Liebster Questions or A Pleasant Break from Term Papers

Uh, hi, everyone, it’s me again.  Urania, your D&D-playing, fantasy-reading and writing, cosplaying uber-geek and lame-o PhD student who gets easily distracted.  It’s term paper season, and I’m up to my neck in deadlines.  But somebody told me we had a cool questionnaire thing to answer, written by the inimitable David of Warden’s Walk.  So, of course I got myself good and distracted for an evening and wrote up some answers.  I’m afraid I’m a bit out of touch with the blogosphere, and thus will pass on the tagging bit (looks like Melpomene did a good job with that already).  But here are my answers.  (P.S.  For what it’s worth, I like questions like these.  They get me to write…)

If you could choose one fictional creature to be your pet/animal companion, which would you choose and why?

I want a griffin so bad.  I can’t even say why, exactly.  I just remember a moment during freshman year of college when I decided a griffin steed would be so awesome, and I even created a story about a city of griffin-riding elves.  My heroine actually got transformed temporarily into a griffin.

Griffin Elves!

“Dawn Patrol” by sandara of deviantArt

I guess if you’re choosing a fantastic beastie for a companion, it should be one that can fly, right?  As a kid, I went through a dragon phase and a horse phase, so you might think I would choose a winged dragon or a pegasus for my flying steed.  Perhaps I gravitate to griffins these days because they seem somewhat underrated and underused as fantasy steeds.  Or maybe it’s because I’m crazy about the feathery ears.

Name a favorite moment of yours from any movie released in the 1980s and explain why.

When I tried to choose “favorite” moment, I automatically looked for a moment that stayed with me and which encapsulates why this movie is a favorite and mattered to me both when I first saw it and now.  I came up with a conversation between the unicorn and the magician from the end of The Last Unicorn.

UNICORN. I’m a little afraid to go home. I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am no longer like the others, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but now I do. I regret.

SCHMENDRICK. I am sorry. I have done you evil and I cannot undo it.

UNICORN.  No. Unicorns are in the world again! No sorrow will live in me with that joy… save one – and I thank you for that part, too.

unicorn1ub

When I first saw the movie, I was probably too young to really understand what regret is from personal experience, but I recall being fascinated by the idea that one could be grateful for the feeling of regret.  Of course, the Unicorn knows regret because, alone of her kind, she has also known the love of one mortal for another.  I was then and am still a hopeless, sappy romantic with a weakness for bittersweet love stories.  It’s good to know my taste has stayed constant.

If you had to be chased by some hostile fictional creature or character, through a fictional landscape, which ones would you choose and why?

Chased by Star Wars stormtroopers through Narnia in winter.  I could really go for some beautiful snowy landscapes right now (I’m a northerner living in Texas, and the weather here is very confusing to me).  And everyone knows that stormtroopers are just goons with very bad aim; they’re easy to take out if you are the hero.  So, I’d dispatch them forthwith and then get down to enjoying the wintery wonderland and maybe catch tea with a faun and some dryads.

In-N-Out, Five Guys, or Chik-Fil-A?

I had Five Guys for the first time a few months ago, and their fries are delicious.

Name a song you really like from a musical genre you don’t generally like and explain why this one works for you.

Well, since you asked about music I don’t like: I don’t like rap or hip hop as a genre per se.  That said, I do actually like the cadence of rap lyrics, particularly when incorporated as an element of other styles that I’m more interested in.  Lately, I’ve discovered I like the artist Beck.  iTunes categorizes him as Indie Rock.  The friend who gave me some of his music labeled him much more descriptively as “post modern electronic pop.”  Anyway, some of his songs have rap-style lyrics.  “Hell Yes” is on the album Guero, which I picked up just last night at Half Price Books.  Anyway, I like Beck’s eclectic, electronic melange of various musical styles.  And one of those styles which he incorporates into his own happens to be rap music.

Also, I have to admit I enjoy several rap parodies, such as Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy,” and Flight of the Conchords’ “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros” and “Motha’uckas.”  But as hilarious as those Kiwi boys are, I’m not sure that counts as real rap.  “Did Steve tell you that, perchance?  Steve.”

What is, in your opinion, the best portrayal(s) of the Elves/Fair Folk/Faeries in film? Multiple choices are permitted, but you must say why you think your choices are so good.

At first I thought, that’s easy!  I’ve come across some good ones lately. War for the Oaks!  No, wait, that’s a book.  Solstice Wood!  Book, again.  Huh.  In film?  I’m not sure I’ve found any yet that fits the way I like to imagine the fey.

Peter Jackson’s elves sure don’t do it for me.  They’re too androgynous and effeminate and, well, kinda stoned.  Elves should be more manly and scary! Kili, a.k.a. the Pretty Dwarf from the Hobbit, would actually make a darn good elf, minus the beard.

Kili

Dear Peter Jackson: more of this.

Less of this.  I'm not sayin' Lee Pace isn't an attractive man.  That's beside the point.

Less of this.  (I’m not sayin’ Lee Pace isn’t an attractive man. But that’s beside the point.)

Sooo….

Maybe Jareth and his goblins from Labyrinth.  (None of you are surprised, are you?) Jareth is fully otherworldly and terrifying and beautiful all at once, the way the fey ought to be.  He’s capricious and dangerous and rule-bound.  And I think the goblins are well-realized as his trickster minions.  Brian Froud’s wonderfully fey concept art and character design really comes through in the goblins.  I leave you to Google your own picture of Jareth, as I have exceeded my limit of men for this post.  But if you don’t know what he looks like, go watch the movie already.

What was the last black-and-white film you saw, and what did you think of it?

I seem to recall watching a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie called Bride of the Monster or something like that.  It was terrible, naturally, though our boys made the best of it, in classic MST3K fashion.

423

What did you think of the new trailer for The Desolation of Smaug?

I watched a trailer for this about a month ago, so this may be a different one, but…  I remember thinking some things along the lines of “Legolas!  It’s nice to see you again!  I hope you get a cool part in this movie because you are my favorite elf in the Fellowship.”  “Girl wood elves could be cool.”  “Is Orlando Bloom in this movie twice?”

A Geek’s Apology

Pardon the extra-long post.  I’m making up for my summer hiatus.  Actually, I wrote this back at the beginning of summer for a class in writing creative nonfiction, and I decided it should see the light of day somewhere.

I suppose everyone reaches a point when he or she wonders, “What am I doing with my life?”  I consider my four different gaming consoles (PS3, Wii, Gamecube, SNES) and the long list of games I want to buy when I finish one or two of the seven currently in progress.  Then there is my bookshelf, overflowing with titles such as A Distant Soil, The Silmarillion, American Gods, The Eye of Argon, TSUBASA: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Planet Narnia, Sandman.  Next to these is a case filled with my anime DVDs—over 60 of them.  I meet my friends once a week for Sci-Fi Sunday, when we watch X-Files, Dollhouse, and Battlestar Galactica.  On weekends, I go in costume to the Renaissance Faire.  The conclusion is inescapable: I am a geek.

I prefer the term geek to the alternative nerd.  Geek sounds cooler, more socially savvy, smarter, better dressed.  I hear the word nerd and think of the guy who’ll monopolize your attention at dinner with a dissertation on why the Star Wars original trilogy is better than the prequels, and whose entire wardrobe consists of jeans and video game/comic book/name that geeky franchise t-shirts.  Not that I am unconditionally opposed to geeky graphic tees—I just ordered another one before I sat down to write this—but it’s a problem when that’s the only thing in your closet.  While a geek may be seen wearing a t-shirt referencing his favorite TV show, he’s just as likely to wear a professional, button-down shirt or, in the case of the female geek—we are a growing demographic, you know—a pretty skirt and blouse.  I think the wardrobe difference between the nerds and the geeks says something about our relative senses of proportion.  The nerd doesn’t seem aware that it might ever be inappropriate to declare his love for The Simpsons or Super Mario Brothers via his wardrobe choices.  The well-adjusted geek, on the other hand, has a broader clothing vocabulary.  For example, I may choose my clothing to say, “I’m a Doctor Who fan!” or “I’m a mature young adult who understands and participates in social norms regulating situationally-appropriate attire.”

This brings me to a stereotype regarding geeks: that we are people who never fully matured, but are hiding away from reality in some juvenile fantasy-world.  I’ll admit, such can be the case.  I have known people so engrossed by a fantasy novel or TV series that they live more in their imaginations than in the real world.  “Grow up!” I want to tell them.  I have a similar urge towards the nerdy t-shirt squad, too.  The inability to understand context and proportion—regarding conventions in clothing, behavior, and conversation—does indeed bespeak a lack of maturity.  Yet I maintain it is this lack of social adaptability, rather than an interest in comic books or video games, which identifies the truly immature nerd.  The geek is someone who enjoys the imaginary world of Marvel superheroes or Halo battlefields, but knows, at the end of the day, that the real world—the world of family, friends, and job—is most important and the one she wants to live in.

Again, it comes down to proportion.  A sense of proportion is what separates the nerd who lives vicariously through his World of Warcraft character and even believes he is the character, from the geek who enjoys a weekend raid with his friends.  Proportion—and an ability to read the social dynamic—separates the nerd who won’t shut up till he’s quoted you the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from the geek who can make a well-timed Holy Hand Grenade joke.  Proportion separates the nerd who thinks her life would be better if she could magically transport herself to Middle-Earth from the geek who thinks her real life is more interesting because she can take an imaginative journey to Middle-Earth and back again.

Actually, that last nerd was me in high school.  As a teen, I don’t think I really had many reasons in my life to suffer angst, but like most kids my age, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  I thought that I would be happier if I could trade my banal existence for a life of epic adventure and profound significance in Tolkien’s world.  I immersed myself in the histories of Middle-Earth, imagined the adventures of my elf alter-ego, Donisiliel, and even wrote fan fiction.  I’m embarrassed, now, when I look back on my desperately escapist daydreams.  But it turned out all right for me, in the end.  I learned that, while I could never actually live in Middle-Earth, many of the things I loved about that world could be enjoyed in the real world.  I could enjoy the tall trees and moonlight in my own backyard just as well as if I were in the Forest of Doriath.  I wasn’t fighting dragons or dark lords, but a term paper or a road trip—if viewed with a sense of imagination—could be just as much of an adventure.

I still love fantasy and sci-fi, not because I find my own life lacking, but because imagining other worlds is simply enjoyable.  For example, the Dresden Files books create a modern world where magic is real and rogue demons or werewolves present as much of a threat as gang violence in downtown Chicago.  The show Battlestar Galactica transports me to a future world where humanity’s battle for survival against a race of cyborgs serves as a backdrop for action and drama.  The Legend of Zelda games make me part of a world of magic and monsters, where the hero saves the day and rescues the princess.  I don’t want my life to become these stories.  I’m glad I don’t have to worry about vampire attacks or whether my best friends might turn out to be Cylon agents.  But it’s still fun to imagine a world where such things could be.  My friends and I sometimes like to joke about the real possibility of a zombie uprising or how that weird thumping in the air conditioner might be the stretchy man from X-Files who can crawl through ductwork.  We don’t think our lives would be more exciting if such things were true; we just like bringing our imaginations to bear on real life, too.

All the same, I don’t mean to say that there is no element of escapism to a geek’s interests.  For the guy with a sedate office job, it can be fun to imagine, for a few hours, that he’s in a war zone in Halo 3 or Call of Duty.  Personally, I find that smiting goblins and dragons is a nice contrast to term papers and reading assignments.  But really, this kind of escapism isn’t any different than the non-geek unwinding at night by reading a romance novel, or watching a sports game or TV show.  I think there is something healthy about being able to escape briefly from the stresses of life.  A few hours away from the world helps me regain the energy, focus, and interest to engage in it again when I do close my book or shut down my game console.

If a little escapism is healthy and normal, why is it that the geeks seem to fare worse in popular opinion than somebody who watches a football game or American Idol after work?  I suspect it may be that a ball game or a reality TV show seems to be rooted more in, well, reality than a science-fiction show or video game.  But allow me to suggest that this isn’t true.  Does watching a ball game serve any particularly practical purpose?  Or even though American Idol features real (non-fictional) people, isn’t the viewer participating in a fantasy world by cheering for a contestant whom she does not know and may never meet in person?

In fact, we geeks do share a lot of characteristics with the Common American Sports Fan.  Geeks sometimes cosplay (dress up in costume) as our favorite characters.  I’ve also seen sports fans dress up in costumes or strip to the waist and paint themselves in their team’s colors for the big game.  Geeks wear dorky t-shirts decorated with video game or cartoon characters.  I’ve seen just as many non-geeks wearing clothing emblazoned with the logos of their favorite sports teams.  Just as geeks may cultivate the ability to recall individual episode titles and plot synopses from our favorite TV shows, many sports fans could tell you the score and winning plays from a crucial game.  Geeks also tend to argue at length over the relative superiority of Marvel versus DC super heroes, or whether James Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard made a better starship captain.  But sports fans have similar arguments over subjects such as Brett Favre’s “defection” from the Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings or the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.  My point is that geeky behavior really isn’t as unusual as it might seem.  I know there are also the sports fans who take their love past the boundaries of proportion and become sports nerds.  But even the well-adjusted sports fan may display the above behaviors at one time or another.  The truth is that despite their similarities, the sports fan is still considered a bit more normal than the sci-fi geek.

Perhaps the Brony phenomenon can shed some light on the geek stigma.  The term Brony (a portmanteau of the words bro and pony) refers to a male fan of the cartoon show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.  Strange, perhaps, that a TV show based on a toy line for little girls should have a significant young-adult male fan following.  Or perhaps not so strange, when you remember it’s a well-written show, with fully-developed characters, top-notch voice acting and animation, and humor that is genuinely funny.  Also genuinely funny was hearing one of my guy friends say “Twilight Sparkle is my favorite pony.”  Yes, I can freely admit there is something apparently ridiculous in hearing a college-graduate male express enjoyment of a cartoon show starring brightly colored ponies.  It’s just not as conventional as watching a football or baseball game.  Neither, it seems (though perhaps to a less hilariously dramatic degree) is it conventional for the mature adult to enjoy TV shows about alien spaceships, UFO-chasing FBI agents, or vampire hunters.  Just like MLP:FIM, these shows are well-written, imaginative, and intelligent.  But they’re just not what society expects serious, responsible adults to watch.  Such stigma isn’t any more fair than judging a guy for watching My Little Pony.  I have a number of Brony friends, and they’re all unquestionably masculine guys.  They just appreciate a fun TV show that isn’t specifically marketed to their demographic.  (Or is it?  There are enough geeky references in the show to convince me that MLP:FIM was written by a bunch of geeky folks.)

But that’s something I like about other geeks: they know what they like, and aren’t overly concerned with whether the rest of the world thinks it’s cool or not.  In fact, I’ll confess, we sometimes make our uncoolness a point of pride.  After all, we’ve appropriated the originally pejorative term geek as our title of honor.  This desire to fit in with others like us, yet at the same time stand out from the common crowd, is a basic human longing, and we geeks are only human, not—I promise!—alien robots (though that would be cool).  Doesn’t everybody want to feel like they’re inside the loop, appreciating something that the rest of the world just hasn’t caught on to?

While I’m generally unconcerned with how the world views my geekery, I will confess that there is one area in which I wish sci-fi and fantasy got more respect: academia.  As a graduate student in English literature, I love and appreciate the great authors—Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante, Flaubert, Dostoevsky.  But I also think that sci-fi and fantasy authors such as Tolkien, Lewis, Gaiman, McKillip, and Zelazny deserve academic recognition and respect for their art.  While the sci-fi and fantasy genres are relatively new, many of the accepted works in the great books canon already contain similarly fantastical elements.  Think of the gods and magic in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer.  Dante’s Divine Comedy could be considered a kind of theological fantasy.  Gulliver’s Travels, with its imaginary kingdoms of Lilliputians and talking horses, could easily be classified as sci-fi.  And George Orwell’s more recent classics, Animal Farm and 1984 are already considered part of the sci-fi canon.  Such books are proof that a story need not be strictly realistic to contain truth.  I maintain that academia shouldn’t dismiss my favorite genres simply because they contain magic or other imaginary elements, and I hope that, in future years, some of my favorite geeky authors will make it onto a syllabus or two.

In the end, I’m not worried about what my bookshelves or game systems say about me.  I’m content in my geekery.  And who’s going to judge me, anyway?  Most of my friends are geeks, too.  As I said, being a geek means knowing what I like.  I enjoy my games and my comic books and my weird sci-fi TV shows.  I also love my friends and my family and my studies.  I like visiting Narnia or a galaxy far, far away, but I’m glad I live in real-world, Texas.  I possess both imagination and a sense of proportion.  What am I doing with my life?  I’m living it—with geeky flair.

In the Event of Cylon Apocalypse, the World Must Be Peopled

What book will I bring with me on the emergency evacuation ship when the Cylons destroy civilization, and we have to start over again?

In true Apocalyptic form, I am late for this last meme question. That’s not because I didn’t have an answer, though.  No, I’ve always pretty much known that in the event of the alien invasion, I’m grabbing my Bible first, and then a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

This is what my copy looks like. Though I’m pretty sure I don’t have the “portable” edition. But a heavy book will do double duty as part of my personal defense system. Even alien robots pay attention when 20 lbs. of sonnets and tragedies come hurtling their way.

There really wasn’t a very complicated decision process here.  I asked, “Which book could I not bear to have perish from history forever?” and the Bard was the obvious answer.  No more Hamlet?  No Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet?  I don’t want to live in that world.  These are the stories that have shaped the imaginations of readers for generations.  They’re the books behind all the books I love today.  They’re the fertile ground from which springs much of modern English language and usage.  If we want to preserve our tongue and some piece of our storytelling tradition, we ought to keep these books alive.  I’m not really surprised by my choice.  After all, these are all the reasons I’m going to grad school to (God-willing) get a degree to teach English lit at a university setting.

Now, I hope I never have to take such action for real.  There are plenty of other books I’d weep to have to leave behind.  My Gaiman, my McKillip, Tolkien, Lewis, Jane Austen.  James Thurber!  I hope that by the time the Cylons come, I’ll have a Kindle with all my favorite books on it.  Heck, the need for a contingency plan might just be reason enough to overcome my technophobia regarding digital books and buy a Kindle.  I’ll be the first to admit, all this sci-fi that I read and watch has made me a little paranoid…

Books for Beloved Or No Surprises Here

So, I spent the morning at my grandfather’s funeral, and am now blogging out of an airport in Iowa, waiting to fly back to Dallas.  I don’t cite this autobiographical information as a call for sympathy, but rather as justification for my flagrant cheating for this week’s question.  Because I can’t think of any book I’d have to insist Beloved read as soon as the two of us are one.  But there may well be some books he ought to know in order to merit consideration for a date.  (Actually, even this may not be strictly true, but considering Real Life Things at the moment, I wish to be entirely frivolous right now.)

About a year ago when I was taking the GRE for grad school applications, I worked on building up my GRE vocabulary.  I wrote a bunch of flashcards, and made up my own sentences using the vocab words, the more ridiculous, the better (helps you remember, don’t you know).

ultimatum n. a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations (Oxford American Dictionary)

“She issued an ultimatum: ‘Read Sandman or I can’t date you.’”

Sandman was one of those mind-changing books that I discovered in college; it shaped both my imagination and my view of why literature is important (and by extension, why I should go to grad school).  It influenced my choice of quotation for the alumni walk brick that my parents bought me for graduation.  And at the time, any guy who wanted to have a hope of understanding the way I thought really needed to read it.  Telling me you’ve read Sandman is still a sure way to impress me (okay, extend that to pretty much any Gaiman).   So there you have it.  Having read Sandman probably won’t be a deal-breaker for a first date, but it totally earns the guy points.  And if he wants to get beyond a first date, well…

Best Setting or Sci-Fi Writers Have More Fun

Which book features the best setting?

It occurrs to me that such a question is particularly suited to showcase the delights of my preferred genre, science fiction.  While setting is an integral component to story in any kind of literature, in science fiction, the setting itself usually plays a prominent, perhaps even defining, role in the story being told.   All good stories must offer compelling characters, intriguing plots, well-written narratives.  Yet in addition to these pleasures, the science fiction genre adds the imaginative setting: a medieval world of swords and sorcery; distant planets inhabited by alien races; our own world, decades or centuries in the future, when our daily lives are ruled by robots and computers.  These fantastical settings are, I believe, what either turns readers away from the genre or compels them to it.  I’m among the compelled; I love imagining new worlds, where magic or science creates a new stage for human action.

The question still creates a number of problems.  The most critical of which is simply that I am a bibliophile: I can’t pick just one favorite book.  But slightly less critically, there are a number of ways a story setting may stand out in a book.  It may be the best-realized setting, described in such compelling and interesting detail that it seems completely real.  It may be the setting that contributes most to the story being told, such that the story could not be transplanted to another setting, but only succeeds by having just the setting which the author gave it.  Or it may be the setting most interesting in its own right, distinct from the story it surrounds or the characters who live in it.  Of course, there will be a good deal of overlap between these areas.  After all, a good story setting fulfills each of these criteria to some extent.  But I found it helpful to think of setting in these three ways as I went about answering the question.  Thus, I have three books for you, one which exemplifies each category.

Sunshine

The urban fantasy world of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine felt as pressingly and tangibly real to me as it is to Rae, the novel’s first-person narrator.  Rae’s world is a post-apocalyptic north America, where the apocalypse was a large-scale magical war of sorcerers versus vampires, demons, and other magical creatures.  Magic is as much a part of the daily lives of even non-magic users as technology is for you or me: houses utilize magical alarm systems, and people wear magical charms or tattoos to protect them from supernatural harm.  Rae, of course, is more involved with the supernatural than most people.  In addition to being the daughter of a powerful sorcerer, she finds herself bound to the fate of a vampire named Constantine.  As she is inescapably drawn into a world of danger and magic, Rae describes her world with clarity, humor, and emotion, as well as a plethora of sensory details.  I could see Constantine,  the emaciated vampire with mushroom colored skin, as clearly as if I were prisoner in the ramshackle mansion beside him and Rae.  I could smell the cinnamon rolls Rae bakes every morning at the coffee shop where she works.  Or feel the slight electric jolt as she stakes her first vampire with a table knife.  Rae makes the world real, and I have been there through her.

Dune

Frank Herbert’s space opera Dune is the story most shaped by its setting.  Nearly all the action of the book takes place on the desert planet Arakis, called Dune by its inhabitants.  As you might guess, the story centers round the arid desert environment, where water is precious and life is hazardous.  The desert shapes politics, both offworld and on, for the sandworms which inhabit the dune sea are the universe’s one source of the invaluable spice, for which there exists universal demand.  There are great political wars over control of Arakis and it is said, “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.”  The desert is also home to the Fremen, natives of Arakis who hope to regain planetary control from the off-worlders who rule them.  The Fremen culture revolves around the preservation of water.  To weep for the dead, for instance, is a sign of utmost respect; “You gave water to the dead,” the Fremen tell the protagonist with awe when he weeps for the man he has killed in battle.  Even the water from the bodies of the dead must be recycled, thus the rendering of the dead for water is a sacred funeral ritual.  Perhaps most memorable are the still-suits which the Fremen wear for survival in the open desert, suits which collect every bit of water expelled by the human body and recycle it for reuse.  Without its desert setting, Dune would lose the  thrust of its political conflict and the entire flavor of its alien cultures.  The planet itself is a character in the drama, alongside gods and men, prophets and emperors.

Finder

Carla Speed McNeil’s graphic novel Finder depicts a futuristic world that is as fascinating in itself as any of her characters.  Finder‘s world is in many ways an extension of our own culture and technology.  People watch TV, surf the internet, use cell phones through wireless implants.  Nearly everyone uses digital readers because paper books are considered antiques.  McNeil’s myriad pop culture references remind us that it may not be long before we find ourselves in a future world like the one she shows us.  Thus far, she does what many science fiction authors have done.  Yet she makes her world new and interesting by the eclectic combination of real-world detail and science fiction imagination.  Anthropomorphic animals, sentient computers, and humans live side-by-side.  Aboriginal and modern cultures clash.  Not only is the world thematically interesting, it’s visually fascinating, too.  Like the lush prose of a master writer, McNeil’s art is filled with details.  It’s a pleasure to dwell on each panel, soaking up the information she’s encoded in each image.  Sometimes the details pertain to the plot, and sometimes it’s simply to enrich the world–a scene on a TV in the background, a photograph taped above a character’s desk, strange faces in a crowd.  Finder offers a world that’s interesting, varied, real, and well worth the visit.

Words to Win Her Heart: S. Morgenstern

Which lines of literature would win your heart?

We Egotists, in our infinite wisdom and our double X-chromosomes, selected this question with an eye towards waxing lyrical about two of our favorite subjects, books and romance.  I thought it should be easy enough to answer.  After all, I already know what music (yet another form of poetry) would completely do me in:  Chopin, preferably a nocturne, though that etude in E could get the job done, too.  Or the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto (I barely restrained myself from proposing marriage to the student who played it with our college orchestra).  With my even greater love of literature, I should be able to pick a few lines that would win my love, right?

And yet I struggled to think of any romantic lines of poetry or literary declarations of love from my favorite books that I’d want to hear.  But I’m not a great poetry lover, and so many of the romantic lines from books are so tied to their characters and contexts, that though they make me go all melty inside when I read them, they don’t have the same power outside their stories.

Thus, instead of the great trove of sappy romantic sayings I expected to collect, I have just one.

As you wish.

Readers, you all know that it really means, “I love you.”  And that’s just it.  It doesn’t matter so much what Beloved says, but what he means.  I don’t really want to be wooed in the words of Beren or Faramir or Romeo.  In the wisdom of Bollywood, “Beloved, you are different.”  While there’s nothing wrong in employing the words of the great authors (I assure you, I’ll still appreciate it), I really think I most want to hear it in words that are Beloved’s own, and which may not mean “I love you” to anybody but me.  And then, because actions speak louder than words, I’ll bowl him down a hill.

 

The Mostest Authors: Lewis and McKillip

As you can see, we’re deep into exam week and I’m abusing the English language left and right out of sheer malice exhaustion.  Anyway, I shall be limiting myself to the books on my shelf here at school.  Were I at home, I’d get somewhat different results (which numbers, if we were going to stick to the physical volumes on the shelves, would be heavily skewed by the fact that I own 27 of the 28 volumes of CLAMP’s Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle manga).  But here on my lovely handmade bookshelf of golden wood, within an arm’s reach of my desk, the maximum count is 12 volumes by Oxford don C.S. Lewis.  However, because these almost all happen to be nonfiction (with the exception of a poetry volume, a novella, and a few short stories), I also shall include the top fiction count, in order to give a slightly more accurate representation of the kinds of stories that win my heart.  Thus, I also include (surprise) Patricia A. McKillip, for 7 volumes.  Though technically if we want to count individual works contained in omnibus editions, that’s 10 books.  Err, though I own duplicate volumes of 2 of them.  But that’s further proof of my love, right?

 C.S. Lewis

 While Lewis’s fiction is delightful and instructive (Philip Sidney would be proud!), I think I particularly love him for his non-fiction.  He has such a clear, conversational prose style that takes almost no effort to read.  And he has a wonderful way of taking ideas that I’ve had myself and articulating them much more clearly than I can, such that the experience of reading him is almost a discovery of my own thoughts.  My two favorites of his nonfiction works are The Four Loves and An Experiment in Criticism.  I enjoy them because they are meditations on two things that I value greatly as both a Christian and a storyteller: love and literature.  I particularly recommend the latter to all fellow bibliophiles: it describes beautifully many of the things that we find so appealing, no–enchanting about the activity of reading (and of course, rereading!).  I offer you two quotes, one from either book.

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).  The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What?  You too?  I thought I was the only one.”

The Four Loves

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

An Experiment in Criticism

Patricia A. McKillip

I already touched on some of the things I love about her stories in my meme post a few weeks ago, but I’ll see if I can expand that a bit.  Well, for one thing, most of her stories (with the exception of an early trilogy and a few duologies) are stand alone stories that feel cozy in their self-contained worlds.  And speaking of worlds, while deeply intricate worldbuilding can be magical (see Lord of the Rings or Dune), sometimes too much worldbuilding can be almost overwhelming and burdensome to the reader.  McKillip’s worlds are always well-realized, but the details create the background, against which her delightful, sympathetic, and interestingly-named characters can shine.  And so many of her characters are ones that readers will like, because they share our own loves for mystery, music, history, and stories.  I also love that McKillip uses a wide cast of interesting characters from all social stations and occupations, rather than focussing on a single “chosen one,” as a certain branch of fantasy novels tend to do.  And her language!  Her prose is beautiful, sensuous and evocative and perfectly pitched to create the atmosphere of her chosen setting, whether it be a cozy harbor town, a wild sea-swept island, or the music-filled halls of a royal conservatory.

My first McKillip

I recently discovered the existence of her very second published work, the Throme of the Erril of Sherill, and was blessed to find a beautiful ex-library copy for my very own.  I shall leave you with the lyrical, enchanting opening lines.

The Erril of Sherill wrote a Throme.  It was a deep Throme, and a dark, haunting, lovely Throme, a wild, special, sweet Throme made of the treasure of words in his deep heart.  He wrote it long ago, in another world, a vaguely singing, boundariless land that did not exist within the kingdom of Magus Thrall, King of Everywhere.

Character I’d Name a Child After: From Shakespeare

I suppose it is probably fairly typical for females to keep a mental “List of Names I Like (For Future Reference).”  My own list isn’t long.  (And don’t tell my future kids, but they’re probably all getting names that had a test-run in one of my own short stories…)   However, there are significantly more male names than female names on the list.  In the interest of being fully prepared for all future eventualities, where am I to find a name for  my female progeny?  (Heaven forfend my future husband should have any thoughts on the matter. Of course he won’t.  That’s not how the world works.)  Thus, I have made it my aspiration to name a daughter after a Shakespearean heroine.

I’ve chosen Miranda.

Mostly I reached this decision because The Tempest is a delightful play; I love Shakespeare’s late romances and it contains one of my favorite lines from the Bard. But more importantly, it is Shakespeare’s one work that may be considered an addition to the fantasy genre.  Miranda’s character is certainly young (she’s fifteen), but she has a gentle heart and a fresh, untainted view of the world, which fits well with the meaning of her name: “worthy of admiration or wonder.”  Her father is a sorcerer, and she is associated with art and magic.

Miranda and her father, Prospero, as illustrated by Charles Vess in Sandman.

So, if I’m going to name a child after a character in a fantasy novel, Shakespeare seemed like the safest way to go.  There won’t be any horrifying moment of discovery when my child realizes, “What?  You named me after the hero in a pulp fiction sword and sorcery novel with tacky cover art?” * Miranda is literate and intellectual and only secretly geeky if you want it to be.  And it’s beautiful, unusual, and may be shortened to a nickname without unfortunate effect.

*Not that some of my favorite books wouldn’t fit just such a description.  But it may not be the most confidence-inspiring explanation for why your parents chose your name.  Though I did discover recently that my favorite male name also happens to be the hero in a fantasy novel.  La!