Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Musings: Why A Flubbed Narnia Reference Derailed BBC's "Class"

I recently finished going through the Doctor Who spinoff Class, and I confess to having mixed feelings about the show. Although for the most part it scans as a DW-themed Buffy-style show about high school kids dealing with supernatural events, its failings fall into two categories of my personal pet peeves: wide open finales with no promise of renewal, and bad Narnia references. I'll deal with the first briefly before diving into the titular error.

Wide Open Finales

I'm not opposed to a good cliffhanger for a TV show's current season. In fact, they're often a good way to get me excited for a show again after slogging through 20-some episodes on a weekly basis. BUT using a cliffhanger in place of wrapping things up when you have NO guarantee of returning next season ticks me off. Class's finale ends with literally no denouement. It ends with a joke. There's no time for the characters to recover from the deaths and destruction of the last hour. And the BBC hasn't made any statements about renewing it. Even if they do, the show's creator and writer, Patrick Ness, has said he won't be returning if a second season happens. Color me disappointed.

On to the more salient point . . .

Bad Narnia References

This actually happens in the season's sixth episode (but really, episodes 6-8 form a sort of 3-part finale, since 6 and 7 are simultaneous episodes dealing with separate groups of characters, and both episodes feed directly into the finale).

In this episode, the main group of kids is trapped in an inter-dimensional classroom for detention with a prisoner (who is further trapped in a meteorite) whose presence is driving their anger to higher and higher levels. If any of them touches the meteorite, he or she winds up confessing their true thoughts on a subject. Matteusz is one of the first to touch the meteorite, and he winds up confessing that he's afraid of Charlie, the alien masquerading as a human teenager with whom he's become involved this season. In the course of trying to apologize for his harsh words, Matteusz tells Charlie about the Narnia books, which he read as a child. He says he always thought the author hated Susan because "for one, she doesn't go to heaven because she wears makeup" and then he goes on to relate how Susan once eavesdropped on a schoolmate and heard some unkind things and the experience ruined the friendship forever.

There are two main problems with this double reference, but the first half of it is a common reductionist misconception of Susan's fate in The Last Battle. (More on that in a moment.) The second half of Matteusz's reference is actually in the books, and a fitting analogy for the moment. The problem is, the story he's describing happens to Lucy, not Susan, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Maybe we can chalk this up to Matteusz not remembering the books clearly, but since it follows the other mistake about Susan, it seems more likely that Ness chose to forge ahead with his own misremembered version of Narnia rather than take the time to check his facts. The scene drove me crazy because this would have been such a powerful reference if it had been done properly. Instead, we have another modern writer jumping on the "Lewis hated Susan" bandwagon.

As to Susan being excluded from heaven for wearing makeup in The Last Battle, the text actually makes it clear Susan wasn't in the Real Narnia because she, alone of all the Friends of Narnia, wasn't on the train that crashed. She wasn't with them because she had convinced herself (rather like unlike Andrew denying the Talking Beasts's speech) that Narnia was only a game and she had become obsessed with invitations, parties, and lipstick. Notice that having an interest in these things is not what keeps her from being in communion with the other Friends of Narnia. It is her own decision to exclude herself, to lie about what happened, and to obsess with things that matter little in the long run. What's more, Lewis himself held out hope that Susan would come back to Aslan before the end (and after all, "Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen").

Have you seen Class? What did you think?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday Snippets: August Edition

Where has August gone? It seems like I was just getting ready for it to begin. Ah well. This month's been a bit more productive than July. Here are some snippets for you to enjoy.

I think all this time he’s harbored a certain animosity towards magic and anyone connected to our world. It’s possible he blames people like us for his wife leaving him.

Or he could just be a royal jerk, she said.

I chuckled despite myself. Or that.


“Well, that was about as effective as I expected,” Stavros said.

“Better than I expected.” The wooden voice had called from inside Reese’s office.

I stepped past the door, which hung aslant in the frame. “Belchor?”

The place was a mess. Papers and books had been torn from the shelves and Belchor groaned from its prone position in the floor. Scorch marks traced smudgy shapes across its back.

“Is there someone under the bookshelf?” Samantha asked, trying to tilt Belchor upright.

“Belchor is the bookshelf,” I replied, helping her lever it against the wall again.


“Exactly so,” Belchor said. “Keep that up, don’t waver, don’t sneeze, don’t blink.”

I pictured Stavros faking a sneeze, or adding “don’t breathe” to Belchor’s list, but he wasn’t a Djinni; the humor would have been lost on him. Or perhaps he didn’t want me to experience another lapse in treatment.

Lapse in treatment. Laps in treatment. Maybe they’d have me running laps. No. Running was bad. Running raised the heartbeat, sped up the venom’s metabolism. Venom. V-nam. Vietnam. Glad I never saw that conflict. The American Civil War was bad enough.

Never did tell Merlin that story.


If he was really here—what must her hair look like? What diseased color had that streak—the only physical sign of her parentage—taken on?

Jason’s hand slipped into hers—oh, please, God, don’t let it be a dream—and he said, “Does that feel like a hallucination?”

“Hallucinations don’t feel like hallucinations,” she quipped. What was she doing? She shouldn’t be flirting with him; she ought to be mending things, apologizing.


I pushed my hair out of my eyes and waited for Toho to surface, but he remained under the surface far longer than I would have expected. A slick something brushed my leg and I shouted.

Toho surfaced a few feet from where he’d gone under.

“You scare too easily, youngling,” he said with his too-wide grin. “That old joke would not have elicited more than a bark from old Coyote.”

“Coyote probably didn’t have to swim blind in an underground pool with you,” I replied.

“True,” said Toho, leaning away to float on his back. “If he had, he would have made a comment about blindness improving the view.”

“Sounds like Robin,” I said, scrubbing my skin with more sand and trying to ignore the tremor in my voice.

Toho laughed. “Where do you think the Puck learned his tricks?”


Crouching next to the fire, Spider Grandmother seemed both spider and grandmother in my Second Sight. It was as though two beings—one a woman like Madame Excelsior or Harry’s grandmother, the other a spider so immense I wondered if Tolkien hadn’t seen her before writing The Two Towers—occupied the same place, their forms overlapping in disconcerting ways. Oddly enough, as we crossed the chamber to stand before her, I thought that the spider looked at me with more kindness and understanding in her eight eyes than the grandmother did. I suddenly felt I understood a little what that line from Narnia meant. The one about wanting to be eaten by Aslan rather than fed by someone else.

But I still didn’t want to be eaten. Not today, at least.

That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Musings: A Wishlist for The Incredibles 2

Last night we introduced Samwise to his first superhero film: The Incredibles. It went over the same as almost every movie we've shown him that isn't Moana: some interest, but he spent most of the movie playing in the floor instead. In addition to reminding me why I love this movie so much, the experience got me thinking about the sequel due out next summer.

We haven't heard a whole lot about the movie so far; we know that Helen (Elastigirl) will be the central character the way Bob (Mr. Incredible) was in the first film. We know that Frozone, Edna, and the Underminer will all return. And we know that the movie picks up right where the first one left off: with the Incredibles facing off against the Underminer.

So, with that in mind, here's my wishlist for The Incredibles 2:

  • A time jump. Yes, the movie picks up with the fight against the Underminer, but that could easily be the opening fight sequence that sets the stage for the film. I'd like to see at least a small time jump of a few years for a couple of reasons. First, it allows Jack-Jack to age up (allowing us to see what becomes of his powers). Second, it allows the relationships from the first film (including Violet and Tony's) to develop and reach a point where they can be more dramatically moving than they would be if the film simply acts as a "part 2" to the first.

  • An onscreen appearance for Honey, Lucius' wife. She's obviously a strong person if she has been married to Lucius all these years, and I would like to see her utilized as more than an end-of-movie comic relief. (Also, can you imagine the girls weekend with her, Helen, and Edna?)

  • Speaking of Honey: Did Lucius make it back in time to save her evening?

  • Violet and Dash's expanding roles as heroes and members of the family. Depending on how far ahead we jump after the battle with the Underminer, this could be anything from Dash entering adolescence and Violet navigating high school/prepping for college to Dash simply being Dash and Violet trying to balance her dates with Tony and her time as a hero.

  • More fabulous fashion from Edna, along with perhaps a more expanded role? Edna is obviously close with Helen, and I doubt their renewed friendship will cool any time soon. While the Incredibles may not need new supersuits (aside from the kids sizing up), even with a time jump, Edna seems to act as much as counselor and friend as she does a Q-like inventor and designer.

  • A villain whose presence stretches the family in new ways. Since Helen's role is more central to this film, it's likely the villain is someone with a special connection to her. Whether this means the villain is a former love interest (which would offer a chance to reverse some of the first film's tension), a mentor, or someone who simply dislikes Helen, I expect Brad Bird will not skimp on the heart of the matter: the Parr family, and especially Bob and Helen's marriage. Bird has said he wants to keep the emphasis on the family matters, and that's the best thing he can do. The relationships between these people are what made the first film so great, and I have no doubt that will continue in the sequel.

What about y'all? Anything you want to see in The Incredibles 2 that I failed to mention?

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!