Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Your Title Here

I apologize for not writing a column last week. I had family visiting, and that took up most, if not all of my free time. It was a good visit though.

This week we are going to be a little more idiosyncratic and less theoretical than we have previously. I mentioned in my prologemena that I would be talking about my own efforts as a fabulist, in addition to those of the Masters. I understand that the appeal of this is less than it might otherwise be, but there you go. I never promised insightful theoretical posts every week.

I love titles (as in noble titles, not as in what one calls an opus). Always have. Because of this I often make up grandiose titles for myself and for others. For example:

His Imperial Majesty, Avram Richard Shannon, Lord of the Whole Earth, Emperor of the French and Attendant Territories, Great Khan of the Golden Khaganate, Protector of the Oceans, and Commander in Cheif of the Grand Army.

For that one, I borrowed a bit from a Bonaparte, but again, the point was to sound grand and important. I know this a little bit silly of me, but I never claimed not be a silly man. The upshot of this is that for my own fantasy world, Henryon, the various titles are important. Often, I will make up a characters titles before I make up the character. In many cases a story element will come out of a specific title I choose. Sometimes, I make up a title for my friends or family, which are then attached to characters (this is a throwback to the days when Henryon had a Wizard of Oz-esque vibe to it, with all my friends being people in the world. This has long since been abandoned, with habit of giving my friends Henryon titles the last remnant). These characters help to flesh out Henryon. A few examples:

His Grace, Avram Richard Shannon, Grand Duke of Henryon, Bearer of the Silver Sword, Knight Associate of the Silver Sword, Legionary, with Crossed Swords, Knight Grand Morning Star after of Order of Sir Francis, Magus Latae

Now, that is the first Henryon title I ever made, and it has survived, largely unchanged for about fifteen years now. Many of the important elements in Henryon, such as the Knights of Sir Francis and Silver Sword derive from this particular bit of youthful silliness.

A couple of other titles:

His Grace, Soren Shim (Samuel Tomas Shannon), Baron of the Eleven Islands, Chief Emissary to the Court of Peculiarities, Knight of the Silver Sword, Master of Stars after the Order of Sir Francis, Magus Decreptos

Her Highness, Kirana Alorya (Thora Florence Shannon), The Golden Lily of the Valley, First Aloryan, Princess of Galleo, Lady of the Thousand Hills, Dame of the Silver Sword, Dame Commander of the Golden Lion, Magister Sylphi

I want to emphasize that although these titles are given to some of my closest friends and family, the characters that bear them in Henryon are only loosely based on their bearers in the real world. I only inclued their names afterwards as an indication of who they were initially conferred upon.

So, when you are being fabulist, how is your imagination sparked? Also, if you don't have a Henryon title, and would like one, let me know, and I'll see if I can't work something up for you.

If this post was not general enough, then be sure to tune in next week, where we will talk about Mythology. Until then:


Monday, August 11, 2008

A Long Time Ago...

Today's 'blog post is dedicated to a specific fantasy world. Every so often on this 'blog I will pick a specific fantasy/science fiction world or series and discuss why I like it, perhaps mention parts I dislike about it, and generally explore a little why I dig certain types of fantasy.

Today's is an easy one, because today we are discussing George Lucas' magnum opus Star Wars. I love Star Wars, which isn't too big of a statement because most people like Star Wars. The fact remains that the Star Wars Trilogy contains three of my favourite movies (I like the other three--well two out of the other three--as well, but they simply aren't as good as Star Wars to Jedi). I love the ethics, I love the action, I love the music. There is very little about Star Wars that isn't to like. Like my dear brother, I always wanted to be a Jedi Knight, although not with his deep abiding passion. The other day I was watching this DVD which came with my soundtrack to Episode III. It had little vignettes from all six movies, and reminded how much I like Star Wars.

I have even come to grips with the Prequel Trilogy. Although it is not as good as the original three, it has parts worth watching. In fact I am doing my best to no longer refer to the Prequels as the 'Lame Trilogy,' because it really isn't fair. There are good parts in all the movie, including Attack of the Clones (which remains, in my opinion, by and far the weakest of the Star Wars movies). For example:

The Phantom Menace: Last week I mentioned that The Return of the King movie was in second place for most movies seen in the theatre. This movie is the top of the list. I saw this movie seven times in the theatre. For me, I think, the high point is Qui-Gon Jinn. One thing that all three of these new movies show is the wide variety of heroism encouraged by the Jedi Order, with Qui-Gonn being a very different sort of Jedi than anything we had ever seen before. I know that many people consider it the worst, but in my mind Liam Neeson's performance carried this movie. This movie may feel superficial in places, but it remains rollicking good fun. Also this movie has just about the best trailer ever.

Attack of the Clones: I have seen this movie about three times. I don't much care for it. I appreciate Ewan MacGregor's further development of the character of Obi-Wan (a development cemented in Revenge of the Sith, and which, coupled with the wonder that is Sir Alec Guiness, catapulted Obi-Wan Kennobi to the position of near my favourite character). In a scene put in the DVD Anakin Skywalker admits that as a Jedi he ought to be better than he is (a scene which is actual crucial to his fall to the Dark Side of the Force. Anakin didn't fall because he killed the Sand People or Count Dooku. Anakin fell because he chose the dark path. An important lesson in that, perhaps).

Revenge of the Sith: A good movie. Emotionally intense in places. I stood in line, in costume to watch this one on opening day. My wife and I had our picture in the paper and everything. In fact the article is enshrined for all time by the Bridal Association of America. I liked this movie, and not just because of happy memories, partially because it actually showed Anakin and Obi-Wan as friends. In fact, while I do not enjoy it as much as the Original trilogy, almost all of my memories of this movie are positive.

My favourite of the films is Star Wars (I know it has the subtitle A New Hope, and I even like the subtitle, but I've been calling it Star Wars most of my life). I love the duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. The dialogue was always so full of portent and hints of past relationships. In many ways that is why I was so dissappointed in the Prequel trilogies--I felt like some of those portents weren't played out as much as I would have liked. And I really like Luke Skywalker.

I love the Rogue Squadron bits on Hoth. It is one of the neatest bits in Empire. Frankly, I love the fighter scenes in general. I have never had any desire to be a pilot of any kind, unlike my bretheren, but watching Star Wars makes me want to pretend to be one. That and Top Gun.

One of the things I like most about Star Wars is that it still contains bits on the longing for home which I discussed previously. Now, I am not, in this, as in anything, one of those people who makes long tortured connections between the Gospel and their book/movie of choice. However, one of the ideas behind this 'blog is that we can learn things through the glass fantastic. In particular I have been thinking about the quote from Yoda, "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

Luminous beings, indeed.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dedicated To Faramir

So, there has been an enormous upswing recently in fantasy movies--especially movies adapted from books. From old favourites to books barely cooling from coming off the printing press, science fiction and fantasy films are big big business nowadays, for good and for ill. This week's post is an attempt to discuss fantasy films a little bit, as well as to establish some of my feelings about fantasy films in general, especially how they relate to fantasy books (as always a little bit of science fiction may slop over into the discussion, since the two genres are so closely related). Actually, this topic is very germane to last week's topic, and the one flows from the other. Especially, because as my Master (for those who are unaware, the being known as Inkling in theInterwebs is the same man who instructed me in the Jedi Arts--go read his 'blog on Star Wars and related points) pointed out, imagination does seem a little bit on the downward spiral and some of this is very likely ascribable to the ready availability of entertainment options (such as movies and video games) to feel our needs. In fact I read an article once by a game designer who felt that Christopher Tolkien's famous animosity towards movies based on his father's work--and you can too right here (the language is a little blue in a couple of places, but nothing too drastic). This author worked on The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game for Decipher, Inc., and so had a chance to interact with with the Tolkien Estate. His observations are insightful and made me appreciate Christopher Tolkien a little bit more.

Essentially, Christopher prefers people to experience his father's world through the interaction of the words Professor Tolkien wrote and our imagination, and not through the fixed medium of the cinema. Sir IanMcKellan might play a fine Gandalf (and I think he does), but that is not necessarily the point. Gandalf in the book is a mutable character, experienced differently by every reader. One does not have nearly the same flexibility when dealing with the film version of the character, even with some kind of viewer response mechanism. He can only appear one way, for example.

I do not wish you to think that I am one of those people who always believes that movies made from books are always inferior to their source material. Although I am sure that I have leanings in that direction I try to judge each movie on its own merits. I thoroughly enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies (Return of the King is in second place for movies which I've seen the most often in theatres at 5 times). I recently saw The Spiderwick Chronicles and enjoyed it as well.

I suppose that my real difficulty comes from the fact there are actually two (at least) operative principles to be dealt when adapting a book to film. One is the inherent differences between the two media. There are different tools, et cetera, to be used in print and on film. The plot is moved forward by different mechanisms. Anyone setting out to adapt a book as a film has to make allowances for that and modify the source material accordingly. The other issue is that there are more people involved in making a movie than in a book. In a book there is usually an author or two, an editor, and a publisher, with the author having almost all of the say of what goes into the book. A film is a much more collaborative effort, as even a cursory examination of the credits at the end goes to show. With so much input from so many sources, it is in fact, a small wonder that so many accurate adaptations get made. Even those, however, suffer from the difficulty mentioned above, wherein the film becomes somehow fixed.

Actually, the most frustrating adaptations, to me at least, are those where somewhere in the film-making process the film-makers decide that they need to improve the story. Some changes I can understand. For example, although I was saddened by the removal of Tom Bombadil from the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, but I understood it. Streamlining is one of those things that movies need to do when adapting books. Other changes are less forgivable. I do not enjoy the Harry Potter movies, for example, because in an effort to ensure that all of the important plot points make it onto the screen all of the whimsy and the jokes were cut, which is a pity, since I like the whimsical parts the best.

Even more unforgivable is when a director imposes their own vision over and above that of the author's. The most egregious example I can think at the moment is Hiyao Miyazaki's abominable adaptation of Diana Wynne-Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. I loved this book as a child. I had enjoyed a number of Miyazaki's other films, such as Princess Monoke and Spirited Away, and so was pretty interested in seeing the adaptation. I was not too put off by the fact that it was to be a cartoon--since one of my favourite film adaptations of a fantasy book is a cartoon (The Last Unicorn)--actually because of the technology, for a long time the cartoons could be more fantastic than the live action ones; lower fantasy, such as Willow, seemed to work best for fantasy movies. Anyway, back to my narrative, when I discovered that this film was playing at Brigham Young University's International Cinema, I was very excited. I was sorely disappointed. The second half of the movie is unrecognizable from the book, lost in Miyazaki's heavy-handed anti-war message. Now, there is not anything inherently wrong with a director having a message to put forward. It's part of their right as artists. What bothered me was the imposing of the message on the book. It did not sit well with me.

Ultimately, I agree with Christopher Tolkien. I'd rather read The Lord of the Rings than watch it. I still enjoy watching movies, and the occasional fantasy movies, but the closer they are to my heart the harder they are to swallow. I enjoyed The Spiderwick Chronicles, but I have not been around to reading them yet. I have not enjoyed the new Narnia movies, because I think they meddle too much with things best left alone (also they don't feel particularly Narnian—more like someone saw that The Lord of the Rings movies made a lot of money, and said, hey, didn't they know each other. Let's cash in on this one). Narnia is very near and dear to my heart though.

So, are there any fantasy movies you love? How about those you think are horrible, either on their own merits or as travesties of a well-loved book? Let me know what you think, and I'll see you in seven.