Archive | December 2012

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

I’ve decided to reread the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis beginning with the first book in the series: “The Magician’s Nephew.” I read the series several years ago, but remember only highlights. I never read the series as a child, only as an adult. Anyway, I completed this book in three days. All the books are about the same length and are about the right size for a young child. C.S. Lewis is well-known as a Christian thinker and his personal philosophy is woven throughout this book in remarkable and interesting ways.

To begin, let’s start with the players. There are two young children: Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer. There is Digory’s uncle, Andrew. And there are the two supernatural powers: Jadis, the White Witch, and Aslan, the great Lion. Aslan is, of course, symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. The White Witch is symbolic of evil, or the Devil, if you will. This book is a largely metaphorical work designed to make Christianity appealing to children. Christ was big on being open to children, so C.S. Lewis designing an alternative magical universe catering to the spiritual needs of the young is a natural extension of that philosophy. There are other characters in the novel, but those are the big five. As powers, Aslan and the White Witch are the most important. The main character, though, is Digory Kirke. The story is told largely from his perspective, although it occasionally shifts back to Polly, and even less frequently to other characters.

The story is pretty basic. Uncle Andrew is a magician here on earth who has created several magical rings that allow transportation between worlds. Lacking the courage to explore himself, he sends the children in his stead. The first adventure lands the children in the dead world of Charn, a world once ruled by Jadis, but which the horrible woman destroyed. During their explorations there, Digory inadvertently releases Jadis from an enchanted slumber. They flee that world and return to Earth. Fortunately, the children know that Jadis is up to no good and they manage to get her off of Earth and onto a third world at the very day of that new world’s birth. It is, of course, Aslan the Lion, who sings this world, named Narnia, into existence. For those not up on biblical lore, this is kind of a parallel to the notion of original sin: it was man’s fault that allowed evil into the world in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, the story continues from there emphasizing the wonder and magic of Narnia and the great power and wisdom of Aslan. A small mini-quest is set before Digory and Polly, and there are one or two more Garden of Eden allusions in store for the reader.

In any event, I enjoyed the story. It’s a good tale for kids and as such is fairly morally sound. Just because it is oriented toward Christianity it is not necessarily unappealing to non-Christians. It can be a little preachy in some areas, but not to the extent that it ruins the work.

Overall, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 12-30-12.

Blogging: Is There Such a Thing as Posting Too Often?

I run a blog (this one, of course) and try to post to it at least twice a week, sometimes three times. There are a number of blogs that post far more often. Some five times a week; others, even several times a day. My purpose for blogging is to gain exposure for my writing. My blog, itself, is not supposed to be my career, but a complement to it. Other bloggers make their living off their blog. I’ve heard, and I kind of assume, that posting only once a week or less is not really worthwhile. Even posting twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, seems to be severely limiting. But, as I write fantasy literature, I’ve only got so much time to work on my blog. Twice a week (with an occasional extra) will have to do. Clearly, there is a minimum number you should post if running a blog, but is there a maximum?

Perhaps it is my technological naïvetee, but I seem to have problems keeping up with some of the more numerous blog posters. I own a smart phone, and for a while, I was following certain blogs and having the messages sent to my phone. Because they were posting so often, my inbox was being flooded with updates for each and every post. I finally broke down and set up filters that sent the blog posts to their own individual folder, so at least the primary inbox would remain clear of everything but the most essential e-mails.

I guess the answer to my question depends upon each individual consumer. For me, I like a more sparse number of postings: two or three times a week. It’s easier to keep up with and it’s easier to work into my schedule. Because keeping up on blogs, is almost as essential to my writing career as my own actual blogging. At one point, I didn’t bother following some blogs, or unfollowed others, because they just posted too much. I’ve had to rethink that strategy. I guess it was naïve for me to think that if I was going to follow a blog, I would be able to read every entry that blogger made. That seems more genuine, at least. But there are innumerable bloggers whose stats indicate they are following hundreds or even thousands of other bloggers. It’s almost like reverse spam. I do see the reason it happens, and understand why—and I will probably begin even doing it myself—but it still feels disingenuous.

Under such conditions, where people are seeking to maximize followers and maximize the blogs they follow, it seems that the best strategy is to maximize the number of posts you make. Each post has a chance of picking up more followers for your blog. But I think there is a certain innocence lost. I must wonder what happened to the blog-followers who just kept up with one or two blogs that interested them. Have they become a vanishing breed? If so, is that a good thing, or not? I honestly don’t know.

What do you think?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

It’s Christmas Eve. Pretty much my favorite time of the year (excepting maybe Thanksgiving). Time to hang out, light candles, listen to endless Christmas Music, and decorate the Christmas Tree. Although I briefly considered doing a monster mishmash of a vampire Santa, I decided against it–in honor of the holiday there will be no regular post today. So, Merry Christmas everybody. Have a great holiday!

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (pt. I)

I’ve always been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time when I was like nine or something. They were the first real series I ever read. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” considerably, so I had high hopes for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I saw I the other night with a friend of mine. Overall, we both liked it. We weren’t blown away by it, but we did like it.

 

For those that don’t know, “The Hobbit” tells the story of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Frodo’s uncle), and the great adventure of his youth when he accompanied the band of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon, Smaug. Smaug is, of course, a classic western-style dragon. Big, mean, and nasty. He’s got claws and teeth and breathes fire. He even speaks. Once, years ago, the Lonely Mountain was the seat of a great dwarven kingdom filled with wealth immeasurable. It is this wealth that attracted the dragon, and in one terrible day of fire and death, the dwarves were driven out and Smaug took over management of the mountain. 🙂

 

Thorin, who is heir to the throne under the mountain, is set on getting his kingdom and his treasure back. So, he sets out with twelve other dwarves and a solitary hobbit “burglar” to help him. Of course, in the beginning adventure, Bilbo has very few skills beyond maybe cooking and is an all-around sorry excuse for a burglar. Oh, there is also the great wizard Gandalf the Grey who kind-of comes-and-goes as he pleases—but he’s there to help the dwarves out here and there.

 

The company of dwarves plus a hobbit plus a wizard set out from Hobbiton in the Shire. They encounter numerous nifty creatures along their journey. First, there are trolls. Then, there are orcs and wargs (I think this first encounter with orcs and wargs is an addition by Peter Jackson), elves, stone giants, goblins, and a goblin king. Oh, and we can’t forget the legendary Gollum from whom Bilbo acquires the One Ring of Power. Overall, the Hobbit is an excellent modern fairy tale.

 

Like in “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson does do a remarkably good adaption of “The Hobbit.” Still, I have a few complaints. One, I did not like Radagast the Brown very much. He came across as too odd and jerky; his sleigh pulled by over-sized rabbits struck me as simply silly. It might entertain a five year-old, but I would hardly recommend Peter Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit” to the age group. Second, perhaps in some misguided attempt to appeal to the five-year-old age group, there were a couple ironic asides that I could have done without. Still, overall the movie was good. I liked the Pale Orc and his White Warg—I thought they were clever touches. I liked the scenes from Dol Guldur with the Necromancer and his minions even though Radagast was annoying. I’m still withholding judgment on the dragon. We get a few glimpses of him—not in his entirety, but a snatch here or there. I’m not quite sure if I like what I’ve seen yet or not.

 

Anyway, I’ll give the film four stars out of five.

Fantasy Literature: Writing and Revision: When is too much?

Writing fantasy literature, or any kind of literature, is hard work. And as it is often said, the secret of writing consists of “Revision. Revision. And Revision.” Any piece of original writing can be improved with revision. No piece of writing will come out perfect on the first draft, that’s a fact. The human brain just doesn’t work that way. You might get a few choice one-liners in the first draft, but on the whole, it will require reworking it to produce the polished gem you want.

 

However, in my experience, any piece of writing can be improved upon ad infinitum. This leads to a question: when is the revision process complete? If you insist on perfection, it won’t ever be complete. There must be some point at which the writing can be regarded as “good enough.” Does that mean we are settling for second best? That we’ve given up, because the struggle is beyond our capacity? I don’t think so. It is just a pragmatic way to deal with reality. As one revises over and over again, the manuscript will improve by a smaller and smaller degree each time. At a certain point, the reward (the degree to which the manuscript improves) will be insufficient to justify the effort (all the editing, proofreading, and rewording that goes into it). Determining this is, of course, a matter of skill and experience, and not a function of variables you can plug into some computer or some odd calculus you can do in your head.

 

Ideally, every writer should have at least one, preferably several, practice readers for their work. For my book “Drasmyr,” I had basically my sister—she’s got an English degree, but spends most of her time taking care of her kids—and a high school buddy who not only has an English degree, but some experience in the field of journalism. I would have liked to have hired a professional editor, but alas, I do not have the finances for that. The book has received several four star and five star reviews, so I think the process was ultimately thorough enough. Still, if I had to do it again, I would hire the editor… even if I had to scrounge for the money. The rule of thumb is: “If you got the dough, hire an editor.” Anyway, it is important to remember that even with the professional editor, the person with the final word on the document is you. You can only make so many changes to a document before you will start getting sick of looking at it over and over again. At this point, you have a choice to make: either publish it as is, or put it aside for a month or two, or even a year, then look at it again with fresh eyes after the allotted time has passed. Regardless, at some point, putting it aside will just turn into wasting time for meager improvements. At this point, just publish it. In today’s day and age it is very easy to do so… well, easier, anyway.

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