Monday, August 29, 2011

101 Things I've Learned: Listen to the Sidekick

"How long have I known you?"
"All my life."
"Then why won't you tell me where we're going?"
"You won't like it."

Sidekicks are the voice of reason when the main characters are caught up in the quest. They're also the eyes that see the unexpected coming when the heroes are involved in a more important duels. Listen to them. 

"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I did. You weren't listening."

After all, what are sidekicks for if not watching out for the main character? If you have a tag-a-long you might as well make use of it, and if you have an adviser, well:

"I'm your Councilor! I'm supposed to support you!"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

101 Things I've Learned: How Do You Know My Name?

(replace with appropriate mental image)
A young woman exits the elevator and inquires of a random character walking past: "I think I'm lost. I'm looking for ward 26?"
Who replies: "This way, Rose Tyler."

A young man falls unconscious and awakens next to a mysterious man's fire. They talk for a considerable time and the stranger (who has not been introduced) calls him by name: "Artose, God has a plan for your life."

If a complete stranger knows your name it is a very good indication a villain is behind it. (Either that or he's a angel or you're having a vision; everyone in dreams knows who you are.) You should never, ever walk off with someone who knows your name when you never gave it.

How do you know my name? Are you an angel, a saint, or a devil?
How do you know my name? Where you expecting me?
How do you know my name? Who sent you? Where's my companion? Where are you taking me?

Unless you're wearing a nametag, or you have your identity printed on your forehead, or you're in a dream, or you know the person you're speaking to, or the person knows a person you know and can identify him, or you have an ID that's scanable from the distance if a strange knows your name... don't go with him. If a stranger knows your name... ask him how. And if he doesn't answer satisfactorily do the smart thing.

And what is the smart thing? Run the other way.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Unfinished Beginnings: Sarith of Avalon

(Another Tolkien inspired piece, this one with slightly better names. Although the elves are obviously borrowed that could be easily fixed if I could remember what the entire point of this story was going to be.)

Sarith woke up and dreaded another day. Sleep no longer brought him rest. It was only a way of passing the time of the evil night during which none might be abroad. Sometimes he wondered which he dreaded more; the darkness of the night or the darkness of his dreams. Ever since Gathorn had met him his thoughts were ever-filled with foreboding and a dread he could not shake off. Here, in Avalon, he was safe, yet he knew that sooner or later destiny would call him forth; forth to war.

He did not know who he would lead, or who he would follow. War was breeding though, there would be no mistake. War, he shuddered at the word, the thought; the evil that Gathorn was planning and had disclosed. He didn't dare breath a word of it to Mora, or Tareth or Mariessa or any of them. It was a thought too terrible to talk about. But it haunted his dreams at night and soon he would have to leave the safety of his home and take his place against the evil that was brewing in his world.


Gathorn had found him only a week ago, riding on the outskirts of the forest.

"Hi there, my lad," he cried. "Not so fast now."

Sarith had frowned down on him then; an old wizened man walking along the road.

"Who are you, stranger?" he asked.

"Stranger," he laughed. "Stranger? Do you not know that soon I am to be master of the world? Yes, I, Gathorn. You, elvin-lordling, shall soon come to know and fear me. I shall take your land and your home, but for now I will be content with your name (for I am sure it is great), your cloak (lovely, made by your dear Mora, was it?), that band of gold which encircles your fair brow (denoting your worthless birth), your horse (he will better serve me), and your sword (which is nameless, but I shall give it a better title: Anurail, meaning Dark Fire)."

"How dare you," Sarith said, not yet angry. "Do you not know who I am?"

"I am waiting for your name."

"I am Sarith, Elvin-Lord of Avalon."

"Sarith, is it? Now I know. Little does it matter. Now for your second gift, that fair cloak. White and gold are scarcely a standard for war. Come, hand it over."

Drawn by something he didn't understand Sarith gave it to him without protest.

"Now that circle of gold you wear, it will be a promise of the land that will later be mine."

Unable to resist he gave it to him.

"Now dismount. Your horse, Argon, shall be mine as well."

Sarish dismounted, but he kept his tongue. "Argon shall never be yours," he said. "He will let none ride him but me, and will be faithful, even to death. He will not willingly leave me and if you take him away he will find his way back, through fire and water if need be. So I have been pledged."

"Oh, pledged, is he? Well, I'll tame him in spite of that. Now give me your sword."

"It is a time of peace, not of war. I carry no sword."

"No?" Gathorn's face grew dark. "That is ill for you. You must learn that it is a time of war, and not of peace. You had better find your sword and clean the rust off it. I shall claim it from you another time. Now I will let you return to your hose, to try and defend it, and the lands that surround it. They depend on it, don't they? Avalon and her people are under your protection. I will have it for my own; I will have it all. You must fight me, for I will not deign to offer peace to the likes of you."

Sarith opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Gathorn raised his staff, his eyes filled with hate. It seemed to gleam with fire as he brought it down with a force that stunned Sarith beyond sensibility.

When he awoke the dread was there. Tarith and Mariessa found him. They had been sent out by Mora when he did not come in for dinner and brought him back to the house. Argon found his way back to the stable late that night. He came to his senses in his own room with those he loved around him, but the dread would not leave. It had been with him ever since.


Sarith closed his eyes and willed his fear away. He had to be able to face this morning and every morning after this. Doom was approaching; his people needed him. Soon he had to go, and he would ride out, whenever he found the strength to overcome his fear. This fear wasn't natural, he thought bitterly as he rose and dressed.

Mora thought so too and blocked his way when he tried to leave the room.

"Where are you off to, Sarith?" she asked; when he made no answer she took his arm and steered him to the kitchen.

"Sit down," she said, "and eat. Drive this nameless darkness from your mind. Eat, and grow strong. More than that, talk. Sarith, you haven't talked since you got that blow on the head. Who did it, Sarith? It was not mere robbers, that is plain to see. Sarith! Don't sit there and let it eat away at you. Open your mind to us; let the light into your secret thoughts. If you keep your heart inm silence, despair will eat at it until there is nothing left but a great, dark emptiness ever-longing for what can't be had.

"Why do you sit and brood all day in this dark silence?" she pleaded with him. "WHy do you let this shadow hide your glory? Do not forget who you are, Sarith. Do not lose the knowledge that you are an elvin-lord of Avalon."

Sarith sighed and looked at his breakfast, still untouched.

"Don't fret, Mora," he said softly, stood, and left the house. He went to the stable and led out Argon. Today was the day, he could put it off no longer. Today he must ride and face what was coming.

Slowly he buckled on his sword. Slowly... and reluctantly. He was not nameless as Gathorn had said. Long ago it had been given a name; Elindur, a flame in darkness. He had traded the bright colors of the forest for dark gray. If he met his enemy Gathorn could not accuse him of not minding his rebuke.

Slowly he mounted Argon. He was not surprised that his horse had returned. No one could tame him; he belonged to Sarith alone. He name meant North Wind and he was a priceless treasure; fathful as the day was long and a friend even to the friendless.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Am the Doctor

Photo by Nathan Greenwood
Last month I went to the county fair along with some of my brothers and sisters. In less than an hour I was wondering why I had come. I'd already been on all of the sane rides twice, and managed to get tricked onto one of the insane rides and was sorely wishing I had just stayed at home and read a good book instead. I don't like the rides that people go on for thrills and this being the country fair and all the thoughts that run through my mind are all the people that would die if the thing broke, and the likelihood of it breaking, and the fact that if the maintainers are anything like the ride operators I wouldn't want to trust my life to their hands... The only thing that kept me sane on one particular trip was the thought that there was no way I had lived this long only to die on a malfunctioning ride at the county fair. If I was going to die young it would be in a car accident or something else normal, not in a freakish accident at the hands of a stupid operator.

I had wanted to go though, and my siblings had bought my ticket for me, so I had to enjoy myself somehow. We got there at about 6:00 and the fair didn't close until 10:00 and I was at my wits end what to do. I rambled at my sister, who was in the unusual position of being forced to listen to me ramble while we were standing in line for one of my favorite rides. (It didn't leave the ground.) I explained which rides I liked and why I liked them and I analyzed my reasons for liking them and came up with the following premise:

I like kid rides. I like rides that you go on with a kid and you wave your arms about and scream and get them to stare at you and ask why you're screaming. I like making up stories about the adventures that the rides represent and having a kid to tell those stories too. I like having someone to make a fool of myself too. I wasn't having any fun that day because it was the older kid's night out and there was no child for me to interact with.

"You could always come with me."
Like taking the Doctor and sticking him in a room full of stuffy Time Lords.

"We have the privilege of viewing all of time and space." We have the privilege of the freedom of the world. We have the authority, the cars, and the money to buy tickets and go to the fair. We're adults; we're mature, responsible, and stuck with the dull drudgery of running the world. We envy the children we once were running carefree with their games. They envy us our lack of school, the freedom that they see our lives. By sharing our lives with theirs we can recapture the innocence of childhood and teach them the responsibilities of adults. Only in the presence of a child can I stop behaving as an adult.

"I can't see it anymore. You make all of time and space your backyard, and that's what you have. A backyard.  But you... you can see it. And when you see it, I see it."

In front of us in line two eager excited girls were informed that they couldn't go on the ride without an adult. They ran over to their mom, but she wasn't interested in riding and told them they'd have to find another one to go on. I stepped out of line and told the mom that if it was all right with her they could ride with me. I was an adult; and for one shining moment I was the Doctor.

I could fix things, I could help children. I can enjoy the universe by showing it to others, as I enjoyed myself on that ride with two strangers. My brother and his friends were "too cool" to hang out with me, but I didn't mind them any more. I didn't get another Doctor moment that night, but I kept my eyes open.

The Doctor isn't just a character from a British TV show. He's a concept and an ideal. He's the child inside every one of us begging to be expressed, and that's why so many people associate themselves with him. You can be the Doctor and share the glorious parts of life with every one of your companions.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Unfinished Beginnings: Fararir

(I was reading through the Simarillion when I first started writing this, and was playing with some names similar to Tolkien's. I failed miserably in my opinion. Scribbled all over the margins of this beginning are various variations: Fararir, Faratir, Faramir, Faralir, Fara, Faralyr, Fararere, Farirer, Farareer, Farireer, Farirere... 

I know I had some plan for writing a story about the long-lost son of a king who wasn't actually the heir, but I never was able to figure out the details.)

Fararir looked up from his planting and wiped his sweaty brow to regard the strangers clustered on the road. There were four of them, maybe five, all on horseback and in dark cloaks; unseasonable for the weather. Curious, he came closer when he saw Farmer Goldon come out. They spoke for a minute and then one of the strangers gave the Farmer some money and he left.

"Are you sure he's the one, Ranger?" Someone asked.

"Certain as if his name was written on his forehead," the one called Ranger replied.

Fararir stared unabashedly. He was silent, gradually letting himself come to terms withw hat he had seen happen. The men stared in turn, evaluating him.

"What's your name?" the first one asked; he made no answer.

"Let him alone, Walker," another said, stirring restlessly. "We have far to go."

"Don't speak of distance to me," Walker retorted. "You're the one who let the horses slip."

"Enough," Ranger said. He was not harsh but they fell silent at his voice. "I suppose you know who we are," he continued, addressing the youth.

He knew all right, but still he said nothing. He had been sold, of course. It was not uncommon. These men were his masters now. He wasn't even curious as to what they wanted him for. They might even be slaves themselves. He'd known it would happen sooner or later. All over Griston children were being sold; no one could afford to feed them, not even the Goldon's. Especially not a half-grown orphan boy.

His rational mind told him that all this was normal and expected, but though the thought never crossed his concious thinking he felt he had been betrayed.

"Have you no tongue?" a fourth stirred restlessly. "You know we're your masters; you saw us pay Farmer Goldon. You've heard us ask your name and yet you stand there like a dumb statue."

Still Fararir said nothing. The wound had struck more deeply than he realized. HIs life had been hard, even crule. The land was merciless, the crops poor, the work endless and exhausting, and the food short, yet he far preferred it to riding off with these Northeners to a land far off and a purpose unknown.

"Lad," Ranger stirred uneasily. "We are anxious to be off. But first you must answer one important question. What is your proper name, given you at birth and yours alone to bear until your death?"

He took a deep breath and answered. "Fararir."

The men sighed in relief. "He's the one," Walker said.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Pendragon

About a year and a half ago I watched all the behind the scenes videos from this film and decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a filmmaker. Since then I've met people who worked on Pendragon and met people who knew people who'd worked on Pendragon and I've felt quite jilted because I didn't get to work on it. And yet, despite all that, I never saw it. The problem with independent films is that you usually have to buy it to see it, and I'm just one of those people who will put off buying something for months, regardless of how badly I want it.

But finally I was at a friend's house who owned it, so we watched it. The funny thing about a well-made movie is that there doesn't always seem to be much to comment on, so it's great fun to nitpick an independent film. It has character, and like most characters it has flaws. A controversial movie or one with flaws tends to be the most popular, at least in the internet culture because there is actually something to talk about. I found more to talk about with Pendragon than I did with any other film I've seen in the past two years. And good or bad, that's a good thing.

The problem with family made films is that family members get the main parts regardless of how well said family members act. Also, because they're family members, it can be a lot harder to teach them to act. Wenneveria had a lot of promise as an actress, but not enough experience. Artose was pretty good. Cadeyrn was the best actor in the film. The acting was one of the biggest giveaways that this was a family made film.

There were several things this film did that I positively loved. The welsh names were brilliant. The research was very well done. All the text was in Latin. The roman history was good. While it didn't follow the Authurian mythology it didn't betray it either. You could see places where you could tell it was based on King Arthur and it's a very good representation of what might have actually happened.

The individual fight scenes were very well done, in my humble opinion. The sword dance was beautiful. I thought it was a brilliant way to have a girl in a dress swordfight without having her act in a very unfeminine manner. (Which would both some people, and wouldn't others, all of which is beside the point.) If I ever need a good choreographer I'm going to contact the people who did Pendragon first.

However, the big battle scenes were not good at all. I'm not sure what the difference is in a realistic battle scene and one that looks like a bunch of guys dressing up, but they looked like guys dressing up and standing around in the woods. They would have done much better to only show close ups during the battle or to avoid the battles altogether. The wide shots of the armies were just another betrayal that it wasn't a multi-million dollar budget film.

Artos' mother looked like a Roman general.

I was informed by a costuming expert that everyone of Wenneveria's dresses was from a different time period and none of them were the right one.

Everyone was a little too clean...

The entire army was in blue. You can pull this off in a fairytale film, costuming the army in the King's colors, but not in an accurate historic one. I understand they probably wanted visual confirmation of which army was which, or they wanted to be artistic, and on stage or in a different genre it would have worked, but not this one. Every time I saw them all in blue I kind of sighed in frusteration. That just doesn't happen.

The sets were absolutely incredible. Watch the behind the scenes videos and they become even more incredible.

They definitely could have used a better script writer. The story line is riddled with plot holes and the characters tend to be somewhat wishy-washy. In places the dialogue was painfully modern, and in places it was clearly written in an archaic style. I think the script held the actors back more than anything. But overall the plot made sense, Artose had a nice character arc, and I was happy that everybody got to live happily ever after.

This was the other very modern element. I didn't have an actual problem with the fact that every other conversation was a sermon... except that it's a sermon from the wrong time period. Arthur was very religious. You can't read through the myths and not pick up a constant stream of prayers and rituals, church services and pleas in the name of Christ. They could have told the same message in a historically accurate way, but instead it sounded like a modern Evangelical church. People back then didn't have the same theological problems, the same solutions to such problems, or the same resources we have now. It was their one area of research I was very dissapointed in.

I loved it. It was exactly what I expected it to be. It's not an earth shattering achievement, it's not overwhelmingly awesome and miraculous; it's a very good movie made by a lot of determined and talented people. It was a first film, and it shows, and it shows us all that first films can be incredible. In spite of it's flaws it's a success, and we love it more for not being perfect because we can aspire to the same thing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Unfinished Beginnings: Introduction

It being my birthday and all I feel like I ought to post something deep and reflective and... birthday-ish. But I'm not even here, this is an automatically scheduled post that I wrote a good two weeks ago.  Right now I'm somewhere in the city of Chattanooga doing any number of things with any number of people, and completely ignoring the fact that it's my birthday. I'm celebrating next week with two of my siblings. So instead I thought I'd introduce a new series to you.

I have a notebook full of stories that never made it past page two. Some are good ideas, some are lame ideas, some I simply don't have time to mess with, some are too underdeveloped to be useful, and some I'm just clueless where they came from or how they ended up in my notebook.

It's a green notebook, it's labeled "June, 2008" but I  call it the notebook of Unfinished Beginnings. Rather than let those beginnings moulder forever at the bottom of my priority list from which they shall never rise I present them to you, to read and ridicule, steal or borrow, or generally draw inspiration from.