Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Musings: The Sermon, The Scholar, and The Stick

I had been going about this the wrong way for pretty much my whole life.

Through my teen years in the home-school system, every one of my peers had memorized the Sermon on the Mount. All three chapters, Matthew 5-7. In King James English. Sometimes with hand motions. We could rattle off the Beatitudes in a single breath, because it was the next part that was tricky: all the "Ye have heard that it was said"s that you couldn't get mixed up with the ones that started "It hath been said" or even "Ye have heard that it hath been said." Jesus had prefaced this whole thing with the admonition that He "had not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it." If then He dispenses instructions beginning with "I say unto you," shouldn't we follow those instructions? Wasn't that vital to working for (er, I mean with) Jesus to accomplish His mission of fulfilling the Law?

I had always assumed yes; so did a lot of curriculum developers in the home-school program we used. There were even helpful little booklets covering each verse with insightful applications on how we could demonstrate our adherence to the words of Jesus, and fascinating scientific explanations on how the negative situation Jesus warned against actually carried biological ramifications and sound medical judgment. I was so enamored with the idea of actually being able to apply even the verse that said "Be ye therefore perfect," that I followed hard after these "basic principles" and "seven-step processes" with every intention of turning Jesus' Sermon on the Mount into my own Holy To-Do List. (Jesus got up early and fasted regularly? I better do that too! Paul says to dress modestly? I guess I'd better make sure the clothes I wear do not even hug my body and cover from my collarbone to my calves! David made a commitment not to put any vain thing before his eyes, so I guess for me that means not reading any book that isn't by a Christian author and not reading/writing anything that does not have a clear, direct Gospel presentation! Wow! Look how much Holy I can get done all by myself!)

I was so intent on the words of Jesus 
that I completely missed hearing His voice.
I was so enthralled at His eloquence  
that I forgot His audience.

Who was Jesus talking to in these chapters? It's the first two verses of Matthew 5, the ones I would always mumble through when I quoted the passage because it was just preliminary stuff: "And seeing the multitudes, He [Jesus] went up into a mountain. And when He was set, HIS DISCIPLES came unto Him, and He opened His mouth and taught THEM..." (emphasis mine)

Oh wait. Haha, silly me. So often, I had carried this image in my head of Jesus broadcasting His sermon to scads of people in a valley that was shaped just like an amphitheater, making Him the first Christian open-air preacher.

But when I look back at the verse, it's not the crowd He's addressing. His voice probably didn't even reach the front of the crowd. Jesus saw the multitudes, but it doesn't say "the MULTITUDES came unto Him." 

They were like me, absorbed in their own thing while every so often glancing over to see if they could pick out a word or two, but never bothering to move any closer. Being within sight was close enough, right?  Proximity was next to intimacy, right? No doubt there was some scholar there who fancied he could read lips, so his friends all elect him to watch Jesus closely and relay what He's saying so they could all play at being disciples too. I can just imagine it....

"What's He saying?"
"I think He's saying that looking lustfully is adultery."
"Ooh, hear that, guys? No more looking lustfully! In fact, just avoid any kind of admiration of physical appearance altogether. You want to pay a compliment, just say how pretty their smile is. Easy enough! What else?"
"Umm, I think He said if we get angry at someone that's the same as murder."
"Okay, wow! So as long as we just stop getting angry (at least as far as anyone can tell), no one can accuse us of murder. What else?"
"Hang on, I think that last one was something like turn the other cheek and love your enemies."
"Man! This Jesus must be one tough Rabbi! How are we ever going to qualify to be His disciples?"
"Oh.... snap..."
"What? You're looking really pale."
"He... He just said..."
"What? There's more?"
"He said we had to be as perfect as He is."
"I'm not kidding."
"Well, that's it, we're screwed." 
"Say, I have a better idea: why don't we just take all of these things and figure out the best and most efficient way to live them out?"
"Yeah, I mean, a person can only do his best, right? I'm sure Jesus will understand."

I would probably be the one lip-reading. Pretty sure I picked up on Jesus' meaning. I better repeat the words to myself hundreds of times to make sure I get them all in the right order. I want to be thorough when it comes to the Word of God! I'd trot my merry way down the Christian Walk, making sure I was DOING everything a Christian disciple DOES.
Never realizing that what Jesus was trying to tell me was that He already DID everything, and all I needed to DO was live in light of what He had DONE. While I am furiously scanning the fine print in my To-Do List, Jesus is behind me, picking up the slack paper and checking ALL the boxes. 

I get to the end, and throw the paper away like so much confetti.
"I can't DO this!" I scream.
"DO what?" Jesus asks, calmly stopping beside me as I throw myself on the ground and bury my head in my arms.
"The Sermon!" I grouse. "All these admonitions and instructions! I can't help admiring good-looking guys—is it really that wrong? I get mad at people without even realizing it, and I think I prefer the eye-for-an-eye law instead of this turn-the-other-cheek stuff! I'm tired of getting slapped around! Being a disciple is not HARD, it's IMPOSSIBLE!"
Jesus is gathering the list in His hands; it must be my imagination, but I can almost see it shrinking to the size of a single sheet.
He chuckles. "Aren't you glad you came to Me, then?"

I sigh. "I don't know; it just seems like this Sermon of Yours makes everything just that much harder."


I give Him a look. (Shameful of me, but I do!) "Because there is no way I can control my inner self! The thoughts and desires just happen before I can take them captive, and the heart is deceitfully wicked, as Jeremiah says!"

He's got my whole list in just one of His hands now, and He's glancing at it with an amused glint in His eye. "I KNOW, child," He says. "What you've said about your thoughts and your desires is true... Which is why I GAVE you Mine on the day we met."

I don't quite understand; when am I going to get the "Sermon Application" section that tells me HOW He wants me to DO all the things on my list? "Huh?"

"My heart, My desires; when you gave yours over to Me, I didn't leave you empty-hearted, now did I?"

"Well, no," I admit, "You did come into my heart—"

"And from that moment on, I MADE it completely Mine, as much of it as you would give Me."

As I listened to His voice, I began to breathe easier. "I gave You all the rooms You wanted," I said. The list—what list? Lists didn't matter anymore. Jesus mattered.

"And since your heart is Mine, and I LIVE in it, how do you think I feel when you call My dwelling 'deceitfully wicked' like you did just now?"

........ Oh, well... When You say it THAT way...

"So..." I sigh, "what am I going to do about that list?" I point to it in His hands. It must be an optical illusion, because there is no way all that long list could be so tiny as it looks now that Jesus holds it!

He laughs. "Weren't you listening? I didn't give these things as a checklist," He holds out the paper, which looks more like a rod. "It's a measuring stick."

"Oh great." I can already tell that the length of the stick extends way over my head. Echoes of Romans 3:23 ring in my ears: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

I look back at Jesus. The measuring stick reaches the top of His head, but no higher. 
"How are You helping, exactly?"
"Look at Me, child."
"I'm looking."
"Do you not see that no matter how hard YOU try, how much YOU do... you still won't be any taller?"

I nodded. (Matthew 6:27, "Which of you by giving thought can add one cubit to his stature?")

"Do you also see that I, who live in you, who have given you all that I AM and made you Mine, have already achieved the height of this rod?"

Realization. An epiphany breaks across my feeble brain, that I thought was so smart for coming up with all these ideas for personal convictions and restrictions so that I could qualify on every level of that list—
The list that Jesus is now showing me. Every item is checked, marked with His blood--even the "extra credit" ones I added to replace those things I had never been able to do. The list has been covered. 

"DONE," He says. 

"So now what?" I ask. "That's it?"

He shrugs. "You gave it to Me. That's all I wanted. I didn't tell you these things for you to carry them away by yourself. The Sermon was about everything I have done to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Weren't you listening when I said 'I have come to fulfill the Law'? Father knows We didn't create YOU all for that purpose!"

"What about the Christian Life, though?" I still want to know. "What about excelling still more?"

"Let Me live and love through you, child," He says gently, hugging me close. "Let Me do what I want in your mind, soul, and spirit. Don't push Me off or run ahead of Me. Don't ignore Me when I call or forget about Me when your day gets busy. Focus on Me and letting Me work in and through you, don't get distracted by how much you and others are not measuring up. You can't ever measure up—but don't let that stop you! I'll keep walking right beside you till we reach The End, and you don't have to walk any more. As long as you walk with Me, you are walking with the One Who is perfect; you are following the One Who fulfills all of the Law AND the Prophets, the One Who measures up. 

"Child, ask yourself: how much MORE excellent do you really need to be than I AM?"

"Just promise Me that as long as I AM still walking, you will still be walking, too; can you DO at least that much?" He winks as He throws my own words back at me.

Can I? Looking at Him, so full of love and tenderness and every good and perfect thing, I know in the very depths of my soul I would rather do nothing else. "I promise to keep walking," I say.

"That's My girl!" Jesus takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. "Let's keep going, and I'll show you exactly what My Sermon was all about."

It's not a To-Do List, that I should be able to convince myself that spiritual success consisted of being able to mark down my own achievements. It's a measuring stick, where that which is measured is entirely not up to me. There is no diet or discipline that will make me any "taller" in the sight of God, any more than the tallest structure on earth will bring me nearer to His Sight. My only option is to walk with Jesus, follow His lead and His pace, keep in step with His Spirit, and He will lead me in the Way Everlasting.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #5

"The Ring of Brodgar" (Image from a Google search)

Suggested by: Kileah McIlvain

The List:
A name: Iona 
A place: Scotland
A time: Anytime before 1745 (Jacobite uprising)
An object: The Ring of Brodgar

The Result:

April, 1744

She watched the grey fog creep over the green hills. It weighed heavily on the landscape like the dread on her heart. Already, she could hear the clash of broadsword on shield.
They were coming. She always knew she would see this day.
She lifted her green eyes to the grey skies once more, and sighed. Green and grey, like the tartan over her shoulder. She raised a slender, fair hand and adjusted the brooch at her shoulder so the catch would not dig into her collarbone so.
"Milady!" A young chambermaid cried from the doorway.
The woman turned from the window as a broad-shouldered man covered in battle-filth shoved his way past the trembling maid.
"Iona," the man grunted. "Coom, ye must leave!"
"I canna!" Lady Iona fired back, tossing her long brown braid over her shoulder. "Fagin, I told ye a thousand times, I'll no stir from this spot!"
Fagin scrubbed his nose with a dirty leather gauntlet in frustration. "Confound ye! He's well nigh here, and ye ken the one he's after?"
Iona thrust her chin out, drawing herself to her full height. Even then, her brother Fagin still towered head and shoulders over her. 
"He can try what he likes," the fiery Scotswoman seethed. "Him an' all his Jacobite clan! He'll no get it, an' there's an end to't!"
Fagin chewed his lip, keenly aware as he was of the increasing shouts. Things weren't safe with the Jacobite rebels crowing for Bonnie Prince Charlie and eager to tussle with any person that did not immediately join in. That in itself was not the threat; Castle Brodgar was well-fortified and not worth the effort it would take to breach it merely for the handful of women that were left. Fagin dropped his eyes to the fist now clenched at his sister's side. She saw his gaze, and watched him till their eyes met. She nodded, as they understood each other in the wordless speech between siblings. 
Fagin loosened the sword in his scabbard. "He'll have to get through me, then," he said grimly, departing the room.
Lady Iona remained rooted to the spot until she heard the heavy door at the foot of her chamber stairs slam behind him. Her knees buckled, and her chambermaid raced forward to catch her as she fell.
All daring seemed to seep out of the dauntless woman, and she trembled all over as the fighting grew closer than ever.
"I can hear the men shouting," she moaned. "They are coming, and they will not stop."
The maid led her to the bed and bid her recline. Lady Iona wrapped her arms around herself and curled into a small ball, willing with every fiber of her being that the army would just pass by.
"He must not come!" She gasped hoarsely, gripping the maid's hand with sudden strength. Her eyes widened with horror. "He must not come!"
The clamor, the shouting, the clash—Iona cringed and buried her face in her arms. It will pass, they will pass...


The voice, thick as haggis and deep as a black bog, seeped through her fingers and into her ears. Rough hands gripped her wrists and yanked her to her feet. She saw a dark, hulking figure, then she saw the ice-blue eyes, desperate and wild. He said not a word.
"You have come for me, Callum McGowan?" 
He pulled, but she resisted.
"Ye canna take me!" She shrieked. "I wilna coom!"
He dropped one hand to reach for his dirk, and Iona seized the opportunity to wrap one arm around the nearest bedpost.
"Go ahead, then! Cut me! Ye can hack me ta pieces if ye want ta carry me away! Ma brother will run ye doon, ye murderin' dog!"
Callum did not hesitate. He kept a hold on Iona's wrist and wrapped the other arm around her waist, hefting the keening woman over his shoulder.
Iona fought madly. She kicked, she beat him with her free arm, and most of all, she screamed.
Till they reached the foot of the stairs.
Fagin lay in a crumpled heap where he had stood, the crown of his head bent and bloodied. 
"Fagin!" Iona screeched. "No!" She stared at the grisly sight, unable to tear her eyes away. "What did you do to him? What did ye do? Fagin! You dog! You demon! Why did ye kill him? Why did ye take the life o' my brother?" She fought, but it was too late.

Callum tossed her over the saddle of his war horse. Her whole body had gone numb. She did not feel the jostle of the galloping horse taking her away from her home and her family. The sounds echoed in her ears as if coming from a great distance.

Finally, the horse slowed, but Callum showed no sign of getting off or stopping.
Iona tasted blood. On one of the tosses from the horse she had smacked her face on the stiff saddle and split her lip.
"Sit up."
The second time Callum McGowan had spoken to her, and Iona obeyed blindly. He kept her on the horse while she slowly maneuvered her body into a sitting position. Once she was settled, she saw that he offered her a handkerchief. She accepted it and looked around as she dabbed the blood from her mouth. 
They were alone, and she knew the road they followed. She finally looked up at him in alarm.
"The moors?" She gasped.
He nodded.
"They say a monster lives there," Iona babbled as fear seized her brain. 
"They say a lot of things," Callum agreed. "They say the Bride of Brodgar may walk freely on the moors."
Iona shuddered, more at the way he stared at her than out of fear for her situation. "Am I your protection then?" She demanded. "Do you intend to cross the moors, and you are too much afraid of the legend to risk crossing alone, without the Bride of Brodgar to ensure your safety?"
Callum's face tightened. "Let us say for now that our fates are entwined, Lady Iona," he mused darkly. Putting an arm around her, he coaxed the horse onward into the murk.

Iona sought comfort in the secret she had protected for so long. Yes, over the last century it had faded to legend, but Clan Brodgar had taken great pain to make it so. The monster was whispered about by some in horror, and scoffed or boasted by others in disbelief, but Clan Brodgar—and particularly its Brides—knew the truth. She knew the reason she had no cause to fear the moors, and the reason the women in her family were called Brides: because each girl, on her sixteenth birthday, underwent the ceremony by which she "wed" the Brodgar family and became privy to its secrets—sealed with a ring. The ring she knew Callum would probably kill to get, for its powerful mastery over the monster of the moors. The ring she now wore—

Iona blinked. On the back of the cantering horse, she raised her hands and inspected her fingers one by one. The ring, the precious Ring of Brodgar—was gone. Had it slipped off when she fought Callum in her chambers, or had it been some time during their flight from the castle? 
"What is it?" Callum grunted.
Iona did not answer. The thudding hooves gave way to muted splashes. They had entered the moors. Callum reined his horse. The fog hung thick, and all of Nature braced herself.

A roar sounded in the distance, followed by the noise of enormous wings.
Iona felt her heart go dead inside her. She had lost the Ring that was their only protection.
And the monster was coming for them.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reader's Review: "Warriors of the Edge: The Search for Stone" by Katie Bridges

Synopsis from Amazon:

Tarek Ortzen wants what any twelve-year-old kid wants, a day to himself so he can play games in his gaming booth. He gets his chance when he signs up for the role of Stone in the latest war game, Warriors of the Edge. He figures the game will help him escape the real world and its troubles. But after one day of nonstop play, Tarek wishes he'd never heard of Warriors of the Edge. The game has brought nothing but trouble into his life. "When the game begins to blur the line between reality and fantasy, Tarek finds himself caught between those who believe in the game and those who oppose it. Is the game trying to warn him of danger or lead him into it? Tarek doesn't know who to believe.
As Tarek's home world faces the threat of destruction, he must determine whether the character he plays can make a difference in their real lives. 

My Review: 

I admit, the blurb does tend to make this sound like your typical "innocent-boy-becomes-chosen-one-and-is-thrust-into-a-life-or-death-situation-merely-for-making-the-one-choice-that-set-him-off" cliche... But the way it starts—within the virtual world, as characters wait anxiously for their hero—drew me in with assurances that this wasn't going to be like other "sci-fi destiny reads."

For one thing, the hero is not extraordinarily gifted or singled out in any super-human sort of way. There aren't really qualities that only the hero possesses. He literally is no different, no more skilled than any other characters; his distinguishing trait is merely that he happens to land the virtual role everyone has been waiting for. 
For another, the hero is not isolated. Bridges fills her cast with many colorful characters, each with a role as vital as that of the principal character. If even one of them were missing, the whole mission would fail. No character felt like "filler" or superfluous, and the pacing was balanced for a well-planned adventure.

Key, too, was the always-worthwhile message of discovering a purpose for your life that was bigger than you ever thought possible. True, Tarek is thrust into a life he does not want after a shiftless existence—but we come to expect that of heroes, don't we? So Bridges doesn't stop there. She also includes a character who has made assumptions about his destiny, and he is afraid of losing himself if he allows it to come true. How many of us think we know where our lives are going, and we actively avoid it because we think we will not like it once we get there? How many times is this ever the case?

The Search For Stone was a great and awesome read, earns a *****5 STAR***** rating, and I would recommend it to any fan of sci-fi, adventure, and just good clean fun!

Further Reading: (GameLit/Young Hero/Child of Destiny/Middle Grade Reader/Wholesome)
-The Boy Named Topaz--Jeffrey Gartshore
Puatera Online--Dawn Chapman
       -Desert Runner 
-The Arena--Santana Young
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist 
       -The Pinocchio Factor
-Songstruck--Sofia Black
-Thimblerig's Ark--Nate Fleming
-The Pirate Princess--Catherine Banks
-Conner's Odyssey: Discovery--Ian Bristow 
-The Seventh Crow--Sherry D. Ramsey
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight
        -All's Fair 
Spirit Knights--Lee French
       -Girls Can't Be Knights 
       -Backyard Dragons
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny  
     -A Halloween's Curse 
     -Frost Bitten 
The P.A.W.S. Saga--Debbie Manber Kupfer

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Show-Down, Round 2: Grimm vs. Once Upon A Time

All right, for all the ragging I have been doing on Once Upon A Time, you might be thinking, "Oh no, not another one!" But this is not going to be like that. Not entirely. In fact it might even be more like the other post I did. Maybe even similar to this one. It's more like I'm trying to introduce you to a show I have loved since the very first season. (Which, by the way, I didn't start watching until after the second season began) Image from a Google search

The way it started was this: I started watching Once Upon A Time first, as opposed to Grimm. The latter was too creepy, and I was plenty entertained by each new character introduction on Once, without the messy bloody stuff. Besides, Once was light where Grimm seemed to always happen at night—at least in the promos. Once had fairies and princesses with big poofy dresses and amazing formals; Grimm had guys in flannel and denim swinging bloody axes and shooting guns.

Then season 1 of Once ended (on a very promising note, I might add) and I finally decided to give Grimm a chance.

The rest is history. I have never looked back. Some of the things I love most about Grimm are the very things that Once simply didn't quite manage or prioritize, to their detriment. 
What made the difference? They both started about the same time, they're both headed into their fourth season, and had reasonable viewership both of them for Season 3--but what about the writing and the story and the overall quality of the show was it that made me stop watching one in favor of the other?
The comparison starts with the characters of each show. Who are its heroes? In Grimm, the hero is Nick Burkhardt, the Portland detective who is unwittingly a descendent of the Brothers Grimm, which makes him also a "police" of sorts within this "hidden world" of Wesen who became the anthropomorphic beasts of the stories we know today--which aren't really stories, as we find out. 
Nick, while he can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes to reconcile his new position and the discoveries that go along with it with the life he thought he had and was going to have, still does possess the characteristics well-suited to a hero: he is noble and responsible in upholding his duties as an officer of the law and a Grimm in charge of meting out justice among Wesen. He is loyal to his friends (and they are loyal to him), he is compassionate on the oppressed Wesen, instead of just being the killer they all expect him to be; his character is moreover consistent--the only exception between "Season 1 Nick" and "Season 3 Nick" is the fact that he now knows more about the Wesen world, and he's using that knowledge to become more effective in navigating both worlds with equal principles. He is also cooperative: he knows the value of working as a team, and he's willing to depend on others with more skill and knowledge, instead of gunning for it by himself based solely on the fact that "he's the hero."

As for Once Upon A Time, the heroes are... were.... should have been (maybe... as far as I can tell) mainly "the Charming Family": Snow White, Prince Charming, their daughter Emma and her son Henry. So far, in the last three seasons, we have seen them forced to do bad things (and forcing a noble face on despicable circumstances, they are fickle to their friends and each other (David/Mary-Margaret Off-Again-On-Again, anyone?), they are weak in the face of real, dark, heavy evilness (and even sometimes in choosing "good" it is portrayed as the soft, pitiful, whimpering kind of goodness), when fired up they get belligerent and start fighting fire with fire, and particularly Snow White goes Flaming Red more than once, but justifies it because she ought to be the hero and so she has every confidence of winning and she doesn't mind rubbing that in the face of her enemies.

The second area of distinction in regards to characters lies in their treatment of relationships. In Grimm we have an established relationship from the outset of Nick and his girlfriend Juliette. They are obviously in love and good friends, but Nick just hasn't gotten the courage (or "found time") to propose to her just yet. He is coasting along in status quo--then his aunt dies and his Grimm abilities are activated, utterly obliterating any chance or choice of status quo ever again. Nick is driven--as insecure guys are--to hide this new side to his life from both Juliette and his professional partner Hank. The show goes on to demonstrate the problems with this, as Juliette is endangered (and her lack of knowledge enables the villain to try and drive her and Nick apart) and Hank nearly kills an innocent Wesen out of fear. When Nick is finally honest with Hank and Juliette--both friends immediately have his back from then on out, espousing the truism of "Honesty is the best policy." The show also demonstrates that "Forgiveness is vital" as the most dangerous Wesen and the most dire situations come when a character becomes bitter and suspicious. Also that "Love is worth fighting for," as no matter what the show throws their way, and even when Juliette's entire memory of Nick is erased, she is still willing to fight to remember him and regain that which was taken away from her. This is also true in the case of Monroe and Rosalee, two Wesen of opposing "species", but when push came to shove, they chose to defend their relationship, and eventually won even their families over, just in time for the wedding. There has also been the consistent message of teamwork, as any time one member of the core cast of protagonists suffers, the others immediately set aside any differences and band together to rescue that one.

What. A. Blazing. MESS.
Once Upon A Time on the other hand, seems to "get off" on pairing off the "traditional" couples--and then systematically destroying their connection at every turn. Snow White is a nun while Prince Charming is in a coma, then when he finally comes to, there's an "ex-wife" waiting in the wings... Oh wait, that was an arranged thing, she was in love with someone else, "Here Snow, you can have him back now".... oh wait, Regina is still on her I-Will-Destroy-Your-Happiness Rampage, so let's take a trip back through every man she's ever hooked up with (the Stable Boy, Robin Hood, the Huntsman, the Magic Mirror...) and then there's Rumplestiltskin and Belle which started out all right, then he desired power more than love, but she's still trying to "tame the Beast" so she sticks with him even though he lies to her on a regular basis... Emma and Neal had a good enough relationship to produce Henry, but the moment they begin to reconcile, Neal is killed off and Emma immediately assumes feelings for Captain Hook.... Anytime anyone has a painful secret in their past, they keep it tucked away and stuffed down till it explodes in everyone's faces and ends up hurting way more people, and in this show, even the "good" people, the "heroes" will betray their friends in order to gain the upper hand over the villains. The message, whatever platitudes anyone actually says, seems more to be that "Love never lasts." Not even "true love," because when the chips fall, look at all the "true lovers" that are arguing with each other.

A third distinction regarding the characters of both shows is to look at the number of characters. Grimm keeps it simple: there's a core group of about five characters that have been a team since the first season: Nick, Hank, Juliette, Monroe, and Rosalee. Season 2 added to that team Captain Sean
Adalind, Renard, Rosalee, Monroe, Nick, Hank, Juliette, & Wu
Renard, Sergeant Wu (mostly--poor Wu is still very much in the dark, though Nick lets him get involved insofar as he can still fulfill his duties as a cop), and Kelly Burkhardt. Season 3 added Trubel--but the core has stayed consistent. Nobody died or separated (a couple characters left town only briefly, but returned and/or stayed in touch) and certainly no one switched sides. Since Season 1 there has been only one consistent villain, but she is not all-powerful, so she prefers to use other allies to be able to accomplish her villainous plans. The entire cast of the show basically consists of these-characters, plus one or two guest appearances by "citizens of Portland and the surrounding area" and "the Royal Family in Vienna" per episode.

When we look at the number of characters in Once Upon A Time, though... First of all, out of their core the only consistent members since the pilot are Regina, Emma, Henry, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, and (more or less) Prince Charming, and since the pilot they have added pretty much three or four characters per episode all the way through season 1, which about half of those characters fell out of the plot in Season 2 to make room for three or for characters per every other episode in season 2, which got so crowded that they had to split the characters up into two locations for Season 3 and still insisted on introducing new characters as both protagonists and villains... seriously, how big is Storybrooke, really, that it could contain at any time characters from not one but three alternate worlds? And whatever happened to those characters we found so enjoyable in Season 1? Did they die? Certainly they couldn't leave Storybrooke, as the show is so adamant on showing us every time one of the core group tries... so where are they? And the trouble with such a number is that one is never quite sure whether a new character is going to actually be a protagonist siding with the heroes or a new villain to complicate things, or vice versa, in that someone who was painted as a villain in the flashbacks suddenly arrives in the present as a hero with a bone to pick with the current villain... again, still very much a mess.

Semantics a la Kelly.
The next area in which these two shows can be compared is that of the shows' concepts. As far as legacy (or, the backstories of the key characters) is concerned, Grimm has been systematic in its revelations; instead of focusing on the characters' pasts and how they arrived at the present state, Grimm chooses to rather demonstrate the effects of the past in the character's behavior and demeanor in the present, flashing back in those times when it has bearing on the present. We don't know much about Adalind's past or Renard's childhood, but we know that the war they are fighting has been going on a long time by their behavior. We learn that Grimms are famed slayers of Wesen because of the way they react upon first meeting Nick. We may conclude that Marie was one of the first Grimms to change that trend and instead be judicious in her treatment of the Wesen (which she teaches Nick to be) because when Kelly shows up she demonstrates the old prejudice against Wesen. Any time there is a flashback, the present remains exactly the same, only now we know why it is so.

So Rumplestiltskin is also Hook's crocodile and Belle's beast, while
Regina is every evil queen/witch in all the little tales from Rapunzel
and Snow White to Hansel & Gretel oh and by the way she's the reason
the Hatter went Mad and her mother Cora is the Queen of Hearts....
The legacy of Once Upon A Time is, unfortunately, not so straightforward. Starting in Season 1, every new character is given a backstory that somehow connects them integrally with the key characters, even if that episode is pretty much their only appearance. Once again, the backstory is more used to excuse and justify than to explain and explore. Sometimes, in their eagerness to "plug in" a certain character, the writers seem to miss the fact that this new "angle" of a scene we have seen before messes with the continuity elsewhere. There are new batches of backstories with each story arc, and every time a new  storyline is invented, it tends to almost replace the previous story-lines rather than contribute to them. We are kept in the dark as to why a character is a certain way until something happens and the story needs a "fallback" plot device that can only be introduced as something the character has had all along with no significance until just that moment.

Also involved with the concepts of a show is its lore: what are those things that carry the history of this premise with them? With the lengthy tradition of the Grimm brothers, the writers of Grimm were able to fashion a thorough history with many historical items Nick inherits via an old Airstream trailer belonging to his aunt (and all the Grimms of his family.) It is full of potions and poisons and weapons for the killing and subjugation of Wesen, as well as books thoroughly documenting all the creatures and their ways. In addition to the trailer there are things such as the Coins of Zakynthos (which gave the bearers a kind of superiority complex... it is implied that Hitler had them in his possession which motivated the Holocaust) and there is also a mysterious Key that Nick receives, that the Royal Family seems to be after, and it was only revealed near the end of the last season that it has some connection to the Black Forest of Germany, like from the Dark Ages or something. Like I said, three seasons, and there is still a whole bunch of stuff from the past that has yet to be explored in the present.

I was trying to think of anything that could be considered "lore" in Once Upon A Time--there was the book that Henry received from Mary-Margaret (Snow White) that was a nice central feature for about one, maybe two seasons... but after that whole story arc ended, there really wasn't anything else of lasting significance. Oh sure, there are little prop-type nods to the Disney movies, tiny icons at which the viewers can point and giggle softly to themselves... But beyond that, there's really no kind of "historical objects" that Once Upon A Time can give its characters to explore or explain. (And I think there is a reason for that, which I will expound upon later.)

So along with the legacy and the lore of a show's concept, there is also its legends to be considered: what are the references to the real-world tales on which these fantastic adventures are based? How much are they drawing on the source? In the case of Grimm, the answer could be "quite a lot." Every episode begins with a quote from an actual folk tale (though after the first little while, not all of them are actual Grimm tales) and the show does a great job of sticking to its premise that these "fairy tales" were actually based on real-life encounters with Wesen and written by the Brothers Grimm as a sort of caution to kind of introduce the idea to an otherwise clueless public. Therefore, the creatures behave and appear in direct reference to the way they are portrayed in the original tales.

Once Upon A Time, on the other hand, makes no pretense of originality at all, and instead goes straight for the Disney version of every fairy tale, right down to costume design and prop choice. Moreover, right from the very start Once has set a trend of not just ripping off Disney, but ripping up the tales we know and love, twisting them into some dark, warped, "Real Housewives of Disney" tale that suits their own purposes, but really has very little to do with the traditional tales at all. (Hence their lack of hesitation to incorporate Disney's latest faux pas, Frozen into the realm of Storybrooke, instead of going for the original tale that Disney made a mess of, The Snow Queen; talk about "nothing like the original!") So rather than being "Fairy tales meet real life" it's more like "Live-Action Disney!" Wait... I thought that's why we had theme parks...

Going beyond just characters and concepts, there is also the aspect of continuity that is very important in a show--and of first importance in continuity is the timeline. Can one trace the show between two fixed points in time, or does it go all "wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey" on us? Grimm does a good job with the story development as far as present-day plot arcs. New concepts are introduced because of problems characters face in reaching goals they have already set for themselves. Each time one of these new concepts has to do with something in the past, the flashbacks are orchestrated in such a way that they fill a gap (without reinventing the character) and enhance the urgency of the present situation. (i.e., we don't see any kind of flashback into Nick's past--such as when he went to live with his aunt while his parents went on the trip that killed them--until season 3, when the events of that day start catching up with Kelly)

The timeline of Once Upon A Time, on the other hand, constantly twists and turns on itself, particularly if the writers want to introduce a new "world" or theme to the show--to such an extent that if you check out the above link at the beginning of this paragraph, you will see that though someone has painstakingly gone through the trouble of putting everything on one continuum, the episode numbers skip back and forth quite frequently. 
I know the show managed to confuse me many times. It just felt like every time they wanted to introduce something new, they would shoe-horn in a new plot point in a comparatively short space of time, in a crass attempt at "retcon" (retro-continuity, or going back and supplying new information you didn't even know was missing) that only serves to excuse and justify what I call a "Plot Device of Total Convenience" ("Oh darn, you need a magic thingy to defeat the dragon--oh look! I had a magic thingy in my pocket the whole time and I never noticed!" that kind of device) instead of the way it ought to be used, as an explanation of something already established and observed.

In addition to the present-day timeline of a show, there is also the issue of whether or not the history has been suitably regarded. On Grimm, the key and the mystery that surrounds it gives a sense that the timeline goes further back than the show could possibly ever reach--until such a time that it becomes the main story arc (which would be exciting, you have to admit!) but till then, we can be satisfied with the forward motion of the show. Because of the real-world ties, too--the fact that it's Portland and not some fictionalized township, and the way they almost use Wesen natures as personality types, calling out many world leaders as Wesen--this lends a rich fullness akin to real-life history as more is revealed over the course of the show.

This is yet another area in which Once falls sadly short: Storybrooke is isolated and the most "history" is rooted in the Enchanted world--but even then, it only goes as far back as Cora's parents, as far as generations go--as opposed to the centuries since the Dark Ages and the Brothers Grimm included in Grimm's history. There is not really any kind of reference point for the real world, what with time stopping and starting and traveling all over the place. We are aware of the passage of real time in Grimm in a way that has been rendered impossible on Once Upon A Time. You might as well call it "Fourteen Times Upon A Time" because that is about how many things apparently happen within mere instants of each other, according to each new plot thread! (Incidentally, this is also why I think there really isn't any possibility of any kind of lore-ish artifacts for Once Upon A Time, since everything old is magic and loses its potency so often or disappears or breaks, so that there is nothing of lasting significance)

Then, too, the aspect of history carries into the future. The future of Grimm holds promise both fresh--with the recent addition of Trubel, the first Grimm we've seen not directly related to Nick--and old, since, as I have repeatedly stated, the Key still has yet to feature in more than a few episodes per season. The villain is still as potent as ever, and though her methods have changed so little that I'm beginning to wonder at our heroes' competency against her--and really, I give her three episodes (five, tops!) in this new season or so help me I am driving down to Portland and killing her myself--it doesn't feel like the show heaps on the drama and the angst, since no matter what happens to one of them, the characters have all banded together so solidly that they will assuredly have an answer to this fresh new problem that just came on the end of Season 3. (Right, guys???) Each new story arc that has been introduced in the story doesn't necessarily begin right at the beginning of a season, and it builds on something that was introduced but not yet pursued in the previous arc.

Happiness has been destroyed. Magic has come to Storybrooke.
We believed and Peter Pan ruined our childhood. NOW what??
This detriment is probably the thing that made Once Upon A Time get so old so fast: the obsession with the past. Every time there is a plot twist, it happened in the past. Every time the story changes, the past essentially changes with it. The story arc ends with each season, only tossing in a "teaser tag" at the finale in the hopes that viewers will be salivating when the show basically reinvents itself in the next season. They exhausted their store of "classic" villains and heroes, so they turn to the latest and.... most recent addition to the Disney Princess lineup. Every time they start a new plot arc it necessitates nullifying everything that came before it. Not to mention the fact that the more I read about this show (not watching it anymore) the more I get the impression that a lot of the characters' present and foreseeable future seems to be dealing with newly-introduced crap from the re-fabricated past, running the show in a constant state of retrospect. Isn't that, like, unhealthy or something?

The final area in which shows must be careful is that of their canon, or the parameters in which the characters and the plot lines function. The first part of canon is establishing the rules of the show itself. For example, the rules of Grimm are pretty straightforward and have stayed pretty much the same since the pilot: Nick is the main hero, and always worth rooting for, he has a team of good characters backing him up, and anyone who opposes him is usually siding with the villains. According to "show canon" it was perfectly normal and logical for Grimms to be going around killing and subjugating Wesen arbitrarily, but Nick has changed that (because of Marie) by making the distinction between good Wesen whom he is willing to work with, and the bad Wesen who need to face justice because they are killers and lawbreakers.

SURPRISE! This has been their goal all along!
Once Upon A Time seems to have only one "rule" in its canon: everyone needs to be equally miserable. Beyond that, anything goes: there is no rhyme or reason to their storytelling, the arc is constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed with every season. (or in the case of Season 3, half-season, because we went from Neverland to Oz in ten episodes flat!) They start out with the traditional, "Evil loses"... but then again, it just wouldn't be "fair" if good wins all the time, so ever since Emma gained the great big victory at the end of the first season and "saved" everyone from the curse, there have been no lasting victories for any of the heroes. Emma's victory brought magic into the "real" world (I thought the whole point of having them all in the real world was so they couldn't have magic???) and reconnected with her son in the second season, but that only made things worse because then Regina gets all jealous and pretends to reform and goes from the main baddie to all mushy just to win him back. This even goes far enough to allow Emma and Regina to reconcile in the third season... but then again, once Regina gets the upper hand she goes back to being her bad self and gets Emma to come along too, teaching her the "dark side" magic and whatnot as "the only way" to be able to defeat Cora and Zelena and Peter Pan. And don't get me started on "The Charming Show"!

A snake-like Wesen prefers to
strangle its victims
After establishing parameters in its own storytelling, a show must also decide what restrictions it will use, which rules from the source material apply to the re-purposed canon of the show. I felt like Grimm made the most use of the source material for its restrictions: only descendents of the Brothers Grimm can see the Wesen, and Wesen can spot a Grimm. This is why the brothers wrote the book of "fairy tales" in an attempt to explain their existence to an otherwise clueless public. (Boy, I feel like I'm repeating myself; points to Grimm for consistency!) The habits, affinities, and motivations of each Wesen can be predicted by researching in the secret catalog series each Grimm has added to over the years, which Nick has inherited. Wesen with resemblance to real-world animals have abilities, effects, and personalities resembling those creatures, on a human-size scale (venomous creatures can kill a person with just larger amounts of the same kind of venom as their animal counterparts). Magic and spell-casting is reserved for the evil, witch-type characters and the effects are more devastating than rewarding.

Geez... kill my childhood, why don'tcha!
As I pointed out before, Once has been looking only to Disney for their source material, and then twisting it to suit their own purposes. Hence their restrictions are about as consistent as an animated film combined with a dark and twisted scandal drama. They may have started out telling fairy stories in the first season, but ever since the second season they have diverted so wildly that it is an unrecognizable beast no longer appropriate for even children. Basically, like their version of Peter Pan, the show is a warped old man in the disguise of a boy whose main intention is to manipulate and pollute with the goal of realizing his dark, grown-up fantasies.

The last part to be careful of when crafting a show's canon would be the ramifications, some good old-fashioned "cause-and-effect" ground rules that ought to stay consistent throughout. On Grimm we see that good choices (like being honest and faithful to your significant other!) have good outcomes, even if sometimes the only good outcome is the peace it brings to the good character just before they die. Furthermore, bad choices always have bad consequences, whether it's the good characters making bad choices (even "harmless ones" like making out with a very seductive little witch or fairy!) or the bad characters making "good-ish" choices, but with bad motives, so it doesn't last and ends up doing more harm than good.

Oh whatever... What are we teaching children with stories now?
Evil is okay if it's for a "good cause" and besides "evil" is such
a strong word... more like "dark choice" right?
The ramifications on Once Upon A Time, however, are as warped and twisted as the storylines. The good characters are forced to do bad things just to stay ahead of the bad guys, and the bad guy doing a good thing is resisted at first and either keeps doing it till they get "redeemed" (if the writers are going to switch villains) or they crumple under the resistance and retaliate by being even more nasty. Furthermore, the good characters are "justified" in bad behavior because of their "pure heart" or because they did it for "true love", not actually based on any sort of morality in the choice they made.


In short, I think Once could have done a lot better with all the wealth of the entire scope of fairy-land at their disposal, and I feel like Grimm has done a great job (if a gruesome one!) of keeping things simple and straightforward and giving viewers a show worth watching, a relationship worth rooting for, and characters who warrant our hearty support! Yes, there is quite a bit more blood, but trust me, the writing and the characters are so great that even someone as squeamish as me can just look away at the "nasty bits" and still be a huge fan of the show!

What do you think? Do you agree with the observations I've made? Is there something you would like to add? Please feel free to weigh in on the comments!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea"--Fish Out Of Water

Image from a Google search

Ylaine slowed as she wove her way through the tunnel. The vial of potion glittered so that she could see various heaps of things like pearls and sea-gems scattered over the floor of the tunnel. Had she known that such practices once occurred, she would have realized that this was an old smuggling tunnel some of the more self-interested mer-traders would use to reserve amounts of rare sea-goods for trading, and also to reach the surface before the official delegations could make the journey through the open water.
Just when Ylaine was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea, and perhaps she ought to turn back, she saw the end of the darkness ahead.

Her tail quivered as she swam into the open water. The King's Boundary was behind her! She was free! Ylaine looked up to the surface, just a few meters away. She now hovered on the far side of the island of Overcliff, where the rocky cliffs opened up to a stony beach and a series of wooden posts, with boards between them. Nayidia had said humans walked on these to be near the water but staying out of it, since they could not be in the water without risk of drowning. Ylaine swam as far as the posts that supported the walkway. She figured she would be able to climb up quick enough. Her tail fluttered at the thought of what was to come; when she came free of the water, would she finally get to fly?
Ylaine positioned herself just below one of the walking places. Bracing herself, she uncorked the bottle and poured the potion into her mouth.

It blazed like the sting of a sea urchin all the way down her throat. As the potion entered her belly, Ylaine felt a strange feeling in her throat, as if her gills had suddenly seared shut. Water was coming in—but she could no longer breathe! Desperately, she shoved her face against the walk-place, gasping the air above the water for the first time.
But the potion had not finished. The stinging pain seemed to seep right past her stomach, all the way down to her tail—and right down the middle of that to her fin. The potion cut her tail in two like a shark's bite, ripping into flesh and bone. Ylaine could not even scream as the long fin folded on itself, her spine twisting as length was lost. She felt the flexibility of her tail stiffening into rigid, jointed legs and feet. Frantically, she reached up and pulled her head above the water. Heaving, spewing, the former mermaid filled fresh lungs with gasps of real air.

Jaren had been the harbor master of Overcliff since his father grew too old, sixty years ago. He had watched the once-mighty fleet dwindle away to one small sailboat no bigger than a dinghy—and the Prince had lost that in the freak storm the day before. Now all that was left was to wait for the grand schooner from Crossway bearing the Queen, the Princess, and their entourage. Just one ship—
Jaren jerked so hard his chair nearly collapsed when he heard the splash. He scrambled to his feet in time to see a mass of white floating underneath the dock. It took some doing at his age, but the emergency invigorated him and he made it to the water's edge just in time. The body was sinking again, but he could barely make out the hand that was so nearly the same color as the dress. He grabbed this as a dark head emerged. The woman was coughing already; that was a good sign. Jaren supported her as she heaved her body onto the dock and lay there, panting furiously. She looked up at him.
Jaren had never seen eyes of her color before. They were far too blue to be termed green, but then again, brighter than any blue eyes he'd ever seen.
"What were ya doin' down there lassie?" Jaren asked as her breathing slowed. He helped her sit up and noticed that she was a very tall woman. "Trying to drown yourself?"
The woman fixated on her dress; it was a tattered old thing, mildewed in so many places that Jaren wondered if she was too poor to afford a dry chest to keep her clothes in—either that, or this woman swam fully-clothed quite a lot.
As much as he would have liked to allow the woman to sit here on the dock as long as she pleased, Jaren knew he had duties to perform. He stood and offered his hand to her. When she finally turned, she stared at it as if he displayed a new kind of fish.
"Can I help you stand?" He asked.
At last, she moved, gripping his gnarled, weathered hand in her cold-damp one. Jaren gasped as she seemed to put her entire weight on him. Her muscles must be very weak indeed, or far too strong for a lady's. She swayed like a poplar on her feet, nearly six feet tall, the tallest woman he had ever seen. She blinked down at him with those strange eyes.
"Where do you hail from?" Jaren asked.
The woman said nothing, only glanced in the direction of the Channel on the other side of the island, toward Crossway.
"Crossway, is it?" Jaren guessed. "Did your boat get overturned in the storm, then?"
The woman seemed to have recovered her color somewhat, even if she was the palest human Jaren had ever seen. She leaned heavily on him as he led her over to the cottage. Her head turned this way and that, the thick, dark hair flapping wetly against her shoulders. Her chin trembled, but Jaren couldn't tell if she was cold, fearful, or perhaps just wanted to say something but did not know how.
He offered her a walking stick, and showed her how she could lean against that and keep her balance.
"Wait just a moment," he said, "and I'll bring you some food. You look like you could use a bite to eat."
The unnaturally-tall woman stood where she was, staring after him with those queer eyes.
When Jaren came out with a bit of dried fish and a jug of fresh water, his mysterious guest had gone. Jaren shrugged and tottered back into his cabin. Perhaps he had been imagining things in his old age.

Excerpts from "Princess of Undersea":
-"Undersea and Overcliff" 
-"The Wish" 
-"The Witch and The Storm" 
-"The Bargain" 
-"Walking Through Overcliff" 
-"Dining With The King" 
-"Enter The Queen" 
-"The Exchange" 
-"Carnival Showdown"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Update! ReBible: "Focal Point" Gets New Inspiration From Kitschy Trend

I am pretty sure this is going to mean I will have to completely trash what I have of "Focal Point" and just rewrite the whole thing, but I was very excited about it and just wanted to share with you all!

The idea came to me as I was taking the "20 Questions" Buzzfeed quiz and not only did I find the actual choices I was given totally not reflective of my personal, individual style at all, but the result was as far from the "real me" as a computer-generated algorithm could get!

I began thinking.... "What if..."

What if in this future society, these personality quizzes become integral to social structure and function? What if the shallow, materialistic society has been so devoted to this trend for so long that companies will actually come to use them for marketing? Certain results would dictate everything from the clothes you wore, where you shopped, and what you ate, to the groups you hung out with, the activities you did, and--in the case of the excessively suggestible--most of your life decisions, like who to marry or what job you would have.
Since there are also androids and serving machines to do things for people, perhaps the results could also affect the way the machines treat you, highlighting the impersonality and fallacy of trying to reduce human interaction to a computer algorithm.

This is the society Vanessa (Esther) would live in. She would see everyone else using the quizzes to make decisions, and that just seemed like the easiest way. And her father Michael (Mordechai) would allow that, because in living by the results of these quizzes, Vanessa would achieve the "mainstreaming" that would allow her to blend in with the society, and not attract any attention for being "strange."
President Xavier (King Xerxes) would also be using the data acquired by these tests to choose his "personal secretary" after he fires the one he had. Only girls who fit a certain profile would be considered.
During the "selection process", Xavier's own results would be published for all the girls to see. Those who wanted to please him more would likely skew their own results in an attempt to get the same results and appear compatible. (There have been a few quizzes where I may have deliberately chosen certain items because I knew and preferred the results it would give...) Of course, as the "competition" gets more rigorous, the quizzes get more personal and more detailed, so the "fakes" are weeded out.

But why would a large corporation suddenly start using something so frivolous as "Which Fictional Character Should You Be?" or "What Color is Your Aura?"

That question was answered when I was filling out an application for a retail job. (Yes, I'm in the market again... I've cornered a part-time job, now looking for full-time!)
It hit me: job applications use personality quizzes. So what if, back a few decades before Vanessa's time, Daniel Princeton (which means tweaking "Professional Integrity", too; but I was stumped on that one anyway, this could be a good thing!) started working in the personnel department of this big corporation, and he began seeing that the company regularly hired on a "fill the empty spots" basis, and not really paying attention to individual prowess. It was Daniel who then might have started the trend of giving out personality quizzes to ascertain the specific strengths of an employee, so that they could be shifted to a position where these strengths were most beneficial to the company. This would cause the company to flourish, and Daniel would be rewarded and revered for his wisdom.
As the years go by, though, the tests are increasingly misused and warped, and the results published and stigmas and labels assigned, allowing people to form cliques based on their results, and ranking results according to "coolness" factor, so that by the time of Vanessa's arrival, there are certain stereotypes attached to some of her results that make her rejected by a lot of the other girls before they actually interact with her. Then, too, the more frivolous tests are added (beyond Daniel's supervision) in an attempt to be "more comprehensive."

Of course I can't do anything about it right now, swamped as I am... but this will certainly help out when I can go back and start writing the series again!