Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Musings: O'Brien Read/Watch: The Secret of NIMH

I'm going to treat this post as something more like a running commentary than an actual review. What follows are my thoughts as I watched the movie The Secret of NIMH for the first time in (at least) 7 years.



Wow. There's magic from the first scene of this movie. Which is based on a science fiction novel. Arthur C. Clarke, where are you?

Nicodemus is a bit creepy with the warts and such, but I like introducing the mystery of Jonathan's connection to the rats this early.

Nicodemus' book sets Jenner's character up and mentions Thorn Valley, though you can't read it all without pausing. (I had to go back because I missed some of the dialogue in this quiet scene.)

Mr. Ages' house got moved from an old farmhouse in the book to an old combine in the movie. That's mostly an atmospheric change, I think, but it fits with the technological advancements of the rats.

"Great Jupiter, woman!" <-- don="" exclamations="" have="" like="" p="" t="" this="" today="" we="" why="">

Mr. Ages is far more cantankerous here than in the book.

"—but you can die from it!" – I remembered this line from my first viewing of this movie. o_O It's amazing what little bits of this film haven't faded with time.

The movements are wonderful -- the mice actually seem like mice.

What's with the sparks in the powder for Timothy? Mr. Ages isn't supposed to be magical, is he?

It's fun how they fit details like Timmy's spider bite into the dialogue without having to give all the long story of it. I like that they took that effort to put in the bits of the book that wouldn't translate well to the film.

"Bless yourself. You'll need it." <-- is="" one.="" p="" snark="" strong="" the="" this="" with="">

Dom DeLuise <3 p="">

Jeremy is a bit sillier than in the book. He's not the young but knowledgeable crow from near the farm, but an older bachelor who doesn't have the sense God gave a billy goat.

Sudden hellish glow is subtle. :P

Dragon is also not the basic yellow-orange farm cat of the books. He's much more in line with Don Bluth's demonic villains (setting up for An American Tail and the Cossack cats, I think).

The first Jeremy sequence is definitely more exciting here than in the book, but it has much of the book's flavor.

The children are pretty much on point, though Martin is slightly more filled with bravado and attitude.

"Auntie Shrew" is a bit more prominent and larger than life. She gets two quick scenes in the book.

NIMH comes in sooner for the Fitzgibbons and the rats moving the cable is in the night, without Mrs. Brisby's seeing. It certainly makes the rats seem more ominous.

Oh look! A rabbit that looks like Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh. Surely that has nothing to do with Bluth and his colleagues working for Disney.

The shrew is definitely a histrionic personality. It would be funny if we all didn't know someone just like her.

Interesting that they chose sabotage instead of typical mechanical wear to cause the tractor's delay. I guess they had to make the plot more tense.

The shrew suggests the owl instead of Jeremy -- not sure why this change, but it fits with the expansion of the shrew's character and the sillier take on Jeremy.

Did they just imply that Nicodemus caused her to go to the owl? He's like a morally ambiguous wizard at this point with his electric magic mirror.

Random wolf howl in the forest?

"That must be the owl's tree" –Another one of the lines I remembered.

I love the animation on the cobwebs for the owl's house. It feels so real and creepy. A bit like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Jeremy is definitely more of a coward here.

John Carradine's voice is perfect for the owl.

"Step inside or go away." – That's a wonderful line from the book. I'm glad they kept it.

How big IS this tree?! In the book she barely had room to move around the owl, and here she's walking across bridges and through multiple rooms.

How the heck did the owl have his head upside down? o_O

The owl and Nicodemus are obviously designed by the same artist – the flowing mustaches and robes/feathers, the glowing eyes, etc.

"His name is not unknown in these woods." – Another line from the book, but I remembered it in Carradine's voice for all these years.

The Owl only mentions Nicodemus, not Justin. He's much less informative than in the book, I think.

"The lee of the stone" feels like such a more important phrase than in the book, possibly because of the red stone Nicodemus had in the opener.

Mrs. Brisby's tricking Jeremy into leaving is funny. Never mind the fact she's basically using feminine wiles on him.

Jeremy doesn't remember where she lives after the first time she told him? Just how dumb did they make him?

The door into the rosebush is almost like the book's description. (To be fair, it's very close to the book's description, just not how I pictured it. I wanted an actual door of thorns.)

The electrical buzzing and flashing are certainly very creepy, as are the random vines reaching out as Mrs. Brisby enters the rosebush.

What's with the random red skull?

Random bright and shiny place at the heart of the bush. It's the Great Valley! (Oh wait, wrong Bluth film.)

An electrified spear is mighty dangerous in the water, dude.

Mr. Ages is far more secretive here, and he makes the owl out to be much more fearsome than the book. "No one sees the owl and lives to tell about it!"

Where is my friendly Brutus who was just doing his duty as a young rat? He's gone, replaced by this silent creepy watchdog.

Jenner is still here, and is obviously a villain, as opposed to the book where he'd already left.

And the amulet is given importance again.

The bulbs look like they have fire in them, not electricity.

Forced creepy entrance for Justin making way for a revelation that he's a friend. Typical change in the tone of his animation. Not sure how I feel about it.

They kept the "We've had electricity for four years now." "Five." exchange from the book, but Nicodemus said they left NIMH four years ago in the beginning. >_>

I do like the extrapolated city the rats have in the film. It's like they took the ideas of the book and said, "More."

Jenner's reasoning for dissent is the same as in the book, but his appeals to the council like some politician from a Roman epic is odd.

There are female rats in the meeting, but none named. This is not much improvement over the book's take on female rats (and no improvement at all really given they nixed Isabella altogether).

Also, we seem to be laboring under the delusion that the owl is now "the great owl". What makes him so great? ("What do you mean Beethoven wasn't so great?!")

Nicodemus should have the scar and eye patch of the book, not the blind-ish glowing eyes.

The shrew's tying up Jeremy – extrapolated from the shrew's resistance of the rats at the end of the book; only possible because of the lack of them meeting Jeremy before, though Martin figures out Jeremy is the crow who met their mother.

"The poor turkey fell down." XD I'd forgotten how amusing Cynthia was.

Even Jeremy isn't immune to the crazy eyes (the shrew had them in the tractor scene earlier). He looks like Batty from Ferngully in this scene.

Also, Nicodemus is very, very old here.

MAGIC BOOK!

They skipped over Nicodemus's description of Jonathan as a mouse of great courage in his magic book. I realize Mrs. Brisby has a hard time reading, but still -- why did she skip a whole phrase?

NIMH is much more unclean and unethical than in the book.

The change sequence has always been the freakiest part of this movie. It's on par with the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

11 mice? There were 8 in the book. And I'm pretty sure the sequel to this movie said 8 as well.

Group C. Really? That was the control group in the book. I expected better of you, Don Bluth.

They certainly sped up the whole learning process. No slow realization of the importance of letters. No mazes. Just "One night, I could read."

"Courage of the heart is very rare. The stone has a power when it's there." – I remember this now; much of this scene, really. Of course, this is a kids' movie so we have to have a moral. *ahem*

"You can unlock any door if you only have the key." -- I like that they kept this line, but I wish they'd kept it as something Jonathan had said to Mrs. Brisby rather than as an inscription on the back of a magic rock.

"I will treasure it always." -- I remembered this line in connection to the previous one.

"Jonathan couldn't tell you about NIMH…" – I also remembered this line.

I also remembered the intense look on Jenner's face when he says the stone will crush Nicodemus' bones and his line about Justin: "Leave him to me … to me … to me." After the change sequence, this was the freakiest part for younger me. Or at least the scariest.

Jeremy's role was so expanded for this movie.

Mrs. Brisby suddenly knows about Thorn Valley though it hasn't been mentioned aloud yet?

Billy and the colander – glad they kept those details from the book.

Justin's infamous "Damn!" (I say infamous because my grandparents were shocked to hear it spoken when I watched this movie with them some years after my first viewing.)

The Shrew's bravado vanishing when she realizes the rats have arrived. Such a classic moment.

They're speeding up the timeline on NIMH's arrival, too. Not a couple of days. In the morning. Increase the tension!

Moving the house was much more logical in the book. They rolled it like sensible mutated rats.

Of course Jenner has a crooked sword. Because eight-year-olds need more visual cues that this is a villain.

I like Mrs. Brisby escaping the cage on her own. It feels more rewarding than Justin appearing to save her in the book.

They're lucky no one else died in that mess besides Nicodemus. The kids might've died being slung about inside the concrete block. The rats holding the wheel might have died being thrown around by the weight. Sheesh, Jenner, you really didn't think this through.

Justin's mourning Nicodemus' death is eerily similar to Cooper mourning Chief's injuries in The Fox and the Hound (that Bluth just happened to work on; just a coincidence, right?).

Just realized Dragon's eye opening inspired Mordred in Albion Academy.

Man, Jenner. You're a real winner, beating up women, assassinating old men. Leader of the Year, folks.

What's a kid's movie without a swordfight over a red background and intense music? Am I right?

Easy confession time! Because Jenner thinks no one else can hear him.

Nice shot for a dying man (or rat), Sullivan (whose name I only know thanks to IMDB; why don't they ever say side character names on screen?).

And there's the last desperate problem – the stone is sinking.

Hey, Brutus gets another mention! Yay!

And the magical solution with the amulet because we can.

Suddenly everyone bows down to Mrs. Brisby -- because she's magic? (I feel like this is not as good a magical deus ex machina as the end of Ferngully.)

Also, the Fitzgibbons don't notice all this shining flashing stuff out in their fields, even at night? I mean, did no one wake up and notice this? Surely on a farm they sleep lightly enough to notice what looks like a fire.

Suddenly they are in what looks like the book's summer home? Or there's a small pond in the garden patch?

Justin takes the amulet because why not?

And Jeremy meets his female equivalent. The love story nobody asked for.

Wow these credits shots are shaky. Like, how has no one fixed this in the DVD age?

Wait. Wil Wheaton and Shannon Doherty were in this?!! How am I just learning this?

And Bruce Timm worked on this movie? This is like the Young Sherlock Holmes of animation.


[After I had typed all of this up, a friend shared this article that gives some background info on the movie, including a couple of things I noticed above.]

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Snippets: February Edition (Albion Apparent)

Another month has already flown by! My writing got derailed a bit in the middle of the month thanks to a nasty cold (or a mild flu, I'm not sure which), but I still made some excellent headway on Albion Apparent. Without further ado, here are this month's snippets.




Darity, Dénsmore, and D’Artangan, the three eldest daughters of the Norn Skuld, walked through the autumn woods of Asgard searching for answers. Being Norns themselves, the sisters ought to have been able to merely open their Second Sight and find the solution to their problem—if the Sight itself were not their problem.

***

Grandmother Spider sat by the fire in her audience chamber, bent like an old woman at work even in her twilight years. The stories said she had made the stars with a dew-soaked web and brought fire to humanity. She was also the most knowledgeable of the Aeoni on matters of the Sight.

***

My deepest anxiety had been easy to pinpoint, almost too easy, in fact. I had to reap Gabriel. At first, I had thought my uneasiness about reaping him—one day, but not tomorrow, certainly—stemmed primarily from the fact that I had come so close before and failed. Granted, I had only delayed the harvest to allow Merlin to Name Gabriel. But I wondered if, relieved of all other Valkyrie duties, I would be strong enough to follow through when the time came.

***

“If we pull them all into one location, even our most secure,” Leviticus said, “it’s only a matter of time before these assassins find us and destroy the Order and its charges. They have been stalking us too long for us to be safe retreating from them. There is a mind and a purpose driving these golems to kill our monks and their charges, and if we do not go on the offensive, they will kill us all.”

“Thank you for being the voice of doom,” said Deuteronomy, her voice holding back none of her disdain for Leviticus’ aggressive, if somewhat pessimistic, position.

***

He put his hand on hers and said, “Relax, I’ll handle it. You just focus on getting operational again. I can’t go out there and leave the Order without a sensible person around.”

“Sensible? If I was a sensible person, I’d have left the Order about three decades ago.”

“Sharon,” he said softly, “you’re only twenty-eight.”

“Exactly,” she said, closing her eyes.

***

“I show up uninvited all the time,” Robin said. “It adds surprise and unpredictability to life.”

***

“I did not know until May that my mother had not birthed me in the usual fashion,” I began, but Marquéz interrupted before I could get any further.

“Usual fashion! You were made, boy, fabricated like a bloody golem. We have witnesses.”

***

“Harry, are you okay? What happened?” his mother asked again.

“It was—something—magical, I think,” said Harry’s dad.

Harry tried to speak, and his words came out as a croaking gasp. He coughed and his dad lifted him into a sitting position. When Harry had control of his breathing again, he said, “Good thing I got that ghost insurance.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Faith, Love, and Serial Killers: Dan Wells' I Don't Want to Kill You

I recently read the third of Dan Wells' John Cleaver mysteries, I Don't Want to Kill You. It was so good I wanted to share my thoughts at more length than my quick review on Goodreads. Beware, this is a spoiler-heavy review.




Picking up the story shortly after Mr. Monster ended, I Don't Want to Kill You finds John anticipating the arrival of Nobody, the demon he called at the end of that book. He's done the demon tracking-hunting-slaying thing twice now, so he must be an expert, right?

Except Nobody hasn't shown her face yet, and John is getting antsy. Then the infamous serial killer the Handyman migrates from Georgia to North Dakota, and John thinks maybe Nobody is the Handyman. Either that, or she is working with the Handyman, using one of her demon compatriots to distract John from his mission: killing her and the other demons like her.

Not only is John's demon hunting not going quite as planned, but his social life (never the best, due to the whole sociopathy issue) is shifting in big ways. His next door neighbor and longtime obsession (crush is too emotive a word for John), Brooke, can't be near him because she still sees Mr. Monster lurking beneath the skin. John hasn't spoken to his best friend, Max, in the months since he faced down Forman, the demon from book two. To top it all off, Marci Jensen, the sheriff's daughter and local popular girl, asks John out on a date!

All of this sets the stage for Wells' most emotional John Cleaver story yet. While the first two books had a strong emotional current despite John's lack of emotional connection, I Don't Want to Kill You is unique because one of the central plotlines focuses on John's relationship with Marci and his slow but stunning realization that he shares a true emotional connection with her, one based on positive emotions like love rather than the anger and fear which have been his only source of connection in the past. Unfortunately for John, he doesn't realize this fully until it is too late and Marci has become one of Nobody's victims.

Nobody's modus operandi dovetails into one of the other themes in the book. Nobody, envious of the lives other people live, moves from person to person searching for the perfect life -- from body to relationships to personality. When she decides that her current body isn't cutting it, she forces the person she inhabits to commit suicide, often with little or no prior indication that the person might be suicidal. Eventually, she takes over Brooke's body, putting John in a moral dilemma: does he kill Nobody, and in doing so kill Brooke as well? Or does he allow Nobody the fantasy she's created of the two of them hunting down the rest of the demons, the perfect couple for the rest of John's life? The question he faces here goes back to the heart of his moral debate from the first two books: does killing the demons, and the bodies they inhabit, make him no better than they are? He discusses the morality of these killings in a hypothetical way with a local priest, in whom he confides as the only other person in town (aside from John's mom) to believe that demons exist. They debate whether killing these people is right or wrong -- and the priest challenges John's own justification of his actions.

Although John does eventually decide that Nobody must die in order to stop her from killing more people, he chooses not to kill the Handyman -- who is neither demon nor in league with demons. The Handyman is just another human being, albeit one who kills those he thinks are leading the community down sinful roads. When faced with this truth, John refuses to kill the Handyman. He's already killed Crowley and Forman, and he refuses to make this third kill, the one that would make him truly a serial killer.

John's final confrontation with Nobody brings the book around to love again, but this time it's not romantic love. John overcomes his affection/obsession for Brooke in order to preserve the greater good, the saving of all of Nobody's future victims. Although he tries to hide the reality of Brooke's possession and his plans to end Nobody's spree, his mom knows him better than that. She follows him to the secluded spot by the lake where he plans to kill Nobody, and when Nobody turns out to be stronger and cleverer than John anticipated, his mom intervenes. She convinces Nobody that Brooke isn't the person she should inhabit, nor -- as Nobody assumes -- is John. Brooke doesn't love John; John doesn't even love himself. But his mom loves him unconditionally. This revelation sends Nobody swirling into her body, only for her to throw them both into the death trap that is John's burning car.

Although Wells has continued the series since publishing I Don't Want to Kill You, it originally stood as the end of John's story, and it is a fitting end. He and Brooke finally connect, he realizes that he can connect emotionally with others, and he faces the hardest trial yet in his growing war with the demons. This book pack an emotional punch, and it put me through such a wringer at the end that I had to take a break from heavy fiction and read something light and middle grade to cleanse my mind for a bit. This book is a fitting close to the first John Cleaver trilogy and, while it ends the story, it leaves the plot open enough for the next set of books. My only real quibble with the book is a minor one: at one point, John says he's been diagnosed as a sociopath, although the first book stated very clearly that he was too young to be diagnosed, and there wasn't enough time between the books for him to have aged up that much. Aside from that, this was the best book in the series. It pulled all the right rugs out from under John's feet and hit him and the readers with some perfect emotional punches. I'm looking forward to reading what comes next (though maybe not just yet).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

10 Bookworm Questions Tag (Link-Up with Paper Fury)

Cait over at Paper Fury listed 10 Bookworm Questions she posed for herself to answer and invited others to post their own answers. They looked like fun (especially the last one) so I thought I'd give it a go.


1. What are your top 5 reads of 2017 so far?

This one was fairly easy to answer. I've got 26 books on my Goodreads Challenge so far this year (including several short stories I listened to via Audible and the last few volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist). These five titles rose to the top of the list:

Goldenhand by Garth Nix
The Heart of What was Lost by Tad Williams
The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

(As a side note, the last two titles on this list are not for the faint of heart. The Scalzi title is an Audible-exclusive novella that, while otherwise solidly written, has some intense use of vulgarity, heavy on the f-bombs. For that reason, I don't recommend it carte blanche. Dan Wells' John Cleaver books, of which this is the third, are intense psychological thrillers and this is the most intense so far. I dove into some middle grade fantasy afterward to give myself an emotional reprieve.)


2. Top Five Favorite Book Friendships

This one was more difficult to manage. I felt certain I had a lot of fictional friendships that were at the top of my list but struggled to list them. Here's what I came up with:

Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took aka Merry and Pippin
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (especially Harry and Hermione)
Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer from The Magician's Nephew
Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee
Mortimer, Merlin Pendragon, and Bryn from Albion Academy

(I know, I put my own characters on here. But their friendship is one that I love to death.)



3. Most anticipated releases of 2017?

I wrote a post about this last month, which you can find here. To that list, I would add the following:

Firebrand by A.J. Hartley, the sequel to Steeplejack (which I thoroughly enjoyed)
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (Cait reminded me with her post that this is due out this year. I enjoyed Stiefvater's Raven Boys and Shiver series so I'm interested in seeing what new things she has up her sleeve.)


4. How many books are on your TBR pile?

On the bedroom shelf (mentioned in this post): 61
On my Goodreads shelf: 3212

I'm never going to be out of reading material. Isn't it great?


5. What are your feelings on book merchandise?

Give me journals and clothing and board games and analyses and more! I don't have as much book-related swag as I might like, but I love seeing it in stores anyway. (As a side note, I'd really appreciate more guy-related book swag in the clothes and accessories departments. The ladies have the market cornered on this.)


6. Who is the latest amazing author you have discovered?

V.E. Schwab of A Darker Shade of Magic
Jennifer Freitag of Plenilune
Jennifer McMahon of The Winter People
Mary Robinette Kowal of Shades of Milk and Honey


7. How long have you been a book blogger?

I was reminded the other day by Facebook's On This Day feature that I started this blog five years ago. I don't think I've qualified as a book blogger for that entire time, but it's a milestone! In that time, I've finished graduate school, published a novel, bought a house, and had a child, among other things. It's kind of weird to think I've been posting things here sporadically for so long.

8. What's your favorite thing about reading?

Learning new things
Seeing new words and new ways to combine words
Being transported to other places and times


9. What are you reading soon?

I'm starting The Man in the High Castle on my Kindle tomorrow. A Conjuring of Light arrives Tuesday. Once I finish listening to Michael Scott's The Sorceress, I plan to listen to Lemony Snicket's The End and finally be finished with A Series of Unfortunate Events. After that, I'll hopefully dive into Robert C. O'Brien's The Silver Crown for the O'Brien read/watch and Tad Williams' The Dragonbone Chair for my Osten Ard reread in anticipation of The Witchwood Crown releasing this June.

10. Describe yourself in 5 book titles.

Okay. This was the question I wanted to answer most and it turned out to be the most difficult. I couldn't decide whether to have the titles actually be reflections of me or to choose books that reflect me most. So here are two lists. First, the titles-centric list:

A Circle of Quiet (something I tend to want)
I am NOT a Serial Killer (well, obviously)
Sweetly the Dragon Dreams (or vividly, in my case)
The Lost Years of Merlin (because there's always time we wish we could have back)
A Christmas Carol (because I listen to Christmas music far longer than most)



Now, for the content-centered list:

The Horse and His Boy (because I am Shasta)
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (because we're all a little bit Norrell and a little bit Strange)
The Lord of the Rings (because Samwise Gamgee is my hero)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (because there is light at the end of all darkness)
Till We Have Faces (because we all need to be reminded of our own inadequacy sometimes)


What books are you most looking forward to this year? What titles would you choose to describe yourself? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Musings: O'Brien Read/Watch: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

I'm starting off the read/watch marathon with the book that started me on this kick and inspired the film(s) that alerted me to O'Brien's work: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.


Before I get into my thoughts on the book itself, I want to take a minute to talk about my copy of the book, pictured below.


I'd actually like to get a better copy, maybe a hardback. This one's a former library copy (hooray book sales!) that's in decent shape, although the front cover is being held on by library-grade book tape. More than that, it has the wrong title because it's a movie tie-in for the Don Bluth film (which I'll take a look at next week if all goes well). It does at least feature the original title in parentheses, but it doesn't have any of the requisite "8 pages of stills from the movie!" inserts. I'll try to avoid any more mentions of the film and its changes to the story in this post because that's what the movie post is for. But let's take a moment to talk about the fact that this is one of the worst shots they could have picked for the cover of this book. Nicodemus looks like he's about to eat Mrs. Frisby's (sorry, Mrs. Brisby's since this is a movie cover) soul or something.

Moving on.

I was surprised at how quickly I sped through this book this time. As I mentioned in my introductory post for this series, I had to renew the book at the library when I first read it, an almost unheard of occurrence for me, especially back then. This time, I read the book in a couple of days. Even discounting the fact I was laid up in bed with not much else to do, that's a pretty big discrepancy. Assuming there isn't any sneaky abridging going on here (Scholastic has fooled me before), this book is a quick read.

The book opens with the recently widowed Mrs. Frisby searching for food to get her family through the last of the winter months. She returns from a successful foraging trip only to discover that her youngest son, Timothy, is sick -- dangerously so. She leaves to seek the help of an older mouse who lives across the farm, Mr. Ages. Mr. Ages gives her some medicine for Timothy, but the medicine is only the beginning of the treatment, because Timothy can't be out in the cold and damp for several weeks at least. This wouldn't be a problem if spring weren't coming a bit sooner than expected, and with spring comes the farmer's plow -- right through the Frisby home.

Thus begins Mrs. Frisby's journey to find a way to move her family to safety without putting Timothy at undue risk.

The rest of the plot is actually very simple, and follows some patterns from the hero's journey -- the wise old man (or owl, in this case), the animal in trouble who provides more help later on, the riddle/password needed at the gate, etc. Mrs. Frisby goes to the owl, who sends her to the rats, who have the solution, who then enact that solution. The only real roadblock to her quest after meeting the owl is helping the rats drug the farmer's cat, Dragon. This she accomplishes with the minor setback of being put in a birdcage, but one of the rats arrives later that night to rescue her, so it's not so bad.

A large chunk of the book (almost 1/3 of the chapters, and probably close to 1/3 of the actual pages) is devoted to Nicodemus relating the history of the rats, NIMH, and Mrs. Frisby's late husband Jonathan. (You can read about some of the actual research that inspired Nicodemus' story here.) This is the section of the book I remembered most vividly from my elementary school reading. Some of the images of the tests and training the rats underwent stayed so clearly in my mind that, in retrospect, I thought these passages must have been highly detailed. It turns out, they were more suggestive than detailed. The scenes I remembered passed so quickly I might have missed them if I hadn't been waiting for them so eagerly. I guess that's the power of O'Brien's prose. He suggests as much as he reveals.

While the NIMH sequence in the middle of the book remained strongest in my mind between readings, I did find sentences and images that seemed extremely familiar as I read through the book this time. That happens to me a lot when I come back to a book, particularly one I've not read more than twice. I hadn't expected it with this book, however, so it was a nice treat.

One thing that did bother me about the book, even before I began rereading it, was this: throughout the book, this capable, clever mouse mother is never once given a first name. She is only and always Mrs. Frisby. Her identity is bound up in her late husband's. While this works thematically (it is only for Jonathan's sake that the owl and the rats help her, and it is Jonathan's nature and identity that cause his death and much of the mystery in the family's life), it is bothersome because she's the only named character (apart from Mr. Ages and the farmers) to NOT have a first name. She's the main character and we can't even think of her as more than Mrs. Jonathan Frisby. It just seems odd, given how strong she is (even in her weakness).

On a similar note, it felt odd to see that (despite the presence of at least one female rat in the NIMH group*), the only named female character in the rat colony is Isabella, a youth whose main purpose in the plot is to pine over Justin. I don't know if these two observations are anything like as problematic as they seemed to me as I was reading them, but I'd like to see the new film address them somehow.

While the ending feels somewhat abrupt -- and a little too like the tones of Bambi and The Fox and the Hound (the books, not the Disney films) -- I do like that it ends with hope for the future, and with Martin wanting to go visit Thorn Valley (especially given the way he's sidelined and then villainized in the "sequel" to the Don Bluth film). But there's sadness in the ending, too. I'd forgotten the heavy implication that Justin dies. I'm hoping one of the sequels O'Brien's daughter wrote will reveal it wasn't Justin, but it's a slim hope.

Have you read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.

*I'm assuming she was in the group with Nicodemus, Justin, and the rest. It's possible she was in one of the other groups that did not experience the increased knowledge and lifespan of the titular rats.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As I mentioned last Tuesday, while I was growing up, The Wizard of Oz was a staple film in our household. I could sing all of the songs and recite most of the dialogue without much thought. (I can do this for a few other films, but my storage capacity seems to be reaching its limit.) Like a great many good movies (and and even greater number of mediocre and terrible ones), it was based on a book. When I discovered the book in our school library, I checked it out to see how it compared to the movie.

Big surprise: in many respects, it didn't. The movie shortened the plot in a number of places (the journey to the Witch's castle, Dorothy's journey home, and even the trip to the Emerald City) and dropped characters, adding in a frame story with farmhands and a gloomy old witch. I don't say this to disparage the film. It's a classic and it tells the story well. But the book is a different animal in many respects. It fleshes out Baum's Americana fairyland with more strange creatures and wild happenings. the audience with the Wizard is really four audiences -- one for each of the main characters -- and the giant head is only one of the illusions he uses to cow and awe his supplicants.

Despite the differences between the book and the film (or perhaps because of them), I came back to the book again the next school year. This was mostly an accident -- I clicked the Accelerated Reader quiz for the book, thinking I hadn't taken it the year before for some reason. I actually had, but the system reset itself for the new school year and I took the quiz again. Disagreeing with one of the questions I'd missed, I decided to read the book again to prove myself right. (I wasn't.) This book -- or James and the Giant Peach, the timeline's a bit fuzzy in my brain -- became the first book I read more than once. What's more, I read it at least one more time before moving on to middle school. This time, I purposefully took the quiz before checking the book out once more, just to prove I had a good memory. (I did, at least, remember the correct answer to the missed question from the year before.)

I went on to read several of Baum's sequels, and two of Ruth Plumy Thompson's, in the following years. Although Wizard isn't my favorite of the books, it was my literary introduction to Oz and all its wonders. (My favorite is The Scarecrow of Oz, by the way.) I also began a modern, cyberpunk-ish retelling of Wizard a couple years back for NaNoWriMo that I'm hoping to (finally) finish once the first draft of Albion Apparent is complete. The Wizard of Oz has left its mark on me, and no mistake.

What has your experience been with The Wizard of Oz? What books did you read more than once when you were younger? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musings: My Definitive Ranking of the Kingdom Hearts Games

I'm not much of a gamer, but one game series I love is Kingdom Hearts. I bought a PS3 and a 3DS (with a Christmas's worth of gift money) simply to be able to play through this series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Kingdom Hearts is a series of games that combine Disney characters and worlds with gameplay and storylines similar to the Final Fantasy franchise. (The creator of Kingdom Hearts is actually a story and character designer and producer for Final Fantasy.) It follows the story of Sora, a young boy whose world is destroyed by darkness, as he attempts to reunite with his friends and battle evil creatures called Heartless. The games center on the themes of friendship, love, and the triumph of light over darkness.

Having played through 99% of the series that's available to me (I still have the final boss and extras in KH II), I've discovered that I definitely have favorites when it comes to the games. So here is my listing of Kingdom Hearts games, in order from worst to best, in my estimation.

*Note: I am not including original releases of Coded or Chain of Memories, as I've only played the Re: versions of them on DS and PS3 respectively. I'm also excluding Kingdom Hearts III (unreleased) and any material from 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (because I haven't got a PS4 to play it on). For games with a Final Mix, I am most likely listing the Final Mix version, as that's what is included in the 1.5 and 2.5 collections for PS3.





8. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

This one I actually enjoyed while playing through it, but I didn't find that it had enough enjoyability to warrant the multiple  playthroughs completionism calls for. I liked getting to know Roxas, Xion, and Axel, especially since this is Xion's only real appearance in the series so far, and Roxas and Axel are side characters at best in the rest of the series. That said, it has possibly my least favorite rendition of Neverland in the series so far simply because it was so difficult to navigate.



7. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories

This one seems to get a lot of hate from the Kingdom Hearts fandom. I didn't really understand why until I reached almost the end of my first (and so far, only) playthrough with Sora. And there was so. Much. Grinding. I didn't even complete half of the trophies that require you to generate room after room after room. That said, I love two things about this game. First, the card system. Frustrating as it could be at times, I really liked that there was a strategy I could implement for any given situation, even if I am loathe to employ strategy beyond "Go in, beat 'em up" in most video games. Second, we got our first taste of playing as Riku, who is as much a main character in the series as Sora.



6. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded

This one and CoM were a bit of a toss up for me in terms of ranking. I kept Coded at #6 for the simple fact that it was the first game I ever played (on a friend's borrowed DS) and because it has one of my favorite systems in the game: the command menu with attacks that you meld together. It has the disadvantage of being essentially a rehash of Kingdom Hearts and about as much replayability desire as 358/2 Days, but it was still fun.



5. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X

This game is still being released. It's a mobile prequel to Kingdom Hearts and serves to fill in some of the backstory to the Keyblade War that serves as the backdrop for Birth by Sleep (and possible Kingdom Hearts III). I have been keeping up with the North American releases of content for the game, and while it feels very light on actual story so far (there have been maybe a handful of actual scenes that give us any information), the gameplay is fun. It utilizes a system something like Chain of Memories, but with medals instead of cards. If you're looking for a mobile RPG, I'd give Unchained X a try.



4. Kingdom Hearts II

I am actually very mixed when it comes to KHII. While it adds a load of worlds that make me very happy (worlds for Mulan, The Lion King, Tron, and Pirates of the Caribbean), it . . . doesn't actually progress the story very much? As I reached the final world, despite the extreme effort in some of the cutscenes, I felt that this game offers as much development to the overall story of the Kingdom Hearts franchise as Re: Coded. It's fun, it adds new gameplay with the Drive Forms and all the different challenges; but it's severely lacking in the story department.



3.  Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

This game ranks in the top three for two reasons: the worlds, and Riku. This game adds worlds for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Fantasia, and Tron: Legacy. Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films (mostly for the soundtrack), and the Fantasia world is just so beautiful to look at. While Riku had a short storyline in Chain of Memories, here his participation is both vital to the storyline and equal to Sora's. It also features the same Deck Command system that I loved in Coded. The beauty of this game and the ability to play as multiple characters (something I'd prefer to see in a numbered KH game) more than make up for my least favorite aspect of the game: the pet collecting (aka it's-not-Pokemon-but-we-tried). I've never really been a fan of this style of game, but there was enough that shone brightly in this game to make up for that.



2. Kingdom Hearts

The original game, Kingdom Hearts introduces the world(s) of the story; the main characters, Sora, Riku, and Kairi; and the central themes and plots for the franchise. It's the only game to feature the Deep Jungle (the world based on Tarzan), which is both sad and wonderful. Deep Jungle was a bit of a pain to navigate, though not nearly as much as Atlantica (I hate swimming in video games). This game has a good bit of story to it and moves along at a steady pace once you're through the prologue (which, while long, isn't nearly as long as the prologue of KHII). This game showed us just how much fun it could be to mix Disney with the design and gameplay of the Final Fantasy franchise. It's one of the games that I know I will play through again without a doubt.



1.  Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

This game is, hands down, my favorite of the series. It features three playable characters, who each view only a portion of the game's story, their paths crossing at key intervals. It is the original game to use the Deck Command system I love so much, even if it was the last of those games I played. It has my favorite version of Neverland, with far more of the world open to exploration than the other games to feature that world. The story is rich and complex, and even after playing through with all three characters, I wanted to dive back in for another playthrough with all of them. It also features world that are not to be found in any other game, such as the trio of worlds devoted to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, not to mention a world for Lilo and Stitch (although it sadly takes place entirely before Stitch crash lands on Earth, so there's no Lilo). If I could only have one Kingdom Hearts game, this would be it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: February Edition

I tried a couple of different things in this month's paintings. I used paints from both sets I mentioned last time, and did two sketches on the medium-sized pad I painted Night and the Moon on. The third piece I painted this month was a quotes word art piece with some of my favorite literary quotations.


Hipster Tumnus was anachronistic before it was cool.

For Narnia, I discovered how truly terrible I am with eyes, and Tumnus ended up with sunglasses. o_O I did feel proud of my rendition of his legs, however. The background isn't half bad, and I was able to try my hand with the scraping textures again.

Mortimer and the door from Albion Academy

Mortimer turned out well, though not quite as I'd envisioned him. I think my attempts at texture fell a bit short, but that may have been due partly to the size pf the salt I used (sea salt as opposed to kosher or table). I do like the color of Mortimer's skin here, though I wish I could have given it a smokier feel.

The mock-up in pencil


The quotes piece is one I've been muddling over for a while. It's something of a line and wash (wherein the subject is penned in with waterproof ink and then the paints are "washed" over the paper). I'll probably try for a more traditional line and wash next time. My favorite of the little designs on this piece is the Cheshire Cat, who turned out perfectly. I'm also fond of the spooky old tree in the Berenstain Bears quote and the slightly ethereal swooshes on "Always."
The final product

Have you tried to work with any of these techniques before? What did your paintings turn out like? Have any suggestions for future projects I can paint? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Evil Wizards

Since I talked about my favorite heroic magic-users in fiction last month, I thought I'd tackle the other side of the aisle this time. Again, I'm using the term "wizard" to refer to anyone using magic.


Saruman the Many-Colored


Saruman begins life as a Maia (or angel) of Illuvatar, the Creator of Tolkien's legendarium. Selected as the head of the Istari (wizards) sent by the Valar (archangels) to Middle-earth, Saruman soon abandons the proscription laid on him against taking up leadership over men by establishing himself in Isengard, an abandoned fortress. In his attempts to study the work of Sauron, initially to help the forces of good defeat the Dark Lord, Saruman becomes corrupted by his own fear, bitterness, and longing for power. Changing his name from Saruman the White to Saruman the Many-Colored, he betrays his closest ally and one-time friend Gandalf and eventually becomes little more than a wizened old man whose only power lies in his voice. (See this article for a fascinating analysis of Saruman.)



Maleficent

She's the queen of Disney villains and the self-titled mistress of all evil. She's so bad, she's one of the main antagonists in the Kingdom Hearts franchise (about which more on Monday), returning again and again to attempt domination of all worlds. Maleficent is one of the most compelling (and at the same time, petty) of the Disney villains. After all, she curses an infant to die because she wasn't invited to the christening. (Incidentally, I enjoyed Disney's live-action Maleficent as a different take on the story; it isn't perfect, but it is well done.)



Jadis, the White Witch

She's the original villain in the Narnia books, and the only one to get a second appearance (in The Magician's Nephew). People like to tout her as the ultimate evil in Narnia, but I think that title rightly belongs to Tash (an argument for another time). In any event, she's a classic evil witch with surprising depth to her backstory, even if we have to wait until the sixth book (yes, publication order is best) to get it. Jadis is such an iconic and driving force in the books in which she appears, Walden even shoehorned her into two other films, one of which doesn't even refer to her in the source material!



Dolores Umbridge

Arguably the most hated villain in the entire Harry Potter series, Umbridge is an amalgamation of terrible educators, interfering governmental employees, and the worst parts 1950s culture. She tortures students who disagree with her on politically volatile subjects, arbitrarily bans student organizations, censors the news outlets allowed in Hogwarts, and fails to even teach to the test (which is her stated purpose in life.) She's the only wizard known to be able to produce a Patronus (which, like flying to Nevernever Land, requires happy thoughts) while wearing a Horcrux. She's messed up, to put it mildly, and she's one of those characters I just love to hate.


Jafar

Jafar is one of my personal favorites among the Disney villains for two very specific reasons: 1) he is diabolically evil, resorting to sorcery, lies, and attempted murder just to retain the power he already has (as opposed to Scar, who lies, murders, and manipulates to gain more power) and 2) he uses puns. Child me did not understand puns. I never got the jokes in Disney movies that centered on wordplay because I either didn't know there were two layers to a joke (having never heard of a "club" sandwich, I assumed The Lion King's "cub" sandwich was simply that) or I didn't understand why it was funny to say things with two meanings. I took all of Jafar's puns literally -- an easy task given how he literalizes his own words with magic. Now, as an adult who has developed a taste for sarcasm and puns, I relish Jafar's morbid sense of humor, even if it's a little too pointed at times.



Dr. Facilier

One of the newest Disney villains, Dr. Facilier hasn't had as much fame and success as his colleagues, but he's still on my list of characters I want to see on Once Upon a Time. (Now there's a list I should write up for the blog.) He is one of the darkest villains, having essentially sold his soul to the shadows in exchange for power (kind of like Rasputin in the animated Anastasia). He is also one of the few villains to actually kill another character onscreen in a Disney film (and no one has recovered from Ray's death since).



Bellatrix

Another Harry Potter villain, Bellatrix is possibly the second-most demented antagonist in the series after Umbridge. (I won't count Voldemort because he's essentially a psychopath from birth.) Bellatrix also delights in torturing those she disagrees with, or even those she views as less than herself. She is responsible for Neville's being essentially an orphan and killed one of my favorite characters (RIP, Sirius). Bellatrix is one of those characters I was happy to see die in Deathly Hallows (making her one of three, counting Voldemort and Nagini).


Rumplestiltskin

Rumple is one of my favorite villains (and characters in general) on Once Upon a Time, the show I have the longest-running love-hate relationship with. His eventual hoped-for redemption is on my list of things that must happen before this show ends. (Never mind that they've given it to us. Twice. And then taken it right back. >_> I did say this was a love-hate relationship.) Rumple's initial goal, his entire reason for being and doing, is to reunite with his son. While this creates a depth of sympathy for him that gives his character much-needed complexity, it doesn't excuse the many horrible and manipulative things he does to achieve that goal. He tries so often to be the man his loved ones want him to be, and love drives him through a large portion of his character arc(s). But in the end, power always overtakes his other loves (even when it makes no sense). Still, Robert Carlyle's portrayal covers a multitude of the writers' sins, and Rumple is still my favorite imp.


The Wicked Witch of the West

The most iconic witch ever, and one of the most parodied, she was as much a staple of my childhood as Maleficent. The Wizard of Oz is one of my mother's favorite films, and my brother and I watched it dozens of times while we were growing up. Wicked aside, West is evil, inventive, and downright mean (not to mention a hydrophobe and photophobe in the book; yes, an evil witch who's afraid of the dark).



Azula

Azula is the best of the villains on Avatar: The Last Airbender because she has all the maniacal laughter big bad mentality of her father, Fire Lord Ozai, while still keeping more emotional depth like her brother, Zuko. Her descent into madness in the Avatar finale is some of the show's best writing, and her complicated relationship with Zuko, developed in flashbacks to their childhood as well as current-time scenes in the show's second and third seasons, makes Azula one of the most human of Avatar's antagonists.


Honorable Mentions:

Morgana (BBC's Merlin)

Madam Mim (Disney's The Sword in the Stone)

Voldemort (Harry Potter)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday Musings: Announcing The Robert C. O'Brien Read/Watch Marathon

Apparently, the classic sci-fi novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is getting another adaptation, this time as a live-action film. Hearing this news has solidified a nebulous idea I have been toying with: rereading and rewatching the original book and film in order to share my thoughts on both with you all.

Why? Because The Secret of NIMH was the first sci-fi/fantasy film I remember encountering as something new. I had seen Disney films, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones at home. They were staples of my childhood. But one night during a sleepover at my aunt's house, we watched The Secret of NIMH and I became enthralled. When I later discovered it was also a book, I checked it out from the school library. At the time, it was too long for me to finish in the initial checkout limit and it became the first book I had to renew. I remember staying up late in order to keep reading (this might have been my first up-later-than-is-advisable book as well). NIMH was part of what got me started on speculative fiction in all its shades of glory. So why not revisit it?

While I'm at it, why not (finally) read the other three novels O'Brien wrote? There are three of them: The Silver Crown, Z for Zachariah, and A Report from Group 17. I've bought them all over the years because when I like an author, I tend to do that, but I have yet to read them. Then there's the movie adaptation of Z for Zachariah. All of this comes together to make for a nice little read/watch (and reread/rewatch) marathon, although I doubt it will be a marathon in execution. It'll more likely be a series of hikes stretched out over several months.

I may also get around to the two sequels to NIMH that O'Brien's daughter wrote. I have one of them on hand, and the other should be easy to find if I look.

Care to join me as I work my way through Robert C. O'Brien's fiction? Have you read any of his books before? What did you think?

ICYMI: I visited Further Up and Further In last Wednesday to talk about how Albion Academy began and changed from inception to publication!