Books are up for an Academy Award. At least, flying books in “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” just nominated for Best Animated Short. As the description reads: “Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, ‘Morris Lessmore’ is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor.” (What booklover will not be amused when the animated humpty-dumpty of a book uses his feet to play the piano, literalizing footnotes? Going to bed on a book, Lessmore later is lifted to the sky by a fluttering biblioflock, and conservationists may sympathize with the analogy of their careful repairs to a surgical dissection theater: a matter of life and death.)
Filmed book-trailers now litter the landscape. Beyond adaptations of one medium to another, films and books increasingly crisscross each other’s terrains, borrowing and blending techniques, suggesting new dimensions and directions for storytelling. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is far from a trailer. It uses the medium of film to draw attention back to the other medium’s bounds. And beyond. Far from antiquated, stagnant, paginated lumps, Lessmore’s books animate, embed and embody us, palpating with joy and pathos, transported to Oz-like lands.
At a time when apocalyptic proclamations about the end of the book recur, these animated pages remind us that books also are a technology–as the following two clips address with a twist. A contemporary book is called a “new device” and “revolutionary product,” while a medieval book requires a computer-like “help desk”:
What do we learn about our relationship with the BOOK by re-viewing it through animation, as a revolutionary device, and as a technology so complex that it needs an IT guide? In her “biography” entitled The Book: The Life Story of a Technology (Johns Hopkins UP, 2009), Nicole Howard writes that books “may not immediately strike a parallel with more familiar technologies. Hundreds of pages sewn together, bearing printed or handwritten material, hardly compares to supersonic jets and Pentium chips. But in fact, no other technology in human history has had the impact of this invention. Indeed, the book is the one technology that has made all the others possible, by recording and storing information and ideas indefinitely in a convenient and readily accessible place.” Or, to jump back a few centuries to John Milton (1643): “For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”