“Killing the Rock” – Art in a time of crisis

Forgive me for this departure from my usual discussions of fiction and writing, but this is a film I want to share. It touches on a way that people can find meaning and release through art. I can’t even imagine the horrors of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, but Abu Raja has had to watch it take his family and most of what he loves. But rather than let his grief and anger consume him, he turns to creation. Out of rock, he makes art.

The director, Jake Viramontez, is an old high school classmate of mine, but he did not personally contact me or ask me to share. After seeing a general notification about the film’s release and viewing it myself, I knew I wanted to share it. He and his crew made the journey out to Jordan to find a story worth telling, and they told it well. May God use it to open our eyes and our hearts.

If you appreciate the film and are able, consider sharing it on whatever platforms you can.

Killing the Rock from Jake Viramontez on Vimeo.

“Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.” ~Picasso

The horrors of the Syrian war are recounted through the eyes of 60-year-old artist and refugee Abu Raja as he embarks on his mission of sending a message to future Syrians through his sculptures. The film explores pain, loss, and the importance of creation in the face of overwhelming destruction. Shot in Ramtha, Jordan just 5 kilometers from the Syrian border where war continues to rage on.

To give, go to:
give.classy.org/killingtherock

Director: Jake Viramontez
Director of Photography: Tristan Nyby
Produced by: Wjd Dhnie, Jens Jacob
Executive Producer: James Shani
Production Company: Madison + Vine, Sypher Films
Co-Producer: Brent Madison
Editor: Jake Viramontez
Sound Design: Defacto Sound
Original Music: Ryan Taubert
Colorist: Bryan Smaller, Company 3
Story Editor: Jarod Shannon

Shot on: Red Weapon Helium w/Kowa anamorphics.

Classic Remarks: My Favorite Jane Austen Adaptation

Which Jane Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?

I am again at a disadvantage. My familiarity with Regency-era literature is so poor that my only Austen novel is Emma. I do have a general understanding of Pride and Prejudice, however, and it happens that the only Austen adaptation I have fully seen is one of that novel. And I must admit I like it a lot.

It’s a very…streamlined production. Lower-budget than most, and far from anything Hollywood would produce. Certainly it fails to capture the breadth and texture of Austen’s work. Nevertheless it wears a charming directness that manages to get to the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Using a clever modern-day framing device, it makes the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy immediately relevant to young people of our day. With a nicely balanced mixture of gentle humor and disarming sincerity, it manages to entertain while still driving home the story’s moral. Additionally, its severely abridged nature and short length directs the interested viewer to the source book.

Which adaptation is this?

I speak, of course, of the Wishbone adaptation.

wishbone

This was one of the best children’s shows produced by PBS in the 1990s. In it Wishbone, an adventure-loving Jack Russell Terrier, accompanies his boy, Joe, through adventures in middle school and literature. Whenever Joe faces a particular situation in his life, Wishbone will find a similar situation in a work of classic literature and relate the story to the audience. The audience gets to see Wishbone’s own imagination of the classic story interspersed with Joe’s modern-day story playing out in parallel. The result was a children’s show that was highly literate, thoughtful, and empathetic to older kids, and just happened to star a cute and energetic dog.

Wishbone DarcyThe episode entitled “Furst Impressions” is no exception! It’s truly the only Austen adaptation I’ve seen all the way through, so I can’t argue that it’s among the best. But this isn’t completely a joke answer. While the half-hour show only has about fifteen minutes to spare for the Austen sections, it boils the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship down to its essentials, and then takes those essentials quite seriously. Despite the ever-present humor of seeing Mr. Darcy being played by a Jack Russell Terrier, Austen’s story itself is never made fun of nor spoofed.

wishbone-dog-ep-1-furst-impressions-youtube-2012-05-15-22-14-23We see Elizabeth and Darcy both make snap judgments about each other and allow themselves to believe false rumors. In time, through humility and honesty, they sort out their prejudices and discover their mutual love, and end up happy and healthy. Parallel to this we get a story of Joe and his friends, Samantha and David, who are agonizing over a school dance. False rumors set Sam and David against each other, and it looks like the chance of a fun, drama-free dance is gone. Feelings are hurt, tempers flare, and Joe finds his two best friends are unable to be near each other without shouting and accusing the other of lying. Finally, honesty and humility bring about forgiveness and understanding, and their friendships are restored. And just as in Austen’s book, the source of the rumors can be traced to an envious socialite who ends up lonely.

Far from the most nuanced or complete adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Wishbone episode “Furst Impressions” nonetheless entertains with a direct, honest paraphrasing of the book’s most essential relationship. By showing Austen’s story side-by-side with a situation any modern kid can relate to (and adults too), it gives its audience a wise message of forgiveness and honesty, while quite possibly arousing interest in the source novel.

And it also stars a cute, energetic Jack Russell Terrier!

What’s your favorite Jane Austen adaptation? And did you ever watch Wishbone or read the Wishbone book series?

Next up on Classic Remarks: What children’s classic couldn’t you get enough of as a child?

Book Review: “The Legend of Tarik” by Walter Dean Myers

182269The Legend of Tarik
by Walter Dean Myers
Series: No.
Pages: 180
Published: 1981
Spoiler-free Synopsis: A young African captured into slavery in medieval Spain seeks vengeance for the murders of his father and brother, becoming a legendary hero in the process.
Reason for Begining: I’d never read a story following a heroic African in medieval Spain before, and it sounded quite interesting, especially since I know a thing or two about medieval Spain.
Reason for Finishing: A quick, reasonably entertaining read.
Story Re-readability: It’s easy enough to reread considering its length and quick pace, but it doesn’t hold enough interest for me personally.
Author Re-readability: I’d certainly be willing to read Myers again, although his story felt a bit rushed and didn’t have quite as much texture or unique interest as I would have liked.
Recommendation: It’s worth a read for dedicated bibliophiles, and may be quite appreciated by younger readers who are less picky than me about having fully fleshed-out stories with unique elements. Also recommended if you are starved for fantasy quests featuring non-European heroes.

Key Thoughts Continue reading “Book Review: “The Legend of Tarik” by Walter Dean Myers”

Podcasts – The Tolkien Professor

Following from the post on some of my favorite history podcasts, I want to let you know about some of my favorite literary podcasts. Today, it’s The Tolkien Professor!

 

The Tolkien Professor
by Dr. Corey Olsen
http://tolkienprofessor.com/
iTunes listing
Episode length: expect 1 – 2 hours, depending on the series

Look, if you’re a fan of Tolkien and have some listening time, you should check this one out. Corey Olsen is a professor of things medieval, Christian, and literary, and is a MASSIVE fan of all things J.R.R. Tolkien. His long-running podcast has grown to include several different series. He has seminars on several Tolkien and Tolkien-related books, courses on other famous fantasy books, Q&A episodes, interviews with people like Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, and even fascinating reviews of The Hobbit films.

If you just look at his podcast list in iTunes, it can be overwhelming, but fear not! His website organizes all his many series and links to each episode. And they’re all lively and entertaining to listen to!

Some of my favorites are his courses going through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion chapter-by-chapter. Even after some two decades of being a Tolkien reader myself, I still learn new things from these. Olsen’s work has also expanded to include courses on other subjects, such as medieval literature that Tolkien knew and loved, and even free courses through Mythgard Institute on other great works of fantasy and science fiction.

If all this college-level material (however entertainingly delivered) sounds too intense for you, fear not! He’s also been leading a merry band of conspirators on dreaming up just what an ideal Silmarillion TV-show would look like –freed from the depressing constraints of money and marketing, of course! It’s a fun exercise in speculation.

And don’t forget you can get a taste of what he has to offer by tuning into his livestream of the latest Lord of the Rings seminar on Tuesdays at 9:30PM EDT, or checking out the videos of the stream that get posted on his YouTube channel.

My Favorite History Podcasts

Lonely car drives, walks, jogging, spring cleaning – I find many opportunities when it’s nice to have something to listen to. And while I’ve got an excellent library of music that can play for a week and a half without repeating a song if I let it go continuously, I’ve also become quite a big fan of podcasts over the years. And to no one’s surprise, my favorite podcasts are nearly all related to literature and history.

Here are my current favorite history podcasts – the literary ones will be in a later post, as I have more of them. I encourage you to give each of them a try. If you like them, subscribe to them on your favorite platform, and after you’ve listened awhile, give them a rating on whatever podcast or app store you got them from. Feel free, as well, to discuss them here, and to share your own favorite podcasts.

They are available through iTunes and the iPhone’s App Store.

HISTORY

norman-centuries-header“Norman Centuries”

by Lars Brownworth
https://normancenturies.com/
Episode length: expect 15 – 30 minutes

This is one of the first I discovered, several years back. Lars Brownworth is an excellent lecturer, with a voice that is clear and easy to listen to. Beginning with Rollo, the Viking leader who settled in the region of northern France now called Normandy, Brownworth tells the adventures of Rollo’s people as they established kingdoms in Britain and the Mediterranean. While not often nice people, the Normans were some of the most fascinating adventurers the world has ever known. Their story is entertaining and often thrilling – there’s nothing dry or boring about the Normans or the way Brownworth speaks about them!

Lars Brownworth also has another great podcast about 12 Byzantine Rulers, which can be found at https://12byzantinerulers.com/. He’s also authored books on these subjects.

The History of English Podcast

book-header3-1120x252by Kevin Stroud
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/
Episode length: expect 45 minutes – 1 hour

This podcast is an incredibly impressive achievement in the organization and correlation of research. Kevin Stroud draws from many different sources to bring us the story of the English language itself – where its distant roots are in prehistory, how our ancestors migrated and found new words, how their livelihoods determined their vocabulary, and the myriad unexpected ways that people and their languages can change, shift, and bloom.

And it’s told as a story. This podcast is at once an epic (following thousands of years of wars, politics, migrations, and assorted adventures), a mystery (examining clues in words and writings to figure out what they really are, who was behind them, and what their effects are), and a human drama (often delving into the lives of specific historical figures to understand how they influenced other people and the popular spoken language).

Ancient Warfare Podcast

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by The History Network
https://thehistorynetwork.org/category/ancient-warfare-magazine/
Episode length: 30 minutes – over an hour

Most episodes seem to consist of roundtable discussions on some topic of – surprisingly! – ancient warfare by the hosts. I’ve listened to a bit, but they’re informative and cover and wide range of fascinating topics. Well worth checking out.

What are your favorite podcasts about history?

Classic Remarks: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic?

Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Courtesy of IMDbUgh, this guy.

Let me be upfront: my judgment is on Joel Schumacher’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. I haven’t seen any other film or stage version, nor have I read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

I believe I was in high school when I first saw the movie. It struck me as rather weak overall, and particularly infuriating in how it seemed to romanticize the abusive, creepy, criminal Phantom.

Oh sure, he has a tragic backstory to explain his deformed appearance and antisocial behavior. Although, if you ask me, the movie’s version of these “deformities” are less severe than I’ve seen on several other real-life people who nonetheless live their own lives with compassion, healthiness, and a fair bit of normality. Likewise many people have overcome far worse abuses than he is said to have suffered and live functional, non-murderous lives. Still, this is the reason the story gives us as to why he tends to murder people out of vengeance, or, you know, if he happens to see them during a ballet performance he really doesn’t like (R.I.P. poor stagehand). He’s given passionate songs with passionately creepy lyrics to sing, and I guess some people are impressed by the rose he leaves on Christine’s tomb nearly fifty years after the whole affair. Honestly, I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

This is a fellow who:

  • Uses a young, naïve woman as a tool to get revenge on society, despite the fact that the specific people who harmed him in the past won’t be affected by this revenge (making it not really revenge, but mere criminal actions)
  • Uses said woman to vicariously live a life of musical fame denied to him by his deformity, criminal activity, and general hatred of other people
  • Tries to seduce said woman with various techniques designed to strip her of her ability to make informed decisions, including:
    • lying about his identity and intentions
    • hypnotism
    • threats of violence against those she cares about
    • physically holding her captive
    • physically holding captive the man she actually loves
    • forcing her to wear a wedding dress and commanding her to marry him
    • blatant emotional manipulation in general
  • murdering an innocent stagehand
  • threatening terrorist acts upon the theater if they don’t do what he wants

At the end, he shows some remorse for his actions, and he does leave Christine and Raoul in peace for the rest of their lives. But he’s never brought to justice for his crimes, and his crimes are in no way romantic. It’s all the worse because the film musical never seems able to acknowledge the severity of his sins or the sort of repentance he really needs in order to be redeemed. I felt that it paints him as tragic, but sweet and impressive in his devotion and dramatics. I find him kind of disgusting.

It also hurts that he dresses so very similarly to the heroic vigilante of my own fiction for which this very blog is named. But that at least is without his control, and so I will try not to hold that against him. I like his dramatic style, but not his morals or actions.

Seriously, do an image search of “phantom of the opera unmasked” to compare the 2004’s deformities with the far more severe portrayals in other adaptations.

Classic Remarks: What to read after “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”

What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

3306190There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.

597790But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.

Happy reading!

Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)