Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: July/August Paints and Sketches

So this month has actually been a decent one for artwork (albeit most of the paintings in this post are due to last weekend). Commence the art-sharing!

This first piece is a watercolor postcard I made for a friend's birthday this week (and this is the reason I swapped Watercolor Wednesday and ThrowBook Thursday--to allow the card to make it to its recipient). The card is a mixture of a Ray Bradbury quote and an I am the Messenger reference.

Happy birthday, Bella!

The next two images are more postcards, both experimenting with some techniques and colors. The first was a chance to try out one of the brushes in my set that allows you to do fun textures (seen at the bottom). The second was trying out the browns and oranges in my pan set to see what I could/wanted to do for some of the other paintings later in this post.

After my Silver Chair binge last month, I listened to the audio book and Focus on the Family versions of The Horse and His Boy, and one of the effects of that marathon was the desire to draw the Hermit of the Southern March (or more specifically, his cloak, which Lewis describes as "the color of autumn leaves").

Here are some more face sketches.

And a vaguely serpentine person in a hood.

An Entish creature and a diamond snake.

Angular zoot suit guy.

More faces, some with descriptions.

Even more description faces.

This next piece is a practice painting for Samwise's first birthday coming up in a couple months. He has a lovie blanket with Nutbrown Hare from the kids' book Guess How Much I Love You, and since that's the thing he loves most (aside from his mom and our cat Pumpkin), we're going to theme his party around the book. (I used a page from one of the Guess How Much I Love You books as a model for the Nutbrown Hare here and in the later painting.)

The next three paintings are the three panels for the finalized version of the sign.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Musings: Long Hauls and Minor Characters

If there's one thing I love in fictionwhether it's printed or presented in some audiovisual form like movies or video gamesit's a long-haul revelation. I mean something that adds more dimension to a character than it ought to at face value because it fits into what we already know about them and builds on that knowledge in a way that is both satisfying and piquing. One example of this is the revelation about Snape near the end of Deathly Hallows; knowing his history adds a great deal of depth to his interactions with the main characters throughout the series (and fits in with some details we might have forgotten from early on, such as his determination to save Harry in Year 1 when Harry's broomstick is bewitched during a Quidditch match).

But I'm not here to talk about Snape. The title of the post is, after all, "Long Hauls and Minor Characters"—and I have a particular minor character in mind.


I'm going to assume none of you know who I'm talking about, so here's a little more info: he's the (blind?) wise man who shows up in a handful of episodes of the '90s Aladdin TV show Disney produced.

Why do I want to talk about Fasir? Because this guy has one of the best arcs of a minor character in a TV show when it comes to a long haul revelation.

When we first meet Fasir, he's an unnamed old man in the marketplace of Agrabah who is involved in Jasmine's attempt to prove she can survive on the streets as well as Aladdin. Later, he tells the story of a gigantic cyclops whose brother turned him to stone to stop his monstrosity—revealing at the end of the episode that he was the brother (and also a cyclops, albeit a human-sized one).

He goes on to offer wisdom and prophecy during several other adventures, one of which involves Mirage, the vengeful cat-woman (voiced by Bebe Neuwirth) who was responsible for Aladdin's childhood friend becoming a kidnapping monster of the night (but he gets better).

In the episode which cinches Fasir's long-haul revelation, Mirage finds the perfect revenge to take on Aladdin for foiling her previous plans: she tricks Jasmine into using a cursed lotion which transforms her into a snake-person. Jasmine's new body even has poisonous barbs, so that she can't even be with Aladdin without killing him. When they finally reach the tree whose fruit will cure Jasmine, Mirage kills the tree. Rather than be separated from Jasmine (or be forced to kill her; Mirage doesn't care how they're sundered), Aladdin uses the same cursed lotion to become a snake-person. They can live out their lives together, even if they must live separated from human society. This act of true love foils Mirage's plan. Fasir, who cautioned Mirage about the power of love at the episode's beginning, restores the tree, not wishing Aladdin and Jasmine to suffer because of Mirage's hatred.

And then.

Fasir looks on the happy couple, amused by Mirage's outrage and bemusement. She has underestimated the power of love. But Fasir tells himself that Mirage knew love once, and that it will lead her back to him (Fasir) one day.

So this guy has gone from no-name beggar to wise man and prophet to former love interest (and possible redemptive happy ending?)  of one of the series' most interesting villains?

Talk about layers.

So tell me: are there any long-haul revelations you love?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: Neverwhere

First off, my apologies for missing Monday's post. It's been a busy week and I dropped some things. I'm also mixing things up a bit this month and switching the weeks for ThrowBook Thursday and Watercolor Wednesday (for reasons which shall become apparent next week).

This month's book is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

This is the edition I first read, and the cover that comes to mind when I think of Neverwhere.

If you've never heard of this book, let me give you a quick history lesson. Neverwhere began as a TV show for the BBC. While the show was in production, Neil Gaiman worked on a novelization to bear with the cuts and changes the show made to the scripts. Now, the book is a bestseller and the show is hardly known (though it does have a cult following in some circles). When the American edition was released, Gaiman cut some things (mostly a second prologue and some humor the editor thought would go over the American audience's heads) and added others (like descriptions for people who hadn't been to London). Then for its 10th anniversary, Gaiman released a new edition called the "Author's Preferred Text" which streamlined the UK and US editions, reincorporating many of the cuts to the American edition. Then, in 2013, BBC Radio made a radio play adaptation.

I mention this last point because I've listened through the radio version twice now. It's got spot-on casting and even features some cameos from Gaiman himself.

Right. On to the book.

Neverwhere follows an average Joe named Richard who, after saving an apparently homeless young woman, is swept into a parallel city called London Below, where all the people and places who fall through the cracks wind up. Richard and Door (the aforementioned young lady) must face treachery, psychopaths, monsters, and London high society in their attempts to avenge Door's family (murdered by said psychopaths) and restore Richard to his normal life. (Did we fail to mention once you're in London Below, no one in London Above can see you? Oh, well now you know.)

Neverwhere is a modern Alice in Wonderland sort of portal fantasy. Much of the humor and tension rest on Richard's not believing (or at least not wishing to believe in) the magic he encounters. He is often a liability to his companions, though sometimes his more mundane personality traits wind up being useful in their quest. There's a sardonic figure called the Marquis de Carabas, who is both vain and wise. There's a mysterious angel called Islington (played by Peter Capaldi in the TV show and Benedict Cumberbatch in the radio play). There's a lot of playing on place names in London. In short, the story is fun, enjoyable, insightful, and touching. If you haven't read it, I suggest giving it a try. Every time I come back to it, I'm reminded of how much I love it.

If you've read Neverwhere and want more, I suggest tracking down a copy of "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," a novella-length sequel Gaiman released a few years ago. It's available in a number of anthologies, as a BBC Radio adaptation (featuring the TV show's Marquis), and in the appendices of newer editions of the Author's Preferred Text.

(Side note: I have not read the Author's Preferred Text yet, but I'm planning to shortly, if for no other reason than I want to read the story again, not just listen to it.)

Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think? Who are you favorite characters?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Studio Ghibli Films (Through 2011)

I recently finished working my way through our Studio Ghibli collection, which includes every feature film the studio released between 1986 and 2011 (except for Only Yesterday), with the addition of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In celebration of this, and as a result of watching so many of the movies so close together, I though this month's Top 10 could be my ranking of Studio Ghibli films.

Note: I'm not going to be entirely objective with this list because some of the films I'm excluding (looking at you, Grave of the Fireflies) due to the fact that I'm not likely to watch them again (or at least not for a very long time). Rewatchability is high on the list of qualifications for this Top 10. With that out of the way, to the rankings!

10. Porco Rosso

This movie surprised me with how much I enjoyed it, considering I knew very little about it going in. But the story is very heartfelt, and the characters are lovable in their individual ways. My one quibble is the ending with its "we'll never tell" attitude about the chief happy ending the movie was building up.

9. Whisper of the Heart

I'll admit that my main interest in watching this one was so I could have context for The Cat Returns, a spin-off sequel that centers on a minor character (the Baron) having further adventures. Funnily enough, I wound up enjoying Whisper more -- even though it's one of the few Studio Ghibli films to not feature fantasy elements (aside from the book Shizuku writes). It reminded me a lot of From Up on Poppy Hill, which was one of the first Ghibli films I saw.

8. My Neighbor Totoro

I actually wasn't sure this one was going to make it on the list at first because my initial impression of it was that the story was far more episodic than I usually care for in movies. But it's hard not to love Totoro the character. The whimsy and hope that fill this movie make it one I'll watch again.

7. Laputa: Castle in the Sky

I need to rewatch this one anyway; I was putting together a baby swing the first time we watched it, so I'm a little hazy on the details. But I do remember liking the story, with its magic stones, robots, and floating cities.

6. Tales from Earthsea

This is not LeGuin's Earthsea, but I'm okay with that because of one thing: Timothy Dalton as Sparrowhawk. I didn't know I needed this to be a thing until I watched this movie. If nothing else, this movie is worth it for that (and Mariska Hartigay as Tenar). I've not read Tehanu, so I don't know how faithfully the elements of that book were adapted, but honestly this was a film that (like Howl's Moving Castle) was so enjoyable on its own, I can view it as a separate story (simply an adaptation rather than a representation). Although it is very, very odd to hear Willem Dafoe's voice coming from such an effeminate looking character as Cob.

5. Kiki's Delivery Service

This is another of Studio Ghibli's films that runs closer to magical realism than fantasy. Although Kiki is a "witch," most of her problems are those of everyday people. With a touching climax and plenty of heart, this movie deserves to be a childhood staple for all.

4. Howl's Moving Castle

This is just such a great movie. Where to begin? Sophie is strong and weak in proper turns, just as her book counterpart is. The brilliant way they conveyed her old age and young heart through the film still makes me grin. Calcifer is properly belligerent. The castle moves in a fun and exciting way. And the way they handled the Witch of the Waste (while not in line with the book) adds a touch of humanity to the whole piece.

3. Princess Mononoke

This movie carries a lot of the themes Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are known for: strong main characters who are young, journeys to discover self and save others, the proper relationship between man and nature, and the existence and power of the supernatural world.  But I found myself enjoying this one more than some of the other films in that vein (Pom Poko, Nausicaa) for some reason. I think it may be the fact that this story, unlike Nausicaa, is the whole of itself. (I loved the Nausicaa manga, but the movie just felt truncated and flat in comparison.) Gillian Anderson as a giant wolf spirit doesn't hurt things, either.

2. From Up on Poppy Hill

I didn't expect this film. It's purely realistic, a historical slice of life piece; until this movie, I had associated Studio Ghibli with fantasy and magical realism -- movies that fit the idea of animation being the realm of make believe more than reality. But the struggles of Umi and Shun drew me in and kept me intrigued until the last satisfying moment.

1. Spirited Away

This movie is the perfect fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It keeps the folklore I loved in Totoro and Mononoke, mixes in some of the heroism of Howl, and tells a beautiful story about seeing beyond appearances to the true nature of things. It is wonderful.

Honorable Mentions:

My Neighbors the Yamadas -- This movie is just a light-hearted and funny look at everyday life. It's a great pick-me-up after you've had your heart torn out by Grave of the Fireflies.

The Secret World of Arrietty -- An adaptation of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this movie is fun and charming, but not one of my top picks for rewatching because I'm so familiar with the story from other adaptations, it doesn't feel like it's as fresh even as Howl.

Do you have any favorite Ghibli films not on my list? Any you'd place differently on the list? Let me know!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday Musings: Albion Academy Pronunciation Guide

Someone recently asked me about some pronunciations of character names and such in Albion Academy. Although I didn't include a pronunciation guide in the book, I recently put one together in anticipation of the audio book entering production. What follows is a rough guide to how some of the more unusual names and magical phrases in the book are pronounced (some are pulled from other languages, so the pronunciation here is an Anglicized approximation; I apologize for any errors).

Aella – AY-ell-a

Akachi – uh-KA-chee

Alamar – AL-uh-mar

Albion – AL-bee-un

Albrione – al-BREE-own

Ambrosius – am-BRO-zyus

Ana – AH-na

Anaia – uh-NI-uh

Asgard – AZ-guard

Athanval – AH-thahn-vahl

Bechronian – beh-KROW-nee-an

Beclys – beh-CLIS

Belchor – bell-CORE

Bifröst – BUY-frost

Blaise – blaze

Bryn – brin

Brynhildr – brihn-HIL-dur

Caerleon – CAIR-lee-own

Cauda Pavonis – CAW-duh pa-VO-nis

chana – chah-NA

Colonomos – KO-lo-no’-mos

Corrine – core-IN

Corvin – CORE-vin

D’Artagnan – DAR-tan-yan

Darity – DARE-ih-tee

Ddraig tân – dryg tahn

Dénsmore – DENS-more

Ditrio omini nux – DI-tree-o AH-mih-nee NOOX

Djinni – jih-nee

Elevas – ELL-ay-VAHS

Emrys – em-riss

Eovaldi – AY-ō-VAL-dee

Fafnir – făf-NEER

Fiera – fee-AIR-uh

Fortuxanat – for-TOO-zah-NAHT

Freki – FREH-kee

Frey – fray

Freya – fray-uh

Frigga – FRIH-guh

Fyri – fih-REE

Geri – GEH-ree

Greenwich – gren-ich

Heimdall – HĪM-doll

Heurodis – HER-ō-diss

Horos – HOAR-ōs

Huginn – HOOG-in

Iasthai – YAS-thy

Ifrit – ih-freet

Ilium – ih-LEE-um

Jötnar – YŌT-nahr

Jotunheim – YO-tun-HĪM

Juvelin – JOO-veh-lin

Kaya – KI-uh

Lillesøster – LEE-leh-SO-stir

Lochesh – LO-kesh

Loki – LOW-kee

Mabh -- MAB

Malchus – MAL-kuss

Marcellus – MAR-kell-us

Mjölnir – MYŌL-neer

Muninn – MOON-in

Myr – mur

Myrddin – MUHR-thin

Oberon – O-bur-on

Odin – O-din

Pendragon – pen-DRĂ-gun

Purgaplene – PER-guh-plen-ay

Pyros incarcero – PIH-rōs in-CAR-ser-o

Ragnarok – RAG-nuh-rock

Saluton mia amo – SAH-loo-than MEE-uh AH-mo

Sicat – sic-AT

Sif – sihf

Sigrún – SIH-grun

Skuld -- SKULLD

Skuldsdóttir – SKULLDS-dot’-er

Slahn leat – SLAHN laht

Stavros – STAV-rōs

Stelara – steh-LAH-ruh

Steyan – stay-ahn

Storebror – STOW-ray-BRUR

Taliesin – TAL-ee-ess-in

Tariq – tuh-REEK

Terrapos – TEHR-ah-pōs

Titania – tih-TAHN-ya

Valhalla – val-HĂ-luh

Valin – VĂ-lin

Valkyrie – VAL-kur-ee

Yali – YAH-lee

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mossflower Library Tour Addendum

There are two main shelves I wanted to include in the library tour that didn't make it into the original photo shoot. First, the writing reference shelf.

This is all of my books on writing craft (along with the dictionaries and a few books of church skits).

Gardner's The Art of Fiction is worthwhile.

Then, there's the bedroom shelf. I featured this shelf in my reading goals post at the start of the year but it's changed a bit since then, so let's revisit it. (There may be a few books here that were already shown in previous library posts, but that's because they migrated between pictures. There are also a few books that migrated from this shelf to the library between pictures, and thus are not shown at all. Poor neglected things.)

Books from giveaways, books from Christmas, and nonfiction.

Fantasy, lit fic, mystery, and ongoing series reads.

Currently in progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Fact of a Body, The Great Divorce (reread, part of the C.S. Lewis Essential Classics), Innocents Aboard (also a reread), and They Have not Seen the Stars (Ray Bradbury's collected poetry).

More lit fic and fantasy, including a couple ongoing series reads.

This is the complete Count of Monte Cristo. This is the treacherous edition I read in high school that did not tell me it was abridged. I got rid of it as soon as I realized this.

More books I wish to reed sooner than later. I may not finish this shelf before New Year's.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Bookshelf Tour of the Mossflower Library (Part 3)

Welcome back to the bookshelf tour. No lengthy intro, just more and more books!

This first picture is not from the alphabetical order. It's the short stack of books that's set to replace books from the bedroom shelf as they're read.

Riddle-Master is a reread, as is Beauty. The rest are books I just need to read.

The Ns, from Kim Newman to Mary Norton. (Notice the complete, chronologically ordered Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. I still need to read Nix's Keys to the Kingdom.)

Also, there's Charlie Bone still to be read in there. So many series I've yet to start.

All of the Borrowers books, along with the Firebirds anthologies and the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern.

Again, I still need to read most of these.

Uprooted, Robert C. O'Brien, and more.
No, I haven't been tempted to reread Uprooted a half dozen times since I read it. Why do you ask?

The Crossroads trilogy, Auralia's Colors, and Ovid.

The Magic and the Healing: mythical veterinarian practice. Read it!

Ah, the Ps. Always missing their Qs.

One of these days, I will read Gormenghast. If it doesn't read me first.

Peretti and Peterson. The Oath scared me to death in high school.

And then Hangman's Curse wasn't quite as good as the film.

Poe, Pratchett, and sundry. Also, The Prestige, which is good in different ways from the film.

There are also a couple of Ellis Peters here. The rest of my Peters (both Ellis and Elizabeth) are on loan to Mom.

Rincewind just can't stay in his proper alphabetical position. However, there's mystery and heartbreak to his right. (The Westing Game still holds up every time I read it, and Where the Red Fern Grows made me tear up at the end, despite my having watched the film since before I can remember.)

The windfall will go to the one who finds the -- Ashes!

Percy Jackson, how can you mess up mythology today? (Just kidding. I loved these books.)

Riders is fantastic and actually uses the 4 Horsemen from Revelation.

Rowling, Rowling, Rowling. Keep the movies going. Even when we're done with the boooooks . . .

Please give me Fantastic Beasts 2. Pretty please with Chocolate Frogs on top.

We will pretend this is the alternate universe edition of Cursed Child, in which Rowling actually wrote the story. Oh, look, Holes! (Possibly my second favorite role for Eartha Kitt, after the tie of Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove and Old Lady Hackmore in Ernest Scared Stupid.)

Also, R.A. Salvatore was (one of) my high school fantasy addiction(s).

The one Sanderson book I actually have in print, and I haven't read it yet. Nor have I read any Sayers. Anyone want to pay me so I can stay home and read these books?

Those are collections of old Peanuts comic strips on the right.  Linus is my hero.

Schwab and Shakespeare!

Yes, I did type Shakespeare in my best Edwin Blackguard voice.

A motley assortment of plays, children's books, and fantasy.

Also, that omnibus of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll is perfection.

Snicket and such.

Have you read The Bronze Bow? Read The Bronze Bow!

The shooting script of the Hallmark Merlin series is one of my favorite books I've found (despite not having read it yet).

A lot of Stoker. So much Stoker you could drive a stake through it.

Sutcliff and the Edda.

Short stories, poems, and the only non-Baum Oz I consider canonical.

Tolkien may as well have his own shelf.

Oh wait. He does.

Tolkien and Turner.
Well. Sort of. Two half shelves make a whole.

The Queen's Thief. (I still need to finish rereading it.)

Joan Vinge and the Wangerin books.

The Book of the Dun Cow. Oh, my heart.
The Ws just keep going.

How did Verne get down here?

Dan Wells and T.H. White.

Oh how much the Disney film left out of The Sword in the Stone.

Charles Williams is the reason we can have Peretti.

Descent into Hell and War in Heaven will change the way you look at things. And people.

Tad Williams. Writer of books that are longer than yours. (Or mine.)

More Williams, some Windling, and Wolfe.

The Zs. The end.