Saga

11 Aug

Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, published monthly by Image Comics. A tree that doubles as a rocket ship. Aristocratic villains in 18th-century military dress with televisions for heads. A hairless cat who growls “LYING” at any knowingly untrue statement. A planet-sized bordello hosted by a pair of women’s heads on fishnet-stocking-wearing legs. This is but a dash of the unbelievable imagery you encounter in just the first six issues of Saga – a comic-book epic proves there’s still room for originality in the over-franchised world of sci-fi. The space opera—a sub-genre of science fiction that tends towards vivid, romantic fantasy and swashbuckling action and away from “harder,” more speculative sci-fi—has never really gone fully out of vogue since the success of Star Wars. But it’s gotten pretty stagnant, recycling the most universally recognizable tropes. What Saga is doing feels different and invigorating. It’s inspired by a fictional universe Vaughan created as a child and never stopped revisiting, and its core elements have the kind of loopy, fearless freshness only a young mind could generate.

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Kimba the White Lion

7 Jul

With the pending release of the ‘live-action’ remake of Disney’s animated classic The Lion King, now is perhaps the perfect time to look at one of the strangest controversies ever to follow a Disney cartoon. At the time of its release, The Lion King was a unique production from Disney. It was the first animated film from the studio to feature an original story created by its team of writers. Over the years, however, this claim has faced several credible challenges from the Japanese anime, Kimba, The White Lion, made in 1965. That cartoon, about African wildlife, was based on a Manga comic called Jungle Emperor Leo by animator Osamu Tezuka. Whether Disney was inspired by Kimba isn’t the problem here; rather, it’s that Disney has long asserted that The Lion King was its first original animated film, and that it’s never heard of Jungle Emperor Leo or Tezuka. When you see the side-by-side glimpses afforded by YouTube it’s pretty impossible not to see the similarities, whether it be in the characters themselves, the design flourishes, or even specific shots. Yes, Kimba’s dad dies by drowning rather than wildebeest stampede, but his clamber up the rock wall and denial of saving by the story’s nefarious antagonist still looks familiar. Obviously, this isn’t a cry to disavow The Lion King or any such thing; it’s still a great film. But this may be one controversy that merits a closer look – after all, it was even once parodied, famously, in an episode of The Simpsons (you remember: the one where Mufasa appears in the clouds, bidding Lisa to “avenge my death, Kimba—I mean, Simba”)!

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Fantasy Masterworks: Little, Big

16 Jun

Little, Big: or, The Fairies’ Parliamentis a modern fantasy novel by John Crowley, published in 1981, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1982. An extraordinary, sweeping and strange novel, it can perhaps be best described through the metaphor of its central setting: Edgewood, the house in which many generations (and permutations) of the Drinkwater family live. Edgewood is designed by the patriarch, a renowned architect, to be many houses within a single structure. It unfolds, as the viewer circles around it, to reveal many different facades — Victorian, modern, gothic — like a complex piece of origami. Little, Big is one of those sprawling, dream-like fantasy novels, much like Mark Helprin’s fantastical history of a mythical early 20th-century New York, Winter’s Tale. Like another counterpart, One Hundred Years of Solitude, but this time set in New England, Little, Big spans several generations of the Drinkwater family and their relationship with the world of faerie. The concept is rescued from tweeness by author Crowley’s dazzling feats of aerobatics with the English language, which at first take a bit of getting used to but, ultimately, draw you in and trap you with their beauty, not unlike the fabled world of faery itself. The esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom called Little, Big “a neglected masterpiece. The closest achievement we have to the Alice stories of Lewis Carroll”, and the vast novel does have an almost soporific, Wonderland quality to it – best read on lazy days in dappled sunshine.

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American Mythic

19 May

When we think of mythology we tend to think of the old world – European fairytales, folklore of the Far East and tales from the dark continent of Africa. Even when the new world is mentioned, in mythic terms it is the Native American folklore of the tribes and nations that first settled the lands of North and South America that comes to mind. Whilst all of this world mythology represents a rich and varied tradition of fairytales, folklore and legends, this is also to ignore the unusual and fascinating modern mythology of the United States. There are lots of interesting directions that this ‘American Mythic’ takes. There are larger than life stories of the birth of the nation, its founding fathers and the Revolutionary War; there is an entire mythology surrounding the Civil War that almost ripped apart the nascent union, when brother fought brother and fire and blood threatened to consume all the land from sea to shining sea; and up to the present day the Cold War and many other conflicts that have shaped the postwar nation also contributed to the character and myths of the modern United States. Anyone who takes the time and trouble to investigate American Mythic might be surprised at what they find.

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The Music of John Williams

14 Apr

With a career spanning over six decades, John Williams has composed some of the most popular, recognizable, and critically acclaimed film scores in cinematic history, including those of the Star Wars series, JawsClose Encounters of the Third KindSupermanE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones series, the first two Home Alone films, Hook, the first two Jurassic Park films, Schindler’s List, and the first three Harry Potter films. Williams has won 24 Grammy Awards, seven British Academy Film Awards, five Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards (with 51 Academy Award nominations, Williams is the second most-nominated individual, after Walt Disney). Williams also composed the score for eight of the top 20 highest-grossing films at the U.S. box office (adjusted for inflation). Despite this awesome CV, or perhaps as a contributory factor, Williams has a style and approach almost unlike any other film composer. While skilled in a variety of 20th-century compositional idioms, Williams’s most familiar style may be described as a form of neoromanticism inspired by the late 19th century’s large-scale orchestral music—in the style of Tchaikovsky or Richard Wagner’s compositions and their concept of leitmotif—that inspired his film music predecessors. Williams is associated with a who’s who of history’s greatest film-makers, including Steven Spielberg, for whom Williams composed music for all but three of his feature films. However it is another cinematic legend – George Lucas – for whom he reserved perhaps his greatest achievements in the form of the soundtrack to Star Wars, which was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

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Monstress

17 Mar

Monstress, by Marjorie Liu, uses a unique fantasy setting to tell the epic story of a magically inspired war. In it, readers are instantly thrust into a world of strange creatures, unique magic, and an unexplained conspiracy which gets more and more interesting with every page. Liu does a fantastic job in crafting a world with a lore so dense that it feels like we have only just scratched the surface of everything there is to learn. This is a compelling series pushed forward by strong, yet beautifully flawed characters making their way through this world and uncovering aspects of it which we are only just beginning to understand. The end result is a graphic novel that doesn’t just appeal to fantasy lovers, it also appeals to anyone interesting in epic stories set in detailed and elaborate worlds. Before even getting into the actual story behind this series, the sheer scope of the worldbuilding present here must be addressed. Liu has created a society with a rich history of war and development, that has a number of strict rules for the storyline to follow. There are multiple distinct races; magical elements, whose properties remain surprisingly consistent; and a full history behind every character, location, and artifact. Discovering all of this becomes one of the reader’s biggest objectives and gives them something to look forward to with every page they read.

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Fantasy Masterworks: The Last Unicorn

17 Feb

The Last Unicorn is a 1968 fantasy novel by American author Peter S. Beagle, which follows the tale of a unicorn who believes she is the last of her kind in the world and undertakes a quest to discover what has happened to the others. The Last Unicorn is also an elegy for a world that has lost its magic, lost its sense of wonder, and whose people are desperate to get it back but so passive in their acceptance of the mundanity of their lives that they can’t even see the magic and the beauty that’s there in the world around them if only they’d look. All that makes the book sound like dour and dismal stuff indeed, but it hasn’t become one of fantasy’s most beloved and enduring classics — in print consistently for fifty years and counting — for nothing. Peter S. Beagle frames his story as a fractured fairy tale, rich in self-aware humour. The Last Unicorn was meta before meta was cool. A beloved classic, it has sold more than five million copies worldwide since its original publication, been translated into at least twenty languages, spawned sequels and spin-offs and been adapted for the big and small screen numerous times. Locus magazine once ranked The Last Unicorn number five among the “All-Time Best Fantasy Novels”, based on a poll of subscribers. In the end, this is the simple message of The Last Unicorn: that the magic hasn’t gone away, that it’s all around you in your life right now, and the only thing preventing you from recognizing it and being dazzled by it is you.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh

13 Jan

Gilgamesh, the famous Mesopotamian hero, is believed to be based on a real person, who was most probably a Sumerian king. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem recording the hero’s exploits, was transcribed onto tablets in the second millennium BC. He is portrayed in sculptures and reliefs from every period of the region’s civilisation as a robust, bearded warrior, who struggles with lions, bulls and assorted monsters. He owes his immortality to the great epic poem that was written about him – the very first such literature known to humankind. Far from being a mere relic, the Gilgamesh epic is one of the most dramatic stories ever told. Even today, 3,500 years after its composition, its themes of friendship, loss and the fear of death have profound resonance. In Sumerian times, the epic must have enthralled its readers or, more often, its listeners – for in a society where only a small number were literate this poem was surely written to be read aloud.

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Lords of the Skies

16 Dec

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the eagles were immense flying birds that were sapient and could speak. Often emphatically referred to as the Great Eagles, they appear, usually and intentionally serving as agents of eucatastrophe or dei ex machina, in various parts of his legendarium, from The Silmarillion and the accounts of Númenor to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Ents are guardians of plant life, the giant eagles are the guardians of animal life. In The Silmarillion, they were described as the noblest of the winged creatures of Arda, for they were brought forth by two mighty Valar: Manwë, Lord of the Air, and Yavanna, Queen of the Earth. The Great Eagles were numbered among the most ancient and wisest of races. These birds were always messengers and servants of Manwë. Over all the azure world they flew, like lords of the skies – for they were the eyes of the Valar, and like thunderbolts fell on their foes. In the First Age, a mighty breed of this race lived in Beleriand. These Eagles were far-famed for their deeds in the War of the Jewels. Their lord was Thorondor, said to have been the greatest of all birds, whose wingspan was thirty fathoms and whose speed out-stripped that of the fastest wind.

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Faire Game

11 Nov

Renaissance Faires have become increasingly popular the world around, often establishing themselves as annual events in specific locations. From jousts to feasts, plays to magic shows, from dancers and musicians to fortune-tellers and artisans, today’s Faire-goers can find any number of events and people to catch their interest and spark their imagination. Countless Renaissance Faires  throughout the world are perfect settings for experiences of a fantastical nature – here you can see legions of players in all their regalia, fighting in jousts, singing to fair maidens, hawking their wares and so on. Many Renaissance Faires are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, as this period has been generally considered to correspond to the flowering of the English Renaissance. Some are set earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII, or in other countries, such as France, and some are set outside the era of the Renaissance; these may include earlier medieval periods (including Vikings), or later periods, such as 17th-/18th-century pirates. Some engage in deliberate time travel by encouraging participants to wear costumes representing several eras in a broad time period. Renaissance Faires (or RenFaires for short) encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of things with costumes and audience participation – many even welcome fantasy elements such as wizards and elves!

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