The Stigma of Jupiter’s Red Spot Mar27

The Stigma of Jupiter’s Red Spot...

The plot hole that bothers me the most in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the lack of health care. No, I’m not kidding. Bear with me. I recently read this fantastic article, “Did Inadequate Women’s Healthcare Destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?” that suggests most, if not all, of Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s life could have been avoided if she had seen an obstetrician. For those of you who have no desire to relive the prequels, here’s a refresher: Anakin has a dream in which Padmé dies from childbirth. In an effort to save her life, he turns to Emperor Palpatine, all but solidifying his move to the Dark Side. How do I know Padmé didn’t receive any prenatal health care? When she confronts Anakin towards the end of the movie, she asks him to help her raise their “child” ‒  not their “children.” Padmé doesn’t know she’s going to have twins, which means she didn’t get so much as an ultrasound. How is it possible that Anakin lives after losing three limbs and nearly burning to death, while his wife dies from childbirth? (And, please, read the article mentioned above before you bring up how Padmé simply lost the will to live.) How is it possible that the Star Wars universe, which is scientifically advanced, doesn’t have proper reproductive health care? Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s life could have been avoided if she had seen an obstetrician. In this case, I don’t think it’s a problem of the Star Wars universe itself, but rather an oversight by the movie’s creators that resulted in lazy writing. When it comes to fantasy and sci-fi, female characters are often still an after-thought. I’m sure proper reproductive care wasn’t even on the radar when the writers thought out...

The Upside-Down Villainy of Nimona Jan25

The Upside-Down Villainy of Nimona...

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! These are all things that make up Noelle Stevenson’s web-comic-turned-graphic-novel, Nimona, a silly but poignant story about heroes and villains. The twist in this tale? In Nimona, the villains aren’t really villains and the heroes aren’t really heroes. This is a story in which a kingdom has a Champion (the “good guy,”) and a Villain (the “bad guy”) who follow a routine: the Villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, makes some mischief, and the Champion, Ambrosius Goldenloin, fights him off, Ballister goes home and comes up with his next plan, repeat. That all changes when Nimona, a young shapeshifting girl, shows up. As her story unfolds, the deeper question that arises is “what, exactly, makes a villain?” Villains on the surface The two surface villains in this story are Ballister, who wants to bring down the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his sidekick Nimona, who just wants to blow things up and cause general chaos. But we soon learn that Ballister has a deeper reason for his actions: he has a grudge against the Institution, which raised him to be Champion and then threw him out after he lost his arm in a joust with Ambrosius, who was his best friend. And, while Ambrosius always maintained that his injury was an accident, Ballister never believed him. Nimona’s origin story is more ambiguous. She can take any form she wants and heals incredibly quickly. Who is she? From where does she come? Those questions aren’t really answered, but there are clues scattered throughout the story: when Ballister wants to learn more about her powers and suggests running some tests on her in his lab, she reacts violently; in a battle with the Institution, she takes the shape of a scaly beast...

A Tale of Two Martians Dec09

A Tale of Two Martians...

The character trope of “being the last of one’s kind” is a popular one in geek culture. Whether a hero has lost his entire race, like Aang and the Doctor, or simply her family members, like Rey, many of our favourite characters are alone in the world. One of my favourites is J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, member of the Justice League and the last son of Mars. In the CW’s new show, Supergirl, J’onn is the last Green Martian, whose family and people have been wiped out by the White Martians. Under the guise of Hank Henshaw, he works as the director of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (D.E.O) with Kara Zor-El and Alex Danvers, Kara’s adoptive sister, to protect the Earth from malicious alien life. In Season Two, which is currently airing, J’onn meets another Martian, M’gann M’orzz, who is more hardened than her Young Justice counterpart. Their differing responses to the war on Mars is central to Episode Four, “Survivors” (spoilers ahead). The past is over and done. What matters is what happens now. The episode begins with J’onn questioning M’gann on how she escaped Mars. She tells him that she was in an interment camp and that a White Martian broke a kill order and smuggled her out. And when J’onn calls her a survivor, M’gann says, “I am whatever I need to be to get by.” J’onn then asks if she will take the bond with him, but M’gann evades him by saying that she has customers. Meanwhile, Alex and Kara are investigating a secret alien fight club, which Alex infiltrates. She discovers that it is being run by a woman named Roulette and that the reining champion is Miss Martian, M’gann M’orzz herself. She tells J’onn, who confronts M’gann,...

It’s Not You, It’s My Enemies Jun03

It’s Not You, It’s My Enemies...

There are many good reasons for superheroes to keep their identities secret. However, there’s one not-so-great reason. In particular, it seems to be a favourite of Superman’s, Batman’s, Spider-man’s, and countless others’. It’s what TV Tropes calls “It’s not You, It’s My Enemies,” where the superhero does not reveal his identity to his love interest in order to protect her from his adversaries. While I understand the need to keep loved ones out of danger, I think this particular trope is one that we need to stop using. In CW’s show The Flash, Barry Allen is a CSI for the Central City Police Department. When he was 11 years old, his mother was murdered by mysterious red and yellow lighting, and his father went to prison for the crime; Barry has been trying to make sense of the event and prove his father’s innocence ever since. In the pilot episode, Barry is struck by lightning at the same time the S.T.A.R Labs particle accelerator explodes, sending out a wave of dark matter. Nine months later he wakes up at S.T.A.R Labs from a coma and discovers that he has super speed. He shows his new powers to the three scientists who work there—Dr. Harrison Wells, Dr. Caitlin Snow, and Cisco Ramon—and they team up to help him learn about his new abilities. One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s only the male superheroes who use this excuse. At the same time, Barry’s adoptive father, Detective Joe West, is hunting down a criminal with the supposed ability to control the weather, Clyde Mardon. This causes Barry and the others to realize that others were also affected by the dark matter, and Barry decides to go up against Clyde with his speed. The episode culminates in...

The Sacred Texts of Geek Culture May11

The Sacred Texts of Geek Culture...

There are certain texts (and I am using the word “text” here to encompass TV shows, movies, books, and games) within geek culture that have achieved “sacred” status. Some of these include The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Firefly, Chuck, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Offer any critique of these texts and the fandom takes up arms, calling for the heads of those who dare to say a bad word about them. But can’t I critique something and love it at the same time? Engaging a text critically means asking questions about characterization and representation. How are women, people of colour, and body types portrayed? Do the female characters have agency? For people of colour, how many of them appear in the text? Do they have meaningful dialogue, or are their lines just filler? (See these videos of “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in ‘Harry Potter’” and “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in ‘The Lord of the Rings’“). In terms of bodies, what types are included; are fatness and ugliness signifiers for evil characters? “Critical” also means being aware of the privilege and biases you bring to a text. For example, I recognize that, as a white person, I will read any character as white unless they are assigned a specific race. This is because “white” is my bias, and “white” is also the default race in the majority of books and films. But can’t I critique something and love it at the same time? Big Ideas vs. Subtle Codes I recently had a conversation with a friend about how the portrayal of women as weak in early sci-fi contributes to the larger problem of misogyny in geek culture, and his response was that...

Galadriel and the Long Defeat Apr27

Galadriel and the Long Defeat...

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. Those are Galadriel’s words at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. I recently re-watched it and, as with every re-watching, something new struck me. First, how awesome it is that the first voice in a movie dominated by men is a woman’s. And, second, that it is actually incredibly fitting for Galadriel to be the narrator, to fill the audience in on all the events that have contributed to the Ring’s birth and rule. A Brief Portrait Not much of Galadriel’s story is told in The Lord of the Rings. For that, readers have to dig into The Silmarillion, several volumes of The History of Middle-earth, and a few of Tolkien’s letters (there’s also a good summary of her life here. Some of the main details: Galadriel was born in Valinor (Tolkien’s word was “awoke”). Her father was Finarfin, youngest of the three sons of High King Finwë.  She defended her mother’s people of Alqualondë against Fëanor and his sons during the First Kinslaying. She made the incredibly difficult journey over the Helcaraxë (the Grinding Ice) into Middle-earth. She settled in Doriath, where she met Celeborn and learned the mystical arts from Queen Melian. She survived the fall of every Elven kingdom in the First Age. During the Second Age, she and Celeborn lived in in Lindon, then Eregion (where the Rings were forged) and then Lindórinand, which became Lothlórien. She is the keeper of one of the Three Rings, Nenya. There are two reasons why I mention these details. One, it is important to know just...

The First Avatar Mar18

The First Avatar

The Avatar was born from two desires: to change a circumstance and to right a wrong. Ten thousand years before Korra and Aang, there lived a man named Wan who was not content to live in poverty while others hoarded their wealth. His story is told in two episodes of The Legend of Korra Season 2, Spirits. In “Beginnings,” Parts One and Two, we learn that, during Wan’s time, humanity is fractured and at war with the spirits. Humans live in cities built on the backs of giant lion turtles, who protect them from the Spirit Wilds. Benders as we know them do not exist; people receive the gift of whatever element their lion turtle possesses only when they need to venture into the Spirit Wilds to hunt for food. Upon returning to the city, they are required to give the element back. Wan, however, ends up befriending the spirits. Not willing to accept his poverty, he devises a plan to change his own life: he joins the next hunting party to the Spirit Wilds and receives the gift of fire. When they get to the Spirit Wilds, Wan pretends to be too scared to go on and the hunting party sends him back. But, he does not return his fire to the lion turtle and, instead, uses it to lead a rebellion against the wealthy folk in the city. The rebellion fails and Wan is banished. He accepts this, but asks the lion turtle to let him keep the fire so that he can protect himself in the Spirit Wilds. The lion turtle agrees. The spirits are wary of Wan at first. But, after he rescues a cat deer from hunters, the spirits accept him and he spends the next two years living...

Leaves from the Vine Feb10

Leaves from the Vine

When I think of all-encompassing love, three things that come to mind are Pai Sho, sage advice, and copious amounts of tea. Uncle Iroh isn’t an obvious character, one that stands out at first. He’s not the protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender and neither is he the main antagonist; those perspective titles belong to Aang and Zuko. Rather, Iroh is a supporting character, and for the first season of the show, he seems to be relegated to the position of comedic relief. He is more often the cause of Zuko’s anger than not. As viewers, we’re too busy laughing at him ogling over gaudy statues in a pirate’s ship to see that there’s perhaps more to him than his rotund physique. His story unfolds slowly, but Uncle Iroh is nothing if not patient. We don’t learn much about him in the first season because the show is laying the groundwork for Zuko’s story; he’s the one pursuing Aang, and he’s the one we need to worry about. Iroh tags along and gets in Zuko’s way. It’s not until Season Two that we learn that Iroh lost his son, Lu Ten; that as the eldest, Iroh should have been the next Fire Lord but his brother overruled him; that he has suffered just as much pain and loss as Zuko. Without Iroh’s steady, unwavering, constant support, Zuko would have been consumed by his anger. What I find endearing about Iroh is that he endeavours to be what Zuko needs, no matter how often his nephew pushes him away. Iroh is Zuko’s unwavering support. We see this in small ways at first: he defends Zuko to the crew when they think he’s being reckless and selfish. When Zuko attempts to kidnap Aang in the North...

I Must Not Tell Lies Jan11

I Must Not Tell Lies

The first time I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I found Harry’s constant anger, especially at Ron and Hermione, annoying. I wanted to tell him to chill out: didn’t he understand that there were bigger things going on? At the time, I didn’t recognize his trauma for what it was. Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor, hosts of the most delightful podcast Witch, Please, have a fantastic discussion about this in “Episode 9: The Cleansing Fire.” Their answer to Harry’s anger is that he is suffering from PTSD, and it totally makes sense. Harry has just gone through the traumatic experience of watching Voldemort come back to life and kill Cedric, and is then made to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle, who barely acknowledge his existence. To make matters worse, he doesn’t receive any news from his friends, who are under orders from Dumbledore not to share anything lest their owls are intercepted. Add to this the mysterious Dementor attack and the subsequent hearing to prove his innocence so he will not be expelled from Hogwarts, and it quickly becomes clear that Harry’s anger is justifiable. Just when we think things are going to get better for him—he’ll be back at Hogwarts and all he’ll have to worry about is Quidditch and OWLs—he discovers that, all summer, the Daily Prophet has been printing lies about him, under order of the Ministry for Magic, in an effort to discredit his story about Voldemort’s return. Do not dismiss the powerless when they come to you with hurt. There’s a term for this: gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which victims of trauma are made to doubt their own stories through others (often the perpetrator of the abuse) twisting...

Letters from Father Christmas Dec23

Letters from Father Christmas...

When Tolkien’s children were growing up, he wrote them letters as Father Christmas. Between the years of 1920 and 1943, they would receive letters in which Father Christmas told them stories about his life in the North Pole, his chief assistant the North Polar Bear, and the wars between the goblins and the Red Gnomes of Norway—all written in shaky handwriting (because it’s so cold in the North Pole). Father Christmas would include drawings and sometimes the North Polar Bear would add his own comments. Over the years, the list of characters grew to include Pasku and Valkotukka, the North Polar Bear’s mischievous nephews, and an elf named Ilbereth, who Father Christmas employed as his secretary and who would sometimes write the letters if Father Christmas was too tired. These letters started when Tolkien’s first child, John, was just three years old, and continued until his fourth and last child, Priscilla, was thirteen. In one letter, Father Christmas asks Michael, the second eldest, to give his love to John, even though he knows that John is too old to believe in him. In another, Father Christmas asks after Christopher, who is away at school. In the final letter, written in 1943, Father Christmas tells Priscilla that he’ll have to say good bye, but that he won’t forget her.Tolkien chose to indulge in the myth of Father Christmas in order to create some magic for his children. I can only imagine the joy and excitement Tolkien’s children would have felt upon receiving that first letter, and the anticipation of getting one every year after that. I can also imagine Tolkien’s own joy at writing them, knowing how much his children loved them. I think these letters, first and foremost, were gifts. It seems to me...

Small heroes Nov18

Small heroes

War stories are full of great men and women doing great deeds. They stand on the front lines and fight for what’s right and good. They are the heroes we expect to read about, the heroes whose lives we want to emulate. These are the Arthurs, the Aragorns, the Sarah Walkers, and the Harry Potters. But there are also those heroes who are not considered great. They don’t have power and they’re not skilled fighters. To the world, they are “nobodies.” And yet, they are just as important, if not more so, than those great heroes. They carry the strength of simple, pure love, compassion, and humility. They fight for what’s right and good, too, but they do it behind the scenes when no one is watching, and they do it without expecting glory or praise. These are characters like Samwise Gamgee, Chuck Bartowski, Riza Hawkeye, the Doctor’s companions, Merlin, Neville Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood.These are the heroes who stick with me because they tell me that I don’t have to be the most skilled, or the most brave. My favourite example is Sam; how could it not be? There’s a moment in The Return of the King where all seems lost and Sam is alone. Frodo has been stung by Shelob and carried off by Orcs, and Sam has taken the Ring so he can continue the quest. As he looks for Frodo, Sam is tempted by the Ring. It shows him visions of himself as Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age; all he has to do is claim the Ring as his own and he can overthrow Sauron or command the valley of Gorgoroth to become a garden of flowers and trees. Sam doesn’t give in. He thinks of his love...

Abandoning the blind Oct21

Abandoning the blind

These days, humanitarian aid is a no-brainer. When a country with limited resources, doctors, and medicines faces mass illness, we help out as much as we can. Still, I wonder what would happen if we encountered a new disease. Would we be quick to help, or would we let fear and hysteria win out? José Saramago explores the possibilities of what would happen if everyone suddenly went blind in his 1995 speculative work, Blindness. His description is very bleak. One day, a man sitting in his car goes blind. His wife takes him to see a doctor, who can’t find anything wrong with his eyes. Later that night, the doctor goes blind. Then everyone who was in the doctor’s waiting room. The doctor alerts the director at his hospital, who tells the Ministry, and a plan is quickly concocted to quarantine everyone who is blind, along with everyone who has had contact with a blind person, in an old asylum until further notice. The first arrivals are given a list of 15 rules, which are blasted through the intercom in their ward. These include: any attempt to leave will result in instant death (there are armed soldiers guarding the asylum); in the event of an Abandoning those who need help is cruel and unjustified.outbreak of disease, no help will come; if there is a fire, no firemen will come; if someone dies, they are to bury the corpse in the yard. The first arrivals realize that, if they are to have any chance of surviving, they must stick together. There is one person who doesn’t go blind: the doctor’s wife. She feigns blindness so she can accompany her husband to the asylum. The story is told through her eyes as she helps her husband...

Breaking Sophie’s spell Sep07

Breaking Sophie’s spell...

How much of our identity is made up of what other people think it should be? At the beginning of Howl’s Moving Castle (and here I’ll note that I’m writing about the book. As much as I love the movie, the book just goes into more depth), Sophie Hatter seems to be fine with basing her identity on what society says. She lives in the land of Ingary where, as the eldest of three sisters, she is destined to live a mediocre life because everyone knows that only the youngest go on to fame and fortune. After her father dies, the burden of raising three daughters and running a hat shop is too much for her step-mother, Fanny. The youngest daughter, Martha, who is obviously going to make something of herself, is shipped off to apprentice with Mrs Fairfax, a talented witch, so that she can have “witchcraft and rich friends to help her” (13). The second youngest, Lettie, goes to apprentice at the famous Cesari’s bakery, where she will probably find a husband and have a comfortable life. Sophie is to remain in the shop making hats. She’s okay with it because that’s just the way it is. Her old-woman skin becomes her armour. Except, she gets stuck. Sophie wants to go out into the world and do something interesting, but she can never find the time, or the energy, or the motivation. She believes the lie that society has told her—that she’s supposed to be a failure—and it debilitates her. Because of this she doesn’t realize her potential, doesn’t see the power that she has inside her. While working in the hat shop, Sophie starts talking to the hats. “You have mysterious allure,” she tells one. “You are going to have to...

Meet me in the river Aug19

Meet me in the river

Walking in death: this is the power of the Abhorsen. Where magic is portrayed as a gift in many stories, it almost seems like a curse for the Abhorsen, a faithful servant of Charter magic, whose duty is to lay the dead to rest. In Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Chronicles, the Old Kingdom is a world caught in a constant battle between life and death, between Charter magic and Free magic. This is a land plagued with necromancers who use the corrupted power of Free magic to raise the dead in order to achieve their own goals of dominion and destruction. Their enemy is the Abhorsen. The series is comprised of three books—Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen—and follows two would-be Abhorsens: Sabriel and Lirael (whose story picks up 20 years after Sabriel’s). Both are stories in which the protagonists learn about their inheritance as the next Abhorsen and must defeat great evil while doing so. A common theme in fantasy is that everything has a time to die. The Abhorsen has the ability to walk in the spiritual realm of death, which plays just as much a role in these books as the land of the living. Death is portrayed as a river with nine gates and precincts through which spirits must pass before they come to their final resting place. Here, death is dangerous and sinister. Everything is grey and devoid of light, except for occasional bursts of red fire; the river itself is icy cold, its treacherous current tugging spirits further into its depths. Any spirit that lingers too long becomes a twisted reflection of what it once was. Necromancers and Abhorsens alike have to take care lest they find themselves swept away along with the dead. Everyone in this land seems to have an innate fear of that...

Beyond Middle-earth: the least of these Aug04

Beyond Middle-earth: the least of these...

“And last came one who seemed the least, less tall than the others, and in looks more aged, grey-haired and grey-clad, and leaning on a staff.” “And being sent back from death for a brief while he was clothed then in white, and became a radiant flame.” ‒ Unfinished Tales Even the smallest can change the course of the world. This theme of “the last shall become first” is central to The Lord of the Rings. Usually it’s the Hobbits who come to mind—those humble creatures who took on the great evil of Sauron (and, in Frodo’s case, the literal burden of the Ring). But there is another, perhaps less obvious, character who embodies this theme: Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf was the last of the Order of the Istari, Maiar spirits who were sent from Valinor to aid in the fight against Sauron. There were five of them: Saruman the White, the head of the Order, Radagast the Brown, the two Blue wizards, and Gandalf. They appeared in Middle-earth around year 1000 of the Third Age. Though Sauron had been defeated at the end of the Second Age, the Valar realized that he would one day rise again. So, they sent emissaries with the sole purpose to “advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt,” (UT, 503). Without Gandalf acting as the humble adviser, there would have been no victory. The Valar intended the Istari to take the form of old men so that they would be seen as equals among Elves and Men. Their bodies were mortal, and so they were capable of feeling pain and emotion, and of being...

Beyond Middle-earth: Come merry doll Jul02

Beyond Middle-earth: Come merry doll...

The question of Tom Bombadil may just be Middle-earth’s greatest mystery—with, perhaps, the exception of the Blue wizards—and it’s not difficult to find the many theories that speculate his origins. Some think he is some form of a Valar spirit, or a Maiar spirit, or just a spirit of nature. One theory I found poses Tom as the physical embodiment of the music of the Ainur (which created Middle-earth). But, whatever the case may be, Tom Bombadil is a riddle to which there is no easy answer. I too once felt the itch to know exactly who Tom Bombadil is. I too wished that I could flip through the appendixes at the end of The Return of the King and read his origin story. Now, however, I am less interested in who he is as a being of Middle-earth, and more in who he is as a character in relation to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. As a character he doesn’t serve much purpose to the narrative, other than offering a brief repose to Frodo and company on their journey through the Old Forest. He comes out of nowhere to save Merry and Pippin from the clutches of Old Man Willow and doesn’t appear again after the hobbits leave his house, except to save them from the Barrow-wights. Here is Tolkien himself purposefully creating mystery.I like Goldberry’s explanation, when Frodo asks about him: “He is” (FR, 164). Tom later describes himself as “Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn,” (FR, 173). As far as Middle-earth is concerned, Tom Bombadil is quite probably the oldest creature to live there, even older...

Beyond Middle-Earth: Fangorn and Fimbrethil Jun03

Beyond Middle-Earth: Fangorn and Fimbrethil...

“Behold! When the Children awake, then the thought of Yavanna will awake also… and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared…. In the forests shall walk the Shepherds of the Trees.” — “Of Aulë and Yavanna,” The Silmarillion It’s difficult to imagine Ents being vulnerable. These tree-giants (the word “ent” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for “giant”) are strong creatures and, though they avoid doing anything in haste, their anger is swift and terrible. It’s interesting to me, then, that Ents were born out of a perceived vulnerability. Before any peoples walked Middle-earth, the Valar sang the world into being and Ilúvatar created Elves and Men. Aulë, the great smith, wanted his own creations and so gave life to the Dwarves. However, his wife Yavanna, the grower of all plant life, recognized that the Dwarves would learn from her husband and would, therefore, have no love for her works: “My heart is anxious, thinking of the days to come… Shall nothing that I have devised be free from the dominion of others?” (S, 40). What does a world without Ents look like? Very much like ours, I think. Thus, the Ents were created from Yavanna’s desire to defend her creation. They awoke in Middle-earth at the same time as the Elves. But, while Ents feature prominently in The Two Towers, we don’t see any Entwives. Anything we know about them is what Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin when they seek refuge in Fangorn forest: “When the world was young and the woods were wide and wild, the Ents and Entwives… they walked together and they housed together. But our hearts did not go on growing in the same way: the Ents gave their love to things that they met in...

Music as soul May11

Music as soul

Music is a portal to the soul. It creates emotions in us like nothing else can. There’s a reason most movies and television series have soundtracks, because the music can inspire viewers to feel a certain way. The first episode of Angel season two, “Judgment,” introduces a crucial character to the series: Lorne, the green-skinned, red-horned demon who runs a karaoke bar called Caritas. Caritas, which is the Latin word for “mercy,” is a place of sanctuary: weapons are not allowed and a spell on it ensures that no demon violence can take place inside. Instead, humans and demons come to sing and receive advice from Lorne, for he has the ability to read a person’s soul when they sing. Music moves us in ways nothing else can. At the beginning of the episode, Angel, Wesley, and Cordelia are not able to find the demon they’re tracking, and so Wesley brings them to Caritas to talk to an associate; Wesley tells them that he’s been meaning to take them there, but that “it’s a little outside the box.” They meet Lorne, and when Cordelia asks who he is, Wesley says, “He’s connected to the mystic. When you sing you bare your soul. He sees into it.” Angel, of course, really does not want to sing, so Lorne says to him, “This isn’t about your pipes, bro, it’s about your spirit. I can’t read you unless you sing.” Lorne is probably my favourite character from Angel. He comes from a demon dimension called Pylea where there is no music. The other members of his family, the Deathwok clan, also have mystical aura-reading abilities, but they use theirs when they hunt to track prey. Pylea is a brutal world and Lorne does not belong there, gentle soul that he is. He belongs in a world of show tunes and sea breezes. I find his soul-reading ability fascinating; if there ever were a way to read someone’s soul, I think singing would be it. There a vulnerability that comes with singing, especially when you’re singing in front of other people; you’re already sharing a part of you that others don’t see as often. “This isn’t about your pipes, bro, it’s about your spirit.” Music is so tied to emotion. I’m not a musician, beyond playing the flute in high school, but I do know the sheer delight of singing with others in a choir. Time magazine reported on one study conducted by a team of Swedish researchers that found when people sing together in a choir, their heart rates sync up because they are breathing in unison. But there are emotional effects as well. Björn Vickhof, the team’s leader, noted that, “When people are singing slow songs together, waves of calming effect go through the choir.” It interests me that Lorne comes from a world with no music, and yet it is so essential to his abilities. I wonder, with the absence of music, if he felt incomplete, like he was missing something from his soul. I can only imagine his joy upon entering this world and finally finding a purpose for his powers. Music can compel our feet to dance, bring tears to our eyes. I think that’s why it’s so soul-full; it moves us in ways nothing else...

Beyond Middle-earth: Blessed are the Legend-makers May05

Beyond Middle-earth: Blessed are the Legend-makers...

I‘ve always been drawn to myths, especially Arthurian, Greek, and Norse. For instance, the story of Echo, the nymph who fell in love with Narcissus but was doomed to waste away until nothing was left but her voice. Even if early story-tellers were just trying to come up with an explanation for a phenomenon they didn’t understand, I’m drawn to the idea of creating a story for it; the scientific explanation for echos may be interesting, but the story brings them to life. C.S. Lewis once said that “myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.” Tolkien disagreed and wrote his poem “Mythopoeia” as a response. I’ll offer a brief explanation here, but I would recommend reading the poem for yourself. We cling to stories when we have nothing left because they give us hope. “Mythopoeia” is Tolkien’s case for the value of myth and story-making; it is an argument from “Philomythus to Misomythus,” which means “Myth-lover to Myth-hater,” and the title itself means “myth-making.” Something I’ve encountered in Christian circles is a general distrust of myth, which I think echos Lewis’s statement; there is no truth in anything not in the Bible. Tolkien disagrees and argues that, in fact, there is truth in myth, and that it is actually our right to make up stories. Our proclivity for myth-making is something that comes from God—“Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light / through whom is splintered from a single White / to many hues…”—and when we create, we catch a glimpse of God himself. Tolkien uses my favourite poetic device in this poem: the caesura, which is a break in the middle of the line that causes the reader to slow down. The purpose of a caesura is to emphasize something for...

Concerning Writers: Female characters Apr09

Concerning Writers: Female characters...

Loveable characters are the heart of geek culture. We cosplay as them, we debate who’s better (Gandalf vs. Dumbledore anyone?*), we buy their merchandise. Is it any wonder that, lately, women have been challenging the way we’re portrayed? Guys have had decades of emulating their strong, interesting, and well-rounded male characters; while women appreciate the Han Solos, the Aragorns and the Edward Elrics, it would be great if we had some female characters who weren’t just written in to stand still and look pretty. Geek culture is, of course, full of great female characters. Galadriel, Hermione, Katara, Ahsoka Tano, and Sarah Walker are just a few of my favourites. But there are deeper problems that effect how female characters are received, and we should be addressing these issues. For example, female characters are often still expected to take second place to the main male protagonist. Or, stories in which the protagonist is a female are primarily marketed to girls because “boys won’t be interested.” Think of Rowling’s publishers, who advised her to not publish under her real name, Joanne, because they assumed boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman. Female characters are often still expected to take second place to the main male protagonist. For those of you working on your own stories, here are three things to keep in mind as you write female characters: Is your shieldmaiden constantly having to prove that she’s good enough to be in the military even though she’s a woman? We all love cheering for the underdog, and this narrative is no exception. The problem here is that it still assumes the military is a “man’s world” and that women have to fight to be included. This can also apply for any other “man’s...