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.