Wednesday, December 4, 2019

My father and I just finished Wonders of the Invisible World

My father and I just finished Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip, the second of her three books of short stories.
At this point there is little more I can say about just how good McKillip is, but this book taught us that she is far more flexible regarding her writing style than we have long thought.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Boy Who Drew Cats

Magic: the Gathering's Throne of Eldraine set has reawaked in me an interest in fairy tales; and no, I am not ashamed about in the slightest because, to quote C.S. Lewis, "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." Not that I am fifty nor was ever really embarrassed at ten, but one gets the idea. Anyway, I am going to start posting about the odd, lesser-known fairy tales as well as all else, with a particular focus on those whose themes and/or titles remind one of commonly known ones. 

To begin, we all grow up hearing about the The Boy Who Cried Wolf. But what about The Boy Who Drew Cats? A Japanese fairy tale, the story is as such:

A farmer has many children, who are all hard-working, except for his youngest, who is small and weak and only interested in drawing pictures of cats. He decides his son is not cut out to be a farmer, and sends him to a temple to study with a priest. The boy spends all his time drawing cats instead of studying. The priest tells him he's better suited to being an artist and should return home. As he sends him on his way, the priest warns the boy: "Avoid large places at night. Keep to the small."  

Ashamed of being dismissed, the boy decides not to return to his father's farm. Instead, he travels to another temple in the hopes he can ask for a night's shelter, not realizing all the priests living there have long-ago been driven away by a giant goblin-rat. When the boy arrives, he finds the place deserted and decides to draw cats on the walls. As he begins to feel tired, he remembers the old priest's words and climbs inside a little cabinet to go to sleep.  During the night he hears horrible sounds of screaming and fighting. 

When morning comes and he finally climbs out, he discovers the corpse of the goblin-rat. As he wonders what could have killed it, he notices that all his cats now have blood on their mouths. He is hailed as a hero for defeating the monster, and grows up to be a famous artist - one who only draws cats.

This is just a summary of course, yet one of what I deem to be a charming story. A fairy tale whose lesson is no less clear than that of the justly famed The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A lesson which, I think, is captured by a quote from Sir Philip Pullman: "You have to go with the grain of your talent, not against it. If your talent is inert and sullen in the face of business or politics...but takes fire at the thought of ghosts and vampires and witches and demons then feed the flames, feed the flames." In this case the boy's talent took flame at cats and the priest in the story was right; the boy was meant to be an artist and that skill served him well (albeit in an initially atypical manner). As mythologist Joseph Campbell says, "follow your bliss," which is a lesson everyone should take to heart.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

My father and I just started Wonders of the Invisible World

My father and I just started Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip, the second of her three books of short stories.
Thus do we dive into the worlds of the Fae, ancient yet ever-present as the oldest trees and tales told under them since the birth of language. Old as the things that wandered the enchanted forests when history was one with legend and magic with mundane.

Monday, November 11, 2019

BBC's His Dark Materials is here

BBC's TV adaption of Sir Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is here, with Episode 1 already shown and number two en route. Sadly I have not seen it as I have little free time of late and must reserve what I have for more essential activities such as reading and breathing. That been said, Pullman is fond of it and that is endorsement enough for me. (Yes, I have been rather critical of him of late, but His Dark Materials remains one of my favorite books, and if an author is satisfied with the TV/movie version of their book then it is usually faithful enough top pass muster with lifelong fans.)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip, the first of her three books of short stories.
Ah, what glorious adventures in uncharted realms we have seen! The ancient glittering wonder of the Ice Dragon that is the heart of Hoarsbreath Island, the music that is the legend and power of the Bards of Onon, the Lady of Skulls whose plants grow from the skulls of those who failed see the treasure in her tower, the trials of the Fellowship of the Dragon, and the layers of enchantments that break before the love of the Lion and Lark! McKillip has not lost her skill, as words and time bow before her as does the grass before the mighty wind of the storm.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Force vs. the Federation

Ever do people make comparisons between the ships and technologies of Star Trek and Star Wars, yet I now make a different comparison – one which explains why I prefer the former over the latter. I can hear you saying: "What? But Star Trek is pure sci-fi, which you avoid almost as rule, while Star Wars is almost a Fantasy in space given the never ending battle between the Jedi and the dark side of the Force." 
A very good point, and I do like Star Wars very much as it is an exemplary tale, a true coming of age story and hero's journey complete with brilliantly complex characters both good and evil. Even mythologist Joseph Campbell acknowledged it as such; indeed, George Lucas credited Campbell's work as influencing his own. Who could forget the revelations and inner conflicts regarding and within Anakin and Luke Skywalker? The wisdom of their mutual mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (who are cultural icons on and above the level of most characters in literature, on par with Gandalf and Dumbledore)? Han Solo wrestling with self-identification, caught between his roguish past and his relationship with Luke and Princess Leia? As said, a stellar tale by all definitions and, better yet, the Force brings a spiritual element seldom seen in Sci-Fi and on a level rare even in many Fantasies. It is no secret that Masters Kenobi and Yoda (and the Jedi in general) are based off the ancient Samurai and their Zen spiritualism.
Which again begs the question, why do I prefer Trek to Wars. The answer is in their names, added by a famous quote from one Ben Kenobi: "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire." In short, and as of the pitiful Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars amounts to a near-pessimistic tale as the Jedi are always on the verge of being wiped out by the dark side. All the wisdom and power of people like Yoda and Luke amounting to just barely enough to keep hope for better future alive while the Sith terrorize the Galaxy. Not exactly a cheerful, nor hopeful, story.

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, however, is a different kettle of fish. Purely Sci-Fi and set in our own future and Galaxy rather than a long time ago in one far far away, it is not about war but rather exploration. About searching out the wonders of the universe even while trying to prevent interstellar wars and other similar catastrophes. About showing what humanity might develop into if it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence; an ideal epitomized in the United Federation of Planets that, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk, is "a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars." A reality that, unlike the Jedi Order, is not constantly on the verge of total collapse. 
This may sound simple, and it is, yet this is the key as to why I prefer Trek over Wars. Not only does Trek offer greater variety, as is natural being a TV series as opposed to movies, it explores themes Wars never touches. Lieutenant Commander Data is not beloved for his superhuman abilities that come with being an android so much as because he is Pinocchio: totally benign and desiring nothing so much as understand humanity, to be human. As Captain Picard once said of him, "In his quest to be more like us, he helped us to see what it means to be Human... his wonder, his curiosity about every facet of Human nature, allowed all of us to see the best parts of ourselves. He evolved, he embraced change because he always wanted to be better than he was." Frankly I could keep going, not just about Data but about basically everyone, and not just Next Generation but Deep Space Nine and Voyager too. So I will be brief and just add that wise sages are not lacking even if Jedi-style spiritualism is, as wisdom is often just a solid and true moral compass built of deep compassion and practical experience. As to mysticism, characters like Guinan fill that need quite nicely.

In final ending, while Star Wars may have more Tolkienesque elements, Star Trek truly follows the Spirit of Tolkien because it not only embraces, but empowers and delivers on hopes for betterment on an interpersonal as well as intergalactic scale. In Star Trek, the most powerful, most thought-provoking, most memorable moments often have nothing to do with war and, when it does, it is trying to prevent one from starting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I have just started A Crown of Swords

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started A Crown of Swords, Volume #7 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
As started in the Karaethon Cycle: "There can be no health in us, nor any good thing grow, for the land is one with the Dragon Reborn, and he is one with the land. Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield. He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very skies to bow. Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love." Something I was already praying for, frankly and, in the meantime, a Red Foretelling (likely) misinterpreted promises an end to the fracturing of the Flame, but a divide between it and Rand. Hard to fear foes whose egos impede their wits, yet much blood will be shed before order supplants chaos. (In other note, rumor says that this series' glacial pace begins in this book. We shall soon see.)    

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.