Monday, January 25, 2016

Celtic Woman - Tir na nOg Music Video

This is one of Celtic Woman's new songs from their newest album, Destiny. I like Celtic Woman a lot, and I'm really glad they're using Irish more in their lyrics from this album. (I suspect it has something to do with Meav acting as an adviser/consultant/something.)

Anyway, this is probably my favorite song from the album, and they made a music video for it:

Cool song.

Here's my one thought: I'm not musically inclined in any way, and I know pretty much nothing about making music videos, but from the music videos I've seen, I always thought the point was to show things you can't do on a stage. In this video, they kind of act like they're on a stage the whole time. There's a few special effects, but otherwise I thought it was nearly pointless.

BUT... they show a castle in the middle of the video! Do you recognize it from my Travel Blog?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

J-Term Done

Well, I finished my last J-Term class today - History of Christianity. One of the things I liked about it was that our textbook had a few hymns and the backstory to when they were written. To my amazement, some of them were written while the writer was in prison, and still praising God even though they were in truly terrible circumstances. I don't know how their music survived, but I will try to remember the writers' amazing faith the next time I sing one of those hymns in church.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The New Star Wars -- ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*** - I Think It's Worth Seeing

My family saw the new Star Wars movie a few days after Christmas, and to be honest, I have been trying to figure out if I liked it or not. It wasn't bad, and I thought a lot of it was pretty clever. I'm just going to list the points that I thought were most important to the movie, in the order of the stuff that I thought was terrible to the stuff that I thought was clever. Warning: SPOILERS!*

Here's what I'm going to do: in the first section, I'm going to talk about the overall theme, feel, etc., of the movie; in the second section, the specific details that either impressed or disgusted me, again in order of how little I liked them to how much I liked them.

Here goes!

The "Spoilers"

*I think this contains spoilers. Prior to seeing the movie, I kept hearing about this one huge twist in the plot, and after watching the movie, I have no idea what that might have been, because nothing felt like a huge spoiler.

I guess it was Ren Kylo's (Kylo Ren's? Whatever) family. But - and I knew pretty much nothing about the Extended Universe, which the movie is supposed to be loosely based on - I was expecting that. I mean, come on. Of course. What else were they going to do? Literally nobody spoiled it for me, I didn't read it anywhere, and I barely touched the Extended Universe (except for the Darth Bane trilogy - my favorite SciFi books!) and I still knew what that was going to be. 

There was another possible spoiler, that also had to do with Kylo's family - it's pretty much at the end of the movie. Maybe that was it, since that one actually was a spoiler, but... I guess my point is, there really aren't that many *spoilers* in the movie. At least, I didn't think so.

They Got the Most Important Element of the First Trilogy, But They Put Themselves in a Position to Go Completely Off the Rails

My mom is very fond of telling my brother and me that when the original trilogy came out, it came out in the age of the anti-hero. According to her, there weren't many other actual, real, good heroes. For movies, it was the age of moral relativity, and the only thing that separated the "hero" from the "villain" was that the "hero" was the main character. Enter Star Wars, which is obviously nothing like that. Not that the heroes only do good (Han Solo? Leia? Even Luke?) but they're still different from the villains. There is still a right, and a wrong, beyond any doubt. I don't know much about the movies that came out when Star Wars did, so I mostly have my mom's authority for this, but even in an age of comic book and Inkling heroes, Star Wars clearly shows that in order to be a true hero, you can't be a villain. None of the characters are perfect, but you can still tell who's good and who's bad.

The new one nailed that. Not only are the heroes good, and people worth looking up to, but even the villain sort of acknowledges that there's a difference between right and wrong. When the main girl comes across the main guy and a droid who need help, even though she is in every position to say, "Why should I help you at all?" she does the right thing and helps them. The main guy is completely a demonstration not just in avoiding doing really bad things (like murder) but in the less bad things too (like desertion). There is virtually no moral relativity - and by that, I don't mean that they always do what's right, or that they always know what's right, but that they're mostly trying for what's right. 

The problem - and it could be a huge problem - is what they did with the villain. I think the backstory is fabulous, and if they don't screw it up, it could be a great story. Kylo was learning how to use the Force to become a Jedi when he decided he wanted to be like Darth Vader. Literally - he wants to follow in Vader's specific footsteps. He even wears a mask that disguises his voice. What bugs me is that the move left in a position to do all kinds of justification for Vader being not really that bad, to make all kinds of excuses for his switching to the Dark Side (not reasons, but excuses) and to blame everybody else for what Kylo did, is doing, and wants to do. No. I'm sorry, no. I know Obi-Wan kind of blamed himself for Anakin Skywalker's transition to the Dark Side, but they still made it clear Vader was evil. If they decide to start making excuses for the villain, like a lot of other Disney movies have started doing, it could derail a pretty important aspect of Star Wars. I find it kind of ironic - the original trilogy came out at a time when there were no heroes; the newest one comes out at a time when there are no villains. 

The problem with this is that Darth Vader is entirely and completely the absolute worst villain you could make excuses for - because he changed. He left the Dark Side at the very end, and gave his life to save his son's. No excuses necessary - he died a hero. If they detract from that by trying to excuse Vader, they're going to ruin the character even worse than the prequels did. 

There Was a Lot More Referencing the Past Than Any of the Other Star Wars Movies I've Seen

Let me explain: in the original trilogy, there wasn't a lot of history, per se, and most of it was recent history. Of the prequels, I only saw the Phantom Menace, and that only twice, so I can't speak for the other two, but what I remember of the Phantom Menace had very little references to anything that happened at a time before the movie. You don't hear much about the history of the Jedi, or the Republic, or even really the Sith. (Okay, how are Jedi and Darth Vader in blogspot's dictionary but Sith and Skywalker aren't?) Anyway, in the new movie, the main girl (Rey?) asks Han, "Are the stories all true?" and there's a scene with "the first Jedi Temple" (which I'm pretty sure was filmed on Skellig Michael.) There's even a scene where Kylo is looking at Darth Vader's helmet, and as I said, his whole purpose is to follow in Vader's footsteps. You can just feel more of a world with this movie, and I kind of liked that. Instead of adding to the galaxy just by making new aliens and new alien cultures (although they did that too, believe me) they also added to the galaxy by giving it a little depth.

I'm Not Sure It Felt Like a Normal Sci-Fi Movie

I honestly cannot believe J. J. Abrams directed this movie, because it felt nothing like his other ones. He did the Star Trek reboots, which were totally Sci-Fi, to the core. He also did Fringe, which again, was totally Sci-Fi. This movie almost felt more like a fantasy. Not just because of the Force - there were other things, too, that just ... wow. There's a whole lot more mysticism about things other than the Force - things like legends, places, and the sets. Definitely the sets. The main guy's backstory (I think his name's Finn) is that he was kidnapped from his parents and raised to be a Stormtrooper. Boy, does that sound like a certain fantasy that also has dragons? Kylo Ren, when he takes off that mask, looks like he stepped out of that fantasy, too.

There was also a ton of symbolism, some of which was actually really clever. There's one scene when a character is wobbling between the Light and the Dark, and in that scene, a sun acts almost like a channel for Light, and what choice that character makes seems to be influenced by sunlight. I find this interesting because a sun is really important to science in space; solar systems need it for gravity, it can be used for navigation, etc. But it also plays the part of a symbol. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say it felt like a fantasy, because it really didn't. It kind of felt like either a failure at the Sci-Fi element in particular (which, given his track record, I have a hard time believing of J. J. Abrams) or kind of a new spin on Sci-Fi. Either way, I liked it. 

They Definitely Work on the Elements That Are Native to Star Wars

Space battles, and Lightsaber fights. Star Wars owned them both, and this new movie just ruled at making them. The space battles are amazing. There is also a lightsaber fight at the end, and it's freaking fantastic. I think I was holding my breath while watching it. My brother despises it, because one of the participants should have no reason being so good, but whatever. I loved watching it. I really don't know what else to say.

Anyway, below are my thoughts on specific events or points in the movie. You have to scroll down to see them, because these are probably spoilers, and again, rated from my least favorite to my most favorite.

Han Goes Back to Smuggling

This was possibly the worst part of this movie, because it just about completely undid all the hard work and character development dedicated to the original's most questionable hero (more on why that's so important later). In the first movie, Han was a dishonest, selfish, cheating, selfish, careless, and selfish character who ran from absolutely everything and cared only about his pay. By the second movie, he hung around, more or less, and endured torture for the sake of the Rebels; by the third movie, there wasn't even a question of him running away. The Rebels trusted him to lead a sneak attack on Endor, and they knew he wouldn't run away. But - years after being with Leia, after working to build a better world with her and his friends, he runs away. The reason they give isn't a bad one, but I really don't think any reason could be good enough to completely undo his entire character arc in the original trilogy. At least it didn't feel like they were doing it just for nostalgic thrills - with one or two exceptions, but I guess they're allowed that - but even in its best light, this is just stupid writing

Han and Leia Broke Up?

Again - undoing a ton of character development. The reason is the same reason Han goes back to smuggling, but again, I doubt there's a reason strong enough to outweigh the character buildup in the original trilogy. Han went from being a runner, and Leia toned down her arrogance. 

This particularly irritates me, because in today's books, movies, etc., there are so, so, so few romances that actually serve to propel the plot or build character. Most of them just serve to be romances. And it's annoying. And it's distracting. Han and Leia's romance actually developed their characters and propelled the plot (more the former than the latter, but still) and this movie totally screwed it up and set them back to pretty much the beginning. Nice going. 

However, I'm still rating this as only second worst because, when their relationship is explored, it does actually serve to rebuild their characters and propel the plot (more the latter than the former this time, actually) and it's not just there to be a romance. Notice the first infinitive verb, though - rebuild. It shouldn't have needed to be done again. I will say that it did not fell like a repeat of their previous character development; it did feel like a continuation. Just a bad continuation.

The Buildup/Payoff For Small Scenes Was Weird

There were two incidents I can think of that were just strange. First, Han is about to introduce the main leads to a new alien, and he says, "She's kind of an acquired taste." It's an implication that she's scary - but she's not. She's nothing short of helpful and caring the entire time. Sure, she says some things the main characters don't want to hear, mostly "Don't run away," but that's it. She was sweet, kind, and almost motherly.

Then, while talking to that alien, and at a few other points, Han says, "Leia doesn't want to see me." There's this buildup that there's going to be fireworks and problems (and I was thinking, no, please no, no more romantic couples fighting, I can't stand that) but none of that came. They were perfectly nice to each other the whole time, There was no finger pointing, and no yelling.

Han and Leia Don't Fight!!!!

Yes, I'm giving this its own point, because it's awesome! When I reviewed the second Kiera Cass book (here) I commented how much it annoys me when main romantic leads have to fight each other. It drives me up the wall. But Han and Leia don't do that! So, if you were scared there was going to be a bunch of melodrama, there isn't. There's pretty much none. And it's beautiful. 

By the way, the main characters, who I suspect will be romantic at some point, start off not liking each other, but they get over it nice and quickly. They actually quit fighting faster than Han and Leia did in the original trilogy. I think there's only one scene where they bicker. Beautiful, wonderful surprise.

I Really Don't Think They Could Have Done the Villain Any Better

It's late, so I'll just summarize here and probably expound on a later blog post or an update. His backstory makes sense, his struggles make sense, and his goals make sense. I know I complained about how they could really easily screw the story up, but if they don't, then they nailed the villain. He's a product of previous generations (obviously) and also of the previous stories, and - yeah, they pretty much got him down. I bet they could have cast him better (he seriously looks like he stepped out of a fantasy story) but the actor was still good. His struggles connect to how he connects to the previous generation. Nicely. Done.

All in all, I think it's worth seeing, and I'll probably see it again. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Classes Done!

I don't think I've ever been happier to say those two words. This semester was as stressful as all getout. I don't think I got any creative writing done since September.

The good news is that next semester should be a comparative breeze... because I have no public defense next semester! (And three fewer credits!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thoughts on Tolkien Critics

When they tell you in college to pick a project about a topic that you'll enjoy, I don't think they ever tell you the corollary: make sure you don't enjoy it too much. If you do, you'll never get it done because it's so much fun to read about.

I'm doing my English thesis on Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. Something I have learned since August is that critical analyses on Tolkien are some of the most entertaining nonfiction you will ever read. The ones who try to assert that LOTR doesn't qualify as "literature" are probably some of the most hilarious, mostly because they all admit they'd infinitely rather read LOTR instead of anything they consider to be literature. But the other fun ones are the ones who try to decide if LOTR is more influenced by Christianity or paganism. The two I just finished looking at are a series of cordial disagreements between Ronald Hutton and Nils Ivar Agoy, and kind of boil down to whether LOTR is more Christian or pagan.

Tolkien himself (via Frodo) says something along the lines of, "The Shadow cannot make; it can only mock" (I don't have the book open in front of me; I'll find the exact quote sometime after classes are done.) But this has gotten me thinking...
What does that make an author? 
I mean, an author doesn't create... Not really, given that old saying that "There's nothing new under the sun."

Anyway, reading through Hutton and Agoy got me thinking. Sure, there are elements of paganism in LOTR (which is perfectly okay; it's fiction. It's okay to say stuff that isn't true in fiction.) But the question kind of boils down to which one Tolkien embraced, and he himself always insisted that he embraced conservative Christianity; and, in that sense, LOTR is Christian.

I'm running short on time before class begins, so I'm just going to jump to my conclusion of how you can be a fictional author without mocking God's creation: you don't mock it. Embrace fiction - fiction! - in pretty much every form you want, but always remember what the truths in the story must circle back to.

Someone else said it better than me, so I'm just going to let C. S. Lewis have the last word:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! Seeing all those kids [drinking-age college students] dressing up in those costumes and using their imaginations is one of the best experiences of the year.

But holy cow, do people try to ruin it. Don't you just love it when those intellectual, sensitive types try to suck all the fun out of the costumes? Those poor fools.

Halloween (of today) is the holiday celebrating imagination! This was really driven home to me yesterday, because it was WLC's Halloween in the Halls, where every year, the freshmen decorate their floors and turn them into Halloween fun and games for the kids of professors and alumni. The one floor that really showed me how important Halloween and imagination are was the Jurassic World floor: there were three "dinosaur exhibits" which included a visitor's desk, a T-Rex exhibit, a Raptor exhibit, a Brontosaurus exhibit, and a DNA lab. I lingered for a little bit by the Raptor exhibit, which was pretty much a plastic Raptor head sticking out of paper bushes with a guy behind puppeteering the head to make it move, and I watched the kids come up to the Raptor. I suppose if you asked, they would have known it was fake, but they wanted to play pretend, and these college freshmen were playing along with them. The kids were actually nervous about going near the moving Raptor head, and a guy dressed up as Owen was telling them to come closer, how to safely pet the head, and all that.

Halloween. It's the holiday of imagination.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I Write

Yeah, this is fall break, and I haven't been as productive as I would have liked, but I'm still taking time to write this.

Apparently Twitter declared today the National Day on Writing, and they want everyone to post #WhyIWrite in 140 characters or less. Scrolling through the tweets is mildly interesting, especially when some people try to explain deep, profound reasons within the characters a tweet allows, but what really made me smile is when I asked myself why I write.

That isn't really a mystery to me, and I don't make a point of hiding it, but I don't think I've ever explicitly laid out why I write, so here goes. I don't write because I want to change the world, start a dialogue, express myself, or anything like that. It isn't because of any metaphysical grand idea that I'll be immortal through my stories - I think studying history for three years has pretty much made sure that I'll never believe that. It isn't because I'm good at it, although that certainly helps.

I write because it's fun; because I like watching the characters of my imagination come to life in their stories on my computer. That is a special part of writing that, as I will insist to anyone who asks, is priceless. But that is a part that, I think, communicates mostly with me. It's a story, but it's only good enough to satisfy me, and it doesn't become anything better by my doing.

Basically, this post is a long but too-short thank-you to Julie Scandora, my editor. Without her, my stories would never be more than what I need to complete my own experience with my imagination. It's really hard to explain - I've been trying to explain it in the acknowledgement pages of my books for three years, and I can't ever find the right words. But I think, maybe, now I have the right words. Without Julie, my characters and my stories would be mere shadows of what they are when you see them in a finished book - not because the characters themselves are lacking, but because my writing is lacking and I can't see it. Julie sees all my writing's weak points, all the places where I've sold my characters short, all the places where I screw up the story and don't notice it - can't notice it without her.

So, to summarize, this National Day on Writing, I want to thank the woman who makes my writing better in ways that I am powerless to do. Thank you, Julie, from the bottom of my heart.