On Fictional Violence and Naming Children

Note: Contains Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers

(Note 2: I never thought I would be doing a post on Game of Thrones, but here I am.  Never say never.)

When I first heard about this book/TV franchise, it was years ago, still in the early days of the TV series.  At first I was interested, because a lot of people were comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, and aesthetically there is some similarity.  I read some Amazon reviews of the books (as I usually do) and was a bit disturbed to hear the series is full of heinous, macabre scenes, including frequent sexual violence.  I always pass on that kind of content and decided not to read it.  Frankly, I also expected the hype would fizzle out sooner rather than later.

Well, hindsight being 20/20, I was completely wrong, and enthusiasm for the series catapulted into eight TV seasons.  I’ve been observing the franchise’s progress from afar and, thanks to the media, wasn’t allowed to not know the fact that it finally reached its last season this year.

I wouldn’t have given it much further thought, if I hadn’t stumbled across this story: Latest Game of Thrones episode sends curveball to children named Khaleesi

“Khaleesi” basically means “queen” in this story, and by association refers to Daenerys, one of the female characters and arguably the poster child for the series.  Many viewers had perceived her as a strong heroine, and sure enough, her name and title made it on to baby names lists.

In season 8, the show writers threw in a plot twist in which Daenerys decides to bomb a conquered city with dragon fire, mass murdering innocent civilians.  This may not be shocking material for the series as such, but it poses a real problem for parents who had envisioned the character as a role model, or at least a namesake, for their daughter.

I’m no fan of Bustle, but they followed up on the topic with a fascinating article which suggests Daenerys was always a villain, just not as blatantly.  If that’s so, it could be argued the writers were taking this aspect of the character to the next level, rather than reinventing her.

Not being a fan of the show, the whole outrage doesn’t affect me, but I do find it interesting that:

  1. there is such a high tolerance of evil (yes, let’s call it that) depicted in fictional form, justified in the name of fiction.  And that’s not one or two isolated episodes; it’s a steady diet throughout eight seasons.
  2. anyone would name their child after a fictional character which is still a work in progress
  3. anyone would associate their child with a TV show famous for its violence

It’s hard enough finding a common name without connotations (Twilight managed to taint “Edward”), but naming your child after a fictional character is quite risk.  If the character is new, their legacy is still to be established.  If the character is old, even a classic, they may have a fairly solid legacy, but perceptions can still change rapidly.  Take Atticus Finch, for example (not that anyone’s naming their boy Atticus… or are they?).

As for the violence, I wonder how many people are actually desensitized to it now.  It also begs the question, how much violence is excessive, in fiction?

I’m completely against sugarcoating non-fiction.  Some terrible, despicable things have occurred in history and in recent events – things as bad or worse than are shown in Game of Thrones.  We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

When it comes to fiction, however, I’m always more skeptical.  As a writer, I can’t help but feel that much fictional violence is really gratuitous.  How do you justify graphically depicting something awful, except to illustrate a historical fact?  And if you’re illustrating those particular segments of history, why are you using fiction as the outlet?  (It’s a question for myself as much as anyone else.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics…

Ten Classics That Should Be Movies

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a page-to-screen freebie.  I’ve talked before about my favorite costume dramas, so I thought I’d go with Jana’s take on this topic and share some books that really need to be adapted!

Also, some of these have been made into films already, so if it’s on the list, it means I haven’t yet seen the “perfect” one (subject to my picky opinion, of course).

10.  The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge

Yonge’s novel may have faded out of popularity (or even recognition), but there are plenty of cinematic moments in this one: feuding family members, a shipwreck, and a haunting graveyard scene. Actually, forget the movie – I have plans to turn this into the next blockbuster musical.  Only half-joking…

9.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I can hear critics’ howls of protest…”not ANOTHER Sherlock Holmes movie!”  But hear me out: Jeremy Brett (sadly enough) was not able to play Holmes in all 4 novels and 56 short story adaptations.  No one will ever be Jeremy Brett, but I’m ready for a TV producer to undertake this project, starting over with a new actor.  I present Richard Armitage as my casting choice.  🙂

8. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

The best thing we have at this point is the 2013 Met Opera production (pictured).  I really didn’t care for the 1999 film version with Liv Tyler; she was fine, but the script was plodding and too… British.  I would love to see a Russian production, or maybe a BBC drama with Russian actors.

7. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Villette has somehow missed out on the recent BBC adaptations list (by “recent”, I mean more recently than 1970).  It’s a shame, because Lucy Snowe is every bit as compelling as Jane Eyre, and the plot is nearly as brooding, with some scenes that would be quite dramatic on screen.  I would prefer an unknown actress, but if not, then Laura Carmichael would do a great job.

6. The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

AngelsBridgeAndBasilicaDiSanPietroAtNight

By Andreas Tille (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s been years since I read it, but The Marble Faun stands out in my memory as being really suited for an adaptation.  It’s an allegory about the Fall of Man, following three young artists who are visiting 19th-century Rome.  The cinematography alone would be stunning!

5. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

I was very disappointed by the 1965 adaptation, which, while more or less following the book and featuring Peter O’Toole, was extremely cringy, not one I’d watch again.  In spite of that, I do think this tale of moral dilemma and consequences would make a good movie, given another chance!

4. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

As much as I love Lawrence of Arabia, I would love to see a factual adaptation of Seven Pillars, without too many artistic liberties or embellishment.  As for casting, I once read online someone suggesting Matt Smith as T. E. Lawrence.  I’m not sure the resemblance is 100% there, but I can absolutely see him playing all sides of Lawrence’s complicated character.

3. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

To be fair, I haven’t really watched any Joan of Arc movies yet, in part because none of the existing adaptations look very promising to me.  I would love to see a movie of Twain’s novel, which I read years ago and really liked. 

2. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Kidnapped is one of my favorite novels of all time, and while I enjoy the 2005 TV movie, it’s not very accurate, more like fan fiction. I hope someday it gets the adaptation it deserves!

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

As with Sherlock Holmes, I’m still waiting (impatiently) for a complete and accurate rendition of the Alice books.  This brief flashback sequence in the Tim Burton film is the best we’ve got for now.

What about you – what’s on your book adaptation wishlist?

Science City by Parekh & Singh – Album Review

Just last month, Parekh & Singh finally released their second album.  I say “finally,” because I’ve been waiting for more music ever since I finished listening to Ocean (2016). I must have given up hope, because the new music sneaked up on me, and I kinda freaked out when I stumbled upon it a day or two after its release.  Would Science City live up to all my hopes?!

Parekh & Singh, Indian Indie Duo

So, who are Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh?  I hadn’t heard of them or their genre – “dream pop” – until May 2017, when they released their music video for “Ghost.”  The retro vibe, bright colors, and Parekh’s introspective vocals immediately grabbed my attention.  I felt strangely nostalgic for something I didn’t even know existed.

“Ghost”… still my favorite Parekh & Singh song!

Being already a huge fan of electronica artist Owl City, I love dreamy, poetic lyrics with a healthy dose of synthesizers, so this band was right up my alley.  Ocean was pretty much my playlist that summer (and fall, for that matter). 

Science City, Expectations

Incidentally, just like Owl City’s Cinematic (2018), Science City was initially disappointing but has gradually been growing on me.  I don’t necessarily see it as an album for introducing people to Parekh & Singh – that album is still OceanScience City lacks some of the melodic brilliance and lyrical empathy which drew me to Ocean.  It’s more esoteric and therefore less approachable.  Still, to quote a violin teacher I once met, this music “takes a detour to your heart.”  It still gets there, it’s just a less direct route than Ocean‘s.

Let’s go to the tracklist.  There’s 11 songs total:

I was stoked for “Evening Sun” and “Surgeon,” which I’d heard (more or less) as live performance recordings on YouTube. Right off the bat, I can say those two songs did not disappoint.  “Evening Sun” has a driving rhythm and bittersweet melody – the lyrics are a puzzle but it’s apparently about someone who can’t sleep, either literally or figuratively.  “Surgeon” is a quirky, catchy tune and to my interpretation, a bit of a nonsense or absurdist song.

Everything’s in perfect balance
Nothing that I say is challenged
I am a neurosurgeon
I may be the only person
Who sees through the trap of reason
I am a neurosurgeon

Some of the songs are quite hard to understand, so you’re left in an awkward position of not really knowing what they’re about.  Others are more easily identified as love or breakup songs, like the cute “Monkey” and gloomy “Hello.”

Science City, Surprises

I was surprised to hear a random crude word in “Be Something.”  It just seemed anomalous compared to their other lyrics and unnecessary.

On a different note, “One Hundred Shadows” was a complete surprise.  It’s a moody, haunting melody with dark imagery reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno:

I tunneled to the centre of the earth
To escape the troubled surface world
What did I find
What did I learn
The stars in the sky, they began to turn

And all the demons knew my name
All the answers were the same

The gist of the song is that he tries to escape chaos, and doesn’t find any help.  Or, maybe it’s that he realizes he looked for help in the wrong place.  I would really be interested to know the full meaning behind it.

Another one I enjoy more than I expected is the first song, “Sunbeam.”  It’s quite philosophic as well:

Where did the sun go
Is it spinning in circles
In a universal fill
Whatever you do
Never take the blue pill

Overall

Science City isn’t Ocean 2.0, and I think as a fan, that is kind of disappointing when you’ve waited two years for more of the same.  On the other hand, Parekh & Singh are evolving as musicians, and like all other musicians, their lives and experiences factor into their music.  (Singh’s mother, Jayashree Singh, passed away in 2018, which could be why some of the new songs are sadder lyrically.)  I still appreciate the new music, and, as always, their aesthetics are amazing.  I’ll leave you with the music video for “Hello”:

What I’m Reading (and More): May edition

Well, friends…this month’s edition of “What I’m Reading” is going to be a bit of a ramble.  You might want to grab something to snack on or drink.  I usually try to abridge, but this time I just feel the need to stream-of-conscious it….

Personal

For starters, a personal update. Though work and everything are going fine, I’ve been feeling very directionless lately and in need of a change.  The thing is, there’s so many things I would like to do – from buying a house to changing jobs – but no one thing that especially stands out as “yeah, that makes sense.” It feels like a big decision chart with lines going all over the place.
 
I’ve been through all the conventional wisdom – focus on others, not yourself; try to find what you’re passionate about; make small goals; etc.  But after all of that, I’m still in a maze, with too many ideas and hopes and doubts pulling me in different directions.  And in spite of everything being fine, that sense of possibility is making me feel like I’ve lost control of the situation and need to choose something.

First-world problems, for sure, but frustrating nonetheless.  I hope writing about it enough times might help me figure it out.

Reading

Psalms

A bit of a backstory: After finishing Revelation, I read Romans.  It’s perplexing, but I found Romans to be very heavy, difficult reading.  I didn’t want to carry that feeling into Corinthians, so I decided to switch gears to Psalms, which I’ve been meaning to re-read ever since reading Fear No Evil earlier this year.

'David' by Michelangelo Fir JBU013
Jörg Bittner Unna [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Psalms is deceptively familiar.  I remember some verses and of course Psalm 23.  But I can’t say that I actually know the book, all 150 songs/poems.   I am reading just two at a time and hoping, at this pace, to help it sink in more.  Also, I’m still using the lectio divina method of Bible reading, which works very well with smaller sections.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Not sure if this warrants a disclaimer, but here goes anyway…

I fall into the peculiar category of people who neither love Peterson nor loathe him.  I’ve seen him in a few YouTube videos, but they didn’t spark enough interest in me to want to watch more.  What is most interesting is the effect he has on other people (his fans and enemies).  I thought I’d read this book, published just a year and a half ago, to see what the fuss is about.

That said, I did come into this 400-page tome with some bias:

  • Philosophy is still a fairly new genre to me, and I’m warming to it only very slowly.
  • I actually loved the movie Frozen, particularly as it features the strong relationship between two sisters, something I relate to personally.  Due to that, I doubt the judgment (literary or otherwise) of someone who writes Frozen off as “propaganda.”
  • I don’t care for self-help books as a rule (uhh no pun intended), so it takes a pretty good one to impress me.

So I’m about halfway through 12 Rules and, consistently enough, my feelings about this book are mixed.  There are many moments of wisdom, but some parts are also quite questionable, or even laughable.  Some reviewers are turned off by the many Bible references; they’re somewhat interesting, but I don’t really like his use of them, either (though for different reasons).  It’s also both creative and tedious that he doesn’t stick to his thesis the whole time, but rather weaves other topics into each chapter.

My favorite parts thus far were his anecdotes about growing up in a small town in Canada, in Rule #3 “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”  It had all the makings of a gripping memoir, or even a coming-of-age novel.  That was the book I wanted to be reading. 

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age 

 

Another tome, over 500 pages!  Actually I powered through the first 60 pages, in spite of learning science-y things (gasp) about motors and such.  The book uses original diagrams from olden times (aka Tesla’s day), which makes my amateur graphic designer heart very happy.

More importantly, however, the writing is excellent: serious, yet approachable and very informative.  Tesla’s early life was largely positive, but after the death of his older brother, his adolescence was overshadowed by his tense relationship with his father and, at one time, a bizarre transition from workaholic student to gambling addict.  I didn’t know all of this, so those first chapters were especially fascinating.

No classics?!  What is this?

Yes, apart from Psalms, I’m not reading any classics at the moment.  I’m supposed to be re-reading The Time Machine and Ben-Hur, but lost steam somehow.

Also, can you believe I’ve only read two fictional books this year, and the rest have been nonfiction?  That’s some kind of record.  My challenges are getting rusty, too.

I do plan to get back into fiction reading soon, as I’m in line for a library copy of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander…  I’m tentatively excited, because I love the movie and kinda hope the book is just like it, at least character-wise.

Other

Apart from Valkyrie, I haven’t watched any movies.  I do want to re-watch Cranford soon, though.

I also have an album review coming up later this week, since one of my favorite groups just released a new one.

Other than that… hope everyone is having a lovely week!

Tales of the Long Bow: Eccentrics and Impossibilities

Chesterton’s England, ca. 100 years ago, is home to a de facto group of patriots, a Robin Hood renaissance.  There’s the lawyer, Mr. Robert Owen Hood, whose name itself harkens back to the leader of the Merry Men.  His friend Colonel Crane is a quiet soul with a fiery past, plus a penchant for studying indigenous tribes and their religions.  Among the other five members, the aviator Hilary Pierce stands out as a brash aviator, someone full of antics which he carries out with great seriousness.

Their goal?  To achieve impossible things, and to save England from despots.  So Mr. Hood sets the Thames on fire, Colonel Crane eats his hat, and Hilary Pierce makes pigs fly, all in the name of rescuing the common man from the evils of either greedy aristocrats or corrupt bureaucrats.  Sly politicians, doctors, and scientists stand in their way, but the League of the Long Bow prevails with one promise: it always does what it says it will do.

When I think of weird classics, I think of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno or Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford’s The Inheritors (the latter I left unfinished).  But Tales of the Long Bow is a whole ‘nother level of weird.  It is very niche, to the point that if you don’t know much about British politics and social changes at the beginning of the 20th century, then much of the book will make no sense.  I had just enough knowledge to basically “get it.”

The humor is also very quirky and British.  Chesterton’s brand of absurdism is both punny and layered, so you feel like you’re listening to an endless stream of inside jokes, interwoven with the social commentary.  Some of it is pretty hilarious, like his depiction of the obsequious Mr. Vernon-Smith:

“I wish those friends of yours didn’t give you such revolutionary ideas,” said Mr. Vernon-Smith. “My cousin knows the most dreadful cranks, vegetarians and–and Socialists.” He chanced it, feeling that vegetarians were not quite the same as vegetables; and he felt sure the Colonel would share his horror of Socialists.

The book is a series of short stories, and some of them are stronger than others. I think my favorite might be “The Exclusive Luxury of Enoch Oates,” featuring a particularly hammy caricature of an American millionaire.

As a whole, where the book fell short for me were some of the subplots, which seemed to drag on too long or had an “aha!” moment that was more silly than funny.  Also, there was occasional derogatory racial language, which was disappointing.

Overall, I give it 3 stars.  I didn’t love it, but I’m not sorry I read it.  Tales of the Long Bow is a strange combination of now-esoteric social commentary, quasi-Dickensian characters, and sometimes hilarious, sometimes aggravating storylines.  Thanks to Mudpuddle for sharing about this book!