Thursday, September 25, 2008

TRAVELS by Michael Crichton, and THE FRANK BOOK by Jim Woodring



There's a funny connection between two of the books I read most recently: THE FRANK BOOK and TRAVELS. On the surface they're quite different, and they're pretty distinct at a deeper level too, but both books share a fascination with perception and with the act of observing, especially with how these things relate to the mind. TRAVELS, which is a collection of writings about events in Michael Crichton's life, starts out focusing on the author's tourist trips to foreign locations, but the latter half of the book becomes increasingly concerned with the author's experiences with psychic phenomena, such as seeing auras and visiting the astral plane. FRANK chronicles the events of an anthropomorphic cartoon who lives in a bizarre, often hallucinogenic world, a world populated by only a few distinct individuals, each of whom possesses a dramatically different vision of the things around them. In TRAVELS Crichton discusses what he learns about himself by visiting exotic places--he has a frightening accident while scuba diving, he comes face to face with an elephant--he sees things and experiences things and they change his perception of himself. In FRANK the same 'change through experience' thing happens, but on a different level. We see the title character go through experiences--falling into a mystic, eye-ringed well; playing with a devil's toy--that physically change the shape and appearance of his head, and his mind within it. In TRAVELS the change is mental, and explicitly described; in FRANK the change is physical, and shown to us rather than told; but in both situations the characters radically change their heads because of defined experiences.

One thing worth noting about this is that TRAVELS, being autobiographic and word-based, is an author talking about himself, describing his experiences; while FRANK, being a fantastical comic, is an author drawing pictures of a fictional character that is 'other' than the author. In one book the author explains and tells, in the other the author shows. In one work the author's presence is blatant, un-ignorable, even to the point of irritation (Crichton often comes across as self-obsessed and neurotic, effete and intellectually-snobbish), in the other the author is rarely considered, but his presence, his preferences and what they reveal about his personality, can still be discerned if carefully watched for (if only in the preference he shows to certain characters, the way he makes the cards come up for them).

It's funny how similar themes can appear in such radically different forms.

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