Monthly Archives: October 2009

Fun Friday: Happy Halloween!

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Hope you all have a fantastic Halloween weekend!  Whether you’re partying it up, going out or staying in, make sure to have fun and play it safe!  We’ll be back come Monday. 😉


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Phoenix

In mythology, the phoenix is largely known as the fire bird, decorated in colorful plummage, capable of rising from its own ashes reborn. It is commonly associated with immortality as the phoenix’s lifespan ranged from 500-1,000 years, only to be reborn and live another full lifespan.

In many cultures, the phoenix is associated with the sun. For instance, Egyptian mythology had a phoenix like bird they called Bennu, which literally translates to “rise” or “shine”. Mentioned in the Book of the Dead and other sacred writings, it is usually mentioned in relation to their sun-god Ra. The Greeks also believed that when their sun-god Helios heard the phoenix sing, he would stop his chariot in the sky and listen, mesmerized.

Other legends regarding the bird exist in Russian folklore, Chinese and Japanese myths, and Native American legend.

The main consensus is this: after its long lifespan the phoenix builds a nest of myrrh twigs and both the bird and the nest go up in flames. From its ashes a new, younger phoenix is born.

The most popular and perhaps well known use of the bird and its meaning is X-men’s transformed Jean Grey.

What I love most about the myth is its symbollic potential. In fact, I have an entire character who is in essence a phoenix and who controls fire. His journey is that of destruction and rebirth. But I feel in this age of paranormal and fantasy, this myth offers limitless potential.


Book Geek Wednesday: Austen Mania

I first met Jane Austen when I was a freshman in high school. Pride and Prejudice was on the list of assigned reading for the course and I started the story, only to find myself bored through the first chapter. There were too many characters and the language bothered me to the point of annoyance… I had read and loved Shakespeare but this was a different beast entirely.

I stopped reading a few weeks into the class but was sure to take meticulous notes on the lectures, in case there was an exam. And then one day, with excited hands and bright eyes, my teacher described the country ball, where Elizabeth Bennet first met the likes of one very smug Fitzwilliam Darcy. She recited dialogue, acted out the scene, and lit a fire of interest that I have yet to quench.

I fell in love with Jane Austen that year. Her ability to read through people, to understand their nuances and capture them so vividly fascinated me. I couldn’t understand how she turned human flaws into I went on to read Sense and Sensibility and then promptly bought the 1995 version, starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant.

Since then, Jane Austen seems to have exploded into pop culture. The new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, was a visual masterpiece and though Knightley’s Lizzie was a bit too modern for my taste, their version of Darcy was just the right mix of shy, arrogant, awkward, and wonderful. Becoming Jane (though completely historically inaccurate) had its pulse in the heart of Austen’s novels. The Jane Austen Book Club, much more adult in nature than the novels themselves, touched on the fact that there is a Lizzie, an Emma, an Elinor, in all of us.

And of course the brilliant BBC adaptations of Persuasion and Mansfield Park (which starred Billie Piper *mini Doctor Who squee*) got me hooked all over again. BBC is where it’s at, people. They’re 2006 Jane Eyre was brilliant!

Now, Austen is back in the spotlight, but not in the way you would think. The paranormal craze has touched everything, even our beloved Jane.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

(from B&N.com) ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.’ So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. This deluxe heirloom edition includes a new preface by coauthor Seth Grahame-Smith, thirteen oil-painting illustrations by Roberto Parada, and a fascinating afterword by Dr. Allen Grove of Alfred University. Best of all, this limited special edition features an incredible 30 percent more zombies—via even more all-new scenes of carnage, corpse slaying, and cannibalism. Complete with a satin ribbon marker and a leatherette binding designed to endure for generations, this hardcover volume honors a masterpiece of classic zombie literature.

 

 

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Austen and Ben H Winters

(from B&N.com) Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities.

As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon.

Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? It’s survival of the fittest and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

 

I’ll admit, I never in a million years thought that kind of combination would work. Weird, huh? Classic fiction meets horror. I’m dreadfully curious. Any of you read these yet?


Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective: White is for Magic by Laurie Faria Stolarz

WHITE IS 419White is for Magic is the sequel to Blue is for Nightmares, and continues the story of high school student Stacey Brown, a Witch in a homeopathic sense of the word, who spent Blue having nightmares about her best friend being abducted and murdered, and has to figure out her dreams in order to save her.

White occurs the following year.  The one-year anniversary, as a matter of fact, and once again Stacey is having nightmares… but this year it’s her who’s in danger.

I admit, this wasn’t as horror-movie scary as Blue, but that was okay with me.  This novel let us dive a little deeper into the characters.  At  the end of Blue, Stacey ends up with the perfect, blue-eyed blond boy (also her best friend’s ex)—but in the second novel she starts to wonder if that’s what she really wants, especially when Jacob comes into the picture—Jacob, who’s also a Witch (it’s a faith thing, not a gender thing here) and has been having nightmares about Stacey.

Jacob becomes the one person who can truly understand what Stacey’s life has been like… but Stacey isn’t 100% sure if she can trust Jacob.  After all, he’s new to town, and knows way too much about her.

But without Jacob, she can’t make sense of what all her magic is seeming to warn her against, and trusting him with magic may lead, ultimately, to something much more than she’s bargained for.  Half of the time she can’t worry about semantics, though—she has to concentrate on saving her own life.

While it’s not quite as scary as Blue, again, this is filled out nicely with creeptastic dreams and multiple red-herring baddies.  The climax of this was more satisfying than in the first novel, also, and Stacey continues to be a smart narrator, with great friends—I have to admit I get a kick out of Amber, the whackier of her two roommates, who makes for a lot of the comedic relief in the series.

I give this a straight-out A.  I’m enjoying the series muchly, and I’ve already started Silver is for Secrets.


Movie Magic Monday: Hocus Pocus

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Since it’s the week before Halloween, I thought I’d do a nice, definitive Halloween movie for you this week, and the first one that popped to mind was Hocus Pocus.

This movie starts out in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s, where three witch sisters are luring a little girl into their home to drain the lifeforce out of her.  Her brother tries to stop them, but instead he’s forced to watch as she dies, and then when he angrily insults the witches, he’s turned into a talking cat and made to live forever—which is a little ridiculous, sure, but I never said this was great drama. 😉  The witches get their due and are hung, but before they die one casts a spell saying that they will be resurrected if a virgin ever lights a black candle in their home.  Binx (the immortal boycat) (I’m going to call him that from now on) spends generations guarding the house, and for over three hundred years he’s successful in stopping the black candle from being lit, but one Halloween Max and his sister Dani, new to the town, go up to the witches’ house—now a museum—and what does Max do?  He lights the candle, of course.  All to impress a girl.

Of course he happens to be a virgin, and the witch sisters come back to life—and then hilarity, along with some vaguely creepy (in a fun, corny way) kind of stuff happens.  Can Max save his sister from being the witches’ next lifeforce meal? Can they ever break the curse on Binx the Immortal Boycat?

This movie is just a lot of fun.  Any movie with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimi as witches is BOUND to be a lot of fun.  And with those three, you’d better believe there’s a musical number involved.

Kitschy, corny, and classic.  I give this an A.


Fun Friday: The 25 Best YA Fantasy Novels of All Time?

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When you Google “Best YA Fantasy,” the first thing that pops up is a .pdf of a 2001 list of the “25 Best Young Adult Fantasy Novels of All Time—So Far” compiled by Patty Campbell, a woman with many YA and youth literary accolades to her name.  It’s a pretty good list… but the fact is that it was compiled long before the YA Fantasy explosion—four years before Twilight, even (not that I’m saying that should or should not be on the list)—so it does feel a little dated.

The list is as follows:

Can you see why this list makes me kind of turn my head a little bit?  I admit, I can claim to have read very little of this list.  In fact, all I’ve read off of it is The Once and Future King, and of course, Harry Potter*.  The truth is, I haven’t even heard of many of these books.  Many of these just aren’t young adult novels, though.  Several are classic fantasy—appropriate for young adults, sure, but not YA themselves.  Some of them are children’s fantasy.  And some of them… frankly some of them are just odd.  Someday I’m going to have to read that House of Stairs, because the description is one of the oddest things I’ve ever read.  We’re talking Flatland weird—okay, not really, but somewhere close.  And do you like how Harry Potter is tagged on at the very end there, as if it were no big deal?  Even the outdatedness of this list can’t excuse that—Goblet of Fire was out in 2001, andtook the Hugo Award for Best Novel that same year.

No disrespect to Patty Campbell.  Anyone who spends as much of their time and efforts—as much of their life, really, bringing literature to young adults (or anyone!) has my highest regard.  All I’m saying is… I think it’s about time we had a new list.  Don’t you?

*Yes, I realize that it’s somewhat disgraceful that I haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Lord of the Rings.  I’m working on it.


Thursday Myths & Legends: Jack O’ Lanterns

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Walking around town, I’m starting to see more and more pumpkins out on porches.  Halloween is certainly coming on fast.  Did you ever wonder why we carve up pumpkins with scary faces and light them up with candles, though?  I have.

There are a few different stories as to how Jack o’ Lanterns were started, but they all follow more or less the same.  There’s a man named Jack who was just of the worst class of people – disorderly, drunk, and usually in debt.  The how and why differ, but in all of the stories, he somehow manages to trick and trap the devil, by means of a cross—in one he’s being chased out of town for his debts and convinces the devil to turn into a coin to trick the townspeople, turning them against each other when the coin would later disappear.  The devil jumps into his pocket as a silver coin, but lands next to a cross and is trapped.  In another story Jack convinces the devil to climb a tree, then carves a cross into the trunk.

What happens after this is that he bargains to let the devil go if he promises to never take Jack’s soul, which he does, and so Jack lives out the rest of his life, but he’s been such a bad person, he can’t get into Heaven but when he goes down to Hell, the devil reminds Jack of their bargain and turns him away out of spite for having been tricked by him.  When Jack asks where he is to go, and how he is to find his way, the devil mockingly tosses him an ember from Hell that will never fade, and Jack hollowed out a turnip (sometimes given to him by a wiseman, or God) and carried it as a lantern as he walked the earth, searching for a place of rest.

So, moral of the story—don’t mess with the devil, kids. 😉

Interestingly enough, though, the phrase “jack o’ lantern” originally referred to night watchmen or will’o the wisps, the strange flickering light over peat bogs.  It still does mean the latter in Labrador and Newfoundland.


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