I know I’ve mentioned before how often you start to notice something once you begin looking for it. It’s like the phenom of being told you have a lucky number or that a specific animal is representative of your spirit guide. Once your brain has identified that number/animal as noteworthy, it notices every one it sees. I feel the same way about visuals in film– once I start paying attention to specific frames, they start popping up all over the place. So here are some frames that I have noticed repetitively lately!
This first trio of frames isn’t quite as specific as the others I’ll be touching on, but it’s something that I have found to be so beautiful and grand. Intentional focal points are utilized in virtually every single movie, just on varying scales and to different degrees. The ones we’re taking a look at here are monument-sized and are impossible to ignore. The size of the objects could easily dominate the frame and detract from anything else that is happening, but the skill with which they were executed lends a feeling of imposing awe to the scenes that are taking place.
Perhaps one of the most iconic frames of all time, it would be heresy to talk about this technique without including the one that started it all: Norman Bates in Psycho. This moment has become rather common-place, which makes it all the more enjoyable when films offer a slight twist on it, as seen below via Iron Man’s mask in The Avengers.
Another common frame, this shot offers far less flexibility than the previous ones. A car is a car is a car, and a windshield really only affords so many options. The reason I enjoy this shot though is because of the instantaneous literal framework it provides. Whatever we already do or don’t know about the characters or the scene, the windshield frame acts as a picture frame, giving the viewer a look into a momentary tableau.
I spent most of my spring months writing and compiling my second manuscript, which ended up utilizing every ounce of my creative energy and spare time. But here I am! And today, as a follow up to my post about my favorite films, I’m going to be talking about my favorite books. I get a lot of questions from people– both in real life and on the internet– about my favorite books and movies, and having these posts seems like a super helpful way to pass along recommendations. So here we go!
Concept: book one in a five book series, this follows the adventures of a young girl who gets whisked away to Fairyland. Think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if the MC was more like Arya Stark.
Why I love it: I’ve talked about this book several times on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that I’m bringing it up yet again. My favorite books are ones that make prose feel poetic, and Catherynne M. Valente is a true master of her craft. This book perfectly marries whimsy and poignancy, and each character is crafted with such loving care. For the sake of transparency, I will say that, while all the books are lovely, I find the first book to be the strongest in the series.
Concept: two young magicians are locked in an extended competition, with an enchanting circus as their playing field.
Why I love it: Erin Morgenstern’s writing style is so much like my own, but with a talent for capturing the big picture that I could never hope to accomplish. Her world-building is phenomenal, and she has perfected the art of ambiance and atmosphere. I have heard people complain about her descriptions not being descriptive enough, but I have always found the book to play up the best parts of my imagination. Morgenstern highlights sensory details, such as the way a certain food smells, or how a particular fabric moves, or the specific type of light illuminating a space. She leans on very specific and tangible moments, and lets the reader use that knowledge to fill in the rest of the world. I’m also a big fan of non-linear storylines, and this was one of the first ones I ever read back when I was in high school.
Concept: a non-linear love story told in two parts– the first half from the POV of the man, the second half from the POV of the woman.
Why I love it: I don’t have the words for how much I love this book. I love the way Lauren Groff writes about Florida. I love her little asides to the reader. I love the way she slowly reveals the humanity of her characters. I love the success with which she encapsulates 50 years of time in a single novel. I love the beauty of her prose. I love all the emotions that the book captures, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the anger and bitterness that is such an important part of the full spectrum of emotion.
Concept: a retrospective look at the deaths of young sisters, told in a dossier-styled narrative by neighborhood boys who are now grown.
Why I love it: similarly to The Raven Cycle, this is a book that could have easily relied on the MPDG trope to carry the story along. The main characters in this book are a group of attractive and elusive sisters who seem to hold the entire male population in their thrall. However, Jeffrey Eugenides miraculously manages to bring dimension and humanity to each of the sisters in turn, and crafts a haunting and breath-taking tale. Bonus points for how brilliant his prose is.
Concept: a retelling of the Trojan war through the eyes of Achilles’s lover.
Why I love it: Madeline Miller is the light of my life and if you haven’t picked up either this book or her new novel, Circe, you are missing tf out. Her writing has a lyrical quality to it and manages to pull on your heartstrings in the deepest of ways. She re-frames familiar myths to bring humanity to gods, and utilizes romance as a thread in a tapestry rather than making it the entire focal point.
Concept: book two in a four book series, this focuses on the character of Ronan Lynch and his mysterious powers.
Why I love it: my obsessionadoration for The Raven Cycle is no secret. Neither is the fact that Ronan Lynch is a pure angel baby who must be protected at all costs. And neither is the fact that Maggie Stiefvater weaves magic with her words. I never would have thought book two of a series would end up being my favorite, but after reading this series four times through, Dream Thieves remains impeccable in my eyes.
Concept: book six in the renowned seven book series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. This is essentially the origin story for Narnia, and follows the discovery/creation of the realm readers had already come to know and love.
Why I love it: Narnia was always near and dear to my heart growing up, but as an adult, Magician’s Nephew is the only book in the series that still connects with me. The book explores the world in a new way and takes a walk back in time, introducing readers to younger versions of characters we already know.
Runner Ups: Red Rising, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Cress
I’d be lying if I said series, both in books and in film, don’t exhaust me sometimes. The thought of an endless litany can wear me out to even consider, especially if it’s for a series that hasn’t yet been completed. It happens to me with TV shows that are still being aired (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with book series that go on long hiatuses between novels (Song of Ice and Fire), and movie sagas that seem as if they will stretch on indefinitely and infinitely (Star Wars). There is something so daunting to me about jumping into a series that is not and may never be truly completed. I have a special place in my heart for series that follow their natural course instead of spinning their wheels ceaselessly. It’s why I loved Parks and Recreation all the way through, unlike The Office which had that weird two season slump that seemed as if it would never end. All that is to say that I have a lot of respect for authors who let stories run their natural course. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite book series!
I’ve mentioned before how much I adore prose that reads like poetry. For years, I struggled to write creatively outside of free form poetry, and I think I carried that affinity for rhythmic flows with me through my adult years. Books like The Virgin Suicides and Song of Achilles have very special places in my heart (and on my bookshelf) because of the lyrical nature of their narrative.
Catherynne M. Valente is the author of my favorite book series, known as the Fairyland Series, and she does lyrical prose better than anyone. The first book of her five-novel arc is titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and when I read it for the first time, I cried like a baby. It has heavy Alice in Wonderland themes, but with more logical rules and a more Arya Stark style heroine. Two of the leads, September and Saturday, are on my favorite female and male character lists, respectively, which speaks to the quality and consistency of Valente’s characterization. I’ve recommended this series more than once on this blog, and I’ll recommend it again here. It’s the most beautiful book series I have ever read, and it connects with me in new ways every time I return to it.
The Raven Cycle
I should probably stop writing about this series on what is starting to feel like a weekly basis— I think it’s starting to make me look a little one-dimensional. But honestly, it’s just that good. I love these characters like they’re my own children and I may or may not have a massive fan-cast post sitting in my drafts at this very moment.
In the past year or two, I’ve found myself with a growing appreciation for really solid characterization. One of my first posts on this blog was about my pet peeves in female characters, and it was entirely too easy to come up with specific examples for all of those annoyances. I have such a soft spot for flawed characters that a reader can still identify with– no Mary Sues or manic pixie dream girls or excessive wish fulfillment roles. The Raven Cycle has some of the best characterization I’ve ever come across, especially considering the sheer number of characters that are important throughout the course of the four books. Every single one of them is dynamic and unique, with their own set of flaws and weaknesses and desires. It’s nearly impossible not to connect with them, because their humanity emanates from every page of the books. Maggie Stiefvater, like Valente, is an incredibly talented author who possesses a huge capability for writing goosebump-inducing prose. Her work has a lyrical nature that is so deeply embedded with nostalgia and longing.
Six of Crows
So this was a recent read for me, and not something I was expecting to enjoy, much less devour. This duology takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, which was a trilogy I was sorely disappointed by. To my slight frustration, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom take place after the Grisha trilogy and are set in the same world, so they are far more enjoyable for readers who are already familiar with the Grishaverse. There are many references to places, people, politics, and Grisha knowledge that would largely be lost on readers who hadn’t previously read the Grisha trilogy.
With that being said, Six of Crows excels in all the ways that the Grisha trilogy fell short for me. The characterization is spot on, the interactions are natural, the representation doesn’t feel like an afterthought, and the action is plausible and immersive. Bardugo’s writing feels like it came a long way between Ruin and Rising and Six of Crows, even though they were only a year apart. I read the e-book version of Six of Crows, and picked up the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the instant I was finished with the first one. It’s rare for me to enjoy an e-book so much that I buy a hard copy, but I purchased the hardcover versions of both books immediately after completing them.
I really only had two qualms with the duology: the ages of the main characters, and the immersion of the settings. The first is a simple shortcoming, but it’s one that many other readers struggled with as well. The MCs are just too young to be believably engaging in the activities that they do (I wont say much on the topic for the sake of avoiding spoilers). My second complaint, however, is more of a personal preference. I’ve always been deeply impressed by Bardugo’s world-building– she crafts incredible political tensions, governmental structures, layered intrigue, and wholly viable geographics. But for some reason, I struggle to really visualize and immerse myself in her individual settings. From the Ice Court to the Crow Club, I always find her descriptions a bit lacking for my personal taste. I noticed the same thing in the Grisha trilogy, and can’t help but find myself a little disappointed by her visuals (or lack thereof).
Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom was also my first experience with a duology. The fascinating thing about duologies as opposed to trilogies is that the middle of the full story arc falls in between the two books, as opposed to the second book of a trilogy. For people who love a good cliffhanger, this is a wonderful treat, and Six of Crows pulls it off splendidly. The turn at the end of the first book propels the entire story forward in a huge way (again, vagueness in the interest of spoilers). Jodi over at Publishing Crawl has a great post on how to successfully manage this format, for anyone who might be interested.
All in all, Six of Crows has been my favorite read of 2018 thus far. It’s like Oceans Eleven meets Rogue One, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good heist story. Bonus: I’m a huge sucker for good fan art, and this duology has an abundance of it ♥
The Lord of the Rings
Oh Tolkien. How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Much to my embarrassment, I still haven’t gotten around to picking up The Silmarillion, which I know would give me even more reasons to adore Middle Earth. I’ve mentioned in the past that I first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten or eleven… and that I really struggled with it. I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies unless I read the books, so I did my best to slog through the seemingly endless litany of names and places. Subsequently, for much of my high school and college years, I thought I just wasn’t a fan of Tolkien’s writing style. But then, I picked the series back up last summer for a re-read. And I fell in love with Middle Earth all over again.
What a master of his craft Tolkien was. I think it’s safe to say he was one of the single largest influences on the fantasy genre, and that his work impacted the literary sphere in an incalculable way. Tolkien created an entire language during the process of breathing life into Middle Earth, a feat that baffles me to this day. While his prose can be dense and his world is whitewashed, it’s impossible to not appreciate the scope of his creativity and ingenuity. Merry and Pippin will forever be some of my favorite literary characters, and I honestly hope I come back as a hobbit in my next life.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Similar to The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing short of a massive undertaking. World building is seldom seen to the extent that Martin utilized for this series. Between his family houses, generational history, and plotted maps, he has crafted a vastly impressive world over the past 15 years. I’ve discussed before that I feel as if the books and the show are best as companions to each other rather than standalones, and I’ve also discussed in detail my issues with some aspects of the series. While I’m not sure if this book series is necessarily one of my true favorites, I’m including it here for one reason: continuity.
For four books, Martin blew me away with his skill at connecting storylines and bringing loose ends together. I can’t even wrap my head around how much work it must take to maintain a chronological stream of narrative told by a litany of different characters. I often wonder if he has an entire wall full of names and strings and time lines, or maybe a life size chess board with different characters on different squares. While I didn’t really enjoy the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, it was still thrilling to see how the big picture is starting to form. Pieces are falling into place in slow motion, and it’s incredible to think of the amount of foresight Martin must have had from the very beginning to be able to mesh so many stories together now.
So here’s my deal with the Harry Potter universe: at this point, I think it’s become far too dragged out. The original seven-book series was pure undiluted magic. Bringing the schoolbooks to life was brilliant. Pottermore and Harry Potter World were strokes of genius. But it’s started to feel like overkill. I was one of the very few who enjoyed reading The Cursed Child, but even I can agree that it felt a bit like a money grab. And now, a whole new movie series revolving around the tiny Fantastic Beasts textbook feels rather gratuitous, especially with the addition of Ilvermorny and a whole new set of houses. (But to be fair, Newt Scamander is my precious angel baby who I love more than life.)
However, Harry Potter was (and remains) a spectacular feat and one of the most immersive examples of world building I have ever come across. The amount of creativity and ingenuity it takes to pull an entire world from the ether is flooring. Spells, potions, transfiguration, magical laws and occupations, transportation, wand lore, and creatures were materialized at our fingertips. Growing up in a hyper-conservative religious household, Harry Potter was strictly forbidden due to the magical themes. I didn’t have the opportunity to read the books until the summer before I left for college, and since then I have re-read the series every year. I think it speaks to the skill with which they were written that they are just as enjoyable to read at age 24 as they are at age 11. J.K. Rowling has one of the most creative and inspired minds of our time, and it’s nothing short of an honor to have such magical books in our lives.
So what do you think? Have you read and enjoyed any of these series? What are some series I should try next? Leave a comment below and let me know!
Book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Some are certainly more fraught with challenges than others, but it is a huge hurdle to do a good book justice. I think that people largely underestimate the sheer volume of adaptions that are out. Most people know that movies like The Notebook, The DaVinci Code, and The Shining are based on popular books. Fewer people (but still a lot) are aware that movies such as The Godfather and Jurassic Park are also adaptions of books. But when it comes to movies like Forrest Gump and even Mean Girls, most people have no idea that they were based on books at all. High Fidelity, Requiem for a Dream, The Dressmaker, Breakfast at Tiffany’s… all books. The number of times I’ve been watching credits and seen the phrase “based on the book by _______” continues to blow me away.
These days, it seems like any book that makes it big gets turned into a movie. From Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, popular books are being snatched up for movie deals left and right– not to mention books that came out half a century ago (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time). Half of me is proud of these authors, proud that they crafted a story so deeply enjoyable that they have been able to make a small fortune off of them and transition them to a new medium. But the other half of me squirms with discomfort over the fact that Hollywood execs are going for so few original scripts. Studios like A24 have been doing an increasingly impeccable job of giving inventive and creative scripts a chance, which makes it exciting instead of uncertain when they do spring for adaptions such as Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk at Girls at Parties. Overall though, I tend to avoid adaptions in theaters, especially when they’re on stylistic novels like Room or The Song of Achilles (more on that below). But without further ado, here’s some of my favorite examples of successful adaptions.
This is, hands down, the best book-to-film transition I have ever seen. The casting was sublime, the pacing was perfection– especially given that I felt it wasn’t ideal in the novel, and the subliminal messages throughout the movie help to recreate and heighten the same sense of disease that the book draws upon. There are some aspects of the book, such as the “I am Jack’s ________” lines and the anti-consumerism themes, that manage to have more impact in the movie, possibly due to having such a visual connection with the narrator. I also feel that the storyline as a whole benefited from the visceral images in the film. My only qualm with Fight Club— both the book and the movie– is that is has the same effect on certain male groups that Rick and Morty does. Rather than realizing that the stories are a commentary on what is wrong with society, some people place characters like Rick Sanchez and Tyler Durden on a pedestal.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film adaption was released in 2015 and was my favorite film of the year. The strength of the adaption is that it absolutely nails the calmness of the book. Both mediums have a soothing cadence to them, a quiet sort of chemistry that nestles inside your chest. The subtlety of the romance itself is exquisite in the film and pays so much respect to the era that the book was written in. In 1952, coming out as a gay woman would have been nigh on catastrophic. This lends an aura of secrecy and subtlety to every single interaction between the two women, something that the movie displays flawlessly. Lingering glances and fleeting eye contact, swollen silences and unassuming lunches, casual comments and small talk– these are things that the vast majority of heterosexual viewers didn’t pick up on as romantic, whereas queer viewers are entirely too familiar with the language. In fact, some critics complained that the film was “cold” and detached. In an age inundated with overt innuendos and transparency, it can be difficult to pick up on the undercurrent of energy and longing that runs through Carol. This is certainly one of the best adaptions I’ve ever seen, and one that breaks my heart every time I watch it.
Lord of the Rings
The primary issue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series faced when it came time for adaption was time constraints. The book trilogy was incredibly complex and features so much material that plot points like Tom Bombadil and The Sacking of The Shire would have only felt shoehorned if they had been included in the movie adaptions, so it is understandable why they were left out. Speaking of time, however, I do feel that the passage of time was not properly conveyed in the movies. Seventeen years pass between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo’s departure from The Shire and the quest itself takes over a year to complete. Aside from that, there are really only two things I take issue with: Frodo telling Sam to go home on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, and Aragorn’s near death when he falls over the cliff. While Legolas and Gimli’s on-screen friendship is lacking in comparison to the books, I think the majority of the characterization was spot-on, especially that of Merry and Pippin and Gandalf. Don’t even get me started on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but I felt that he succeeded in many ways to bring the scope and scale of such a beloved world to the big screen.
Again, the main issue with adapting an entire book series is the time constraints. I am rather of the belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have vastly benefited from being made into a TV series rather than a movies series, but of course that would have come with it’s own full set of challenges. Things like Peeves the Poltergeist, Neville’s full background, S.P.E.W., and Dudley’s “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” line are all things would have enriched the movies… but also would have added noticeable run time to the films. The movies are not without their flaws. From the casting choices for Albus Dumbledore to destroying the Elder Wand, I think the movies left much to be desired. However, what made the series such a huge success (and why I’m including it on this list) was the fact that it was accessible for both readers of the books and new fans. The movies feature a slew of small hat tips to the books, which enriched the viewing for everyone who had been following along for years, while still making it entirely accessible for those who had never opened one of the books. The undertaking of bringing such a layered and detailed story to life was monumental, and I think that the four directors did a surprisingly good job of illustrating the aspects of the wizarding world that many readers held near and dear to their hearts.
Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire
I’ve talked about my issues with this show in a previous post, but I didn’t discuss how much I feel that the books and the show should be required companions for each other. I watched the first four seasons of the show a couple of years back, but only picked up the books this past fall. To say that Martin’s undertaking is ambitious is the understatement of the decade. His endless litany of characters, names, historical events, and houses often feels more like a religious tome than a fantasy novel. I’m not ashamed to say that I likely would not have even made it through the first book if I hadn’t already watched some of the show. Having a familiarity with the main characters (and a lot of the secondary ones) made the story far more enjoyable and immersive. With that being said, the show is severely lacking in many aspects. There are a number of plot points and character subtleties that didn’t make it on screen but do so much to flesh out the world and the people. After finishing the books, I re-watched the first three seasons and had very mixed feelings. There are a lot of things about the show that I simply can’t justify. Merely on a lit nerd level, it’s really difficult to watch all the unnecessary ways in which the show deviates from the books. But on a deeper level, the amount of violence and sexism that repeatedly takes place on screen is something I struggle to watch, for various reasons. I don’t have any intentions of continuing the show, but I can’t recommend the books enough to anyone who is a regular watcher.
Room & Virgin Suicides
I almost didn’t include this section, as I haven’t seen either of these movies. However, both films were nominated for various awards and were clearly well-executed. So why won’t I watch them? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m absolutely over the moon for prose that reads like poetry. The Song of Achilles always leaves me breathless and/or in tears for that very reason, as does Valente’s Fairyland series. While poetic prose is my favorite stylistic trait when it comes to novels, I’m also a huge fan of inventive narrators in general, such as Jack in Room. The Virgin Suicides has been one of my favorite books for close to five years, largely because of it’s blend of unique narrative and beautiful prose. I find myself deeply attached and endlessly in awe of these novels almost entirely due to their writing style. Of course the characters and the settings are wonderful as well, but I only connect to them in the first place because of how they were written. It seems to me that regardless of how well filmed or perfectly cast these movies may be, they will still be unable to properly capture the writing style that made me fall in love with them in the first place. I hate to think that I will watch these movies and forever associate the film choices with the novels. I would rather have the books remain flawless for me than try to mix the two mediums.
So what do you think? Did you enjoy these adaptions? Leave a comment below with your favorite page-to-screen adaption!
Now that my first round of color-centric cinematography posts is wrapped up, I wanted to pause and explore a couple of other themes. These seven frames all feature fireworks and sparks as a focal point. It’s exciting to see how such a variety of movies uses a similar item in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.
Disclaimer: Thus far, I have only posted frames from films I’ve watched and that is a habit I have every intention of sticking to. However, the below frame from The Theory of Everything popped up on my dash and was such a perfect addition that I had to include it. This will be the very rare exception of including a frame that wasn’t hand-picked after a viewing.
Prompted by: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Deus ex machina. Latin for “God from the machine” and often loosely translated to “the god in the machine.” Originally, this expression was a reference to an actual machine used in the performance of Greek plays. A physical device would be used to bring the actors playing gods onto the stage. Sometimes this was a crane that would lower the gods from above, or sometimes a riser that boosted them up from a trapdoor in the stage. The concept of introducing gods into the story was often used to resolve conflict or conclude a plot point.
Today, the term is used to reference a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the unexpected intervention of a new character/object/ability/event/etc. The key here is that regardless of what this new thing may be, by its very definition, it shouldn’t have been previously queued up or alluded to. This means that a true deus ex machina will likely leave the reader saying “What! Seriously?!” after its appearance, because there really wasn’t any way for them to have seen it coming. While utilizing this plot device isn’t always lazy, it does seem to be most often utilized by lazy writers.
Popular debates over possible deus ex machinas include: the elder wand/wand lore/wand ownership in Rowling’s Deathly Hallows, the eagles in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Thoros of Myr repeatedly bringing people back to life in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
The book that got me pondering this plot device is the third and final book in Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy. As a little recap: I devoured the first book in the series, The Queen of the Tearling. It featured some of my favorite elements in a story: a strong female lead (who doesn’t display any of my major pet peeves), no overt or unnecessary romance, well-written political intrigue, and inventive and original world-building. The second book, The Invasion of the Tearling, wasn’t quite as solid but was still thoroughly enjoyable. Johansen included a lot of flashbacks through the eyes of a new character, which made it a little more difficult to stay grounded in the main storyline. However, it’s easily forgivable because the character featured in the flashbacks is dynamic and brave as well. Then comes the third book, The Fate of the Tearling. While the first half of the book isn’t flat-out disappointing, it is clear from the start that it is nowhere near as strong as the previous books were. Sadly, Johansen seemed to have painted herself into a corner and created the biggest cop-out of an ending that I have ever read.
Our heroine uses time travel via her sapphire to alter the timeline and create a happy ending in which no one except herself remembers what happens. All of the characters we spent two and a half books connecting with are suddenly obliterated and their storylines are erased. The battle royale that the entire trilogy was building to is eliminated in the blink of an eye. There is no showdown, no reveal, no resolution. Just a tired trope.
The argument that some fans have made is that because the sapphires were present all along, it’s fine that they demonstrated these excessive powers and magically resolved everything. People have also said that Kelsea was a selfless queen who was willing to do anything to protect her people, even if it meant suffering alone for the rest of her life. While those are both fair assertions and might eliminate the possibility of the sapphires being a deus ex machina, neither of them change the fact that it was a lazy choice. Proper story outlining and planning would have eliminated the need for such a drastic and uncharacteristic move.
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I think my issue with plot devices like this is that they just end up feeling like a betrayal of the characters that we’ve grown attached to. I discussed lazy betrayals in a previous post, and I think it’s a similar situation here. It seems safe to say that most readers want their favorite characters to make choices and moves that are on par with what we already know about them. We want our writers to do them justice because that’s what keeps us immersed in the story. And immersion is the mark of a truly good story.
After finishing Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle for the second time, I was thinking about how much I appreciate the tenderness with which she writes her male characters. Because I already created a post about my favorite female characters, I thought I would go ahead and whip up a list of my favorite male characters. Enjoy!
Dobby: My pure angel baby. Far and away my favorite character in the HP books, Dobby is a wholesome soul who does his best to be himself in a world that was not made for him. His penchant for socks and his adoration for Harry are just two of the characteristics that make him so lovable. (Artist credit here) || “‘Socks are Dobby’s favorite, favorite clothes, sir!’ he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon’s. ‘I has seven now, sir. . . . But sir …’ he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, ‘they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
Saturday: Companion to September from Valente’s Fairyland series, Saturday is a blue marid from the ocean who can grant wishes– under certain circumstances. He’s a soft spoken creature with a tender heart and a knowledge of time and space that rivals any astrophysicist. I’ll keep recommending the series until the day I die, so you might as well pick up the first one now. || “She leaned in, and kissed her Marid gently, sweetly. She tried to kiss him the way she’d always thought kisses would be. His lips tasted like the sea.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Ronan Lynch: Bad boy extraordinaire, Ronan Lynch is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a heart attack, a car crash, an oil spill. He’s a magician beyond your wildest imagination, a farmer with a secret and a soft spot, and he must be protected at all costs. (Artist credit here) || “Ronan’s smile was sharp and hooked as one of the creature’s claws. ‘A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand’.” -Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves
Merry & Pippin: Quite possibly one of literature’s most dynamic duos, these two hobbits are nigh on inseparable, hence my including them as one unit (even though I prefer Pippin). Merry is the smarts and Pippin is the… comedic relief? They are witty to a fault and set in their cushy hobbit ways, but they don’t hesitate to stick up for their friends and do what is right. ||“‘That’s what I meant,’ said Pippin. ‘We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up. There must be someone with intelligence in the party.'” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Merry & Pippin
Dream: Moody, broody, and omnipotent, Morpheus is a wise and petty demigod of sorts. Ruler of the dream world, he has moments of shallow vindictiveness and moments of heartbreaking compassion. His ten volume arc was published over the course of 14 years and garnered endless acclaim– for a good reason. Neil Gaiman is an unparalled writer, and the life he breathes into Dream is passed on to us. || “But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted.” -Neil Gaiman, Sandman #19
Ghüs: He’s a humanoid seal. Who rides a walrus. And wears yellow raincoats. Nuff said.|| “Ghüs has been a lot of things in his day… but sweet is not one of those things.” -Brian K. Vaughan, Saga Vol. 5
Peter Quill: With the exception of DC’s Bombshells series, the comics I read the most of is Guardians of the Galaxy. And Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, is a gem in the galactic group. A little more tenderhearted than the movies portray him, Peter Quill is just a man trying to save the galaxy and his friendships. || “I don’t mind dying like the valiant intergalactic hero that I am… but the least you could do is pay attention!” -Peter Quill, Earth-616
Leo Fitz: Scottish scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Leopold Fitz is equal parts brilliant and dorky. He has a soft heart and looks for the best in people, as well as using his genius to create inventions to help others. He’s also half of a beautiful slow burn relationship, which I historically have a huge weakness for.|| “There’s nothing wrong with the data in my head.” -Leo Fitz, Agents of Shield, #2.11
Han Solo: Problematic fav. Han is definitely the outlier on this list– he’s cynical, arrogant, unreliable, and honestly, a bit of a f*ckboi. But he’s also the most realistic character in Star Wars and he ends up coming through in more way than one. Not to mention, he’s a hell of a pilot. #hanshotfirst || “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” -Han Solo, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Lito Rodriquez: A closeted Mexican actor in the Sense8 cluster, Lito is beautiful and emotional and brave and tender. He spends the vast majority of two seasons learning how to do what is right instead of what is easy, which is both relatable and hugely encouraging. || “In the end, we’ll all be judged by the courage of our hearts.” -Lito Rodriguez, Sense8, #1.8
Peppermint Butler: A master of the dark arts, Pep But is devious in his spare time but unequivocally loyal no matter what. Long-time advisor and caretaker to Princess Bubblegum, he is the only member of her kingdom who sticks with her when she is exiled. He brings her tea, helps her prank usurpers, and assists with saving Marceline the Vampire Queen. || “Say ‘hi’ to Death for me if you see him, he lives in a castle made of light.” -Peppermint Butler, Adventure Time, #2.17
It’s been increasingly refreshing to come across more gentle boys with good hearts over the years. Toxic masculinity is a deeply damaging and pervasive part of our culture, and the more we present boys with alternatives to the stoic and degrading men that grace our pages and screens, the better off the world will be.
Runner-ups included Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Jake the Dog & Finn the Human from Adventure Time, the MCU’s version of Loki Laufeyson, Onion from Steven Universe, and The Gray Man from The Raven Cycle.
While I was reading Martin’s A Clash of Kings last month, I got to thinking about how much I adore Arya Stark and what an exceptional example of a great female character she was. It made me want to compile a list of some of my favorite females, so without further ado, here’s the heroines of my life (in no particular order, of course).
Luna Lovegood: one of the rare instances where a film adaption truly did a literary character justice. Quirky and openly honest, Luna is unapologetically herself. A Ravenclaw (like me!), Luna is exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive and always brings a new perspective to things. || “Daddy, look — one of the gnomes actually bit me!” -JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Arya Stark: tough as nails, non-comforming, human through and through. What makes Arya such a dynamic character to me is the fact that she feels fear and loss, but moves forward all the same. She is one of the bravest and boldest characters I have ever come across and it’s virtually impossible not to adore and admire her. || “She tried so hard to be brave, to be fierce as a wolverine and all, but some times she felt she was a little girl after all.” -George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Lucy Pevensie: my very first hero. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at the age of six, there was utterly no one I admired more than Lucy. Her spunk, tenderness, and delight with the world were all characteristics that I longed to emulate and adopt as my own. When the movies started coming out, I was over the moon for Georgie Henley– and not much has changed. She remains, to this day, the most marvelous embodiment of Lucy I could have ever asked for. || “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.” -C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
September: a little-known character from a little-known book series, September is the lead in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland book series (if you haven’t read it yet, I cannot recommend it enough. I’m a sucker for prose that reads like poetry and Valente does it better than anyone.) Fuse Alice in Wonderland and Arya Stark and you’ll get an idea of the kind of heroine September is. She longs for adventure and desires to leave things better than she found them. She certainly left me better than she found me. || “It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Gamora: the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy and the light of my life. The MCU’s version of Gamora is nothing short of utterly disappointing, as comic book Gamora is the most badass and kickass thing alive but the movies simply paint her as a nagging and cranky gal with a weapon. Adopted child of the mad titan Thanos, Gamora is a master assassin, martial artist, and weapons master. Even Tony Stark can’t keep up with her in the sack, and she puts up with nobody’s shit. || “If you really knew me as well as you thought you did… you would not have attacked me.” -Gamora Zen Whoberi Ben Titan, Earth-7528
Diana of Themyscira: what could I say about the Woman of Wonder that hasn’t been said already? From 1941 to 2017 she has been an icon of empowerment, justice, and compassion. In 2016, the United Nations named her an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Diana is canonically bisexual, historically supportive of people from all walks of life, and truly a wonderful role model. || “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.” -Gail Simone, Wonder Woman vol 3
Pamela Isley: eco warrior and the queen of my heart. Alias: Poison Ivy. Pamela can be frigid and brutal at the best of times, but she also has a true tenderness for those who need help– chiefly plants and Harley Quinn. Known for taking vengeance on those who have harmed Mother Nature, Pamela uses plant toxins and mind-controlling pheromones to exact revenge on behalf of the environment. It’s quite possible that she puts up with even less shit than Gamora does. || “This park, this is Gotham now… its future. Reclaimed by nature, pure without mankind’s assaults. It is a sanctuary now, and I am guardian. I will not let it be defiled. Not by anyone. Certainly not by you. Leave.” -Pamela Isley, New Earth
Shows & Movies
Sun Bak: a martial artist in the Sense8 cluster, Sun is a wise and selfless woman who sacrifices her entire life for the well-being of others. She is courageous and tender, and always seems to have a sage bit of advice to offer her fellow sensates. || “This is what life is. Fear, rage, desire… love. To stop feeling emotions, to stop wanting to feel them, is to feel death.” -Sun Bak, Sense8 #1.11
Leia Organa: a no-contest. I grew up with four brothers, and watching Leia in New Hope was the first time I got to see a girl do the same things my brothers’ action heroes did. She could shoot and sass with the best of them, and was willing to give up her comfortable life for the betterment of the galaxy. No girl should have to grow up without seeing a princess save herself. || “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.” -Leia, A New Hope
Garnet: in terms of Steven Universe characters, I’m a full-blown Lapis Lazuli. But gosh, I really wish I was a Garnet. A crystal gem of few words, Garnet is a sage fusion of two gems in love and the unofficial leader of the Crystal Gems. She rises to the occassion in every situation, displaying everything from maternal instincts to battle commander status. She experiences emotions deeply, but is careful not to let those emotions rule her. (Artist credit here) || “There are millions of possibilities for the future, but it’s up to you to choose which becomes reality. Please understand. You choose your own future.” -Garnet, #1.39
Irene Adler: morally grey all the way. Irene Adler, alias: The Woman, makes similar decisions to Pamela Isley, but for opposite reasons. A true neutral through and through, Irene bases all her decisions on what might be in her best interest. She looks out for number one, regardless of who might get in her way. However, as we see in A Scandal in Belgravia, she is not without emotion and not beyond caring. || “Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” -Irene Adler, BBC’s Sherlock, #2.1
Peggy Carter: talk about your strong women… Agent Carter is where the reality of being a woman in the 1940’s meets the fantasy of a world with superheroes and alternate dimensions. Peggy is resilient in the face of relentless adversity, determined to do her best work, and still remains compassionate and tenderhearted despite it all. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and is often left holding the short end of the stick. She deserves the world, but contents herself to work on making that world for future generations of women. || “All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” -Peggy Carter, Captain America: The Winter Solider
And that about sums it up! Runner-up characters were Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle, Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time, and Rey from The Force Awakens (although I’m sure she’ll be much more than a runner-up after The Last Jedi).
While I was typing up this list and outlining what exactly it is that makes me connect with these women, I realized that a lot of them have something in common: they are strong, but not at the expense of feeling emotions. That’s definitely something that I struggled to balance in my teen years, largely due to society telling us that to cry is to show weakness and other things of that nature. It’s reassuring in a very big way to see women like Peggy Carter and Sun Bak and Hermione Granger who aren’t afraid of their emotions and to bear witness to the ways in which they manage those emotions in healthy ways.
So, here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.