Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

                               

 

 When I was young I stumbled across The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The series captured my imagination like no other had before. It turned several different fairy tales I had heard when I was a wee child inside out or upside down in fun, surprising ways.

For example, did you know that one of the lessons a princess is expected to take is how to scream when being carried off by an ogre? Or that she has to learn when to scream so the knight who has come to her rescue is motivated to continue the battle whenever he falters?

These are the lessons Princess Cimorene has to learn in the first book of the Chronicles: Dealing with Dragons. Cimorene is the seventh daughter of the King and Queen of Linderwall, and a complete irritation to her parents. Unlike her six older sisters, Cimorene is as tall as a man. She is also stubborn, has jet black hair instead of the proper blonde color, and refuses to be the damsel in distress. She manages to bully fencing lessons out of the castle armsmaster, magic lessons out of the court magician, cooking lessons out of the castle chef, and Latin lessons from the castle scholar.

All these activities are discovered, one by one, by the king and queen who put the kibosh on each project with the admonition, “Cimorene, this just isn’t done!

Cimorene, admittedly, puts up with all this better than some girls would. But her forbearance comes to an end when her parents plan to marry her off to the Prince of Sathem-by-the-Mountains. Cimorene wants nothing to do with Prince Therandil (who is a complete airhead), and walks out onto the castle lawn muttering, “I’d rather be eaten by a dragon!”

Be careful what you wish for.

Cimorene does not get eaten by a dragon, but she does become the dragon Kazul’s princess. The two quickly become friends. Thinking about it now, I wonder if, on some level, Kazul felt like Cimorene’s mom occasionally.

The next book in the series is Searching for Dragons. The king of the Enchanted Forest, Mendenbar, is feeling haggled by his steward. Why? The determined old elf is desperately trying to marry off the king. The problem? All the prospective princesses on his list are total airheads.

In frustration, Mendenbar leaves the castle and takes a walk in the forest where he finds a burned-out patch of ground. This is unusual because the magic of the forest should have either protected it or repaired the damage by now. Mendenbar steps into the burnt circle and stumbles as he realizes this patch of forest has not healed because there is no longer any magic in it.

Mendenbar’s quest to solve this riddle leads him to Cimorene who is waiting for Kazul to return from a visit with her grandchildren. But Kazul is late in returning, and Cimorene is sure something bad happened to her. She and Mendenbar head out to find Kazul – and the culprit who is responsible for stealing magic from the Enchanted Forest.

The third book in the series, Calling on Dragons, is told from the perspective of one of Kazul and Cimorene’s best friends, the witch Morwen. Morwen is a witch who keeps her house absolutely spotless and neat. Unlike other witches, she is pretty, diminutive, practical, has ginger hair, and nine cats – and none of them are the proper witchy black. In this series it turns out that witches can understand their cats. Throughout the story Morwen keeps up a running dialogue with her cats as she, Cimorene, Kazul, and the magician Telemain set out in search of Mendenbar’s stolen magic sword.

Oh, yeah, and there is a giant white rabbit in this book, too. His name is Killer.

Killer’s plight in the story is actually more fun to read about than you might think.

The final book in the series is Talking to Dragons. The teenager Daystar has spent his whole life on the outskirts of the Enchanted Forest. His mother has raised him to always be polite; she has also taught him spells and every scrap of dragon lore she knows. One day, a wizard drops by the house. He tells Daystar’s mother that he will “take the sword, and the boy.”

Things really do not go the way the wizard wants. And this guy is so pathetic that it is no surprise. With the wizard gone, Daystar’s mother disappears and leaves him to clean up the puddle that was a wizard. (Wizards, not witches, melt in this series. It takes them a few days to pull themselves back together after this, unless they have been melted many times and therefore have had practice whipping themselves back into shape, that is.)

Daystar has just finished this task when he sees his mother coming out of the Enchanted Forest carrying a sword. The startling thing about this is that his mother never goes into the forest. Ever.

But she just has. And she has brought a sword like no other out of the forest with her.

I will not spoil the rest of the story, readers. Draw your own conclusions or read the books, whichever idea suits you best. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are among the best sword and sorcery stories out there. I highly recommend them.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

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Besides policemen, Chyna saw numerous physicians. In addition to the necessary treatment for her physical injuries, she was more than once urged to discuss her experiences with a psychiatrist. The most persistent of these was a pleasant man named Dr. Kevin Lofglun, a boyish fifty-year-old with a musical laugh and a nervous habit of pulling on his right earlobe until it was cherry red. “I don’t need therapy,” she told him, “because life is therapy.” He didn’t quite understand this, and he wanted her to tell him about her codependent relationship with her mother, though it hadn’t been codependent for at least ten years, since she had walked out. He wanted to help her learn to cope with grief, but she told him, “I don’t want to learn to cope with it, Doctor, I want to feel it.” When he spoke of post-traumatic stress, she spoke of hope; when he spoke of self-fulfillment,she spoke of responsibility; when he spoke of mechanisms for improving self-esteem, she spoke of faith and trust; and after a while he seemed to decide that he could do nothing for someone who was speaking a language so different from his own.

The doctors and nurses were worried that she would be unable to sleep, but she slept soundly. They were sure she would have nightmares, but she only dreamed of a cathedral forest where she was never alone and always safe.

On April eleventh, just twelve days after being admitted to the hospital, she was discharged, and when she went out the front doors, there were over a hundred newspaper, radio, and television reporters waiting for her, including those from the sleazy tabloid shows that had sent her contracts, by Federal Express, offering large sums to tell her story. She made her way through them without answering any of their shouted questions but without being impolite. As she reached the taxi that was waiting for her, one of them pushed a microphone in her face and said inanely, “Ms. Shepherd, what does it feel like to be such a famous hero?” She stopped then and turned and said, “I’m no hero. I’m just passing through like all of you, wondering why it has to be so hard, hoping I never have to hurt anyone again.” Those close enough to hear what she said fell silent, but the others shrieked at her again. She got into the taxi and road away. – Intensity by Dean Koontz.

Dragonheart

I have always been fascinated with flying and being up high. The reason I mention this interest in flying is because, since I have this attraction to soaring, I am naturally fascinated by all creatures that can take wing. One of my favorite fictional flying creatures would of course, therefore, be DRAGONS!

This is where the movie I wanted to discuss today comes in. It is a film called Dragonheart.  Dragonheart is a movie that the critics apparently panned, to their everlasting detriment. The movie focuses on a knight “of the old code” named Bowen (played by Dennis Quaid) who, in the first act of the story, is the knight appointed to instruct young Prince Einon in the ways of knighthood. Bowen starts out very cheerful and devoted to his young charge, hoping to change the young prince’s outlook on life so that he will not be as cruel a king as his father.

That plan seemingly goes out the window when, after Einon charges out to help his father put down a peasant revolt, he is mortally wounded. Einon’s mother, Queen Aislinn, has Einon taken to a dragon (voiced by Sean Connery) who lives near the kingdom. She begs the dragon to save her son’s life and the dragon agrees, giving Einon half of his heart after the young prince swears to rule with justice and virtue. The Dragon’s heart saves the young prince’s life and at the same time grants him virtual immortality.

So now everything is all hunky-dory, right?

Eh, not so much. It turns out that Einon is a worse monster than his father. He enslaves the peasant rebels and sets up a corrupt court. Bowen, in his fury, blames the Dragon for Einon’s apparent change of heart and vows to kill him.

Years later, Einon (now portrayed by David Thewlis) has a new castle and Bowen has become a champion dragon-slayer more interested in destroying dragons than in following the old code he so greatly revered and tried to pass on to Einon. Bowen eventually tracks down the Dragon, who reveals that Bowen’s last prize was his mate. The two battle but eventually end up in a stalemate.

The Dragon then manages to break their draw and pins Bowen, whereupon he points out that if Bowen kills him, the former knight will be out of a job and the Dragon will be dead. But the Dragon has a proposal to keep them both alive and in business. Bowen, at first, does not want to hear it, but he finally gives in and asks, “What’s the alternative?”

The alternative, it turns out, is defrauding people into paying heaping sums of gold to Bowen to “kill” the same dragon over and over again. All the while Bowen does not realize he has allied himself with the very Dragon he swore to kill. Nor does he realize that the Dragon, whom he at last dubs Draco, has suffered as much, if not more, with Einon’s rule than he himself has.

I will avoid spoiling the rest of the film for you, readers, but I will say that it is worth your time to hunt up and watch Dragonheart. The film has two sequels: Dragonheart II: A New Beginning, and a third film which came out this year, Dragonheart: The Sorcerer’s Curse. Truth be told, I would be more interested in this third installment if it had been done earlier. But it was not. Rats.

            Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Spotlight: Hiccup and Toothless – Rider and Dragon

Without a doubt, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon films and television series have been unmitigated successes. For myself, I absolutely love the scenes that show Hiccup and the real star of the films/TV series, Toothless, in flight. The movies make me wish I was born with wings – or that I had a dragon of my own (preferably a Night Fury, but I could take a Stormcutter if no Night Fury presented himself/herself on the spot).

One of the films’ strong points is the friendship that forms between Hiccup and Toothless. While Hiccup starts out in the first movie as a veritable outcast in his own Viking tribe, Toothless similarly stands apart from the other dragons in the Red Death’s nest. He is the only Night Fury known to exist, and for that reason seems as out of place in the dragon world as Hiccup does in his village. Also, where Hiccup is smarter than your average Viking, Toothless is smarter than the average dragon. Whether that is a talent all Night Furies have in common or whether it is a special gift Toothless himself possesses, we cannot be sure.

These likenesses between the two characters are what lead to their extraordinary (for their world, that is) friendship. Hiccup’s higher intelligence means that he is naturally curious. This leads him to make inventions to help him in his work around the village, and thus he begins to learn how the world around him works.

Perhaps because of his curiosity and natural compassion, in the first How to Train Your Dragon film, Hiccup spares Toothless’ life when he could easily kill him. In return, Toothless neither eats nor kills Hiccup – though he does let the young Viking know he is not pleased with the previous night’s events. Later, Hiccup realizes that he may have spared Toothless and allowed him to live, but without a tail the dragon will be easy prey for other creatures – dragons and Vikings in particular. Feeling bad for putting the Night Fury in such a desperate situation, Hiccup designs a new tail to help the dragon survive on his own. However, the new tail does not work properly, prompting Hiccup to try again.

And again … and again.

Before either Toothless or Hiccup realizes what has happened, their work together on eliminating Toothless’ vulnerability has led to a friendship, or brotherhood, forming between them. Toothless knows that he would not have survived without Hiccup’s help, and Hiccup learns that dragons are not monsters hell-bent on destroying the Vikings. And if it is possible for one Viking to become friends with a dragon, why cannot other dragons and Vikings become partners?

Why, in short, should there be no dragon trainers – or dragon riders?

The friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is the heart of both How to Train Your Dragon films and is the underlying basis for the TV series. Without that friendship, there would be no story, and we would not know how to train our own dragons. ‘Cause let’s face it – some of the people we like could probably be dragons in another world. In this world, they just happen to be human!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Quotable Quotes #5

To love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way. – Plato

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. – Thomas A. Edison, American inventor

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. – William Shakespeare

Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet

The thoughtful soul to solitude retires. – Omar Khayyam, Persian philosopher-poet

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. – Plato

When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language. – John Donne

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination. – John Keats, English poet

He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear. – John Dryden

A thought often makes us hotter than a fire. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I count life just a stuff to try the soul’s strength on. – Robert Browning, English poet

Gracefulness is to the body what understanding is to the mind. – Francis de la Rochefoucauld

A heart in love with beauty never grows old. – Turkish proverb

The Hunger Games: Peeta Mellark

The Hunger Games

Catching FireMockingjay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when I go to look up a story I have enjoyed, I find that the opinions of other fans regarding certain aspects of the story do not match up with my own. In some cases, this helps me to understand a part of the story I did not appreciate before. In some cases, it is a difference of preference, wherein I and another person can agree to disagree. In other instances, the disagreement is more than an argument over simple taste, but a debate over a point of the story or a character in the story.

That, readers, is the matter at hand in this post on one of The Hunger Games’ most important – and most maligned – characters: Peeta Mellark.

Peeta is a central character to The Hunger Games trilogy. He is Katniss Everdeen’s fellow District 12 tribute, who also happens to be desperately in love with her, a fact she takes forever to realize. In addition, if it were not for Peeta Mellark, there would be no Hunger Games trilogy, because Katniss would not have lived long enough to star in it. Peeta Mellark’s love for Katniss is actually the axis on which the whole trilogy turns!

Despite all this, Peeta is often dismissed as “boring.” One critic has called him (and Gale Hawthorne) “thinly imagined.”

It is always surprising to me to see what elements or characters in a story others think are so easily set aside from it. Peeta is not the first underdog character I have taken a shine to, and for that reason I am now engaged in writing a post vouching for his strengths. Oh, well, here goes nothing!

“Thinly imagined” is not a phrase I would use to describe Peeta at all, for one reason and one reason only: Peeta is one of the strongest (perhaps the strongest) characters in the entire Hunger Games trilogy.

Proof of his strength is shown to us very early on, and by none other than Katniss Everdeen herself. In her recollection of how Peeta saved her life and the lives of her family, Katniss recalls that Peeta burned two loaves of bread on purpose so that he could give them to her. This was after his mother had chased Katniss away from the bakery’s trash bins. When Peeta burned the bread, his mother slapped him across the face, berated him, and sent him out to feed the pig with the toasted loafs. Peeta pulled off the worst scorch marks on the loaves and then threw the bread to Katniss.

No one can tell me that Peeta did not see his mother’s reaction coming. From all the hints in The Hunger Games, we can safely infer that Peeta’s mother was not a kindly disposed woman. She sounds like an abuser – of her husband as much as of her third child (Peeta’s brothers were probably also mistreated by her, but we are not even given their names, so it is hard to tell). But somehow, despite all this maltreatment, Peeta turned out one hundred percent normal, not to mention extraordinarily kind and understanding.

Later, in the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Peeta is injured by Cato after Katniss drops a tracker jacker hive on top of him and the Career Tributes. He gets blood poisoning from the injury and lies on the riverbank for days with a high fever, until Katniss finally finds him and starts tending to him. Anyone of weak constitution – or weak character – would have died long before Katniss was able to find him. Peeta survived.

In Catching Fire Peeta proves his strength of character spectacularly when he paints a picture of Rue on the Training Room’s floor during his evaluation by the Game Makers. Painting a portrait of a former tribute whose death and subsequent, flowery burial by “the Mockingjay” earns him a ranking of twelve, making him a high profile target in the Seventy-fifth Hunger Games. Not only that, Peeta could not be sure his action would not put his family and everyone in District Twelve in mortal peril.   But Peeta painted the picture anyway because he wanted to hold the Capitol responsible “for just one moment” for what they did to Rue.

Finally, in Mockingjay, Peeta is rescued from the Capitol after he was captured by their forces at the end of Catching Fire. Katniss is thrilled to have him back – until it is revealed that Peeta has been “highjacked” and turned into a mad assassin the Capitol hopes will kill Katniss.

Peeta’s confused and beleaguered mental state, which shows no sign of improving when Katniss stays near him originally, is too much for her to bear. So she writes him off as a loss. Haymitch is able to chastise her into at least trying to reach Peeta. With her help, Peeta slowly starts to reorient himself. He shows definite signs of improvement before his and Katniss’ rebel squad end up trapped in the Capitol. But, save for a momentary lapse brought about by the situation, Peeta’s mind comes back into balance well enough that he can fight and overcome the Capitol’s manipulation and torture of him. It does not happen all at once, but eventually he does become his own master once again.

Would a “thinly imagined” or “boring” character be able to do any of this? Not likely. If one only looked as far as the surface, then Peeta could perhaps be described as a weak character. But the Hunger Games trilogy is not a series I would recommend to readers who only skate on a story’s exterior. There is depth to every story, be it shallow or several fathoms deep. I am a story scuba diver; I may not like all the depths I travel, but I am not averse to diving in most times.

So what is my judgment of Peeta Mellark? He is a strong character with an ability to survive the most devastating attacks against the human spirit: physical and mental abuse. What is more, he manages to maintain his generosity and good nature throughout his trials, proving that he can be beaten, but not conquered. It is, I think, his gentle nature which tends to make people write him off as uninteresting.

But, as Katniss proves, writing off a tortured gentlemen is a really stupid idea.

Later,

The Mithril Guardian