30 December 2008

Robin Hood

I've been thinking about reading Ivanhoe again. I think now would be a pretty good time considering all of the problems the world seems to be facing.

As I'm sure everyone has heard, at least once, that there are some tragedies in the world that have more to do with money and greed than anything else. There are the riots in Greece, Bernard Madoff and his $50Bn, Blagojevich and the Senate Seat, AIG, pretty much any story you want about Wall Street and bonuses, Banks, Detroit 3, Newspapers...The list could probably go on, but it makes me dizzy to try to remember all of the bad news.

The thing that I have been noticing is the comments sections websites offer after each of these stories. The strings are full of hate, loathing, and annoyance that we shouldn't feel any empathy towards the rich or the well-to-do.

This is a complete turn around from even a few months ago. At the beginning of the year all we could consume was books, TV shows, and movies about stories of the uber wealthy. We had to know where they went on vacation; how much they paid a night for a room; what a private island looked like; how many houses they had; what a social gala looked like; what kind of car they drive; where they shopped; what a fashion showed looked like; what were the top chefs cooking; and pretty much anything else you could ever ask.

I watched friends and read stories about people who would buy more than they could afford. You couldn't have a pair of Target sunglasses-NO! You had to have a pair of Fendi's or Gucci's. Why buy a Jeep or a Ford, when you could get a Land Rover or a Lexus and look fashionable.

And then the bottom fell out.

People started having repossessions, foreclosures and bankruptcies at an alarming rate. Layoffs happened around the country-and around the world-and it was simply due to poor management of "Fortune 500" companies.

Now, we are faced with a growing "Haves" vs. "Have Nots". I can think of a couple of examples in which this didn't turn out to be good for the "Haves"-the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution.

So, Ivanhoe seems like it might be a good read at this time. It's a great Medieval story that also introduces us to Robin of Locksley or Robin Hood.

Robin Hood is a personal hero of mine. Not because of his stealing and general "merriment", but rather because he did what was right. When good people are starving because wealth is being horded-not equally earned-then something has to give. Robin Hood is an ideal. He is something that cannot end. I'm reminded of the movie "V for Vendetta" and a couple of quotes given by the titular character, and for purposes of this blog I will edit for coherency.

Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with
enough people, [a symbol] can change the world.

Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.

I'm not condoning a complete Socialist society. History has proven that doesn't work. But the Common Man needs a hero; someone it can look up to and Hope that the World will get better. And that is just what Robin Hood did for the English during a very difficult time, not much unlike ours now.

So, I think I'll be dusting off my paperback version of Ivanhoe very soon to be reintroduced to a hero we should could use a lot of right now.

10 December 2008

Review: "New Moon"

So, in my last blog I looked at the book "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer and gave my thoughts on the book. I had to say, I debated for a day or two as to if I would continue with the series or stop where I was before I became too invested. After my contemplation was complete, I figured that I should give it a try because the Harry Potter series got better with each successive story and this had a similar chance. So off to Borders I went with my trusty debit card.

I've got to admit the storyline presented this time is slightly more compelling than the last. It's enjoyable for me to see the progression of an author's thoughts and style over time. I was also highly impressed with the four blank pages denoting only the months in which nothing happened. What a completely unique way of skipping forward in time without boring the reader to tears with monotony.

The story continues in much the same fashion as before and picks up exactly where "Twilight" leaves off. But within the first chapter all of Bella's life falls apart and she is forced to quit the perfect relationship she has with Edward. (I'm not giving away the main plot line too much!)

In the vacuum a new beau arrives and takes up the romantic post now vacant-and he's got a secret too!

Jacob Black, a Native American on a reservation town called La Push, WA is the direct descendant of two of the most powerful Werewolves in Washington state history. As he comes of age he too gains the ability to transform from a man to wolf.

Amazingly, Mrs. Meyer does a great job with the werewolf. She actually makes the werewolf animal in form, although slightly larger. In the book the werewolf is originally described as big as a Black Bear. This was to my great relief. Hollywood has truly destroyed the myth of the werewolf with its Wolfman. I guess it was too difficult or expensive to train and film actual wolves back in the 1940s.

These werewolves also transform, but they are not the long drawn out transformations of "Teen Wolf", but rather short "tremblings" in which the body simply morphs into its alternative form. They have greater sight, smell, hearing; they heal faster than normal humans and are capable of destroying vampires.

The only thing I was a little iffy on was the size of Jacob Black, the human, throughout the course of the story. All she kept saying was that he "grew." To me, this just became laughable. After awhile I began to picture a giant walking around town like it was no big deal. To top it all off, the other members of the pack (5 altogether) seem to grow together. How in a community as small as Forks with legends and myths flying around like confetti, would they not start to associate the 5 "large" boys and the spotting of 5 "large bear-like" wolves together?! This is like the Clark Kent/Superman belief that simply putting on a pair of glasses and covering the cape is a good enough disguise. Simply laughable.

On the other hand, the story was more coherent. She did a great job of foreshadowing events. This time, when there was an emergency trip to get out of Forks it wasn't so off the cuff. The ideas flowed seamlessly together and created a great ride I actually started to enjoy.

We were also introduced to some True Vampires along the way. While Mrs. Meyer still refuses to discuss blood and gore (weak stomach perhaps?) she did finally show that vampires were blood suckers and that they preferred it that way. The danger and suspense were there, and there was a slight hint at erotica as well. (Why would you go to a large castle during a festival, when a beautiful woman in the shortest mini-skirt asked you too?)

At this point, I can kind of get behind the sparkly skin Meyer's vampires have. It is becoming a unique twist on an old myth. I'm still not a fan of the fact that the Cullens do not partake of their natural prey and survive, but I'm assuming at this point Mrs. Meyer will not change this fact.

Last thought that I'm sure will be answered in the upcoming book or books: How does Edward and the Cullen clan plan to subvert the Treaty formed with Ephraim Black nearly 70 years ago. Namely that no one can be "bitten" by a vampire, not just killed. Obviously the underlying plot is Bella's transformation to a vampire and the only way one can become a vampire is to be bitten. I have one theory, but I'm sure Mrs. Meyer has a unique twist on this that will require a quick trip to Australia or some other remote and exotic locale. 

All in all, this book was good. I really enjoyed it and finished it in record time-or at least record time for someone who works full-time and is the father of a four month old boy. At this point I'm beginning to see what the fuss was all about. 

I've already picked up the next book, "Eclipse", and I will follow up with its review shortly. 

03 December 2008

Twilight's OK But Not Good

Let me start this with a little background on myself. I'm a 31 year-old male living in Winston-Salem, NC. In my lifetime I've read many books regarding vampires because, well, I think vampires are cool. They're the bad guy you want to like, but also scare the bejesus out of you. When I was in Third or Fourth Grade I asked my Mom to take me to the public library-because that's what kids did back in the '80s-to check out "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. As any vampire fan will agree, this is the Holy Grail of vampire lore. It was the first commercial success. After reading Stoker's story I eventually graduated to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles during my high school years and completed them all a few years back. My personal vampire "taste" has been crafted around her version of the vampire simply because I think it is modern, well thought out, and if a vampire were to truly exist-this is the type I would like to...well...Be.

I'm also a huge fan of books like Harry Potter. I've read the entire series, and like many people I've seen all the movies to date. I will be honest: the reason I read the first book was due to all of the publicity it received from certain religious groups. I had to see what all the fuss was about. My first impression of the book was that people were talking about something in which they had never read. My second thought was: what about "Bewitched"? That was a huge hit in the '60s and no one complained then-or at least I never heard of it. In the end, the stories sucked me in. I appreciated how over the course of the series the writing style improved and became more complex. I appreciated the character development that J. K. Rowling to put into her work. I also appreciated a work that grew in maturity in the same manner as the potential reader.

So, like many Harry Potter fans I was left with a void once the series stopped. I think Rowling did the right thing by ending it when she did. I did have a problem with the ending of the last book, but that should probably be discussed in a different posting because this one is supposed to be about Twilight. So, let's get to it.

I read a couple of months ago about a new series of fantasy novels that had the potential to be the next Harry Potter. I was curious, but not enough to rush out and read the book. Then I heard that a movie was in the works. Now, I for one firmly believe you should always read the book before seeing the movie. I think it helps. Movies are on a tight budget and are limited in time. They have to edit because of this and sometimes the translations leave huge holes that are hard to fathom unless you have read the book before hand. It can make it annoying as the reader will always compare the movie to the book and end up with the result that the book was better. But it is nice to see the movie version.

In the end, my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up "Twilight". I was fully prepared for what some vampire afficionado's were calling its shortcomings. I figured I could go into this with an open mind because anything had to be better than "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. (More on that later as well.)
So, what do I think of "Twilight"? It's a great story for a 13 year-old girl-or someone who likes cheesy romance novels-but a vampire story it is not. Stephenie Meyer has taken the vampire myth and basically desconstruted it to fit some moral good. There is no real conflict with being a blood-sucking demon and wanting to be good. Instead, we never truly see the fight that Edward, the main vampire of the book, has in relation to his desires for Bella. What the reader instead gets is a watered down romance novel with some form of god as the object of affection. If Ms. Meyer were to write this again, I would suggest she not call Edward Cullen a vampire, but rather an immortal for that is what he truly is. Oh sure, he was bitten and transformed, but he is not a vampire.
I'm not a huge fan of the fact that the Cullens do not drink human blood. This is a huge departure from vampire lore. The act of drinking human blood is so much more than simply drinking blood. This "act" is about drawing energy from the prey. The Life Force. Vampires are the "undead" to put it as Stoker did. They have no life. They are damned to walk the earth forever. So, they need Life to survive, and blood is the analogy. It is like saying my heart is breaking when you lose someone. Your heart is fine. But the analigous Heart is broken. Without the right Life Force a vampire will grow weak-maybe not die-but will start to slumber. We see that in "Dracula" and in "Interview with a Vampire". In "Interview" we see Louis attempt to be what the Cullens have obviuosly perfected. He attempts for days to live off of rats and other vermin only to be mocked by Lestat. Unfortunately, he is unable to sate his hunger because he is not satisfying the demon inside. He never truly feels whole and is constantly in pain. Dracula too survives off of vermin in Stoker's novel, but when a human is present he relishes in this.

So, Ms. Meyer has it wrong. She believes that imbibing blood is the main motive for a vampire's feeding. It is, quit simply: Not. The reason a vampire is drawn to the bloood is for the energy only the human soul can provide. For Ms. Meyer to miss this point entirely is dissappointing.

And this is why I'm not 100% a fan of the work. A vampire is evil; pure and simple. This is the origin of the myth. This is what is known around the world, and the use of blood as it's source of Life is a must. This would have created a better conflict. I realize that the conflict is there. It is ever present, but only to a small degree. It would have been much more interesting if Edward were to truly love her and take out his blood lust on unsuspecting people in the town, in order to preserve the love of his life. In this case, the story would have taken a better turn instead of the random plot-surprise that comes as an almost disjointed story to what had happened up until that point.
So, in reviewing this book I'll state that it is a good read with a new twist that should not be placed on an old myth. I liked it for the most part, but the lack of blood in the book was dissappointing. I am intrigued as to the next book, so I have picked it up as well. Perhaps Meyer can redeem herself in the following works.