Blame @melbsonmymind : the Hamilton Book Tag.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s post is going to be a little different from my usual. To see why, you can watch this video where Kirsti tagged me. Basically, Hamilton is this amazing groundbreaking incredible new thing created by Lin-Manuel Miranda that contains some of the best music ever and happens to get people obsessing about the Founding Fathers of America while it not-so-slowly takes over your every waking thought. Or maybe that’s just me (and most of my twitter friends, and, like, half the internet.). ANYWAY, because Hamilton love is spreading so quickly around the world/internet, this book tag was created in which songs from Hamilton are used as book-related questions to be answered by the tagee.

At first this was hard because I was struggling to think of answers for some of these. As I wrote the post, however, it started getting really hard because I kept thinking of more and more and MORE answers to each question, and it was really hard not to just include ALL THE THINGS and have about half a dozen books/series for answer. Which is to say, all answers are subject to further extrapolation and additions, and if you want to talk about EVEN MORE BOOKS I LOVE, just let me know in the comments.

Now, on to the post! …after one last quick disclaimer: Since I am talking about books in this post, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. I pretty much stay away from anything huge, but if you haven’t read Code Name Verity, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Good Omens, or The Sandman comics, you might want to do that before you continue. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.

Okay, all done? Ready to continue? Here we go:

Question One:

In the Room Where It Happens:

A book world you would put yourself in.

Really, I would chose any era of this world. The Custard Protocol by Gail Carriger just happens to be the newest installment, but if I were in The Finishing School or The Parasol Protectorate eras, I wouldn’t exactly complain about it. These books are the prefect blend of steampunk meets paranormal meets adventure comedy meets self-rescuing women, and they’re basically one of my favorite things ever.

Question Two:

The Schuyler Sisters:

Underrated Female Character.

I gave this question a lot of thought. My first answer was one of my favorite female characters from when I was a kid:

Eowyn from The Two Towers and Return of the King by JRR Tolkien is not only underrated by pretty much everyone around her, but she also — in my opinion — has her strength and power pretty undercut by the retelling of the story as done by the movies. But then after thinking about my answers a while longer, I thought of another book from my childhood with TWO female characters so underrated they get turned into ONE CHARACTER in the movie adaptation (plus another female that gets turned into a male for the movie)…

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith features Pongo and Missis, and after Missis has the original fifteen puppies, the Dearlys adopt a canine wet nurse they name Perdita to help Missis feed all the babies. Perdita has her own entire backstory of forbidden love and lost puppies before she got found and adopted by the Dearlys, too. When the puppies are stolen, Pongo and Missis go to rescue them while Perdita stays behind with the Dearlys to try and comfort them. When they find the puppies, Perdita’s are with the others they rescue, and in the end, her forbidden love and father of her puppies gets reunited and adopted too, becoming the 101st Dalmatian.

Also, the tabby cat in the book is female.

Question Three:

My Shot:

A character that goes after what they want and doesn’t let anything stop them.

This is another one I gave a lot of thought. I was thinking about answering it with this…

…because Manon Blackbeak from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas is kind of ALL THE THINGS (even though I haven’t yet read the newest book and that makes me really sad). But, I’ve recently gotten on a Self-Rescuing Princess kick, and there’s a certain Princess of that genre who influenced my childhood a lot and she also totally fits the requirements for an answer to this question.

Princess Cimorene of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede bullies her tutors into teaching her useful lessons like swordplay and languages, runs away from home instead of marrying someone she doesn’t like, argues with a bunch of dragons until they finally agree to let her live, cleans and cooks and investigates, teaches herself more skills, does spells, makes friends, defeats the princes who try to rescue her, saves the day, and all that’s just in the first book. She goes on to rescue her dragon from kidnapping, and then on a quest to save her husband’s kingdom while pregnant. Clearly, she’s not about to waste her shot.

Question Four:

Stay Alive:

A character you wish was still alive.

There are so many answers I could give to this question, but there’s one that popped up first and stuck there, without a second thought.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. “Kiss me, Hardy” is a phrase that will make me start sobbing inside, because of this book. This book is also going to be showing up as the answer to two more questions, because it messed me up that bad when I read it. In a good way. In a sobbing heartbroken mess kind of good way.

That’s all I’m going to say about it now, because even with the spoiler warning at the beginning, I’m super reluctant to talk about this book in detail. Either you already know so you understand, or you don’t and I can’t explain it. Sorry. Just read it. You’ll see.

Question Five:

Burn:

The most heartbreaking end to a relationship you’ve ever read.

It should come as no surprise to those who’ve read Code Name Verity and understand my reaction that I’m choosing it again as my answer here. I don’t care if it’s cheating. It broke my heart and make me sob for a day, therefore it totally counts.

Also, I’m slightly taking advantage of the fact that relationship =/= traditional sexual. It can also mean friendship, family, asexual, and so on. #PSA

Question Six:

You’ll Be Back:

Sassiest villain.

This was one of the hardest questions for me to find an answer. Mostly because I kept wanting to say King George from Hamilton. When I finally managed to make myself think of something else, I decided on this person:

Desire of the Endless, from the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman. Desire isn’t as much of the “ha-ha” kind of sassy, but he/she/it tends to always answer serious questions with a smirk and a dismissive wave, which should count for a lot in such a dark narrative. If you’ve read the last issues, then you also know that Desire acts as quite the undercover super-villain throughout the story, too.

And yes, I’m totally counting this series as a book. Epic storytelling is epic storytelling, regardless of format. This format happens to be words printed with ink on paper. That means it’s a book. (#PSA2)

Question Seven:

The Reynolds Pamphlet:

A book with a twist you didn’t see coming.

I’m sorry, were you expecting something else? The moment the second part of this book started, it was unexpected twist after unexpected twist, right down to the sobbing mess I became by the end. It’s a brilliant use of one of my favorite tropes: The Unreliable Narrator.

Question Eight:

Non-Stop:

A series you marathoned.

Since “obsessive marathon” is my usual reading style, this was a hard one to answer simply because I have so many from which I could choose. I finally decided on this.

If I have to go with only one of the many non-stop reads Tamora Pierce creates, I pick the Lioness Quartet. Not only did it kick off her writing about girls and women who don’t conform to fantasy genre tropes, but it was also originally meant to be one book and got split into four.

The stories set in Tortall and those in Emelan should be read by every kid and adult, and ought to be classics on the same level as Narnia. The world-building and systems of magic are incredible, especially in Emelan, and the characters feel like they’re your best friends. The life lesson, ethics, and moral issues in the adventures are all tackled with compassion and care and a kind of idealized realism, with the combined result of it never feeling like you’re being preached at, but instead truly feel for the struggles these kids go through as they learn and grow.

Plus, since they’re written to be accessible for younger readers, I’ve sometimes almost made it through an entire quartet in one go. Talk about marathoning!

(Honorable mention in this category goes to The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I read those in the exact same MUST DEVOUR ALL THE BOOKS NOW  fashion no matter how many times I’ve read them.)

Question Nine:

Satisfied:

Favorite book with multiple POVs.

I honestly just realized that there’s actually two ways to interpret this question, and I’d gotten stuck on one. So, in a last-minute change of plan, I’m going to answer this question twice, one for each way. I’d been thinking about it a lot, because I’d been thinking of it in a “best use of multi-POVs” kind of way, rather than a “personal favorite that happens to have multi-POVs” kind of way.

My flippant answer to this question, by the way, is to say “mine”, because I happen to be writing a series that uses multiple POVs as unreliable narrators, which is kind of amazingly fun and challenging. I was also tempted to say Code Name Verity again, because that’s how badly that book mess me up (in a good sobbing mess way).

HOWEVER. Here’s my real and final answer(s):

“Best Use” award goes to:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. The chapters switch between POVs and each time it adds to the story and makes you question what assumptions came before it from the other characters. There was at least one time where new information made me want to start from the beginning again because of how much I felt like I missed from not knowing something about someone. THAT is a brilliant use of multiple POVs, and something I aspire to in my own fiction writing.

“Personal Favorite” award goes to:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A classic, as far as I’m concerned, and also a rather brilliant use of multiple-POVs as a vehicle in which to build the comedy, what with the whole switched-at-birth plot-line and the mistaken-identities tropes abounding throughout the narrative.

Question Ten:

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story:

A book/series you feel like will be remembered throughout history.

There’s a really obvious answer to this one, which is Harry Potter. And while that is good and true, I like to try and think of less obvious answers, so I decided to go with this series instead:

The books of the Discworld by Terry Pratchett are certainly going to live on in my heart forever, and I think a lot of people are going to be passing that love on to generations to come. That’s my hope, anyway.

(GNU Sir Terry Pratchett.)

Bonus Round:

Question One:

 

Helpless:

A ship you were pulling for from the start.

Zuzana and Mik, from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. I’m picking them mostly because they compliment each other, and because I’m in love with Zuz. Also, they have such a lovely relationship, from the cute slightly inept fumblings at crushing on each other, to the kick-ass supportive teamwork when they have going on through one crazy adventure after terrifying revelation after another. There’s other couples I totally ship in other books and series too, don’t get me wrong. But Zuz and Mik are so awesome, both together and apart, and they just work so well as a couple without nearly as many problematic issues as other fictional couples, that I think they deserve to win this one. I was cheering them from the get-go.

(Runner up: Scarlet and Wolf from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. They pretty much define the kind of characters I will over-relate to and get over-invested in their ship. Also Simon and Blue from Simon vs The Homo Sapients Agenda by Becky Albertalli because they are ridiculously adorably. Also a lot of others because I have shipper problems.)

Question Two:

The Ten Duel Commandments:

Favorite Fight Scene.

Every time Granny Weatherwax uses Headology to save the day. (Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett, etc)

After all, you didn’t say it had to be a physical fight, now did you…?

Question Three:

Say No To This:

Guilty Pleasure read.

There’s not a lot of books I’d classify as Guilty Pleasures, because I don’t feel the slightest bit of shame over reading good books regardless of genre, etc. If I do feel embarrassed about having read something, it’s usually because it’s such awful writing that I’d rather not have anything to do with it, and therefore felt no pleasure in reading it in the first place. That said, there are still books I’ve read and will occasionally reread for a bit of light fun, that aren’t exactly mind-blowing stories or great writing. But they’re still engaging writing, so I still enjoy them, and I figure it’s close enough to an answer for this question.

Having basically no relation to the TV adaptations, the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris is totally light and silly paranormal reading, and happen to be the first books I thought of as an answer. I read the first one years ago, after someone showed me the pilot episode and I found out it was taken from a novel. It was a complete tonal opposite, and since I like a lot of books that would fall under the horribly sexist and dismissive category of “chick-lit” I figured it’d be fun to read more. Every once in a while when I’m in the right mood and need a distraction while stressed out, I’ll pick them up again.

(Random fact: my initial runner-up for this is the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. They’re the only Star Wars books I hung on to after my teens. The first time I read them was the week I had chicken-pox, and they kept me from getting scars because I was too busy reading to notice the itching as much.)

Question Four:

What Comes Next:

A series you wish had more books.

I have two answers for this. Can I have two answers for this? I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway. No bending the rules or making up justifications like before. There’s just flat out two answers to this question.

First:

Little Brother and Homeland, two novels by Cory Doctorow, are currently a book and a sequel. I’m hoping it’ll become a series. They’re excellent commentary on modern society and issues, while also being lessons and tutorials on personal security with technology, masquerading as a barely-alternate version of current events at the time they were each written, all geared towards a teenage reader. I’ve written a review of at least one of them on one of my blogs. If you want to read it and don’t want to look for it yourself, just let me know and I’ll find it and link you.

Second:

As far as I know, The Gammage Cup and The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall are in the same boat of being a series of two, except this time there’s no possibility of more, which makes me sad. This are charming books of a “grounded-fantasy” variety, that my sister read to me when I was little. They have a special place in my heart.

Question Five:

Right Hand Man:

Favorite BrOTP.

I mean, is there really a better BrOTP to read about than that of Colon and Nobby? I doubt it. Although I’d accept Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as an alternate. (Discworld series, Terry Pratchett, etc.)

Question Six:

What’d I Miss:

A book or series you were late to reading.

There are actually quite of few ways of answering this, and quite a few I could pick from each one, but I’m going with one that feels pretty significant in pretty much all the ways.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time a couple years ago, in my mid-twenties. I did see a play of it as a kid, but I was really young and didn’t know the story so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I figure that doesn’t really count. When I read it recently, it certainly felt like the first time hearing the story. Plus, I finally get what everyone was talking about now!

Okay, that’s the end of the list, and also the end of my brain power for the day. Seriously, I’ve been working on this post for almost the entire day, and that’s not even counting the weeks I spend tweaking the original list I wrote on paper. And I could keep tweaking at this, but then it’d never get published, sooo…..

Feel free to tag yourself and credit me if you want to join the fun since I’m not actually going to be tagging anyone myself! Also, go listen to Hamilton if you haven’t yet. Seriously.

Love,

GeGi.

A Short(ish) Book Review.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

First off:

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This post will be talking about plot twists and reveals for the book I’m reviewing, and therefore the first season of the show inspired on it. The book is Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, and the show, of course, is Dexter.

I was giving the book by a co-worker, after it came up in conversation (I’m not sure how) and I mentioned an interest in reading things written from an atypical psychology angle. Since the book is from the perspective of an ethical serial killer, it obviously fit the bill. I had already watched the first season of Dexter — when something is THAT popular, I usually feel obligated to check out at least a little bit of it — but had stopped there because I hadn’t felt a need to continue. So I already knew what the twist would be at the end of the book. Still, books aren’t TV shows, and I decided to give it a try anyway.

For anyone who doesn’t know the basic premise, Dexter can’t remember ever feeling emotions or connections to people, and feels a compulsion to kill. He was adopted as a small child and raised by a policeman, who recognized the signs for this antisocial behavior early on. His adopted father decided to train Dexter to channel his impulses so that he only hunts other killers, never anyone innocent, and taught him how to be meticulous so he never gets caught, and how to blend in with other people so they never suspect what he’s like inside. As an adult, Dexter works as a tech for the Miami police. The plot kicks off with the investigation of another serial killer on the loose, one whose murders fascinate Dexter and cause conflict between his impulses and his code of ethics.

The narration style of the book is Causal First Person, almost like Dexter is inviting you into a conversation in his head, and it’s full of dark sarcastic self-deprecating humor. This all makes it a deceptively easy read, so you almost don’t realize just how twisted and disturbing our antihero truly is. It’s a clever and compelling method, one that seems to have been quite successful, but one that — for me, in this case — seemed to have kept things a little shallow. It was so busy being clever and quippy that the physiologic and depth became background, the building blocks but not the meat. I still enjoyed it, but I wasn’t feeling like I got a lot out of it. That’s perfectly okay sometimes, of course, but other times you want the other thing. It’s good to know which you’re getting.

That said, there was a moment near the end of the book which caught my attention and made me wish I hadn’t seem the TV first. The big reveal and twist is that the other serial killer is actually Dexter’s biological brother Brian, who is a year older and remembers the brutal murder of their mother that they witnessed as small children, which set them both on the path of emotionally void killers. But right before this reveal, the book builds up the connection Dexter feels to the strange murder scenes more and more, to the point where Dexter begins wondering if he himself is somehow committing them when he thinks he’s sleeping. At some point — probably later than would otherwise have been if I hadn’t had the TV show in mind while reading — I figured something out that made the whole thing much more interesting to the literary geek side of me: this was a modern retelling of Jekyll and Hyde.

Yes, there are different details between Dexter and Jekyll, not the least of which is that Brian isn’t physically the same person as Dexter like Hyde is to Jekyll. Unlike Jekyll, Dexter is also a killer — but he’s a killer with a strong code of ethics which the other self is tempting him to shatter and abandon. The struggle Dexter has between what he’s been taught and what he feels compelled to do, and the doubts and uncertainty he faces before and even after the reveal, are very much an echo of the struggles Jekyll faces in his own story.

As for the story being a metaphor/commentary on society and morals, the role is nicely filled by the fact Dexter is constantly and conscientiously observing his own emotionless and moral-less reactions, and mimicking the behaviors and ethics he’s learned from others. Brian, having never been taught those things, becomes the unshackled Hyde, the darker shadow whose existence forces conflict, shatters carefully built control and illusions, and destroys relationships and lives, by fully embracing the impulses society demands be suppressed.

I don’t know how much of these parallels are on purpose. Perhaps the author deliberately set out to write a modern take on Jekyll and Hyde, and possibly he just didn’t bother telling anyone. It might all be an accident, one of those things which come about when writers stumble upon archetypes. It doesn’t particularly matter to me how it happened; the important thing is that it exists. Remember the depth I was looking for earlier? THAT is where I found it.

Happy reading, and Happy 2015!

Love,

GeGi.

Fan Fiction.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about writing a post on for a while now, and a moment ago a twitter-friend told me to do it, so here it goes…

Fan fiction, for those who don’t know, is not-for-profit original stories using various elements from established works. Basically it’s a way to play in someone else’s sandbox, use their toys, and giving them back afterwards. There’s fanfic of books, movies, tv shows, video games, songs, real people…basically anything. There’s cross-over fanfic that combines elements from separate works, alternate universe fic that takes elements (for example: characters) and places them in a completely new setting, slash fic that explores potential relationships between various characters, and on and on. Again, it’s whatever the author can think of. There are really no limits when it comes to fanfic (except maybe legal ones).

There’s a huge stigma about fanfic; basically that it’s a shameful and shallow no-talent thing, often full of porn and/or “Mary-Sues” [the author inserts themselves as a “perfect” original character in order to be loved by their favorite characters]. While some fanfic can indeed have these things, there’s so much more to it than that. Even if there weren’t, I’d argue that fanfic can still be an important expression of creativity.

First, the big picture: as a storyteller/bard and druid-in-study, here’s my take on fanfic in general.

Stories are meant to be alive. They are meant to grow and evolve and change with each new telling, with each teller of the tale. We are suppose to be able to make each telling of a story relevant to ourselves and our audience, adding or changing or taking away as we are moved to. We are suppose to explore and connect with our stories. Taking familiar characters and putting them in new situations is a story-telling tradition as old as stories themselves. Some of our most famous and beloved tales are basically fan fiction: retelling someone else’s story with new elements. From King Arther and his Knights of the Round Table seeking the Grail and having love triangles and bastard kids, to the fairy tales we all grew up listening to and watching, our culture is seeped in retold tales that have evolved beyond recognition of the original versions.

I’ve said before on this blog, it’s only because we humans started writing down stories that we started believing there was “one true version”. Even if having a true version is important to you, fanfic still doesn’t take away from the original; on the contrary, it can often add to it and even draw in a new audience to the original work. There are several examples I could use from my own personal life in which I gained an interest in a new show or found new value in something I was already familiar with, all thanks to concepts from well-written fanfic. It can give someone insight into a character they can’t otherwise relate to, or fill in missing scenes, or point out a subtext you may have overlooked. At the same time, the original work is still there, intact and unharmed by these new ideas surrounding it.

Second: let’s look at fanfic from a writing angle.

Writing something completely original can be huge and overwhelming. You might get lost in the little fiddly details of world-building, or struggle with creating multifaceted complex realistic characters. Original writing is a great skill to have, and it needs a lot of practice to hone it. It’s also a hard sell; there’s a lot of competition out there for getting your original stories into the market. Internet and social networking is opening up new ways to do that, but using those tools is practically a full-time job on its own.

Writing with someone else’s creations is a whole other beast. It takes a lot of attention to detail and tone to create accuracy and authenticity with an established character and/or world. It takes a lot of imagination to create new scenarios and figure out how these well-known and beloved characters would react to them. Playing in someone else’s world means playing by their established rules, or at least knowing them well enough to figure out how to break them. There’s a lot of dedication and passion involved, especially since it’s done out of love rather than hope of profit.

There’s several points I’d like to make about this. One is that writing fanfic is an amazingly powerful exercise as a writer; it trains not only better writing skills, but also an ability to write with someone else’s voice. This is exactly what a lot of markets call for (tv shows and franchises being only two examples). The other point is that both writing and reading fanfic can be hugely therapeutic.

Let me give a personal example here for what I mean. When I was a teenager, I self-injured. I couldn’t deal with the feelings I was experiencing, and I scared myself by not understanding why I felt the need to hurt myself. So I wrote fan fiction, and I placed those feelings and urges into an already-familiar character, giving myself an outlet for exploring and putting into words what I felt and why I did what I did. It was a safe place for me to figure out something that scared and confused me, and I was able to understand myself better after I did. I published the story anonymously, where I was given positive feedback from other fanfic writers. I felt accepted into part of a community, and it gave me more confidence in my own talent. I still self-injured, but I didn’t feel as alone or afraid, and I understood why I did what I did a little better. I was able to start helping myself. I started to heal, and as I did, so did the character in my fanfic.

As an adult, I’ve had a lot of traumatic emotional experiences. I tend to bottle those feelings up rather than process them (a bad habit I’ve had since childhood, that I’m actively working on breaking), and then they burst out in unhealthy ways. If I read fanfic about characters I already feel connected to, and go through similar experiences with them while I read, it helps me draw out those emotions, dwell in them, and express them. Then the overwhelming feelings become something manageable, and I can process and move on. The fact that it’s characters I’m already familiar with makes the whole thing easier and more accessible, especially when I’m feeling run down or mentally fatigued. I don’t have to work as hard to connect to them, and the journey they go through can therefore have more impact quicker. I don’t have to commit to a novel, but I can often get the same effect.

Same goes for fluff, the lighter feel-good pieces of fan fiction. If I need something distracting or that will give me warm-fuzzy feelings, and I don’t have the time or energy to invest in something completely new, and I don’t feel like re-reading something I’ve already read, I can turn to fanfic. You know that feeling when you finish a favorite book and you wish you could just keep reading about those characters who have become your best friends, and you don’t care if they’re having adventures or just hanging out? Fanfic can make that dream a reality.

Alright, for my third point, let’s look at those stereotypes I talked about at the beginning of this post. What value lies in badly-written Mary Sues and porn? Well, for one thing, every aspiring writer has to start somewhere, and a Mary-Sue is often a jumping-off point for someone’s first attempt. There is no reason in the world not to encourage someone’s passion for writing, and eventually they might evolve beyond those Mary-Sue stories. Also, see my above point about therapy; maybe the writer is at a point in their life where they need that kind of escapism to survive whatever it is that’s going on. There’s no call or need to shame them for it. (This doesn’t mean I don’t support clever parodies of the Mary-Sue troupe. Writing those is a valuable practice for hopeful comedians and satirists. Being funny is amazingly difficult to pull off. Being dismissive and/or hurtful, however, is a talentless and useless non-skill.)

As for the porn, well, that’s easily avoided if it’s not your cup of tea, and if it is, a lot of the fanfic is better than the stuff making money. Fanfic means it can be exactly to your tastes, and involving the characters you might really want to see in those positions (as it were). It’s not hurting anyone, and it might even be helping some people figure out what really turns them on — something that can be difficult to safely explore given some of the issues and stigmas our society still has ingrained.

So that’s my take on fan fiction. Let me know if I missed anything, or what your own thoughts are on the subject!

Love,

GeGi.

6

A Brief Rant about Film Noir.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s topic is not so much a review, as it is a rant. Please allow me to indulge as I strive to vent all my thoughts on the matter.

For those not familiar with classic Film Noir, here’s a quick primer:

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That’s a good basic overview of what elements go into creating the unique atmosphere and themes of classic Film Noir. And of course, there is the obvious cross-over into the Hard-Boiled Detective, but for the sake of this rant, let us set that aside as an overlapping but separate subcategory.

I just finished watching a movie that described itself as “neo-Noir”. Now, I’m not sure exactly what it is they’re trying to do with that genre, but one thing I CAN tell you: It Was Not Noir.

I went through a phase in my teenage years where I was deeply captivated by the imagery and emotions which could be evoked with skillfully mastered black-and-white film. I (briefly, off and on) wanted to be a cinematographer almost solely due to classic Film Noir imagery. It was powerful, each frame deliberate, full of symbolism and art. It showed care and skill not seen in modern Hollywood — not often, anyway.

Those filmmakers didn’t have a lot of resources around with which to tell the story. But what they had, they used to great effect. Every shadow and interplay was a reflection of morality and emotion, the inner world of the character playing out around them with parallels and mirroring. The silences and pauses, the beats between words and scenes, were laden with tension and meaning.

In contrast, this “neo-Noir” film held NONE of that. Yes, it had a lot of silent scenes, but they added nothing to the ambiance. They lacked a feeling of deliberate meaning. They were instead like empty space without significant edges to define it. The characters were disconnected, flat, and their moral ambiguity was neither sympathetic nor tense. There was no meaning in the locations, no interplay at work to enrich the story, no journey into a dark night of the soul to give weight and credence to the protagonist’s struggle. Every aspect felt boring and familiar; a story we’ve already seen, with nothing new to add.

This is not unique to the film I just watched. This is problem I’ve been seeing again and again in various subcategories of the supposed “action/thriller” genre, as it’s been trying to reinvent itself in recent years. This “neo-Noir” sub-genre in particular seems to go hand-in-hand with the Hollywood tradition of remaking successful foreign films; I’ve found the trend especially prevalent with stories originating from Sweden, Finland, etc.

The problem then becomes cultural translation. I’m not an expert, just a geek, but I have noticed a lot of meaningful silent imagery in a lot of Scandinavian films. It works there, at least for me, because it’s part of the culture and part of the dialogue between filmmaker and audience. It works in the same way classic Film Noir does, because in both cases the filmmakers know what they’re doing, and are using a silent visual language as part of their storytelling.

Some contemporary American filmmakers can do this, but for the most part it seems a skill that we’ve lost over the years as films became more focused on other aspects. Tastes change, and that’s fine. People experiment, and that’s fine, too. People remake things they admire, and that’s a great way to learn to be more, sometimes.

But sometimes, you need to take a step back and really consider what it is you’re trying to say, and what it is you’re trying to emulate. It is really a lack of dialogue between characters and a lot of scenery shots that you’re after, or is there maybe suppose to be a deeper meaning in those pauses and landscapes? Are you actually telling the story you want to tell, and evoking the atmosphere you want to evoke? Or are you just making a not-so-hot mess of everything?

Let’s return to the subject of the Hard-Boiled Detective again. It, too, has had several remakes and reinventions in modern Hollywood — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Brick both spring to mind right away — as well as on TV — Veronica Mars, anyone? These examples all show a far more successful pilfering of the past for inspiration. And it’s not just because of the snappy dialogue, either, although it certain helps.

These films (and TV show) all have successful use of theme and reoccurring imagery throughout. Watch repeatedly, and you catch more hints and clues to the outcomes, more reflections and parallels to the inner landscapes and moral turmoils. Watch with a friend, and they catch even more that you missed.

This, then, is a key to what creates the genre. And this creates even more possibilities as to films that might actually qualify. Think about Fight Club, and go look at the Film Noir list again up at the top of this post. How many of those boxes does it check off? Heck, even The Boondock Saints had water imagery when the boys receive their divine inspiration to go kill everyone evil! (Yes, that was a slight spoiler; but honestly, it doesn’t ruin the film or anything. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so after you finish reading this post. I promise it will be just as good.)

Obviously, we have some talented filmmakers still capable of creating good Noir films with a modern twist. I completely love that. But I also really wish the ones who aren’t — the ones who don’t understand the language of visual symbolism, who can’t paint with light and shadow, who think silence is the same as a lack of dialogue, who think landscape and set dressing only exists as scenery rather than part of the story, who fail to grasp the importance and role of foreshadowing, who had never even heard of what makes classic Film Noir worth watching — I wish those people would leave the genre alone.

What are you thoughts on the matter? Seen other movies that fit the genre, or ones that sucked? Interested in hearing my opinion on other genres? Leave a message in the comments below! And please, always remember to play nice with the other geeks.

Love,

GeGi.

YouTube Roundup.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Last weekend, I indulged it a little decompression time…okay, a LOT of decompression time. I spent most of it catching up on a few favorite YouTube channels, which obviously led to discovering new favorite YouTube channels, and, well, long story short I figured I’d do a roundup of them here so I could feel a little more productive about how I chose to spend my days off.

I’m sure a lot of you more internet-geeky types have already heard of most of these, but in case any slipped past you, or in case you are a little behind on most things like me, or you just don’t have time to look for this stuff yourself, here’s some of the things I’ve enjoyed watching lately!

(All links will be to the “video” page of each channel — because, if you are a somewhat compulsive perfectionist completionist like me, then you will want the quickest way to watch ALL the videos in chronological order… but if it’s just me that does that, it’s still easy to click to the main page of the channel from there…)

The first channel I HAVE to mention, of course, is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. If you haven’t seen it, GO WATCH RIGHT NOW. But, actually, go HERE because that way you can follow the whole story through all media platforms… you’ll see what I mean. If you didn’t like it, you probably won’t like at least half the things on my list.

This is a natural segue to mentioning Pemberley Digital. After finishing The Lizzie Bennet Diaries — which, by the way, is a modern vlog-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — the same people went on to create more awesome Austen adaptation content. Here you can find Welcome To Sanditon (inspired by Austen’s last and unfinished novel), and the currently running Emma Approved (based, obviously, on Emma). I highly recommend watching them. The quality and cleverness of the videos is amazing, and if you are a fan of Jane Austen, or even if you could never quite get into it due to language or setting, you will probably love these retellings as much as I do.

Speaking of retellings and modern vlog-style adaptations, you should ABSOLUTELY watch The Autobiography of Jane Eyre. I am completely in love with this oh-so-sweet version of the beloved Jane Eyre, and I think you should be too. You might think it starts out slow, but give it a chance and keep watching (I highly recommend marathoning to catch up). It is one of my favorite things on the internet.

Another modern-day vlog-style literary adaptation I recently started watching is Anne With An E. If you are familiar with Anne of Green Gables, etc, then you already know the reference. There aren’t a lot of videos up yet, but so far it’s cute, and I’m giving it a shot.

To continue this theme, I also just discovered The Peculiar Case of Formula 12. This is not quite a straight-up vlog-style — reminds me more of a found-footage movie, perhaps — and it ends on a cliff-hanger until the next season is made. Nevertheless, I found it to be a compelling and interesting retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Another unique take on this popular idea is Classic Alice. Presented as documentary/project by college students, the idea is that the titular Alice chooses a classic novel she’s never read before, and makes decisions and actions in her life that are in keeping with the main character of each book, in order to experience and understand life as that person. This is also only one season so far, but I like the concept and am interested in seeing where they go with it.

One channel I’m keeping an eye on despite having no videos yet is The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy. It is, of course, going to be another modern retelling/adaptation type, inspired by Peter Pan, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

If you’re looking for Game of Thrones + parody and satire + general silliness x clever humour, then the answer is obviously = School of Thrones. This three-episode series was enjoyed by Jon Snow/Kit Harington, so, you know, it’s gotta be awesome, right? Plus, I’d watch anything Mary Kate Wiles is in, just because.

Speaking of which, check out the fantastic stuff on Shipwrecked (I LOVE “Kissing in the Rain”) and Yulin Kuang (favorites there include “I Didn’t Write This – Episode 6: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell” and “The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested”). Here are some adjectives I would use to describe the videos found on both channels: clever, funny, artistic, literary, original, and sweet.

My list would be incomplete without mentioning Not Literally. I consider their music video parodies to be essential watching for us geeky fandom types. The Ask Hogwarts series makes me giggle regularly, and Ask Westeros is looking just as fun. Make your day better and check them out.

Alright, there are other channels I watch and could talk about, but I think this list is long enough for now. I hope this helps you discover new treasures and makes your week a little bit brighter.

Love,

GeGi.

Meanwhile, In Middle Earth…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’m a huge Tolkien fan; grew up watching the cartoons, listen to the BBC dramatizations, and of course reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I was endlessly excited about the first movies, dressed up with friends to go to the theater (something we sometimes did anyway, just for fun), and I even went to Trilogy Tuesday when The Return of the King was released. I could go on for hours discussing passionately why it bothered me every time they showed an elf using tack on a horse, or the character assassination they did of Faramir in The Two Towers, or how perfect Sean Bean was as Boromir, or…well, you get the idea.

There’s a situation every fan of an original work faces when an adaptation is made: how forgiving will you be of changes to the source material? As a geek, I tend to obsess and analyze pretty much everything. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and while it can be quite enjoyable, sometimes that can get in the way of appreciating the storytelling that is being offered.

It can be hard to separate the feelings and emotions and nostalgia you might have for the original from the adaptation, especially if it’s a story that has a lot of personal history for you. Seeing the adaptation, you might spend the whole time arguing in your head with the choices the creators made, picking apart every flaw and alteration. This can be a good exercise in critical analysis, but it’s not exactly a helpful frame of mind for losing yourself in a story.

My approach lately, thanks to the Bardic training over the last two years, is to think about adaptations in terms of oral storytelling traditions. The heart of the story is always present, but the details and events will evolve with each retelling and each storytelling, altered and embellished to become the most compelling it can be, the most meaningful or exciting, to that particular audience at that particular time. The idea that there’s only “one right way” to tell a certain story comes from having written accounts, but that’s an illusion. The old stories grew and changed as much as the people telling them; they were living things. Seen that way, new adaptations of original stories are simply the latest fashion in a very ancient and honored tradition.

With that line of thought, I can separate the original story — which is still whole and complete and able to be revisited at any time — from the evolved version, and enjoy it for what it is. I can compare the different versions from a position where my emotional investment isn’t at stake. I can see it from the viewpoint of a storyteller, and judge it accordingly.

That said, I’m really enjoying the Hobbit movies so far.

Yes, there’s a lot of changes and additions from the source material — even more that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in certain respects — but I honestly don’t have issue with that. They have kept a lot of little details while I get a thrill out of seeing (the blue butterflies above Murkwood spring to mind). I loved that they used some of the songs in the first movie, by the way, because the books are so full of songs and poems that it seems a shame not to include them. Parts of the first movie came off a bit silly for some people, but The Hobbit was a story for a child. It’s meant to have silly bits.

Of course, making one short book into a trilogy is a bit of an ambitious move, to say the least. However, I personally thing that a lot of the material they added was actually a very appropriate move. Including events Tolkien wrote about in the Indexes gives the story a broader picture of that time in Middle Earth. It’s still drawing from the same source, and it ties the story back into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as setting up for the epic conclusion.

There are things they added that have no basis in the original writings, of course, but again I can see them as a product of both the medium (what works better in a movie than in a book), and of the times (what current storytelling requires in this era, as apposed to that era). There are very few changes that do not fall into one or the other of those categories.

It’s like the way the story of King Arthur grew and changed over the years and continents, adding the Round Table, adding the Holy Grail, added the love triangle, adding the sister and bastard son. Those parts can tell you so much about the society and politics, about the cultural priorities and beliefs. They become the rings of a tree, that can tell you the age and conditions of the original tale, and map out the path it took to get to you.

The words Tolkien wrote will always be center in my heart. The movies will join the cartoons and the BBC dramatizations to become part of the tale, to add to my experience and pleasure, to creating new paths and new places where I can immerse myself in Middle Earth. And for that gift, I will always be grateful.

Love,

GeGi.