The Call of the Queen

Good Afternoon. It is I Gigi the parti poodle here to introduce my novelist and wish you all Joyeux Noel and happy holidays. In the spirit of Christmas and out of the goodness of my heart I am going to allow the Maltese to say a few words:

Hello! I am Tucker and I am a Maltese. I have been sniffing all the presents under the tree and I am excited! I am looking forward to dinner as well! I cannot wait to taste…

Alright that’s enough. One can only be so good. As for myself I am looking forward to the cupcakes my novelist will be baking later today. She is a fair baker at best which is why alas she is making cupcakes instead of say Christmas Pudding or a Buche de Noel. But she has promised to make cookies before New Years so there is that. I am hoping Santa put a new Coach dog leash under the tree as I feel my Harley Davidson one is showing wear. Again I…

We!

We wish you Buon Natale and hope you are having a wonderful holiday season!

Happy Holidays! And thank you to everyone who downloaded my novel Chicane this past week! Just as a reminder Musicology Volume Three, Twist! releases this January and I will update you on the exact date in the next week or so.

This week I thought for fun I’d give my take on The Queen’s Gambit. This is an excellent Netflix miniseries which I put on my list last week of ten dramas to stream. One of my favorite things about this story is it features an introverted intuitive thinking female (the female version of Walter White as an example). Introverted intuitive thinking females are exceedingly rare and this may be part of what makes some people so intrigued with and in some cases repelled by Beth Harmon. Female INTPs and INTJs combined make up 3% of the population as you can see from the visuals below:

This is precisely why Beth is so out of place around other females at her high school especially in one of the scenes where she visits her classmate’s house. And the depiction of Beth’s contrast from her host and the other teenage female guests is spot on. Not to mention the only reason Beth was invited is because her success in chess tournaments started to make her famous locally. Think of an introverted intuitive thinking female as being too masculine to hang with the girls and too feminine to hang with the boys. But where they are uninterested and even remedial in basic social mores, they are exceedingly focused and driven to excel in whatever interests them. And in Beth’s case it is chess.

I had watched a few episodes of the series before I discovered or stumbled upon what I think might be the key or the secret to how this remarkable storyline works. Walter Tevis had astute knowledge of literature. He was in fact an English professor by trade and taught at Ohio University in Athens Ohio and was also a member of the Authors Guild. His first novel The Hustler is a classic and was made into the landmark film of the same name. His inspiration for the novel came from his best friend from high school having purchased a pool hall where he often hung out.

Tevis noticed when he was teaching that the literacy rate amongst students was on a sharp decline and was inspired to write a novel in 1980 called Mockingbird which was a science fiction book set in the 25th century about a bleak and deteriorating New York.

So, with all that in mind what suddenly struck me about The Queen’s Gambit which was published in 1983 was its stunning resemblance to Jack London’s classic, The Call of the Wild. Is it possible that Beth is in a sense Buck the remarkable St Bernard Scotch-Collie dog who was taken from its original master? Buck’s life then becomes a journey of going from owner to owner to owner. Buck like Beth is always excelling in his abilities but no one person for one reason or another can seem to stay with him…until he realizes what he needs is to be with his own pack. It is essentially what Beth does throughout the course of the story. She loses her mother in a car accident when she is nine and goes from “owner” to “owner” to “owner” strengthening her skills more and more with each one. Was Walter Tevis on some level writing a reimagination of the classic or at least borrowing its structure to introduce students to a modern take on a great work of literature? If The Hustler is a Greek Tragedy played out in pool halls could not The Queen’s Gambit be The Call of the Wild played out in chess tournaments?

Also, there is the question of is there a human whom Beth is modeled after? Who is Beth in Tevis’s mind? Most likely she is inspired by his daughter Julie, a bright early-on feminist. Tevis said of his novel it was “a tribute to brainy women” like Julie. He may have realized early on his daughter was a smart precocious child who may not have fit in with the other girls and may have been rejected to a certain degree by boys. Tevis himself was socially awkward and infused some of his own personality into Beth. His son William has said in interview when his father was young, he was once tied to a telephone pole by other children who removed his pants and abandoned him. This incident left a permanent scar on Tevis’s psyche. Tevis continued in middle and high school to be isolated and incongruous. His clothes were often mocked by other students and he was ignored by his wealthy peers.

Beth is suspected by some to be Bobby Fischer although Tevis’s Authors Note at the beginning of the novel lists not only Robert Fischer but Boris Spasky and Anatoly Karpov as well. It is quite possible Walter Tevis did borrow from Fischer’s life and talent as he was a chess player himself and fascinated by Fischer. Bobby Fischer was raised by a single mother. He had an older sister named Joan which may be who Beth’s friend Jolene is based on or possibly even who the janitor Mr. Shaibel is based on because it was Joan who purchased Bobby’s first chess set at a candy store and was his original opponent. And Fisher was a socially awkward introverted intuitive thinker. Also, Fischer learned to play chess at the age of 6. Perhaps Tevis thought it amusing to flip the 6 and make it a 9 which is the age Beth learns to play. Perhaps it was a little wink and nod to flipping the male into a female protagonist.

When he was a child, Tevis had a rheumatic heart condition and was given heavy doses of the barbiturate phenobarbital and it is where he got the idea for the pills Beth is given in the orphanage. He was also an alcoholic which Beth is as well, other elements of Tevis weaving his own experiences into the story.  

The epigraph of the novel is Long Legged Fly a poem by William Butler Yeats. The poem is essentially about genius and its requirement of peacefulness and solitude examined through three characters Julius Ceasar (military genius), Helen of Troy (genius of beauty and poise) and Michael Angelo (artistic genius). This of course is a nod to Beth’s introversion which she requires to intricately study her chess moves shown brilliantly in the miniseries by her envisioning a board and pieces on her ceiling at night especially after taking the pills which Jolene tells her to save for bedtime. It also relates to three elements of Beth Harmon: strategic genius, beauty and poise, and artistic genius.

Finally, I’d just like to point out “The Queen’s Gambit” refers to an opening move in chess designed to control the center of the board where white strikes black’s pawn from the side leaving it’s c4 pawn vulnerable. What is interesting about this move is it is debated as to whether it is a real gambit because it puts white on the defensive. Or in other words Beth’s character appears vulnerable but she is in control of the center of the board or rather the center of the chess world and the men she plays. Also, I found Beth’s name fascinating and wondered if one looked at it does it translate to Beth harm men? Tevis seems to like to play with his characters names such as Fast Eddy Felson (Felson= Fallen son?).

My Books

You can check out my books Chicane and the first two books in my Musicology book series Musicology: Volume One, Baby! and Musicology: Volume Two, Kid! on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback editions. Musicology Volume Three, Twist! will release this January 2021. You can also check out Musicology’s web site at www.musicologyrocks.com and vote for who you think will will Musicology!!!

STREAM OF THE WEEK: THE GAME (1993)-HBO MAX

Michael Douglas has been in some hugely entertaining films and this incredible thriller is one of his best. Directed by David Fincher, it’s the story of investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) who is turning forty-eight, the same age his father was when he saw him commit suicide. Nicholas is profoundly serious, extraordinarily rich, and very alone divorcé. He lives in his mansion in San Francisco. Except for his cook Ilsa (Carroll Baker) Nicholas has no interaction with other human beings outside of his work. While berating his office workers one day, he gets a call from Seymore Butts, who is in fact his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn) who asks him to lunch. Nicholas agrees but somewhat reluctantly as his brother has led a less than respectable life and it’s been a couple of years since they’ve been in touch. Conrad hands his brother an envelope as a gift. Inside is a voucher for a game created by CRS (Consumer Recreation Services). Suspicious but intrigued, Nicholas agrees to accept the gift…but at what risk?

SMART MOVIES FOR SMART KIDS-SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER (1993)-Netflix

This is a tremendously good film for kids and adults alike, easily one of the best of the 1990’s decade. Based on real life chess prodigy Joshua Waizkin, it is a story about balance and nurturing a child’s gift. Joshua first becomes fascinated with the game watching speed chess played in Washington Square Park primarily by hustler Vinny Livermore. Discovering seven-year-old Joshua is more than a little proficient at the game his parents enlist the talents of chess coach Bruce Pandolfini to teach Josh how to play. Torn between Livermore’s more laid-back speed chess style and Pandolfini’s ultra-strict teaching style, Joshua struggles to figure out what kind of chess player he is and what kind of person he wants to become.   

STREAM FOR CHRISTMAS: JOYEUX NOEL (2005)-CRACKLE

If you have never seen this French film, you really should. Based on the book Batailles de Flandres et d’Artois 1914-1919 by Yves Buffetaut, in 1914 during WWI a miracle happened. Sections of the Western Front called an unauthorized truce…for Christmas. And though fierce enemies, French, Scottish and German soldiers came out of the trenches and celebrated it together. The Scottish played Christmas carols on bagpipes and the soldiers exchanged chocolate and champagne. Unfortunately, the film also reminds us that all good things come at a price. It was nominated for the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film (France) and is well worth the watch.  

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