What sorcery is this?

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From Maleficent to the White Witch to Cruella de Vil, there’s nothing like an evil sorceress to wreak a little havoc for story-protagonists who are having too good a time. Here’s my wicked enchantress, the mastermind who keeps some of my own protagonists scrambling, except this happens to be a moment when she’s pretending to be nice. (I was going to use an all-seeing eye as the villain instead, but I think that idea is taken. Also stop shaking your head at me—Cruella de Vil murders puppies for coats. Evil sorceress, I think yes.)

If you’d like to see another drawing I did of one of the blokes who bravely faces down this bad girl when she’s not looking quite so tame, you can find it in another oddly-titled post here: The Shroud, the Chisel, and the Prince.

Dwarvelogue

For anyone who got chills the first time hearing the Misty Mountains song, for anyone who loves the dwarves of The Hobbit, for anyone who’s tired of saying “that one dwarf with the beard,” or for anyone who’s bored and happened on this post by mistake, I present this Dwarvelogue, a guide to the dwarves of Thorin & Company. It’s not an earthshaking character analysis; it’s just what I find interesting about each dwarf that helps distinguish him from the rest. I’m not writing this for literary or philosophical purposes—I’m writing this because after reading the book three times and seeing the movie four, for crying out loud, I still get some of the dwarves mixed up.

I’ve used pictures from the films, but I’ll touch briefly on both the characters’ original presentations in the book and variations on and interpretations of them in the films (the first film installment, anyway, since it’s the only one out yet). By way of disclaimer, as far as Middle-earth goes, I love both the books and the movies. In other words, I dabble in both the purist circle who revel in elven languages and spend hours studying the history of Middle-earth and may or may not throw temper tantrums every time Peter Jackson varies from the text, and the cult-following circle who own extended-edition DVDs and stay up all night watching interviews with the actors and stand in lines for midnight premiers dressed up as Gandalf.

Anyway do put on the tea and get comfortable, because it seems dwarves are better talked about, or read about, or thought about, over a cup of hot Earl Grey.

Without further ado, a Dwarvelogue.

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Fili

Kili

Kili

Youngest and funniest first. Fili and Kili are a solid fifty years younger than any of the other dwarves, and that fact combined with their sharp eyesight usually gets them assigned errands and small jobs that no one else wants to do. They also happen to be Thorin’s nephews. For the record, as far as the films go, Fili’s the one with the ash-blonde hair, while Kili’s the brunette. Highly confusing sometimes. (Also, I said I wouldn’t go into character analysis, but Fili and Kili often parallel Merry and Pippin of The Lord of the Rings in comedic-relief duo action, which leads to an interesting study on comedic pairs in heavy epic fantasies—but that’s another blog post.)

Oin

Oin

With Oin, we come to the first of the dwarves with little material distinguishing him from the others in the company. In his defense, though, like each of the others he came when Thorin called and is now prepared to fight with him to the end. He also contributes to their lucky number fourteen, which Gandalf helps them fulfill by adding Bilbo to their numbers in the beginning of the story. [Edit: as fellow WordPresser Marc kindly brought to my attention (see comments below), film-version-Oin is partially deaf. He’s the one who uses a cool dwarvish hearing aid—a little metal ear pipe deal—that sadly gets trampled on by goblins. I’d love to find out whose very clever idea that was, because in the book Oin hears fine.]

Gloin

Gloin

Gloin starts off in the book (not so much in the movies) with a rather nasty attitude toward Bilbo. He’s got some harsh things to say, including the famous line “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar,” which is given to Thorin in the film. Most importantly, though, Gloin is father to none other than the legendary Gimli, who will sixty years later venture forth with one Frodo Baggins as a part of, you know, some fellowship that watches out for a magical ring or something.

Dwalin

Dwalin

Dwalin’s another who tends to be just one of the mix in the book, but actor Graham McTavish interprets him in the films in light of a brilliant backstory: that Dwalin and Thorin grew up together, sparred together, talked together in their young dwarvish days. Therefore, he’s intensely loyal to the Thorin, his childhood friend and the one he believes ought to reign as King under the Mountain.

Balin

Balin

Balin’s the oldest besides Thorin, if you can believe it, and he’s a scrapper. Canonically he’s the company’s permanent look-out man, which I believe is because he tends to think quickly on his feet in high-pressure situations. He’s curious and persistent in his questions, and more than once he figures things out more quickly than the rest. He’s the one, for instance, to figure out the scheme Bilbo is trying to explain to them for escaping from the giant spiders who are about to kill them, or to snatch a retreating boat in time for the dwarves to flee across the perilous enchanted river in Mirkwood. He’s also got a special soft spot for Bilbo and is the only one to offer him help in first exploring the secret passage into Smaug’s lair or to encourage the hobbit after the frightening interview with the dragon. We’ll have to see how the films do with his development in the future, since none of these instances have had a movie-appearance yet.

Bifur

Bifur

Bifur’s textually mostly just one of the company. In the movies, though, whenever he talks he spouts off in a comedic accent so heavy you can’t understand a word he’s saying. James Nesbitt, who plays Bofur, says that Bifur never speaks understandably “because he’s got an axe in his head.” Bifur’s actor William Kircher describes him as “slightly deranged,” largely due to the piece of Orc-axe that is indeed stuck in his head, and explains that he’s only able to speak in ancient Dwarvish. An interesting take on the character, since Tolkien’s original Bifur speaks perfectly intelligibly and without any language difference. He’s also cousin to Bofur and Bombur.

Bofur

Bofur

Bofur is Bifur’s cousin and Bombur’s brother. Since he’s not textually overly fond of Bilbo, it’s interesting that he’s one of the dwarves in the movie to have a specific connection with the hobbit. James Nesbitt, who plays him in the movie, describes him well as “a bit of a clown” and “one of the first to get close to Bilbo.” He also wears a really, really cool hat. I want his hat.

Bombur

Bombur

In the movies, Bombur is something like a quieter, ginger Santa Claus plus weapons. And he’d rather be eating than fighting. Or talking. Or doing anything else, for that matter. In the book he’s a good deal crankier, especially because he’s always shuffled to last on everything and makes a point to complain about it.

Dori

Dori

Dori’s actually the strongest dwarf of the company. Interesting, since in the first movie, at least, he’s a posh chap who offers Gandalf tea in Bilbo’s hobbit-hole. But in the book, he’s a “decent fellow” who actually saves Bilbo’s life in the heart of the Misty Mountains by hoisting the hobbit up to his shoulders and carrying him away from pursuing goblins. That’s not as gutsy as what he does shortly afterwards, though: when the company flees up into the trees away from the goblins and Wargs, Bilbo gets left on the ground, running around the bases of the trees in fright, not tall enough to get into any of them. Dori is man enough to climb all the way down from his safe perch to the ground and let Bilbo climb up onto his shoulders, standing there long enough for Bilbo to jump up into the tree even when the Wargs are approaching. He barely escapes the demon-wolves’ fangs as they snap at his feet when he finally gets to leap back up after Bilbo.

Nori

Nori

Nori is on Bilbo’s team when it comes to believing in large and frequent meals, and that’s about the only specific Tolkien gives. But Nori’s actor Jed Brophy goes on to interpret him, as he says, as “a little bit of a kleptomaniac.” All through the filming process, Brophy’s Nori was slyly pocketing anything unclaimed and within his reach. I haven’t been able to catch him doing so in the movie yet, which may be because I keep forgetting to look for it, or also could be because his moments have been cut and will be revealed in the extended edition. Which incidentally will be released in November. And will be about eight thousand hours long. (And inexpressibly wonderful, all eight thousand hours of it.) Actually it will only be thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical release, but anyways, on a more serious level, Brophy and fellow Dori and Ori actors play the characters as half-brothers, with the same mother but all different fathers. That’s a creative solution to the reason for their extremely similar names, since their relationship isn’t delineated in the book.

Ori

Ori

Ori, mostly just one of the company in the book, is altogether an odd little fellow in the movies. In the first film installment, his character seems best summed up by one of his earliest lines: “Excuse me—I don’t mean to interrupt—but what should I do with my plate?” He stands up at Bilbo’s table to (comedically) declare his warlike lust for vengeance on the dragon Smaug, but then he balks at eating salad in Rivendell.

Thorin

Thorin

And Thorin Oakenshield. Official leader of the company and rightful King under the Mountain. Canonically he’s one of the last four dwarves to arrive at Bilbo’s home, all of them falling in onto the hobbit’s floor—quite a different character introduction from his fashionably late, ominously serious, long-brunette-locks-blowing-in-the-night-wind arrival in the first movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love movie-Thorin. Pretty difficult not to like a Thorin played by Richard Armitage with his throaty northern-English accent and luscious silver-streaked dark hair. But he’s definitely a variation from book-Thorin. Book-Thorin is older and less ruggedly handsome; more pompous, less darkly mysterious; more haughty and long-winded, less brusque and reserved. In fact, in the book Thorin remains a more or less flat character, and though brave and dedicated not especially noble or inspiring, until the Battle of the Five Armies near the end of the story. And then some serious character development does happen, but that’s spoiler material if you don’t know how it all ends. Suffice to say Armitage’s heroic Thorin is definitely not unfounded. I’m in favor of his interpretation, in fact.

In Tolkien’s words, “There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.” And since Tolkien is basically an all-time master of understatement, by that less-than-favorable estimation we may infer what quickly proves true as the story unfolds: that dwarves can indeed be heroes and do have the capacity to be lionhearted at their core, though it may take the desolation of Smaug to demonstrate it. Both to us and also to them.

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Four cups of Earl Grey were consumed in the writing of this post.

Ben and Christian: a response to the Batman controversy

It’s 3:15 in the unholy-early hours of Saturday morning, and I’m up writing this because of a very sane, normal, not excessive, not overboard decision I made when I found out this past Thursday evening that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel. I’m speaking, of course, of the decision anybody with any level of interest in Batman would have made: the decision to immediately go back and experience again the hallowed Christopher Nolan three-part masterpiece that is The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Okay, well, maybe it was a tad excessive. But in any case, I have finally just finished the movies. (In fact, I’m writing this to the chilling Hans Zimmer score underneath The Dark Knight Rises credits…deshi basara…)

So. All this madness erupting over Ben Affleck. Television, social media, the whole deal. It’s a fandom war. There are passionate rants against him and equally passionate defenses for him, not to mention a torrent of jokes—good-natured and otherwise—and, of course, ridiculous Twitter trends.

I happen to be among those less pleased about the news, but it’s not because I have anything against Affleck. For me, the issue is just that Christian Bale is our Dark Knight, and I’m not ready to move on.

All right. Call me Captain Obvious, but Ben Affleck isn’t actually the problem at the root of all this controversy, and I don’t think he deserves all the #betterbatmanthanaffleck jabs on Twitter. Nah, it’s not him that’s the problem. It’s the change itself that’s the problem.

Now, it could be that those of us who don’t want the change simply don’t want it because we don’t want it. Any change to something we love can be jarring, unpleasant, unwelcome. But I actually think it goes deeper than that. I think there’s a reason it’s so hard for us to say goodbye to Christian Bale. After all, Batman’s had many incarnations (although I shudder to think of some of them), and this exact situation happened on the Marvel side of things when Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as the Hulk in The Avengers. Why such a ruckus now?

The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is Christopher Nolan, and the brutally beautiful job he did lacing Gotham City’s fear a little too close to home for comfort. Gotham is a setting simultaneously darker and more realistic than those of most superhero flicks, and therefore it’s a good deal more unnerving. I mean, other supers save the world from, you know, aliens and scary guys from across the world with bombs and stuff. But in Gotham, we’re not threatened by aliens. We’re threatened by ourselves. That is, we’re threatened by the darkness inside ourselves, given just the tip over the edge it needs to overwhelm us. Like the Joker says, madness is like gravity—all it takes is a little push. And in Nolan’s world of Gotham, we experience that little push.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely relate more to and empathize more with Gotham’s fear and darkness in the Dark Knight movies than I do with anything about, say, Metropolis in Man of Steel. (And I’m not dissing Man of Steel. If you’d like to see what I liked about that film, you can find it here.) If you’ll pardon the over-thinking, the fact is that in Gotham is a mirror that magnifies the darkness in us, in our society, and shows us what it could become. (A scary, master-villain-tweaked version of what it could become, sure, but still.) And in Batman is a picture of the hope of overcoming it.

The way Nolan sets it up, we’re actually walking with Bruce/Batman through our own world, just tilted slightly, and thus our identification with him as a hero has potential to be much more personal than our identification with most other superheroes. And Christian Bale is that Batman.

So basically, it’s not that Ben Affleck is less than outstanding for the position. It’s just that in the hearts and minds of the fandom, the position is already filled.

Is Affleck good-looking? Yes. A phenomenal actor? Talented enough? Fully capable? Yes, yes, yes.

That’s not the issue.

It’s just that Christian Bale is our Bruce Wayne. It’s difficult to adjust because there’s so much of ourselves wrapped up in what we’ve seen Bale accomplish as the Dark Knight.

I’m not sad because Ben Affleck is Ben Affleck, as opposed to any other actor who could have played the part. I’m sad because he’s not Christian Bale. And anybody besides Christian Bale is somebody besides the hero we don’t deserve but need. It’s just a change; that’s all. But it’s a change to something—somebody—who hits dang close to home. And that’s why it’s hard to swallow.

That said, best wishes to Mr. Affleck, because let’s face it, he’s going to do a crazy-awesome job.

And now I’m going to get some sleep like an almost normal person, for crying out loud.

Goodnight, world.

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helpless

Pain is
when your friend
loses his dad
miles
away and
nothing
you could say
or call
or text
or write
or comment
or like
or tweet
or do
could heal
his heart
and all you can do
in the whole universe
is jumbled-up fumbling-pray
and sit at your computer
and try to write a stupid poem
and cry

upcoming things and why I’ve been a terrible writer

I was going to write on this trip, I swear.

Brought my computer, my books, my journal, my sketchbook, my Sharpie pens, my pencils. I had visions of finishing my book manuscript, completing my projected studies, creating profound works of ocean-inspired art—all with the roar of the waves around me and the sun shining down on me as I relaxed with my books on the sand. (Anybody hear the heavenly music playing? Or is that just me?)

And then I actually got to the beach. I opened my computer once, I think.

All told, during the entirety of this trip to the seaside, I composed exactly one poem.

Pathetic.

While my books sat untouched up at the house, I threw away my intentions, piled my hair on top of my head, and ran down to the beach every morning. In between sipping raspberry Snapples and running around in the surf and falling asleep on the sand so I got a super awkward sunburn-quasi-tan thing only on one side—I was a terrible student.

(Side note: I did also drink one Diet Coke on the beach. I did not, however, manage to write a hit song. After all these commercials I’ve been seeing lately about Taylor Swift writing “22,” I feel pretty ripped off. Stupid Diet Coke.)

I guess I just didn’t have the guts to say no to a view like this.

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Sunrise on the water from my balcony.

In any case, I will probably be putting some observations on this past week at St. Augustine into a comparison-travelogue-type deal with a couple other beaches, in order to try to salvage some remnant of sanity from all this.

And then after that, once I gather my wits and settle down from the ride home (I’m writing this on my phone in the car on the way from Florida back to Texas), some things are coming up here on randilynnpedia that I’m quite looking forward to. Artwork, fiction, book reviews. The whole nine yards, whatever that means.

So thanks for stopping by, and farewell for the moment.

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Sea’s-edge

The sun has laid a blanket of fire
over the white of the sand.
If I would touch the sea,
I must pay penance
with burning feet
as I run
across
the shore.

The salt of the water
I haven’t yet touched
already
sours my throat.
I spit into surf—
it doesn’t help,
but I don’t care—
as shock of froth rushes
around my ankles,
cold,
so I forget
the sting of the sand.

Higher rise the swells
around me, until
a rope of foam and sun-diamonds
slaps me cold in the face.
Chills snake up my spine,
whether from frigid waves
or from threat of
too-publicized
bull shark attack
in sinister shallow-hallowed waters,
I don’t know.

Away on the edge of the world,
I see the line of indigo
where continental shelf plunges
into darkness,
where the monsters of the deep
take their counsel.
Between them and me,
only this stretch
of emerald and blue-brown,
a study in watercolors.

For hours and hours,
the sea and I,
we play.
And later,
salt-saturated
and wrinkle-fingered,
I churn my way back
toward shore,
my one disappointment—
that I never
caught sight
of a mermaid.

An Open Letter to Collateral Damage Characters

Dear collateral damage characters,

You know who you are.

I’m not talking about “characters from Collateral Damage.” Sorry, Arnold.

Collateral damage characters, you span all genres, touch almost every audience. You’re blue collar and white collar. Old and young. Manufacturers. Journalists. Architects. Politicians. Students. You’re everywhere.

While we watch the drama of a story’s central characters with bated breath, you get murdered by the bad guy or smashed under falling buildings or stricken with the plague of the zombie apocalypse. You’re collateral damage.

And we don’t really care.

Oh, we mourn for some characters who die, all right. The hero’s dad, say, or the best friend or the girlfriend or whoever else we’ve been led to care about.

But we’re not supposed to mourn for you, collateral damage characters. We don’t even know you.

We watch you be flung from bridges or crushed by crumbling architecture or exploded into flame—only to see the vastness of the story’s conflict. Only to come to respect, if we can, the awesome power of the villain, whether he’s a character himself or a faceless force set to overwhelm the protagonist.

And I can’t apologize for that.

We can’t mourn for you, collateral damage characters. Not really. Those of us on the sensitive side may be saddened to watch you go; or if your demise is particularly gory or cruel or disturbing, you may impress some of us with the intensity of it. But we can’t actually grieve for all of you. We’d go insane if we did.

So I’m not apologizing.

But the fact is, collateral damage characters, the stories that employ you wouldn’t be anything without you. A serial killer isn’t a serial killer unless he kills serially. A zombie apocalypse isn’t a zombie apocalypse unless it zombifies multitudes of unfortunate humans. An invading alien force is laughable unless it can use its freakish alien technology to wipe out heavy percentages of the human population.

You’re the nameless characters who fall to the serial killer, the zombie apocalypse, the alien invasion. And that killer, that apocalypse, that invasion is the force that drives the story. It’s the conflict, the story’s most vital element.

Collateral damage characters, you hold up stories’ conflicts.

So then, however unmourned or little noted, you are crucial to the stories in which you suffer. You’re the reason we fear the conflict and wonder if the hero will make it to the end. In essence, you’re the reason we keep watching or reading or listening. You make the story matter.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks.

Thanks for, you know, dying and stuff.

Sincerely,
A Fangirl

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The Shroud, the Chisel, and the Prince

Art is a window into imagination.

When I’m writing, I can only see my characters with my mind’s eye. Sometimes that doesn’t cut it. It gets wearisome to only imagine a person’s face, especially for years. After getting to know somebody, you kind of want to be able to actually see that person—even a fictional person.

So that’s when I open my art-window. Out come my sketchpad and pencils.

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One of the best things about art is its incredible individuality. All artists operate uniquely, but for me, it never feels as if I’m putting the drawing onto the paper. Instead it’s as though the character, the person that I know in my imagination, is there already, hidden in the blankness of the sheet of paper. Sometimes he’s shrouded from my sight, and I must peel away the shroud fiber by fiber with my pencil. Other times—most often—it’s as if he’s locked in a block of stone. My pencil is a chisel, and I must chip away the marble until he comes out of it.

Only when he’s breathing, only when his eyes are alive and I know his blood is running red under his skin, only then is my job done.

And since in only a few hundred words I have used a ghastly number of metaphors, I now cut this post short before I make another overbearing comparison.

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One of four protagonists of a novel I’ve been working on far too long. Drawn a year ago, August 2012.

Summer Sketching

“Draw the thing you’re looking forward to most this summer,” my little cousin Shelby told me.

It was a drawing game we were playing. She started drawing the Dallas Zoo—she was going to go the next day—and I started drawing going back to school.

Well, whoops. I guess that sort of counts.

She won the game, though.

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