Keep On Keeping On Jul08

Keep On Keeping On

When Umberto Eco sought the feedback of friends and colleagues for his manuscript, The Name of the Rose, many, while praising the creativity of the narrative, commented on the difficulty of the first 100 pages, which described life and practices in a medieval monastery. Editors, fearing readers would give up reading before the mystery actually began, also suggested Eco rework the dense opening. Eco refused. As he explained in his Postscript to The Name of the Rose, “if somebody wanted to enter the abbey and live there for seven days, he had to accept the abbey’s own pace. If he could not, he would never manage to read the whole book. Therefore those first hundred pages are like a penance or initiation, and if someone does not like them, so much the worse for him. He can stay at the foot of the mountain.” In framing the sort of mindset necessary to get through this part of the novel as a journey, Eco alludes to the kind of perseverance he expects. I got thinking about these difficult 100 pages and the sort of perseverance required to get through them earlier this month when I was loaning some books to a friend for summer reading. I handed The Name of the Rose over and commented on how much the novel means to me. “But the first 100 pages are really hard—the author tried to weed out people who shouldn’t read his book.” After thinking about that for a moment, my friend handed the book back to me and said, “Maybe not.” I’ve seen the same responses for not attempting to read Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, even Stephen King. So what makes some people able to persevere through long and difficult material? Put another way:...

Call Me Treebeard Jul01

Call Me Treebeard

Call me Treebeard. Hrum, Hoom… If I lived in Middle-earth, I’d be an Ent. Like Treebeard, my motto is “Do not be hasty.” But, also like Treebeard, I might take you for a small orc and step on you if I don’t first hear your voice. I’m also cautious—if I’m going to develop a relationship, I won’t rush into it, and I prefer to ask the questions rather than reveal a whole lot about myself before I know who I’m dealing with. And to make matters worse, I’m a Christian—and not just any kind of Christian, but the slowest of all Christians—I’m Catholic. And nothing is slower than the Catholic Church at making decisions. The language of my faith is “a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking the time to say, and to listen to.” If you don’t believe me, go to a Catholic Mass. Or read an encyclical. Or an exhortation. Like the Ents, we take forever to make a decision—the Church will “room tum, room tum, roomty toom tum” for years and years before we change anything. I recently participated in a three-day meeting as part of a process in my diocese to re-imagine the way we “do Church” on a parish level. It was a response to declining numbers in all things Catholic because, no matter what was going on around us, we were doing the same stuff over and over, hoping for a new outcome. Many of our trees are getting sleepy and less Entish… But, getting Catholics (clergy and laypeople) to think about doing things differently—even when it’s a matter of self-preservation—is like convincing Ents to storm Isengard;...

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...

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...

A cage of fear Oct30

A cage of fear

Eowyn is no pansy. Tolkien has been accused of putting his female characters on a pedestal, and the lady of Rohan is no exception. From the moment she is introduced in The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is pining for battle. With good reason. She was orphaned at age seven when her father was murdered by orcs and her mother subsequently died of grief. Eowyn’s origin story is worthy of Batman’s, and as any Eastern Asian martial arts movie will tell you, violent vengeance is the only solution to such problems. Deciding not to follow in Mom’s footsteps, Eowyn trains diligently in sword fighting and is referred to as a shieldmaiden. Step aside, Xena; there’s a new warrior princess in town. What’s more, she claims to be unafraid of death. My curiosity is peaked then, when Eowyn is asked what it is that she does fear. Her response? She is afraid of a cage. In a world ruled by men, Eowyn dreads the drudgery of the duties assigned to her on the basis of her gender, such as tending to her dying brother. For her, these “womanly” tasks are confining.You cannot truly love someone if you are afraid. Her greatest fear is that she will never be able to accomplish her desires because she is being held back by these obligations. The claustrophobia is palpable. She is trapped. The anime Attack on Titan opens on a similar sentiment. Here, the threat is the monstrous Titans, humanoid giants that look like the muscular system diagrams in your anatomy textbook (if the diagrams came alive and grew to six metres in height). Worse still, they eat humans. Yeah. Terrifying. Small wonder that humanity has retreated behind three concentric sets of stone walls to defend themselves. However,...

That thief, lust Aug17

That thief, lust

In The Lord of the Rings, there are two characters who lose their names. Their names are stolen from them, really. Stolen by that thief, lust. That poor, little dude Smeagol is the first of lust’s victims. Smeagol is the embodiment of lust. The way the power of the Ring works on him is so clear, so apparent, he should be under the definition of lust in the dictionary. It’s downright obvious. And sometimes lust is downright obvious. Smeagol becomes Gollum almost instantly. His lust is so transformative, he kills his best friend within minutes of finding the Ring. His lust is so revolting that it serves as an immediate warning for anyone who meets him. More often, however, I think lust is subtle, more deviously sneaky—and that’s when it is the most dangerous. Both Gollum and Wormtongue lose themselves so completely to lust that they become someone else. Take our second character, Grima, for instance. He’s slimy, he’s creepy, and he makes no bones about what he wants. Like Gollum, by the time we meet him, it’s clear what he’s about and nobody likes or trusts him… except for King Theoden. Theoden has thrown off every good advisor in his kingdom, including beloved members of his family. He used to be a wise, loving person, so we can conclude that something very powerful must have been working on him. But it’s also apparent that what’s happened to Theoden has been a gradual change. If Gollum showed up in the court of Rohan, he would have been imprisoned or killed on the spot.  Grima, on the other hand, better known as Wormtongue, is not only allowed access to the King, but is a trusted advisor. His lust, because of how it is disguised, transforms not...

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...

Jokes to make you laugh and cry Jul10

Jokes to make you laugh and cry...

What doesn’t Tara drink? She’s not a fan of shots. What show does Boromir never seem to catch? Arrow. How much did it cost Dr. Horrible to join the Evil League of Evil? Just one Penny. What is Sephiroth’s favourite food? Shish kabobs. How do Reavers clean their spears? They put them through the...

A ghazal for Gollum Jun30

A ghazal for Gollum

Our only wish to catch a fish so juicy sweet How delicious, what a dish, so juicy sweet Give it to us raw and wriggling I think it’s good We’ll grab its head, it makes a squish, so juicy sweet Fish and bones, they make a crunch, not like bread Bread is tasteless, especially elvish, not so juicy sweet We wants it bad, we needs it bad, we must have it We’ll kill them both, risky to accomplish, so juicy sweet It is the master who’ll take care of us NO he won’t Give in to it, give in to anguish, so juicy sweet SHE could do it, she could kill them, yes she could Then I can take it, it is our wish, so...

The journey doesn’t end here Mar05

The journey doesn’t end here

In the Return of the King, Pippin collapses beside a blood-stained Gandalf as they both listen to the orc army chop away at the final barricade in Minas Tirith. Emotionally and physically depleted, Pippin looks over at Gandalf and says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looks just about as tired and scared as the little hobbit—and certainly they are in a  seemingly-hopeless situation—but he perks up, sensing the same inauthenticity, the same falseness we feel when a story is too glib or too grim when it portrays death. “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Gandalf says. “The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… and then you see it.” “What? Gandalf? See what?” “White shores.. and beyond. A far green country under a swift sunrise.” “Well, that isn’t so bad.” “No, no, it isn’t.” Death is a truth of mortality that cannot be faked Tolkien explains that The Lord of the Rings is ultimately about mortality. In an interview with the BBC, he claims that all stories are really about death, quoting Simone de Beauvoir, “There’s no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to man is ever natural. His presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.” Death is an important theme in fiction, perhaps the most important theme. The stakes have to be high to keep people’s attention, and there’s nothing more exciting than a battle for life. The reason high stakes are so gripping is because, in the end, most of our art is consumed by thoughts of mortality. And when a character appears immortal, we break free from the narrative. The Song of Fire and Ice series is intoxicating because of its brutal treatment of characters and “no one is safe” rule. Characters are on the chopping block (sometimes literally) almost every chapter. There are no redshirts here, or more accurately, anyone could peel off their coat and find a crimson uniform underneath. George R.R. Martin doesn’t shy away from the brutal truth: we know instinctively, deep down, that our time can be up at any juncture, any chapter. But more than just the fascination with dying, viewers and readers are moved by sacrifice. In the original Transformers film (the 1986 version), the most iconic Transformer, Optimus Prime, dies 20 minutes in. His death inspires Ultra-Magnus and the rest of the Auto-Bots to victory. Throughout the film, your mind returns to Optimus, wondering if he will come back, if he will be rebuilt. But he never is. The Auto-Bots end up winning, but their win costs them. They do not emerge unscarred because Optimus Prime is gone forever. Fast-forward to 2007 and the Michael Bay version of the same franchise. Throughout the film, you hear the quote: “No sacrifice, no victory.” And Optimus Prime himself says, “[I am] a necessary sacrifice to bring peace to this planet” and “If I cannot defeat Megatron, you must push the Cube into my chest. I will sacrifice myself to destroy it.” “No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Everything in the rebooted Transformers points towards the sacrificial death of Prime. But in the end, Sam uses the cube to destroy Megatron and everything is right in the world. Optimus doesn’t die, and the death of Megatron costs so little that the victory feels superficial. Sacrifice is often what makes a good story great. Take Superman’s death; he sacrifices himself so someone else can live. Take Gandalf the Grey, who metamorphoses into Gandalf the White, or Peter Parker, who emerges from the death of uncle Ben changed forever. Death doesn’t...

Opening a geek (not greek) pizza shop… Feb13

Opening a geek (not greek) pizza shop…...

The best pizza shops name their pizzas so we decided to give it a go. Not that we have any intention of ever opening up a pizza shop.. or do we? So what did we miss? Any further suggestions?

Real Heroes: The Morgan Grimes Theory Feb09

Real Heroes: The Morgan Grimes Theory

I am tempted to say that Chuck is NOT the true hero of Chuck. It’s hard to admit because he is one of my favourite TV characters of all time, but the more that I think about it the more I realize that Morgan Grimes is the true hero of Chuck’s story. There, I said it, and after admitting it I have come to realize that the same is true for Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Buffy, and even the Doctor. May I present: The Morgan Grimes Theory. I’m quite certain that Chuck would not be sane without Morgan by his side, keeping him together during difficult times (like when Sarah’s AWOL and the CIA dumps Chuck like a week-old Subway sandwich). “Bag ’em and tag ’em, Sarah. I mean, Agent Walker.” —Morgan GrimesOne of the most heartbreaking moments for me in the show is not when Chuck breaks up with Sarah,  nor when Sarah won’t talk to him, nor even when Sarah hooks up with too-good-looking Shaw instead of our beloved Nerdherder. Nope, the moment that gets me most is when Morgan says these seven words (words we never dreamed he would utter): “I’m firing you as my best friend.” And it’s not getting back together with Sarah that puts Chuck at ease and reinstates his ability to flash. It’s when he’s finally able to tell Morgan everything about his spy life and Morgan instantly forgives him. Not only that, but Morgan thinks it’s awesome that Chuck is a spy. You can just feel the tension drain from Chuck as Morgan rehires him as his best friend. The real hero of Chuck: Morgan Grimes. Frodo: “Go back, Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.” Sam: “Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!”I can’t talk about best friends without mentioning The Lord of the Rings. The true hero of this story might be overweight, easily scared, and not too bright, but he also takes on a giant, man-eating spider by himself, storms a tower full of orcs out to eat him for second breakfast to save his friend, and carries a hobbit on his back up the side of a volcano when all seems lost. NBD. Tolkien himself has referred to Sam as the “chief hero.” I like how Tolkien tips his hat to Sam by giving him the final scene and last words in The Return of the King: “Well, I’m back.” The real hero of The Lord of the Rings: Samwise Gamgee. I’ve applied the Grimes Theory to other franchises, and it  continues to hold true. Who’s the true hero in Harry Potter? Is it Harry? Or is it the one whose wit is constantly getting him out of impossible situations? The one who realizes knowledge is power and even time travels to study more, the one who helps Harry pass his Tri-Wizard tasks, the one who forms Dumbledore’s Army, the one who is always prepared to the point of packing a complete home in a handbag… I could go on. She pretty much keeps Harry and Ron alive throughout the entire series, no question about it, and Harry is lost without Hermione and, to some degree, Ron by his side. The real hero of Harry Potter: Hermione Granger. And let’s talk about that teenager who slays vampires like it’s going out of style: Buffy Summers. Who talked Willow off of her murderous rampaging ledge? “I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me.” —Xander HarrisWho survived numerous apocalypses with no slayer powers, no demon powers, and no magic? Where would Buffy be without the beloved Xander? There are two characters Buffy couldn’t do without. The two that who stayed by her side when the going got rough (and boy, did the going get rough). They even fought her battles for her when she tucked her tail between her legs and ran away to the hallowed life of working at a diner...

Unlikely Friendships that Should Have Been Feb05

Unlikely Friendships that Should Have Been

We all know (and love) the many friendships that are exhibited within a variety of shows: Han and Chewy, Frodo and Sam, Mega Man and Rocket, Blanka and your face, you get the idea. But sometimes those friendships are just not enough and we need to reach outside their respective genres for the friendship matches made in heaven. Here are our top 10: Calvin & Chewbacca “You know, Chewy, some days even my lucky Millenium Falcon underpants don’t help.” Hermione Granger & Twilight Sparkle They’ll form a group called S.B.E.W. (Society for the Bookworms of Equestria and the World). Edward Elric & Gimli Sometimes dynamite comes in small packages and can explode at anytime, especially if you mention anything about being short. Tony Stark & Tali-Zorah “Testing rocket boots, Day 11, Test 37, Configuration 2.0. For lack of a better option, Tali is still on fire safety.” Arya Stark & Toph Beifong We just want to see these two take on an army together. Master Chief (John-117) & John the Baptist “But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, one who wears the spartan helmet of salvation and wields the energy sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Sephiroth and Scar Scar would get some much needed perspective—“You wanna be king of a rock? Well I wanna destroy the world with a giant meteor”—and Sephiroth can stop being jealous that he doesn’t have a pet lion like the other side. Mal Reynolds & Doctor Horrible So Doctor Horrible can’t be friends with Captain Hammer, but he can darn sure be friends with Captain Tightpants! Caprica Six & Seven of Nine Separated from the hive collective with a strong desire to gain some form of humanity. It’s kind of true for both. Although Seven of Nine definitely has better taste in men. Jayne Cobb & John Casey “Do you know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go and get to beat you with until you buy this washing machine.” Certainly we missed a bunch. Which unlikely friendships would you...

Beyond Middle-earth: Coming Home Feb03

Beyond Middle-earth: Coming Home...

It’s hard to imagine an aspect of the fantasy genre that hasn’t been influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien. Elves and orcs seem to be commonplace races in many fantasy novels. Reluctant kings, unlikely heroes, shieldmaidens and wise, elderly mentors appear over and over again, not to mention swords and other inanimate objects possessing incredible power. Tolkien wrote so much more than his Middle-earth stories.Even though he is sometimes referred to as the father of fantasy, Tolkien was not the first person to write in the genre; George MacDonald, author of The Princess and the Goblin and mentor to Lewis Carroll, is one such writer. But, there is a reason why Tolkien’s works are so revered. His sheer imagination and dedication to his life’s work established what we now call epic fantasy and made it possible for others to embrace the genre. He made fantasy something to be enjoyed by the masses. The fact that he built such a rich and complex world, including developing languages, paved the way for other writers to build their own worlds. Middle-earth is the most in depth fantasy world we will ever see. For me, one other reason why Tolkien is so important not just to fantasy, but to literature in general, is the themes he explores in his writing. Think of his critique of Industrialism in the way Isengard expands itself out of fire and iron but is ultimately reclaimed by Treebeard and the Ents of Fangorn Forest. Think of his portrayal of the simple life in the Shire as ideal living. The Hobbits are not a people concerned with expanding their lands, but instead prize community, good food and good, tilled earth above all else; after all, isn’t it Sam’s love of his own garden that helps him...