Grim and Grandiose: The Gothic Novel

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been living in the world of Jane Austen. As of today I have read all of her novels except for Emma, which I’m about halfway through. She is not my favorite 19th century author (that distinction goes to Charlotte Brontë), but I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the literary mastery and elegance of craft that her work exhibits.

However, I will admit that I prefer seeing the film adaptations of her novels, particularly the ones with the screenplay written by Andrew Davies: Pride and Prejudice (1995) with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Northanger Abbey (2007) with J.J. Feild and Felicity Jones as Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, and Sense & Sensibility (2008) with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Right now I’m just a little bit obsessed with Northanger Abbey (and yes, I am totally blaming that on J.J. Feild’s Mr. Tilney.)

An interesting side effect of that obsession was exposure to an area of literature that I had left virtually unexplored up until this point: traditional Gothic novels.
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The Wyrding Way

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Wyrd: a concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny.

Wikipedia

 

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Anglo-Saxon symbol for “wyrd”

Few lines make my hackles rise more than hearing, “It is your destiny,” particularly if it is said by some old guy in a black robe. I have some serious issues with the concepts of prophecy, destiny, fate, and Chosen Ones. From a practical standpoint, they are overused tropes and cliches in works of fantasy. Predestination is a lazy cock-and-bull story made to justify plot threads or character motivations. But on a deeper level, the concept is actually rather disturbing. I’m a big believer in free will, so the idea of having everything I have done, am doing, or will do laid out for me with no ability to change it is both creepy and frightening.
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The Power of Headcanon

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I recently went to see Black Panther with some friends, and if you haven’t gone yet, you need to reevaluate your priorities because it’s fantastic. *ahem* Anyway… as we were leaving the theater, one friend noted that during the very emotional scenes between T’Challa and his father T’Chaka on the Ancestral Plane, they noticed that T’Chaka had an old (but still very obvious) facial injury.** Since the characters were interacting in a spiritual realm, my friend wondered why this injury was still present since spirits don’t have physical bodies and therefore wouldn’t have those imperfections. Almost immediately, I commented that a person probably couldn’t spend years as King of Wakanda and the Black Panther without suffering some kind of accumulated spiritual damage, which then manifested in the Ancestral Plane. My friends just kind of stared at me and said that I had the strongest headcanon of anyone they’d met.

You see, while that explanation for T’Chaka’s appearance in the Ancestral Plane seemed perfectly reasonable to me, there was nothing in the movie itself to suggest that was the case. My internal headcanon and pulled from all my fictional sources and compiled them into an explanation. Actually, I’d come up with two possible explanations on the spot, one being the accumulated damage from a life of service and suffering. The other was that it was simply T’Challa’s perception of the spirit, giving it a familiar face. Kind of like how Anakin Skywalker’s Force-ghost appeared at the end of Return of the Jedi as a forty-something man rather than as his twenty-year-old self, who would have been completely unfamiliar to Luke. (No, I do not accept the insertion of Hayden Christensen into the remastered editions of Star Wars. There’s some headcanon for you!) Both of these plausible explanations occurred to me within seconds of my friend’s question, and I hadn’t even noticed until they pointed it out.
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Bizarre Genre Combinations

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Some people like to party on New Year’s Eve, myself included. However, my idea of a party is plopping down on the couch with a bottle of wine, a pound of fudge, and a stack of anime films on VHS. Yes, my brother Daniel and I went “old school” for the last day of 2017. And believe me, having a couple glasses of wine makes watching 1990s anime even more hilarious. The previews were a blast even before the feature presentation started. I haven’t actually sat down to watch any anime, new or old, for a while, and a thought struck me during our viewing: anime combines some weird-ass shit.
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Films Just Gotta Be Fun

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Okay, I’ve got a little bit of Marvel movie fangirling to get out of my system, so consider yourself warned.

Still with me? All-righty, then.

I’ve been to see Thor: Ragnarok twice in the last five days. Was it a good movie? Well, I had fun and enjoyed it, but as for a more objective view, that depends on what standards qualify a movie as “good.” I’ve got a bit of a sliding scale for films which depends heavily on what kind of movie it is. Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe get more lee-way from me than some others because they are based on comic books, and those are already all over the place in terms of plot, character, and continuity. But I still acknowledge that many of them are held together with explosions, CGI, and witty banter rather than solid storytelling. They are essentially what I call “popcorn movies:” films with a lot of visual splash and pizzazz, but little real depth or even sense. Films like Pacific Rim, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the James Bond franchise. And yet they still have a great, almost magnetic, appeal for me.
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Of Prep and Prequels

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The Hundred Days by Geoff Hunt

While most people are excited for the coming of pumpkin spice, winter, or the season premiere of The Walking Dead, I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo, which begins in (gasp!) only eight days. I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk since April when I finished Courting the Moon, and only nibbled at the edges of projects. But National Novel Writing Month (especially in conjunction with the Legendary Novel Writing Challenge) usually gives me the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.

So, to facilitate this imminent frenzy of vomit-typing, I picked a project that I only have the vaguest idea about: the second book in my planned Mariner Sequence series entitled Seahawks and Storms. Now, even though this is the second book I’m writing in the series, Seahawks and Storms takes place about 600 years before the events of the first book, Ravens and Roses. It will tell the story of the first Admiral of the Mariners, Samuel Tempest, his wife Amaris Seahawk, and the founding of their new home, the land eventually called “Marina.” If you’ve ever read The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, you’ll see that the relationship between my two books is in a similar style. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, in publication order, or in chronological order, and should all still make sense. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
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Living in the Future: The Fate of Science Fiction

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Plenty of genres will remain relevant in the future:

Horror, because we still like to be scared.
Fantasy, because magic retains its fascination since it can’t materialize in the real world.
Romance, because we still love, long for, and lose.
Humor, because we need to laugh.
Historical Fiction, because we want to experience other times and places.

But what about Science Fiction? During its Golden Age, this genre presented the perfect opportunity to extrapolate on emerging technologies and speculate where they might take us in the future. Some of those postulated futures turned out to be eerily prescient. But now we live in an age where automated cars and soft AI are becoming reality. Where we carry powerful miniature computers in our pockets that connect us to virtually any person on the planet. Where 3-D printers create entire houses in a matter of days and drones deliver packages directly to your home. Everything keeps getting (or seems to be getting) faster, sleeker, and more efficient, changing the social and economic landscape at an astonishing rate.

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Dangerous Stereotypes: The Alpha Male

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” You can read previous entries in this series, which discuss the Scientist and Bad Boy stereotypes.

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Every culture has certain expectations of how people are supposed to behave. Sometimes these social rules apply across the board, but others are gender-specific, and this is reflected in our media. While a lot of scrutiny is given to the short stick that women get instead of proper representation in books, films, and video games, less attention has been paid to the toxic masculinity that pervades so much modern media.

John Carter of Mars carrying Princess Dejah Thoris

When you picture the hero of a story, especially in science fiction or fantasy, what do you see? Chances are the kind of man that comes to mind is tall, physically fit or imposing, and who can win a fight with style, even if violence isn’t their first choice. Many are handsome, cocky, reckless, often abrasive, and tend to fill the leadership role with a sense of natural ease. They are almost always heterosexual playboys, exuding a charisma that draws women to their bed and encourages other men to either follow their lead or to become their competitor. Some prime examples of this archetype can be found in Captain Kirk from Star Trek, John Carter from the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, any incarnation of James Bond, the half-demon Inuyasha from the manga by Rumiko Takahashi, and mythic idols like Thor and Robin Hood. Even heroes who start off shy, awkward, nerdy, or reluctant, like Harry Potter and Peter Parker, eventually become independent leaders and warriors thanks to their adventures. Expressions of emotion, empathy, or sensitivity are often shown as weaknesses to be hidden behind a wall of witty banter, arrogance, or stoicism. It is the stereotypical “Alpha Male” who always comes out on top.

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Not a Legend, Not a Flop – A Review of King Arthur

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Another film review from the Penn-Mar Literary Critics! Many thanks to Avellina for joining me on this venture into Arthurian legend.

Be advised that this entry contains spoilers!


 

I will not pretend that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a good movie. It was average at best, mediocre at worst. It managed to be better than Beowulf or Dracula Untold but did not reach the level of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. And yet, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it.

King Arthur is a popcorn film, a Pacific Rim in the fantasy genre. It focuses on CGI action and glib character moments rather than the deeper tales of good and evil. It has the look of such epic films in many respects, (the production values are quite good) but lacks something vital that keeps it from true greatness. Well, actually, it lacks a lot of things. It’s filled with internal inconsistencies, plot holes the size of Miami, a magic system with no real rules, an over-emphasis on action that looks good rather than what makes sense, gratuitous CGI, inability to really distinguish between characters (especially the women), and a tragic, almost criminal under-use of Jude Law.
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Permutations of the Soul

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“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

— Jedi Master Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

 

Souls permeate fantasy. You find them everywhere. In books like the Vlad Taltos series; in movies like Crimson Peak; in television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in video games like Jade Empire; in anime like Soul Eater; and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even if souls are not the focus of the story, it is almost always assumed that souls exist. In some universes, all living things have souls, while in others only sentient races have them. In a few, only humanity is granted this unique ability to transcend oblivion.

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