Monthly Archives: January 2013

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Book Five of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Like book four this book features the young King Caspian, but also two of the four original children from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely, Edmund and Lucy. It also features a new child, Eustace, the Pevensey’s cousin, who, in the beginning of the book, is a bit of an ill-mannered youngster always belittling his cousins and everything they talk about. He thinks Narnia is some fanciful yarn the other children tell, and not a real place… until he finds himself in it, as well.

The story begins with the children in our world. They are fascinated by a painting of a Narnian-style ship. There is a bit of a tussle between Edmund and Lucy on one side, and Eustace on the other—Eustace excels at making things difficult. They see the painting changing before their very eyes. The waves it depicts begin to move, as does the ship; the painting grows in size, and before you know it, the young children find themselves deposited in the sea. They are, of course, pulled aboard by the crew of the ship. There they find King Caspian, only a couple years older from when they left him in “Prince Caspian,” and they learn that the name of the ship is “The Dawn Treader.” And, I have to admit, that’s a pretty cool name for a ship in a magical land.

The children learn that King Caspian is on a quest to find the seven lords who King Miraz sent away during his reign because they might have supported Caspian during the troubles in “Prince Caspian.” Likewise, their old friend, the mouse, Reepicheep, is on a quest to sail into the uttermost East in search of the land of Aslan beyond the edge of the world. Edmund and Lucy happily join in the quest; Eustace is more interested in making trouble and complaining, and badmouthing everyone and everything.

So, they head out and have several interesting adventures along the way. They encounter slavers, an island that changes Eustace into a dragon—which in the long run, is actually good, because it teaches him what a pest he has been, although he still must grow a lot to overcome his own shortcomings—an island with a wizard who has one-legged dwarves for servants, a sea serpent, an island where dreams (particularly nightmares) are made real, and an island where two “retired” stars live. There is more, of course, but I will let you find it out for yourself when you read it.

One shortcoming of the book was the nautical terminology. Maybe (okay, probably) it was my fault and I was lazy and I didn’t look anything up in the dictionary, but there were a number of nautical terms regarding a ship that I did not know off the top of my head. I’m sure most of them would be confusing for a young child reading them for the first time. I could keep port and starboard straight, but that was about it. Other than that, the book suffers the same weaknesses as the other Narnia books… it isn’t detailed enough for an adult reader. It’s fine for kids, of course, but I find the Narnia books somewhat tiresome, although, this one was less so than the others. I managed to read this one in just a few days.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five for a child audience, and three stars out of five for an adult.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

Movie Review: Les Miserables

“Les Miserables” or “Les Mis” is a musical based on the French historical novel, “Les Miserables,” by Victor Hugo. It’s not like Hollywood to do a musical, but hey, they did, and I went to see it. It’s not really fantasy, or even sci-fi, for that matter, but as I’ve said before, it’s my blog, I’ll review what I want to. It’s set in the early nineteenth century in France. The primary focus of the story is the life of Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), a man imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread to feed his starving family. The story begins with his release from prison.

 

A number of other characters appear throughout the film, but all of them relate back to Jean Valjean in some way. There is a very strict, devoted French Inspector (played by Russell Crowe) who haunts Jean’s steps throughout his life, always seeking to throw him back in prison. There is a destitute woman in Jean’s employ in his new life who gets fired, turns to prostitution, then dies (played by Anne Hathaway). Jean goes on to raise her child for her, who grows up and falls in love with a man involved with the burgeoning rebellion.

The above is basically a summary of a summary. The story is too complex to really do it justice in just a paragraph. Overall, I found it quite moving. Jean started out in the pit of misery, but through the strength of his spirit, built a life for himself from nothing (well, actually, from a gift of valuables from a priest) and set himself on the path to redemption. Throughout the film he is constantly proving his worth as a caring, compassionate man, despite the trials and tribulations that beset him. It was actually quite inspiring.

 

I don’t know if there were any major flaws in the movie, and it probably deserves five stars. It’s definitely a far richer fare than what Hollywood usually serves up. Still, it’s a musical. And I don’t really care for musicals that much… well, that view may be changing because of this movie.

 

So, anyway, I’ll give this film four and a half stars out of five. But I don’t see that many musicals, so it’s hard for me to judge accurately. Perhaps it really is worthy of five.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The fourth book of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “Prince Caspian.” In this book, C. S. Lewis builds on the story of the four youngsters who played such an important role in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The four children are pulled out of our world and sent to Narnia by the power of a magical horn that a certain Prince Caspian blows in desperation to summon aid.

The children arrive on the scene in Narnia literally thousands of years after they originally reigned in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The castle that was the seat of their power is now a ruin. The landscape has altered: rivers are not where they are expected to be. The magical powers of the land are weakened: forests lie dormant, and many of the animals of that world no longer speak. It is, indeed, a dark time.

With the help of a dwarf guide they set out to render assistance to Prince Caspian. Prince Caspian, the rightful ruler of Narnia, has been usurped by his uncle Miraz, the ruthless Telmarine King who seeks Caspian’s death. Caspian, once in Miraz’s care, has fled the Telmarine castle and taken up with those few of the old Narnians—the talking animals, the wood spirits, and what-have-you—who are willing to fight for their old land and for this new promising king who is not afraid of them and will cherish their magical ways. As a result, the armies of King Miraz and the armies of King Caspian are destined to clash at Aslan’s How, the location where the great Lion, Aslan, came back from the dead in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Aslan, of course, does make an appearance in the book. First, he is seen by Lucy, but not the others; however, shortly, beginning with Edmund, the others start to see him. I won’t dwell anymore on the plot elements of the book; if you are further interested, you should read it. Like the other Narnia books, it is an excellent fantasy novel that espouses much of the Christian ethics that has so influenced so much of the world. But, like the others, I must emphasize it is a children’s book. Although it was not as tiresome as some of the others, I still had to struggle to finish it—but that’s because I’m an adult, I think. I do believe young children would enjoy it immensely.

Overall, I would give this book four stars out of five for a young children audience, but only two and half or so for an adult audience. The writing style is just too simplistic and quick. I just never felt like I could quite immerse myself in the world created or anything like that.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari on 12/30/12.

Fantasy Literature: The Aging Vampire

In “Dracula,” Bram Stoker’s grand masterpiece, Count Dracula is roughly four hundred years old, if I recall correctly. In my own novel, “Drasmyr,” Lucian val Drasmyr is about one thousand years old, give or take. I have seen films and stories where the vampire is as old as 10,000 years old. Clearly, vampires “live” longer than humans, but what is the significance of their extended lifetimes?

At some level it may just be a yearning on our part for something timeless and immortal. Such makes what the vampire offers (virtual immortality) that much more enticing. He can take away our death and suffering, end our pain. But how does the vampire see his own immortality?

Part of that can be understood by looking at how a vampire ages. The process, of course, differs somewhat with every story. In “Dracula” our illustrious Count aged like a mortal man (or something like that) when he did not get his fill of blood. Count Dracula is a very old man when Jonathan Harker first encounters him in his castle—although he is strong and spry for such an “old man.” Later, in London after he has sated much of his appetite, his iron-gray hair has turned black, and he looks like a man in his prime. This raises a number of interesting questions, but I want to remain focused on just his aging. Clearly, Bram Stoker’s vampire does age, he just has a handy mechanism to reverse it.

Another common theme in vampire lore is that vampires grow stronger with time. So, the older the vampire, the more powerful he is, and the more difficult he is to destroy. This theme was implied in “Dracula,” but I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated. In fact, at one point Van Helsing said the Count had the brain of a child, but a very clever one, or something to that effect. Still, Dracula was the master of three other vampires in his castle. There are two possible reasons for this; either he made the other vampires, or he was simply the eldest. Both seem plausible and neither seems mutually exclusive.

Today’s vampires have taken old age to grand new heights. In “Vampire Hunter D,” an anime film from the late 80’s, early 90’s, Count Magnus Lee is 10,000 years old. As such, he is virtually indestructible. He rules his clan of vampires with an iron fist. At his age, he’s actually gained telekinetic powers, among other things. But at a certain point does not adding a few more thousand years onto the age of your vampire seem tiresome? I mean, really, we get the point. The thing won’t die.

Still, I find the aging vampire and the powers such bestows upon it an interesting facet of the vampire’s multi-faceted persona. It provides a rich and malleable measure to differentiate vampires from one another and keep them unique at the same time.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

Of all the books that make up C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” this one, “The Horse and His Boy” is perhaps the most unusual. In every other book, the main characters start in Earth and come to Narnia through some magical portal to learn some important lesson. In this one, although the main characters do not live in the land of Narnia, they start in the same world. They come from a land south of Narnia on the Narnia map in the land of Calormen.

 

From the descriptions of the people, the actions they take, and the language they use, Calormen seems to me to be a metaphor for the Arab nations of Earth and their views of the great Tisroc might be construed as a metaphor for Islam. I’m not sure about that completely as I am not fully conversant in Islam or C.S. Lewis’ scholarly background. But it seems likely. As such, there is a developed contrast between Narnia (Christianity) and Calormen (Islam/Arabia) and as C.S. Lewis is a Christian, Christianity comes out clearly as the winner in this book. Personally, I do think Christianity has an edge over Islam (but again, I’m not fully conversant in Islam), but my views are not relevant to this review or the work as a whole.

 

Anyway, the four main characters of this novel are: the young boy, Shasta, the young girl, Aravis, and the two Talking Horses, Hwin and Bree. The book starts with Shasta living a desperate life of servitude in Calormen and the story, as a whole, generally revolves around him. In the beginning, he’s pretty much a slave-boy to his “father,” Arsheesh, a poor fisherman. Then one day, a nobleman comes to his father’s hut, and, seeing the boy, wants to buy him as a slave. His “father” and the nobleman begin to barter. That night, now in even more desperate straits, Shasta escapes on the nobleman’s horse who just happens to be Bree, a Talking Horse from Narnia who is pretending to be a dumb animal wishing he could return to Narnia.

 

Shasta and Bree take flight north towards Narnia. Along the way, they encounter Aravis and her Talking Horse, Hwin. They team up and begin their journey.

 

Another unusual aspect of this book is that this story takes place before the end of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It happens sometime during the reign of the two kings and two queens of Narnia from that book. Shasta and his company encounter King Edmund and Queen Lucy several times during the book. Or is it Queen Susan? I’ve forgotten already. Anyway, I won’t reveal the ending.

 

It’s a decent book for kids, morally speaking. It embraces the Christian ethos while providing an intriguing, fun adventure story.

 

I was having some issues while reading the latter half of this book, so I don’t feel comfortable giving it a precise ranking, so I will give it a range. I think it is about three and a half to four stars out of five, inasmuch as it’s a children’s book. Adults probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much (I know I didn’t: these Narnia books are becoming something of a challenge to finish).

This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

Would You Want to be a Vampire? Part Two: The Modern Vampire

In the previous post, I asked if you wanted to be a traditional vampire. And the obvious answer should be “No!” However, the nature of the vampire has changed over time. Asking the question today is not nearly as clear as it was one hundred years ago. Courtesy of first Anne Rice, and then Stephenie Meyer, vampires have morphed into modern day heroes. Actually, I must be careful here. Some modern writers, such as myself, have taken great pains to keep their vampires dark and sinister in accordance with the traditional archetype. I’m not talking about those vampires. I’m talking about Twilight-type vampires.

 

Modern day romanticized vampires have been stripped of all their negative attributes. Do they lose their soul upon conversion? Uh, no. And that’s a biggie. Do they smell like the grave? Again, no. Are they inherently evil? This kind of goes with losing one’s soul so again the answer is no. The modern day romanticized vampire is incredibly strong, virtually immortal, and deeply in touch with his feelings. They make the perfect date for the modern girlie teen-ager. The only drawback is that they drink blood, but some can “go vegetarian” and survive off animal blood. I have to point this out, though. I’m a guy, and I write, and my sister reads my work. She takes great pains to point out the errors of my ways if I have too many women who are just cosmically beautiful with looks that kill. That if you do that too much you are objectifying women as mere items to titillate men’s fancies (a few of the women in Drasmyr fall into that category, but I couldn’t figure out a way to change it without doing damage to the story as I envisioned it). If a man writes about a woman and she is the perfect woman in each and every way, this makes things difficult with real women. Real women never measure up. Real women should be offended by such a characterization. Well, perhaps you see where I’m going. Perhaps, courtesy of Stephenie Meyer, the shoe is on the other foot, now (ha ha!). I think the male vampires from Twilight are an example of the perfect man (if you ignore the drinking blood bit). Real men just can’t measure up to Edward Cullen. And hordes of teen-age girls go all googly whenever they hear his name. I would go on, but I’ve gotten off track enough as it is (and, truthfully, I don’t care enough about the point to go on … I’m just making a nuisance of myself).

 

My point: modern vampires have changed from something evil into a romantic superhero. Now, when someone asks you if you want to be a vampire, the answer isn’t so obvious. For myself, I still say no. I like me the way I am—I don’t need some quick-become-undead-fix to cover up my many flaws. I think a lot of guys would probably say no just on the principle that they want nothing to do with Twilight or its vampires. A lot of teen age girls, however, might say yes. “Make me a vampire. Make me a vampire. Please!!!”

 

And somewhere Bram Stoker is rolling over in his grave. Or clawing his way out with murder in his eyes!

Would You Want to be a Vampire? Part One: The Traditional Vampire

With the popularity of vampires among society today, this actually becomes a question worth asking. Once upon a time, most people would have answered with a resounding “No!” Why, you might ask? Let’s discuss that. At that point in time, humanity’s definition of a vampire was very different than it is today. Once upon a time, vampires were creatures of the night; Dracula was their progenitor; and Satan their lord. Ahh, yes, the times of yesteryear. This old, traditional vampire was all but immortal; they could only be slain by a wooden stake through the heart, running water, or sometimes sunlight. They were incredibly strong and had a host of special powers like the ability to change into a bat, or mist, or a wolf. But to remain strong and immortal they had to feed on human blood. That is, of course, one point against them, as most people probably don’t want to make a diet of human blood. But that’s not the worst of it.

 

In the West where Christianity was once quite strong there has always been a strong connection between blood and religion. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his apostles, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have Eternal Life,” and he promptly gave them bread and wine; the bread being his flesh, and the wine his blood (there is debate between Catholics and Protestants whether the bread/flesh and wine/blood connections are intended to be taken literally or symbolically, but that is straying off topic here). The important thing here is that Christ wanted you to consume his “blood” in order to be saved. I’m not an expert on theology or Judaic tradition so I may be getting in a little over my head here, but I seem to recall that blood was an important aspect in sin offerings. So, as far as Christianity is concerned, the blood of Christ served to “wash away” one’s sins; consuming Christ’s blood is a way to accept that and gain entrance to Heaven (like I said, I’m not an expert).

 

Vampires, on the other hand, are a complete perversion of this. They (in the West) were minions of Satan. They consumed blood and granted Eternal Life, as well, but the life they granted was an accursed abomination. It was an eternal, physical life in this “fallen” world filled with sin. Depending on the tradition, a human can become a vampire either by being bitten by a vampire, or by consuming a vampire’s blood. In the latter case, the perverted connection to Christianity is stronger. Here, the victim, instead of consuming Christ’s holy blood consumes the blood of the vampire, the unholy blood of Satan. Thus, it is a reversal of Christian Salvation. As a result, the victim is cursed to walk forever as an undead creature of the night to be forever repulsed by all things holy. Here, the price of becoming a vampire is your very soul.

 

I just made all of that up. How’d I do? J

 

Anyway, the obvious conclusion to the question: “Would you want to be a (traditional) vampire?” should be a resounding “No!” for all clear-thinking individuals.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis is probably the most famous of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia. Although it is listed as book two in the series because the events that take place within it follow the events that take place in “The Magician’s Nephew” it was actually written first (I believe “The Magician’s Nephew” came out chronologically as around book six or so, and was written as a prequel). Anyway, because of the break in the timeline, there is some discontinuity between this book and the first; specifically with reference to the character of the White Witch.

 

As noted in my prior review, the Chronicles of Narnia are intended to be a metaphorical story used to introduce young children to Christianity. The Lion, Aslan, is analogous to Jesus Christ. Opposed to him is the White Witch, a.k.a. Satan. In this book, the relationship between Satan and the White Witch is a little clearer. In this book, there is a reference to the White Witch previously being in the service of The Emperor Across the Sea (God) as his sort of enforcer. That is analogous to the role Satan has in some Judea-Christian traditions where he played the role of an accuser of a man for his sins before the throne of God. I just wanted to note that because that is a change from “The Magician’s Nephew” in which the White Witch is described as coming to Narnia from a completely different world (a world she destroyed); there is no reference to her ever being in service to The Emperor Across the Sea.

 

Anyway, the main characters of the story are four children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They discover a wardrobe in their uncle’s (I think it’s uncle) house, that leads them to the magical land of Narnia. There, they find the whole land in the grip of a never-ending winter brought on by the power of the White Witch. And to make matters worse, the White Witch is even preventing Christmas from coming (oh, no!). But with the arrival of the four children—the two Sons of Adam, and the two Daughters of Eve—things start to turn around. Soon, the Great Lion, Aslan is on the move to help the children bring about the ruin of the White Witch.

 

The most important metaphor in this book is the death of Aslan at the hands of the White Witch and his subsequent resurrection by the power of the Deeper Magic. Obviously, this is supposed to serve as a metaphor for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there’s not too much to be added to that.

 

Overall, this is a good children’s book incorporating the strong moral traditions of Christianity in it. As an adult, I found it entertaining, but of a somewhat light fare. And, after a certain point, because it is geared towards children, it started to get a little tedious; I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the series.

 

Anyway, as far as a children’s book goes, I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Fantasy Literature: Short Stories vs. The Novel

The art of writing a short story is distinctly different from writing a novel. There is far less “room” in a short story than a novel; you must make every word count, particularly if you are up against a tight word count. The story must be unified by a single theme or over-arching idea; there is no room for subplots and parallel memes. Depending on the genre, the notion of a twist is also quite prevalent. In fantasy literature, for example, there must be something in the story that takes it an unexpected direction, or flips our expectations upon their head. A piece of clean prose that tells a simple straightforward tale will not cut it. Nowadays, there is a requisite of something unusual, something that makes one look at the story from a clever angle.

 

One is also limited by characters and viewpoints in the short story. Generally, the writer is limited to a single viewpoint with but one protagonist and one antagonist. There might be a couple other minor characters, but they will be few in number and their roles hardly substantive.

 

A novel is an altogether different animal. While it is true, that there is usually a central theme for any great literary work, there also can be sub-themes and sub-plots and what have you. These can be developed throughout the course of the work, because there is no word-limit on a novel (although length of a novel certainly is no indicator of quality). Complex literary devices like symbolism and such can be fully employed in a novel; one has plenty of room to develop and expand upon such concepts. In the fantasy genre, the novel, like the short story, must be more than a straightforward tale. We are drawn to the unusual and the surprising. Because of its greater length, the novel has room for multiple twists, each one eliciting a pleasant burst of “ahh!” from the reader. A story of a brave knight rescuing a princess from a dragon no longer cuts it today.

 

In the fantasy novel, multiple viewpoints and plotlines have become almost standard practice. Rare is the novel with but a single protagonist these days.

 

So which one will you write? For myself, I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve written a number of short stories, with a few minor publishing successes. However, I got into writing to write novels not short stories. Short stories are great to hone your craft, to figure out the intricacies of fusing dialogue with narrative and what-have-you. And I don’t regret the time I’ve spent on short stories—I even have a number of short story ideas that will probably never come to fruition—but I have decided that I want to focus on novels. Besides, short stories don’t pay enough to support a writer. They exist to fluff the resume. And they are great for honing your craft. But, in my opinion, that is all they can do.