I Moved On – “Thin Ice” Review

dw-thinice5Before recording our latest episode, my podcasting co-host Curtis and I chatted a bit about this new series of Doctor Who. I confessed (or rather, whined) that while I understand all of the reasons and logic I wished they would just give the show to Sarah Dollard already. Sure, she’s young and still gaining experience, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that her two stories are better than all of Chibnall’s, for all his credits.  It’s probably best to save Chibnall for some other separate blog post, after series 10 finishes, perhaps. I do have hope for his tenure, even if it’s not based entirely on the merits of his existing Doctor Who episodes. Nevertheless, our focus today is on Dollard and her sophomore outing, “Thin Ice,” and it’s enough to set one pining for what might have been (or what might still one day come to be, if we’re lucky).

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Seeing Your Own Mood – “Smile” Review

doctor-who-smile-promo-pics-1All right. Three weeks in and I’m already behind. This doesn’t bode well for timeliness, but I’m determined to complete the blog posts this season, even if they’re occasionally late and/or a bit shorter than normal. We’ve had an extended break between series 9 and 10, and coupled with the two-parter structure of series 9 which resulted in combined posts (and therefore fewer than normal for that season) I’m anxious to work a bit harder and get these right. The thesis is done, after all. No more excuses. Into Doctor Who. Let’s get to smiling.

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Doing Expressions When I’m Trying to be Enigmatic – “The Pilot” Review

billbenchSince writing reviews and blog posts was how I first immersed myself in this whole Doctor Who thing, I’m the return of my favorite show, enhanced by the introduction of a fantastic new lead actress and the impending departure of its lead actor and head writer, will help pull me out of this post-thesis funk I’ve been struggling through. Much like the Doctor in this episode, we’ll start slowly and somewhat hesitantly and work our way back up to full, reckless enthusiasm. This is sometimes necessary after a long period of recovery.

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Thesis Theater

Interested in hearing me waffle on about my recently-completed M.A. thesis on Doctor Who and fairy tales? Join me for the next installment of Signum University’s Thesis Theater where I’ll do just that. The event is free, online, and open to anyone. The live event will take place Thursday, May 18th at 7pm EDT and a recording will be posted on Youtube afterward. To see more details and register to attend live, follow this link. You can find other installments of Signum’s Thesis Theater series in this playlist, including talks on language in The Hobbit, Tolkien’s use of folklore, “Roverandom” as an example of the Irish immram genre, and more. I hope to see you there!

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Fantastic Beasts & Rogue One Live Discussion

This Friday, starting 7pm Eastern Time, I’ll be joining several friends to discuss the latest installments of the Harry Potter and Star Wars film franchises: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One. The group of panelists are all teachers and students at Signum University and I’m sure we hold a lot of Potter and SW knowledge between us. We look forward to discussing these new movies as adaptations and expansions of their respective stories and worlds, their approach to casting and diversity, how they function as prequels, and their endings. Will we sing their praises as thoughtful and thought-provoking engagements with these beloved sagas, or will we decry them as yet two more installments in Hollywood’s increasingly franchise-driven climate? Who knows! Tune in to find out.

The panel will consist of Sørina Higgins, Brenton Dickieson, Kelly Orazi, Emily Strand, and of course my podcasting partner in crime Curtis Weyant.

You can register to attend live here. A blog post with more detail can be found here. More info on the Signum Symposia series can be found here.

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There and Back Again

Five years, three living situations, and two jobs later I have finally submitted the completed thesis for my graduate degree in English with Signum University, concentrating in Imaginative Literature. I have had the opportunity to study the genres and authors I love most, rarely found at other institutions: the Inklings, fantasy and sci-fi, mythology and folklore, medieval and modern mythopoeia, literature and film and tv. When I took my first Mythgard class I didn’t have a blog or a podcast. I was not yet published, and had only been to one literary conference (in college). I had admired scholars like Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and Amy Sturgis from afar and had their books on my shelves, but had not yet met them or taken their classes. When I started I was twenty-five and now I’m thirty. A lot can happen in five years.

Luckily for me, completion of this journey doesn’t have to mean farewell. The blog and podcast will go on, hopefully with renewed energy. I will keep being involved in the Signum community on as many levels as I can. I hope that now I will have time to read even more books, watch more things, and write down more thoughts than in the last couple of years. I’m sure the relationships I’ve formed will only continue to grow.

But that’s not to say that nothing is changing, or that I don’t feel a certain relief. Five years is a long time to put forth that kind of concentrated energy, especially when jobs, life, and health pull you in different directions without regard for the fact that you’d rather be reading. This year has been especially challenging, as the myriad “2016” memes well attest. It’s been a rough year for all of us, and while I was lucky to have a goal to distract me and to pull me through I can’t say that I’m sorry to get to the end of this year.

Despite the relief, hope doesn’t feel particularly easy at the moment, but I guess that’s why we need imaginative fiction. Tolkien praised escape as the “flight of the prisoner” from an intolerable situation. We need to exercise that muscle of imagination with all of its attendant virtues: empathy, creativity, courage, and intellect. In choosing last year to write my thesis about Doctor Who and the fairy tale tradition I had no idea that I would be studying something so relevant and so necessary (at least for me). Getting through my MA has felt at times like Doctor  punching the solid wall of diamond, chipping his way through it one millimeter at a time. To be honest, the world right now can feel like the castle in that episode: an endlessly rotating scenario of fear and grief with no apparent escape. It took him a long time to work his way out, but he eventually did through sheer force of will and with the help of a fairy tale.

Fifteen years ago (ten years before starting my MA program) I was fifteen. I had just started high school, a new president was in office, and the world had similarly shifted as the twin towers of New York were destroyed. During this other fearful and grief-stricken time, in December 2001, I felt my own world shift when I saw the first Lord of the Rings movie and then subsequently read Tolkien’s books. In fact in that first year I read everything Tolkien-related that I could get my hands on, whether I understood it or not. Looking back on that uncertain time, I’m sure that Tolkien gave me exactly the gifts that he promised fairy-stories could give: fantasy, escape, recovery, and consolation. At that age and in that time I sorely needed those gifts, and nothing (before or since) has given me such Joy, in all of its senses: happiness, yes, but also a longing, “poignant as grief.”

All of this is by way of apology for the fact that what I want most now that I’m finished my MA with a decidedly Tolkien-heavy program is to read some Tolkien. I know this is ridiculous and you’re free to laugh. Who washes down a three course meal with another supper? Well, hobbits. Hobbits probably do. I actually don’t think I’ve read The Lord of the Rings since that first Mythgard course with Corey Olsen five years ago, and that is a shame. I’ve missed Tolkien, I’m ready for him, and I doubt I’ve ever needed him more than I do right now.

Whatever it is that gives you Joy, throw yourself into it. Exercise your imagination, find your escape, and come back refreshed to reengage with the world, to fight the good fight, even if it’s the long defeat. At the risk of being cliché, there really is no better injunction than Tolkien’s reminder to do the best we can “with the time that is given to us.” I hope and plan to keep this blog going as a place to express my thoughts and invite the rest of you to think and chat and connect. Tea is at four, but you are welcome anytime. Don’t bother knocking.

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Film Review: Tale of Tales

I love it when you can say that watching a movie you’ve been dying to see for a long time can also be called research.

tale-of-tales-2015-bdripMatteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales (loosely adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th century collection Il Pentamerone) taps into the weird and wonderful legacy of the fairy tale tradition, reaching back to the earliest literary sources from the days before they were, as Tolkien put it, consigned to the nursery. Though all the recognizable fairy tale tropes (princesses, witches, monsters, spells, transformations, eucatastrophe, etc.) are there, Basile’s original tales and Garrone’s adaptation captures a freedom of spirit which can be difficult to grasp in the post-Disney age. I was struck by an interview with Bebe Cave, who plays the princess Violet, who stated in the behind-the-scenes featurette that one wouldn’t expect a fairy tale to be about someone who travels from safety and warmth through unspeakable horror to emerge victorious on the other side and return home, changed and broken, but stronger. I don’t mean to knock Cave, who I thought gave THE standout performance of the whole thing, but what a silly statement, for what is a fairy tale if not exactly that? Her comment just goes to show how much we still have to learn about this deceptively complex genre.

[SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS SECTION] The tales that were chosen (three, interwoven throughout the film) and the way they were adapted all converge satisfyingly around the struggles of women, both in the medieval and pre-modern world and now, both within stories and outside in the real world. The Queen desires a child, to the detriment of her ability to love and live outside of that purpose. The romantic Violet longs for marriage, but not to the monster her father ends up (inadvertently) choosing. The withered old sisters Dora and Imma sacrifice their relationship to each other for youth, beauty, and the admiration of a horny king. These women all struggle within and against the confines of a world which tells them what they should be: Maternal. Obedient. Desirable. All go to terrible lengths, and pay terrible prices, to achieve these dreams (or nightmares). The Queen and the two crones end up dead, alone, or disfigured, slaves to their lusts and jealousies. In the end, only Violet (whose story most closely adheres to the traditional “there and back again” fairy tale structure) achieves something like a happy ending, defeating her monsters (plural) and being crowned for the Queen she is, her inner state reflecting the outer.

As for the production itself, it couldn’t look more beautiful. Garrone channels Spielberg,  Peter Jackson, and others before they abandoned practical effects in favor of computer graphics, and the movie is all the better for it. The withered old crones, gecko-like sea monster, and impossible giant flea have a weight and tangibility that can’t be faked. Green screens only come in to create the enormous vistas, which evoke the gorgeous matte paintings of Jackson’s LOTR films. There’s even a nod to The Princess Bride when an ogre carries Violet up what I can only assume are the Cliffs of Insanity, and though the effects here (30 years later) are obviously more convincing, they retain the charm of that earlier storybook classic.

An Italian film that received moderate praise, played at a couple of film festivals and only one screen local to me, this won’t be the easiest film to find, but I urge everyone to grab the chance to watch it if it crosses your path.

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