“Eddi McCandry, the Seelie Court goes to war, and needs the presence of mortal blood to bring death to its enemies.” — War For The Oaks as The Phouka sums up why they need Eddi McCandry, unemployed musician-at-large.
In 1987, Emma Bull’s now-classic tale of urban fantasy, War For The Oaks, was published. In brief, it’s the story of a woman, her band, and the warring courts of Faerie, who seek Eddi’s aid in waging a war to see who’ll control Minneapolis for the foreseeable future. A full review of this novel may be found elsewhere on this site. What we’re concerned with is what came eight years later.
On her own, Emma Bull is a talented writer, songwriter, and musician. She’s earned fame and accolades for her stunningly beautiful and bold tales of fantasy and science fiction, and for her tenure in two musical endeavors, Minneapolis-based band Cats Laughing, and as one half of the dou the Flash Girls. On her own, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
She’s not always alone. Her husband, Will Shetterly, also is no slouch in the talent department, having seven books, numerous short stories, several comic books, and a handful of films under his belt. And let’s not forget that he once ran for Governor of Minnesota, and came in third. With such varied accomplishments to back him up, is it any wonder that he turned his theatrical visions towards his wife’s novel?
That’s right. Imagine, if you will, the movie version of War for The Oaks. Adapted directly from the book, and directed by Will Shetterly, with Emma Bull undoubtedly acting as a very close, very personal creative consultant. It was shot on location in Minneapolis, with a soundtrack provided by Cats Laughing, and the Flash Girls. When you consider how Hollywood traditionally and typically butchers adaptations, this must sound like some sort of blessing.
Alas, it has its downsides. For one thing, it’s only eleven minutes long, and is more a collection of brief “scenes” and images taken from the book than it is an actual trailer. But even eleven minutes is better than absolutely nothing, right?
Next problem. Unlike Mssrs Lucas, Spielberg, Tarantino, and Smith, Will Shetterly had almost no budget to play with. His solution was clever, and just a little indicative of the man’s warped genius. He recruited (heavily!) from friends, family, and the local SCA, and set about making his movie as best he could.
The end result is a marvelous look at what might have been. It’s like hearing a musical on tape, and then suddenly going to a dress rehearsal. It’s not perfect, it’s certainly not a finished product, and Bede knows it could use a lot of work, but it’s there. While watching this, you have two choices. You can laugh at the silly people in their SCA garb as they reenact battle scenes from the book, or snicker as a dog turns into a man with some clever camera usage. Or you can play along with the mood, and realize that if someone gave Shetterly a lot more money, a special effects crew, and some support, he could most likely turn out one heck of a product.
Forgive me if I wax overlong without actually getting to the point. War for The Oaks has long been one of my favorite books, and my finally getting hold of this trailer was cause to celebrate.
So let’s say you’ve read the book, and know the story. What’s good about the trailer? Well, for one thing, it’s painstakingly faithful to the book in word, and in spirit. You get to meet some of your old favorites, include Eddi herself, the Phouka, Stuart Kline, the Queen of the Seelie Court, Hairy Meg the brownie, and Willy Silver. Missing, however, are Carla (except for a few background shots), Dan, and Hedge. Present is a cast of dozens to represent both Courts of the Fey.
The trailer takes a wide variety of scenes from the book, and presents them in an almost random order, accompanied by a Cats Laughing soundtrack (“Here We Go Again,” “Nottamun Town”). Unfortunately, some of the scenes are decidedly spoilers, which makes this trailer something of a hazard for those who haven’t already read the book. Watch this, and you’ll know who Eddi falls in love with, what Willy Silver’s secret is, and a few other bits of important plot.
The casting is dead-on. Liza Johanneson as Eddi McCandry, and John Eric Bently as the Phouka, are darned near perfect matches for my mental pictures of the characters. In other words, I couldn’t have come much closer to picking perfect visual matches. John Eric Bently, in particular, delivers a cheerfully self-amused rendition of the Phouka. It almost makes me wonder if Bull knew these folks when she was writing the book… John Sjogren turns in an interesting performance as Willy Silver, though I must admit I pictured the character with shorter hair. Ah, details. While the translation of a book to a movie often leaves a lot to be desired, especially where character interpretations are concerned, we all have our pet peeves… I’ll be fair and not make any specific accusations. What matters here is that the actors fit the characters. Although the presence of Emma Bull as the Queen of the Seelie Court is somewhat disconcerting… but strangely appropriate. Maybe she is indeed one of the Fey.
How’s the acting? Interesting, in a word. The feeling I got while watching the trailer was one of a stage play being filmed. The actors are all very serious, and very into their work, delivering lines with enthusiasm, and the underlying attitude of “if I screw this up, Will’s going to lop my head off with a great big sword.”
Well, maybe not. But the truth is, the War for The Oaks trailer is a home movie, plain and simple. A darned good one, but it’s still a backyard movie filmed by Will Shetterly and starring everyone he could get his hands on. And that’s the beauty of it. This is a labor of love, folks. This was done because it could be. And I don’t mind telling you, I’d pay to see a full War fot The Oaks movie done in this style. At least it’s faithful to the book. Any Hollywood moguls reading this, I beg you to contact Will Shetterly, and give him whatever he asks for. I’ll give you my sister as a down payment.
This is honestly one of those items that means next to nothing to the uninitiated, and certainly isn’t the best way to introduce someone to the book. It’s a curiosity, and a very interesting footnote. But if you like Emma Bull, or Will Shetterly, or War for The Oaks, this tape is a must-have. It’s a different way of looking at an already excellent story, and it speaks for itself.
The problem, though, is finding a copy. I sold my soul to Cat, the Green Man Review publisher, for my copy. Emma and Will used to sell copies through their company, Steeldragon Press, but that was years ago. Your best hope is to check the fan circuits, and find someone with a copy who’s willing to dub. They exist, and enough copies of this item are floating around that it won’t be impossible. If all else fails, I’m sure someone at Green Man Review has a better idea. (Editors note: Cat is the official bootlegger for this trailer. Make him an offer and he’ll see what he can do. He’ll decide if he really wants your soul.) It’s well worth the effort. I promise you. And it beats your neighbor’s home movies of their trip to Mexico,
Editors note: you can watch the trailer here.