Monday, November 17, 2014

Cleopatra: Madness or Greatness?

*Recently written history essay. I did a lot of study on the life of Cleopatra this semester (just for kicks).

  History has painted her a sorceress and seductress, she has been immortalized through the ages for prostituting herself before two of the greatest Roman generals who ever lived. She has been named a siren, a great leader, an inspiration, a whore, a goddess, an abomination. Sexualized by Hollywood and immortalized by Shakespeare, she is a central figure in history, and one people can’t quite agree upon. Was she a worthy leader? A cold, calculated strategist? An enchanting seductress? A brilliant mind? A passionate mother? A jealous queen? The possibilities are as varied as Cleopatra herself seems to be.

  So who was this queen of Egypt? This last Pharaoh? What was she really like? What were her true motives and what is her lasting legacy?

  To discover this person, we need to go back to her childhood. Born in 69 BC into a family with a history of backstabbing and murder, she was raised in true Ptolemaic fashion. A life of luxury laced with apprehension and mistrust. Her education was thorough and unparalleled, she became fluent in multiple languages and was known as the only Ptolemy to speak the native Egyptian tongues.

  Her young life was fraught with political turmoil and family trouble. Her father was not a well-loved monarch, and was often betrayed by his other daughter’s, Cleopatra Tryphaena, Berenice and Arsinoe. One more than one occasion he was forced into hiding. On a trip to Rome with Cleopatra, his eldest daughter, Tryphaena, stole the throne, shortly after dying under mysterious circumstances. It is believed she was poisoned by the next daughter, Berenice, who assumed the throne after her. Ptolemy Auletes returned with Roman support to retake Alexandria, executing Berenice and making Cleopatra his fellow ruler, though her power was likely to be limited.

  She was only fourteen at this time, already well-versed in the fine art of treason as her sisters had demonstrated and now a sovereign Pharaoh of Egypt. When Auletes died in 51 BC he left the now eighteen year old Cleopatra and her ten year old brother Ptolemy as joint rulers of Egypt in his stead. This arrangement quickly dissolved into civil war as Cleopatra had no desire to rule as the weaker partner under a boy and those supporting and advising her brother had no desire to be ruled by a woman. Thus, conflict arose.

  With the aid of the eunuch Pothinus, the general Achillas and Theodotus of Chios, Ptolemy managed to kick his sister out of Egypt and Cleopatra was forced to flee with Arsinoe.
  This uneasy childhood likely had some detrimental effect on the young Egyptian queen. We see later that she is not against the murder of her own siblings, a Ptolemaic tradition, nor is she a particularly gentle-hearted woman. Her strength comes from her ambition and her machinations.

  However, it is during this time of exile that she truly comes into her own, establishing herself as a worthy opponent and someone who deserved to be taken seriously as a player in the game. It is in her darkest moment, when she is far from home and far from her rightful place as queen that she meets the man who will change the course of her life, for better or worse. It is this point that Cleopatra’s destiny in intricately intertwined with Rome.

  Julius Caesar, leader of the Roman world, arrived on her shores following his enemy, Pompey, whom the young Ptolemy, just thirteen and seeking to bring himself closer to Rome in friendship, beheaded and presented to Caesar when he arrived. Though the act had been one of goodwill and endearment, it had the opposite effect, and Caesar settled in Rome, making himself arbiter between the rival claims of Cleopatra and Ptolemy.

  Seeking an audience with Caesar but being unable to access him because of the continuing tension between her and her brother, Cleopatra arranged to have herself delivered personally to Caesar, rolled up in carpet. Thus began one of the most interesting and complex romances in history, as Cleopatra came to be Caesar’s young foreign mistress, even bearing him a son who was called “Caesarion” meaning “little Caesar”.

  This was the turning point in Cleopatra’s history, cementing her status as a great queen and bringing her power. At this time, Caesar dismissed his plans to annex Egypt and instead returned Cleopatra to her rightful place on the throne. Ptolemy was defeated by Caesar’s armies and drowned in the Nile, and the younger Ptolemy, Auletes’ youngest son, became Cleopatra’s joint ruler.

  One of Cleopatra’s defining attributes is her passion for her oldest son. She always attested that Caesar was his father and wished him to be named Caesar’s heir, however, that honor was given to Caesar’s grandnephew, Octavian, a young boy who would soon grow up to become Cleopatra’s most hated rival.

  Both she and Caesarion joined Caesar in Rome for a time where Cleopatra’s relationship with the Roman leader was considered a scandal and frowned upon because of Caesar’s marriage to Calpurnia. This time in Rome was under heavy scrutiny, her obvious influence on Caesar was visible to all and helped make her a stench in Roman nostrils and spurred the hatred and the rumors that were directed about her ever after. When Caesar was assassinated in the forum she was forced to flee for Egypt, her shield and her link to Rome destroyed. There she stayed, watching and waiting.

  In the meantime, Ptolemy eventually died, leaving Cleopatra as sole monarch. It is believed she had him killed but no one truly knows. This opened up the second throne of Egypt for young Caesarion, a boy that all of Cleopatra’s hopes and dreams rested upon. She named him her co-ruler and successor and gave him the epithets Theos Philopator Philometor “Father and motherloving god”.

  While this was happening close to home, Rome was in turmoil over Caesar’s death. Caesar’s heir, Octavian, and general Marcus Antonius joined forces to go against the leaders of Caesar’s assassins Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Cleopatra took some part in the war, declaring for Octavian and Marc Anthony and even attempting to send them ships, but that hope was never realized due to bad sailing weather that destroyed part of her fleet.

  Marc Antony, curious about her, sent his delegate, Quintus Dellius to question her loyalties, though he truly wanted her support in war against the Parthian kingdom. Cleopatra came to see Antony herself and so charmed him that he chose to return with her and winter in Alexandria, where he fathered twins by her, Alexandros Helios and Cleopatra Selene and later a son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. She had him execute her sister Arsinoe for leading rebellion and later, when he returned to Alexandria during his war on the Parthians, married him according to Egyptian rites, though he was already wed to Octavian’s sister, Octavia. During this time, Antony also crowned his wife, children and stepson as various kings and queens over the world in an even later called the Donations of Alexandria. Cleopatra was also given the title of "Queen of Kings" by Antony. Her enemies in Rome feared that Cleopatra, "...was planning a war of revenge that was to array all the East against Rome, establish herself as empress of the world at Rome, cast justice from Capitolium, and inaugurate a new universal kingdom." This was one of the moments that set Marcus Antonius on a path of destruction and one of the defining points of his changing allegiances.

  Marc Antony was Roman triumvir in the east but all this served only to alienate him from Rome and give his enemy, Octavian, right to speak against him and incite both rumors and hatred about him and Cleopatra. Antony himself, though long considered a great general and leader, was fast losing his reputation as he was given to drunken binges during which he was easily manipulated by the ever ambitious Egyptian Queen and also had acclimated himself so completely with the Egyptian culture that Rome had begun to doubt his loyalties in significant ways. When he and Cleopatra launched their campaign against Octavian and, by extension, Rome, this was the last straw that truly gave Marc Antony the label of “traitor”. Assembling the people against the “Eastern Whore” and the “poor, besotted Antony”, Octavian met them in naval battle off the cost of Actium. Cleopatra was present with her own fleet and when the battle turned against them, she fled, and Antony followed, a mistake that he later regretted as it forever after labelled him for cowardice.

  The defeated couple fled to Alexandria where, with their armies destroyed and deserting to Octavian who had followed them and invaded Egypt, they spent a last winter together, mostly depressed and despaired, waiting for Octavian and waiting for death. During this time, Cleopatra sent Caesarion east to India to save him from Octavian’s wrath, knowing that any rival heir of Caesar’s would not be allowed to live.

  The manner of their deaths is often disputed though both are generally believed to have committed suicide in some form or fashion. Going out against Octavian one final time and finding himself utterly at a loss, Marc Antony returned to the palace searching for Cleopatra, hearing she had killed herself, he fell on his sword. Tradition dictates that he did not die instantly and rather, learning that Cleopatra was still alive, had himself brought to her. Eventually his wounds killed him and Cleopatra was captured by Octavian, who did not want her killing herself, instead wanting to parade her in Rome for his Triumph.

  Though it is not truly determined how she did this, the sources agree that she did manage to commit suicide despite Octavian’s best intentions, traditionally with the bite of an asp. A true Egyptian death it seems, befitting of Octavian’s title for her, the “Queen of Beasts”.

  As for her children, left behind by parents driven to madness and despair, Caesarion was hunted down and killed in the deserts of India. Antony’s children, Alexandros, Selene and Ptolemy, were shipped off to Rome and cared for by Octavian’s sister, Octavia, Antony’s Roman wife. The two boys faded from record and their fates are uncertain, however, Selene was married to the Nubian king, Juba, and spent her life as a queen, like her mother before her.

  Cleopatra’s life was fraught with tragedy and danger and darkness. Raised on blood and vengeance and mistrust, she was merely a product of her upbringing, coldly ambitious and fiercely determined to a point that took her down dark paths and into tight situations. Dehumanizing her to merely a villainess or seductress is easy to do when we look at the facts of her life. It is not hard to believe that she loved no one, that she answered to no one, that her life was lived for no one. After all, she murdered more than one member of her family, she appeared only interested in using the two men in her life, and as for her children, seemed to view them as tools for her ultimate goals of conquest.

  But is that truly the case? Can we, thousands of years after her time, ever really know for certain what kind of person she was and what her deeper, truer intentions were?

  Perhaps not. But if we read between the lines a little, I think we would realize a few very simple and basic facts of her humanity.

  The question of madness or greatness can be applied to many ancient monarchs, Cleopatra only one of many whose life could be considered either a mess or a tragedy. Was her rule one to be celebrated, to be looked up to? Is it one to be scorned and rejected?

  Perhaps if we stepped back and looked at the bigger picture of her life we would see something else, perhaps we would see a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a lover and even a wife. A woman who, despite leading a life of hardship and struggle and despite a bitter end, managed to pull through and rise up, managed to make a name for herself that has lasted into the ages.

  So who is Cleopatra truly? A victim of circumstance? A tragic heroine? A player in the game of kings and kingdoms? A goddess? A seductress? A good queen? A loving mother? A passionate lover? A ruler seeking to better her kingdom? A woman who reached too far and paid the price?

  Maybe, she is all those things, and maybe we should avoid applying her with one trait or one characteristic. Above all, she was human, and humans are capable of a vast array of feelings and desires and characters. Cleopatra no exception.

  Maybe she was neither mad nor great. Maybe she was merely a human. A human who wanted more for herself, for her children, for her people. A human who tried and failed.

  And in the end, what could be more human than that? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

27 Things Only A Camp Little Red Counselor Will Understand

After seeing this post; on my friend's timeline this morning, I got inspired to create this little explanation of the things that only the counselors and staff of the beloved Camp Little Red will understand. We get paid little and we sleep less, but let's be honest guys, we have the best job in the world. :)

1. When it's down to you and Met 1 in a dodge-ball game.

2. Getting called up for an impromptu skit.

3. The love/hate relationship with shower mornings.

4. Singing "I'm Just A Child". Every chapel. Every week. All summer.

5. When kids push the gravel around under the table.

6. Trying to "circle up".

7. When it's your gratis group's turn to do dishes.

8. The strange things that start happening during the last week of camp.

9. When you want to win Mr/Miss Clean but your kids are messy.

10. Teaching the first day of Crafts.

11. Seeing how many times you can play "Bump" or "Grounders" before your mind goes numb.

12. When shower day also ends up being swim day.

13. When in doubt...paint rocks.

14. When other staff are flirting.

15. When Snowy is the speaker.

16. Lip-synced music videos.

17. When they sing your favorite song in chapel.

18. When it's FINALLY Teens Camp week.

19. Emergency Storm Sleepovers.

20. Ten Toes Up.

21. Trying to come up with the best Silly Hour.

22. Sharing night at the campfire.

23. Mosquitoes.

24. When kids find out your real name.

25. Pizza night.

26. Looking forward to slideshow night yet dreading what embarrassing pictures of you there might be.

27. How much happier you feel on music mornings.

And bonus...

28. Loving kids and bringing them to Christ. The greatest reward in the world.

Camp Little Red is a great place to spend your summer, you always laugh lots and have fun, everyone is family, and the memories are unforgettable. So what if you can have a better paying "real" job somewhere with shorter workdays and more time for sleeping and personal hygiene? Camp IS a real job, and there's nowhere else I'd rather. be.

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor is not in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:58

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Writing Productively (aka Getting Something Done)

  As a fantasy novelist, who is currently working on an ambitious (hopefully one day) fifteen book series, I have been learning a thing or two about productive writing. In this modern era, at this stage of my life, working productively on anything is a task. There are so many distractions and other obligations that cut into your writing time, the internet comes to mind first, school (especially those in high school and college), work, extracurricular activities, good old fun and of course, the necessary maintenance of some scrap of social life.

  However these "distractions" while important and necessary functions of everyday living, need not be an EXCUSE for poor writing habits and performance. Even those with very tight schedules can usually find a gap of time to use to their advantage.

  So here are some common distractions and problems that plague the burdened, busy writer, and solutions to combat them.

  1) THE INTERNET - the bane of every writer's existence

  The internet is a huge problem for me, I am absolutely ADDICTED to tumblr and I love just being online. It's pretty bad. Like most kids, my days (and nights) are often spent surfing the net when I could be doing something important and productive ( reading, drawing, working, WRITING). Alas, I suffer the same internet addiction that plagues most of my generation, and I am loathe and hard-pressed to kick the habit.

  But that doesn't mean I can't.

  The first step to beating the internet addiction is to TURN. IT. OFF.

  Oh sure, it sounds easy in theory. There have been plenty of times when I gleefully pat myself on the back for my strength of will in unplugging the wifi and opening the word document. I get in a paragraph or two, riding along on a euphoria of self-pride, smiling stupidly at my "perseverance" and "strong character".

  But then come the little internet demons. You know them. Those little guys who sneak into your mind and start suggesting to you all the things you may be missing with the internet turned off.

  What if so-and-so has replied to your comment/message?

  What if your post on tumblr has some new likes or reblogs?

  What if you have a new email? Or a facebook notification? Or maybe a new tweet?

  The list can go on. Pretty soon your confidence and resolve starts to slip, your fingers slow down on the keyboard, your thoughts begin to turn from your work to the web and your social networks. Eventually you come to a standstill, you're not sure about a word definition, or a particular grammatical structure.

  Perfect! The internet demons shriek. You deserve a break anyway, you've been working so hard. You go check out Google for the answer to that question. Oh, and you might as well check out your newsfeed while you're there!

  An hour, a email reply, a quick look at all your pages, and a new tweet later, you are ready to get back to work. But now you feel uninspired, empty and honestly, not into it. So you shrug and click the 'x' and save the document for "another time".

 If this sounds even remotely like you or a situation you've been in, then no doubt you are part of the practically 100% of writer's who suffer from IDD. Internet-Distraction-Disorder. This is a serious disease that affects pretty much all of the population, not just the writers. There are no campaigns to raise awareness, no support groups, no outside help whatsoever. Despite the fact that everyone seems to be afflicted by this problem, it can often feel you are alone with it. A failure and a loser who can't turn off the wifi for even thirty minutes. Kind of discouraging. To me anyway.

  However, you are NOT alone. Not by a long shot. Pretty much anyone with internet access suffers from IDD. So don't feel discouraged because you think you're the only one who can't deal with this problem. This is my problem too, and the problem of many others, a major problem that I think society needs to work to change.

  But what can you personally do to combat IDD and start writing more productively?

  • Start simple, and shut the wifi off. Unplug, get off the internet and stay OFF. It's hard to do, but worth it in the long run.
  • Ignore the "internet demons". Don't let them get to you. Ask yourself, what's more important? My book/essay/short story/poem/etc? Or twitter?
  • Go a little more extreme and take a sort of internet purge. Get offline and stay offline for a set amount of time, a week, a month, vowing to ignore social networks until such and such a thing is accomplished.
  • To kick the internet habit in general, get OUTSIDE. People don't get out enough anymore and it's sad. Not only is it healthy for you in every way, leaving you feeling refreshed and revitalized, but it will also fuel your imagination and sometimes bring your closer to your story and characters, or help you experience a revelation that you weren't able to before when cooped up in a cramped office space.

  2) FULL SCHEDULES - the problem of life

  If you've got the internet out of the way and still have a tight schedule, then you need to take some more drastic measures to get some productive writing done. Between, school, work and actually trying to do some socializing, writing can definitely be pushed to the back burner. But if you are serious about writing and want to pursue it, then you will be able to find a way. I promise.

  Schedule is key. Really. Plenty of people roll their eyes at the mention of the word "schedule" or "organizing" but as you get older, this becomes a rather necessary part of getting through life. I personally LOVE making schedules and organizing things and just being neat and tidy that way. Not everyone is that way though, and that's fine, but I can honestly say that my life is much less stressful and easier to deal with when I have even a small outline of the days events. It also helps me be more productive.

  • Google scheduling and organizing your life. There are thousands upon thousands of tips and tricks to get yourself organized and on track.
  • Buy a day planner. And USE IT. I love my day planner, seeing all my life's events laid out for a quick view. Calenders are good as well. I like to record all the schoolwork I've done, the chores and other farm jobs I've completed, and what I read, watched and wrote that day.
  • Set a writing time and STICK TO IT. In the winter I like to get up at 7:00 and write until breakfast. It really helped me after I chose a set daily time, I was finishing chapters on a weekly basis and getting lots more accomplished than before.
3) MAKING USE OF IDLE TIME - using some of those extra moments

  If you ride a bus to work or school every morning the time you spend there is ample opportunity for you to glean thoughts and ideas for your work. The world outside our doors is absolutely overflowing with things that will bring life and character to your work. The people you meet, the places you visit, the things you do, all of it contributes to your life experience, and the richer that is, the richer your writing will be, because your imagination will be well-fueled and your horizons well-broadened.

  There are lots of things you can do to fill up those extra moments. Once you get thinking about it, the opportunities are endless!

  • When your out and about, observe. People-watching is a great way to glean ideas for your characters and your plots. There are countless faces I can recall that have inspired me in this way. It's a really cool thing to be able to pick out a face in the crowd and find them almost familiar because of the way they remind you of one of your characters.
  • Bring a notebook. Everywhere and anywhere. Never leave home without some sort of writing utensil or device. A notebook and pen, a computer, a phone, whatever! Just so long as you can jot down things quickly and easily when those unexpected ideas pop up in your mind.
  • Besides observing when you're out of the house, thinking and brainstorming is a really great thing too. Play out scenes in your head, imaging your story developing like it might on a movie screen. I've been led to great plot developments by doing this. Your imagination is your best friend!
4) BE COMMITTED - being diligent to the end

  Finally, it is very important to be committed to your work. Meaning that you are willing to do all or some of the things that I've suggested to change your lifestyle and get more done. If you truly desire to finish that novel, or short story, or essay, or whatever it is that you've been working on, you will make the changes and stick with them. Even when it's hard. Nobody ever said being a writer was a walk in the park, it's not. But if it's something you sincerely love and enjoy, it will not be hard for you to go out of your way to make it work. Always remember that hard work pays off in the end. 

  Good luck!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review (spoilers)

  Steve Rogers, aka the supersoldier from WWII, Captain America, is back in this latest installment of the Marvel Comic Universe and is still struggling to adapt to the fast-paced 21st century. He has become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is using his war skills to help stomp out the big crimes and threats to national security. In his downtime, he is catching up on all he's missed during his seventy-year slumber, from Thai food to Star Wars (imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back with Steve, hmm?). Now that the shock has worn off, now that the world is no longer endangered from aliens led by power-hungry Norse-gods, he has time to grieve for what he's lost. Maybe not in crying actual tears, but the pain is still there.
  Peggy, his dear friend and battlefield sweetheart, wiles away her days alone in a nursing home, gray-haired, wrinkled, and lost to him. Not merely because of her Alzeimer's, but also because of that seventy-year gap where she went on with her life and he was sleeping. All those lost days and years lie between them like a chasm, and nothing will ever truly bridge it again.
  And Bucky. Good, ole Bucky. A true friend. A best friend. Childhood companion and fellow troublemaker, always good in a scrape, a soldier to the end. A man who's life was worthy to be celebrated, to be honored, whether in Steve's own heart, or in a museum display. Bucky's sacrifice will never be forgotten.
  Despite these unique and tragic losses, Steve Rogers does have a few bright sides to his difficult existence. His time at S.H.I.E.L.D is going well, the missions keep him occupied, help him forget the culture shift. Natasha, the Black Widow, has been good to him, if not a little rough around the edges. And he's found a new companion in Sam Wilson, a war veteran from the modern day.
  Yes, life is going alright, at least, from Steve's surface perspective.
  In reality, this new modern life as he knows it may be about to self-destruct.
  S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised, it's leader is on the run, it's agents are turning traitor left and right, and a brand new threat has surfaced, one that even Captain America may not be able to stop.
  The enemies were obvious when Steve Rogers first became Captain America, back in the good old days, it was easier to be a good guy. Staring down Hitler or tangling with Hydra has a way of perfecting a person's sense of right and wrong.
  But those were the good old days, and those days are long gone, as Steve has come to understand so well. The clear cut, black and white of his youth has turned gray, the line between friend and enemy has been blurred, the country that he risked his life for, the organization that has employed him to continue, slinks and spies, cheats and lies, perhaps for good reasons, as argued by Nicky Fury (head of S.H.I.E.L.D), or perhaps not. And as the days grow increasingly darker, Stever Rogers is left to wonder;
  Who am I really fighting for? Who are the good guys in this mess? Or does it even matter anymore?

  I very much enjoyed the first Captain America film, borrowing it from the library after being exposed to The Avengers. Despite the rather interesting plothole at the end of the film, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with a nice, clean-cut, honest hero, not-so-nice, clean-cut villains, and a cool sci-fi take on WWII (an era of history I find fascinating). Not to mention all the cameos  of some of my favorite characters (Elrond, Thorin, Grace Van Pelt, etc).
  That being said, the sequel absolutely blew my mind. Despite the much darker tone of this film than anything Marvel has done before, I was absolutely hooked from start to finish. Captain America is one of my favorite superheroes and in this film, his internal struggles come more to the surface. One of the most interesting things about him is the fact he came directly from the past into the 21st century future. Trying to fathom the shock that someone would suffer through being thrown straight into this crazy millennium is difficult, but the consequences are interesting, and the way they play out in both subtle and non-subtle ways during the film is both interesting and tragic.
  Nick Fury and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) are both characters that remained rather low in my list of favorite Marvel heroes, but this movie has definitely elevated them both. While neither of them begin or become as straightforward and honest as Cap, his influence on them is obvious by the film's conclusion. They may both be willing to cheat, lie, maim or sneak to get a job done, but Steve's simpler, upright approach does have its benefits, its positives, as they come to understand. When their world is crashing in around them, it is Captain America's sincerity, his virtue, his belief in the good of the world, that pulls them through, helps them go on.
  Despite how great Director Fury and Black Widow are, and how much I love Captain America, it was the Winter Soldier (aka, Bucky Barnes) that came out as my favorite character from this film. I am a sucker for the brothers-turned-enemies trope and this one was definitely one of my favorites (and one of the most tragic) I've had the pleasure of experiencing heartbreak with. Also, I do love a good anti-hero, especially one as fantastically skilled and awe-inspiring as brainwashed Bucky has become. A calm, cold, deadly assassin, the perfect foil for genuine, good-hearted Captain America.
  What surprised me most about this film however, was the incredibly relevant and somewhat shocking portrait that was painted of our world today. History repeating itself was never more clear than the moment in which Steve realizes that his sacrifice in the War was almost futile. He never stopped Hydra's plans at all, he only delayed them, gave them a new, darker goal to achieve. The Nazis and Hydra had tried to take the people's freedom in the War by force, but they clung to it, fighting back, perhaps more viciously than expected. So a new and subtler plan was introduced. Why go through all the trouble of taking their freedom, when they could simply encourage them to hand it over willingly out of fear, in the name of "security and peace." How true to the times is that idea? How blunt and obvious? How clear an image of our world? What makes it so frightening is just how plausible it is, so much so that walking out of the theatre, I could almost believe that there really was a Hydra out there, orchestrating the chaos that so plainly exists around our globe.
  It's these concepts of freedom and fear and the lines people are willing to cross and the things they are willing to sacrifice for security that made the film for me. Often, Hollywood blockbusters focus more on the action and the romance of their stories rather than relevant, timeless issues such as those presented in The Winter Soldier. And to me, that seems a tremendous waste. All the opportunities to present truth to audiences lost for the sake of "pleasing a demographic" or making more money. The Winter Soldier is at the top of the box office right now, so people obviously do care about these issues. My hope is that in seeing this idea so clearly shown for just a movie moment, they will be more apt to recognize similar themes in reality.
  Perhaps these examples of terror and freedom and the marring of black and white could be considered exaggerated here (it is still, after all, a Marvel movie) but that doesn't change the truth that lurks underneath.
    "We will neutralize threats before they happen."
    "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime....This isn't freedom - this is fear."

  Now that my more serious musings are out of the way, I'd like to take a minute just to make note of the little, awesome things that made gave me heart palpatations as I watched. A warning; I cannot guarantee just how much of my fangirl side will be released in this section, tread carefully.
  - Steve's List: The one which he pulls out in the presence of Sam Wilson (the Falcon). The camera gives us a nice little shot of Steve's pop culture list, and speculating about someone's first time experience with these things couldn't be more fun! I've already mentioned this above, but seriously, imagine watching the Star Wars trilogy with Steve! It would be so great!
  - The Suit Switch: For the first chunk of the film, Steve wears a more low-key, dark version of his Captain America costume while his original outfit sits gathering dust in the Smithsonian. Most people seemed to not like the original, more patriotic costume, but I'm glad that he donned it for the second half of the movie. I do love a little nostalgia.
  - Natasha's Necklace: For those of you interested in a little Avengers romance, you may be pleased to note that during parts of the film, Natasha can be seen wearing a small, silver arrow necklace. Apparently, the actress, Scarlett Johansson, requested this subtle hint herself. I'll let you guys draw your own conclusions...
  - Future Shield References: There have been a couple of instances in which Bucky/The Winter Soldier handles Steve's signature shield, perhaps a hint of things to come, since in the comic book universe, Bucky does take up Captain America's role for a time. And it is worth mentioning that Sebastian Stan (Bucky) has signed a contract for nine Marvel films while Chris Evans (Steve) has only signed on for six.
  - Stan Lee Cameo: Another solid Stan Lee cameo as he portrays a nightguard in the Smithsonian who fears being fired after Cap "borrows" his old costume. We all love Stan Lee, so let's just take a moment to appreciate him here.
  - The Maximoff Twins: And finally, two characters I am REALLY excited to see in The Age of Ultron film next year. Wanda and Pietro (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) have definitely grabbed my interest and I look forward to seeing them in future films. Their short cameo here (in the credits scene) was a very creepy yet cool glimpse of what's to come next year. Couldn't be more happy about these additions to the Avengers team!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

(Belated) Frozen Review (mild spoilers)

  There is a chill in the castle of Arendelle.

  Young princess Elsa, born with magical powers of ice and snow, has created a winter wonderland in the palace halls, at the request of her younger sister, Anna. It has become a sort of special sister time between them, late at night, when the castle sleeps, to entertain themselves with Elsa's powers. Eagerly, they build snowmen, make snow-angels, have snowball fights, sled, and leap from snowbank to snowbank.

  Unfortunately, roughhousing with magic is never a very wise idea, and Anna is struck in the head accidentally by Elsa's ice.

  The horrified king and queen gather both their children and take an emergency midnight trip to the wise trolls. The chief troll assures them that Anna can be cured, “the heart cannot be so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded” and advises them to let him remove Anna's memories of Elsa's magic and keep their elder daughters powers a secret. The king and queen are desperate and agree, causing the downward spiral that may eventually lead their kingdom to ruin.

  Elsa, terrified of her hurting her sister, or anyone else, and tortured by the constant threat of the harm of her magic, locks herself away as her parents and the trolls urge, distancing herself from everyone. Including her beloved sister. Confused and disheartened by her sister's sudden “iciness”, Anna tries vainly for years to get Elsa to come out and be close again, but Elsa, out of sacrificial love for her sister (albeit misguided love) stays far away, just beyond Anna's reach, hidden behind a locked door.

  So when the day comes, as it seems is inevitable in Disney films, when Elsa's parents are no longer around to watch out for her and lead her, a desperate and despairing Anna comes slowly to her sister's locked door. Looking for comfort, guidance, arms to hold her in this troubled time.

  Little does she know the depth of her older sister's fear and loneliness as she weeps alone in the icy shadows of her cold room.

  “We only have each other. ” Anna laments sadly. “It's just you and me. What are we gonna do?”

  But, just as before, no answer came from behind Elsa's door that day. Or any day since.

  A few years down the road, the two princesses are preparing (in utterly opposite ways) for Elsa's coronation as queen of Arendelle. Young and impetuous Anna is desperate for human companionship and thrilled to see the castle gates open wide for the flood of guests come to celebrate and witness her sister's coming of age. In true Disney fashion, she sings of all the thrilling things that she imagines coming to pass in the night ahead, including possibly finding her “true love”.

  Elsa, meanwhile, takes a very different approach to the impending social gathering. She covers every inch of her skin possible, slipping on the blue gloves her father gave her to shield the world from her icy blasts. Repeating the instructions of her parents, she reluctantly welcomes the inevitable with a sort of resigned dignity, determined to do her duty, determined not to let anyone know.

  “Conceal. Don't feel. Put on a show.” she tells herself repeatedly, clearly struggling, while Anna rushes out to greet the people. Finding herself face-to-face (or should I say, face-to-horse) with Prince Hans, a handsome and charming prince of the Southern Isles who immediately strikes Anna's fancy, and continues to do so well into the night. So smitten is the young (and slightly naïve) princess, that she actually agrees to Hans' marriage proposal, and promptly drags her new fiancée to meet her sister and receive the queen's blessing on their marriage.

  However, Elsa – dutiful, frigid Elsa – says no. Leading into an argument in which Anna rips off Elsa's glove, driving her to anger and greater stress, until she finally snaps. And the effect is both shocking, and devastating.

  “Sorcery! Monster!” the terrified guests whisper, and Elsa flees the ball, the castle, the city. Heading into the lonely wilds of the mountains beyond the lake, where she can be free to use her powers and not worry about hurting those she loves, where she, and everyone else can be safe.

  But Elsa never reckoned that her sudden release would bury her country in snow and ice, setting in a slowly deepening winter that grows only more frigid as time passes. Arendelle's citizens are left behind in the cold, afraid, outraged, and unable to do anything to fight the chill. Only princess Anna is willing to go after Elsa and speak to her, insisting her sister is not a monster, that she isn't dangerous.

  “She's my sister, she would never hurt me.” she asserts, leaving her new beau, prince Hans, in charge of the kingdom before riding off into the frosted forests in search of Elsa. Thus begins an adventure in which love, in its truest form, is realized, and the eternal bond between two sisters proves to outlast any ice or storm.

  Frozen came to my attention late last year, not too far from the film's release, and while it had caught my interest, as most Disney films will, I didn't have amazingly high expectations. At least, I certainly wasn't expecting what I got.

  I am a huge fan of Disney, it was such an integral part of my childhood, I grew up on films like The Lion King, Bambi, The Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, Mulan, and Robin Hood. When I was really young, before my siblings were born, we didn't have much TV, I had my Disney movies and my Veggie Tales collection. They shaped me at a young age, and I am so glad of it.

  As I've grown up, Disney movies have sorted of faded, in both quantity and quality. Studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have become more popular. Disney's classic 2D animation is all but dead. The company has invested so much time and effort into other unrelated franchises that they've forgotten everything that made them so special in the first place.

  Perhaps Frozen has come along just in time to save that.

  Grand, strikingly relatable, and emotionally entrapping, Frozen has enthralled viewers of all ages and all walks of life, bringing back the old Disney magic in a almost indescribable way. There is just something distinctly “Disney-ish” about it that I haven't seen or experienced in the Disney films of this millennium. Maybe it's because Frozen has been in talks since Walt Disney himself was alive, or because it was adapted from a classic fairytale like most of the Disney Princess movies, maybe it's the music, or the characters. Maybe the world was just ready for something magical again.

  Out of all of Frozen's wonderful songs, it is the Oscar-winning 'Let It Go' (sung by the fabulously talented Idina Menzel) that has captured the world's heart. It has started a youtube trend, it seems everyone is performing their own version of this popular hit.

  For myself, I really do like the song. The visuals of Elsa creating her ice palace was INCREDIBLE, the music was beautiful, Idina Menzel's voice is just unbelievable, and the lyrics a lovely. The only thing I disliked was the self-centered message behind it.

  “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” Elsa sings out, shooting ice left and right. This was one of the problematic lines that caught my attention. Does the song deserve all the attention it is getting? I think so. It's definitely magnificent musically. However, I think we should enjoy it without soaking up too much of its philosophy, which may be hard to do, considering the generally young age of the Disney audience and the widespread popularity of a song that has been stuck in people's heads since the film premiered last year. However, as a lover of Disney music, I think it has earned its popularity and will continue to revel in that fame for a long time to come. We may as well just enjoy it as music, no matter how tired some of us may be of hearing it. ;)

  Besides the Frozen soundtrack, which has wowed and enraptured the world, I think it is the theme of 'true love' that really stands out the most about this film. Going against its own past philosophy on the now cliched 'true love romance' between a prince and princess, Frozen seeks to show us a different and far more powerful form of true love, mainly through the bond between Anna and Elsa.

  You may have gathered from my intro that the relationship between the two sisters is frosty at best, but it wasn't always that way. Buried beneath years of hurt and rejection is a love for each other that grows and blossoms into something beautiful by the end of the film. Despite how Elsa has hurt her, Anna still sacrifices herself to save Elsa from the sword of the film's (surprise!) antagonist. And it is shown throughout the film that Anna is willing to put herself on the line for Elsa, even when the other characters suggest she isn't worth risking it for. That Disney would step away from its old ways to paint this lovely picture is truly surprising and the results are inspiring.

  That's not to say there aren't other characters who demonstrate acts of 'true love' to one another. Olaf, the walking, talking snowman Elsa brought to life is there for Anna when she most needs a friend. He stays with her, keeping her warm at his own (*ahem* wet) expense and when Anna sees what he is doing to himself he gently replies; "Some people are worth melting for." 

  Likewise, Anna's newfound traveling companion, Kristoff, a tall, blonde-haired, ice-harvester, helps Anna search for Elsa, keeps her safe, and goes back for her when it's clear she is in danger. Charging right into the heart of a fierce snowstorm to save her life. Before this however, he took her back to the castle, despite his feelings for her, knowing that her fiancee, prince Hans awaited her, and could save her "frozen heart" with "an act of true love", in essence, true love's kiss. In true gentlemen's spirit, Kristoff gave her up to save her, an act of sacrifice, of true love in itself.

  What the film strives to teach about love is that it comes in different forms. There is Anna and Hans' mushy-headed, lovey-dovey drivel, as echoed by their duet, 'Love is an Open Door'. Then there is the love of friends like Olaf, who are there for you no matter the personal cost. There is love like that between Kristoff and Anna, one of friendship, one of companionship, substance, and yes, some romance. And then there is the love between Anna and Elsa, pure and perfect, full of strength, of laughter, of hope and of sacrifice. The act of giving up everything for another person, no matter what.

  That is a rare love to find in our world today, as these days, when people hear the word "love" they automatically assume that which refers to Anna and Hans' romantic relationship. It is only after that first thought that other kinds of love, such as the love between friends or family enters their mind.

  Hopefully, it is Anna and Elsa's bond that audiences remember the most as they leave the theatre, or turn off the TV. Hopefully it is their relationship that resonates with viewers, old and young, and inspires them in their own life.

  After all;

      "Some people are worth melting for."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Black and White vs. Gray Fantasy

  This is a continuous theme among fantasy writers and bloggers. As fantasy becomes more and more mainstream, the question persists. Which is better? The traditional formula of "black and white" fantasy in which there is a clear "good" side and a clear "bad" side? The good men fighting the forces of a Dark Lord's evil? Or the morally ambiguous human characters who are both good and bad, both black and white, harder to figure out? Where good and evil is a shadier, "grayer" subject, something harder to pinpoint?

  In my humble opinion, there is no better or worse option, no right or wrong formula to use when creating fantasy. Both work well, and both create great stories. However, I also believe that there is no story that has one way or the other, nothing can be completely black and white or totally gray. There is a bit of both in every story, fantasy or not.

  I think black and white (good and evil) is the basis for any good, honest story. It's a reflection of the world around us, there are forces of good and evil, battling it out in various capacities around the world, whether in one heart, one household, one city, or one nation, beneath it all, there is an ever-raging war between the "black and white" spiritual forces of God and Satan. This is inescapable, whether you are writing a fantasy or not, whether you are writing or not. Evidence of this battle is very clear in the world around us.

  But as a result of this battle, the people (or characters) have both sides fighting for control inside them. And what do you get when you mix black and white? Gray.

  People are not basically good beings, and they are not totally evil all the time either. While most often we humans are self-serving we do have our moments, a heroic, selfless deed, a kind word, a simple helping hand. In fantasy this is often shown in the protagonist(s) and hero(es). But just as humans can be surprisingly kind and compassionate, they can also be dark and cruel. This is usually shown in the anti-hero(es) and villain(s).

  In my fantasy series, there is a "God" being running things, looking out for his people, and there is an enemy, a "Satan-like" being doing his best to subvert it and bring darkness across the land. He manifests in a Dark Lord-esque persona, waiting for the day when he can crush the protagonist beneath his evil heel. In the meantime, throughout all of this fictional world's history, he has been making sure that the people mess up their world on their own, stirring up dissension, hatred and war. Since his evil poisoned the land in the beginning he has delighted in letting his darkness pervert and work in the human (and elven, and dwarven) heart, perversely entertained by his villainy coming alive in them. At the very base of this story, the battle of good vs. evil rages red-hot. God against his Enemy, fighting for control of the world.

  Though this war is very much a spiritual battle, and not as easily distinguished as the human wars that wage on the surface, it is the driving force behind all other aspects of my fictional universe. It is from this root battle that all other battles stem.

  The characters through which we experience this world, have this spiritual war raging inside them. Their inherent evil and darkness trying to keep control, and the light of God struggling to overcome. In some characters this battle is more clearly shown than others. Some are more specifically bent on evil intentions, but I make a point to make sure every "good" guy has a flaw or weakness, and every "bad" guy has a redemptive or soft moment. This is what I believe makes characters interesting and relateable, what makes you sympathetic to them and their cause. Even a cruel, hateful character can inspire some compassion when painted in a certain light, and even a kind, gentle character can surprise the audience with moments of brutality and anger and selfishness. A character that inspires, teaches and keeps you guessing is the kind of character I desire to create. Ultimately, a character that is undeniably human.

  In short, I believe that black and white and gray fantasy go hand in hand, when properly molded and layered the combination creates an utterly breathtaking exploration into the battle of good and evil in the world and how it works in the shady recesses of the human heart. A good fantasy story should be built on the basic concept of a black and white, good and evil force, battling it out behind the scenes, and the gray people caught up in it. This reflects the struggle of our reality, an inescapable struggle that ultimately pervades every good and honest story.

  And this is exactly what I want my stories to be. Good and honest.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Theme of Family

  As I have been writing these past few weeks, I began thinking about what sort of themes are in my work, and how they are represented. I compiled a list with categories and sub-categories as a skeleton for a future essay. I do this so I can delve deeper and explore the meanings and significance of these different ideas in my work, and so that I can better understand them to better express them. One thing in particular stood out to me as I worked.

  The theme of family.

  Fantasy is a genre that seems to focus heavily on friendship, bonds struck from love, from mutual understanding, from desperation and from a shared common goal. It is a strong thread woven through the heart of nearly every great epic, from The Lord of the Rings to The Chronicles of Narnia. The characters are thrown into various perilous quests and must rely on the kindness of others to help them on their journey, whether it's saving the world, or reclaiming a lost throne. Most heroes have a circle of friends to back them up.

  And of course I love that. Friendship is one of the greatest and most beautiful of bonds. A love that blossoms between two people of any background, a love that is not based on selfish motivations, but on a genuine affection for one another. The friendship of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee is, in my opinion, the finest example of this, but there are many others. Relationships that touch our hearts and make us long for the same loyalty and strength and love in our own lives.

  But often, I feel that fantasy overlooks another important relationship, perhaps more important.


  Family bonds are some of the strongest in the world. And they are inescapable. You can pick and choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family. Your blood, your kin. There are powerful emotions and powerful circumstances that stem from that. Blood bonds can lead to beautiful teamwork or terrible enmity, deep affection or black hatred, tenderness or bitterness, sacrifice or betrayal, in a more profound way than I believe friendships can.

  Seeing this, I vowed that the bonds of family were to be a main theme of my fantasy series. I want to portray the various family groups vividly and diversely, to encompass both the bright and the dark, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad of these intensely fascinating relationships.

  Family is a very important part of any society, even a fantastical one, and to see it so often overlooked in media and entertainment is disturbing. I find that too much focus is placed on friendships, in both fiction and reality, thus, I decided to write in such a way that the spotlight would be put back on the family unit. Wishing to show that, for all it's heartache and frustration, "there is light and beauty out there, that no shadow can touch."

  Hopefully, I will succeed in painting this picture for my audiences. Only time will tell. But for now, I do wish to encourage my fellow writers, whether you write in the fantasy genre or not, to take a step back and assess your novel. What kind of themes are you portraying? What messages are you sending to readers? What message do you want to send?

  For me, family is an important and worthy theme to explore and pursue, and I will continue to do so in my novel. It has been very rewarding so far, thinking about and focusing on the "blood bond" and what kinds of things it drives people to do. The human heart is both a marvelous and dark thing to exploit and it has been revealing to do so these long months of writing.

  Just another milestone in the long road of writing a series that I thought I'd share.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Catching Fire Movie Review

So this is my review for the Catching Fire film (Nov. 22nd). It can also be found here; on the Annals of Adloniant blog I guest post on occasion. Hope you enjoy it. :)

Remember who the real enemy is.”

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark both won. Or so they thought.

They were declared victors of the previous year's Hunger Games, making history as the only two people to both walk out of the arena alive at Games end. The have become Capitol celebrities, brought honor and food to their district and families, will be supported by the Capitol with money and food and housing for the rest of their lives. They have survived.

But more than that, they have made enemies. Enemies with the powerful aristocracy that simultaneously adores and abhors them, enemies with the single most powerful man in the country to whom their very lives belong.

There is rebellion brewing in the districts and heroine Katniss is coolly informed by President Snow, leader of Panem, that it is of her doing. Her stunt in the arena with the toxic nightlock berries has painted her as a hero and a rebel to the people of Panem, someone to put their faith in, someone to inspire a revolution. Katniss is both unaware and horrified by the prospect that her attempt to save both her and Peeta from each other is viewed as an act of defiance and rebellion. This simple moment that saved her before may become her undoing, and under threat from President Snow, Katniss is willing to do anything to fix the problem before it's too late.

However, Katniss soon realizes that it was too late before it even began. And she finds herself being sacrificed in the arenas again for the greater good of Panem. Reaped for a special 75th Quarter Quell Games she is put back in the arena with Peeta and the past victors from other districts. The only difference? This time she has accepted that she will not be coming back.

Being a fan of the books, I thought this film went above and beyond the previous installment in the franchise, it was very close to the source material and very true to the tone and spirit of the original story. In general, I was quite pleased with what the cast and crew had created.

Catching Fire was my favorite book, and so far, it has been my favorite film. The acting was superb, with a particularly raw and stirring performance from Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), beautiful costumes and sets, stunning cinematography, script, etc. There is little worth complaining about as a fan or even a critical standpoint, however, there is plenty of subject material that may make some viewers wary or uncomfortable. In all honesty, the whole storyline is a bit uncomfortable when you are first introduced to it.

There is plenty of kissing, as Katniss is at the center of a complicated love triangle involving herself, fellow victor, Peeta, and friend, Gale. Johanna, another victor, undresses in front of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch in an elevator (we only see her bare back). There is a multitude of violence, unsurprisingly, although this time around, many people die of the arena's “natural” elements rather than by human hands. People are burned in acid fog, stabbed, shot with arrows, nailed with axes, whipped, attacked by genetically modified monkeys, throats are slit, people drown, etc. One particularly disturbing scene happens near the beginning of the film when one old man dares to take even the smallest of stands against the power of the Capitol and is dragged onto a podium and shot in the head. We do not see it happen, but the shock, combined with the horror and tears of the other characters, is enough to frighten the viewer.

There is some profanity, mild and not so mild, and it is much more present than in the previous film. Haymitch is often drunk and there are other instances were alcohol is present.

Overall, Panem is not a pleasant place, a fact that is all too clear from the tone of both books and films. But it is a dystopian country that serves as a background for a story of heroism and sacrifice. I know many people who are turned off by The Hunger Games because of the violence and the idea of children killing children. And I understand.

But I wonder if the truly scary thing is how much of our own society we are able to see within the book's pages (or on the screen).

Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games trilogy) has said in the past that her story is a critique on violence and media, showing us what could be if we continue down our current path. I think there is definitely a hard lesson to be learned in Katniss' story, and walking out of the theater, you may have some heavy thoughts wandering around your head. A story like this is sobering, it makes you think, which is one of the reasons it appeals to me.

What I fear has happened is exactly the opposite of what Suzanne Collins intended, the world-wide success of her books (and the films inspired by them) has turned her “critique” of violence into a glamorization, and her thoughtful take on a future world into a young adult trend. The irony couldn't be more complete, woven into the very fibers of the story's heart is the horror and tragedy of war and violence, and what effect it has on the world, and each individual. The Hunger Games is the story of a girl who is put on a pedestal for detestable acts and locked into a life similar to that of a caged animal. Made for a show, for a game. Glamorized for acting on her basest human instinct. Survival.

For me, the appeal of The Hunger Games trilogy is the haunting tale of a war, a raw and gritty story of relatable, realistic people doing their best to change their world for good, to do the right thing in a situation where that is nearly impossible, to give up everything in hopes of creating a better life for those after them.

At it's core, The Hunger Games is a tale of self-sacrifice and of ordinary people overcoming insurmountable odds. Beneath the violence and the darkness and the shadow of despair and doubt, there is a glimmer of strength, of faith, of hope.

Catching Fire captures this well as it's character put themselves on the line time and time again for one another, many of them making the ultimate sacrifice for the one hope they have in these troubled times.

Katniss Everdeen. The Girl on Fire. The Mockingjay. The Symbol of the Rebellion.

Since the last Games, something is different. I can see it.”
What can you see?”


Emily Recommends Books

So I went through my reading list from 2013 and picked out my favorites to share with you. All of these are quite highly recommended, some quick and easy reads, some more heady and though-provoking. Hope you'll take some of my suggestions. :)

  1. The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson
The second book in the Ascendance Trilogy, Jennifer Nielson's sequel reads just as well without previous knowledge of its predecessor (which I have not read). Though relatively unknown and more of a juvenile fantasy, it is engaging and entertaining, with lots of laughs and some fun mystery. In it, a young king named Jaron is surrounded by war and schemes and is threatened by ruffian pirates and the neighbouring country of Avenia, he disguises himself to enter the pirate's stronghold. Jaron is an interesting main character and one that will surely make you smile with his quick wit and pessimist attitude. Moving along at a quick pace, the book begins in the middle of the action and doesn't let up much throughout the whole read. It is relatively small, about 330 pages, and I read most of it in one sitting. I recommend it for younger lovers of fantasy or those of you who are older but love a fun story anyway.
  1. The Royal Diaries: Nzingha
I have loved The Royal Diaries books since I was eight or nine years old, historical fiction has always appealed to me. The Royal Diaries are quick, simple reads that bring you right into the heart of a princess, queen or duchess of times past. I always enjoy learning about such people and Nzingha was no different. Although much too short for my taste, it is to be expected, since much of this amazing women's story is unknown or legend, she is difficult to write about. Hers was a good story, and for anyone who likes learning about people of the past, Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, would be a quick and fun choice.
  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I watched the movie soon after its DVD release and loved it. The story was genuine and warm and funny but there was also something heartbreaking about it that had me in tears more than once. The book is absolutely the same. The movie is a very faithful and well done adaption but, as always, the book is better. By the final pages, I was drowning in tears. All the POV characters (Skeeter, Abileen and Minnie) are likeable and readable and the book, while thick, is simple and smooth. There were two parts that were not exactly wholesome, both taking place with Minnie and Celia Foote. There is some language and sexual content but overall, it is a hard-hitting and impulsively readable story. I recommend it for absolutely everyone, at least fourteen years old.
  1. The Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers
I love Francine Rivers, she is amazing at capturing the historical aura of her stories and she always chooses such great settings and characters. The Mark of the Lion was no different. One of her best literary acheivements by far, it is a trilogy of epic scope, the story of a Jewish slave girl in ancient Rome who touched the lives of all around her and started chain reactions spawning generations. I could go on and on about this book, such as Marcus and Julia and their brother/sister bond, Hadassah's loyalty to her mistress, Hadassah/Marcus (I hate being the only shipper in the fandom, the fandom that, to the best of my knowledge, has only me and my mom), Atretes/Rizpah. Everything about it speaks with a raw truth and power. It has earned a high place on my shelf. Recommended for Christians, historical fiction buffs.
  1. The Book Thief
Easily one of the most life-changing books I read this year. It was truly classic even though it wasn't a very old story. It is a young adult novel, but has a mature yet child-like feel to it. It centers on the life of a girl called Liesel and is set in Nazi Germany. It is narrated through the eyes of Death, who was at his busiest during the War. The unique perspective intrigued me at first and then I started to enjoy the dry sense of humor the personified character has. There was a lot of heavy, completely un-vague foreshadowing, especially about the deaths of certain characters, but that never took away from the heaviness of the losses when the time came. I still bawled like a big baby when the book reached its final chapter. Minor complaints include the extraordinary amount of curse words that spout from the mouth of Liesel's adopted mother and both Liesel and her best friend Rudy Steiner's. A fantastic read and I recommend this book for absolutely everyone and anyone. GO READ IT NOW AND DON'T STOP TIL YOUR DONE!
  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
It's hard to be objective when discussing my favorite book of my favorite trilogy, but honestly, if you haven't read these books yet, then stop everything, get yourself a copy and DO IT! Once again, I cried at the end, and once again, my heart broke and soared and strained along with the characters. I recommend this book to any and everyone, even if fantasy isn't your thing, even if you don't like reading, even if you have a small vocabulary, this is the one book (besides the Bible) that everyone needs to read.
  1. Atonement Child by Francine River
Another great story by Francine Rivers, the struggle of a young woman, Dinah, who is becomes pregnant from rape and loses everything as she decides whether to terminate the pregnancy, or carry her child to the end. Definitely worth a read, it has a strong pro-life message and makes you think twice about abortion. No matter if you're pro-life or pro-choice, everyone should read and be challenged.
  1. Maid Marian by Elsa Watson
A nice, easy-paced book focusing on the trials of Maid Marian Fitzwater, an orphan and heiress who has her estate taken away from her and must fight to get it back with the help of everyone's favorite outlaw, Robin Hood. Other people have not liked this book, finding the long dialogue and slow-pace boring. But I found the story quite interesting, and I do loved reading historical fictions, especially that which is based on my favorite characters. The romance between Marian and Robin is sweet, yet peppered with arguments and the typical behavior of a young boy and girl trying to prove themselves to the other. I found it funny, and intriguing and a decent read. I recommend to those who are interested in Robin Hood's tales, or historical fiction in general.
  1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I waited quite a while for this book and found myself less than fulfilled by the end. To me, it echoed the sorrow and hopelessness of the final Hunger Games book, Mockingjay, and the dreariness of the dystopian world definitely got into me as well. However, I think it was a fitting and powerful ending to a great series and I look forward to more stories from Veronica Roth in the future. I wish I could say more, but if I talk too much, I will spoil it all for you.
  1. Fuse of Armageddon by Sigmund Brouwer
Sigmund Brouwer is one of my favorite authors and this book is just as thrilling as his others. It is, at it's core, a clash between three of the world's biggest religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and how religion can so easily become something dangerous and dark, when it is not war we need, but peace and solutions. A good book that makes you think, recommended for all.
  1. Walking with Bilbo by Sarah Arthur
I love Sarah Arthur's devotionals, and Walking with Bilbo provided some powerful insight into the spiritual core of The Hobbit. Much like her other titles 'Walking with Frodo' and 'Walking through the Wardrobe', 'Walking with Bilbo' is inspiring and informative. I learned alot and I'm sure you will too. Check it out, and check out her others.
  1. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers
This has to be one of my favorite Francine Rivers novels, I loved the historical setting and the main character, the story and plot were great. It was very thought-provoking and inspiring. Francine Rivers has once again spun a magnificent tale and it is worth a read. Good for those who like historical fiction or Christian fiction.
  1. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Another one of Francine River's best, and one of the very, very few romance novels I've read and loved. The characters are frustratingly compelling and very strong and cleverly written. It is a parody of the book of Hosea in Scripture, where the prophet Hosea is told to marry the harlot Gomer by God, to parellel the unfaithfulness of Israel at that time. Very beautiful book, highly recommended.
  1. Blink by Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker is another great author, his novels are full of suspense and thrills, and he keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole ride. Blink was just such a book, and one of my favorites from him. Free of his often creepy and horror filled plots, it is the story of a Saudi Arabian princess escaping an arranged marriage and the young American man who helps her and is suddenly gifted with the ability to see the future as they are chased across America by the authorities, and the hunters after the princess. A good, fast-paced thriller with lots of action and lots of thought. Recommended for those who like alot of action and a quick pace.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why Do We Love 'The Lord of the Rings'?

*I wrote this a few years back, I was maybe twelve or thirteen, and my family had been fond of asking me, in various different forms; "Why do you love Lord of the Rings so much?" In this essay, I hoped to address just exactly what it was that made LotR so appealing not only to me, but to everyone. Enjoy!

Have you ever been rambling on about Frodo and Sam's amazing friendship, or Gandalf's awesome sword-fighting moves, or Aragorn's strong need of shampoo to a non-LOTR friend or relative and suddenly been asked 'For crying out LOUD! What is so great about that story anyway???' and you stop. And think about it. And a rush of words and reasons come flooding into your head all at once and you can't make head or tail out of any, so you end up saying something dumb like, 'I dunno' when really you do know, but it's a feeling you just can't explain. Maybe even a stirring of your heart, that makes you long for the goodness and purity of Middle Earth, the honour and justice, the mercy and truth, the self-sacrifice and faith, perseverance in the midst of tragedy, and, perhaps most of all, good fighting against evil, and winning.
 As C.S.Lewis once said; ' If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.' And that may sound far-fetched and fantastical, but it isn't really, not if you look at it differently. Even while doing our chores, or surfing the net we long for something more,  something we can't quite name, just a faint hope that someday we'll wake up and be the ones saving Middle-Earth with the Fellowship, or maybe Narnia, or really anywhere. Life in this world can seem so dull and, well, pointless at times, especially when we glance up at the Frodo hanging on our wall and ask, 'Why couldn't I have been there...'
Believe it or not, but you HAVE been created for another world, a grand Kingdom that is closer than you realize, as near as a heartbeat, just around the next bend. A place with no more tears, and heartache, no more pains and suffering. A place of perfection, where you will get that glorious adventure you always dreamed of and much more.
  So where is this Kingdom? And how do I get there?
Unlike most magical lands you read or hear about, this one cannot be reached through wardrobes, or incantations, or rabbit holes. It cannot be visited and return its guests. Once your there, you can't come back, and the way there is an adventure of itself. It's not an easy road either, and it begins in this world, right here, right now. And it doesn't stop, no, this road 'goes ever on an on, down from the door where it began.'
  Frodo decided to take this road. He put his trust and Gandalf and willingly took that dangerous, difficult path with only the hope that someday, it would be over.
  Little did he know there was a much greater ending planned for him, something he wouldn't have dared to dream of for himself. The perfect ending, a happy ending. An ending that no one expected for the small hobbit of the Shire.
  Of course we all know that Frodo couldn't have accomplished this feat alone. It took the courage and sacrifice of many to finally destroy the Ring. Friendships were built, bonds were strengthened, miracles happened. All leading up to something truly wonderful, something that the imagination of Tolkien alone couldn't have done, without the divine inspiration from  the real Kingdom.
   So, why do we love The Lord of the Rings so much?
 Because we have been created for God's glorious Kingdom of Heaven, and it has been placed in us, 'a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy.' And in the Lord of the Rings we see a reflection of that desire. We see qualities that our society has long forgotten; true friendship, and loyalty, truth and justice, grace and love, perseverance and hope, true love for others. We see characters who hold those qualities and sacrifice themselves for the good of their world. And we see that happy end, where everything finally comes right.
  So now, Frodo is standing in the door. He's holding out a hand, asking you to take up the Quest. He's telling you to believe his story for yourself, he wants you to follow.
     We know his happy ending, we want it too, what is holding us back?
  The Lord of the Rings  is a story, as Sam put well “...that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why.”
    And I believe it will stay with us, it will continue to mean something, it's  the rare kind of tale that one never forgets. A story  that begs a choice, continue here, or follow Frodo on his journey, a journey that determines the fate of you, and your life in that great Kingdom.

        So, what are you going to choose?      

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Hello all,

Since this is my first post, I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself and the purpose of this blog.

So my name is Emily (Goldberry) and I am a writer, or at least I try to be. I love to write, but I find that I sometimes want to dabble in other things besides my fiction. Like essays and reviews. Hence, this blog.

I think I will mainly post things revolving around writing, although I may put up something different from time to time, such as a book/movie review, a rant, or anything else that may strike my fancy.

Happy Reading!