by D.E. Athkins
First things first: D.E. Athkins is an amazing pseudonym. I thought it was really cool the way Mirror, Mirror was based on the Oscar Wilde classic The Picture of Dorian Gray. That being said, the concept was the strongest part of this book. Dore was not a likable main character from the jump. This worked for the most part given the nature of the story, but I think the story would have been better if she started out a little more humble. Showing a greater change in her character from page one to the end could have really elevated this. I was also left wanting to know more about Luci’s motives. I think the story would have benefited from having a clearer answer to this question. Generically just evil villains don’t cut it for me. Give them wants and make them weird. It will always be better than [instert evil laugh]. The narrative was predictable, which I suppose is to be expected given that it was based on a famous work of classic literature. In spite of that, it kept me engaged. Overall, I liked it more than I didn’t. If nothing else, Mirror Mirror left me motivated to finally read The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Recap & Observations:
After finishing Mirror, Mirror, I went back and listened to the audiobook of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I had been meaning to read it for years, and this context motivated me to finally just dive in. I’m glad I did it even though I didn’t love either book.
Dore is a beauty pageant queen who is growing bored with her seemingly perfect high school life. Her boyfriend Stan is fine and her best friend Gwen is loyal to a fault, but Dore wants something more. That’s when she meets Luci. Luci is cool as fuck and does what she wants. Dore is equal parts jealous and captivated by Luci. Luci in turn pushes Dore to go after what she wants–consequences be damned. Dore starts hearing another voice in her head urging her to give in to her darkest desires. Dore’s journey to the dark side starts begins at Megan’s party. First Gwen gets really drunk, but that doesn’t stop Dore from abandoning her to go catch some dick from Tom. Dore rides away in Tom’s sports car while the cops arrive to break up the party. She breaks up with Stan the next morning. Now, I am all about Dore’s journey and the wreckage it is bound to leave. My only wish is that she had started out more humble. This would have made the fall from grace that much more satisfying. She went from OK to bad a little too quickly. I wanted her to have a little bit more of a debate with her shoulder angels.
The night after the party, Dore blows off Gwen and is gifted a weird old mirror by Luci. Dore continues to be shitty to her former loyal best frond Gwen, especially when she finds out that Gwen and Stan have started seeing each other. Even though she had dumped Stan, Dore gets unreasonably upset about this turn of events. She asks Gwen to barrow her notes for their upcoming English exam, knowing Gwen always took the most meticulous notes. There are doodles with Stan’s name in the margins. Dore throws away the notes when she is done, even though Gwen had said she would need them back to study. As Dore’s actions grow crueler, her reflection begins to change in the mirror that Luci gave her. She doesn’t even recognize the monster she sees staring back. She decides to hide the mirror and not think about it.
Dore continues to pursue different boys. She starts dating Randy, but never thinks of him as anything more than a means to an end. That’s because the one she really wants is Corbin, but to get him she will have to get rid of his cheerleader girlfriend Mary. Dore begins to hang out more with Luci, who has a really cool apartment and her parents never seem to be around. I wanted to know more about Luci than the book ever gave us. She is clearly much older than she appears. Her name is an unsubtle allusion to Lucifer/Satan. I wanted to understand her motivations better. Everyone has motives for their actions, and hers never got more specific than spreading misery and chaos. I wanted to know why she did these things and what she stands to gain by the books ending. Unfortunately, we never get much more than generically evil, and generically evil is boring. Luci, you basic evil.
Dore gets attacked in the school parking lot and thinks it was Stan doing one of his weird school mascot things. He insists that it wasn’t him, and continues to be really nice to Dore even as she shit spirals into being an awful person. When trying out dresses for the big school dance, Dore sees a dress that has been set aside for Mary. If you recall, Mary is the cheerleader Dore needs to knock out of her way in order to steal Corbin. She notes how Mary’s very beautiful wrap-around dress is made and makes a plan. At the dance, Dore unceremoniously dumps Randy and makes her way over to where Mary and Corbin are dancing. She times are dance steps just right so she steps on a piece or Mary’s dress, causing it to unravel. Mary is humiliated and runs off, Dore moves in for the kill and stops Corbin from chasing after her. Cue Brandy and Monica.
Dore also has an altercation with Stan, who is at the dance with Gwen. He just wants to know what went wrong with Dore and why she’s being shitty. Dore brushes him off. While she is alone on the back steps of the school she is attacked again. She is able to thwart her attacker by shoving them down the long set of stairs and into the shadows below. Rattled, she decides to leave. The next morning, she finds out that Gwen was found dead after the dance, apparently having fallen down the steps. This meant that it was Gwen who attacked her and had been wearing some of Stan’s school mascot gear. This whole bit was one of the more confusing gags in the book. It was such an odd choice for Gwen to dress up and attack her former best friend. Gwen’s rage is understandable, but the costume part cheapened her rage and her death. Dore ultimately decides to go to Gwen’s funeral out of a sense of obligation, but she feels nothing at the loss of her friend.
With Gwen dead and Corbin landed as her new boyfriend, Dore sets her sights on a new endeavor. Luci informs her about an audition a few hours drive from town, she thinks Dore should try out for it. Dore gets professional headshots done and gets exciting about landing a life-changing role. But Luci starts to get weird. Dore suspects that Luci wants to compete with Dore for the role, so Dore leaves for it without telling her. She gets herself a hotel room and is walking to the audition when someone pushes her into oncoming traffic. Dore wakes up in the hospital with Stan beside her, still being the good guy after all of this. Luci has skipped town and is nowhere to be found. Dore can feel that her face has been horribly disfigured, and Stan’s reaction to her smile only confirms it. When Stan leaves, she takes a look at herself in the mirror. The monster she had seen in her reflection is gone. Staring back is her once beautiful face. Dore begins to laugh uncontrollably until tears run down her face. Her perfect reflection, who she used to be, laughs back.
The ending was more or less what I expected. It left me wanting more in terms of understanding Luci. It’s implied that she pushed Dore into traffic and that she gained something from this whole plot, but I have no idea what. I wish I did. Maybe she’s thousands of years old and this is how she stays young; like a vampire of youth and beauty. That would have made the story way more interesting and impactful. I can’t help but roll my eyes at “the devil” being here to just wreak havoc and spread misery. Just because a character is evil or demonic, doesn’t mean they can’t have wants and needs. Their wants and needs might be weird or gross or terrifying, but the horror stories work better when we have them. The more inhuman the motives are, the more creepy and unsettling it is. That’s a net positive if you’re trying to scare people. Maybe D.E. Athkins had a better idea of what Luci was and what motivated her, but we never got more than glimpses here and there. On one hand, I appreciated that approach. But in this case, I really wanted something more.
As for the Dorian Gray influence, I’ve been able to parse out only who the four main characters were supposed to represent. Dore was obvious Dorian, the young beauty who captivated those around her. Gwen was meant to be Basil, the painter whose masterwork became the titular Picture of Dorian Gray. Luci was Lord Henry, poisoning Dorian’s mind and encouraging him toward his worst instincts. And lastly, Stan was meant to be Cybal Vane, the actress who Dorian falls madly in love with but then drops like dead weight after one bad night. Beyond this and the very rough outlines of the plot, the stories are quite different when it gets down to the details. I’m glad it wasn’t just a plug-and-play adaptation, and that it gender-swapped all the main characters. I wish there were more gay undertones like in Oscar Wilde’s classic, but this was a book aimed at teens in the 90s. I also wanted Dore had been a little bit more like Dorian starting out; more sweet and innocent. It would have made her fall from grace that much more horrific and entertaining to watch.
The idea of adapting classic literature as teen horror novels is an exciting prospect for me. I know Mirror, Mirror is far from the first to do this, but I appreciated it nonetheless. Classics can be a tough slog to read, from their dated language to their odd story structures and lack of meaningful representation. Adaptations like this are a great motivating tool for me. I delayed writing this blog review just so I could have the comparison to the original to draw from and contextualize. Typically with these books, my only options for comparison are poorly made TV adaptations. It was nice to have something different. It had the added benefit of finally getting me to read a classic that had been on my list for years. And lord knows I have lots and lots of books on my endless reading list.
Next up on my list of classics is Frankenstein. Last year I read and loved Victor La Valle’s Destroyer, which was written as a sequel set 150-years after the original novel. I had already been meaning to read Frankenstein, but now I have a new context with which to think about and reflect on it. After that, I want to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That’s because I’m really excited to immediately follow it up with Alex de Campi’s 2020 comic book sequel Dracula, Motherfucker. There is a lot to learn from classics but they can certainly take the fun out of reading, even for avid readers like myself. So I am here for any means of making classics more accessible to the masses. Especially ones that go beyond a mere graphic novel adaptation. Give me your gender-swapped renditions and queer sequels. I want to read them all.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
The overall concept was the strongest part of this. I love the idea of basing a teen horror on a popular classic, and the idea behind this one was strong.
Things got off to a slow start. The scenes were sparse, which moved things along but didn’t give us a whole lot of time with any of the characters. The ending was somewhat satisfying but too predictable.
Dore was unlikable, but it worked for the narrative. It helped that she started out decent enough, even if she wasn’t a saint. I think it would have worked better if she was a bit nicer to start, and had to fight the “good shoulder angel” a bit more. Luci is the other reason I’m giving a half-point; her motives were never very clear. What did she gain from passing this on to Dore only to take it away? If it was just to fuck with people, I wanted that to be clearer.
Scare Factor: 1/2
This is the only one in the Point horror and other similar series that I know to be based on a classic piece of literature. There could very well be a lot of them. Either way, that alone makes this one stand out. But the fact that it was predictable makes it a tough sell on originality.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer