Friday, January 31, 2014

What a Father Will Do: Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk

Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk

Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Skottie Young
Publisher: Harper
Date of Publication: September 17 2013
What Goodreads has to say:
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."

"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

What I have to say:
As soon as I read the inside of the dust jacket, I knew that I had to read this book. I was already a huge admirer of Neil Gaiman after reading his novel Stardust, so when I saw that he had written a clever, humorous book about time travel and milk, I knew it would be good. And it was. The book is only 114 pages, with huge pictures that sometimes take up an entire page or two, and often not many words on a page, so it's a quick read, but I was smiling the whole time (and often laughing). As expected, the book was clever, hilarious, and fun, with whimsical illustrations that enhanced the reading experience. In short, it was a good book to read after you've just finished Les Miserables, which I had.

The story begins when the narrator, a young boy, and his sister discover that there is no milk in the house and thus that they cannot eat their breakfast cereal. Their mother being away (which is probably why there is no milk in the house), their father decides to go down to the corner store and buy some milk so his children can eat their breakfast. He leaves. His children wait for a long time. Then he returns with the milk. But when his children want to know why he took so long getting the milk, he embarks on a wild story that explains why he was gone so long: a story that includes aliens who are determined to remodel Earth, a time-traveling Stegosaurus, an angry volcano god, and bloodthirsty wumpires, among other things.

As this book was so short and mainly just a clever romp through time with a carton of milk, I don't feel that I have much to say about it. The most important thing is that it is very clever and very funny, and you should do yourself a favor by reading it. I think I can promise that you'll enjoy it. What follows are some of my favorite moments of the book, followed with more general aspects that I enjoyed. I'll end with the one criticism I have.

One of my favorite quotes from the book (and judging by the fact that it was the first quote that popped up in Goodreads when I typed in the title of the book, I'd say it was the favorite of some other people as well) is this one:
"If the same object from two different times touches itself, one of two things will happen. Either the Universe will cease to exist. Or three remarkable dwarfs will dance through the streets with flowerpots on their heads."
"That sounds remarkably specific," I said.
"I know. But it is science. And it is much more probable that the Universe will end."
"I thought it would be," I said.
Why do I find this so funny? It's hard to explain why we find anything funny, but I think that in this case it's the fact that the alternate option is so specific and so unexpected. For me, it is reminiscent of Douglas Adams, but more on that later.

I also loved the moment towards the end when the dinosaurs were singing some of "the great old dinosaur songs," such as "How Do You Feel This Morning When You Know What You Did Last Night?" and "Don't Go Down to the Tar Pits, Dear, Because I'm Getting Stuck on You," and, finally, "I've Got a Loverly Bunch of Hard-hairy-wet-white-crunchers." (A theme of the book is the fact that the dinosaurs exist before things have been given their modern names; hence coconuts are "hard-hairy-wet-white crunchers" and a hot air balloon is a "floaty-ball-person-carrier.")

Now on to some of the more general aspects of the book that I liked.

I felt like the adventure was very much in the spirit of Douglas Adams, and I think I even found a direct allusion to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy at one point. I could be wrong of course, but here's the passage:
"It was definitely locked. It had a huge padlock on it, and a sign saying KEEP OUT on it, in unfriendly red letters."
Compare (or contrast) this with Douglas Adams' description of the Guide, which has "Don't Panic" written on it in large, friendly letters. Anyway, the more general point is that I felt the whole story was very in keeping with the style and flavor of Douglas Adams. Obviously I love Douglas Adams, so I enjoyed this element very much.

Another fun thing about the book was how it poked fun (in an affectionate way, I think) at other books and genres. For example, when the father tells his son and daughter about the "wumpires" he encountered at a certain point in his time-traveling adventure, his daughter offers a suggestion:
“I think that there should have been some nice wumpires," said my sister, wistfully. "Nice, handsome, misunderstood wumpires."
"There were not," said my father.”  
 Clearly, Gaiman is both commenting on the prevalence of YA vampire romance - which usually features a startlingly handsome vampire with an amount of teenage angst - and rejecting these popular conventions for use in his own story. The simplicity and yet finality of the father's reply: "There were not," shows that the storyteller (and thus the author) will not even consider including these types of vampires in his story, even though he incorporated ponies earlier for his daughter's satisfaction. And this brings me to another point in the adventure when the author pokes fun at another story. When he encounters "a number of brightly colored ponies," the father asks one of them:
"Why are you a pink pony with a pale blue star on the side?"
To which the pony replies:
"I know...It's what everybody's wearing these days. Pale blue stars are so last year."
The father brings up a very good question - though the ponies misunderstand why he asks it - which is this: why are My Little Ponies unnatural colors and why do they have things like stars, hearts, and rainbows on their bums? As the pony obviously misunderstands his question, I suppose we will never know. But this moment represents another instance in the book when Gaiman pokes fun at other stories.

Before I finish and leave you to your own adventure with milk and time travel, I will note briefly the one thing in the book which I found disappointing. It concerns the ending, so if you don't want to find out what happens at the end (and I would suggest that you don't) go read the book and come back when you've finished it. Otherwise, read on.

***************WARNING: SPOILERS***************

I was disappointed by the ending. Only mildly disappointed, but still, disappointed. When the father touched the two milks from different times together, it was a great moment. Gaiman had tricked us into thinking that the main crisis had been averted and thus that the adventure was basically over. But it wasn't. It was a moment of tension and suspense, and everyone held their breath - and then the three remarkable dwarfs appeared and danced with flowerpots on their heads. This was disappointing to me. Why? I don't know for sure. Did I expect that the world would actually end and that that event would conclude this thus far lighthearted romp through time and space? Probably not. Did I want the world to end? Again, I don't know. I think that possibly my disappointment can be attributed to two things: the first is that this was a moment of great tension, unexpectedly sprung upon us after everything seemed safe, but which suddenly ended unsatisfactorily. All of the intensity was lost as soon as the dwarfs appeared, and the crisis was abruptly over. Second, as previously mentioned, one of my favorite lines from the book was the part about how, if you touch two things from different times together, either the universe will end or three dwarfs will dance with flowerpots on their heads. As I speculated, one of the things that made this line so funny was the unexpectedness and absolute impossibility of this result actually happening. So when it did happen, I felt like it almost undermined the humor of that line.

But, as I said, I was only mildly disappointed, and I still enjoyed the rest of the book. I thought it was very cute when the son told his father that he didn't believe his story: "Not. Any. Of. It." To which the father replies that he can prove the truth of his story - and sets the milk down on the kitchen table. Then he calmly goes back to reading his newspaper. Because journeying through time and space, escaping from pirates, wumpires, aliens, and volcanoes, saving the world, in short, risking your life to provide your children with milk for their breakfast cereal - is all in a day's work for a father.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Last Unicorn: The Graphic Novel

Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn: the Graphic Novel


Title: The Last Unicorn
Original Story by: Peter S. Beagle
Adaptation by: Peter B. Gillis
Art by: Renae De Liz
Publication Info: IDW, 2013
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Book Depository
Note: You may also be able to buy the book in segments for a cheaper price, as it was originally published as a serial comic.
What Goodreads has to say:
Whimsical. Lyrical. Poignant. Adapted for the first time from the acclaimed and beloved novel by Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn is a tale for any age about the wonders of magic, the power of love, and the tragedy of loss. The unicorn, alone in her enchanted wood, discovers that she may be the last of her kind. Reluctant at first, she sets out on a journey to find her fellow unicorns, even if it means facing the terrifying anger of the Red Bull and malignant evil of the king who wields his power. Adapted by Peter B. Gillis and lushly illustrated by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon.

What I have to say:
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, is one of my favorite books. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and was absolutely blown away. I couldn't believe that it had taken me so long to discover such a wonderful, beautiful book, especially as I have loved unicorns from my childhood. I have since reread it and it has become one of my favorite books. Additionally, I've become more interested in and appreciative of graphic novels lately. It started when I discovered an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear by Gareth Hinds (my favorite graphic novelist). I went on to explore other works by him, which include graphic novels of Beowulf and The Odyssey. I also discovered the Tintin books by Herge, and Axe Cop (which you should check out). So when, browsing a bookstore in Victoria, B.C., I came across The Last Unicorn in graphic novel form, I was very excited. It was, however, rather expensive, so I put it on my wish list and waited. Finally, this Christmas, my sister bought it for me and I got to read it at last.

It was wondrous. The story in comic book form retained all the wonder, beauty and poignancy of the original novel. And it was a joy to see the novel's characters, places, and events brought to life in such vivid, beautiful illustrations. All in all, it was a very satisfying reading experience. Now on to the specifics.

I was very pleased and satisfied by the visual renderings of the characters, especially Schmendrick the magician. In the book he is described as having a baby face, and it's difficult to tell how old he is. I thought the artist captured this perfectly. Schmendrick's face in the graphic novel looks very smooth and youthful. And the artist captures perfectly all of the emotions that flit across his face, whether that's excitement, fear, wonder, etc. We see him change throughout the story, not only in his actions and experiences, but visually on his face and in the way that face changes towards the end of the graphic novel. At the end of the story he looks older, wiser, and more majestic.

Most of the other characters were also done well; they matched the descriptions in the original book and the visuals that I had in my head as I was reading the book. Lir and Amalthea were particularly good, though Amalthea did seem to be wearing a little too much mascara at times. Haggard was appropriately creepy, and Mommy Fortuna was rather terrifying. There were a couple of (minor) exceptions. Rukh looked too much like an ogre for my taste, but he's a fairly minor character and not my favorite (obviously), so it was fine. A more important exception was Molly Grue, who, though beautiful, did not in my opinion match what we hear about her in the book. Captain Cully remarks at one point that she has "let herself go to seed," and Molly herself seems to acknowledge that she is past her prime when she cries to the Unicorn, "How dare you come to me now, when I am this!" Based on these remarks, I got the impression that Molly was, not necessarily ugly, but not a thin young beauty, either. In the graphic novel, she is a thin young beauty. It's true that she probably looks a little older than Amalthea, and she isn't stunningly beautiful, but she has definitely not "gone to seed," yet. But really, I only point this out because I have very few actual criticisms to make of this adaptation, so I feel like I have to point them out when I do have them. I wasn't seriously bothered by the visual rendering of Molly's character, and I did think she was beautifully drawn. At any rate, she was still a very strong and compelling character; my sister who has never read the original novel read this adaptation and told me that Molly was her favorite character, so that's proof.

I was very impressed with the way that the visuals worked alongside the text to help the story unfold effectively. For example, at the very beginning, while the text is describing the setting and the Unicorn, the visuals show different shots of the wood, and in each shot we see only a part of the Unicorn, as if she is disappearing just as we catch a glimpse of her. Thus, in the first picture, we see only her tail disappearing behind a hill, next we see her back showing through the roots of a tree, and then her eye reflected in a pool. She remains elusive, so that we only see her shadow, her hoof, or her back, until the two hunters finish their dialogue and leave the forest. Once they are gone, the Unicorn emerges.

Throughout the graphic novel, it was clear that the artists had put some serious thought into the organization and arrangement of shots. It felt very cinematic at times, as if the artists were not just illustrators, but directors and cameramen as well. And it was very effective. For example, one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the novel was Molly's first encounter with the Unicorn. We see her emerge from the trees as Schmendrick is talking to the Unicorn, and then the next shot zooms in to show just her face as she sees the Unicorn. Then we move out to show both of them - the Unicorn with her back to us and Molly facing forward so that we can see her emotions but not the Unicorn's. Next we zoom in again to show Molly's torso and face as she begins to cry and as she swears at the Unicorn. Then we see both of their profiles facing each other - the Unicorn's calm and quiet, and Molly's raging with tears streaming wildly from her eyes. Finally we go to a shot of her kneeling on the ground, hand to her chest and hair covering her eyes, as if she has just fallen to her knees in defeat. And it ends in a beautiful illustration of her caressing the Unicorn with her eyes closed in the midst of a fiery autumn morning. Throughout the book, sequences like this one demonstrate the fine artistry and storytelling of the novel's adaptors and artists.

This is somewhat related to storytelling, but the illustrations were so beautiful that I felt they deserved their own section. The art was very well done, unlike some graphic novels which have a good story but rather disappointing illustrations. The art in this book was obviously done by skilled artists who understand facial expression, lighting, and composition. For a sample, look at this illustration, which covers two pages near the beginning of the novel (I made it super huge so you can really enjoy it):

I love the shading and the defining lines on the wizard's face and hair in the upper left corner. Do you see the way the unicorn's horn glows in the picture below the wizard: just faint enough to not be a distraction, but just bright enough to emit a noticeable glow? And do you see how the unicorn-turned-human resembles the unicorn itself in the first two pictures? But I think my favorite part of this piece is the picture of the unicorn-man and the girl on the far right. Their hair is so cool! And the girl's face looks so soft, almost like real skin but more beautiful and smooth. Of course, the above image is just a reproduction; these pages are much brighter and more luminous in the actual print copy. Also, the above image may be slightly out of focus, but I promise that the lines in the real book are clear and sharp.

Another aspect of the visuals (which actually might fall under storytelling), is the appropriate atmosphere for each moment of the story. Background colors, darkness or light, and borders add to each scene a distinct mood which corresponds to what is happening in that moment of the story. Hence, bright orange, red, and yellow dominate certain moments of panic or terror, such as when the Red Bull appears or when he charges Lir. Alternately, grays and subtle purples permeate scenes of suspense or impending danger, such as the moment before the Harpy breaks loose, or the sequence in the passage beneath Haggard's castle. The final moments of the book - poignant and bittersweet, are set against a sky of baby blue, offset by lush green grass and tinges of white: perhaps a subtle way of incorporating a reminder of the Unicorn into the scene. White petals falling on a serene blue pond end the novel in the same way that it began - with an orange dahlia coming to rest amid serene ripples on a sky blue lake.
And then there is a rabbit writing on a scroll (presumably working on a book in which men are fairytales).

Favorite Moments:
There were a few pages that were so cool, I wanted to devote a few words to them specifically. What follows are some of my very favorite moments in the graphic novel.


In first place is the moment when Molly hears Schmendrick tell her to open her eyes; she obeys - and sees all of the unicorns rushing out from the sea and streaming around her. It's a wonderful, eucatastrophic moment in the original book as it is, but the way that the artists rendered it - with Molly looking up in amazement, her hair billowing out in the wind, as white unicorns tinged with subtle greens and pinks rush out all around her, and Schmendrick standing up straight with his hand outstretched and his hat in the act of flying off - lent to the scene even greater emotional impact and a feeling of deep wonder and Joy.

Another memorable moment was that when Schmendrick summons up the vision of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and all the Merry Men. The figures were so colorful and bright as they appeared suddenly, without any warning, in the midst of the blue-gray forest, and they seem to be in the act of descending through the air, with a white glow around their feet. Additionally, all of the figures, and especially Robin and Marian, look particularly noble. Robin, his face calmly dignified, looks over at Marian, who wears a white and pink wedding dress with touches of purple, and looks down with a noble demureness. And her yellow hair falls down in curls around her face.

Also among my favorite moments is the two page display already shown above, which illustrates the story of Nikos and the unicorn he turned into a man. I love the wild, almost savage look of the unicorn-turned-man; he is almost sublime. And, of course, as already noted, I love the soft beauty of the girl's face and hair on the far right.

Lastly, the illustration of the hunter's memory about his great-grandmother and her unicorn was very lovely and touching in the way it was rendered and organized. And this is true in general for much of the book. It was superbly laid out.

Again, I have very few substantial criticisms to make of this book, so I want to stress that I only point the following things out in order to be fair and take all considerations into account. The following criticisms are not so much things I hated or even things I disliked as much as just things that I missed a little or noted in passing as minor failings.

I've already noted how Molly's appearance wasn't exactly in accordance with what we hear about her in the book - and that is probably my biggest criticism, along with the fact that Rukh looked like an ogre. Probably my next criticism would be that certain moments of the original novel were missing, and, well, I missed them. For example, possibly the most hilarious part of the novel is when Jack Jingly stumbles over the password and finally gets it all out, only to hear his fellow outlaw say that they changed the password while he was away:

“We changed the password while you were gone, Jack,” came the voice of the sentry. “It was too hard to remember.”

“Ah, you changed the password, did ye?” Jack Jingly dabbed at his bleeding ear with a fold of Schmendrick’s cloak. “And how was I to know that, ye brainless, tripeless, liverless get?”

“Don’t get mad, Jack,” the sentry answered soothingly. “You see, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know the new password, because it’s so simple. You just call like a giraffe. The captain thought of it himself.”

“Call like a giraffe.” The giant swore till even the horses fidgeted with embarrassment. “Ye ninny, a giraffe makes no sound at all. The captain might as well have us call like a fish or a butterfly.”

“I know. That way, nobody can forget the password, even you. Isn’t the captain clever?”

“There’s no limit to the man,” Jack Jingly said wonderingly. “But see here, what’s to keep a ranger or one of the king’s men from calling like a giraffe when ye hail him?”

“Aha,” the sentry chuckled. “That’s where the cleverness of it is. You have to give the call three times. Two long and one short.”
This part of the book is hilarious. And in the graphic novel, they ended it after the sentry tells Jack that they changed the password because it was too hard too remember. So, understandably, I was just a little disappointed that they left this part out of the adaptation.

Similarly, Haggard's men make no appearance in the graphic novel, which was also a little disappointing, as I really like them in the book and think they are somewhat important. And we didn't see Lir speak to the people of Hagsgate after he becomes king. But of course, I understand that, in an adaptation, some things have to get cut, and as I said, these absences didn't really interrupt my enjoyment of the story. Also, the adaptors may have been trying to keep the characters at a minimum so things didn't get too confusing.

All in all, I highly recommend this adaptation to any and all fans of the original novel. With a fond affection for the (slightly bizarre) cartoon adaptation, I can state that this graphic novel is the most satisfying and beautiful retelling of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn currently in existence. I do recommend reading the original novel first, only because I love it deeply and would not want anyone's enjoyment of it to be ruined by knowing in advance everything that's going to happen. But, if you haven't read the original and want to try this adaptation, I think you'll find that it is a wonderful story in its own right.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thor: The Viking God of Thunder by Graeme Davis

Thor: The Viking God of Thunder


Title: Thor: The Viking God of Thunder
Author: Graeme Davis
Series: N/A
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Publication Date: September 17 2013
Source:  Netgalley

Goodreads Summary: In the stories of the ancient Vikings, Thor is a warrior without equal, who wields his mighty hammer in battles against trolls, giants, and dragons. He is the god of storms and thunder, who rides to war in a chariot pulled by goats, and who is fated to fall in battle with the Midgard Serpent during Ragnarok, the end of all things. This book collects the greatest myths and legends of the thunder god, while also explaining their historical context and their place in the greater Norse mythology. It also covers the history of Thor as a legendary figure, how he was viewed by different cultures from the Romans to the Nazis, and how he endures today as a popular heroic figure.

My Thoughts
        I love Norse Mythology, and vikings and things like that. This book was a great compilation of the many myths surrounding the thunder god Thor. It was very complete, and the pictures were great. Each myth had its own picture, and most of the pictures were by different artists, including my favorite, Arthur Rackham. 
        One of my favorite Norse myths is about how Thor got his hammer. It all started when Loki, god of tricks, decided to chop off Sif's golden hair. Thor was outraged at what Loki had done and so to redeem himself, Loki had master dwarf craftsmen create new hair for Sif out of gold. Loki was very impressed with the final product, and realized he could cause more mischief by messing with the dwarves. He approached two dwarf brothers and bet that they could not make anything as wonderful as Sif's new hair. Loki wagered his head. To further hinder their progress Loki turned into a fly and repeatedly bit the dwarves. The results were a magical golden boar, a gold dripper, and Thor's hammer. The other gods pronounced these gifts better than Sif's hair. The dwarves came to Loki to recieve his end of the bet, but thwarted them when he stated that they could not have his head without harming his neck, which had not been part of the wager. As a compromise the dwarves sewed Loki's mouth shut. 
          I think I like this story because it shows that the gods do not control everything, and it is a beginning. Yes, Sif had beautiful hair before, but her hair of legend is that which is real gold growing out of her head. I also like how Thor got his hammer because of Loki's foolishness. Yes, Loki is the cause Ragnarok, and destroys the world, but he is also why Thor is able to defeat the enemies of Midgaard. I also like the fact that the dwarves didn't just leave Loki alone after he stumped them. I think getting his mouth sewn shut is a perfect punishment for the god of mischief.

          Norse gods
                  Odin: Leader of the gods and a powerful and cunning magician.
                           Frigga: Odin's wife, gifted with the power of prophecy.
                   Loki: King of tricksters, he is also the father of Hel, the Migaard serpent, the great wolf Fenrir, and the mother of Odin's eight legged horse.
                   Balder: The most beautiful of the gods, and Frigga and Odin's son.
                   Frey: Brother to Freya, he is a fertility Deity.
                   Freya: Sister to Frey, she is a fertility Deity.
                   Tyr: The god of victory.
                   Sif: Wife of Thor, she had beautiful golden hair. 
                   Heimdall: Watchman of Asgaard, he stands on the rainbow bridge and blows his horn if there are any problems.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Desolation of Smaug fails to live up to my (perhaps too lofty) expectations

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A few months ago, I posted an analysis of the trailer for the upcoming movie, The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment in the Hobbit movie trilogy. I titled my analysis: "All the tales and songs fall utterly short." I would love to post that as the title of my review of the movie itself, but unfortunately, a more accurate title would be something like: "The movie falls utterly short of all my expectations." Because, while I enjoyed the movie and did find certain moments very wonderful, I was, ultimately, rather disappointed.

Now, because I don't want to seem like a pessimist and because I do want to express my admiration and appreciation for the parts of the movie that I thought were really great, I will start with the positive (and end with the negative so that, after you finish reading this, you will either be completely depressed or very angry at me).

So let's start with the single best thing about the movie: Martin Freeman. I'm almost kidding, but not really. Wow, he is a talented actor. In my opinion, while he showed great acting throughout, there were three scenes in particular when he really shone: the barrel scene, the spider and ring sequence, and the conversation with Smaug. What was great about these scenes was that they really just focused on Bilbo and, in these moments, we saw him developing as a character in significant ways.

In my opinion, the first moment when we really got to see Bilbo doing and feeling significant things was the spider sequence in Mirkwood. By this, I mean the sequence that starts with Bilbo climbing the tree and ends after he kills the baby spider and begins to realize what the ring is doing to him. I loved the tree scene because it was true to the book and expressed the idea that, even when everything seems dark and hopeless, if we just take a moment to step outside of everything and look at the bigger picture, we'll see that the issue we are struggling with isn't such a big deal after all. Then came the scene where Bilbo comes down from the tree and fights the spiders of Mirkwood. Once again, this was good because it kept an important moment from the book, namely, Bilbo really becoming courageous and going in to save the Dwarves on his own. And yes, I liked that they kept the naming of Sting more or less as it was in the book, because that also is an important moment in both the progression of the book and in Bilbo's character development. Lastly, I liked the scene with Bilbo and the ring because it added a new level of complexity to his character and because I enjoyed watching the process he went through to come to the realization that the ring was doing something to him.

The barrel scene was great because we saw the growth of Bilbo's role in the company. I thought it was interesting that Thorin was counting on Bilbo to get him and the other dwarves out of prison, and when Bilbo fulfilled his expectation, it showed that he really is becoming a second leader to the company. He saved them from the spiders, and now he saves them from the Elven King's dungeons. But my favorite part, of course, was when, after all the dwarves had gotten into the barrels and slid into the river, Bilbo realized the one flaw in his plan. The way that Martin Freeman conveyed this process of realization was brilliant and very funny. He didn't immediately figure it out, instead, he gave the audience time to watch it all play out on his face and in his gestures. The result was very effective, and, consequently, this was one of my favorite scenes.

I also liked the scene on top of the Lonely Mountain, when Bilbo refused to give up on finding the keyhole, but I don't feel like I have a lot to say about that, other than that it showed how different Bilbo is from the dwarves (which is a theme in the book, as well) so I'll move on.

One of my favorite scenes was Bilbo's conversation with Smaug. I LOVED that they kept several of Bilbo's riddles along with much of the original dialogue from the book. And both actors did a fantastic job, though of course we could only hear Benedict Cumberbatch and it didn't even sound like him. I guess that is a mark of just how well he played Smaug. It was great to see all the stages Bilbo went through in the conversation, from scared to confident and then back to scared but still determined to get the Arkenstone. And, while we are here, we may as well consider the question: did Bilbo actually get the Arkenstone? Initially I was pretty sure he didn't, as we never saw him pick it up, but after talking to other people about it, I become less convinced. After all, when Thorin confronts Bilbo and asks him if he has the Arkenstone, Bilbo doesn't answer, whereas if he really doesn't have the Arkenstone on him, couldn't he have just told Thorin so? The fact that he avoids a direct answer makes me think that maybe he does have the stone, after all.

Anyway, as you can gather, most of my favorite moments involved Bilbo, the... uh... hobbit. Because contrary to the evidence, this movie actually is titled The Hobbit. Really? Not The Elves or The Dwarves Riding in Barrels or The Man from Lake Town? Not even The Elf and the Dwarf Who Have a Weird Romance? No, it really is called The Hobbit.

But speaking of weird romance, I did enjoy the Tauriel/Kili plotline, mostly, I think, because it gave us a break from all the wild, fast-paced action and allowed for some fun character development. So while it was a little cheesy in parts, I didn't really have any objections to it.

Other things I liked: I loved Bard. I'd been a little dubious about his character from seeing the trailers and posters, but I found him a very compelling, strong and likeable character. I also thought the portrayal of Smaug was great. He was very impressive visually, and, as mentioned already, Cumberbatch did a very effective Smaug voice, apparently inspired by his father's performance in reading The Hobbit aloud to his son.

And now, on to the things that I DID NOT like. You can stop here if you like; I won't be offended.

There was way too much action. The first ten to twenty minutes of the movie felt like whiplash. We were running from the orcs, then we were in Beorn's house, then we said hello and goodbye to Beorn, then we were in Mirkwood, then we were with the spiders, and then we were in Thranduil's dungeons. I would have liked a little more conversation, a little more insight into some of the characters, and a little more focus on Bilbo (the title character) throughout.

Once we reached the Elven Halls, I felt like we slowed down a little, just enough to see some relationships forming and learn a little about Thranduil and his kingdom. But, again, we weren't there for long, and then it was into the river for the 45 minute barrel scene (yes, I know it wasn't that long, but it felt like it). And why do the orcs have to keep popping up every five minutes? I get that Azog was important for moving the action forward in the first movie, but I feel like this one had so much action and so many plotlines without the orcs pursuing Thorin, that they were really just a needless, annoying distraction.

Another somewhat irritating element of the film was that they felt the need to constantly refer back to The Lord of the Rings, as if to remind us what world we were in and what story this was. Now, I'm not against having allusions to the previous films in The Hobbit; when done tactfully, I think it can be very effective, interesting, and even funny in some cases. For example, I did enjoy seeing Peter Jackson walk across the screen while eating a carrot in Bree, but I cringed at Balin's comment on "the courage of Hobbits." I think the difference is that the first allusion was somewhat subtle and consistent with the rest of the movie, whereas Balin's comment was rather jarring because it was not consistent with the rest of the movie and thus called too much attention to itself. I was under the impression that the Dwarves had never met any hobbits other than Bilbo, or, at least, they had never had the opportunity to observe the courage of hobbits before, so Balin's comment doesn't make any sense. It would have been fine if he had said something about how Bilbo's courage never ceased to amaze him, or even if he had drawn a conjecture about the courage of hobbits from his experience with Bilbo, but as it was, I felt like his comment was very out of place and inconsistent.

Finally, what was the deal with the long and apparently useless sequence with Smaug and the Dwarves, culminating in a giant golden dwarven statue? First of all, the question arises: what in the name of Durin were they trying to accomplish? And secondly, why in the name of Durin did we need that scene? I get that the filmmakers wanted the Dwarves to mount an attack on Smaug, and I think I would have been fine with that if the scene hadn't lasted so long and seemed so utterly pointless. The Dwarves don't attack Smaug in the book, but with the way the filmmakers are developing the dwarven characters and their desire for revenge, it doesn't really make sense for Thorin & Company to sit around outside while Bilbo goes in several times and interacts with Smaug. Also, just visually, it makes sense to have a fight scene between the Dwarves and the Dragon, whereas in the book it isn't needed. So far, fine. But, again, why did the fight scene have to last so long? It seemed to go on forever and it was confusing. Nothing was accomplished. They could easily have shortened this sequence and still kept the element of the Dwarves trying to fight Smaug as well as Bilbo's courageous act at the end, which I do think was an important element.

If you've made it this far, then I have to say thanks for bearing with me, and sorry if I seemed too negative. I think it's only fair to add that, while I was disappointed in the movie, I had a lot of fun watching it and did enjoy the experience. I've seen it twice now, and enjoyed it much more the second time, after I knew what to expect. Additionally, I want to make it clear that I haven't covered every single aspect of the movie, as, if I had, this review would be much much longer. Obviously, I can't discuss the whole movie. So if you haven't seen it yet, you can go and decide for yourself whether it lives up to all of your expectations. Or maybe we shouldn't measure it by that. Can any movie ever live up to everyone's expectations? Probably not. So I suppose, at the end of this review, I should just be grateful that I get to see one of very favorite books made into three enjoyable movies. And anyway, after everything that I've said, we did get some great things out of this movie: Martin Freeman and other talented actors doing some great work, breathtaking scenescapes, a pretty awesome dragon, and a really cool song. Oh, and let's not forget Kili.

A Hat full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky


Title: A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Series: Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2
Publisher: Corgi
Publication Date: June 6 2005
Source: Christmas

Goodreads Summary:
Something is coming after Tiffany ...

Tiffany Aching is ready to begin her apprenticeship in magic. She expects spells and magic -- not chores and ill-tempered nanny goats! Surely there must be more to witchcraft than this!

What Tiffany doesn't know is that an insidious, disembodied creature is pursuing her. This time, neither Mistress Weatherwax (the greatest witch in the world) nor the fierce, six-inch-high Wee Free Men can protect her. In the end, it will take all of Tiffany's inner strength to save herself ... if it can be done at all.

A Story of Discworld

My Thoughts
         Plot: Well, the plot of this book was a whole lot slower than the first one in the series. The humor that left you laughing out loud also wasn't present very often. However, this novel still did have deep parts where I was very impressed with Pratchett. So, let's move on . . . 

*******Warning Spoilers*******


       I thought it was a little contradictory that Tiffany was leaving the Chalk seeing as she had just learned that she belonged there, but whatever. I did like how we as readers got to see further into Tiffany's world of witches. I thought it was interesting how Pratchett showed how for each witch that way of living worked for her, but the truest form of Witchcraft was practiced by Tiffany and Granny Weatherwax. I think the only reason the hiver is able to posses Tiffany is because she isn't on her home turf. When a witch is on her home turf she is unstoppable. 
         That is why the hiver is not able to totally take over Tiffany, because deep inside Tiffany is a piece of her home turf, which is where her power comes from. I loved it when the Nac Mac Feegles entered Tiffany's mind and realized just how powerful she was.
          One of my favorite parts was at the witch trials when Tiffany creates a door to death and takes the hiver through. This moment in the book was very deep and though provoking. No one has ever tried to talk to the hiver, or even ask it why it does what it does, until Tiffany comes along. She asks, and because she does she is able to help the hiver. In the end the only way to get rid of the hiver wasn't to use brute force, or strong magic, but to listen to it, and grant its wish. I felt like the author emerged for a second into the story and gave his opinion on problems in the world. Sometimes we think the only solution to people who don't act like us, or have our best interests at heart is to attack them, either physically, socially, or mentally. What Pratchett is saying here is that there is another answer, simply talk to them.  
           My other favorite part was at the end when Tiffany learns that just like her Granny, she has a hat full of sky. She is a true witch because of what is inside her, not what's on the outside. And, at the end of the day that's what matters.