Tag Archives: Fantasy

Penelope – A Review

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Last year at some point, a friend happened to turn on the tag end of the film Penelope. Though convinced to watch the next running of the show, I was less than enthusiastic about it. Too often films have a premise that sounds interesting, only to devolve into lectures on how we should despair, kick the bucket, or otherwise lie down and die. (Yeah, not my fictional forte, thank you very much.)

Anyway, I sat down to watch Penelope, and soon ate my thoughts about how bad this movie was going to be.

Penelope is a fairytale. It starts back in the nineteenth century, when the heir to a rich or “blue blood” family has a fling with one of the servants. She ends up pregnant and he declares to his family his intention to marry her. Well, the family “soon shows him how silly this idea” is and he marries a different woman, a rich heiress and fellow blue blood. Heartbroken, the serving girl kills herself and their baby. The young woman’s mother, a witch, curses the family in a bout of vengeful fury, promising that the first daughter born to this family of “blue bloods” will have the ears and nose of a pig.

No one really pays attention to the curse, mostly because the family line is passed down through the men after this happens. Then a perfectly normal, healthy girl is born in the family in about the 1940s. So much for that curse, right?

Eh, not exactly. Turns out the mother had an affair on the side, and so the girl was not actually related to her “father.”

Then we come to the modern day, when Penelope is born. She is, technically, the firstborn daughter in the family since it was hexed. And she has the ears and nose of a pig, just like the witch promised.

Both Penelope’s parents are upset by this turn of events, but her mother takes it far worse than her father. She goes to extremes to protect Penelope from the nosy press, blinding a reporter (played by Peter Dinklage) in one eye when he hides in the house and tries to snap a photo of her and her daughter. In order to put a stop to all the spying, Penelope’s mother fakes her daugher’s death, going so far as to cremate her coffin in order to make the swarm of reporters leave them alone. Far-fetched as this plan may seem, it actually works. The reporters disperse and the family becomes reclusive after their daughter’s “death.”

However, none of this eases the mother’s fears that someone will discover her daughter is still alive. So like Rapunzel in her tower, Penelope is raised inside her palatial house for the next twenty years or so. She is not even allowed on the mansion’s grounds; her mother has pictures in her windows of day and night skies complete with hillsides and flowers, so she can see something other than the backyard every morning and every evening. Penelope has never been outside the house for more than a few minutes during her entire life.

Penelope’s mother has placed all her bets on the promise of a cure for the curse; her daughter will have the nose and ears of a pig until a “blue blood” accepts her as one of their own – i.e., until a boy from “old money” marries her. To that end, her mother hires a professional matchmaker after training Penelope in all the arts of being a suitable bride from the time she can toddle.

When her daughter reaches marriageable age, suitors are called into an empty room with a mirror above the fireplace. This mirror is a one way window; Penelope stands on the other side and talks to the suitor, who cannot see through the mirror. After the beau of the day has finished proposing his undying love for her, Penelope leaves her secret room to talk to him directly.

Every one of her suitors runs off in fright when they see her pig nose (her hair hides her ears). They jump out of the second floor window or they run out the front door in an attempt to escape her. The family’s butler has to chase them down and drag them back to the house after this so they can sign a non-disclosure agreement, keeping Penelope’s secret. Then the whole process begins again the next day.

But one day the butler is not fast enough to catch an escaping suitor, who blabs about Penelope to the whole world. Everyone laughs at him, of course, except for Peter Dinklage’s reporter. He has never seen Penelope’s face, but he does not believe the story that she died and was cremated. He also holds a personal grudge against her mother for blinding him in one eye.

So with this suitor’s haphazard help, Dinklage hires the down-on-his-luck son of a “blue blood” (James McAvoy) to go see Penelope and secretly take a photo of her. What no one counts on, however, is the young man actually falling in love with her through their mirror conversations.

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Penelope eventually leaves her secret room to see how he will react to her face-to-face. He does not run away like the others until he triggers the hidden camera on his person. But even that would not be enough to dissuade the smitten Penelope, proved when she begs him to marry her and lift the curse.

For a long, heartbreaking moment, her knight in shining armor stares at her. You can see he wants to say yes, that he does love her in spite of the curse. But something makes him say he cannot marry her, though it is obvious he really, truly wants to do so.

The rest of the story you will have to discover yourselves, readers. I have spoiled the first twenty to thirty minutes here already. Before I go I have to say that the acting in this film is superb. This has to be one of McAvoy’s best performances – better than his Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and far above his version of Professor X. (I say that because the X-Men movies are lousy, not as an attack on Mr. McAvoy.)

Most modern film fairytales are goofy and generally ruin or mock the genre. Penelope does not do that. It wears its fairytale label proudly, in my opinion, refusing to bow to the critics who try to make us think children’s stories are fluff and nonsense. It tells a great story which “kids from one to ninety-two” can enjoy and love. Even if romance films are not your thing, I think you ought to at least try Penelope. I did and, not only did I live to tell the tale, but I actually liked it and want to (someday) add it to my film collection.

Watch Penelope at your next opportunity, readers. It won’t kill you. ;P

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Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle film

If you are familiar with the renowned Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle, this blogger must warn you up front: Mr. Miyazaki diverged somewhat from Mrs. Jones’ story. Now, Mrs. Jones has no problem with that, the author of this post has no problem with that, and no one I know personally has a problem with this. But some people somewhere are bound to prefer either the book or the movie over the other. And in this case, that is a real shame, because both film and novel are about equal in terms of storytelling power and prowess.

Besides which, if you want to better understand the film’s plot, Mrs. Jones’ book is the best place to find information on the world of Howl’s Moving Castle. In the film, we see that Sophie is running her father’s hat shop, her mother is shallow and into the latest fashions, and Sophie is continually passed over because she is not as pretty as her younger sister, Lettie.

In the book, the very first thing we learn is that the country where Sophie Hatter and her family live is called Ingary. Second, the mother we see in the film should actually be Sophie’s stepmother. Her mother in the books died when she was two and Lettie was one; so her father remarried a young woman who worked in his hat shop. This young woman was named Fanny. Fanny had a child not long after the marriage – another daughter – and her name is Martha. So there are actually three Hatter sisters in the book.

Another thing to remember about Ingary (other than it is a country where invisibility cloaks and seventeen league boots are real), is that the eldest of three in a family never has an interesting or prosperous future. Neither does the second child, though that one may do somewhat better than the oldest. No, it is the third of three who makes the mark on the world.

Sophie learns this at school and so resigns herself to her fate. This makes her quite agreeable, after her father’s sudden death, to taking up residence in the hat shop, which she will inherit after Fanny retires. Meanwhile, Lettie is to be apprenticed to a baker and Martha is to be apprenticed to a witch.

And speaking of witches, it turns out that the Witch of the Waste once terrorized the country of Ingary fifty years back. Rumor has it she has returned now to take her revenge on the king, and so no one is allowed to go out alone, especially at night.

To add to the trouble, the king’s wizard – Suliman – went out to deal with the Witch of the Waste. Unfortunately, it appears that his attempt got him killed.

And on top of all this, a great big floating castle is roaming around Sophie’s town of Market Chipping. At first the residents think it is the Witch’s castle. Then someone explains it is actually the residence of the Wizard Howl.

This is no improvement, however. Howl is said to suck the souls from the prettiest girls he meets. That or eat their hearts; the rumors vary. Either way, no one in Market Chipping wants to lose their daughters to either fate, and Sophie, Lettie, and Martha are warned to never go out alone or to have any dealings with Howl.

When Sophie finally gets away from the hat shop to see Lettie some months later, she happens to run into a very attractive young man at the May Day celebrations. She barely speaks to him, but even that is enough to anger the jealous Witch of the Waste!

And so Sophie’s adventure in the novel begins.

I enjoy the film and the book about equally. Mrs. Diana Wynne Jones is an excellent writer, and her books are full of fun. Howl’s Moving Castle has two sequels: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I may get around to reviewing these in the future, or I may not. If you can find copies of these novels, though, I highly recommend them to you. They are hilarious!!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Tales of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Here is that next Andre Norton book I promised to review some time ago.  This book is not entirely Miss Norton’s creation. It is an anthology book, which contains several short stories set in Miss Norton’s Witch World universe.

Miss Norton only wrote one story in the whole volume. The others were written by her protégés, authors she helped to get noticed and published by the companies who published her work. It is a long list of authors she helped to get started, readers.

If you are not familiar with the Witch World, you can check out a couple of my other posts about that universe here on the blog. But the Witch World is wide and varied, and those last two posts are just glimpses of a bigger world. Some of these stories will not make much sense if you have only read Witch World and Web of the Witch World.

So this is why I am going to list which stories in Tales of the Witch World are good, and which you may want to avoid. To start with the negatives first, it would be best to avoid Heir Apparent, Cat and the Other, To Rebuild the Eyrie, Milk from a Maiden’s Breast, and Green in High Hallack. None of these stories are particularly well written, in my opinion, and some of them do not fit properly with the rules Miss Norton’s established for her world.

Heir Apparent is told from the villain’s perspective, and so I found it very annoying. Cat and the Other played fast and loose with the rules of Estcarpian society, the niceties, as it were. The honorifics were sloppy and insincere sounding. This makes it grate on my nerves, and so I do not recommend it at all. To Rebuild the Eyrie, which focuses on a young Falconer trying to reestablish his people’s base in the twisted southern mountains, was so poorly written that I did not even finish reading it.

Milk from a Maiden’s Breast I managed to stagger through, though again, I found the author had almost ignored the rules of the Witch World. Green in High Hallack was almost unbearable for me to read for the same reasons. It was also poorly written, which increased my aggravation with both story and author. *Deep sigh.*

These are the stories in the book that I avoid and therefore do not recommend be read. What you wish to read or not read, however, is for you to decide. The only reason I have gone to the trouble of listing the stories which drive me crazy is because I cannot, in good conscience, recommend stories I hate. If you like them, that is your prerogative. My imperative is simply to be as honest as possible when I give my opinions.

On the positive side, I enjoyed most of the other stories. A few of these came dangerously close to breaking Miss Norton’s format, but they were well written and therefore managed to avoid irritating me too much.

The first story in the book is by Andre Norton herself. This one is called Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir, and it is an introduction to the story of Kerovan, a character who lives in High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. Kerovan’s stories usually involve gryphons; one of the books that feature him and his wife is called Gryphon’s Eyrie. I have only read that one story which was based on him and his wife, and so I do not know much about him. Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir fills in some of the blanks for me, but I have much more to find out about him yet.

Then we have Fenneca and Bloodspell. Both these stories also take place in High Hallack, I think. Fenneca may actually take place in Estcarp; the location is never exactly stated. Fenneca breaks a few rules, but it is written well. I am therefore willing to forgive Wilanne Schneider Belden and to recommend that Fenneca be read.

Bloodspell was written by A. C. Crispin. Crispin co-wrote several novels with Miss Norton, and then went on to write a few Star Wars novels. Bloodspell takes place in Arvon, a state in High Hallack which is beyond the Dales. In Year of the Unicorn, it was implied that no one in High Hallack could enter Arvon except through luck or the gates which connect the Witch World to Earth. Bloodspell does not break this rule, but another story later on in the book does.

Crispin’s short story focuses on the Were-riders. Men who were bespelled by an Adept so that they can shape shift into animals, the Were-riders call themselves a Pack. We learn about them first in Miss Norton’s Year of the Unicorn, a very good book I will someday review here. For now, it is enough to say that Crispin wondered why the Were-riders were kicked out of Arvon into the Dales of High Hallack. Miss Norton said she did not know why, and this allowed Crispin to give us the reason in Bloodspell.

Next is The White Road, by Charles de Lint. This story is set in High Hallack immediately after that country has been freed from the Hounds of Alizon. It is fairly well written and takes little liberty with the established rules of Miss Norton’s Witch World. I would give it four out of five stars, if pressed to rate it.

Then there is Oath-Bound, by Pauline Griffin. After Miss Norton, Miss Griffin is the one writer I would trust to successfully tell a story about a Falconer. This story seems to have preceded Seakeep and its sequel; Miss Griffin’s writing here is good, but by her later stories in Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance her writing had greatly improved. I rate Oath-Bound as a somewhat lesser story for this reason, and no other.

Of Ancient Swords and Evil Mist and Nine Words in Winter follow. These stories skate close to breaking Miss Norton’s established laws in the Witch World, as well as the history she had formed around the countries where they take place. However, their writers knew their craft, and so the stories do not truly grate on this reader’s nerves.

Were-Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey, is a very good story. Truth be told, I cannot stand Miss Lackey’s novels (she co-wrote novels with Miss Norton). The woman puts a great deal of detail in her novels – too much detail. She has to explain the whole universe, all the scenes, characters, customs, and clothing in great specificity. This means her novels suffer from a burden of too much description and not enough story. What is more, the resolutions of her novel conflicts are often anti-climatic and unfulfilling. As a novelist, she drives me crazy.

But as a short story writer, she is not so very bad. Were-Hunter is a good example of this. The story is set in Arvon, as a sequel to Year of the Unicorn. Miss Lackey’s handicaps are assets here, and Were-Hunter is one of the stories in Tales of the Witch World that I like best. I do not understand how I can enjoy her short stories and hate her novels, but I do.

Then we have Neither Rest Nor Refuge. This story is set in Karsten at the time when the Old Race was thrice horned, or outlawed, and killed by Duke Yvian in Witch World. It is written well enough that it garners my appreciation for that reason. It also introduces a male character native to Estcarp who can wield the Power. The ending is a cliffhanger, so do not expect too much from it. Still, it is a passable story.

Next are Night Hound’s Moon and Isle of Illusion. Night Hound’s Moon is set in the Dales of High Hallack. It takes place either some time after the end of the war with Alizon, or during a lull in the conflict. Other than that, it is an entertaining story. Isle of Illusion does not adhere very well to Miss Norton’s rules for magic, in my opinion, but it is otherwise well-crafted and the writer knows her business. I do not know just where in the Witch World that Isle of Illusion is set. Seemingly, it is off the coast of High Hallack, but I cannot say for sure.

And last we have The Road of Dreams and Death. Robert E. Vardeman writes well, but I think he should have read a few more of Miss Norton’s Witch World novels before diving into this tale. In The Road of Dreams and Death, the barrier between Arvon and the rest of High Hallack is non-existent, when by rights it should still be there. This is the one thing about the story I do not understand and which rankles when I read it. Otherwise, it is an acceptable yarn.

These are the stories you will find if you pick up Tales of the Witch World, readers. You may like the stories I hate and hate the stories I like. Or you may dislike the whole thing. That is your choice. The stories I have described in some detail are the ones I enjoyed the best and wanted to share with you. If any of you wish to drop me a line disagreeing or discussing the above book, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you! For now…

See ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The Silmarillion….

These are the titles most of us think of when we hear the name J. R. R. Tolkien. And rightly so. Tolkien wrote these stories and more set within Middle-earth. He also wrote Mr. Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham. And he wrote a great many essays, as well as at least two translations of the epic of Beowulf. (They were very good translations.)

But Mr. Tolkien also wrote another story which was not published until 1998. This is the story of Roverandom.

Roverandom started life as a tale for Michael Tolkien, the second son of the Tolkien family. Michael had a little lead toy dog he never went without. When the Tolkiens were on vacation near the beach, Michael brought the toy with him. But when he and his brother went out to play in the sand, he lost the little toy. J.R.R. Tolkien, John Tolkien, and Michael Tolkien went looking for it, of course, but they could not find it.

Anyone who has had a favorite toy and misplaced it permanently knows how damaging a loss this is. Michael was apparently inconsolable. To take his mind off of the loss, J. R. R. Tolkien told the story of how Michael’s toy was actually a real dog enchanted to be a toy. The little dog, he explained, had been enchanted by a wizard he had upset and was now off on an adventure to return to normal size.

Roverandom went through several revisions over the following years. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien gave his publishers the manuscript for Roverandom. But they did not want this story. Because The Hobbit had been such a big hit, they wanted a sequel. The rest, as they say, is history; The Lord of the Rings was the sequel that the publishers knew they wanted, and Roverandom was left in the family archives.

That is where it remained until 1998, when the Tolkien Trust published the manuscript for the first time. Michael Tolkien apparently lost interest in the story after the first few retellings. His older brother John, however, did not lose interest. He was the driving force behind the story being written down and revised at least three times.

The story of Roverandom begins when Rover, playing with his mistress’ yellow ball, sees an old man pick it up. Now the old man is Artaxerxes, and he is a wizard. Thinking he will make the ball a more interesting trinket for the dog, he picks it up without asking if he can have it.

Rover is not happy about this at all. He barks at the wizard, telling him (without the proper polite niceties), to put down the ball. The offended Artaxerxes replies that he will not, instead putting the ball in his pocket.

This is too much for Rover, who reacts very foolishly. He bites the wizard’s trousers and tears a piece off – possibly taking some of Artaxerxes with it!

Well, now the wizard is in high dudgeon. Whirling around, he tells Rover to “go and be a toy!” And, before you can say Jack Robinson, Rover is stuck in a begging position in a box of toys. He is also far smaller than he should be, unable to move much (especially while people are watching), and his barks are too quiet for anyone but the other toys to hear.

Then Rover is taken out of the box and bought by a lady for six pence. She takes him home and gives him to Little Boy Two (Michael Tolkien), and the boy loves him to pieces. Rover, however, is more interested in being returned to his proper size and going home. He ignores Little Boy Two until he falls out of the child’s pocket while the lad is running about on the beach with his older brother.

The rest of the story you will have to read for yourselves. I have spoiled too much as things stand now, and I have no desire to be turned into a toy for telling more! 😉 If you can buy Roverandom, readers, it will be a good investment. If your local library has it, well, then you really have no excuse to avoid borrowing it to experience the adventure yourselves!

Until next time –

The Mithril Guardian

(bowing)

At your service!

Storm Hawks, a TV Series

From left to right: Junko, Finn, Radarr, Aerrow, Piper, and Stork.

Storm Hawks was a television show made and produced in Canada. The brainchild of Asaph Fipke, the owner and head honcho of the company called Nerd Corps (which he created), is the producer of this series. Storm Hawks was made for children. The age range was seven on up, from what I recall.

Storm Hawks was to cartoons what The Librarians is to adult TV. It swaggered through each and every episode. Rarely did you see a “serious” show in the Storm Hawks series. Tropes and normal ploys were turned on their heads, while ideas this blogger had long ago thought of were suddenly played out for all to see. It really was a fun series, which unfortunately was killed after two seasons.

Storm Hawks takes place on Atmos, the “world of a thousand mountaintop Terras.” In the story, Terras are high spires of rock with arable land on top. The actual surface of Atmos is covered with magma and inhabited largely by huge Lava Worms. These creatures love magma and will happily take a bite out of whatever flies too close to the surface. This is probably the reason why the people of the Atmos refer to the surface as “The Wastelands.”

Humans inhabit the Atmos alongside several different species. There are the Wallops, Rhinoceroid strongmen (and women); the Merbians, froglike humanoids who are, as a general rule, morose and pessimistic. The Blizzarians are a rabbitlike species who speak with thick Canadian accents. There are also phoenixes, humanoid lizards, and several other species I cannot think of off the top of my head at the moment which also inhabit the Atmos.

One of these races which you do not want to run into is the Raptors. Predators, the Raptors live on Terra Bogaton. Vicious and cruel, most of the Raptors we see have not got enough brains to fill a saltshaker. But the leader of the Raptors and ruler of Terra Bogaton is no ordinary lizard. This leader, Repton, has his stupid moments. But more often than not, he is as dangerous as you could wish.

Now every Terra (except Bogaton and one other place) has a Sky Knight squadron protecting it. Since the surface is so deadly, the peoples of the Atmos cannot travel from Terra to Terra by land. They have to make the trips by air. They do this in ships which are powered by crystals native to the Atmos. Those who own or fly such ships from Terra to Terra are mostly legitimate businessmen. Because the sky is the only way to travel, almost all of the Atmos’ cultures respect/revere the sky.

A Sky Knight, who is usually the designated leader of a squadron, is called by this name because of his mode of transportation. Though each squadron generally has some sort of carrier as a mobile home/forward operating base, those things are a little heavy for dog-fighting. Ship-to-ship battles do abound within the series, but Sky Knights and their squadrons need to be able to get up close and personal with their enemies.

Thus Sky Knights and their teams use sky rides to get around when they have to leave the carrier. Sky rides can be motorcycles, scooters, or even buggies which have an alternate mode that allows them to fly. Motorcycle sky rides typically transform into biplanes, with their pilots sitting astride the motorcycle-type fuselage. Scooters are usually equipped with a helicopter rotor, and so they are known as heli-scooters. The one buggie in the series has a similar set up, but that machine is known as a Stork-mobile.

I will explain that later. I promise.

Anyway the sky rides, like the airships and carriers, are crystal powered. There are different kinds of crystals, and they each produce different effects. Crystals which are not used to power the ships or other technology are embedded in the weapons of the Atmosians. To name a few of these crystals: there are wind stones, which generate high winds; velocity crystals, which make sky rides or other flying vehicles go supersonic; there are slime crystals, which produce slime, and leechers steal power from other crystals, exploding once they have reached their capacity. While anyone can use a weapon powered by a crystal, only a Crystal Mage, someone who has closely studied the properties of the many different crystals on the Atmos, can use the rocks as weapons in themselves.

There is just more one factor to cover before we get to the series’ protagonists, and that is the major antagonists of the show. These are the Cyclonians. A villainous people, the Cyclonians are humans whose Empire is based out of the storm-tossed, dark, barren Terra Cyclonia. Their emblem is a hunched vulture, so you can guess how nice this bunch is. Luckily, most of the Cyclonian “Talons” have less brains – and less courage – than Imperial Stormtroopers. They are usually easy to defeat, and the entertainment value in that trouncing is almost always high!

The original Storm Hawks were a Sky Knight squadron sworn to protect all the free Terras on the Atmos. They had no home Terra, like the Absolute Zeroes (the Blizzarian squadron), or the Red Eagles (guardians of Terra Atmosia), and they were definitely nothing like the Rex Guardians (a stuck-up squadron from Terra Rex).

The previous leader of the old Storm Hawks, Lightning Strike, decided to rid the Atmos of the threat of Terra Cyclonia once and for all. Uniting the kingdoms and their Sky Knight squadrons, he and his Storm Hawks led a huge assault on Cyclonia to free the races of the Atmos at last.

But Lightning Strike was betrayed and presumably killed by his own wingman. This man then destroyed the rest of the squadron and became the Cyclonian Empire’s champion. Henceforward, this traitor was known as the Dark Ace.

The rest of the assault fell apart after the defeat of the Storm Hawks, and all hope was lost… Until the new squadron was formed.

The new Storm Hawks squadron consists of six main characters: Aerrow, Piper, Finn, Junko, Stork, and Radarr. They plan to fulfill the dream of Lightning Strike and his team by defeating the Cyclonian Empire once and for all. There is just one slight snag for most people about this…

Four of the six new Storm Hawks are fourteen year olds!!!

Aerrow, the last descendent (somehow) of Lightning Strike, has become the youngest Sky Knight in history. Aerrow is the leader of his ragtag squadron by mutual consent and the fact that he is their Sky Knight. Aerrow is neither wealthy nor well known, being an orphan since before the series began. So he and his team are using the patched-up, old equipment of the original Storm Hawks. As you may have guessed, this means the team’s tech is almost always on the verge of falling apart. Not an episode goes by where they do not have to repair something as they do battle with the Cyclonians or with their other enemies.

Every Sky Knight has a unique maneuver they can pull off using the crystals in their weapons. During the stress of his first engagement, Aerrow discovers his particular maneuver is the Lightning Claw – an apt trick for the heir to Lightning Strike. Genial and fun-loving, Aerrow is also fierce, brave, and thinks fast on his feet. He does not run from a fight except to save others. He is determined to finish what Lightning Strike started; he wants to take down Terra Cyclonia. An ambitious plan – but that is also in keeping with Aerrow’s daring spirit.

Aerrow’s second-in-command is Piper. The navigator and tactician for the squadron, she is also their Crystal Mage. Self-taught, Piper is a fourteen-year old orphan, just like Aerrow. She is a skilled fighter, and her ability with crystals is only half of what makes her dangerous. Piper thinks on her feet, and when she cannot grab a crystal to dissolve her problems, she will use whatever she can get her hands on. Her one weakness is her resolution to make the “absolutely perfect plan.” This often puts Piper at odds with the next member of the team…

Finn, the Storm Hawks’ sharpshooter, is fourteen years old and an orphan, just like Aerrow and Piper. Finn does not practice hand-to-hand combat as often as Aerrow and Piper do, nor is he as well versed in the lore of the Atmos as they are. While Piper is arguably the member of the team who is an expert on almost everything known about the Atmos, Aerrow is no slouch in the reading department. In contrast, Finn most certainly is, and this is what irritates Piper.

Plus, Finn believes he is a chick magnet and irresistible to the ladies. For the most part, this is his own fantasy; in a few places the girls do just adore him. But the rest of the time, they ignore him. This is another source of Piper’s perpetual exasperation with him.

These character flaws aside, Finn is an excellent shot. He does miss his target from time to time, but for the most part he is a fair sharpshooter. He might be better if he practiced a little more – but that will not be happening any time soon, I think.

Finn’s best friend and the next member of the team is the Wallop Junko. Fourteen years of age, Junko is different from the others in that he does have a family. But they do not see eye-to-eye, in part because Junko is not your typical Wallop. Wallops tend to be something like Klingons: they respect and respond only to displays of strength. Even their women can knock down buildings when they have a mind to do so. They tend to yell a lot and have violent tempers.

Junko is not like that at all. Soft-spoken, able to Zen out, and very friendly, Junko’s behavior usually borders on childish. He also tends to apologize after punching someone. The mechanic and “heavy ballistics” guy on the team, Junko maintains all the sky rides and the Storm Hawks’ carrier. He is not particularly intelligent; a lot of phrases, nuances, and sarcastic comments tend to fly right over his head. A gentle giant, Junko loves his friends to bits and would do anything for them – even the eternally annoying Finn.

Stork is the next member of the team. A froglike Merb, Stork is almost never happy. Eighteen years old, he is already a professional pessimist and doomsayer. To give you an idea of his character, his catchphrase is, “We’re doomed.” Every chance he gets, Stork predicts death, despair, horrors, monsters, plagues, destruction, death – wait, did I say that already? He is obsessively paranoid as well, and quite possibly a hypochondriac in the bargain.

The Condor

Stork pilots the squadron’s carrier, the Condor. Absolutely in love with the vessel, Stork rarely leaves the ship’s bridge. He fusses about the paint getting scratched and, if you value your life, do not ever do serious damage to the Condor. Prone to flight rather than fight, Stork will turn into a raving lunatic and attack anyone who does great harm to “his” precious ship.

His paranoia means that Stork has a number of booby traps set up throughout the Condor, and he is adding to them daily. He also has a large cache of gadgets and gizmos stored away for the inevitable apocalypse, as well as maps of and books about the most dangerous places on the Atmos. Stork’s sky ride, the Stork-mobile, is the one sky ride based on a buggy. It is outfitted with everything from unbreakable tires to an ejector seat, and the only vehicle of its kind in the skies.

The last member of the Storm Hawks is Radarr. No one is really sure just what Radarr is. Voiced by Asaph Fipke himself, Radarr cannot speak English. Instead, he chirps, growls, snarls, shrieks – and, very rarely, screams. Radarr does NOT appreciate being called a pet. He prefers the term “mission specialist,” and has seemingly been Aerrow’s companion for as long as the young Sky Knight can remember.

Radarr has to communicate with the team through charades, hand gestures, mimicry, and action. The Storm Hawks understand him most of the time, but occasionally they misunderstand or misinterpret what he is trying to convey altogether. No one knows how old Radarr is or where he came from. He once wanted to go to the Terra of Big Bananas for vacation, but was outvoted by the rest of the team. Later, someone referred to him as a Sky Monkey, but this might merely have been meant as an insult to him (indirectly) and Aerrow (directly).

Radarr is, in fact, a true mission specialist. His combat capabilities are excellent and his ability to think tactically is higher than that exhibited by any other animal shown in the series. Although he looks like an animal, it is quite possible that he is as intelligent as any human, Wallop, Merb, et al on the Atmos. He is also a capable mechanic, able to make repairs to Aerrow’s sky ride midflight and even rebuild an entire vehicle from a rusted hunk he found in the jungle.

Radarr spends most of his time as Aerrow’s copilot. He fills the role for Aerrow that the Dark Ace once held for Lightning Strike. When Aerrow jumps off of his sky ride to get into close combat with the Dark Ace or another opponent, Radarr will fly the machine until Aerrow is ready to hop back on. He has proven he cares to some degree about the rest of his teammates, but Radarr certainly loves Aerrow the most out of all of them.   It is not quite a pet/owner relationship; theirs seems to be more like a brotherly bond, as weird as that may sound to some.

Good grief, I have practically spoiled the series for you by now, readers! There is nothing left for you to do other than look it up yourselves! Sadly, as I said before, Storm Hawks was canceled after its second season. Though Mr. Fipke expressed a desire to continue the series, either through animated movies or even comic books, he does not appear to have had any real luck on that front so far. This is a real shame since the series was a lot of fun.

Which you will discover if you look it up! And remember – !

            “For us, the sky is never the limit!”

The Mithril Guardian

Rise of the Guardians

I have wanted to write a post about Rise of the Guardians since a few hours after I saw it. But nothing would come to me in a distinct way, and so I have let it lie for a while. However, with Easter approaching, I thought it best to get down to “tacks of brass,” as one character in this film put it. The post you are now reading is the result.

First and foremost, I love Rise of the Guardians. It is a GREAT film and, sadly, it was panned by the “critics.” (Why do the critics always seem to get it wrong?!? *Aggravated sigh.*)

Rise of the Guardians centers on Jack Frost, a boy who the Man in the Moon made a powerful winter specter. This is after he ended up at the bottom of an icy lake. As a winter spirit, Jack has the ability to cause snowstorms, blizzards, frosts and – best of all – SNOW DAYS!!!

Jack loves to have fun. A spirit with a mischievous, sometimes nasty sense of humor, Jack spends lots of his time with children. But unlike Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy, no one believes that Jack actually exists. Jack can have all the fun he wants, but because no children believe in him, they cannot see him. People walk right through him every day.

Jack does not understand his life as a spirit. The Man in the Moon put him here, but Jack has no idea why. It makes him angry, sad, and frustrated. (This may explain the nasty bent to his sense of humor.)

In the modern day, Jack is recruited to join the Guardians of childhood. These Guardians are: North (Santa Claus), Sandman (or Sandy), the Easter Bunny (or ‘Bunny’ for short), and the Tooth Fairy (also called ‘Tooth’). They explain that the Man in the Moon has decided Jack should become a Guardian as well, which startles him. Jack has tried talking to the Man in the Moon on his own for years and come up empty. Now he learns that the Guardians apparently have had a direct line of communication with the “big guy” since year dot.

But the Guardians do not let Jack leave. They have a problem. (Well, two, actually…) One problem is Pitch Black, a.k.a. the Boogey Man. A powerful spirit of fear, Pitch has had no one believe in him since the Dark Ages, when the Man in the Moon first appointed the Guardians to watch over the children of the Earth and protect them from Pitch’s influence.

Two: Jack does not want to be a Guardian. He likes children just fine. It is the “bribing” children with gifts and goodies he does not want to get in on. He would also really like to avoid the deadlines and hard work North, Bunny, and Tooth put into their jobs. For some reason, he never realizes that Sandman has no such duties attached to his job. Then again, maybe Jack knew that but did not want to land himself in an argument he could not win by mentioning it.

Jack is drawn into the fight with Pitch despite his initial reluctance, and in the process he learns why the Man in the Moon made him a winter sprite – and why he has been chosen to be one of the Guardians of childhood.

I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum for those of you who have not seen the film. This is going to be hard because the inspiration for this post is a piece of dialogue within the movie. After Jack is told that the Man in the Moon thinks he should be a Guardian, North takes him to his personal workshop and demands to know what Jack’s “center” is. What is it that makes Jack Frost – well, Jack Frost?

In the process, North explains that his “center” is wonder. He sees only the “wonder” in life, like “lights in the trees and in the air.” “This wonder is what I put into the world,” he adds, “and what I protect in children.”

The important part of this piece of dialogue is how North points out that he “puts” wonder into the world. We are all born for a purpose, which Chris Pine points out in the behind-the-scenes for the story. One of the main questions every human asks is “why am I here?” That is the question Jack has to wrestle with in the movie, and which we all have to figure out ourselves.

But the thing I noticed was that North said he “puts” wonder into the world. It is not just that he reveals it and protects it; he “puts” it into the world. And that got me thinking: aren’t we all supposed to “put” something into the world? Not necessarily a new invention or a new discovery so much as what we ourselves can do and think. Aren’t we all called to put something good into the world, something(s) like wonder, hope, and happiness?

The fact is that we are called to put those things into the world, and more. But, of course, “many are called, few are chosen.” This is best exemplified by the film’s villain. Pitch Black may have been made a sprite by the Man in the Moon, too. We do not know this for sure, and the movie gives us no hints. However, if that is the case, then maybe Pitch was supposed to put something good into the world as well.

This is not how he uses his power, though. Pitch puts fear into the world not in order to help people but so that he can control them. He specifically mentions that he wielded a lot of power in the Dark Ages, prior to the arrival of the Guardians. Where he could use his ability to help people overcome or face their fears, if he wanted to, he instead uses his power to control them.

North, Tooth, Bunny, Sandman, and even Jack do not do this. They put things into the world to help other people, specifically children. North puts wonder into the world, while Bunny keeps hope alive for others. Tooth protects memories, the precious memories of childhood. Sandman protects dreams, the most powerful things in the world. Without dreams of aspiring to be better than we are, we will never get anywhere.

And Jack – well, explaining what he puts into the world would be telling. I am not going to do that. However, I am going to spoil a little something extra and explain why Jack is not seen by children until the end of the film. For all the time he has been a sprite, Jack Frost has used his powers to try and convince people that he exists. This does not work because Jack is using his power for his own gain.

At the end of the film, though, he uses his power to help the Guardians when they are at their weakest. That is when he becomes visible to children, for the first time since he was made a spirit. When Jack uses his power to help the other Guardians he becomes a Guardian as well. By using his powers for someone other than himself, Jack earns his heart’s desire: to be seen and loved by children. To no longer be alone.

Another great thing about the film is that it emphasizes the importance of children. This may be why the critics panned it. The Guardians are supposed to protect children because “they are all that we are, and all that we will ever be.” Too true.

If you have an opportunity to see Rise of the Guardians over Easter, I highly recommend it to you, readers! The film is actually set in the three days prior to and including Easter. It is definitely a good film for the season – even with all the snow in it! So, readers…

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

Wings of Fire – Choose Your Tribe!

A friend asked me if I could come up with a couple of polls for a series that we have both been reading: Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland.  The series is unbelievably addicting, focusing first on five dragons prophesied to end a twenty year war over the succession to the throne of the Sand dragons’ kingdom (these dragons are known as Sandwings).

If you have never read the series, you may want to check out the books, or cheat and look here: http://wingsoffire.wikia.com/wiki/Wings_of_Fire_Wiki for spoilers.

If you have read the series and enjoyed it as much as my friend and I have, then choose your tribe – and decide which dragon you most resemble!

The Mithril Guardian