The Queen’s Gambit

Anya Taylor-Joy Plays Beth Harmon, the Fictional Sixties Chess Prodigy

The seven-part Netflix mini-series, the Queen’s Gambit, has been the streaming service’s most successful production. In the first 28 days of distribution, it has garnered 62 million views. If this were a movie exhibited in theaters, it would have qualified as a runaway blockbuster.

I’ve watched a lot of streaming content in 2020, hiding out in my condominium from the COVID-19 pandemic. This show, set in the early 1960s, is the best production I’ve seen in years. It follows the fictional life of Beth Harmon, sent to a Christian orphanage at age 9 after surviving an automobile accident that killed her mother. In the orphanage, a reclusive janitor teaches her the game of chess in the basement. You follow her life as she enters the competitive world of professional chess, saddled with addiction problems caused by the orphanage drugging the children with tranquilizers. You don’t have to know anything about the game of chess to enjoy this yarn. Just watch Anya Taylor-Joy’s icy stare as she crushes all the men who can’t believe they’re being beaten by a fourteen year-old girl.

The Queen’s Gambit was written in 1983 by Walter Tevis. Tevis was, by any definition, a successful author. He wrote the following novels, all made into popular movies.

The Hustler 1959

The Man Who Fell to Earth 1963

The Queen’s Gambit 1983

The Color of Money 1984

Walter Tevis led a sometimes turbulent life. Here’s a link to an article explaining how Beth Harmon’s journey dealing with addiction mirrors the author’s life.

Walter Tevis wrote the Queen’s Gambit in 1983, and sadly died of lung cancer a year later. Below is an image of a chess magazine of that period, showing Walter Tevis on the cover.

Walter Tevis, Author of The Queen’s Gambit

It turns out that I have a connection to Walter Tevis. Admittedly, it’s as thin as a sheet of graphene, but I can claim it. Walter Tevis was a Creative Writing and English Literature Professor from 1965 to 1978 at my undergraduate college, Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio . I was an engineering student there from 1963 to 1968.

I did take a “creative writing” class in 1963, but that was before the university hired Tevis. I still write, both on this blog and my current novel in progress, “The Voiceless Angel.”

Still, I no doubt walked by this man as I traversed the Ohio University college green on my way to classes. Color me proud that I started my career of creative writing in the English Literature Department that had Walter Tevis as one of its prestige professors.

It’s a small world!

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