Friday, December 27, 2013

Tauriel Kicks Ass and Here's Why.

At first—like many people—I was weary of the idea of Tauriel. I feared that she would be a slightly shiner version of Arwen from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, who brought little to the plot outside of her love and longing for Aragorn. I anticipated Tauriel would be the same, especially after reading that she was supposed to be a love interest for Legolas. I expected a timid She-Elf, who’s only action would involve longing glances at Legolas with some occasional archery thrown into the mix.
            How very wrong I was.
            She bursts on screen fighting and killing very large—and rather scary-looking—spiders. The goal of the elves at this juncture is to kill the giant spiders and rid their forest of them. Saving Thorin and Company happens by accident really; even Legolas says to Thorin he would consider it a privilege to kill a dwarf. Tauriel saves Kili (for the first of many times), but she flat out refuses to give him a weapon to defend himself, seeing him as an intruder and an enemy. She then proceeds to kill two on coming spiders. She helps the rest of her group round up the dwarves (as prisoners) and escorts them back to the city.
            That’s a kick-ass entrance for any character, and I was already rethinking my rashly formed opinion of her.
            Throughout the movie, she is shown to be an excellent archer and fighter. When she returns to Mirkwood, she and the Elvenking, Thranduil, discuss the increased presence of the spiders. She tells him that she and her guards must kill the spiders at their source, eliminating the threat instead of simply placating it, but Thranduil has little in anything beyond their borders. He then chastises her for Legolas’ growing feelings for her. While it’s a bit unclear if she feels anything in return, she becomes clearly angry when Thranduil agrees that he wouldn’t let Legolas “pledge himself to a lowly Silvan elf.” (Jackson, The Hobbit: The  Desolation of Smaug).
            When Thranduil orders his gates closed after interrogating an Orc about the dwarves (where he learns that Sauron is slowly making his return), Tauriel leaves with her weapons. Legolas goes after her and begs her to come back.
            She tells him that the elves are a part of the world—of Middle Earth. How can they not care about an oncoming darkness and evil? “When did we allow evil to become stronger than us?” she says to him. (Jackson, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
            She and Legolas travel to Lake-town to stop an onslaught of Orcs from reaching the Lonely Mountain and killing their escaped prisoners, the dwarves. They save Bard’s family, along with the four dwarves left behind from the final leg of the journey to the mountain. When the Orcs discover that Thorin isn’t among those dwarves, Bolg orders a retreat. Legolas pursues, puts in a good fight with three Orcs, kills two, and then follows Bolg out of Lake-town while Tauriel stays behind to heal Kili.
            Since seeing the film, I was all onboard for the Tauriel and Kili ship. For years I have been waiting for a story (in my mind a superhero story, but this works as well) where we see the female character constantly having to rescue her beloved instead of the other way around. Though anachronistic, I was almost expecting her to say, “We have got to stop meeting like this.” Tauriel saves Kili on several occasions: from the spider, at the gate on the river, and again in Lake-town where he has taken refuge because of a wounded leg. She (and Legolas) stave off the Orcs, but only she remains to heal Kili.
            There has been a lot of talk about the existence of Tauriel. Many hardcore (and not so hardcore) Tolkien fans have dismissed her, even after seeing the film. I’ve heard that she is “useless” and that she brings nothing to the plot. But the biggest complaint surrounding Tauriel, is that she has been created for the film merely to serve the purpose of being a love interest. Then there are further criticisms about the love story: that it makes Tauriel weak and dampens her importance. Even positive reviews for the film chalk her up to a common romantic counterpart. “And the risky move of inventing his own Tolkien character—the elf guard Tauriel—as a love interest for Legolas pays off.” (Gleiberman, “The Hobbit,” Entertainment Weekly.)
            I was able to write three full paragraphs describing what I loved about Tauriel before mentioning her budding relationship with Kili (even though I really approve of it). Tauriel exists as a character, as a person/elf on her own accord with her own story line, without Kili. If Tauriel existed solely for the romantic subplot, then she wouldn’t have needed to do all of the righting and Orc chasing that we see. Take away the subplot completely, and she is still a driving force for the elves.
            The growing rapport between Tauriel and Kili begins subtle and flirtatious and ends strong. It’s not in the audience’s face and it doesn’t detract from the overall plot at all. Their interactions are poignant and funny. After being captured by the elves, as the others are being searched, Kili asks: “Aren’t you going to search me? I could have anything hidden in my trousers.”
            “Or nothing,” she replies with a sly grin as she locks the door and walks away. (Jackson, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug). They bond over starlight, memories, and promises. It’s sweet, it’s beautiful to see on screen.
            Only with female characters are romances seen as a character weakness. In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a great force behind Aragorn is his love for Arwen. After a battle, falling off a cliff, and being dragged down river, her presence and memory help him stand and make his way to Helm’s Deep. At the very end of The Return of the King, they are reunited, she becomes his queen, and he just couldn’t be happier.
            Introducing a love story into a character’s arc doesn’t create weakness, and if done properly, as seen in The Desolation of Smaug, it doesn’t have to pull attention from the main plot. A female character can exist outside of any relationship she may have.
            Tauriel is a joy. She kicks ass and doesn’t apologize. She cares about the livelihood of her people and the very existence of Middle Earth. She saves lives. Her relationship with Kili is fun and gentle, and doesn’t make her any less of a strong or independent character.

Works Cited

Gleiberman, Owen. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Review. Entertainment Weekly 20 Dec. 2013: 46. Print.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Martin Freeman, Ian Mckellan, Richard Armitage. Warner Brothers, 2013. Film.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin. New Line Home Entertainment, 2001. DVD.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen Sean Astin. New Line Home Entertainment, 2002. DVD.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Iam McKellen, Sean Astin. New Line Home Entertainment, 2003. DVD.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Banned Books

As you know (or you will know now) the last week in September is Banned Book Week. This year that falls from the 22nd until the 28th. At work, we decided to make Banned Book Week a month long celebration/display. (Pictures to come at a later date). To keep up with the theme, I decided to read a banned/challenged book each week of the month.

My first banned/challenged book of the month is Looking for Alaska, by John Green.

Before: Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big  nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Francois Rabelais, poet) even more. The he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an even unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After: Nothing is ever the same.

Looking for Alaska has been challenged in several state high schools for offensive language, sexually explicit scenes, and for being unsuitable for the age group.

Once I'm finished, I'll post a review and then comment on the reasons why the book as been challenged.

Please visit the American Library Association's webpage for more information on challenged and banned books.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

please pass the potatoes

please pass the potatoes

For five millions years, volcanoes erupted and covered the earth in smoke, in poisonous gases, killing 95% of life on the planet. The angels were fighting, screaming at the dinner table, everyone just wanting to be heard. A thousand angels can dance on the head of a pin, how many do you think can crowd at the long trough for Sunday night meals?

An asteroid crashed into the ocean, creating the Gulf of Mexico, sending rocks and diamond dust into the air. Boiling hot seas, the dinosaurs choked, their heavy bodies hitting the ground heavily. Tiny mammals trembled, hiding in their dirt-dug homes. Lucifer fell from Heaven, a shooting star, his pride and his anger in his chest like packed coal. His wings shattered on impact. He dragged a handful of his brothers and sisters with him, all the ones who couldn’t be heard when asking for the potatoes. He looked through the dust-covered sky, vowing revenge and ignoring the sound of dying giants and his cheering siblings.

It was a slow process, starting over. One cell to two cells, just like in the beginning when the universe exploded into existence. A fish crawling out of the sea and grasping its little flipper-fingers on the mud, gripping for his life. The tiny mammals lift their heads out of their holes and when it’s safe, they go on, like time never stopped, like the world hadn’t started over.

God watches His petri dish of a planet, the bacteria of His creation growing at too slow of a rate. So He breathes life into one man in Africa, builds him special from dust and rain. He takes his rib and he builds a mate.

What’s this? An angel asks, young with eyes like cut-out stars. He misses the dinosaurs and sea beasts.

Just you watch, He said. I’m working on something pretty big.

R -- everything begins with red

If I crane my head at just the correct angle, the flag looks like it’s peeling off the concrete. When the sun rises over the park and river, the fabric will seem to wave, maybe even twinkle if I’ve gotten the white paint in the right spot. I step back and admire my own work; a flag raised at half-mast over a cemetery of broken tombstones. Each slab of rock has a name on it that I painted with a brush, bent on my knees, making sure they would be visible. The tombstones would pop, looking like the real, standing stones.

           I wait the long moments for the sunlight to start to break across the wall. Now all that was left was the red.

            I use red in everything. Not that I go around painting blood baths or forest fires or anything, but I leave a splash of red. On that mural of Argentina on the concrete underpass right off campus, the masterpiece of the ocean (that took me six sessions in the middle of the night, lit by three camping flashlights) by the bridge two blocks away from my apartment. I did a lot of flags, of bright red against a blue sky or rising blackness, with peaks of whiteness for stars. It makes the duller parts of the city look better, I think. The underpasses, the condemned buildings that line the streets from my apartment to campus, and the side of the Escher Building that just begs to be decorated. And now it’s done. I planned it in my head for days, doodling in the corners of my notebook during Art History and figure drawing classes. It took three days to find the right colors at the student run art store and Home Depot.   

            The street smells of heavy pavement from last night’s rain, and honeysuckle rolls off the air from the wind just outside of the city limits. I kneel in front of the Escher Building, shaking a can of carmine red paint to add a lit candle to one of the tombstones.

            “So, you’re the tagger that the school paper keeps writing about,” a voice behind me observes.

            I turn around. The rising sun illuminates the standing figure, a halo around his head, his blond hair practically glowing. He sips from a thermos, eyebrows quirked upward, a hand in his jacket pocket. I know his face. His name is Luke Something-fancy and he runs one of those student government groups. I’ve seen their flyers and rallies. Every time bigoted church leaders come to campus to condemn the gays and women of the university, Luke arrives with his group, complete with their own, counter-protest signs. He sits at tables in the Student Commons with a signup sheet for new recruits and greets everyone with a warm smile.

            “Technically, I’m not a tagger,” I say, placing the cap back on the can. “They do the real kind of graffiti, with the lettering and little symbols.”

            “So what are you then?”

            “Uh, most people call me a nuisance? Bad influence, a rogue, menace. All uttered by philistines who don’t appreciate art.” I fold my arms. “Are you going to tattle on me? I am almost done.”

            “No.” He steps closer. “I admire your work, actually.”

            I grin. “Thanks.” I’ve seen countless pieces painted over by kids from the youth center. I watched from across the street as the wayward children and their supervisors vigorously and joyfully draped white over my work. I crushed my cigarette under my shoe, my sister laughing at me, but she rubbed my arm. She took pictures of all of my public works and kept them in a folder. “You’re not going to get your little organization to do it are you? Or tell the YMCA or whatever?”

            “Our efforts are usually spent on things more important than street art.” He sips his coffee and purses his lips together as he swallows. “I’d like to commission you, actually.”

            I start fiddling with the spray can again, popping the top on and off. “Like, pay me? Money?”

            “You’ve never been paid for your art?”

            I shrug. My canvas work has been displayed at school and in a few galleries around campus that supported local artists, but no one has offered to buy any of it, so far shattering my dreams of a mysterious stranger secretly buying something for six grand. I’m very close to being a starving artist. “Not this stuff.” I shake the can.

            “I’m Luke.” He offers his hand.

            I smirk and shake his hand, his palm warm and smooth. “I know who you are.”

            “My reputation precedes me?” The grin on his face sweeps upward, a grin that I know well, deep in my bones. “I’d love to discuss this further.” He gives me a business card. Crisp and perfect, like him. A phone number, his name and email. “I do have to be going.”

            “Sure,” I answer.

            “I like that shade of red.” He points. “You use it in all of your work.”

            “I guess my reputation precedes me as well.” I couldn’t imagine that he saw what I did downtown by the river, where people were usually mugged and a student killed himself a few years ago, or what I’d done on some of the overpasses lining the interstate.

            “I don’t know your name though. Are you like one of those guys who go by a symbol or a mask?”

            I want to laugh. Maybe if I wore a mask or went by a question mark, someone would be keen to buy one of my oil on canvas pieces. “No.” I gesture to the corner of the piece where I left my mark. Capital R.

            “Just R?”

            “Yup. Like Cher, or Bono.”

            “Do you sing as well?”

            I crouch down to complete the candle. “Depends on how much gin I get in my system.”

            When I finish the last of the painting, I discover that Luke has gone. I look over his card again, running my fingers over the embossed letters. Luke d’Arc. Something-fancy indeed.

            I gather my supplies, stuffing them the best I can in my worn out messenger bag, some of the ends of brushes poking out through holes. I’d done my best to patch it up, literally, with gaudy fabric, but my sewing skills aren’t really up to par with say anyone who can actually sew.

            I take a picture of my work. Being on campus and all, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be covered in white by the end of the week and I’ll have to paint it again, or make something so beautiful that the administration would fall to their knees in awe.

            Campus police start to round the corner. It wouldn’t be the first time that some well-to-do onlooker narced on me. I hop on my skateboard and push myself away towards the blinding sun, Luke’s card burning a hole in my hand.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christmas Kitty.

Christmas was a little rough this year with my brother’s wedding and all. And our cat Elvis, who loved Christmas, passed away over the summer; he was nineteen. So this was the first year without my brother here on Christmas morning, and our first Christmas without Elvis.

Elvis used to play around in the tissue paper and wrapping, either chasing shadows or one of his toy mice, which he would chew the tail off and eat it, and then continue to beat it up until the fake skin was separated from the plastic. (Despite this display of brutality I assure you, he was a very kindhearted and friendly fellow).

Our other cats never really seemed to care. They would play with their new toys, but not usually in the wrappings or with as much gusto. And my mother’s cat Spike is an old humbug and just sits on the sideline watching everyone having fun and hating it. Were he not fat and lazy, I suspect he’d pull a Grinch and steal Christmas except he wouldn’t bring it back.

But this year, our cat Scooter started playing in the wrappings. We don’t know why, he never did before, but he was in the tissue paper, diving for toys or nothing (as we saw it). Mom said it had to be Elvis’ spirit. So for fun, we took down Elvis’ ashes (we put him in an empty bottle of Elvis Presley brand wine) and placed the bottle next to Scooter.

And for fun, here is a picture just of Elvis in his bottle, chilling on the coffee table: