Monday, May 4, 2015

An Effective Fantasy Character

As much as I love the fantasy genre, it sometimes has a very interesting way of making even the most incredible circumstances seem routine. Mysterious magical powers, dragon-slaying, and generally momentous quests to save all humanity can feel like played out, pumped-out scripts, or they can be as thrilling as they are meant to sound. At least for me, the distinguishing factor is most often the depth of the characters involved and the level of my own emotional connection with them. This phenomenon accounts for one of the many reasons that the saga of FitzChivaly Farseer (as penned by Robin Hobb) has held such an immovable place in my heart since I first read Assassin’s Apprentice, the first novel in the now triple trilogy.

For those unfamiliar with Fitz, his story has been told in seven books so far, with two more still to come. Readers have seen him grow from a small child to a man in his later middle years, and in that time cope with the duties and expectations placed on him not only in such infamous roles as royal bastard and assassin, but as a friend, husband, and father as well. The sheer scope of time and content covered in these books, as well as the amount of time it takes to physically read them all offers the reader the rare opportunity to experience themselves growing and learning alongside a fictional character, developing an even deeper connection with them than they might have otherwise. In this particular case, yes, there is almost every element of a pulp-fantasy story (magic, dragons, and potential world-ending galore), but they make for a compelling story because you truly care about the characters and their fate.

A Hero in the Neighborhood

by Theresa Jones

When I think of the word Hero, my mind tends to automatically think of Superman, Wonder Woman, and other comic book heroes. But when I really think about what the word hero really means, I think of people who sacrifice themselves for the greater good, such as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks. Then I start to think about a different kind of hero, everyday people who act heroically without any desire for recognition; the firefighter who risks his life to save others, the volunteer at the animal shelter, the student who recognizes and stands up against bullying. It seems like the people that are admired the most (especially by young people) and who are perceived as heroic, are sports stars, pop singers, and reality show stars. What about the doctors who risk their lives in Africa to help ebola patients? What about the church pastor who tirelessly and selflessly continues to feed the hungry? What about my grandmother? There are so many people who are actively living as heroes, trying to save the world, trying to help humankind, and they are mostly overlooked as heroes, while children identify their heroes as Spider Man, Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning and the like. While there is nothing wrong with admiring these people, it is another thing to see them as real life heroes. They are celebrities (yes, I think Spider Man has achieved celebrity status at this point).        

There are many literary or real life heroes that I could profile, but I want to profile someone that was basically an ordinary person who maybe didn’t seem heroic, but really was. The media, specifically television, contributes enormously to who our children look up to and view as heroic, and in my opinion there is a limited amount of television programming that has heroic characters. PBS is still something good for kids to watch; Sesame Street is still going strong after 40 years, and it is full of everyday heroes (Big Bird was my hero growing up, along with Wonder Woman, of course). I think that in this crazy world we live in that the lack of quality children’s programming is detrimental to our youth. One of my favorite shows growing up was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I think that Fred Rogers is a real life hero.        

Mr. Rogers wasn’t just a television personality, he was also an educator, a minister, and a life long advocate for the education of children. He was passionate about his work, and he used his skills as a child educator, musician, and puppeteer to create his show, which was innovative and different from other children’s programs. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood taught children about respect for others and themselves, and helped children to confront fear and real life issues such as death and divorce, while instilling good values and morals. Rogers led a very interesting life outside of his television show, and he did many great things for the education of children and also he advocated for government funding for public television. He received many awards from Emmys to the Peabody Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He gave selflessly of himself his entire life and was truly dedicated to children’s education, health and happiness. Plus, he was creative and fun. He created very likeable characters, he himself was a likeable character, and thousands of kids could not wait to tune in to his show every week. He was very loved by all, and overall just a very cool dude; the sweaters that he wore on the show were knitted by his mother, how sweet is that?    

Mr. Rogers did not save the world, he never ran into a burning building to save someone, he didn’t try to cure diseases, and he wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet, but what he did accomplish in his lifetime was honorable and very heroic. I think that he would make a good subject for this project because there is just so much that people don’t know about him and his accomplishments, or his dedication to children’s education and quality children’s television. He did many great things for children and society as a whole. I have included two Mr. Rogers quotes that say a lot about the man that he was:        

“The world is not always a kind place.That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”

“Those of us in broadcasting have a special calling to give whatever we feel is the most nourishing that we can for our audience. We are servants of those who watch and listen.”
It is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood, Mr. Rogers!

The Shadow of an Archetype

by Simon Blevins

Many heroes have become redundant in their archetypal nature, yet some are unique and break past these roles. Shadow, from the American Gods, appears to be a classic hero with a touch of antihero. Shadow is a newly freed convict trying to return home after years of incarceration.

Upon his release he discovers that his wife is dead. In an attempt to escape his past and find work he embarks on an epic journey through which he explores a world of forgotten Gods struggling to survive in America.

What makes him unique is his incredible maturity.From the start of the story he is a polite individual with a strong control over his anger. This maturity would be less surprising with a stagnant hero; however, he changes a great deal throughout the story.

Shadow starts his adventure with a vague, indirect denial of the world and a lack of closure with his wife's death. His inner change is epitomized when he is hung from the world tree in a sigil to Oden. During this time Shadow looks inwards and comes to terms with his existence. He then rejects the deceptions of the world when he opens the trunk of the car. In the epilogue Shadow cuts the last of his earthly ties in preparation for a death that won't come, concluding his inner change. His development through the story might appear subtle yet it is monumental, I urge any fiction lover to accompany Shadow through the American Gods.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wasted Talent

by Anonymous

One of my most favorite and beloved films is A Bronx Tale (1993). Its genres are crime and drama. It was the first movie directed by Robert De Niro and was written by Chazz Palminteri.

This story is about the Anello family, comprised of Lorenzo (the dad) Rosina (the mom), and Calogero (the 9 yr. old son). They live in the Bronx, NY in the 1960’s. Calogero and his friends are fascinated by the local mobsters that live in the neighborhood. Sonny is the leader of the crew and is Calogero’s idol. One day Calogero witnesses a murder committed by Sonny. When the police investigators question him about the murder he keeps quiet and does not rat. Sonny then takes a liking to Calogero, befriends him, and nicknames him “C”. When Lorenzo finds out that his son had been spending time with Sonny and the crew, he attempts to put a stop to it. Lorenzo warns the two to stay away from one another. Regardless of how Lorenzo felt, “C” didn’t care and still hung out with Sonny whenever he could.

Eight years pass. “C” is put in several situations where he has to decide what and who is right. To me the most inspiring thing about this film is its message. Lorenzo tells “C”, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.You could have all the talent in the world but if you don’t do the right thing then nothing happens, but when you do right good things happen." At 9 years old, “C” doesn't understand the true meaning of that message but as a young man he soon realizes its depth and chooses virtue.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Hero and Her Burning Skull of Fire

By: Maria Bhadra Kali Little, March, 2015

The story of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga, in the adaptation, "The Doll In Her Pocket: Vasilisa the Wise," from Clarissa Pinkola Estes' book, Women Who Run with The Wolves, is a great and empowering tale of a young woman’s heroine’s journey.
  • The story includes several significant and well-known archetypal characters.
  • It masterfully blends in lessons and values gained through Vasilisa’s hero’s journey.
  • It follows the hero’s journey steps and pattern flawlessly.
This story is essentially about a girl learning to listen and trust her intuition, and inner guide. Vasalisa transforms from being too kind, naive, and overly accommodating to her abusive stepmother and stepsisters, to discovering her own personal strength, and inner worth after an audacious adventure through the eerie woods, and the several tests given to her by the horrifying, and ever powerful Baba Yaga; the wild and ferocious supernatural forest guardian woman, who possesses the ever burning skull of fire.

Vasilisa's journey takes her from her home with her unkind superficial family, to the woods with Baba Yaga. Her pocket doll (which represents her intuition/inner guide) a gift from her long dead but nurturing mother, leads her to master all of Baba Yaga's impossibly tedious tests (if she had failed it would result in her death and eventual consumption by Baba Yaga) and return home with the skull of fire. In the end, the skull burns the eyes out of her cruel and cowardly relatives when they stare into its flame.

This tale reminds us to be kind, but not to lose sight of our own wisdom, personal integrity, and the value of listening to the inner self. Also, it reminds us of exactly how powerful inner sight and wisdom is, as represented in this ancient Russian fairytale, by the ever burning skull of fire, whose light will turn all fraudulence to ash.

Estes analyzes several different fairytales or stories from different cultures around the world, some of which were taken by the Brothers Grimm and turned into common fairytales we know today. The reason Estes' interpretations and ideas around the stories are so important is that she is looking at the roles of women and how their power has been stripped away from society and its stories. She wants the feminine to be reclaimed by all women and society. She looks at archetypes and really takes apart each story piece by piece in an engaging and accessible manner; she brings to life versions of common stories that may have never been heard or properly understood.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Sleepwalker's Guide to Enlightenment

by Anna Woodall

I remember that I'm invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.” 
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
When I was 16 years old I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison for the first time and I fell in love with the story. The story starts out with the protagonist introducing himself as an “invisible man.” His invisibility is not the result of some supernatural incident or miracle but simply because he is black. To those who consider him beneath themselves because of his race, he is in essence invisible. It also seems to him that the people around him are sleepwalking through life, lost in a dream. Yet he has an aching need to be seen, to be considered the same as everyone regardless of his color.
There are many reasons why a person might feel invisible:

  • Feeling that people don’t see you as you really are.
  • Believing that your current life is in some way unreal or at least it’s not the life you’re meant to be living.
  • Feeling that you don’t fit in with modern society.
  • Being bothered by the injustice that surrounds you.
  • Wanting to do more then just get by; wanting to change the world and not knowing how to begin.
For much of my life I have felt like something was wrong with the world. Or maybe it was something wrong with me? In reference to the ideas presented in Ellison’s story, we must understand that most people really don’t see what is going on around them. Maybe they are oblivious or they just choose not to see but in a subtle way this is a form of sleepwalking. It’s hard for me to stand by impassive and not speak out in some way. As a result of my rebellious nature, I have had difficulty fitting into the society in which I was born. I am constantly trying to figure out who I am and what my purpose is. Like the invisible man, I see what’s going on in the world and I’m angered by it. For him it was race and class segregation. For me it is corporate America, its genetically modified food; it’s the blinders that everyone likes to wear when they are sleepwalking.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Power of “What If”

Image by Jim Martin
By Juan Gonzales

“What if?” What if indeed. In the world of Bio Shock (a video game), there are two interesting concepts - one of which is a city under the sea. Under the sea, and no, it is not Atlantis from The Little Mermaid- it is the city of Rapture. Rapture is a great place to start a new life if you have the money. How the city could exist is the power of “what if?” Using the shallowest part of the ocean where the maximum depth is less than 300 feet, this concept is completely possible. By using the shallowest part of the ocean, the building would be lighter from the buoyancy of the ocean, and would also have to be sturdy enough to withstand the crush depth of the ocean. But wouldn’t it be cold down there? Not if the city was built on a volcano vent that would produce power and heat for this city. Food could be caught or made if the buildings were tall enough (at least 100 feet under sea level) where plants can get just enough sunlight for the roof top gardens to grow plants and vegetables. What about air? There would be the plants grown or algae farms in every building to produce enough o2 (oxygen). BOOM, your mind has just blown!

Wait, there is more in this world of Bio Shock- there is another city in the clouds. Wait, what? Yes, the clouds. How can this be? By the game using quantum physics, the theory of relativity and also the string theory. The city can float by using the earth’s magnetic field and windmill turbines for stability and movement. The city of Columbia is not one lump sum, but block sections that are floating separately in the clouds. The temperature might be a little colder than the game portrays where people are wearing summer clothes. The city of Columbia is completely plausible, using advanced scientific techniques and some ingenuity. BOOM, again that’s twice your mind has blown!

The Flying City of Columbia by Unknownshipper

Besides the revolutionary ideas and the power of “what if?” there is some cheesy game play involved. All the concepts are based on actual science, engineering, quantum physics, plus the theory of relativity and the string theory. The thoughts and ideas are such mind blowing concepts that the Bio Shock world could be a reality - just as possible as playing the game and discovering the world of Bio Shock and all of its interesting concepts for yourself.