Darth Vader and Beauty’s Beast: Loving the Unlovely Aug16

Darth Vader and Beauty’s Beast: Loving the Unlovely...

I missed the original release of Star Wars by a decade and the first printings of Beauty and the Beast by several centuries, but both stories have marked me with their retellings and reiterations. Fairy tales are famous for being re-imagined, but “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” has more in common with “once upon a time” than one might expect. The same stories keep getting retold despite an endless appetite for novelty. I believe it’s because people ache to be rescued; humanity keeps telling stories about how we can be saved. The stories of the Skywalkers, Belle and the Beast evoke a slippery mixture of loss and longing that is difficult to articulate but all too easy to identify with. Much like Darth Vader, the Beast lives in a tortured silence; neither is what they once were and each lives a half-life. Vader is the emperor’s weapon, more machine than man, and the beast hides in angry shame. Both villains live with longing, and so Vader disobeys orders and spares Luke’s life while the Beast risks his life to save Belle from ravenous wolves. At the heart of both stories is a tale of redemption, about how the unlovely can be loved better—and become something beautiful. In both cases, these villains choose redemption, not because they were heroes all along, but because of sacrifice. Growing up, I naturally identified with both Luke and Belle. I was an imaginative, bookish kid who longed to go beyond the backyard that was my moisture farm, my little provincial town. As I’ve read and lived more I realized I wanted to be them not because I saw myself in them, but because I wanted to see myself in them. Ever since I discovered...

The Gift of Story May31

The Gift of Story

Sometimes it can seem like moms are made for missing. Any child who has ever lost their mom in the mall knows this; those who have lived through the death of a mother are also familiar with that feeling. While I’ve tearfully lived the former experience and it’s unlikely I’ll avoid the latter, The Song of the Sea reminds me of the hope I share with my mom, a gift she gave me through story. Come away, oh human child to the waters and the wild with a faerie hand in hand for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. The Song of the Sea tells the story of Ben, a young boy who must deal with the loss of his mother. Ben is the son of Conor, a soft-spoken lighthouse keeper, and the storyteller, Bronagh. She paints stories of selkie and the giant Mac Lir on the nursery walls Ben will soon share with his sister. Bronagh is also a singer of songs and she introduces him to the song of the sea on their last night together, playing it on a seashell horn. Ben cherishes the horn and guards it jealously after Bronagh’s death giving birth to Ben’s baby sister, Saoirse. Bedtime was actually one of my favourite times growing up. I remember the stories and the songs—and I hope my mom does too. This nightly ritual of storytelling lasted through several Harry Potter books, and even though I could’ve read them myself they were something we enjoyed sharing. We visited enchanted lands, invented voices, and turned pages with anticipation. And whenever I was scared or sad, she had a song and a prayer ready for me. I can’t claim to understand a loss like Ben’s, but by experiencing...

Trollhunters and Two Worlds Apr05

Trollhunters and Two Worlds...

Jim Lake is an unremarkable teenager living in Arcadia Oaks, an equally unremarkable town (despite it’s cool name). There wouldn’t be much left to say about this character or setting if they weren’t the subject of Guillermo Del Toro’s colourful Trollhunters. As it is, adventure is afoot. Right under Jim’s feet, actually. As the story opens, Jim’s 15-year-old problems appear unremarkable. He wishes he owned a cooler ride, hopes he won’t get detention, and finds it easier to stare at his crush than speak to her. Things get complicated—and more dangerous—when the magical amulet of the fallen Trollhunter calls out to Jim and pulls him into inescapable peril. Jim’s adventure straddles two worlds and brings to mind my own engagement with other worlds. Although the ones I escape to are found in books, TV and film, and video games rather than a kingdom under my feet, their effect on me is no less real. Once I see the truth in a work of fiction, it’s hard to un-know it. Fans of fantasy are familiar with the charge of escapism. It’s “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy,” and can become a bad habit if abused. Fortunately, enjoying other worlds doesn’t need to be escapism; other worlds can help prepare us for the things we face in this world. Rule number one of being the Trollhunter is to never be afraid; rule number two is fight to the death. When Jim faces his first real challenge in the Troll world, he has trouble getting past rule one.  A sparring match with disappointed Trollhunter-hopeful Draal ends in an embarrassing loss which prompts Jim to abandon the “sacred obligation” of being the Trollhunter. However, he quite...

Curses of Blood in The Lord of the Rings Mar08

Curses of Blood in The Lord of the Rings...

Middle-earth is a bloody place. The generational struggles of elves in the First Age, the War of the Ring, and even the adventures of a certain handkerchief-less burglar are all bloody stuff. Blood isn’t just for wetting swords, though; blood tells us something about who we are. But it doesn’t have the final word on who we’ll be. Middle-earth holds two tales that reveal the powerful pull of blood. In the First Age of Middle-earth, the elven prince Fëanor created jewels of unsurpassed beauty called the Silmarils. Fëanor was the greatest of the elves; he was exceedingly beautiful and unsurpassed in skill and understanding—he knew it, too. It was his pride that drove him to swear an irrational oath of vengeance against anyone who withheld the Silmarils from him after Morgoth, the dark enemy of the elves, stole the Silmarils and murdered Fëanor’s father. But the burden of blood tends to outlive its source; Fëanor’s sons nursed their own pride and took up the oath as the mantle of their house, following their father to war: “They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not . . . vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.” (The Quenta Silmarillion.) Pride was the weakness in Fëanor’s blood, first exploited by the subtleties of Morgoth and then passed on to Fëanor’s sons. When pride demands its right and blood is spilled, a...

Stardew Valley and Avoiding Community...

On its surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, crafting, and collecting. These tasks can easily take up most of the players’ time but they aren’t the point of the game, because Stardew Valley is really a community simulator. The game begins as many pastoral fantasies do, with the romantic promise of escape offered by a return to the dirt—our collective roots. In Stardew Valley, the promise is a deed to a small farm in the game’s namesake town, where I was greeted by a field overgrown by weeds, rocks, and a forest that has taken advantage of years of neglect to encroach upon my one-room shack. I got straight to subduing the land and started dreaming of upgrading my hovel and how I would build a nice fence for the cow pasture I didn’t have yet. Then my old-fashioned mailbox started blowing up with messages. First with words of welcome, but soon people were dropping by in person—with requests. I decided it might be tactful to go into town and actually figure out what kind of person would pay 150 gold pieces for three dandelions. By the time I made it back home, I’d been taught how to fish, met a fellow urban refugee making art just outside of town, and realized that most of these digital people had their own challenges. I wasn’t the only person living in the valley. I can barely give a turnip to a pixel-person without working out how it benefits me. This kind of self-centredness isn’t just a feature of my gaming, it’s a feature of me. I find it startlingly easy to put on blinders; to go my way and tend to my patch of land with little thought to those around me. I can...