Monthly Archives: December 2013

nasty hobbitses!

Sometimes fantasy books get made into movies, and then they still have a place in this blog. ;)
I finally saw “Hobbit 2” (okay, okay, “The Desolation of Smaug”)… and have thoughts. I shall organize them into pros and cons.

+ Good movie!
– Bad adaptation. At this point it’s almost fanfiction.
+ The movie sure is packed with exciting adventures
– that take way too long. So many orc fights! So much barrel rolling! So much traveling and walking and climbing! PETER JACKSON, PLEASE SUMMARIZE. I can teach you how. Seriously. (I honestly think the first two movies could have been reduced to one, with nothing really lost).
+ The dragon is awesome
– but takes forever to show up, especially considering that Smaug is part of the very title of the movie.
+ Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo) are the best parts of the movie; between this and “Sherlock,” they should go ahead and make some sort of blood oath to never do any projects without each other ever again.
– LEGOLAS. Something is wrong with your face.
+ Tauriel! A female with real speaking parts!
– …that get all lovey-dovey. Just let there be women existing and taking part in the story without reducing her to something for Kili to flirt with.
+ (Speaking of which, Fili & Kili are quite handsome)
– but orcs, giant spiders, and Radagast the Poophead are gross.
+ [Guys, I’m running out of pros and still have lots of cons to write]
– Of ALL THE DOG BREEDS in the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD, Jackson chose to have PUGS inhabit Middle Earth. Pugs. I can see a Saarloos Wolfhound in there, maybe, but not a tiny smashed-face dog. Come on.
– What was with the crazy video-game style barrel rides and minecraft carts? Are we in Donkey Kong Country? Peter Jackson, is this why you made “King Kong?” I’m on to you, sir.
– The ring lets Bilbo understand giant-spider-speech?? No it doesn’t. Stop it.
– Bilbo is supposed to undergo amazing character growth from a shy, anxious hobbit into a brave burglar. They’ve managed to skip all of that.
– Middle-of-a-trilogy syndrome. Lots happened, and yet also nothing.

That’s all I can think of for now. I enjoyed it overall, but this Hobbit trilogy definitely does not have the re-watchability  that “Lord of the Rings” does. There is so much power in the written word that can’t always translate to the silver screen. This is a story about Bilbo, and Jackson is trying to elevate it to a massive, orc-laden, LOTR-prequel that it… isn’t, in the end.
Good try though, sport.

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Fantasy in Schools

I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.

When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.

That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?

Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“Watership Down” by Richard Adams

and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.

I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.

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the Christmas season

Since this is the first Christmas of this blog’s existence, I thought I would take (another) break from our regularly-scheduled programming about writing/reading to discuss CHRISTMAS. (Apologies to friends and readers of non-Christmas holiday persuasions. This post might be one to skip).

December is truly my favorite time of year. Everybody’s just happy. Entire cities decorate themselves in celebration, as I saw in Oxford, Paris, London, Athens (and, rumor has it, cities in America pull it off too, like Washington D.C.). I want to live in a city that decorates itself! I want to be surrounded in holiday spirit! All the little things add up, too… I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights, sweaters and scarves, gingerbread and hot chocolate (and “Tim Tam Slams”), snowmen and penguins, Christmas music and Christmas movies, love and joy and family and Jesus. It’s all so cheerful, helping to warm me up through the cold winter… even if my California winter is not really a regular winter, haha.

I think Christmas music and Christmas movies have a lot to do with setting the atmosphere that I enjoy so much. In December, I listen to almost exclusively Christmas music. Most songs are about joy and hope, especially when they have to do with the coming of Jesus as in my favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” Listening to those themes, rather than heartbreak-themed songs like a lot of my other regular music  (Brandi Carlile, Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, etc.), makes a change in my entire attitude. I must admit that it could very well be only partially about the upbeat tone and the rest about the excitement of the upcoming break, but still! And as someone who appreciates routine, knowing that I get to re-watch a bunch of my favorite movies in December is exciting, too. “While You Were Sleeping,” “Elf,” and “Christmas Vacation” are big ones, but there are others I’ve grown so used to and fond of over the years that I eagerly anticipate getting to view them in December. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Holiday,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” “Love Actually,” and “Frosty the Snowman” all fall into that category. They are ridiculous, enjoyable, hopeful movies (there’s that joy and hope motif again) that help define Christmas in my life.

And Jeff has helped make December more special, too. On December 8th, 2009, we started dating (after five long years of friendship); a year later, on December 17th, we got engaged. He makes sure we get to drive around and see Christmas lights every year, and sometimes even braves the crazy Sapphire section of lights in Rancho Cucamonga for me. He always climbs into the shed to get out the Christmas box (fake tree! ornaments! Advent calendars!) and the Christmas lights, though our lights disappeared this year. We’re thinking his dad grabbed that box along with his.

Anyway… those are the many reasons I love Christmas. I also look forward to catching up with family, eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning (a trend started by my mom that hasn’t caught on in my own house yet–I’m still working on it!) and lasagna for Christmas dinner, and trying to sneak gifts into Jeff and Benny Dog’s stockings without them noticing me. This year, now that I finally have my own classroom, I put up some “holiday trees” on an open section of wall and let my seniors decorate them so I could enjoy the Christmas spirit at work, too!

Xmas Trees

 

They’re not the fanciest, but it was fun. :)

So there! I love Christmas! If I missed any reasons why Christmas is a marvelous holiday, feel free to add them in the comments!

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A Perfect Day In Oxford

Today has been a rough day. I’ve been so busy pouring my time and energy into my first year of teaching, where everything has to be created new and I’m only a few days or weeks ahead of the students at any given time, in addition to trying to juggle BTSA work, MA.Ed duties, and the rest of life.

And today I was informed that I have to pack up my entire classroom–including the many, MANY files of papers that belong to a teacher on a year-long leave of absence whose room I’m technically using now–before break, which movers will take care of the week of Christmas. Then, during the week of New Year’s, I need to unpack and recreate my whole classroom.

So much for Christmas break. :'(

I already gave up most of Thanksgiving break just to catch up (“catch up”) on grading, and had been dangling the carrot of a real Christmas break before my nose. Alas.

ALL THAT TO SAY that I have been depressed, and would like to feel better. The weather is finally cooling down here in southern California; I took the dog for a walk after school and got to wear my jeans, boots, and scarf, like a normal day back in Oxford.

Which got me thinking about Oxford. :)

So: how about I do a few blog posts about a “perfect day” in various places I love? First up, of course, will be the city of the dreaming spires!

If I had a day to spend in Oxford–which I hope to get eventually, to take Jeff through some of my favorite old haunts–I’d start off with a proper English breakfast. Katie and I actually only ever did this in our Oxford and London hostels, so I don’t have a fancy restaurant recommendation! I’m sure many a place would provide the necessities, though: toast, beans, eggs, tomato, sausage, and a cup of black tea (Earl Grey is my preference) with milk.

Now, stuffed and full of energy, we could begin our walk! Oxford is built for walking, and there’s a lot to see. I’d say first we’d head down south, all the way to Magdalen College, to see if we could get in for the day (usually all the colleges are limited to students, but sometimes tourists get lucky) and walk part of the famous path where Lewis and Tolkien had their Lewis-conversion-conversation. It’s a beautiful college anyway, and as we came back up, we could stop by the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library to admire them, too–but tourists definitely can’t weasel their way inside those. A few pounds would buy us the rights to climb the Tower of St. Mary the Virgin for a gorgeous bird’s eye view of Oxford.

ah, the Rad Cam with scaffolding. Because everything we visited in Europe had scaffolding.

ah, the Rad Cam with scaffolding. Because everything we visited in Europe had scaffolding.

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That would take us right by the Bridge of Sighs, too:

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Then it would be off to New College, my study-abroad alma mater, to see if we could get in to appreciate the cloisters and gardens there. By then, Blackwell’s should be open, so we could make our way toward the center of the city to revel in the enormous amounts of books for sale (including the largest room of books in any bookstore in the world. I’ll have to look up the actual size though; I just know it’s record-breaking)! There are a few tourist-y shops in that vicinity that we could pop into as well, and then we could have a quick lunch on Cornmarket Street. My favorite option were the pasties, specifically the pork and apples one. Yum!

just one of the many beautiful aspects of New College (founded 1379; quite new)

just one of the many beautiful aspects of New College (founded 1379; quite new)

Did you know I lived in Oxford for two whole months before I figured out there was a castle in it?? I kept taking shortcuts that meant I never passed it. I would definitely walk Jeff past the Oxford Castle after lunch, and perhaps take a quick tour of it if he was so inclined. Then we’d weave our way through the city to pop into the free Ashmolean Museum for a bit before visiting my old flat, 47 Walton Crescent. That’s a good chance to shake our heads at Oxford University Press behind it (the source of soooo muuuuch college reeeeaaading, haha. Aaaaaah).

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the green door :)

Then I would waste no time in getting up to Port Meadow to check on my horseyfriends! The scenery is beautiful no matter the weather, and there are no “open hours” to worry about. We could walk off the many calories of the day in a little loop through the meadow, depending on the state of the rain-lake, of course, and sit on the dock to watch the swans and ducks while the sun sets (short northern hemisphere days).

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Then we’d hike back to St. Giles–yes, we’ve done some zig-zagging throughout the day, but not too bad and Oxford proper is a fairly small city–to eat dinner at the Bird and Baby pub! Okay, it’s more properly known as The Eagle and Child, but I like the nickname. They have lots of things on the walls from Middle Earth and Narnia to honor all the time the Inklings spent there. A stout pint and a plate of fish and chips with mushy peas would be a perfect meal to end the day.

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Eating there means skipping some other favorites, so another tourist day might be necessary. I’m thinking specifically of Peppers, the burger place by Port Meadow; Jamie’s Italian, a marvelous Italian food restaurant with a menu by Jamie Oliver; and the St. Giles kebab van that rolls up from about 9:00pm to 2:00am.

Anyway, if we still had any energy left, we could catch a movie at the Odeon Theater, and if it was December, we could look at the giant Christmas Tree near Broad Street. And eventually, we should sleep… but there’s always karaoke at The Holly Bush pub if we aren’t ready for rest. :)

How does that sound?? Let’s go! I’d rather be flying to Oxford than trying to set up a classroom all over again!

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