In which I justify my fangirl nonsense with Elizabethan verse.

I kind of love the Hobbit movies. They’re not perfect, and they’re not the book, but I’ve really enjoyed them on their own terms. That even goes for their completely revisionist, frankly nutty portrayal of an elf/dwarf romance between Tauriel and Kili.  I rolled my eyes and sighed, and then found myself on that ‘ship faster than you can say, “She walks in starlight.”  Nope, it doesn’t make sense, and Tolkien would probably hate it, but darn, they are adorable.

This semester, I’ve been taking a class on Spenser, and we’ve read a good deal of his chivalric romance, the Faerie Queene.  It’s been fun to read, and I can even see its influence on other authors, including Tolkien. (For instance, Spenser loooves alliteration.  And he is incapable of mentioning dungeons without making them “dungeons deep.”)  In Book Three of the poem, Arthur’s squire Timias encounters the beautiful huntress Belphoebe, with whom he falls in love.  When they meet, Timias has just vanquished three vile foresters, taking a mortal arrow wound to the leg in the process, and Belphoebe finds him unconscious in a mire of his own blood.  (There is a lot of gore in Spenser.)  Moved to pity, she gathers healing herbs from the forest and uses them to purify his wound.  “Elvish medicine!”  I thought when I read that. “And apparently tobacco is the Spenserian version of Athelas…”  And then, because I am a dork, I identified all the parallels between this scene and Tauriel’s healing of Kili in The Desolation of Smaug.  Furthermore, because I am a dork with access to internet screencap databases and plenty of excuses for doing this instead of real work, I put together a Hobbit/Faerie Queene illustrated crossover, if you will.  Lord only knows what Tolkien would think.  After all, C.S. Lewis once described him as someone who “can’t read Spenser because of the forms [and] thinks all literature is for the amusement of men between thirty and forty.”  Sorry, Professor T., but literature is also pretty amusing for fangirls between twenty and thirty.


Faerie Medicine

With Apologies to Tolkien and Spenser (Or Perhaps Not)

(From Bk. 3, Canto V of The Faerie Queene)

Shortly she came, whereas that woefull Squire
With bloud deformed, lay in deadly swownd:
In whose faire eyes, like lamps of quenched fire,
The Christall humour stood congealed rownd;
His locks, like faded leaues fallen to grownd,
Knotted with bloud, in bounches rudely ran,
And his sweete lips, on which before that stownd
The bud of youth to blossome faire began,
Spoild of their rosie red, were woxen pale and wan.

Deadly Swownd

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Review Part 2: Disney’s Frozen

Now that it’s nearly two months since it came out, I went to see Frozen.  Twice.  It is still the season for it, after all, and it hasn’t left the theaters quite yet.  So it was my turn to be delighted by the magic of animation and music and storytelling.  Here are some thoughts about it, a few of them in response to Melpomene’s earlier post.  In no particular order:

The music is beautiful.  I particularly enjoyed “Frozen Heart,” the song of the ice harvesters at the start of the movie, as well as “Heimr Arnadalr,” the choral coronation piece which translates from Old Norse approximately as follows:

Worthy Queen of greatness
The heart of Gold shines
We crown thee with hope, love and faith.
Beautiful, stony land, home Arendelle
Follow the Queen of light/ the Queen’s light

Of course, it’s hard to sing a choral piece (or antiphonal yoiking) alone, so I’ve also had “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door” running through my head on repeat.  It’s lovely having a song of defiance against the Polar Vortex weather.

Hullo, unexpected poignancy.  “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” sounds so lighthearted, and then it struck me with feelings.  Even worse is the thought that Elsa and Anna didn’t need to spend so long isolated from each other; Anna trusted her sister all along, and the utter lack of communication didn’t protect either of them.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Nothing separates a guy from his reindeer.  Kristoff and Sven are precious, like a friendlier version of Flynn and Maximus from Tangled.  There were lots of moments that made me giggle, and those two probably accounted for most of them.

Someone finally said it.

Marry Prudently yallThank GOD.

Additional background would be groovy.  We don’t really need to know where Elsa’s power comes from, for the sake of the story, but I would love to know more about her as well as the erstwhile king and queen.  Is Elsa like a Muggle-born cryokinetic witch, or is Anna like a Squib who missed out on the elemental control?  Also, if I were a nerdier person, I would love to calculate how much energy is getting thrown around when, say, the entire fjord is frozen.  See a bit more commentary on that here.

Darlin’, I don’t know why you go to extremes.  My brother and I wondered if, perhaps, the well-intentioned Love Experts actually gave the worst advice: concealing the source of the problem and counseling Elsa to beware of fear in no way encouraged her toward the positive virtue of being more loving.  “Conceal, don’t feel” was never a viable option, and when Elsa does finally let it go, she swings to the other extreme so hard that editorials on the dangers of repression write themselves.  Thankfully things reach a sort of equilibrium; it’s fortunate (and kind of weird) that she is able to undo her enchanted winter quicker than Aslan brings spring to Narnia.

True love sacrifices.  Love is not summed up in kisses, but consists of all manner of heart-thawing actions.  Love forgives the pains one has suffered.  Love runs to the aid of the beloved, love throws itself between the beloved and the sword, and love binds people together whether they’re parents and children, siblings, romantic couples, or friends.

All in all, Frozen is a beautiful movie, and its depiction of sororal love the most beautiful thing about it.huggiiiiingNow, if only I could thaw the frozen wasteland outside with my own sororal love…

Review Part 1: Disney’s Frozen

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Did you read The Snow Queen? It is my favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. And I grew up on fairy tales: Andrew Lang’s books, many beautiful picture books, and sundry collections of various folklore! (For some reason, Grimm’s fairy tales were not so big in my home. It might have been the R rating most of the originals have.)

Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, is a tale of true love saving an icy heart through hard work and sacrifice. I loved the edition my family had, as it was gorgeously illustrated, highlighting the sharp, biting beauty of Ice and Snow.

 

When I heard that Disney was “reimagining” Andersen’s tale, I was both worried and intrigued. Frozen premiered yesterday, and my housemate and I went to see it.

And I like it. Maybe more than “like”. The more I think about it, it gets higher on my list of favorite movies. I want to share it with people I love.  Starting with you. You should go see Frozen.

It is not perfect by any means, so I am wary of overselling.  But I need to talk about it! My compromise is to make a list of pros and cons for the movie. (If you are fearful of spoilers, read carefully. A few might slip in.)

 

The Story

Cons: It is not the original Andersen story. There are significant changes, mainly shifting the focus from a boy-girl pair to a pair of sisters.

Pros: It works. The heart of the story is figuring out what True Love is, and removing the possibility of romantic mushy feelings from the central pair certainly crystallizes our definition. 

 

The Plot

Cons: There are a few holes. Mainly, the sudden ability to control magical icy powers.

Pros: The holes are not in important parts. The magical abilities are a part of the setting, not the focus. And the story telling does a good job of making that clear.

 

The Art

Cons: It is a cartoon. Which means round faces and unlikely body proportions for all living things. Maybe I am spoiled, but I expect animated characters to make better use of  facial expressions.

Pros: It is a cartoon. Which means stunning closeups of snowflakes an ice and an ICE PALACE that will take away your breath. (Not to mention an ice dress.) And there are a few good faces. Also, there is a pretty scene of Anna imitating classical works of art that are hung around her palace.

 

 

The Music

Cons: It is not the Lion King. Or Prince of Egypt.

Pros: HARMONY! CHOIRS! SOARING NOTES! Songs than capture the moment and plot and emotions! Background music that works with the story so well I barely noticed it! Melodies that work with the lyrics, lyrics that appreciate pretty words! (“Frozen fractals”!!!)  But seriously, how long has it been since Disney actually used harmony and choirs? And lyrics that have united and developed the narrative themes and motifs? You can listen for yourself, if you wish.

 

Our Protagonist Sisters

Cons:  . . . . None

Pros: SISTERS! Their relationship is the center of the story, and . . . I can’t say more without spoilers. I really want my own sisters now.

 

The Side Characters

Cons: There is an annoying talking snowman named Olaf.

Pros: Other than Olaf, all the side characters are excellently crafted, acted, and used. Each has a purpose AND a personality. Even the snowman. (Supposedly he is the personification of the sisterly bond. But he is still annoying.)

The Wit

Cons: Not so witty. There is a tad bit of mild potty humor. And the kind of things that 5-year-olds find funny.

Pros: Fortunately, it has enough substance that it doesn’t need wit.

 

The Villain

Cons: There is no villain! There is a cad, but he is easily spotted, serves an important narrative purpose, and get his boring comeuppance.

Pros: There is no villain! Our two protagonist sisters face a true battle against FEAR. Yes, the real opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And this movie states that baldly. Which brings us to . . .

 

The Subtlety

Cons: Frozen has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The themes, motifs and morals are so obvious, a five-year-old can identify them. Even the humor has big, blinking arrows pointing to it. (Not literally. But it may as have have.)

Pros: A five-year-old can identify the themes. Does a good fairy tale need subtlety? I have spent years looking at the art of literature, savoring the delicate images and tastes of humanity and truth. I appreciate those, but I recognize that sometimes bluntness is needed.

It is almost as if Disney is trying to reverse years of overly mushy ideas of romance and impractical ideas of love in one movie. It has the same theme as all real, important, fairy tales: True Love. It even correctly identifies the true opposite of love as fear! (I really can’t get over that.) The motifs (storms, doors, creation vs. control, etc.) are well chosen and well used.

To be fair, our modern society has stopped using or understanding  subtlety well. Those who do look for subtlety are the academics, most of whom tend to read their own insane symbols and agendas into the work. The frankness of Frozen does forestall this misunderstanding or misinterpretations.

While Frozen might have appealed to a more adult audience had it used subtlety, it adheres to the structure of old fairy tales and is accessible to all ages. It is blunt, but I can forgive that when it is blunt about Truth and gives the theological definition of love.

The Theology

Cons: Shockingly, there are no cons. There was a moment when I thought there might be, but then the characters very helpfully and carefully explained themselves, and all was well.

Pros: There must have been a solid Christian crafting this story. It is possible for  clever and thoughtful agnostic to have written it, but my instinct says otherwise. This movie not dares to ask and answer the question “what is love?” Their answer (as closely as I can remember) is “Love is wanting what is good for another person, and acting on it no matter what the cost for another person“. What does the Catholic Catechism say about love?  “To love is to will the good of another.'” Brilliant.

And because there is no subtlety, they even point out the in-movie examples. Just in case we missed them. But the examples are good, realistic, and, like all good theology, filled with common sense.

 

Conclusion

In his chapter, the Ethics of Elfland, G.K. Chesterton describes a fairy tale as being built on common sense and the ideals of eternal Truth and Reality. Frozen does fit this definition: it adhere to its internal logic, and is surprisingly well rooted in common sense. The characters ring true as portraits of humanity. The story is well crafted, if obvious, and holds fast to the heart of all good stories: love and sacrifice.

In short, go see Frozen.

And then come back and discuss it with me! When I have had time to percolate ideas, I will come back and expand on the themes and story telling. As obvious as it is, it might be a good teaching tool to point all those literary devices!

 

The Hobbit Read-Along: A Warm Welcome

Hot food, comfortable clothes, soft beds, and happy cheers.

It seems that Thorin & Co have finally reached a safe stage in their travels. Even, dare we say it, a peaceful stage. A nice chapter.

It sets my teeth on edge.

This entire chapter is eerily unsettling to me.

I feel much more at home in the Mirkwood chapter, even though that is rife with deprivation and danger. As Jubilare points out, there is something in that perilous umbra that appeals to our aesthetic sense.

But somehow the juicy comforts this chapter echo the unease of Riddles in the Dark.

Although the chapter opens with the awkward position of barrel-riding, it seems that thing are getting better: the day is getting warmer, it becomes clear that the adventurers could never have traveled by any other way, and we the readers are given the privileged information that Gandalf is heading back.

But all that is very quickly – in the second paragraph! – is overshadowed by the Lonely Mountain. Both actually and metaphorically. Just as the solitary dominates the landscape, it start to dominate the atmosphere of the story.

Both Bilbo and the narrator (ahem! *cough cough*) seem to feel that something is  . . . not well. The sleek present town squats in the remnants of the rotting “greater” town. The lore of ancient days does live, “but this pleasant legend did not much effect their  daily business”.

And so our first encounter with Men finds them sadly prosaic.

The newly released dwarves seek and find a warm welcome in the town. At least, from the common people. The good Master of the town is dubious, but indulgent.

Thus far, all the untruths that our heroes tell have been fairly excusable. Sympathetic, even. What good would telling Gollum the truth do?

And when the people of the Laketown assume that the legends will come true literally, it does seem a waste of breath to correct them. But when the more practical townsfolk assume that part of the recovered treasure will belong to the town, the dwarves shuffle their feet and look the other way.

This is an omission that promises, at the very best, a very uncomfortable return journey.

And then, the dwarves continue to take advantage of the hospitality of these people. This is something that they would never have dared done with Beorn.

This marks what seems to be a change in the dwarvish attitude, and the first indication that Thorin’s pride might be something more dangerous than simple haughtiness.

So, helped along by the equably false Master, they depart on the last leg of the journey. They are sent away with provisions and songs, and only little Bilbo is “thoroughly unhappy”.

Not just, I believe, at the prospect of  facing a dragon, but also false hopes arisen from this “warm welcome”.

 

Letter to My Friends

 

 

Dear Friend,

You are precious, priceless, and deeply loved.

You have a heart more vast and luminous than the Grand Canyon, and nothing can alter that.

Unfortunately, having such an awe-inspiring heart makes it easier for people to kick cans or drop litter into it. A heart, by its very nature, will always be a target.

But that is because the people who do that are stupid and refuse to see, and so those people are to be pitied the more for missing out on YOU.

To put it more practically, being so beautifully sensitive means that you are also so painfully sensitive.

The openness to the world that we – having been blessed to be raised in loving, healthy, whole environments – have cultivated in ourselves, leaves us without the protection of cynicism, or even “disillusionment”. Instead, we must see life as it really is. (To paraphrase the Discworld witches, seeing what really is, is an altogether much harder gift curse.)

And that sucks.

Truly. Many of us seem to be struggling right now. I think it is something particular to this generation.

Yes, I know, generation upon generation have suffered, sacrificed, and died before us. But something seems different about this generation.

For one thing, as we come out of that Grand Era of baby boomers, technology, and “reason”, we as a group have been left looking for the “unreasonable”, the mysterious, and wonderful. (Also spelled, for clarification purposes, as “wonder-full”.)

This is my personal theory as to the prevalence of “New Age” isms. After so many years believing in NASA and other modern progresses, people were drawn to New Age thingies simply wanted to be able to see the sacred and beautiful in ordinary things. And actually have something considered sacred and beautiful. And mysterious and wonder-full and awe-full.

“New” Age? Pfft.

Christians have been believing – and acting upon! – that for the past two thousand years. Its called a Sacrament, people!

Which brings me back to original point; we, as young Christian adults, seem to have a strange malady these days.

It is a little bit like ennui, combined with homesickness and compounded by chronic job searching.

I suppose I must admit that it is likely other generations have felt this before. But pray, give me leave to wax hyperbolic about the trials and tribulations close to my heart!

Even Economists – those perilous number wizards- are insisting that this generation is having a ridiculously hard time finding jobs and paying off student loans and generally making ends meet for long enough that we can feel like adults.

And this intensifies just our original trouble.

Because the ennui-homesickness-loss feeling is by now a part of who we are, and it started a long time before most of us even began to look for real jobs. It seems to be part – to paraphrase one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword –  a feeling of not belonging, a strong desire to find a place where familiarity and wonder coincide. And part a fear of the discomfort and incongruity that such a place evokes.

Even those of our generation who are not Christian seem to be feeling it: this odd mix existential angst, immediate material insecurity, and the throbbing attraction of anything that promises it has a meaning.

It is our home, and not our home. This can give us moment of awe and love, of the discovery and home-coming at one time which Chesterton describes.

Which is not usually the most comfortable of positions.

And it offers very little in the way of practical happiness.

Whatever you are facing right now, remember that you are a child of God.

And that I think you are AWESOME.

And anyone who thinks differently is being blind.

Including you.

I will be insulted if you distrust my opinion that much!

(So will God, but I cannot put him on the same level as myself. That would be a stretch, even for an Egotist!)

In any case, beloved, breath deeply, eat healthy, sleep well, and live wonderfully.

Love,

Melpomene

P.S. Some more Chesterton for encouragement summation of our path.

The Men of the East may spell the stars
And times and triumphs mark,
But the Men marked with the Cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

~ excerpt from the Ballad of the White Horse

Mel’s Meme: The Scope of Story Setting

We have much discussion this week about sense, imagination, realism and subtlety.

I find the phrase “story setting” to mean the groundwork of the tale, the landscape from which the story unfolds. The power of a story in part depends on how much vibrancy the setting has, not just in terms of the senses, but in how much life it holds.

For me, the setting of the story depends on how many other stories this setting can hold.

And ultimately, a story is limited only by the humanity involved. For every story ever told contains some truth. As Chesterton said, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author”.

So what settings have a million potential stories lurking in the recesses of each alcove and inlet?

What setting allows for the most important dramas of the human experience to be told?

Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

As traveled by Dante and recounted in his Commedia.

These realms are far enough from our own to allow the reader some perspective and room for thought, but also so close to truths that we know in our deepest hearts that it touches us profoundly.

It is filled with concerns of mortality, and yet removed from them in such a way that it opens those concerns to us, those still existing on the physical plane.

It is the most deeply human of all stories, and still it contain as yet untold stories; tragedies, dramas, romances, and true love stories. The Commedia has it all, but only whets the appetite.  I want to know more about all these souls! I want to stay longer in Heaven!

And of course, it is the setting that brings the story most fully into the life of each reader.

Epic Meme Saturday: Best (Love) Story

Yuck! Mushy love stories!? Gross.

Pull a random “romance” from the dark and frightening caverns of a library’s paperback fiction section and it very scary. Though, to tell the truth, I have never been able to actually read a whole one of this type through, I pull it off the shelf and see the cover with a beautiful woman on it and a man without a shirt and with rippling abs and I cannot bring myself to open it!!

No thank you, no books about love for me.

You see, what I object to in books about love is that you can’t set out to make a story about love. Love does not work that way! For, although it is the very reason for our existence and should be the reason behind every action, it is not so simple that it can be reduced to The King’s Daughter, who loves perfectly and always succeeds, not is it so earthy that the man with rippling abs can explain everything about it. There has to be more to the plot that love.

(Except for the Bible, that is the ultimate love story without being smarmy, but then, that is God for you. Only He can show love perfectly.)

However, good wholesome adventure stories which happen to have true love in them are quite lovely! Take the story of Conan and Anne, in The Red Keep.

As a young boy in Medieval Normandy, Conan saves the life of a young girl, the daughter of the Lord of the Red Keep (a castle made of red stone), as she is left for dead among her slain family, she is taken back to castle of Conan’s lord and there she grows up, always dreaming to reclaim her fief. While Conan, whose only ambition is to become a knight, is completely oblivious to her hopes and dreams, and her growing love for him. (Though I was never sure why she would love the idiot he was in the beginning). Then something happens to turn his world upside-down and he is faced with challenges and choices that help him to grow from being as cocky boy to a wise and competent young man.

Finally, at the very end he realizes why he fought so hard against his enemies, why he fought for something that was not his own; it was because through her eyes he was shown something good and desirable, something that was larger than himself. And on her part, Conan gave her hope in a hopeless situation.  He gave her something to relay on other than herself, and in this way made her gentle and not the fiery little wild-woman that her red hair implied.

This story is not about love, for most of the book they are not even together! it is a story about life, it is a story about friendship, it is about courage and honor, deceit and treachery, it is about adventure and secret tunnels!

But it has love in it (as life does) as a purpose. And it is the life in the book that makes the love real, not the other way around.

Book Meme: Real Life Love

A real man.

It is not often that you encounter a real life Hero.

I mean, there are the heros who will always touch your life; Parents, or the dog that saved its owner that you read about in the Readers Digest.

But you can’t rationally have a crush on a dog, and though I love my parent madly, I am very glad that they are married to each other.

And so there is something wonderfully special when you read a book, fall in love with a character, then realize that he is real. He is one hundred percent flesh and blood.

My first crush was real.

He was a soldier.

He was honorable

He was brave

He was kind

He was wise

He could make me laugh

He could make my heart melt

And he never even did anything romantic!

But when he stood up in front of the men he lead, and through the author’s words I could see that they would trust their lives to him, I knew that I could too.

And I knew that someday I would marry a man like him. Because he actually existed; there are men like that in this world.

His name is Maj. Richard Winter, and he died on January 2, 2011 at the age of 93. He led Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division through Normandy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. He created military tactics that are still studied in military academies today.

The book, Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose, tells his story, and those of others who fought in Easy Company, some good, some bad. But they are real, it actually happened, and this is something that I might someday actually be able to find.

So I suppose this would not accurately be called a first crush, (or if it is I am a little obsessed) but it is my first encounter with manhood, and I am deeply, everlastingly in love.

Damien Lewis as Winters in the mini-series Band of Brothers.