Just a note to let you know I’m guest posting on Cirsova today. Just a few thoughts on some of my influences in fantasy literature and how they have affected me. I talk a lot about J.R.R. Tolkien. Check it out!
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies completes the story begun in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and continued in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The movie stars Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Luke Evans (Bard) and a whole host of other actors and stars including Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), and Christopher Lee (Saruman).
The story picks up where the last movie left off. Smaug is destroying Lake Town and only Bard the archer can hope to stop him with the last remaining black arrow. It is a tense scene, worth witnessing, but suffice it to say, Smaug’s screen time in this movie is probably less than five minutes. He’s in at the beginning, then he’s dead. Then the real challenges begin: for Bard, it is finding refuge for the survivors of Lake Town. For Thorin, it is keeping the Lonely Mountain in the hands of the dwarves. For Bilbo, it is being a true friend to Thorin and company, seeking the best for them, despite what they might think. Soon, there is an army of humans, and an army of Elves on the doorstep of the mountain. The entrance is walled off and fortified, but Thorin and company are only twelve in number. They send word to Dain of the Iron Hills via a thrush and shortly an army of Dwarves arrive on the scene. It looks like there is about to be bloodshed between the Elves and the Dwarves when an army of Orcs arrives. A foe everybody can hate. There is much bloodshed and chaos. Thorin has his final epic struggle with the pale orc, Azog. Some of the company die. The dwarf-elf love interest of the second movie is left unfulfilled and bittersweet as Kili dies. Then, the Eagles arrive, carrying Beorn with them. There is more blood and chaos, and the orcs are defeated. Oh yes, and all throughout this is interwoven Gandalf’s story. He is rescued by the combined efforts of Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman. Sauron is driven off, the ringwraiths are defeated. Then, Gandalf is off rushing to the aid of Bilbo, Thorin, and company.
Strengths: the acting was good, the special effects were good, the story kept my interest even though the bulk of it was about a battle and the build up to said battle. Tolkien purists might object to some of the liberties taken with the material, but I thought that all the modifications were still in keeping with the spirit of the tale. Weaknesses: Probably my biggest complaint was the fact that Smaug was killed in the first five minutes of the movie. If you’re going to keep the dragon around after the movie he should have died in (The Desolation of Smaug), then you should make ample use of him. Oh yeah, there also these things called werewyrms, or something like that, that showed up briefly, dug some tunnels, and then disappeared. I mean, what was that?
Anyway, I’ll give The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies four stars out of five.
How to Train Your Dragon 2is the second instalment in the How to Train Your Dragon series. It is, of course, an animated film by Dreamworks (I think). It was directed by Dean DeBlois (a director I’ve never heard of ) and it stars Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, and Gerard Butler as the voices of Hiccup, Valka, and Stoick respectively. Like its predecessor its good family fun, though there is enough violence in it to earn a PG rating. I wouldn’t bring children under five to it, but an older group would likely enjoy it quite a bit.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up where the previous movie left off. Now, Hiccup is set up as Stoick’s heir; he will become Berk’s chieftain when Stoick passes away. He’s not exactly comfortable with that decision and that provides some of the tension with his father. Hiccup spends much of his time with his pet dragon, Toothless, exploring the seas around Berk and mapping the unexplored terrain. One day, while exploring, he finds an island of ice that is home to innumerable wild dragons and a mysterious dragon rider, like himself, who seems to have as much control and command of the dragons as he does. At the same time, he learns of new enemies on the horizon, led by the terrible Viking lord Drago and his army of dragons. Together can Hiccup and Toothless defeat Drago and his army? Or will they succumb to his great power?
Strengths: as this is an animated film, you really can’t judge it for special effects. The animation was fine, the storyline and plot were good, as was the dialogue. It can’t really be judged for acting, but the reading of the dialogue was excellent. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Weaknesses: it was rated PG, and as such, it deserved that rating. It probably isn’t appropriate for really young children because there were one or two actual deaths in the film. They were handled tactfully and as well as could be done, but still, that might be a bit much for a four year old. That alone, I think is the biggest weakness. There is one small logical flaw in the movie, though. Hiccup and Toothless are out exploring, mapping the mysterious terrain. But these are Vikings. They have ships. Wouldn’t they know what was in the surrounding ocean? But that minor detail can be overlooked for a children’s movie.
In the end, I’ll give How to Train Your Dragon 2 four stars out of five.
Godzillais one of the latest remakes of popular films from the past—well, actually the plot is unique, so perhaps it’s not a remake per se, but just a new story based on that most famous of all monsters: Godzilla. I was a big Godzilla fan when I was a little kid; I even had a big green Godzilla doll/toy that terrorized many a smaller dinosaur figurine in my sandbox in years gone by. Great fun. Anyway, there have been numerous Godzilla movies through the years. Sometimes Godzilla plays a big bad mean monster threatening to destroy the world. Other times he plays a kind of heroic monster that saves humanity from other nasties. In this movie, he plays a good monster.
The plot is pretty basic. There are two malevolent prehistoric beasties that kind of remind me of the monster from Cloverfield. They are out and about ravaging the world, heading on a b-line for each other to mate and propagate. And, of course, the female is carrying several hundred eggs which will devastate the world if allowed to hatch. These creatures feed on radiation; in fact, that’s how they were reanimated. Godzilla is an apex predator from those ancient times when such monsters were common on the world. Now, he rises again to hunt the creatures down. But can even he handle two such monsters at the same time?
Strengths: it’s always fun watching gigantic monsters tear apart human cities with ease. The plot was simple and easy to follow with a share of twists to increase the tension throughout. The acting was fine and there were no glaring loop holes in the plot. And perhaps the greatest plus: Godzilla used his breath weapon three times! Weaknesses: I think I may have outgrown my youthful zeal for Godzilla and other monsters. I found this film kind of boring. I’m sure the very young, however, will enjoy it. And it is clean—no sex or profanity; I believe it is PG-13 simply because of the violence. The human drama I found tedious. I go to see Godzilla to see Godzilla stomp things—kind of like the same reason I see The Hulk—not to see how normal people deal with the crisis of a moving mountain of death.Maybe I’ve just seen that type of movie too many times. It doesn’t do anything for me anymore.
Anyway, if you’re an adult this movie is worth maybe two or two and a half stars out of five. If you’re a little kid, it is probably worth three and a half or so.
I know, I know, I know … I’m in the middle of releasing “The Children of Lubrochius” so I should probably keep my eye on one target at a time. But I couldn’t resist. This week I uploaded a collection of three short stories to both Amazon and Smashwords. The title of the collection is “Of Dragons, Love, and Poison.” I kind of dig that title. Here’s a look at the cover:
And here’s some of the backcopy for each short story:
Of Dragons, Love, and Poison: The king’s daughter and her younger brother have vanished and the warrior Thrigon is tasked with finding them. Can he unravel the web of lies and dark magic surrounding their abduction? Or will he find himself a victim to the same power that claimed them?
The Red Archer: Return to the land of Athron in this exciting tale that pits the world’s greatest archer against a master thief.
Fate Unchained: In this tale, a young prince is denied his birthright by an inauspicious augury. Now an adult, the young prince must confront his younger brother for the crown of the kingdom and its ultimate fate.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin is the first book of the Earthsea series, a rather famous series that has been around for decades. The copyright on A Wizard of Earthsea dates it to 1968, so it’s stayed the course of time. I’ll begin my book by saying, I didn’t really like the first chapter that much. It was written in that older style (I don’t recall the technical name—it’s like 3rd person narrative, or something like that) where every scene runs into every other scene and it consists of a shallow narrative that simply seems to connect dots in a line to me. I much prefer the modern style, where you sink into the scene getting glimpses of even the thoughts of the characters. Anyway, from the outset it is quite clear that Ursula K. Le Guin has incredible skill with the written word. Although I didn’t like the style, I was very much impressed with her technical skill.
The story told is of the early exploits of the young wizard named Ged. It’s worth pointing out that Ged is his true name (in normal affairs he goes by Sparrowhawk). I’ve always wondered where the notion that knowledge of a thing’s true name gives one power over that thing came from. I’ve seen such referenced in Dungeons and Dragons, The Black Company books by Glen Cook, and now here. As this dates to 1968 it is the current winner in my experience. Anyway, the character of Sparrowhawk begins the book as a precocious, power-hungry wizard-in-training. He is so precocious, and so power-hungry he gets himself in trouble and inadvertently, in an attempt to upstage a rival, unleashes a shadowy being from the underworld onto the real world. The rest of the book deals largely with him dealing with this shadowy being with only a few side adventures. It’s a short book, so the side adventures make up a good portion of it. It’s got a dragon in it, which is always a plus in my view, provided the dragon is done well—and this one is.
Strengths: like I said, Ursula K. Le Guin’s skill with the written word is quite impressive. The main character evolves quite convincingly over the course of the book from a rash impetuous youth, to a more mature seasoned individual. I must stress again the writer’s skill: it is very difficult to write in the style she chose. She used that old English type prose that Tolkien did many times (you know, kind of a Yoda-speak: “strong, it was, and sleek,” etc …) and it didn’t come across as tiresome and forced. That is an achievement in its own right. Weaknesses: although I found the tale to be entertaining, I was not fully smitten by it. It was an okay story, written in an earlier, more difficult to read style, but written with incredible skill.
Ultimately, I’ll give A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin four stars out of five.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Peter Jackson’s latest attempt to translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful work to the big screen. And … if I never here the phrase “What have we done?” in a movie ever again, it will be too soon—just sayin’.
The movie continues the story that began with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You can read my review of that movie here. Bilbo is still on his quest with the thirteen dwarves to reclaim their home (Mount Erebor) from the dragon, Smaug. After narrowly escaping the clutches of Azog and his orc patrols (with the help of Beorn), the company sets off through Mirkwood. They encounter spiders and elves, are dwarfnapped, escape and travel on into the ruined lands surrounding The Lonely Mountain (a.k.a Erebor) where the dragon resides. There are other threads involved in the adventure. though. Gandalf must leave the group. In the book, he simply leaves and we are given no information (except in the Appendices) as to what he’s up to while he’s gone. In the movie, though, a good deal of time is spent on Gandalf and his doings. There’s an appearance of Radagast in the movie. And a whole new character spun from whole-cloth: Tauriel, a female elf captain. Anyway, there are a number of changes from the book. If I wanted to be a Tolkien purist, I might be offended, particularly by Tauriel, the character that should not exist and really wasn’t necessary. However, I’m not a purist. Some of the changes I liked, others I did not.
Strengths: the acting was good. The special effects were good (I only saw the 2D version—I have very little use for 3D movies). The plot and storyline were good (it’s still basically Tolkien’s story). The movie is clean, although violent. I think 10 year olds would enjoy it, but I wouldn’t go much younger than that. There were no comedic asides (that I recall) like in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and that’s a good thing. Plus, I did like the bit about Smaug and the One Ring. That was a cool addition. Weaknesses: well, there are a few. I have already mentioned the complete invention of Tauriel. She wasn’t needed. And, to a certain extent, she is a disservice to the source material. My biggest complaint was that the movie seemed to spend more time on the modifications of the original story as it did on the parts that came from the original story. Beorn was there. For a moment. If you blinked, you might have missed him. Same could be said for the spiders. Another big failing was the dragon. He looked like he was made out of rubber. I was expecting much more. Maybe he’ll grow on me like the Balrog from LOTR. But probably not. I have very high standards for dragons. J
Anyway, I’m not sure if I should give this movie three-and -a-half stars or four (out of five). I’m in a good mood, so I’ll give it four.
Note: From now until the beginning of January, I’m running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.
I’m going to do something different today and just give a list of books I think should be required reading for a fantasy buff or a fantasy author. I’ll also give a few brief reasons why I believe such books belong on the list.
Well, that’s eight. I think they are all deserving. Anyone have any they would like to add?
I finally got around to reading George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” It’s a classic fantasy book with battles, intrigue, and fantastical creatures. When I first heard of the series, my original impression was that it was just a simple medieval setting without any fantasy creatures. I don’t know why I had that impression, but I did. As it turns out, I was completely wrong: It’s got the medieval armies and the fantasy creatures. Specifically, just in book one, it has direwolves, wights, and dragons. It also mentions a few other critters that may rear their heads in later books.
The story is complex and convoluted. There are quite a large number of point-of-view characters: Eddard, Catelyn, Tyrion, Danerys, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran (I think that’s all). Things start out simply enough with most of the action taking place in the northern citadel of Winterfell. Soon enough, however, the storyline fractures. Eddard Stark is appointed the King’s Hand. As a result, one group of people goes south to King’s Landing, another group stays at Winterfell, and Jon Snow (Eddard’s bastard son) heads even further north to the Wall. There is also the building side storyline involving Danerys who, I think, is on an entirely different continent not shown on the book maps. I assume she’ll be crossing the water soon enough, but on the whole, it makes it difficult to follow the plot … not the major thrust: the assassination attempt on Bran and Catelyn’s investigation into such and Eddard’s intrigues at court. That went well enough, but the problem was the whole horde of characters in this book. There’s probably five or six or more characters for each point-of-view character, so very soon, the sheer numbers of such become unmanageable.
Also, this book should come with an adult warning. There’s incest, teen sex, and a six-year-old boy who still breastfeeds just to name a few eyebrow raisers. I also read somewhere that things go very poorly for the Starks in later books, which is a shame, because those are the characters I liked the most … particularly Jon Snow. Because of that, I probably will not read any further in the series. I read the first book and overall I’d say my reaction was lukewarm. It wasn’t bad; it was decent, but the eyebrow raisers listed above and the fact I was forewarned about a number of Starks dying does not inspire me to read more.
Strengths: I liked the direwolves and dragons, and the Night’s Watch. The writing was decent and the main characters were likeable enough. Weaknesses: there were too many characters, too many things done simply for shock-value, and for some reason or other, I never fully sank into the book. Sometimes, it was almost a chore to read.
Ultimately, I’ll give “Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin three stars out of five.
This review was originally published on Goodreads on 6/27/13.
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.