Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Little People of Flores

The New York Times ran a fascinating article yesterday with an update on current research and debate into the origins and nature of hobbits...

Not the hobbits that crawled into the wastes of Mordor with a magic ring; no, this article is about homo floriensis, a cousin-race to humans whose fossils and tools were discovered on a South Pacific island (Flores) a few years back. For those not in the know, this is a species of tool-users who stood less than three feet high and who went extinct on that isolated island about 17,000 years ago. The scientific community -- or the media (I'm not entirely sure which) -- has dubbed this lost species "hobbits." A hobbit skull is little larger than a grapefruit, yet they were adept tool-users.

The wonder of the extinct hobbits is that no one knows where they came from or how exactly they are related to us. Were their ancestors the seven-foot tall Erectus, the giants out of the west? Or did the Little People come first? Where is the common ancestor? A number of theories have been advanced, and the New York Times gives an admirably summary, very worth a read. Paleontologists share something in common with readers of fairy tales -- they operate in a state of wonder, and love riddles.

A further wonder, to my mind, is the thought that there once were Little People, quite literally. Are the stories in so many cultures throughout the Old World and parts of the New descended from some species-memory of Homo floriensis, some encounter thousands of years back? Or did our ancestors ever meet the hobbits?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Faye Stories Part 3: A Knitting Hero

essica Day George re-spins the fairy tale "Twelve Dancing Princesses" in her novel "Princess of the Midnight Ball". All aspects of the original Grimm tale are kept in her well written adaptation. The twelve princesses dance every night at midnight and are saved by a native soldier home from war. But unlike the original story, this soldier chooses the eldest daughter instead of the youngest (who has yet to reach puberty). However George's version takes that basic premise and creates a lovely novel full of details missing from the short tale.

The girls dance not for their own sins, but those of their mother who made deals with a devil figure. Sweet and bound by enchantment they hope for rescue, but cannot ask for it, since anyone who tries to help dies horribly. The soldier is a young man, who lost everything to war, save his intelligence and self worth. His kindness leads a special stranger to gift him with an invisibility cloak and two enchanted balls of yarn. He is valiant and makes a great hero.

The most unique aspect of the story is the soldier's unusual talent of knitting, cultivated by a need for warm clothing during the harsh months of war. His knitting is a major plot point. If he is sitting, it is mentioned that his hands are always busy knitting. In giving away a cloak he knitted, he was given the tools, including magic yarn, needed to help him save the princesses. Without being able to knit a strong black chain from the same yarn he would not have been able to save the princesses from their dancing curse. While the characters in the novel view knitting as a feminine activity, the soldier makes it a way of life. This extra detail adds depth to the story.

"Princess of the Midnight Ball" is a lovely, well crafted and intriguing story. Though, it follows the Grimm tale almost exactly, the magic is in the details and embellishments. Overall, I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Wishing to be saved by a knitting hero,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Technology is not Always a Good Thing

Scott Christian Sava wrote and illustrated "The Dreamland Chronicles," a comic book created using 3D computer imaging software. The plot slowly develops in the first volume around a college student named Alex, who has not dreamed in years. His first dream since childhood however is more real than he expects. When his heart flat lines during REM and his wounds from “Dreamland” cross over into reality, Alex has to question where he really goes when he sleeps. With a group of friends in the real world and another group in Dreamland, Alex tries to understand what is happening to him in both worlds. "The Dreamland Chronicles" is an interesting story, but has a major flaw.

The illustration style in this comic was a poor choice. The 3D computer graphics give the comic amazing texture and consistency from frame to frame. However, it feels artificial. Traditional comic illustration had more life than the 3D computer imitation. The inconsistency of the art in traditional comics give the story life and energy. The 3D rendering of “The Dreamland Chronicles” is far too perfect and static to be real. It has all of the life of a clear still pond. I recommend the story, but not the illustration style.

There are a three volumes in print currently. There are a total of 13 chapters online, and each Monday another page is posted at http://www.thedreamlandchronicles.com/. Overall I give it a 3 out 5.

Unsure if poor illustration can ruin a good story,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Faun Fables - Songtelling

Who can not fall in love with the beautiful songs of Faun Fables....
Faun Fables, created by Dawn McCarthy, is the most wonderful combination ever made between theater, music and storytelling.

It is hard to discribe the songs as the experience is one which has to be experienced. Thus I advice you to visit the website of Faun Fables and hear for yourself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cosmic Hand or...?

CNN just published this amazing image by NASA's Chandra Observatory. I agree that on first sight the nebula resembles a hand with its fingers reaching for a starry halo. But then I started thinking about what it might look like from a direction other than Earth. From a location opposite to ours, it might appear as the figure of a luminous person with a spirit-glow at its head standing on a vibrant disk (or a skateboard?). So many possibilities--

CNN Caption: NASA's Chandra Observatory captured this hand-shaped image of an X-ray nebula.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Sides of a Coin

Manhattan is a special city and in Avi's story "City of Light, City of Dark", Manhattan is not the city we think it is. The island which the People believe they own belongs to the Kurbs, a dark species. The Island is loaned only as long as a very specific ritual is performed. The energy that keeps the city warm comes from the Kurbs' Power. The People, as people usual do, put the entire responsibility of performing the yearly ritual to a line of women and forgot the loan from the Kurbs. The story takes this premise, and shows the greed of modern man as he fights the scared woman to get the Power and prevent the ritual. The comic-book novel is an interesting story told in an interesting manner.

Avi creates and intriguing story of a group of people entwined with the secret world of the island. Additionally, the illustrator, Brian Floca, creates a familiar city with an unfamiliar air. The story has an interesting feel as it is a novel wrapped in images. While it is a unique idea to put a novel in a form closer to a pure comic, it does not work well enough. The story might have been better suited as a novel with the occasional picture. The comic setting at times is a distracting. The Kurbs would be more powerful as a mental image than a physical image. Brian Floca does a fine job, but it was not the place for images.

The story had a lot of potential, but the reliance of images to tell the story hurt the overall prose. The role of women as heroines and men as villains is interesting, as it is men who are traditionally builders and women nurturers and protectors. The women protect the entire island while the villain wants the power to prove his supremacy. Without much depth of the story, the message is superficial and just a repetition of stories that do it better.

"City of Light, City of Dark" had potential, but was buried in images. While I am a fan of comic books, the medium is not right for all stories. Sometimes a novel should be a novel.

Overall, I give it a 2.5 out of 5.

A bit disappointed at a waste of potential,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Interview with Aaron Paquette

Dear readers,

Visit the Dante's Heart journal for a new interview with Canadian artist Aaron Paquette. You can also see the color and raw vitality of Paquette's art on his blog.

The painting to the left is A Fearless Heart (2008).

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

I think we are drawn to birds first and most simply because they can fly. The story of Icarus daring to reach for the sun is locked in our collective subconscious. The air is a place for men to go in dreams, not reality! Modern technology has broken those barriers, but I think the instinctive fear and wonder of flight remains. After all, our worst dreams are still those of falling. What birds represent for us is the bridge - or intermediary - between our world and the world of the heavens, the world of dreams. They are portents of change and the fact that they come from a seed, break through the walls of one world and into the next when they are born, and then break the bonds of gravity itself! It's not hard to imagine why we have built up myths around them.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Faye Stories Part 2: She's not your Ordinary Golden Hair Damsel

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale is not your mother's Rapunzel tale. As my dear cousin said, "What's up with the Cowboy Rapunzel with snake hair?" Rapunzel's Revenge starts ordinarily enough, but she is no damsel in distress. This western version of Rapunzel mixes the Wild West with old fairy tales and mysticism. Additionally, Nathan Hale paints her world with vibrant colors to make the personality of the girl. He creates a vivacious redhead to replace the wilting golden haired would be princess. Both the story telling and the images give life to this new Rapunzel.

Rapunzel starts her life living in a lovely garden with her mother a growth witch. She find out her life is a lie supported by the work of slaves and her "mother" sucks the life out of the land using her magic. As Rapunzel rebels against her adoptive mother, she is locked in a tree tower that was magically grown. While the beginning starts out normal it is at the tower that things change. With magically grown hair Rapunzel learns to use her hair as rope and whips. With her own strength she escapes planning to end her evil "mother's" reign while saving her birth mother. The girl name after a leafy green joins forces with Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and his goose (Goldy, guess why). She makes a name for herself by saving the oppressed. Rapunzel quickly becomes a cowgirl with whip braids faster than most guns. The stereotypical hero is a fool and out smarted by Rapunzel who needs no rescuing by plans to do some herself.

Nathan Hale makes an interesting choice with her red hair and pale skin. She is as lovely as any princess but with plenty of spunk. Jack is a smaller guy in comparison to the other men in the story. He is clearly from a poorer class with sun tanned skin and cunning sense of the world. His dress blends in with the environment which is colorful despite the desolate background. Nathan Hale gives vibrant moving images to go with the plot.

The story is enjoyable and takes a clever twist to Rapunzel's story. Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Wishing that her hair could be used as weapons,
J.R. West the Raccoon