Yes, This Is Another Rant…

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So this may come across as something of a rant. But I got into a debate with someone (Well I say debate. It was more an argument where he just repeated the same point whilst ignoring mine. I hate people like that.) about whether or not schools and universities should stop doing English Literature courses. His argument was that the teachers spend too much time dissecting novels and poems linking them to the authors’ lives and looking for symbolism (that probably isn’t there.) instead of teaching them to appreciate the actual stories.

Um, okay. This is fine and all and he did make a valid point. But I think that English Lit should still be taught. Why? Because it enables people to read books that they would not think to pick up (I found that this happened to me a lot. I really didn’t think that I would enjoy Mrs Dalloway as much as I did.) and it helps them to think critically about the books that they read. It also teaches students to approach the stories and novels from different perspectives such as Freudian, Feminist and others as well as putting them into a historical context which helps them to better understand what the stories are actually about. I mean, Frankenstein was written during a time of social revolution and scientific progress. Shelley was inspired by the discoveries of Galvani who had managed to reanimate dead tissue and she was very aware of the moral dilemmas that scientist faced. It is one of the reasons why her novel is still relevant today.

Also, where would your cat sleep?

Also, where would your cat sleep?

As for the fact, that sometimes teachers read too much into novels and poems I think that does happen. (I have sat in lectures before wonder whether my lecturers were making things up as they went along.) But whilst a lot of poets and authors do probably just write things because they sound cool, just as many use techniques such as symbolism and unreliable narrator for a purpose. For example, in The Dresden Files, Harry knows that his pentagram necklace symbolises his faith in magic which is what protects him. In Beloved, the titular character can be interpreted in several different ways and symbolises the traumatic pasts of the slaves. And yes, while dissecting poems and novels to the death can be boring. I don’t think it is a valid reason for cancelling all literature courses. I think it just means that the way that Literature is taught (especially poetry.) should be changed so that it engages with students and inspires them to read.

Also, arguing that all Literature courses should be banned is forgetting the fact that books and poetry form a fundamental part of our culture. What kind of world would we live in if we did not allow students to access that part of our culture? We would have people growing up who will have never read a single book in their lifetime and that would be a shame. How would we be able to encourage children to learn and experience new cultures if we don’t expose them to books? Not everyone can afford to travel to far off places to understand what different cultures are really like. If we didn’t teach Literature, we would end up with a whole generation who would be ignorant of their own and other cultures; who would lack empathy and would have an extremely narrow-minded view of the world.

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Besides, books inspire a lot of people not just writers. Would I be as loyal as I am if I hadn’t picked up Tolkien or Harry Potter? If we cancelled literature courses would we be discouraging a lot of potentially talented young writers if we stopped exposing them to books? Would I have started writing if I had not been encouraged to read from a young age? I don’t know. Without Alice and Harry and Matilda, I don’t think I would have been inspired to write my own stories and keep writing. I would have made things up in my head sure, but I don’t think I would’ve actually written them down. I know one thing for sure though, without books I would have had a very boring childhood.

I dunno, I just don’t understand how someone can think this. (But he thinks Tolkien is cliched. Yeah I know.)  But that’s me I suppose. I guess this is all irrelevant anyway, since you don’t need to teach people to appreciate stories. They do that anyway. A good story is a good story whether you dissect it or not. I just think books should be available for everyone and Literature courses allow that. What do you think?

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My Favourite Fictional Universes

As a fantasy writer (and someone who hasn’t really been able to afford to travel much) I love making up my own fictional worlds with their little quirks and details. (It’s exhausting and never ending mind you.) When I’m not using up my energy on creating my own, I love burying myself in others. Especially when they have so much history and detail as they often become as real to me, as well, my own reality. So here is a list of my most favorite ones that I wish were real so that I could explore and what makes them stand out for me. (They’re not in any particular order to be quite honest.)

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I can’t believe how young Nathan Fillion looks…

Firefly

Firefly is probably my favourite Joss Whedon show, I love it to pieces and could watch it over and over, carrying the rest of the story on in my head. There are no characters that annoy me (though Simon and River have their moments, I guess) and whilst I do wish that it had a full season, I like the unfinished nature of it because it allows me to wonder what direction the plot was going in and formulate my own theories about what would have happened. (Yes, I know we got Serenity and that there are the comics. But I like having theories.) One of the things that struck me was the culture of the universe the show is set in.

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Firefly takes place after all the resources on Earth have been used up and humankind has found another solar system to live in. There are the core planets, that live under the governance of the Alliance where their inhabitants are well off, have the latest technology and more than enough to eat. Then there are the outer planets, the ones that rebelled against the alliance in a civil war where life is a lot more difficult. Often the inhabitants are poor, the technology is out of date (by Alliance standards, I guess) and crime is rife. The contrasts of these two different settings are striking; for example the planet Ariel has the look of a highly modern, sophisticated civilization compared to the Wild West setting of the outer planets.  Also the culture of the setting is unique in that it is a fusion of American and Chinese culture as China and America were the last two major superpowers which makes a refreshing change from the generic settings we see so much of in the genre.

 

 

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His Dark Materials

Ahhh, I loved these books growing up. I liked the fact that the protagonist, Lyra was not the perfect child like a lot of the main characters in children’s books. She lies often to get herself out of trouble with her guardians although this trait often saves her life later on in the books. One of the things that made this series stand out for me was the blending of sci fi and fantasy. Lyra’s world is similar to a late 19th Century industrial society but with scientific advancements such as particle physics and of course daemons, animal manifestations of an individual’s inner self. Religion has a large influence on the society and whilst it is known as the Magisterium, it largely resembles the Catholic Church.

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One of the best things I used to love about the books was the fact that the story takes place in multiple worlds. I liked that each one was detailed and unique especially the world with the Mulefa in it. It’s just a shame that the movie adaptation butchered the story. I mean, I get why the books are quite difficult to adapt (and not just because of the controversy that surrounds them.) as they are quite deep. Maybe the series would be better off being adapted into a TV series.

 

 

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Westeros

Speaking of books that are better off being adapted into a TV series, we come to Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. As much as I love the TV show, I will always prefer the books as they are more detailed and don’t have the limitation of a budget. Based on a medieval European society, the A Song of Ice and Fire series follows the fortunes of various noble houses vying for control of the Seven Kingdom.

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Whilst the last two books in the series have been a bit weak, the thing that I like most about the series is that George R.R Martin manages to create complex well rounded characters and the fact that he uses multiple narrators means that your opinion on the some of the events and characters change. I like the wealth of detail that he adds to the world such as the heraldry and the history of all of the houses. I also like the difference of culture across the sea in Essos and how each of the Free Cities are all unique. It makes the world feel more realistic than in most worlds found in the fantasy genre.

 

 

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Harry Potter

Although I was already a big bookworm by the time my mum bought me Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (I used to love reading E.Nesbit and Roald Dahl) the book really caught my imagination and pretty much defined my childhood. I spent ages wishing that I could go to Hogwarts (my parents hid my acceptance letter dammit.) and I loved the idea of a secret world of wizards living next to our own mundane world. I loved the idea of there being moving pictures and photos and how the staircases moved so it would be easy to get lost.

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I also used to like how the wizarding world had their own terms for certain things like splinching and that they had their own sport. (I really wanna play Quidditch.) I used to love how relaxed the school rules were considering how dangerous it would be to have hundreds of untrained teenage witches and wizards all cooped up in one building. (I don’t think health and safety exists in the wizarding world) Also it was nice to have a main character with red hair who didn’t have an uncontrollable temper and a female protagonist who was smart, brave and used her knowledge to save Harry and Ron’s life on more than one occasion.

The one thing that used to bother me though was how were the children born into wizarding families taught basic English and maths and things.  I mean were they ALL taught at home by their parents or were they enrolled in muggle primary schools if both parents worked? (Imagine how annoying it would be to find out that your SATs didn’t matter once you got to Hogwarts.)

 

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Thedas

Okay, so I’ve talked about how Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favourite games. (Let’s not talk about how many hours I’ve clocked up on Origins. Not that I’m ashamed or anything.) Whilst it might not be the best gaming franchise out there, it was the first game for a very long time that managed to suck me in and immerse me in the plot and the characters.

But Thedas is one of my favourite settings. I think it’s because that whilst it does take a lot from generic fantasy settings, it does change up some of the tropes. For example the Elves, instead of being some great beautiful race with thousands of years of knowledge are either oppressed city elves living in poverty or members of the nomadic Dalish clans; elves who are desperate to hold on to what is left of their culture and try to recover as much of their lost history as possible. You also have the dwarves of Orzammer a place with so many people vying for political power that it is dangerous to walk around during elections.

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But the thing I like the most about the setting of the games is that there is a lot that hasn’t been explored yet, we’ve been to muddy grey Ferelden and spent hours running around Kirkwall. (trampling through the same dungeon over and over again. But that’s a rant for another post.) The thing that I’m most excited about Inquistion is that we’ll get to visit Orlais, the decadent country where the nobles where elaborate clothes and plot and scheme against each other. We’ve heard a lot about the country from the games and the other tie ins to the franchise, I’m kind of excited to explore somewhere bright and colourful especially after running through the same three environments in the second game. Kirkwall really isn’t a pretty city, everything is brown. I mean, Ferelden wasn’t that bright either, but at least you had the elven ruins.

 

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Middle Earth

Last but not least, my favourite fictional universe has to be Middle Earth. (Yes, I know it was an obvious choice. But it’s my list so deal with it.) I know I’ve talked at some length about how much that the books have influenced me. (I mean Tolkien defined a whole genre, it’s kind of difficult to not be influenced by him.) But one of the things I like the most is the world. I have spent years travelling through Middle Earth, fleeing to Rivendell with the Fellowship, wandering through Mirkwood with Thorin’s company and drinking in the Green Dragon with the hobbits of the Shire. (Both in my head and in LOTRO.)

I like the feeling of the familiarity the setting has now that I have read the books so many times. I like how welcoming and home-y the Shire feels and how awe-inspiring Lothlorien and Rivendell are. (I would seriously like to live in Lothlorien, I like being surrounded by trees, though all the stairs would probably kill me.) I like the dark, forboding sense you get when when the Fellowship journey into Moria and how unsafe the cities are the closer you get to the Black Gate. I also like how barren and hot Mordor was and how uncomfortable it must have been for Frodo and Sam. (Yes, I know there’s farmland in the south. I guess there had to be otherwise how would the orcs feed themselves in the first place?) Though the one thing that niggles me is that I often wonder what happened to the female orcs? Did they fight too? Or did they take up the jobs of the male orcs to help with the war effort? I’m guessing the last one would be more likely.

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I don’t know, I think my favourite place in Middle Earth has to be the Shire. I think I’d make a good Hobbit and it seems like a fairly simple way of life. Though I would like a summer home in Lothlorien.

Okay, so that concludes my list of favourite settings. I’m sure there are loads more that I could add to in the future. (Since there are loads of books I haven’t read yet.) I’m sorry that this post took a long time, I’ve been kind of busy and distracted these past couple of weeks. (But hopefully, I can get back on to the blog posting wagon.) Oh, and a question (mostly to get people commenting on here.) what are your favourite fictional worlds and why?

 

“Polka Will Never Die.”

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Okay, so I am currently reading my way through the Dresden Files. It’s a good series. It’s quite funny and you can definitely tell that it was written by a geek with all the little references in there. Also, reading the books doesn’t feel like a chore and quite often I find finishing the books quicker than I thought I would.

For those who don’t know, the Dresden Files follows the life of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard private investigator and his friends as (Including Mouse. Who is the best dog ever.) he solves crimes and battles with supernatural creatures such as demons, vampires and fairies. It’s not the genre I usually read. Urban Fantasy is just not something that I have much interest in. Like Sci Fi, I prefer watching it to reading it. Also, I tend to stay away from crime genres due to the over saturation of crime shows on TV. (Castle is pretty much the only one I can stomach since the writing has gotten lazy on Sherlock. Also Nathan Fillion.)

Yeah so this happened.

Yeah so this happened.

But the think that intrigues me the most about the series is how Jim Butcher uses Harry’s sexism as a character flaw. As a character, Harry acknowledges that his attitude towards women and wanting to protect them is wrong, but he just can’t help himself. It’s why we get detailed descriptions of women’s bodies, especially when he meets a female character for the first time. Also there is the fact that he hasn’t gotten laid in a very long time (though there is a very good reason why.) so it would make sense for him to notice women’s bodies more.

But it’s not just that. It’s the fact that his sexism gets him into a lot of trouble, causing him to get one of his former apprentices killed and straining his relationship with his best friend, Karin Murphy. It’s also led him to make stupid decisions and getting him badly injured on multiple occasions. (Butcher seems to like beating his main character up a lot.) His sexist attitudes are heavily criticized in the books both by the character himself and his female friends. Karin Murphy will almost always call him out on his sexist behavior, mostly because she is a cop who is surrounded by men in the workplace and experiences it all the time. (She also has to work twice as hard to get the same respect a man would get normally. Hmmm, I wonder what that feels like.)

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Another reason why I like the books is that all the (even female) characters are well rounded. Whilst some of them do fit into stereotypes in some ways, it’s often that stereotypical trait that leads them into trouble. For example, Harry’s love interest, Susan comes across as the typical annoying reporter who will do anything to get a juicy story. However, it is this trait that leads her into danger and ultimately ends her relationship with Harry.

I don’t know, I think it’s just nice to see sexism used as a character flaw. It’s nice to have it criticized in a way that doesn’t feel like someone is hitting you over the head with it with a giant mallet. In honor of Mouse, here is a picture of a Tibetan Mastiff.

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OMG THEY RUINED IT!

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This is what I used to say when I was younger and a film adaptation of a book I liked didn’t live up to my expectations or sucked or was completely different to the source material. I mean, I got that quite often things would have to be cut out or we would all end up sitting in the cinema for hours with restless legs and probably desperate for the loo. But I didn’t get why things were changed unnecessarily and it would quite often end with me nerd raging.

These days I’m a little more open to the little changes they make to film adaptations as long as they still keep to the spirit of the book and are actually good. For example, I liked that they made up the Dothraki language in Game of Thrones. It made sense since the Dothraki have a completely different culture to the other characters and for me, made it more realistic. (Well, as realistic as a Fantasy series can get.) And I liked some of the changes they made to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. But it annoys me when the changes they make are bad.

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This is going somewhere, I promise. I saw the Desolation of Smaug last week and I was a little disappointed. Whilst it was a good film, it was a rubbish adaptation and I did not understand why Peter Jackson, who did an amazing job adapting Lord of the Rings, changed so much. I enjoyed the changes he made to the barrel scene, it did make it more exciting to watch and its always good to see Legolas with his archery skills. I even get replacing Bilbo and Smaug playing a game of riddles to something more action-y (though I would’ve liked to see Bilbo have his moment) but I really do not get why they gave Legolas and Tauriel bigger roles in the story. I understand that they added Tauriel because there is a lack of female characters in the book and I’m glad that she was given stuff to do instead of just being a token character. But they could’ve just changed the gender of one of the dwarves, their gender isn’t really that crucial to the plot and it would be nice to see some female dwarves. Also I wish they hadn’t included the romantic subplot just for the sake of having one. It just didn’t work for me because the actors had no chemistry. Sorry for ranting, I really didn’t mean to start ranting about this…

“War Will Make Corpses of Us All”

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I suppose I shouldn’t be making a Tolkien related post so close to the new Hobbit release but I couldn’t help myself. As much as I want to talk/rant about the film and how much happier I’d have been if they had just made a film of the book or not bothered at all. (Because sometimes it’s better that way.) To be quite honest I could probably go on about that for hours and hours and have people slowly backing out of the room whilst I carry on talking completely oblivious…

Anyway, I got sucked into a conversation yesterday (or last week, depending on when I actually finish this post) about how and why I like Lord of the Rings so much when the books are so difficult to read (LOTR is like a walk in the park compared to Ulysses. Just sayin’) and probably would not get published today without seriously heavy editing. (As much as I love Tolkien, his prose is a bit purple a lot of the time.) It’s not the fact that his books have been a huge part of my life since the age of about ten or that a lot of my values probably come from him. No, it’s the fact that his work is still pretty relevant today.

I’m not just talking about the fact that he is the Grandfather of the Fantasy genre and most modern Fantasy authors are influenced by him in some small way. (No matter how you try to avoid it, you can’t) It’s the fact that the themes of his books are still relevant today. For example, the way that industrialization is used in warfare and the effects it has on the environment. Also there’s the way that war is sometimes a necessary defense and often has huge costs in the story.(Plus you can see how he was influenced by his experiences of the First World War with the Dead Marshes and the fact that Frodo pretty much suffers from PTSD)  Let’s not forget the classic theme of death and immortality and fate.

I’d go on into more detail on this but I don’t really want to bore you. I just love the books and the way that Tolkien had this whole world existing in his head. I wish I could write about a world with as much depth and detail as Middle Earth.