Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fredonia's Got Talent!

My students in Fantasy Fiction and Novels and Tales did some amazing work throughout the semester, and particularly at the end.  Unfortunately, most of them chose not to do web authoring projects, so I can't share their work here.  Fortunately, a good number did; here are links to their work:
Please check 'em out while you're waiting for me to finish grading and get back to posting student essays that respond to the questions my students generated at the start of the semester!

[cross-posted at Mostly Harmless and Citizen of Somewhere Else]

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Do Readers Need a History Lesson?

Do Readers Need A History Lesson?
            When we think of fantasy fiction, we usually think of exotically detailed worlds, filled with developed cultures and unique customs. If you’re anything like me, the idea of writing a book in the fantasy genre is overwhelming, not only because of the detail needed to create a world like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but also in how to present that world to the reader. In reading fantasy novels there are always the books that utilize the first fifty to one hundred pages introducing the world (like Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring), but is that the norm? Is an in-depth introduction even necessary? If we look at Pullman’s The Golden Compass, it would seem that there is more than one way of introducing a world, and not all of them give the reader a flashback to their high school history class.
             “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen” is Pullman’s first sentence in The Golden Compass, and drops readers right into Lyra’s Oxford, with no clue as to what a daemon is or what this world is like (3). In fact, readers do not learn anything more about daemons until later on in the book; and even then only small bits of information. This seems strange, considering the turmoil in Lyra’s Oxford seems to center upon daemons and children, yet it’s not entirely clear what the daemons are. This could have been risky on Pullman’s part, yet from the very beginning the novel progresses at a swift pace. The reader is submerged in his world, even without it being fully explained. So, how does this work for Pullman?
            First, our protagonist is a young girl who has lived in this world her entire life. Our view of the world is also Lyra’s view of the world. We are only exposed to the things in the world that involve and interact with Lyra. We also understand what she understands, which leads to a very basic knowledge of the religion, government, and customs of this strange Oxford. A great example of this is in the first chapter, where we are introduced to the mysterious Dust. Pullman writes, “ ‘It’s coming down,’ said Lord Asriel, ‘but it isn’t light. It’s Dust.’ Something in the way he said it made Lyra imagine dust with a capital letter, as if this wasn’t ordinary dust. The reaction of the Scholars confirmed her feeling,” is the first exposure to the reason for the kidnapping of poor children (19). There is no further explanation to this Dust until Lyra overhears it, or someone tells her—and by association, us. This method of introducing the world seems authentic, much like how we discovered our own worlds as children. Our eyes and our ears are Lyra and the way she perceives the world, so it fits that we only know what she knows, and only see the world as she does. As Lyra learns we also learn, keeping us on the edge of our seats exploring a fictional universe where parallel worlds exist, and armored polar bears talk.
            A second reason this seems to work for Pullman is that when he drops us into his world it feels fully formed from the beginning. “[Lyra] had lived most of her life in the College, but had never seen the Retiring Room before: only Scholars and their guests were allowed in here, and never females” describes Pullman, introducing us to Jordan College (4). By giving us rules for the use of the Retiring Room, we are left with a sense of history, and an idea that this institution has been around for a long time. It also appears to give us an idea of the way people are viewed in Lyra’s Oxford, with esteemed positions being only for men. Instead of giving readers an entire history of this world, he inserts descriptions that let us know the way this world works. Because of that description from Lyra’s eyes, we can see that this world is patriarchal and bound by tradition (which makes sense, when we realize that their world is ruled by the Magisterium- the church).
            After looking at only three quotes from the text (which are all from the first nineteen pages), we have learned two major aspects of Lyra’s world, daemons and that the world is patriarchal. This seems fairly impressive, considering we did not have to read fifty-plus pages setting up the world we have just stepped into. It seems as though it was not necessary for Pullman to give readers an in-depth introduction into his world, since he needed to also give Lyra the information, as well. It may be that this is only crucial for a work like Pullman’s, where the protagonist needs to learn about their own world in order to grow. If you have read Eragon by Christopher Paolini, the same type of world building is seen in that series. Eragon, the protagonist, creates the world for the reader through his journeys. Even though a map is provided in the beginning of the book, the readers knowledge of the world only expands as Eragon’s knowledge about his world expands.
            Literature of all types pose questions that deal with craft; questions such as, what makes a text work, and what are techniques used to make a world? Concerning the world of fantasy fiction, the question here is if it is necessary to give an in-depth introduction to the created world. Pullman seems to have created a world that the reader does not need to be given a history lesson. And yet there might be a certain type of wisdom that other fantasy writers have internalized: sometimes, it really is necessary to learn to be able to understand a topic fully. Which method of revealing the world to the reader works better? 

                                                  Happy Reading!! -Ashley Weinheimer

                                                            Work Cited

Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 1995. Print.

“Fantasy” Might Become True through Cultural Awareness

Chikako Takano
ENGL 217
Bruce Simon
Response Essay
2014/10/19, revised 2014/11/06

“Fantasy” Might Become True through Cultural Awareness

So far, I have read many kinds of books and stories. What the most fascinating genre was the books about fantasy. There are huge numbers of “fantasy fiction” stories all over the world. They have attracted many people that the books and stories make readers dream and enable anything to come true. When I look into the world of fantasy literatures, I face to one broad question: how do people categorize specific books into "fantasy fiction"? Where is the entrance of the fantasy world in those kinds of books or stories?

To answer my question, I searched the definition of the word “fantasy” in a dictionary at first. It said that “The faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.” In other words, the things that happen farther from our real world would be called “fantasy.” Until today, I have read some fantasy novels in the class, and all of them are fiction that no identification with actual persons, places, buildings and products is intended. However, I assume that we still have a small possibility to jump into the world full of “fantasy” in which we would experience uncommon things. In my case, studying and making my living abroad would be called “fantasy” by people in my country because I am doing completely different things from my ordinary life in Japan right now fortunately. Most Japanese might dream of living in foreign countries at least once, and hardly comes true. Here I stand in Fredonia, I cannot talk to people with my first language, and I have to write my essay in foreign language. There are some cultural differences that my common sense raised in my country for a long time rarely makes any sense.

Those of my experiences have some similarities with protagonists in any fantasy fiction novels. Like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, she becomes smaller or bigger body easily and dramatically by eating or drinking. All non-humankinds like animals or flowers are speaking and singing English fluently, and it makes sense even they talking in crazy ways in the wonderland. In the text of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, readers will meet witches, wizards, and many characters that are able to speak though they are not humankinds as well as in the wonderland. Also, considering to the differences of our national characters, Japanese people think it is totally improbable to lose our houses by strong wind although it might be happened when we get a huge earthquake or tsunami. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is also full of weird things that September meets, creatures that we are not able to find in our society like a wyvern or a marid. If I were that girl and asked suddenly to save the fairyland with those kinds of creatures, I would go into fits.

In the first place, every protagonist in the fantasy novel has their ordinary life, but they jump into extraordinary events or worlds all of a sudden. Bilbo in The Hobbit changes his peaceful life into the full of adventure by meeting the wizard and seeking the ring. Four children in the book of Narnia who evacuated from the world war to the countryside find the entrance of the magic world of Narnia. This might be effect reader that how many people did try to find it by exploring their closets or wardrobes. Like them, my life has totally changed once I received the first letter from SUNY Fredonia. It was my key to enter the new world to see and hear unfamiliar things.

Our humankinds have longed to the creation of fairy-tales and Disney movies when we are young. There can be some adults including me still dreaming of it so hard in this society. As well as the protagonists in the fantasy novels, many troubles and trials are waiting for people who are experiencing unordinary things in different environment like me. Nevertheless, they will obtain significant knowledge and dearest companies that they would not able to do it in their ordinary life. Everything depends on your way of thinking; our lives will totally change into fantasy by various occasions. How we reach the ending of our story would depend on how we seek for new things and enjoy our entire lives.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Hobbit: Movie & Book Changes

Michael Limoncelli
Professor Simon
ENGL 217
The Hobbit: Movie & Book Changes
            In class there were multiple questions brought up when discussing our novels, specifically The Hobbit and the changes between the movie and book. As someone who has read the book, and seen both currently released movies, there are some extremely significant changes from the book that severely alter the characters and actions of the movie. While I’m not saying these changes are bad, because they do add more action among other things to the movie, they simply make you question why? Why were these changes made or what caused the filmmakers think such a change was necessary?
            Firstly, there are two major changes that stick out to me very much and their names are Legolas and Tauriel. In the book there is literally no character called Tauriel and similarly Legolas is not a character from The Hobbit either, only The Lord of the Rings. The question as to why these characters were created and used in this movie instead of Tolkien’s original cast can be seen in a few ways. There’s the generic answer that the writers thought it would be cool to include a fan favorite character like Legolas in another movie, or the more factual answer of Peter Jackson stating “He’s [elven king] Thranduil’s son, and Thranduil is one of the characters in ‘The Hobbit,’ and because elves are immortal, it makes sense Legolas would be part of the sequence in the Woodland Realm” (Moore) and from a logical standpoint that makes absolute sense.
            While Peter Jackson stated his reasoning, I still have my opinion that since there is a major lack of empowered female characters in Tolkien’s writings, let alone The Hobbit, they felt the need to add a strong female character into the mix. Just like most Hollywood movies though, if there’s a female character, there must be a love interest or conflict somewhere in the story. This can be seen with the character Kili who’s the love interest of Tauriel as she hunts him down to save and or see him again in the movie, which turns out saved Kili’s life from his injury; Kili’s injury was also not in the book. Now with Legolas being a fan favorite and the inclusion of Tauriel, there of course has to be a love triangle created to add some mild drama and incite motivation for Legolas to go out on an Orc killing rampage while he tracks or assists Tauriel, which is an obvious fan service part of the movie.
            Now there was the statement that changing Tolkien’s story is a disservice to him and was a ploy to make it more action based and increase movie revenue. This is not wrong, the book itself, in my opinion, seemed fairly slow paced and lacked major action sequences and if converted entirely to the big screen as is, it would be lacking in the desired content expected by fans. Hollywood is known for changing movie adaptions to a point that it’s unrecognizable, movies such as Ender’s Game can be an example of this. Given that these changes only amplified the intensity and awesomeness of the entire adventure it can only be seen as an improvement instead of disservice to Tolkien’s works. These changes made the story more epic and modern in a sense. I say modern in the terms of what viewers, readers and fans in general expect from either a movie or book in our contemporary world. This can be seen with Michael Bay movies where things just explode and there’s violence everywhere, viewers love it. Adding a relevant version of that into The Hobbit to draw in more audiences and make it more exciting to watch can only be seen as a positive. The only people that would have an issue with these changes, since they mostly improved the story, are the purist fans that will call it a bastardized version and want nothing but the original content.
            While there were many significant changes to the novel and some minor ones that floated by, they were fairly necessary and improved the overall story of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The characters of Tauriel and Legolas being added in were a necessary plot device to bring more action into the movie, which in my opinion, was done smoothly and flowed nicely into the rest of the story. Overall the changes that the movie made were positive and did not drag the movie down in any sense other than being an unexpected surprise. Peter Jackson did a wonderful job adding some of his own vision into the movie adaption and I couldn’t see it being any other way now.

Works Cited
Moore, Ben. "First Look at Legolas in ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’." Screen Rant. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. .

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.