Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Hobbit

This week's assigned reading was The Hobbit, which I had already enjoyed reading once before. One of the things that I found most impressive, as well as most fun to read, about this book as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the huge world that Tolkein created in his stories. In any form of media, be it book or film or game, I am always a sucker for a story within a believable universe.

Tolkein's Middle-Earth is such a believable world that when I read his books, I feel like I am reading one small piece of history that has taken place in the vast timeline of this world. He leads me to believe that there is much more to this world, and that I am not aware of it only because he choses not to tell it to me. In many ways, he creates this feeling by referencing events or stories that have taken place before the books, and even taking the time to explain the history of certain places or people.

As I already knew the story of The Hobbit, I chose to read some of the essays posted online by Michael L. Martinez. These were all explanations of the peoples and times of Middle-Earth. I was particularly fascinated by the timeline Martinez included in one of his last essays. The amount of information he was able to gather from Tolkein's books is very impressive; almost as impressive as the fact that Tolkein created this world to begin with!

I recently attended a presentation given by Jordan Weisman, a game designer who explained how he went about doing just this; creating fantastical yet believable worlds. Seeing this obvious connection between these huge universes that I love in fiction and what will be required of me in my future of game designing greatly excited and inspired me. And, of course, I completely understand why a good game, or any piece of fiction, needs to take place in a realistic fantasy world. Tolkein's deep stories, as well as any really believable fiction, allow for the viewer to, as Tolkein himself said, escape their own world for another, stranger, more exciting one.

This is what I, and millions of other readers, movie-goers, and gamers, love to see in our media.

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

For this week's focus on Japanese horror, I chose to read several ghost stories fromKwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn. I found these stories very interesting as a look into old Japanese culture, if not as a very thrilling read.

The stories all read very much like old myths or folk-tales to me, which in a way is what they were. What they didn't feel much like was my somewhat modern and western idea of a ghost story; a story that ends mysteriously and leaves me frightened, or at least a bit nervous. These stories seemed considerably more like explanations of monsters or stories of demons, meant to show what they are like more than to scare readers.

Of course, this most likely had to do with the cultural gap between these ancient stories and I. After all, if I knew about the ghosts of ancient peoples and their tendency of tricking blind musicians into playing for them until they died, perhaps the story about that very event would have been more terrifying. As it was, I simply found it silly that a loophole led to his ears being pulled off.

In fact, the loophole seemed to be a plot point repeated through these stories. From the musicians ears being removed to the vengeful spirit being thwarted before it could even be created (in one of the silliest and most anticlimactic stories I've ever read), it seemed that the climax of a Japanese ghost story revolves around, or is solved by, a silly loophole in an ancient, spiritual rule.

All in all, I found these stories very interesting to read through. I enjoyed taking this look into an old culture different from my own. And they were certainly entertaining to read and occasionally made me giggle. This probably wasn't the original intent of the story, but the fact that I was entertained seems better than nothing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Interview With A Vampire

Although I have seen the movie version of Interview With A Vampire, I had not read the book before this class. I had read another of Ann Rice's novels, The Mummy, that I did not enjoy and that turned me off to reading any more of her stories. However, I did find myself enjoying what I read of Interview, despite the fact that it was packed exactly with the eroticism and beautiful men that I disliked in The Mummy. After putting some thought into this, I've come to the conclusion that all the sexuality and mega-romantic writing have become associated with the vampire genre as a whole (probably by Rice's influence, in fact), and because I was expecting it when I started reading I was able to enjoy the book.

Interview With A Vampire was not a romance, technically, even though parts of the book and even the movie definitely felt like it. It was an interesting presentation of the conflict between what is right and what is wrong. This was presented through the contrast between the mortal humans and the immortal vampires, and especially through Louis and the interviewer. Killing, for example, was obviously immoral for humans but could be argued as the morally correct choice for the vampires. The narrator Louis was constantly caught in the middle, and viewers too are uncertain whether his attachment to the moral code of his mortal self is the right or wrong choice.

Conflict was also present in the relationships between characters. Although the not-so-subtle homoeroticism of Louis and Lestat's relationship was entertaining, I found myself extremely intrigued by the connection between Louis and Claudia. Throughout the film (I admit, I didn't get far enough in the novel to see much of Claudia) they seemed to waver from close family to something more romantic. Claudia's situation, being a grown woman caught in a child's body, made this all the more interesting, and I enjoyed her interactions with Louis.

All in all, Interview With A Vampire was a relatively good read, even though I didn't finish it, and it lead to some very interesting discussions in class.