Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Musings: Dandelion Fire Review

A couple of months back, I reviewed the first book in N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards trilogy. Today, I'm taking a look at the second book in the series, Dandelion Fire.


Dandelion Fire picks up the story in the weeks after 100 Cupboards wraps up, and although Uncle Frank has failed to follow through on his promise to seal up the cupboards once again, Henry has no desire to go exploring any more. While he's curious about his otherworldly origins, the aftermath of his fight with Nimiane of Endor has left him satisfied with life in Kansas. He could stay here forever  and be happy with his newfound friends and family. Even a strange dandelion burning away his sight isn't enough to keep Henry from wanting to stay.

Unfortunately, Henry's adoptive mother has other plans, and has sent an official letter through her lawyer that Henry will be brought back to Boston after the 4th of July. In a desperate attempt to find out where he comes from and where he belongs before he loses his chance forever, Henry embarks on a dangerous mission through the cupboards. His journeys will take him through many doors and dangers, and his friends and family are coming along this time.

Dandelion Fire wasn't nearly as slow to get moving as 100 Cupboards, though I did struggle with it at first. After the initial excitement, there is some floundering about as characters get into place for their parts in the rest of the book. However, this book fulfills the promise of adventure and excitement that the initial premise offered. We see other worlds in living, vibrant detail. The magic and politics of the world only hinted at in the first book come into the forefront. Henrietta finally grows as a character (after a moment or three of her previous foolhardiness). And many characters mentioned or hinted at in the first book are given full space in the cast and given their own arcs that fit into both the overall plot and the arcs of other characters.

There's still the sense of things being left to implication and inference throughout the book, even with all the exposition Wilson offers. The final climax in particular operates on an intuitive or implicit form of magic rather than an explicit "Deposit Ring A into volcano B" arrangement. I loved the way the magic just fit into the world without the need for a bunch of exposition and setup, but those who prefer a harder magic may find themselves frustrated. All in all, I found Dandelion Fire to be a vast improvement over 100 Cupboards and cannot wait to dive into book three, The Chestnut King.

If you read 100 Cupboards and wanted more of the story or more from the story, definitely check out Dandelion Fire. It taps into an older style of story and magic much like Uprooted did for an older audience.

If you've read Dandelion Fire, let me know what you thought of it! Do you agree that it improved on 100 Cupboards?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: The Inkheart Trilogy

When I was planning out the topics for this month's blog posts, I had hoped I'd be finished with To Green Angel Tower before this post so I could wrap up my Osten Ard reread series.

Alas, it was not to be.

Instead, today's post is brought to you by recent conversations that have inspired me to reread yet another series (though the actual rereading is probably not happening just yet).



I've talked about my love of Inkheart and its sequels in the past but I want to talk about it just a little bit more today. Specifically, the five things about this series that have stuck with me and make it a series I will still fan out over today.

Dustfinger

First things first, there's this little gem of a character. At times a hardcore wise man and a ruddy coward, Dustfinger is one of the series' most complex and sympathetic characters. He is also the center of one of my favorite character arcs in fiction (it's up there with Zuko's redemption in Avatar: The Last Airbender). Also, he's one of those characters who was perfectly cast in the film adaptation, even if the movie itself wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped.

The Magic

From the name (Silvertongue, like Loki) to the effects (bringing people and things from books to life), this is just such a beautiful magic system and I love it. And the best part is that the magic doesn't get stale from book to book. Funke adds something new to the story each time and keeps you guessing.

Brendan Fraser's Audio Narration of Inkspell

Why they didn't get him to read all three books, I'll never know. He's Funke's choice for Mo, and he captures the character so well in this narration (better even than in the film, I think). The library copy that I listened to was super scratched in places, so I wasn't able to listen to it all the way through, but it's still ingrained in my memories of reading this series for the first time. If you can listen to Inkspell, DO.

The World Grows with Each Book

This is the ideal situation for any series, but the Ink trilogy is a prime example. The abilities of the Silvertongues are given depth and breadth in each installment. The villains get stronger and darker, and the heroes are pushed to grow in new ways. (Dustfinger may be my favorite character in the series, but he's by no means the only character to change and grow as it proceeds.)

Elinor

Book-obsessed, no-nonsense Elinor is the queen of the adult characters in this series. She is rarely shaken (and when she is, she's perfectly believable and still quite capable when the shock is over). My least favorite thing about Inkspell was how little she factored into the story, but Funke made up for that by bringing Elinor along in a big way for Inkdeath. Helen Mirren did a fine job in the role for the film, but the way she's described in the book I always pictured Imelda Staunton, which is nice since I always like her when she's not playing Dolores Umbridge and I'd love to see her take a stab at playing Elinor.

Have you read the Ink books? What are your favorite parts? Tell me in the comments! And if you haven't taken the survey to influence future content on Inexhaustible Inspiration and enter to win some Albion-inspired art, go here to do so.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Musings: My Literary Twin(s)

I recently knitted a pair of arm warmers designed to look like Gandalf's in the Middle-earth movies. In the conversations that followed my sharing about this on Facebook, Mirriam mentioned that Gandalf was her literary twin. Several other friends joined the conversation, offering up their own literary twins -- the characters with whom they most identified. I was surprised so many people had given this matter some thought, and confessed that I did not know who my literary twin would be (I do however have a birthday twin who is a wonderful human being).

So I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it some more.

And here we are, with me still not having a single fictional character who is my "twin."

I have many.

Hear me out, though. I have dozens, if not hundreds, of favorite characters -- characters I enjoy watching or reading, characters I would want as friends, characters I identify with in small and large ways. But very few of those come close enough to me (or how I see myself, which may or may not be the same thing) to be called my twin. Other people have suggested (at various points) that I am like Samwise Gamgee, Frodo Baggins, Bilbo Baggins, Reepicheep, Alphonse Elric, and Alyosha Karamazov (I still need to read that book). But these characters aren't always how I see myself (though I do identify with a couple of them, as you'll see).


Shasta (The Horse and His Boy)


One of the reasons The Horse and His Boy is my favorite Narnia book is that Shasta is the Narnian character with whom I identify the most. His encounter with Aslan and the revelation that his life has been guided from beginning to end (even when he had no idea who Aslan was) is the most comforting scene in Narnia for me. Shasta has a strong moral center, and when he's put to the test he drops all self-concern in order to bring the news of Rabadash's attack to Archenland and Narnia.


Steve Rogers/Captain America (Marvel comics and films)



According to the Myers-Briggs personality types, Steve Rogers is an ESFJ (like me) and he's pretty much the pinnacle of what I aspire to be: someone who stands by his morals no matter what. He protects those around him and stands up for those who are weaker. He doesn't give up on his friends no matter what.



Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)



When a college  friend of mine first told me that I reminded him of Alphonse, I hadn't seen a single episode of the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise. Years later, I've seen both anime adaptations and read the manga, and I feel honored by the comparison. Al is a caring brother who does what's right even when it holds him back from what he wants most. He doesn't give up easily and he


Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings)



This one shouldn't be any surprise, either, as Sam is tied with Gandalf for my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings. He's stouthearted, loyal, and (along with Bilbo) another ESFJ character. He's not afraid of adventure if his road takes him there, but his heart belongs in the Shire. Don't come between him and the places and people he loves, and don't underestimate him because he seems small and simple.


Merlin Pendragon (Albion Academy)

Of all my invented characters, Merlin is the one who carries the most of me in him -- at least outwardly. He has the curly hair I wore long in college, wears flannel shirts even in the South, and generally wants to help and protect people, even if he isn't a physically imposing person. He's grown into his own self over the years, but he'll always be one of those characters I identify strongly with because he carried so much of me in him at the start.


What about you? Are there any characters you identify with in fiction? Do you have one literary twin or lots of them? Let me know in the comments!



By the way, if you haven't already, go here to fill out a quick survey about what kinds of content you'd like to see on Inexhaustible Inspiration in the coming year AND be entered to win some original Albion Academy-inspired artwork.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Inexhaustible Inspiration Year-End Survey and Art Giveaway

November is almost halfway over and I'm taking a look at how the blog has done this year. If you've enjoyed any of the posts I've put up this year, I hope you'll consider taking this quick survey to help me know what types of posts you enjoy most (so I can make more of them in the future). If you take the survey, you'll also be entered into a drawing for some Albion Academy-inspired artwork created by yours truly. Thank you for your feedback and your continued presence here at Inexhaustible Inspiration.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Things I'm Thankful for This Year

It's November, which means everything Christmas Thanksgiving is upon us. In that spirit, this month's Top 10 is all about thankfulness. Let's get rolling!


  • Albion Academy is published. There's nothing like knowing you've created something that's out in the world for people to enjoy.
  • NarniaWeb continues to bless me with friendships, memories, and news about the Narnia films. (Yes, children, The Silver Chair is happening.)
  • I've been able to work on my art this year -- written and visual. It's been a blessing to express myself in these ways and to learn more about the forms. It's also been nice to just be somewhat consistent with creating.
  • Samwise and Jeana (and our cat Pumpkin) continue to light up my life every day. I'm immensely thankful God has allowed me to have these people in my life.
  • My immediate and extended family have been around a lot this year (I'm sure Samwise has nothing to do with this) and I've been able to see my brother and his bride move forward in their season of life in many ways this year.
  • My Internet friends (not just those I know through NarniaWeb) have shared their own artistic and faith journeys this year, and it's been great getting to know them all better.
  • While technically being a memory/blessing from last summer, the NarniaWeb Canada Moot is something that's really been a boon this year as I'm able to look back on memories of that week and remember the joy of having everyone together again.
  • We've been able to get to know some of our church family better over the last year and strengthen some relationships that were already in place. I'm grateful for such loving and supportive Christians in our lives.
  • Stephen and the others who brainstormed the idea for Lorehaven brought me on as an editor, and this digital magazine is going to be amazing, guys and gals. It's been a fun journey seeing the book reviews and other pieces filing in, and I can't wait for you all to see the finished inaugural issue early next year!
  • I've kept up with my blog writing in the midst of all the rest, and while that may seem like a small thing, it really is something I'm glad of. I wasn't entirely certain I'd be up to it, but 10.5 months later, I'm still here every week.

What are some of the things you're thankful for this year?



Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday Musings: Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty is NOT Aurora's Story

Sleeping Beauty is one of those Disney films I love to come back to again and again. It has beautiful animation, humor, and some interesting magical characters. But over the years, I've come to think of it less as Aurora's story and more as the story of fairy politics. This belief was only reinforced by our weekend attempt to introduce Samwise to the movie (he was about as interested as he is in anything not Moana, which is to say very interested for about 5 minutes and then sporadically interested when he wasn't playing with toys).

Exhibit A: Her (In)Active Role



This is something a lot of people criticize about Sleeping Beauty: its protagonist . . . doesn't do much in the film. She sings, she wanders the woods while the "dears" prepare a birthday surprise, she meets a man, she submits to having her life turned upside down, and then she falls under the spell of the villain. She also has the fewest lines of dialogue of any Disney princess ever. She simply doesn't have a large role in what is ostensibly her story.

(I would argue that part of this problem is caused by the film's deviance from the main plot to indulge in some unnecessary--though still enjoyable--humorous sequences such as the fairies' birthday preparations and the argument between Kings Stefan and Hubert over how soon Aurora and Philip should get married. What Aurora's unnamed mother thinks we're never told.)


Exhibit B: The Fairies Do Everything


From Maleficent's arrival at the christening to the good fairies' aid in Philip's climactic battle, there's no doubt that it is the magical beings who make the world move in this story. The good fairies (specifically called "the 3 good fairies" as if there are only 3 good fairies to be found) are given exalted places at the royal gathering. Maleficent is well-known enough that the monarchs could have invited her, but chose not to (a serious breach of etiquette in those days if they didn't want to court open war)*. The fairies are given enough weight in the royal circles that without hesitation (though not without sadness), Stefan and his queen send their infant daughter to live with the fairies for 16 years. Every major plot development in this movie happens because of fairy magic (Maleficent's curse, Philip's freedom, the sleeping castlefolk, Maleficent's defeat, and yes, even Philip and Aurora meeting--he only stops because of her beautiful singing, which if you recall was Fauna's gift at Aurora's christening).



* In fact, you could argue that this was an ulterior motive. Remember in the christening scene when Maleficent arrives? She is cool and collected and willing to overlook the fact that she wasn't invited until Merryweather adds insult to insult and says, "You weren't wanted." Merryweather knows this isn't the best thing to say, but can't (or doesn't) resist the urge to let Maleficent know what she thinks of her. It's entirely possible that the good fairies (their influence being so mighty in these parts) convinced the king and queen not to invite Maleficent so they could have some excuse to bring a stop to her at last. They claim Maleficent's powers are far beyond their own, but somehow they still are the key powers in her defeat. They adjust Maleficent's curse from death to sleep and then give Philip everything he needs to defeat Maleficent--including the sword that kills her and the spell that sends it flying to her heart. So how exactly is Maleficent beyond them? It must be that they require a human champion to fight for them, and what better motivation for that champion than true love?

A further bit of evidence for (at least one of) the fairies being a bit more powerful and insightful than they let on, even to each other, is the fact that they leave her alone before sunset. Fauna asks later why they left her alone, but Flora (always the idea-generator and sort of self-appointed leader) says they'll give Aurora some time alone because she's so grieved by losing her unnamed suitor and her life in the woods. They know Maleficent is looking for Aurora (though perhaps not that their magic duel earlier led Maleficent to their newly abandoned cottage), and yet they leave Aurora unattended with minutes to spare before the curse is completely avoided. Why do this if not to push Philip into battle with Maleficent?

All that being said, I think a quick note about Philip and Aurora's love story needs to be added. This romance seems typical of the classic Disney trope both Enchanted and Frozen poked fun at.


However, it deserves mentioning that Philip is the one who is set on marriage. It isn't Aurora who is completely swept away by her suitor but Philip who is swept away by her. Aurora only wants to see him again, to introduce him to the dears, to see what might come of this chance meeting (which seems to take only moments, but which the timing of the sun tells us lasts for a few hours if not most of the day). Philip charges to the castle to tell his father he's going to marry this wood sprite or peasant girl or whatever she may be. (Though if Aurora had thought to ask his name before he asked hers, we might have been saved some nonsense.) It's possible that Philip's determination is part of the magic of Aurora's enchanted voice (which would explain why the fairies were so determined to keep her from meeting people, if Maleficent's search and Aurora's being betrothed to Philip weren't enough). Philip even gets in a little jab at tradition while he's at it.



Sleeping Beauty is still a Disney film I enjoy, and I will definitely come back to watch it again (hopeful that next time Samwise will be more interested), but as I grow older I'm beginning to see the flaws in the story (I can't really find any with the animation).

What do you think of Sleeping Beauty? Is Aurora a weak character or is the story just not written around her like we've always thought? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: Halloween and the End of Inktober

October is over, and so is Inktober. Here are the last 9 of my Inktober drawings, along with a watercolor sign I painted as part of my Halloween costume (also pictured). I'm moving Watercolor Wednesday up a week this month because the months when first Tuesday and second Wednesday fall in the same week are always harder to keep up with blog-wise and because I don't anticipate a lot of painting getting done this month apart from Christmas gifts that I can't share until after they've been received.

Day 23: The Kitsune Girl (Urban)


I really had a hard time with this one, but I'm pleased with the fox tail.



Day 24: The Anti-Vampire (Urban)


Another character sketch from Ashes and Dust, this was one of the prompts I stretched the most, as the character I drew is actually a vampire. But given his role in the plot, I figured it was close enough.



Day 25: The Cursed Knight (Forest)


One of the quicker drawings I did for Inktober, this one turned out well enough. I like the feeling of a quick sketch that it has.



Day 26: The Sorcerer (Fairy-tale)


This character should ostensibly be from the Albion Quartet, but I haven't figured out who he'd be yet. I based him off Frollo from Disney's Hunchback, but wound up with someone closer to the Joker.



Day 27: The Beast (Forest)


Another chance for more not-yet-written characters. This is the beast from Swanlight. (Also, I just realized I misnumbered this drawing and the next in my sketchbook. Oh well.)



Day 28: The School Bully (Urban)


By this point, if you couldn't tell, I was really losing steam. I got my flu shot last Thursday and between  the blah feeling of the day after and the general worn-out feeling that comes late in any month-long challenge (be it NaNoWriMo, Inktober, or what have you), I just had to push through and do something. I didn't feel like doing a person so I drew a snake-person.



Day 29: The Grim Reaper (Fairy-tale)


I had grand ideas to try a new take on this prompt, and in the end I fell back on Death as he appears in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.



Day 30: The Huntswoman (Fairy-tale)


Another simple drawing. I wish I'd had more energy to put into this one but I was just glad to have drawn. I couldn't bear the thought of getting this close to the end and not completing the challenge.



Day 31: The Unicorn (Urban)


I went a little simpler with this one but the main idea for it (a unicorn as a jazz musician) has been brewing most of the month. It was probably partly inspired by my reading Peter S. Beagle's The Unicorn Sonata earlier this year.



My first painting in a few weeks was a sign for my Halloween costume. I didn't get too elaborate, but I did play around with mixing my oranges, greens, and browns/blacks. The pumpkins on the far left were done using orange paint straight from the tube, and the rest were mixed with various reds and yellows, some mixed on the palette and some on the page. All the browns and greens for the stems and leaves were mixed up, and I'm most pleased with the far left's stem because the color was just what I wanted.




Here's the costume in full. (For those who don't get the reference, I'm Linus from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.)


Thanks for stopping by!