Monday, December 28, 2009

Light marks the good, but does religion?

Religion, power, and moral goodness are all essential elements in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In these two trilogies, these elements cooperate with each other in almost diametrically opposite ways that illustrate the changes fantasy fiction has undergone in the last fifty years. Light and darkness, used literally and metaphorically, serve to characterize the "good" and the "bad" in various ways throughout each trilogy.

J.R.R. Tolkien taught Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford, and while he lived and worked in that area, he was for a number of years very close friends with C.S. Lewis. Biographies and letters have suggested that the two great writers engaged in many discussions about the function of Christianity in children's literature (which they were writing at the time): C.S. Lewis thought the role of Christianized religious themes should be evident and direct, whereas Tolkien opted for the understated use of religious themes. This, and various other disagreements about faith, literature, and the relationship between the two, ultimately led to the demise of the two literary giants' friendship.

What they didn't discuss was whether the correct portrayal of Christianity and spirituality in literature should be positive or negative - it's clear that both agreed it should be positive. Since he is directly relevant to our class, I'll examine how Tolkien fits into this. The overwhelming trend in his trilogy is a good-versus-bad binary, represented by those who wish to destroy the Ring and save Middle Earth versus those who wish to obtain the Ring and channel its power into destructive endeavors. The good side is staffed by the members of the Fellowship - Aragorn, a woodsman who turns out to be a king in disguise; the Hobbits Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry; another man, Boromir (although he wavers in his moment of greed, when he tries to steal the ring from Frodo); the wizard Gandalf; Legolas the far-seeing elf; and the dwarf Gimli - and those who aid them: the Elves, Theodan and Eowyn and various other members of the race of Men, and a few others. The bad side is staffed by Sauron (ephemeral and evil, lurking in Mordor while he plots to attain the Ring), his henchman the evil wizard Saruman, and ranks upon ranks of foul Orcs. Each side is characterized and categorized through motivation and colorization: the "good" side is motivated by the (relatively) unselfish urge to save Middle Earth from destruction - I say relatively because most of these characters have the invested interest of living in Middle Earth - and the "bad" side is motivated by the urge to overpower and destroy, through the aid of the Ring's limitless powers, hence their urge to attain the Ring.

I mentioned colorization, too, particularly the use of light and dark. The good side is consistently characterized by pleasent, warm and lighter colors, a reference to the light motifs in the Bible that characterize elements of Good. The Shire is a place of green pleasantness, pastoral and peaceful; Gandalf the White positively glows and is always a source of light, literal and metaphorical (through his enlightening intellectual guidance), in dark places; the Elves glow as they walk through Rivendell and heal the wounded travelers. This use of light functions as a metaphorical reference to the role of light as a marker of the good in the Bible: Christ refers to himself as "the light of the world," while the devil is frequently referred to as the "Prince of Darkness."

Light - metaphorical and physical - and dark frame and categorize the two clearly opposed sides in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, tying it back into the ideals and the divisions of Biblical Christian narratives. In Philip Pullman's texts, the divisions are very different: the Church is a force of pain, grief, evil, and destruction, is positioned opposite the main characters who are signified as "good" through their actions and motivations. However, I'll argue here that light still functions as an indicator of the "good" and the "bad."

The Church, a fragmented organization made up of a variety of committees and sub-groups, funds various endeavors including torture and painful experimentation on children. Priests who are trying to obtain information about Lyra's whereabouts make references to "going downstairs," a suggestion that pales the complexions of others and is a veiled reference to torturing individuals in order to discover said information. In the war that Lyra and Will are unwittingly involved in, the Church is the "bad" side, characterized by actions such as this. Lyra's cohorts, the Gyptians, the Witches, and the armored bears (among others) do not engage in torture, nor do they use the painful and vicious "intercision" operation to forcefully sever children from their daemons, as the Oblation Board of the Church is doing. By default alone, Lyra's side is idealized in comparison to the dark counterpart that the Church presents.

Light gently but persistently characterizes the "good" side of Philip Pullman's diametrically divided narrative, too. Lyra's Golden Compass is a lightly colored object that presents "illuminating" truth throughout the three novels; Lyra herself has blondish-brown hair that glows golden in the sunlight and gives her away as a non-Gyptian, since she is lacking in their characteristically dark hair; another necessary and pivotal magical tool, the Amber Spyglass, utlizes light to function; and, in the triumphant climax of the third book The Amber Spyglass, when Lyra and Will discover their love for one another, they return to Mary Malone coated in glowing gold dust, as viewed through the Spyglass itself. Pullman is not afraid to use the light-soaked imagery that, historically, connotes "good."

Contrary to Tolkien, Pullman's references to Christian religion are specific and unabashedly negative, as mentioned previously - interestingly, Pullman uses the light-dark vocabularly which is strongly rooted in the Christian tradition as he deconstructs its moral standing throughout his narrative. The elements he chooses to illuminate as good include curious, brave, and selfless characters, and as a general rule, consciousness, which is characterized as Dust or light-filled particles that settle on individuals who have passed through puberty. Doing so creates an interesting dialogue with Tolkien, whose Christian undertones preserved the "good" perception of the Church while he used light in some similar ways to Pullman.

Women as Mirrors: Thomas Covenant, Reflected

Virginia Woolf claimed that a woman is forced to function as a mirror to reflect back the image of a man, usually at twice his physical size, like a funhouse mirror. Throughout years of feminist literary criticism, this idea rises over and over again, and it's evident in the Chronicles of Sir Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. Lena and his ex-wife Joan are primary examples that I shall explore.

Joan is presented primarily in a retrospective light, framed by the hazy glow of Covenant's memories: at the onset of the first book in the trilogy, Joan has already left her husband, taking their only child with her. Covenant's leprosy diagnosis catalyzes her departure: they learn that children are more susceptible to his illness, and Joan chooses to leave the state with their child, in order to protect the boy from potential contracting Covenant's disease.

Thomas is crippled by her disappearance. His memories of Joan haunt and sustain him, simultaneously, since they are used as evidence of how stable and pleasant his life was before the leprosy arrived. His wife was a primary source of support, as evidenced by the situation where she firmly instructed her husband to isolate himself in their cabin and get some writing done on his next book. Both Covenant and Joan know that he writes best (and can move through his writer's block) when all distractions are absent, but she takes the step of lovingly insisting that he remain undisturbed. (This is before the leprosy attack's Covenant's body.) Covenant acknowledges his wife's correct assumptions and willingly isolates himself with his writing, and the words immediately begin to flow: as his book rapidly takes form, it is clear that Joan's prognosis for his writer's block was correct, and that she does know what is best for her husband, and is willing to act on it.

However, she is also willing and able to act on what she feels is best for their newborn son, too, and does so when Covenant is diagnosed with leprosy. Obliterated by grief and loneliness, the protagonist Covenant sinks into depression. Not long after, he is ushered into the other-world of the Land and begins his journey there, yet still, the memories of Joan haunt him just as clearly and painfully as they did in his own world: when Lena, his guide and first friend in the Land, presses him for details about his marriage and past loves, Covenant is riddled with emotional pain and is momentarily paralyzed by memories of Joan, and it is these emotions which feed his anger and rage, which are all directed at Lena as he rapes her.

In this pivotal moment, everything we learn about Covenant's character is defined by the women around him, past and present. From Lena, a sweet, innocent teenage girl lacking in guile and full of optimism, we learn that Covenant is capable of violently inflicting pain upon innocent people around him, even those to whom he owes his life and his companionship, in Lena's case (she found him and helped him descend from the watchtower where Covenant first was deposited when he was transported to the Land, and informed him about his entirely alien surroundings as she took him back to her hometown for shelter and sustenance). This episode also characterizes Covenant as highly sexualized, erratic, and unstable. His uncontrollable rage is thrown into high relief by Lena's uninformed fear - she is frightened, but doesn't even understand what Covenant is going to do to her until it is too late. Her innocence, so prevalent and so entirely destroyed, make his crime all the worse. Joan's presence in his mind and therefore the rape itself reflects back on Covenant, too - it shows that the wounds her departure left are still raw, and capable of inspiring incredible rage and destructive actions, emphasizing how important Joan was to her husband in the dramatic nature of his reactions.

Joan is occasionally present in Covenant's present, too. At the beginning of the second book, she calls him at their old home. Covenant has been transported back from the Land and is available to answer the phone, but is completely immobilized by the sound of a voice he has desperately missed. Overcome with powerful emotions, Covenant stumbles around his home and trips (again, his actions show how quickly these strong, women-inspired emotions manifest themselves in his physical capabilities and reactions). The subsequent fall and blow to the head contribute to his second trip to the Land. As soon as he arrives, Covenant is furious, beside himself: he demands to go back. He screams at everyone around him that "my wife" was in contact with him, that he has to go back, needs to. He begs and pleads. All dignity and reticence in a character previously marked by a surly lack of speech and short, abrupt sentences are thrown to the wind as he desperately babbles, trying to convince the council that he must return to the world where Joan exists and is reaching out to him.

This moment humanizes Covenant in a way that I never saw before: suddenly, his emotional range grows: beyond the bitterness, regret and apathy that solely ran his character in the first book, he suddenly displays a passionate grief, dedication, and desperate love. The remarkable absence of apathy in this moment shows the impact that Joan has on him, even now, and would not have been visible had her character not arrived in the narrative's present to contact the protagonist.

Without Lena and Joan, Thomas Covenant would be an apathetic ball of self-centered bitterness, defined solely by his disease and his constant battle with it. These two women and his thoughts and interactions with them emphasize other aspects of his personality: rage, violence, grief, and love. Without these aspects, there would be very little for the reader to relate to, in my opinion. Through the mirrored reflections of Covenant that we receive from his interactions with these characters - who seem to exist solely for this purpose - his character would lack depth and emotional complexity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Check It Out: Fall 2009 Student Web Projects

From ENGL 208/AMST 210: American Popular and Mass Cultures

Disney vs. Grimm
Panic at the Cinema
Video Games and Film
Viral Media Check

And don't miss Steve Bosco's post on his decision to re-score the "star gate" sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001.

From ENGL 427: Major Writers

Gary Aloisio on myth and Tolkien, Donaldson, and Pullman
Max Soule-Oneto on Pullman's His Dark Materials

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Villarejo vs. Armitt Book Review

Introductory books, as their label implies, are intended to provide the reader with an insightful overview of a topic, allowing them to further study the subject with a greater sense of familiarity. The two books under review are both attempts at providing a relatively unfamiliar reader with the basics in specified areas of study: film studies and fantasy fiction. Authors Lucie Armitt and Amy Villarejo have produced such introductory guides in Fantasy Fiction: an Introduction and The Basics: Film Studies respectively. This review seeks to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both volumes concerning their introductory nature while also providing a critique of their arguments and overall content. Lastly, conclusions can be drawn as to what should be included in introductory texts and why Armitt and Villarejo should differ, considering their differing subject areas.

Structural and General Value

Some may think it would be superficial to discuss the structure and lay-out of a book in its review. Normally this would be a sound assumption but recognizing the fact that these are in fact meant to be basic introductory texts, structure is actually quite relevant to their overall value.

When looking at the overall layout structure of both works, Villarejo’s Film Studies has provided a much more guided form of presentation than does Armitt. Villarejo provides an introductory chapter that cites brief historical references to film and cinema while also presenting the difference between the two concepts and how she will use them. The use of subtitles is utilized well by her with these concepts with “What is Film?” and “ What is Cinema?”.[1] Both of these sections truly provide an overview for a reader nearly completely removed from film studies. Furthermore, she states the assumptions she has made about the reading audience flat out. Villarejo states in the opening page:

“If you’ve picked up this book to learn something about what it means to study film, you already know in large measure what cinema is: you’ve been watching movies since you first toddled out to the family television, or since you braved your first excursion to multiplex matinee.” [2]

Any assumptions Villarejo has made before producing this book are laid out while also recommending quasi-requirements for reading her book. Even before the above statement is made by Villarejo the back cover is a list of what Film Studies will teach you:

· The movie industry, from Hollywood to Bollywood

· Who does what on a film set

· The history, the technology and the art of cinema

· Theories of stardom, genre and film-making[3]

Armitt’s Fantasy Fiction on the other hand, never states these as Villarejo does in her introduction. It is difficult to find where she is heading from the first chapter. This will be discussed in a more thorough manner later in this review, but Armitt fails to fully define “fantasy fiction” in the eleven page introduction, she merely dances around the topic. Her layout of the chapter confuses the reader and often is not sticking to the goal of the chapter, if its name “What is Fantasy Writing?” is supposed to give the reader an idea of what she is going to ramble about.[4] For instance, an overarching set of specific goals for the book would have been a much appreciated addition in an introductory reader’s eyes. In chapter seven, “Fantasy Criticism”, Armitt begins by discussing Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale as him “setting out to classify fairytales on the basis of an identifiable list of core narrative functions, his project being to categorize precisely” what it was to be a fairytale.[5] Armitt should do so for her own project or at least provide a much more thorough introduction that doesn’t involve quoting random passages or arguments from people who are never explained (Maureen Duffy, Lilian R. Furst, etc). Villarejo states a goal in her opening chapter in order to brace the reader for what is to come. Her “overarching goal is to offer the reader an exposure to the infectious enthusiasm, if not mania, that is cinephilia, while simultaneously providing a grounding in the study of cinema that will make future viewing more rewarding.”[6]

To return to more general aspects of both Armitt and Villarejo’s texts, a fairly superficial, but much needed assessment of basic components will be discussed. For introductory texts for introductory readers, it can be assumed that glossaries containing important names, subjects, concepts, and other words would be included at the end of the book. Both authors provide this but there is a slight difference between the two. Villarejo uses the glossary as a way to organize the series of highlighted words in the book that litter the pages. While the terms may seem juvenile or reminiscent of grade school “vocab words”, they assisted the reader extensively in grasping major concepts while reading. Furthermore, chapter organization and titles give the reader an idea of what to expect and easily refer back to when reading. Armitt obviously is trying to follow the criteria set out by the publishing series guidelines about what are in their “An Introduction” books. Armitt takes a more creative approach than does Villarejo, but still sticking to the nine criteria laid out on the back of her book. This could have been benefited by adding specific examples of what would be learned, and not generic requirements to be part of the “Continuum Studies in Literary Genre” series. Villarejo does a fine job of creating chapters that can be identified with ease, as she ends every title with “of film”. Furthermore, she ends every chapter with a summary from which to sum up the chapter with.

Content and Arguments

To be blunt, Fantasy Fiction often offers an argumentative approach to presenting information in the book while Film Studies presents information in a neutral and nearly playful approach (example: “Actors also do, of course, talk, fight, fuck, kill, curse and cross-dress…).[7] Keeping this in mind, the following section will often connect to the above statement.

Armitt while has some strong points in her book, there are major flaws with the way it is presented and the credibility of her arguments. The begin, Armitt fails to cite an extensive about of fantasy fiction in the book. In nearly every chapter, Lord of the Rings or Tolkien represent a large aspect of the arguments she is making. For instance, in the second chapter, Armitt cites LOTR to illustrate Christian metaphors in fantasy fiction and then again uses a quote from Tolkien to show the way in which fantasy can “empower a storyteller” a page later.[8] In the next chapter, Tolkien is utilized in criticizing the dream vision that is used in the story of Alice in Wonderland. Armitt quotes him as stating that the dream vision is using “the machinery of Dream” to produce “a good picture in the disfiguring frame”. Armitt also uses LOTR to discuss the dream vision further, this time with the characters of Frodo and Merry in The Return of the King and in The Fellowship of the Ring. The next four to five pages of the chapter are essentially a discussion of the medieval dream vision in terms of Tolkien and the LOTR trilogy. The “Medieval Dream Vision” section of this chapter is eight pages long and five of them are almost entirely about LOTR (Armitt references a slew of characters and events while also referencing all three books in the trilogy). The opening discussion of the section is quite helpful in learning a brief history of the dream vision in fantasy fiction and connecting it to medieval poetry and storytelling. The story of the 8th century character Drycthelm and the Bible’s Book of Daniel are entirely relevant to the process of understanding the dream vision, but Armitt quickly turns to LOTR as the main subject of her argument. The use of Tolkien is no exception to the rule of Fantasy Fiction. His opinions and writing are used as scaffolding to Armitt’s “introduction” to fantasy.

To continue, Tolkien is used again in the Best and Best Known chapter of the book. In fact, Tolkien is downright overused. It seems appropriate that since LOTR is such a well known work of fantasy fiction, it should be used in this chapter. Not only does Tolkien and LOTR receive their very own section in the chapter, but are featured in almost every section of the sixty page discussion of the “best and best known”. A section entitled “Other Desires: Homoeroticism and the Feminine” can be boiled down to the following:

The First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine have examples of the competing visions of masculine. I, Lucie Armitt will do an extremely blunt, not to mention poor, job of explaining the reasons why and will point to the conclusion of a person named Hume (who I will also not introduce or explain) as the main reason of why women are “absent” in fantasy fiction. After barely a page of this empty argument, I will connect this to Lord of the Rings, because that is what I do best. O ya, Frodo and Sam are sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! They are gay because there are no women in the books, so naturally, Sam has to compensate for the lack of estrogen in Lord of the Rings. I will connect the limp-wristed nancy-boys to the lack of women in the books for the next eight pages and end the chapter with Beowulf, just for good measure, ya know?

Hyperbolic as the summary is, one could say that hyperbole is the way Armitt would have liked it that way.

There are further arguments that Armitt makes in Fantasy Fiction that can be seen as flawed. To narrow them down, one in particular, that personally is disagreed with is the discussion of utopia within fantasy pieces. The first paragraph alone is enough to make any political scientist or historian cringe. Armitt states: “It seems to me that the utopian impulse-the desire to go ‘beyond’-underlies all fantasy writing, even, paradoxically, of the darkest kind.”[9] Firstly, to say that a utopia is to go “beyond” is an extremely opinionated statement. Where is this grounded? Armitt does little to defend this claim. On the very next page she becomes incredibly confusing. She explains that the word ‘utopia’ is derived from the Greek ‘outopia’ meaning ‘non-place’ and was then changed over time to ‘eutopia’ meaning ‘good place’.[10] Armitt does throughout the chapter illustrate utopia as a theme in fantasy fiction, but she clouds it by attempting to define it. She adds not just her fantasy opinion of the term, but continues on to the Greek origins previously mentioned, and then moves to Angelika Bammer’s “A utopia is the fictional representation of an ideal polity. It is political in nature, narrative in form, literary only in part”.[11] To explain Brammer’s definition, Armitt is surprising clear on the literary aspect of the definition. She does well with connecting the idea of utopia to the island theme easily seen in Utopia and Gulliver’s Travels. This is a great connection to make considering Thomas More practically laid the groundwork for the concept of utopia in a political and literary standpoint. But as Armitt continues, she uses The First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine and actually begins to discredit the concept of a utopia in fantasy novels. Furthermore, she is using a definition of utopia that is never identified or supported. As stated, More and Swift have identifiable aspects of utopia that are explained quite well. But these aspects of utopia are not seen in the works of H.G. Wells that Armitt is trying to illustrate. She is only using the argument of Brammer to make any conclusions in her own studies that “conventional utopias thus embody an inherent contradiction…they tend to reinforce established was of thinking even as they set out to challenge them”.[12] Aside from a personal disagreement with this statement, this is moreover what seems to be stretching to meet an argument. There may be sound arguments in support of utopia being “an underlying feature of all major modes of fantasy” but Armitt frankly doesn’t convince the introductory reader.

Not to completely disapprove of Armitt, but Villarejo does not take an argumentative approach to the study of film. This review could attempt at discrediting the information presented in the introduction to the subject, but the writer is simply not informed enough on the study of film to take on this matter. But the largest letdown of Film Studies is the sheer amount of information presented to the reader. Above, the point was made that the use of highlighted terms made the book easier to process. But this could be considered a downfall as well. The second chapter, Language of Film is especially confusing to go through. There is an overwhelming amount of information to take in. This could be considered the most technical of chapters, along with a good portion of chapter four as well. The section on film analysis was extremely beneficial to a layman. To cut down the entire sub-sections into the presentation of setting, how and why actors dress, lighting, and figure behavior. Furthermore, Villarejo introduces editing and cinematography through sound and blue screen techniques. These are all aspects of analyzing film that can and should be presented to a beginner in the study of film. In the third chapter, The History of Film, Villarejo provides an interesting way of viewing the “periodization” that stood out particularly. She explains that by viewing movies by the period they are produced, rather than set decades, is the only way to truly analyze the way in which they were made; using “parameters” of major events instead of year-defined eras.[13] Villarejo provides a book that is difficult to contest without having more knowledge of film. The book almost never tends to make arguments, there is, as mentioned before, a rather informal tone to Villarejo’s writing that provides an ease of reading. The reader is not overwhelmed with excessive opinion or criticism.

Connections, Considerations, and Conclusions

Both Villarejo’s Film Studies and Armitt’s Fantasy Fiction contain sections or passages about the “best of” in their respective fields. Villarejo explains the subject quite in depth by providing reasons why critics and film institutions go to such lengths to identify the best films. Some of these considerations include “profit, ‘must-have’ value for the film-lover’s library”, and “free-flattery (you have good taste)”.[14] The most important aspect of Villarejo’s section on the subject is that she actually provides the source of the best films. She cites organizations such as the American Film Institute (AFI) and the British Film Institute (BFI) to credit the lists of the best films that she describes. Moreover, these examples of the best films she utilizes are films that are known to an introductory reader. This is what Villarejo also does quite, not only does she keep these examples in the sections about the best films, but puts forth these films as examples all throughout the book.

Armitt on the other hand, has an introductory reader nearly convinced that she has never read a fantasy fiction novel aside from Lord of the Rings. Every chapter is littered with what she thinks are paragons of fantasy fiction but leave the reader a muddled concoction of examples that try to be fantasy, not conventional prototypes of the genre. Armitt defends herself concerning this issue. She states: “Genre is a great structural underpinning for the development of ideas, but as a narrative framework it quickly runs its course. Newer areas of fantasy should identify themselves less in terms of genre and more in terms of ideas and motifs.”[15] These two lines almost salvage the lack of fantasy fiction she provides in her introduction to the literary genre. She may not have been intending to confuse the reader, in fact, it would be ridiculous to assume so. But this is probably the single greatest downfall of her book. She is attempting to break the mold when the mold is what is needed for an introductory text. Genre, in the case of Fantasy Fiction: An Introduction, truly requires a stable, easily-defined boundary of its limitations as a form of literature. Armitt’s argumentative analysis tends to overwhelm the reader, forcing him/her to pick through the critical debris to find grounds for a general introduction to the topic. Villarejo too, addresses the concept of genre in Film Studies, but as expected, in a much more technical approach to the topic (she introduces the concept as a way to pick out costumes). “Because genre is an effect of repetition, we learn its codes so that we can quickly orient ourselves to the iteration of a given story.”[16] Armitt could have benefited from applying this connotation the “genre” and provided conventional books and works to illustrate fantasy fiction.

The further conclude, Villarejo and Armitt have both produced introductory texts that contain their own strengths and weaknesses. By observing these, one could suggest the aspects that should be considered when creating an introductory text. Firstly, argumentative analysis should be minimal and only used when it is necessary in the basic sense. Additionally, overtly technical lingo should be minimal as well, something Villarejo tends to bore and overwhelm the reader with. Secondly, general components should include basic essentials such as a glossary, introduction chapter, and easily readable chapters. Lastly, the authors should maintain a sense of credibility in there writing. To be blunt, Armitt often seems as though she is incompetent in discussing fantasy fiction. There is little she provides that exemplifies an in depth knowledge of the genre. Villarejo continually provides easily understood information, even though at times there is an abundance of technical information that is over the head of many basic readers. To digress slightly, a simple point should be made. Armitt is discussing a genre, a specific and narrow topic, while Villarejo is introducing an entire subject. This would be like Armitt introducing fiction, and not just fantasy fiction. There would likely be less argumentative analysis if she had more information to cover. In the creation of an introductory text, it may be said that the content and difficulty of the read is to a certain extent, subjective. This is not to say that Villarejo and Armitt’s topics do not have similar introductory considerations, but they are difficult to completely compare in this sense.

[1] Villarejo, ch.1

[2] Pg. 1

[3] Pg. I

[4] Armitt, ch.1

[5] Pg. 193

[6] Villarejo, pg. 12

[7] Villarejo, pg. 35

[8] Armitt, pg.15

[9] Armitt, pg.113

[10] Armitt, pg. 114

[11] Pg. 114

[12] Pg. 126

[13] Villarejo, pg. 60-61

[14] Villarejo, pg. 113

[15] Armitt, pg. 189

[16] Villarejo, pg. 34

Monday, December 21, 2009

Donaldson: A series atop quicksand

The main problem i had reading Donaldson wasn't his writing skills, or his character development, or his plot devices. The problem i had was the response from the majority of the class and their overall pessimism for the book. I remember talking with a few classmates on the day before we were to begin the Donaldson series as a class, and the overwhelming consensus was that the books were worthless and reading it was going to be a huge chore.

This was only the initial barrier i had to get through to try to find reading Donaldson a pleasant experience. Not only was the class's reaction abysmal, but i didn't really want to read the series either. I researched what the series was about and found that i was not excited to read about a leper and his struggles, and i only imagined the fantasy aspect to be ridiculous and not a fun read. God that was an understatement wasn't it? I had just finished plowing through the last bit of Tolkien (yes, for the first time) and reading Pullman's trilogy, which i really enjoyed. So, to say the least i wasn't ready, quite yet, to take on the story of a man with leprosy in the midst of the class's appalled disbelief at the reading choice.

So i am dredging through Donaldson at a snail's pace, reading about a man with a disposition I'd like to beat out of... though i can't help but understand his situation and actually pity the man, until class's first discussion and the profound rape scene. The class lost it, my enjoyment was at an all-time low... and it was low, and before this i genuinely wanted to continue. But i couldn't force myself to through the pessimism and my own disappoint with the book.

So my question is this: Was Donaldson doomed straight from the beginning? Simply because he followed Tolkien, obviously the class standard in fantasy fiction? Donaldson was not holding his own as a major writer, but i do believe if i had read this over the summer, without the negativity from class, i would have probably finished the first three books... probably wouldn't have gone on though...

Sam's Little Contribution to the World

It's ya boy Sammy G
I'd like to take this time to represent this trilogy.
Eveything you see, only time will tell,
But eventually this place is gonna be hell.
A little ole' ring is the bane of our existence.
Only nine small walkers to put up a resistance.
Runnin' our errand for the freedom of our nation,
Big bad voodoo tryna kill all of creation.
Sauron is a punk, sittin' alone up in his tower,
Without his ring, he aint got no stinkin' power.

Rise up with the nine, we gotta take our place
We savin' the lives of every single race.
Rise up with me, the nine will stand tall
Leave your fears behind, we'll scale the tower wall.
Throw the ring inside, it is our only choice,
If Sauron is brought down our people will rejoice.

Saruman and Sauron, together they stand.
Against our goal of goals,
The Orcs outnumber man.
Battle after battle, the closer we strive,
Harder our accounts, at least we're still alive
Boromir goes down, the walkers are in ruin.
Frodo makes a break, Samwise is hot pursiun'
This leg of our journey, commences at last.
The tower stands before us, a symbol of the past.

Rise up with the nine, we gotta take our place.
We're savin' the lives of every single race.
Rise up with me, the nine will stand tall.
Leave your fears behind, we'll scale the tower wall.
Throw the ring inside, it is our only choice,
If Sauron is brought down, our people will rejoice!

The gates at last, the crevice of hell
Bring light to middle earth, evils dispel
A creature and a nightmare, tumbling in
Our mission a success, Gamgee for the win!

Pullman's Dust

God made man out of dust, and in Pullman's trilogy dust is a sentient matter associated with sin.The trilogy revolves around dust, and according to the Bible it all started with dust. So what is the connection? I wanted there to be a connection so badly but there is a problem. In Lyra's world, dust is almost seen as an evil matter, something that encircles those who have sinned. In the Bible it is the matter that essentially made life possible, so why is there such a drastic dichotemy? Is Pullman trying to say that everything is complicated, and drawing black and white lines may be difficult? In the second book, Lyra communicates with dust, making the matter seem humanlike, or humans to become, or humans that already were. I just wanted to throw the comparison out there and hopefully get a few bites.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Film Studies, and How I Know Nothing

I'm not afraid to admit when I'm completely ignorant on a subject and, when it comes to analyzing film, I find that I am a complete novice. All the technical jargon used by Villarejo just makes me feel...stupid. And that's not a way that I generally like to feel. I realize just how much I have to learn when it comes to being able to adequately discuss a film other than the general plot points and talent of the actors.

With a lack of any kind of impressive English majory words...there is a lot of stuff that goes into it. Sure, I like movies. But so does everyone. You'd think that a culture of people brought up on watching them would be kind of be embedded with the information, but I don't know the first thing about what she writes in her section on cinematography.

Granted, that's what the book is meant to educate its readers on, but still, like I said, you'd think we'd kind of already know some of it. Thank God I haven't taken anything beyond Drama and Film yet because without this book or I'd be screwed.

Certainly there are movies that I love, but I don't love them because of camera angles or subtle directorial choices. I love them usually because of the story, or the characters. I remember watching one of my favorite movies with a friend of mine who went to school for film-making and she was noticing all these things that I couldn't see. And when she tried to talk about them with me I couldn't contribute at all because I had no background.

I think I'll end this post with a question. I wonder why it is that there isn't more emphasis put on looking at films analytically in high school. We all watch them and there are so many that have had serious impacts on our society. In this changing, technologically advanced society that we live in, I think it might be time to start implementing more film courses in high school...and then maybe people won't feel quite as dumb as I do when they come across a book like Villarejo's.

The Office just isn't what it used to be

In watching some of the more recent episodes of NBC's The Office I have noticed that the show has lost much of the original appeal that has attracted me to the show. In seasons 1-3 the show seemed to be much more grounded, it involved situations that were somewhat realistic the characters seemed like real people. The episodes tended to be more focused on workplace situations and the larger issues of the plot were advanced naturally through genuine interactions between character within these situations.

As the show progressed it seems that the characters have become more like caricatures. Much of the humor in the earlier seasons came from the way the eccentric characters interacted with normal characters. Every character in the show was essentially a "straight man" while Michael and Dwight provided the crazy unrealistic elements. The show was often funny because either Dwight would do something ridiculous or Michael would try very hard to be funny but the other characters would not think that he is funny.

While in older episodes the larger plot issues essentially worked in the background and were naturally advanced through the smaller issues with the show. It seems in more recent episodes that the larger plots are thrown into the episodes much more overtly and it does not always seem justified. One example is the recent episode in which the characters play a "murder mystery"kind of game. Don't get me wrong, this episode had it's moments and the performances of the actors defiantly make the show worth watching. However, to me it felt like the were willing to threaten to have the entire company go under just to provide an excuse for all of the characters to talk with southern accents for an entire episode. I still enjoy the show to some degree but I wonder how many seasons that even shows that are interesting and creative can go before becoming stale.

I'm Sorry Arrested Development...We Still Miss You

Reading Lotz's section on Arrested Development was tough for me. While I wasn't a fan of the show when it was on (I actually didn't even know it existed at that point), I began watching it with a friend the year I started college. It's one of those shows that you can't stop quoting once you've seen it and I have to hold myself back in class every time someone mentions something even remotely reminiscent of the events on that show. I can't even describe how badly I want to say that "I blue myself" right now. Well, I just did...

But anyway, back on track. It was interesting to read her formulaic account of the events leading up to its too-soon death, and I'm glad that it seems like she'd been a fan herself while writing it. I could almost discern a bitterness to her tone at some points.

I agree with many of her accounts of why the show was canceled, though I'm not sure about one. She writes of the show's differences in camera angles with regards to other shows, but I really don't see something like that playing a factor in the average viewer's desire to watch a show. If he's anything like me he has no idea what something like that means (I'm woefully ignorant on anything to do with film studies) and the way a cameraman shoots a scene shouldn't play a very large role in the viewer's mind. Of course, AD did have a very distinct style to it, but I always pegged that to be the choices of the actors and director, but I suppose the camera played a factor as well.

Something that really surprised me about her summary of the events that transpired (and she even commented that it was strange to her as well) was the level of involvement Fox had with trying to keep it on the air. It's my experience with networks that, when something isn't working the way they'd like it to, no matter how many Emmys it gets nominated for, the show gets canned. The fact that they kept picking them up for three seasons made it seem like even the network executives liked the show too much to want to see it go. I only wish they'd done that for Pushing Daisies (I'm still bitter about that one).

To end on something of a high note, I do thing that Arrested Development helped pave the way for comedies to follow. Shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and a new one that reminds me a lot of AD called Modern Family, probably wouldn't be nearly as popular today if it hadn't been for AD's influence. Or at least people are in the mood for shows that make different choices now, unlike when George Michael Bluth was getting terrorized by criminals climbing to freedom with the use of his stair car.

Pullman Post

I really enjoyed the His Dark Materials series. I thought that the concept of daemons was interesting and a very unique addition to Fantasy Fiction . Daemons can be described as representing the consciousness of a person. In Lyras’s world a person’s daemon takes on an animal form (almost like a totem animal) and provides companionship and protection.

One aspect of the daemon/ human relationship that I did not understand was how humans could exist in the realm of the dead whereas the daemons dispersed to become a part of the universe. If daemons are the consciousness of a person and the people themselves are only a physical formation of cells, tissue, and skin then how could their physical self arrive anywhere at all? Wouldn’t they remain to decompose as flesh is supposed to? Maybe they aren’t simply the physical form.

Maybe the people of Lyra’s world have a split consciousness. Pullman might have used this concept to suggest that there should be an ongoing discussion within human consciousness. Lyra’s interactions with Pantalaimon show that Pan comes to different conclusions about events than Lyra does. They talk about the matters further in order to decide who may be more accurate.

Although Will does have a daemon, he cannot interact with her because he cannot see her. He does not have the special relationship with his consciousness as Lyra does. He can get along fine without it but as the story continues he is nearly envious of Lyra’s relationship with Pan. She is never completely alone and Pan provides love, play, warning, and a second opinion. I feel that Pullman may be attempting to propose the possible benefits of humans interacting more personally with their own consciousness. That interaction can provide insight that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Video Game Narratives: Cut-Scenes within Xenosaga

Perhaps I do not play enough video-games to really appreciate the situation, but I found it surprising to read that such a controversy exists in the gaming world when dealing with cut-scenes. Maybe it’s because when I play video games (when I have the time…) I lean more toward the ones with cut-scenes. All my favorites had tons of them and, while I wouldn’t say that I’m that well-versed in the gaming world, I will say that I’ve probably played enough to be able to form an informed opinion on the subject.

Probably one of my favorite games was Xenosaga: Episode I, and I played it because the story-line was so amazing. For me the game really was less about the actual game-play and more about the progression of the story. With each advancement it got crazier and crazier. I can still remember this one scene where this maniacal superhuman test-tube product guy with stark white hair basically molested this robot type thing who looked like she was thirteen and then ripped off his own head. I think it might be one of those things that you have to see and experience to really appreciate it…

But that’s just the point—watching the story was the best part of the game. Now, if the storyline hadn’t been as detailed I probably would have felt different, but there was always a feeling of accomplishment that went along with reaching one of the five-ten minute long mini-movies. I’d just beaten a boss and then I got to watch the characters beat him up some more, or receive some kind of shocking revelation about the whereabouts of the primary villain.

Maybe I feel this way because I like to read and write and generally just enjoy experiencing good plot-lines. And sometimes it is a nice to feeling to just sit back and bathe in the fruits of your labor after spending five hours lost in a maze because the maps were so poorly constructed.

While I can (sort of) understand where the nay-sayers are coming from, I must admit that I had never given cutscenes much thought until I read that article—and was surprised that others actually had. I suppose that, just as with fiction or poetry, there are going to be disputes within video-game players, it just surprises me that it’s about…that.

Also, just went on Youtube and found the scene I mentioned earlier. It’s pretty messed up, but worth watching I think.

Pullman vs. Tolkien Post

In my comparison/contrast I decided to discuss my two favorite authors of this semester Philip Pullman and J.R.R. Tolkien.
In comparison these two authors are amazing writers who put painstakingly long hours into their works and included so much detail and description, although Tolkien definitely holds the record for including the most. Both authors have the wonderful style of writing that draws the reader into the world (s) that they have created and allows the reader to become a part of the story imagining every detail that is described almost perfectly. And at any point in time when the reader is not being actively pulled into the story, the characters and story are being described in such a way that they almost become alive in the reader's world. While these authors come from two very different backgrounds, they have two very similar writing styles in that aspect.
The contrast occurs like I said in the fact that these two men come from two very different backgrounds which greatly influenced what their series were about. Tolkien came from a Christian background and those Christian beliefs can be seen through various allegories in his series such as the theme of good vs. evil, the battle between those forces, the temptations that Frodo faces, etc. Meanwhile, while Pullman's Christian influence when he was a child turned him against Christianity and led him to a strong Atheistic view as an adult. However his views that are conveyed in his series rely more on the fact that he believed that no religious or non-religious being or agency should hold a significant amount of power or dominance over other people. He had been forced as a child to attend church and follow those beliefs, thus the themes of free will and a dominant church come into his series as the main topics.
Both these authors used their backgrounds and styles of writing to develop wonderful works of literature and even though Pullman's still causes controversy today, they both can be held in high esteem in the relms of fantasy.

Donaldson Post

I just want to say that I share everyone's collective annoyance, and hatred for this series. Everything about it really got to me, from the rape scene at the beginning, to the smug pompous picture of Donaldson at the back of the book. I can't recall a single thing about this book that I enjoyed what so ever. In fact, I can’t recall much about this series at all. After reading the first one, and being completely alienated by the fact that he simply just wakes up the end, I set the book down, walked away from it, and refused to pick up the other ones. I tried to start them both but I would get about 50 pages in, and then I’d realize that I just could not make it happen.

I was happy to learn through the class discussions that he never does redeem himself in the end of the series. The whole reason I finished the first book was to see if he would redeem himself, to see if Donaldson could justify the existence of this crap-set of novels, but nope. The only thing that pissed me off more than the book itself was the fact that bookstore would not take it back. I wanted to donate it, but then I realized that the less fortunate have no need to be even further less fortunate still… The second I get home tomorrow, I am lighting it on fire and sending it straight to hell, where poorly written crap like this belongs.

World Building in the Three Trilogies

I remember at the beginning of the semester, we discussed the importance of world building in fantasy novels. It’s odd too look back on all the books we’ve read and the various ways that each author chose to construct the worlds in which their stories take place. However, I can’t tell if it’s just my own personal bias that influences which worlds are in my opinion the best, but they happen to fall in the same order my favorite trilogies for the semester.
First. His Dark Materials
Pullman engages the philosophical thought experiment of possible worlds and builds an excellent story around it. Though I feel that if he wants to ever publish any sequels, that he will have to declare a finite number of these worlds, otherwise we can have evil doppelgangers of will and lyra freeing the authority from a different world, and starting the novel all over again, in a different possible world of course…) Although this could provide to an interesting set of novellas, unless this is his intention he ought to address that immediately in the next novel. Other than that, the world building is truly spectacular. Setting up worlds like lyra’s which has magic and the aliethometer to communicate with the dust, against will’s world which uses technology to do so is brilliant. It is also excellent the way that Pullman makes each new world as important as the next, and I also love the way he has all characters from all worlds end in the same place, after death. It really ties everything together in a fascinating way.

Second. The Lord Of The Rings.
Also a very well developed land. I always have loved how Tolkien presented us with so much diversity, on only one continent. He has even more types of creatures than Pullman does, who has the power to create a new world where anything exists. The only thing that held this story at number two for me was the lengthy quests through mountains and forests. To me it felt no matter where they were going, that they were in the exact same place the whole time. I never got that feeling with Pullman and that is why this is number two and that is number one.

Last. Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.
I wish that we had read more books this semester just so I could put this book further down the list, and as much distance as I can between this garbage and the other two excellent trilogies. His style is derivative and annoying. His world building is worse. Dream worlds? You have to be kidding me. I don’t even want to talk about it. If there was a place below last, it would easily go to this.