A Prince of Amber’s Curse Mar16

A Prince of Amber’s Curse...

Corwin of Amber is a main character I struggle to like. He’s a selfish prince in a constant battle with his own brothers for the crown. There isn’t much else to say, though because the story is told from his perspective, I have to follow along with his problems. Generally, I wouldn’t care about Corwin’s plight. Yet there is one fleeting moment in Roger Zelazny’s fantasy novel Nine Princes in Amber where I do envy him, one moment where he seems particularly human. It is the moment he sets out for revenge. Corwin has been captured and tortured by his brother Eric after trying to overtake the throne. Corwin’s attempted regicide fails and he pays the price; Eric leaves him to rot in a dark dungeon deep under Amber. Here, Corwin meets some well deserved misery. However, Eric treats him so badly (humiliating him in front of the royal family and blinding him, among other things), that it’s hard not to feel sorry for him at this point. In this pitiful state, Corwin takes out vengeance on his brother. Trapped, he unleashes a curse. This is a power all princes of Amber have, but most only unleash it right before death. However, Corwin is so angry and in so much despair that he is able to strike out at his brother using this magic power. He doesn’t know exactly what it will do, but he knows it will make his brother miserable: “I knew that Eric would never rest easy upon the throne, for the curse of a prince of Amber, pronounced in a fullness of fury, is always potent.” Corwin’s curse perpetuated violence; Eric’s curse, hurled against their common enemy, sought a restoration. After that, he escapes from prison and flees into the shadow worlds (every other world is but a reflection of the...

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki Feb12

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki...

Drama king. Yep, that’s me. My wife nods her head every time I apply that name to myself. I don’t try to be, it just comes naturally. Usually it involves “feeling something very strongly,” which compels me to either awkward dancing or a watering of my beard. Both of which are key to healthy hair, by the way. However, in the last hours of Sword Art Online’s second season, my occasional and modest tearing up had turned into some unstoppable torrent. The first hint of trouble to come starts when Asuna makes a new friend named Yuuki and joins her group of adventurers in Alfheim Online (ALO), a team that calls themselves The Sleeping Knights. After a stunning victory against all odds, the group announces they are disbanding, and Asuna is shocked. The news makes her recognize what she has thus far only felt: Yuuki and The Sleeping Knights have become so dear to her. Yuuki and the others give only a silent goodbye, offering no reasons for their permanent departure. Asuna, who has come to love them, can’t stand the tears she causes when she pleads for reasons why. Their sadness is incomprehensible to her. “I was born to die, so what was my reason for existing in the world?” Yuuki suspects, and rightly so, that Asuna won’t be satisfied without answers, and will search high and low for her in the real world. Maybe, just maybe, the impossible would happen and Asuna would find her. It’s all Yuuki wants and it is exactly what she is trying to stop. She doesn’t want Asuna to know why she must leave; Yuuki doesn’t want to cause Asuna pain. But Asuna’s stubbornness brings her to Yuuki’s doorstep at the hospital. It’s a surprise, though many...

Breathing a Lie through Silver Jan08

Breathing a Lie through Silver...

A philosophic argument is one of the best things that can happen to a friendship. Verbose disagreement with a healthy dose of name calling between jolly friends as they enjoy a choice drink: this is an ideal evening, in my opinion. It is in such a setting, at any rate, that I imagine the conflict between Lewis and Tolkien, a debate in which their philosophic understanding of myth stood at polar opposites. It was September of 1931 at Magdalen College in Oxford when Lewis told Tolkien that myth and fairy story were “breathing a lie through silver.” Tolkien strongly disagreed. He believed his “kind and confused friend” committed a grave error in saying this. Tolkien would later capture the essence of this error in his essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien felt strongly that myth creation, whatever it was, was something more than a lie, even poetically laced with silver. A lie is generally a negative thing. Tolkien maintained that the power to create myth and story was not negative but something positive, and even more. It was not only a human right, but a divine right. In the essay, he argued that humanity creates because our image mirrors the creator. A whole world is created with doors to new vistas that tell me about the world I live in. This perspective of myth making was important to Tolkien as it brought a legitimacy to creating myths in a time when fairies and their tales was left primarily to children. Tolkien’s idea was both important and relevant to the criticisms of that day, and it still applies in this century. I would even apply his principle in broader strokes. When I enter a land of someone else’s creation—whether it’s a book, a movie, a video game—I have a chance at...

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness Dec04

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness...

“To love righteousness is to make it grow, not to avenge it.” This is a quote by George MacDonald that I read recently, but instead of reminding me of the poet’s further thoughts, it makes me think of a TV show I’ve been watching: Hunter x Hunter. One of the subplots in Hunter x Hunter detours to capture the story of a minor character named Koala. Koala is a Chimera Ant, a species that takes on the likeness of other beings depending on what creatures the Ant Queen has devoured before giving birth (hence why he looks like a koala wearing a suit). Hitherto he was used only to illustrate the barbaric nature of certain Chimera Ants who mutated into random grotesque human likenesses. When we first meet him, Koala is a stone-cold killer. He’s essentially the James Bond of the Chimera Ant world. The job of most Chimera Ants is to harvest (kidnap) humans for the Queen’s food. Most of them are ruthless and enjoy seeing their victims scream in terror and attempt to flee. Not Koala, though. He would emerge out of the shadows, killing in an instant, the expression on his face somewhere between contempt and pity. Kite offers not only her forgiveness, but a way for Koala to forgive himself. Koala shows up near the beginning of the Chimera Ants’ rise of power and we don’t see him again till the end of their story. The Ant Queen and King have fallen. The mutated Ant colony is essentially destroyed. Koala is among the few remaining Ants who survived. Many of the surviving Chimera Ants are no longer purely Ants. They have regained memories of their former lives, their human lives before they were consumed by the Queen. Koala is in this state and it has apparently changed him. He’s looking as sharp...

Right now, we’re alive here Nov13

Right now, we’re alive here...

“Do you not understand? Every day we spend here is one day we’ve lost in the real world.” These are words spoken in Sword Art Online by Asuna. She is talking to Kirito, her eyes are narrowed, her hands are on her hips. Kirito is laying on his back in the quiet and calm of a green meadow. The look on his face is as serene as the digital sky above him. He knows she is right. All the players in the game are trapped inside this virtual reality. There is no logging out. There is no respawning. And dying inside Sword Art Online means you die in real life. The only chance for the thousands of players trapped inside this digital reality is to beat the game. That is what Asuna is focusing on. She has worked for months inside the game, training herself to be stronger, leading her clan deeper into the game, inching forward to the ending that promises freedom.Asuna learned from Kirito that escaping wasn’t the only important thing in Sword Art Online. Kirito himself has also worked hard to become strong but he has remained a solo player. If anyone knows the precipice these trapped players are walking, it’s him. He knows the importance of the work they are doing. Yet Asuna’s stormy outbreak doesn’t even cause him to raise an eyelid. This is one of the first encounters between Asuna and Kirito in the anime. I am immediately drawn into the scene and the meaning behind it. Here is a war of feelings I never realized I had felt myself until I saw them on display here. I have experienced both the urgency of Asuna and the peace of Kirito in my life. This moment in Sword Art...

Slaying Zuko Sep04

Slaying Zuko

He had a scarred face and was always wearing a sour look. He was angry most of the time in his fanatical zeal to hunt down the Avatar. He risked his crew, ignored his kindly uncle’s advice, and showed disregard for his own life. I thought Zuko was just a standard bad guy. I was wrong. As Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated TV show, not the movie) progressed, I began to root for Zuko in a way I could not have foreseen. It became clear to me that his story isn’t about what he thinks it is. It’s not about reconciliation with his father, or reclaiming his birthright to the throne, or his honour, or even catching the Avatar. Zuko isn’t searching for Aang; he’s searching for himself. Who he is and his place in this world is the cog that spins the wheels of his story. I watched Zuko struggle to figure out who he is, and I understood the confusion he was going through as his back story was revealed. It isn’t until he loses himself that he truly regains his honour. Even at a young age, Zuko had a certain tenderness about him. It caused him to be compassionate, even to animals that his younger sister would terrorize. He cried when his mother disappeared. Yet that tenderness was mocked and ridiculed as weakness by those who meant the most to a tender young boy: his sister and father. It was not only because of this perceived weakness that he fell short in their eyes, but also his lack of natural talent in firebending caused ridicule. “Prodigy” was to be expected from the Fire Lord’s son, and prodigy Zuko was not. It is in this hard environment that a young Zuko had...

Embracing doubt Aug28

Embracing doubt

In a kingdom on an island by the sea, Alun is the second son to the King. He doesn’t have to care about the cares and duties of the realm; those are burdens for his older brother, Dai. Both brothers grow up content in the small and modest land, though their people have gone through much change lately. Peace and stability has come along with religion and civilization that trickled across the waters from a great continent. With the new religion gaining strength, the old ways of magic and faerie is fading into the past. This is a tale within Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun. I love reading Alun’s story; he is hurled into a state of questioning and doubting, which reminds me of my own life. The future felt bright for Alun, until a dark day when raiders, not seen in years, attack a small group of men with whom he and Dai are staying. In the course of the battle, Dai is slain. Alun’s relation to the world abruptly shifts. Doubting and asking questions about what we believe is not something to be afraid of.   Alun holds Dai’s dead body and weeps. Off to the side the leader of the enemy raid escapes from the fray, fleeing into the forest. Alun, filled with rage, chases him with reckless abandon into the moonless woods, hoping to find either vengeance or death. Instead, he loses sight of the enemy and finds himself trapped in a shallow pool by some unknown magic. He remembers how the old ways spoke of the magical danger within the forest on a moonless night. While immobile, he sees a procession of faeries. They pass him, led by the majestic faerie queen. And walking next to the queen is...

Teamwork for the win

The other day, I watched a professional League of Legends match while I was washing the dishes. I can’t remember exactly which teams were playing because I was focusing on the dishes, like a good husband. And one of the casters remarked how the team (I will call them Team Talent) with the big statistical advantage in the game was not guaranteed to win. “It’s a team game,” he said. I understood what he meant. Team Talent’s players were good enough to have gained a massive advantage in the early part of the game, where the ten players are spread out across the map and engaging in small skirmishes. But now the time for small fights in the game was coming to an end. The teams started to group and the  “small skirmishes” became full blown team fights. When I fall, I am not alone; my team is there to pick me back up. However, the team with the severe disadvantage (I’ll call them Team Underdog) was better at teamwork, and they knew it. They played it calm and patiently waited for their moment to strike. I am pretty sure the dishes took twice as long as normal for me that night. I watched Team Underdog walk along a knife’s edge. Just one mistake at this point would be enough for the other team to destroy them. Then Team Underdog suddenly struck as if they had finally found that crack in the armor they were looking for. In a moment the battlefield was a flurry of flashes. Of the ten players, only two came out alive, and barely. But they were on Team Underdog. With no one left to stop them, victory soon followed. As I finished the dishes, I thought about the caster’s words: “It’s...

Fairy land meets real life Jun09

Fairy land meets real life...

Let’s face it: life is complicated. It is full of everything from screw ups, bad luck, failures, and never ending wrong turns. But the biggest part of life is learning how strange it is to be human. I consider Anodos from George MacDonald’s Phantastes to be a friend of mine (yes, when I read books, I often make friends). Maybe it’s because his wandering through fairy land is a journey much like my own, or maybe I just think we’d get along. After all, he’s good at slaying giants, and I like attacking Titans in the Frontier. Okay, maybe it’s more the journey thing. Anodos doesn’t mean to go to fairy land; he simply wakes up to the morning sun and there he is. Like him, I open my eyes every morning to a world that might as well be fairy land, for despite my years at living in it, I still don’t know my way around completely. The journey is the most important part, and it ought to be remembered. There is no map to life in these strange lands, not for me, not for Anodos. He doesn’t know where he is going; he journeys vaguely east and follows a river. Somewhere along the way a seed of wondering is planted in his mind. It doesn’t take long for him to start striving for a life worth living, even in the world of fairy. I can almost hear him ask, “but how?” How in this crazy world of accidents and mistakes do you find something worth doing? How often I have I wished I could meet one of the wise old women of fairy who would tell me exactly what I need to do that is worth my time. How often have I thought I...

The faith of a princess Apr28

The faith of a princess...

Though The Princess and the Goblin is very much an allegory where the grandmother represents God and makes a distinct point about the importance of believing without seeing, the story is not simply a sermon. The princess leads her new friend Curdie out of a tough situation by following a golden thread that’s been given to her by her grandmother. Curdie cannot see the thread, but is impressed nonetheless by their escape. Afterwards he agrees to meet this grandmother she’s been talking about. The princess leads him to a far room in a castle, where she begins talking to someone who he can’t see or hear. He feels the princess is making fun of him, and rudely tells her as much when she won’t admit her grandmother is make-believe. He leaves abruptly and the princess is distressed at his reaction. I find myself marveling at the faith of a Princess. When the princess asks her grandmother why he couldn’t see her, the grandmother replies, “Curdie is not yet able to believe some things. Seeing is not believing—it is only seeing… you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary… to understand other people.” I have always loved George MacDonald. His books have delighted and filled my spirit for years now and I return to them again and again, always appreciating them and learning from them as I lose myself in the pages of another world. I came across a quote the other day from Tolkien in reference to MacDonald that gave me pause. Tolkien said MacDonald was “an old grandmother who preached instead of wrote.” Tolkien said...