the villains, are given layers of depth. Particularly memorable is the tormented Sekarí, caught between his own conscience and the horrid whims of his master. There is not a single moment in this book that is not executed to perfection.
Mornnovin took us on an epic journey from one end of Asrellion to the other and thrust us into the middle of a vast conflict affecting thousands of lives. Trajelon may be smaller, but the emotional journey it takes us on is far more powerful and its ramifications no less meaningful. In her first book, Alyssa Bethancourt proved her skill at weaving a tale epic in scope. In her second, she demonstrates that she is nothing less than a master of the printed word and a true storyteller. I say without hesitation that Trajelon is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and I guarantee it will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
Trajelon is available from all major online book retailers and can be special-ordered at brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Full disclosure: I am married to the author, however the opinions I have expressed are my objective and genuine assessment of the work.
A while back, my wife and I decided to watch all the Jaws movies. When we got to Jaws: The Revenge, mid-way through my wife said, “This is really stupid. Sharks don’t have telepathy. They don’t target specific people.” And she’s right about all those things. So I got to thinking… What if there was no supernatural element to this move? What if the shark wasn’t hunting Brodys? What if there were no telepathy and this was just a regular Jaws movie? What would that movie even look like? Would it even make any sense? I decided to find out.
My first step was
ripping the video files off the blu-ray disc, something I’d never
done before. I had to google how you do that and download some
software, but eventually I had some video files that I could work
with. Next step, convert the files to a format my editing software
could read, which required another software download. After fiddling
with the settings, I was in business and ready to edit.
Digital scissors in
hand, I began mercilessly hacking away at the film, removing
everything I thought was stupid. Not just every single reference to
telepathy or vengeful sharks, but needless padding like Mike and
Carla arguing about garbage, a seemingly endless casino scene, and
Jake giving Mike a hard time the day after his brother’s funeral.
The end result was barely over an hour, really lean and to the point.
When my wife and I watched it together, we agreed that it was an
improvement over the official version, but it was a little too short
to be satisfying. So I went back to the drawing board. In the end, I
added back in pretty much all the padding, leaving the original
storyline intact, minus the psychic shark stuff. However, I did make
a few other minor alterations to two scenes.
The first is Sean’s death scene. When the shark initially attacks him, we see the shark thrashing about and hear the tearing of flesh as Sean screams. Then, a moment later, he pops out of the water looking no worse for wear. I thought that was silly, so I cut that bit, ending the scene with the boat sinking and a shot of the shark’s fin lifted from Jaws 3-D.
I also recut the
sequence where the shark attacks Mike in the mini-sub and then
pursues him into a shipwreck. Some of this footage actually wound up
in a completely different part of the film. The result is more
realistic and more consistent with the tone of the first two films. I
don’t want to say exactly what I did, though, because I think
you’ll get a kick out of it.
Finally, I fixed the ending. All home video releases of Jaws: The Revenge have featured the ending from the international cut where the shark inexplicably explodes and then Jake pops out of the water, still alive. I got rid of that nonsense and restored the original ending from the theatrical version where the shark just gets impaled and Jake stays dead – except in my version, the shark no longer roars. Oh, and I replaced the main title card, retitling the film Jaws 4 and using the proper Jaws font. And I made a minor tweak to the Universal logo that probably only die-hard Jaws fans will notice.
end result is… well, it’s still bad. After all, I could only do
so much. But it’s slightly less bad than it was. Like by about 20%
or so. If you’re interested in checking out my work, feel
free to contact me.
I want to stress that I do not condone piracy and will not sell my fan edit in any format. The typical way it works is that you will need to send me a photo of yourself holding a legally-purchased copy of Jaws: The Revenge on blu-ray and I will then be happy to share my fan edit with you at no charge.
There’s little I could possibly say
about Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece that hasn’t already
been said. So instead I’ll focus on my own personal memories. My
relationship with one of my all-time favorite movies.
My parents were your average middle-class suburbanite couple. They were both slim, fit, and attractive, and their teaching jobs at the local high school had allowed them to purchase a pretty nice house with a great big yard. That house would be my home for the remainder of my childhood. We had just moved in and were still getting comfortable. It was 1980, and I was three years old. I wandered into the family room one evening where my parents were watching a movie. I asked what it was and they told me it was Jaws. For some reason, they let me join them, even though I was easily scared and prone to night terrors. But I’m glad they did, because it was a revelation. I was utterly captivated by what was playing out on screen.
not sure exactly at what point in the movie I started watching, but
they were already aboard the Orca.
It might have been the scene when they’re comparing scars. I have a
vague memory of the planks bending in as the shark attacks the hull
and Brody falling down with water under him. I didn’t know what a
shark was, so my parents had to explain it to me. I had seen fishing
boats on Mr. Rogers, so I sort of understood that. I thought that
when they went down through the hatches to work on the engine that
they were in the hold where the fish are kept. I also didn’t really
know the difference between that and the forward cabin. I just knew
they went down into the bowels of the boat to do things. When the
boat starts flooding, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t supposed
to be that way. I didn’t understand how these things work. I
figured they kept water down there for the fish to swim in. You know,
so they’d be fresh, I guess. I was three, okay? What do you want
from me? When Hooper went down into the cage, I didn’t understand
what that was. I thought he was going down into the bowels of the
boat again, and somehow the shark had gotten into the boat. Then when
it pops out of the water and lands on the deck, I thought it was
coming up out of the hold. I wasn’t sure how the shark had gotten
into the boat, but there it is.
that moment on, I was utterly obsessed with sharks in general and
Jaws in particular. I
talked about both topics constantly, probably annoying everyone. For
my fourth birthday, I got a children’s book called Whales,
Sharks, and Other Creatures of the Deep.
This was my first encounter with many sea creatures, such as
manatees, manta rays, giant squid, and others that would also
fascinate me for the rest of my life.
next few years were a dry spell for me. I didn’t see Jaws
or any other shark movies for what seemed like forever. Remember,
this was the early 80s – before Netflix, before home video. You had
to wait for things to come on TV. Finally there was a movie on HBO
called Beyond the Reef
about a young man and the tiger shark who befriends him. At the time,
I found it a bit tedious, but I watched it anyway because there was a
shark in it. I saw it several times, but then it disappeared from my
life. I would think of it from time to time, but I didn’t see it
again until recently – a span of more than thirty-five years.
Watching it as an adult, I found it to be a flawed but entertaining
film – though perhaps I’m viewing it through rose-colored
glasses, filtered through memories of my toddler self watching it
with my brother and grandmother.
day I asked my brother if he’d ever seen Jaws
and he told me he’d seen Jaws 2.
He had to explain sequels to me. His only memory of it was a woman on
a boat seeing a shark fin and yelling,
“Uh-uh-uh-SHAAAARK!!!-uh-uh-uh-uh.” He was clearly referring to
when Brody and Ellen find a traumatized Tina lost at sea. Somewhere
during this period, I must have seen Jaws 2,
or at least part of it. All I remember is the shot where the camera
follows Brody out to the end of the dock, where Hendricks is aboard
the police launch. I guess I couldn’t tell the difference between
Roy Scheider and Don Adams, and since I didn’t know the character’s
name, I started calling him “Get Smart.” At some point, someone
told me they killed the shark with a power line. I thought that meant
they just threw the power line onto the shark.
summer of 1982, we took the first of many annual vacations to
Jacksonville Beach, Florida. I would have been four years old. I have
a vivid memory of running out across the vast expanse of sand between
our motel and the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was huge, not at all the
narrow strip of sand I had been expecting. Because I didn’t know
the actual setting of Jaws,
I arbitrarily decided that it took place at Jacksonville Beach and
that Brody killed the shark from the end of Jackonville Beach Pier.
The first time I went swimming in the ocean, I was terrified of
getting eaten by a shark. There actually was a day when we couldn’t
go swimming because of a shark warning. Despite straining my eyes as
I stared at the ocean, I did not see a shark.
It was around this time that I saw a documentary about sharks and learned of the extinct giant shark, megalodon. The host erroneously stated that the shark in Jaws was a megalodon. I took this to heart, and assumed that the shark in Jaws was a hundred feet long.
The following summer, Jaws 3-D was released. By now I was in school, and a classmate saw it and told me about it. I was excited to see it, but missed it in the theater. I didn’t catch up with it until it played on HBO. I think I found the premise a bit odd, a little sci-fi compared to the others, but it was scary and I dug it. I was also surprised to find that it was about a regular great white and not a megalodon. There was still much for me to learn about sharks, of course, and I didn’t understand how utterly absurd it was that this film’s great white was thirty-five feet long. Real great whites grow to a maximum of twenty feet long, so despite calling it a great white, it really was much closer to a megalodon in size. I was too young to realize what a stink-bomb the movie was. There was a shark in it, so that was good enough for me. My brother watched it with me and even though he thought it was stupid, he embraced it for my sake and we obsessed over it together for a while.
decided, my brother and I, that we were going to make Jaws
4. The neighbor kid, however,
told us that they’d already made Jaws 4,
so we changed our plan and said we were going to make Jaws
5. The neighbor kid then told us
that they’d already made both Jaws 4
and Jaws 5. In my gut,
I knew he was messing with us, but my brother believed him, so we
changed our plans yet again. Despite knowing perfectly well that
there are only four Jaws
movies, I still occasionally go searching for part 5 thanks to that
idiot neighbor kid. Anyway, we got to work. My brother would write
Jaws 6 and I would
take on Jaws 7.
Probably just to be a jerk, my brother decided that his shark was
going to be so big, the only way to kill it was to blow up the world
– which they did, with a doomsday bomb. But he left the door open
for part 7, saying that Earth had a sister world called Amnesia where
the Jaws saga would
continue. Sigh. Thanks, Collin.
an entire novel proved to be an overwhelming task for a
five-year-old, though, and I eventually gave up. My brother and I
briefly talked about using the family’s Super-8 camera to film a
Jaws movie, and we
approached our Uncle Ron about playing Brody because we thought he
bore a passing resemblance to Roy Scheider. But those plans came to a
halt when my uncle refused to work without his daily wages. Years
later, I would encounter the same problem with professional actors.
For a long time, it seemed like Jaws 3-D was the only Jaws movie I was ever going to get to see. It played multiple times on HBO, and I seized on every chance I had to watch it. It was a Jaws movie goddamn it. But of course, a part of me longed to see the original. I wondered if I would ever get to see it again, and I asked my mom to tell me the story. Initially, she just said a bunch of people got eaten by a shark, but I knew there had to be more than that. I pressed her, and she continued. “The chief of police and an oceanographer went out on a great big boat. Aaand… some people on the boat got killed. And they… shot the shark… yeah, they shot it. And the chief of police and the oceanographer… swam back to shore.”
Everything changed. We got our first VCR. We drove to a video store
called Nite Owl Video to get our first video membership. When my mom
and I walked in, I started browsing titles, and there it was. That
iconic image of the shark hurtling up under the unsuspecting swimmer.
That bold font. Jaws.
I grabbed it and showed it to my mom and obviously she had to rent it
for me. To my utter disappointment, we couldn’t rent it that day.
I’m not sure why – something to do with the process of signing
up. But we would be able to next time.
wait was agony, but finally there we all were – me, my parents, and
my brother. By now, my brother had made it clear that he didn’t
really care for the Jaws
movies, and I had the sense that my parents were indifferent. They
were indulging me. I recorded the event with my tape recorder so I
could at least enjoy the audio after we’d returned the film.
“Jaws,” I said. “Jaws One. Starting.” Duh-dunn. Duh-dunn. The
movie began to unfold. Instantly I sensed that this was a better film
than the third one. Everyone laughed at the jokes, and the shark
attacks were bloodier and more intense than the ones in the third
film. I was enjoying what seemed to be to be a pretty good Jaws
movie. And then the switcheroo happened.
from my mom’s telling of the story that they would eventually go
out on a boat to kill the shark, but I figured that would be at the
very end, and I had no idea what the movie was going to pull. The
camera dollies in on the jaws of a shark mounted on a window, the
Orca visible beyond,
heading to sea, as if sailing right into the jaws of the shark, and
John Williams was suddenly scoring a different movie. Not a horror
movie. An adventure
movie. I still get chills every time I watch the movie and it gets to
this point. But this was only the beginning. After a while of hanging
out on the boat, I began to realize that we were nowhere near the
climax. And then the shark pops out of the water. Rather than a
horror set piece, suddenly it’s adventure on the high seas! Quint,
Brody, and Hooper leap into action as the score builds the
excitement. It’s fun, funny, and thrilling, and then… that
harpoon comes into view as John Williams delivers six musical notes
that would forever change the way I experience movies. Holy. Goddam.
Shit. This isn’t just a Jaws
movie. This is Jaws.
rest of the movie played out. There were more exciting chases, more
thrills, and then some mind-bending terror. When it was over, my
brother and I went upstairs and went utterly ape shit. Later that
day, I came up with QBH, a sitcom which I performed live with my
action figures in which Quint, Brody, and Hooper get an apartment in
New York and have many comedic adventures together, including run-ins
with Superman and Lex Luthor, a giant mechanical arm, and a trip to
space. QBH became a way of life for me and my brother, dominating the
rest of our childhoods.
Due to a great cosmic injustice, there were no Jaws action figures for us to play with, so we had to substitute. For me, Emperor Palpatine became Quint, an ATST pilot with Luke Skywalker’s head was Brody, and a little astronaut figure from my Construx set stood in for Hooper. For my brother, Quint was a Chief Quimby figurine from Inspector Gadget, Brody was Luke Skywalker in his Jedi outfit, and Hooper was a jet pilot. It was the best we could do, and it served us well enough at the time. But we needed a playset, and that’s where Grampap came in.
Grampap was an interesting man. With his high cheekbones and weathered complexion, he was like a wooden Indian come to life. A veteran of World War II, he was full of stories from a colorful past. He was a carpenter, and it seemed as if he could build anything you wanted in his garage. He’d already made numerous wooden toys for both of us, so it seemed only natural to ask him to build the Orca. Working from memory, I drew the boat to the best of my ability and gave it to him for reference. A few days later, I had my first highly inaccurate model of the Orca. Not long after that, my brother spent a week in the garage with Grampap building what he called, “The Ultimate Orca.” The overall shape was wrong, but the details were all there and it was functional. It had a removable fighting chair, removable barrels, and a fold-up shark cage. Many hours were spent on the further adventures of Quint, Brody, and Hooper using this model of the Orca.
grandmother was a roly-poly bundle of love who had seen some hard
times and had learned the value of family. She was also a hard-core
shopper, and if there was something you wanted and it could be found,
she would find it for you. So I asked her for Peter Benchly’s
original Jaws novel in
hardcover. I figured I had set her an impossible task, and in a way I
had, since Jaws was
not even in print at the time. But she came through, sort of. I don’t
know where she found them, but she picked up Jaws 2,
by Hank Searls – in hardcover, no less – one each for me and my
brother. And she inscribed it on the first page: to Jonathan, from
I took the book to
school and began reading it – my first grown-up book. It was a bit
difficult for me, and I kind of slogged through it. Much of the book
dealt with gangsters and police work. I felt a bit guilty for finding
it so dull, but I kept at it. It took me all year to read it, but I
did, reading through the final few chapters in one sitting and with
trembling hands. It had been a tough book to get through, but the
ending was a good payoff. However, there had been a price for taking
it to school. The dust jacket had been ripped to shreds. I was mad
about that, holding a plain red book in my hands with no picture of a
shark on the cover. I put it on the shelf in my bedroom closet, where
it stayed for many, many years.
may have been tough to get through, but I still wanted to read the
original, so my Grandma took me to Nancy’s Fireside Book Exchange,
which she thought was our best shot at finding it. Sure enough, there
it was. Not hardcover, of course – the mass-market paperback that
had flooded book stores in advance of the film’s release. I didn’t
start reading it right away, and by the time I did, my brother had
already read his copy and spoiled much of it for me. But I read it
anyway, zipping through it much faster than Jaws 2.
There was much more shark in this one, and even the romance and mafia
stuff held my interest. Maybe I was growing up; who knows?
The movie version
of Jaws 2 played on ABC, and we taped it. I was surprised at
how different it was from the book. It drew me in pretty quickly. The
opening attack on the two divers was cool, and the attack on the
speedboat was downright awesome. But then it ran out of steam. Talk,
talk, talk, talk. Where the hell was the shark? By the time it showed
up again, it was time for me to go to bed. I had to wait until after
school the next day to finish watching. The second half was much more
satisfying than the first. I was a little bored by all the scenes of
the teenagers drifting around at sea, but there was enough shark
action to hold my interest, and the climax was pretty slick. My
verdict at the time was that it was okay, but not as good as one and
three. Still, it was the first Jaws movie that we actually
owned, so I watched it quite a bit.
And then, on our next trip to Florida, the original Jaws played on ABC and we taped it too. We had to set the VCR to record it automatically, and I recall being really tense for the whole trip, worrying that something had gone wrong and it had failed to record. But I put that out of my mind when we stopped at a motel on the way down and watched the movie in our room. To my surprise, there were several scenes that hadn’t been in the version we’d rented. My brother didn’t believe me, and it wasn’t until the movie aired on HBO several years later that I was finally able to prove that the TV version was different.
One day my grandma
informed me they were making Jaws Goes to Hawaii. The title
sounded like a joke, and I didn’t know where she heard that.
Grandma was very good at the things she was good at, but there were
also lots of things she was just clueless about. I figured she didn’t
know what she was talking about. Over the course of the next year or
so, anytime I brought up Jaws, she reminded me that Jaws
Goes to Hawaii was going to be coming out. I took this with a
grain of salt, of course. A new Jaws movie would be nice, but
I wasn’t getting my hopes up. And then one day we were at strip
mall a few miles from home. She was busy hunting bargains when I
asked her if I could go over to the drug store to look at the books.
She said yes and I headed over. I spotted it immediately: Jaws:
The Revenge, a new novel by Hank Searls. Holy crap, it was true!
As I’d suspected, the title was not Jaws Goes to Hawaii. The
destination, it turned out, was the Bahamas. Still a tropical
setting, but not Hawaii, and with a much more sensible title.
Needless to say, I got Grandma to buy it for me.
I started reading
it at once and was horrified to discover that Shawn Brody dies in the
opening scene. Partly because I was so shocked, but also partly
because I decided that I didn’t want to spoil the movie for myself,
I set the book aside for the time being. Finally the movie came out
and my whole family went to see it. The marquee said Jaws 4.
So that settled that. There was no Jaws 5 and I could
permanently put that matter to rest. (Please wait while I conduct a
Google search for Jaws 5.) It may seem strange to you, but I
actually enjoyed Jaws 4 quite a lot. Maybe it was just because
this was the first time I was seeing a Jaws movie in the
theater, or maybe it was just because it was brand new. But whatever
the reasons were, I loved it, and it completely escaped my notice how
utterly stupid it was. Hey, I was ten, okay? I was still at the age
where I was watching He-Man. Cut me some slack, will ya?
Not only did I
enjoy it, but I liked it enough that I dragged my poor Aunt Patty to
see it just to have an excuse to see it again. Every so often, I
glanced over to see how she was reacting to things. She just sat like
a statue, not reacting at all. I’m sure she was thinking, “What
the hell is this garbage?!” When it was over, she told me
she’d enjoyed it. God bless her.
By the time high
school rolled around, Jaws was an old friend. I not only knew
all the dialogue by heart, I could actually watch the movie
shot-for-shot in my head with almost perfect clarity. I’d come
around to the notion that the sequels weren’t worth anyone’s
time, and I hadn’t watched them in years. My brother had always
said his favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I had never
really settled on a favorite movie. For a while, maybe between the
ages of twelve and fourteen, I would often say my favorite movie was
Dawn of the Dead. That didn’t quite feel true, though. I
loved it, but was it really my favorite? Then one day, my brother
said that while he still loved 2001, if pressed he would have
to say his favorite movie was Jaws. Whoa, buddy! You don’t
get to go claiming that! I’m the Jaws nut in this
family! I didn’t say that, of course, but on the spot I decided
that Jaws was my favorite movie of all time. That felt much
more true than Dawn of the Dead.
In my senior year
of high-school, I needed a sound byte for an audio drama I was
working on. I pulled out our old copy of Jaws 2 so I could
record the sound of the shark being electrocuted, but the audio
quality was not that great, so I went down the street to the nearest
video store and rented it. I was surprised at how much better the
picture quality was on the studio-produced copy. Since I’d paid to
rent it, I figured I may as well watch it. To my surprise, it wasn’t
nearly as bad as I thought it was. In fact, it was pretty good. Not
good like the original, but pretty good.
My experience with
renting Jaws 2 had convinced me that the taped-off-TV copies
we’d been watching weren’t going to cut it anymore. I had to get
factory-made copies of both Jaws and Jaws 2. Not 3 and
4, mind you. I still thought of those as crap. But the first one for
sure, and the second one, meh, why not?
After all these
years, I finally encountered a hardcover edition of the original
novel – in, of all places, the high-school library. It wasn’t
anything like I’d imagined. Instead of the famous artwork from the
movie poster, it was a plain black cover with a basic-looking shark.
If this had been what my grandmother had given me, I likely would
have been disappointed. It occurred to me that perhaps I could
photocopy the dust jacket from my brother’s copy of Jaws 2.
But color photocopying was not as advanced then as it is today, and I
wasn’t happy with the results. Still, at least my copy had a cover
again, albeit an imperfect one.
Many times on our vacations to Florida, we would go deep sea fishing aboard a big party boat called the Miss Mayport. It was fun, but crowded, standing elbow-to-elbow with strangers. The summer after I graduated from high-school, however, Grampap had a surprise for us. We showed up at the dock and my brother and I headed for the Miss Mayport as usual when Grampap called to us. We turned around to see him standing on the deck of a small charter boat. At first we thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He’d done what we’d been talking about doing since we’d first seen Jaws. He’d chartered a small fishing boat like the one in the movie. Usually when we went fishing we’d each come home with maybe one or two small-frys. This time we caught so many fish – big ones, king mackerels – that we had to throw some back. It was the best day at sea I ever had and one of my fondest memories.
Life marched on. I
did a semester at Cal U, I went to film school, I got a job. I made
my first feature film. I got my first grown-up job working as a
projectionist at various local theaters. I dated. I had my heart
broken. My uncle and my grandparents died. I struggled with creative
success. I made friends. I lost friends. My twenties disappeared into
a black hole. And I emerged from it all… changed. And kind of
tired. I decided that in the interest of looking smart, I had turned
my nose up at a lot of movies I’d once loved – sequels
especially. After a long time away, I revisited Jaws 3 and
Jaws: The Revenge. And God, they were so… awful. By
any objective standard, they were prime examples of the worst drek
Hollywood had churned out in the early 80s. And I loved them anyway.
Every godawful frame of them, I loved it all.
Thanks to the internet, I was able to obtain a new dust jacket for my copy of Jaws 2. Also, Random House released a new edition of the original novel, this time with the cover art from the mass-market paperback. It was exactly what I’d hoped my grandma would find for me all those years ago, and it made a nice companion edition to what she’d bought me. I decided to revisit the novel of Jaws 2 and it was a different experience reading it as an adult. I was able to appreciate the subtle nuances of character development that I’d missed as a kid. The mafia stuff didn’t bore me this time, and I plowed through it quickly. Ultimately, I did decide that the movie was better. In the novel, Brody doesn’t even suspect there’s a shark until the very end, instead wasting his time chasing after a two-bit crook. It makes him look like a fool. His arc in the movie is much more satisfying. But I didn’t care. I was able to enjoy this childhood gift with a new level of appreciation. As I read the final chapters, I trembled with the same excitement I’d had the first time, and when I finished, I closed the book and looked at it for a moment, then hugged it as if it were my grandma.
One day my brother
declared that he’d always suspected that Jaws wasn’t
really my favorite movie. He said he thought The Thing was my
favorite movie. At the time, I insisted he was wrong, that Jaws
really was my favorite movie. But these days, if I’m going to be
honest, I’m not sure I really do have a favorite movie. I love
Jaws. I also love The Thing. And I love Dawn of the
Dead. And Back to the Future. And Raiders of the Lost
Ark. And a host of others. I have a lot of favorite movies, not
just one. And that’s okay. I don’t think it’s necessary to
single out one movie as your tippy-top favorite. There’s room in my
heart for more than one movie.
As of this writing,
I’m forty-one years old. In many ways, I couldn’t be more
different from the little toddler who wandered into the family room
to find his parents watching a strange, scary movie about a shark. In
other ways, it’s like I’ve come full-circle. Or perhaps almost
full, the starting point forever out of reach. I’ve lived this long
life full of discovery and change, and now it’s like I’m trying
to reconnect with myself. Or maybe I’m just grasping at a simpler
time, my fingers closing around water, the reflection dancing and
rippling before me, teasing me. But at least I know now that I don’t
have to impress anyone. It’s okay for me to like whatever I want,
even if it’s bad, and I owe an explanation to no one. When a friend
saw blu-ray copies all four Jaws movies sitting on my shelf,
he was baffled. He could understand owning the original. He could
even understand owning the second one. But the third and fourth?
Surely I had better taste than that. Why did I own them? The answer
is simple. Because a little boy I used to know likes sharks and wants
to watch movies about them.