The Courage of Mary

Today (apart from being the date of the Destruction of the Ring of Power), is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when the angel Gabriel visited the Blessed Virgin and announced that God had chosen her to be the Mother of His Son. It was a huge announcement for someone from a humble background like Mary (yes, she was a descendant of King David, but her family sure wasn’t living like royalty!), and it took a lot of courage to say yes.

Why courage? You always hear about obedience and humility in relation to Mary, but that obedience and humility had their roots in courage. She knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah; she knew He wouldn’t have an easy life, and she knew that as His Mother, her life would not be easy, either. There was also Joseph, her fiancé, to consider–they weren’t married yet, so who knew how he would react to finding out Mary was pregnant!

She knew there would be judgement and scrutiny, but she agreed anyway because she trusted that God would help her through the trials and hardships, and that great trust gave rise to great courage.

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The LotR Sequel That Never Was

The other day I happened to be perusing the comments section of an article discussing the very scant facts about the Eastern countries of Middle-Earth when one particular comment caught my eye. Someone mentioned that Tolkien had begun writing a sequel to The Lord of the Rings but had abandoned the story when he felt it wasn’t going to be the same quality as LotR.

This was the first time I had ever heard anything about a Lord of the Rings sequel, which was itself a sequel to The Hobbit. So off to Google I went in search of more information for this abandoned Middle-Earth tale. It was titled The New Shadow and was set in Gondor during the reign of Aragorn and Arwen’s son Eldarion. After the defeat of Sauron and the extra battles Aragorn and Eomer fought to make sure all of the evil had been purged, Gondor was a peaceful and prosperous realm…but, as Gandalf cautioned in The Lord of the Rings, after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow always takes a new shape. This time it took the shape of a cult that worshiped Melkor and Sauron, the Dark Lords of old, along with Orcs, which no longer exist and are now considered creatures of legend.

The premise certainly sounds interesting, so why did Tolkien abandon it after just thirteen pages? The answer best comes from the man himself in one of his letters:

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless — while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors — like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going around doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow — but it would have been just that. Not worth doing.

It’s worth noting that The New Shadow did eventually see the light of day in The History of Middle-Earth, Volume 12: The Peoples of Middle-Earth. The people who have read it have agreed with Tolkien; it is much darker and more depressing than The Lord of the Rings, and it certainly would have provided a unique look at a Middle-Earth where Men were the most powerful people.

You can find some of this information at the Tolkien Gateway, and other info was just found by randomly searching. I certainly encourage you to see what you can learn about this abandoned sequel.

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Book Review: “The Returned” by Jason Mott

I found out about this book in a roundabout way. I was reading an article about which TV shows might be canceled in the fall and was dismayed to see that Resurrection was on the list. The author happened to mention that Resurrection was based on a novel titled The Returned, and as soon as I saw that, I knew I had to track it down.

The Returned was slightly smaller in scope than its television counterpart, focusing primarily on the dynamic in the Hargrave (Langston) family after their son Jacob came back from the dead (unlike Resurrection, wherein Jacob was the first to Return, the whole people-coming-back-from-the-dead situation was already in full swing when Agent Bellamy took Jacob back to his family). Harold (Henry) and Lucille actually flip-flopped their positions; before Jacob was back, Lucille was convinced the Returned were demons while Harold placidly insisted they were just ordinary people, but after Jacob’s return, Lucille was the one insisting there was nothing wrong with the Returned, and Harold was the one nursing doubts. He still loved Jacob and treated him like the real thing, even going so far as to stay with Jacob in a government-run Returned camp.

Although the Hargraves were the primary focus on the book, there were also some brief chapters dedicated to other Returned, the most notable being the Wilson family. They were all murdered in their house many years ago, and no one in Arcadia ever figured out the murderer’s identity. The community was very shaken up over the murder, and they were downright hostile when the Wilsons Returned, visible reminders that their peaceful little town had been home to a horrific crime.

There were some noticeable differences between the TV show and the book that I think are worth highlighting. I’ve already covered some of the name changes, but there were other things, too:

  • In the book, Fred is not Harold/Henry’s brother. In fact, he’s not even the sheriff.
  • Fred’s wife Mary (Barbara) did not die on the same day as Jacob.
  • The circumstances of Jacob’s death are different. In the show, he drowned while trying to save his Aunt Barbara. In the book, he just drowned while playing by the river–on his birthday, no less.
  • Fred and Mary/Barbara did not have a daughter, so Maggie doesn’t exist.
  • Harold/Henry’s mother Margaret does not Return.
  • Although Elizabeth (Rachel) is still the pastor’s dead girlfriend, she was younger when she died (and so younger when she Returned) and most certainly not pregnant. So if anyone out there was hoping for an answer to the whole “Is Rachel’s baby evil” question, it doesn’t even exist here.
  • Although there is an illness that a few of the Returned catch, it does not make them disappear as it does in the show.

Interestingly, the book never gives a definite answer as to what the Returned really are. The author states that he wrote it this way on purpose; he wanted his readers to decide for themselves. And in the end, does it really matter what the Returned are? They exist; they cannot be denied, and they give their loved ones a last chance to spend time with them.

The Returned is very expressively written and is one of those books that makes you think. It has a little bit of everything in it–some thriller, some romance, some mystery, some supernatural–and, therefore, can appeal to a wider audience than if it had limited itself to one genre. And it’s a good way to get your Resurrection fix until we know if/when the show is coming back.

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So Much for My Dream Cast…

After hearing about Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast in the works, I got my own cast together in my head. After Emma Watson as Belle, my head-cast featured Benedict Cumberbatch as the Beast, Tom Hiddleston as Lumiere, Martin Freeman as Cogsworth, Julie Andrews as Mrs. Potts, and Peter Capaldi as Maurice. I didn’t have any real idea about whom I wanted to see as Gaston, but that was the gist of my cast.

Well, Disney finally announced their Beast, and it looks as though my dream cast will remain just that–a dream. The actor playing the Beast is Dan Stevens, a guy I’ve never heard of before, but he must be good, or else they wouldn’t have cast him…then again, I love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but he was a horribly miscast Valjean in Les Miserables (and don’t even get me started on Russell Crowe’s Javert).

On the plus side, they’ve also announced Luke Evans as Gaston. Luke Evans, as most of you probably know, played Bard the Bowman in The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies–and played him quite well, I might add, making him appropriately awesome. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him in this movie.

Rumored to be playing Lefou is Matt Lucas, who played Thenadier in the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables (good ol’ 25th Les Mis concert!). I really hope this rumor is true; he was a perfect Thenadier in Les Mis, and I know he would do a good job as Lefou.

I’m disappointed that my ideal cast does not seem to be happening, but the inclusion of Luke Evans and (hopefully) Matt Lucas mollifies me a little bit. I just really, really, really hope this movie does not turn into another disappoint.

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Book Review: “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve decided to post a review of The Princess Bride, the 1973 fantasy novel that inspired the cult-classic movie of the same name. Not many people know it was a book before it became a movie–I certainly didn’t until I watched the movie for the first time and saw that little line in the credits, “Based on the book by”. This was a similar situation as to when I watched Planet of the Apes for the first time (the Charlton Heston version, not the lackluster 2001 film) and discovered there was a book version of that, too. Well, the original Planet of the Apes novel was even more amazing and thought-provoking than the movie, and so I figured it would be same with The Princess Bride as well. After all, nine times out of ten the book is better than the movie.

It wasn’t quite that cut-and-dry this time, though. This time I’d say that both book and movie were just about equal–not because the book was bad but because the movie adhered so closely to the book. A lot of times film adaptations will rework dialogue or change scenes around, but in the case of The Princess Bride, both book and film shared a lot of the same dialogue, in most cases verbatim.

One advantage the book had over the film, though, was a chance to flesh out the characters a little more and provide more insight into the plot–for example, I had wondered how Prince Humperdinck had learned about Buttercup back when she was just a poor farm girl and how Buttercup rose to the rank of princess before marrying Humperdinck, and the book answered those questions. Additionally, we got to learn more about Inigo and Fezzick’s backgrounds and why they worked for Vizzini even though they knew what kind of a man he was.

The closest I can get to summarizing The Princess Bride is to say it’s kind of the fantasy equivalent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s witty, surprising, random, and will get you caught up in a world that’s very implausible yet feels just as real as our own, and you will fall in love with characters that feel as though you’ve known them your entire life. A word of caution: it will make you literally laugh out loud, so I don’t advise reading this anywhere you have to be quiet.

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“He’s Dead, Jim”

The science fiction community is in mourning today; it was confirmed earlier that Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for playing the half-Vulcan science officer Spock on Star Trek, is dead. This is really, really sad news to me. I know I don’t mention it here very often, but I have been a big Star Trek fan for several years. Before Sherlock, before Doctor Who, before The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, I had two major loves, and Star Trek was one of them (Star Wars was the other).

I have more likes and interests now than I did when I was first started watching Star Trek, but this show is always going to mean a lot to me–maybe because it’s been part of my life for so long; I’m not sure. But one thing that makes it special to me is that I didn’t always like it. Before I started watching it, I thought it was a dumb show that only strange nerds watched (the irony that I am now one of those strange nerds is not lost on me).

Then, one night, I actually did watch an episode. I still thought it was a strange little show, but it was a fun way to spend a Saturday night. And each Saturday night I kept coming back to watch more. It wasn’t love at first sight as it had been with Sherlock and Doctor Who; it was slower and more gradual…and there was something special about that.

Spock was one of my favorite characters; he was the smart one that solved all the problems when Kirk was away for some reason (usually involving a woman). So Leonard Nimoy’s death is sad for me, too, but I’m grateful that we all had the chance to watch him on Star Trek.

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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World”

In the BBC’s Great Archive Wipe, one of the classic Doctor Who episodes lost to us forever–or so we thought–was “The Enemy of the World”, a 1967 serial with Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, Frazer Hines as Jamie, and Deborah Watling as Victoria. Fortunately for Whovians everywhere, a copy of this story was found in 2013, and it was promptly released on DVD.

Why was there so much excitement when it was revealed that “The Enemy of the World” was an episode that had survived the Great Archive Wipe? Well, there were two reasons behind this. Firstly, very few of Patrick Troughton’s stories have survived completely intact, so a chance to see him in action is a rare treat, indeed. Secondly, “The Enemy of the World” is not your average Doctor Who story–Patrick Troughton is not just playing the Doctor but also the villain, a scheming would-be dictator known as Salamander.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of Patrick Troughton as a villain, but I was not disappointed. Yes, at times his Mexican accent seemed a bit dodgy, but the power and menace he brought to Salamander was electrifying. I had no idea he was so talented. What’s more, I gained a better appreciation for him as the Doctor after watching him as Salamander; the harshness of Salamander’s character was quite a contrast to the Second Doctor’s cheerful cosmic hobo.

The supporting characters, especially Astrid and Fariah, were interesting and well-drawn allies. It seemed a shame they didn’t get to travel with the Doctor–although having four companions probably would have been overkill. Still, it’s rare when characters who don’t become companions are well-drawn and likeable enough that they could have become companions (I’m thinking primarily of Rita in “The God Complex”).

As for the story itself, it certainly wasn’t predictable. I won’t spoil anything for you, but there were some unexpected plot twists that I did not see coming as well as some moments when Patrick Troughton is on the screen, and you think he’s playing one character when he’s really the other.

Do I recommend “The Enemy of the World”? Absolutely. Not only is it one of the best surviving episodes of the Second Doctor’s era, but it also gives you a chance to see just how talented an actor Patrick Troughton really was.

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