Archive for September, 2010

Hood: This ain’t no Gangsta Novel

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , on September 30, 2010 by JonH

Kiss Sherwood Forest, and the rest of England goodbye; move the story to Wales and the plot from an Englishman who robs from the rich and gives to the poor to one of an impetuous, young Welsh nobleman caught between destiny and desire. Finally, change the names Robin Hood, Little John, and Friar Tuck to Rhi Bran y Hud, Iwan, and the monk Aethelfrith and you’ve got the basis for Stephen R. Lawhead’s book Hood, the first in the King Raven series. The sequels are Scarlet and Tuck.

After his father’s war party is butchered by an invading Norman army that staked a claim to his homeland in the name of their king, the Welsh prince Bran ap Brychan travels far from his home for an audience with the king in the hopes of regaining control of his homeland and returning justice to his people.

Suffice to say, the meeting doesn’t go as well as planned.

Drawing from historical references dating back to the 13th century, Lawhead sets out to methodically recreate what he feels is a more historically accurate telling of the tale of Robin Hood, and he does a convincing job of it. A nice touch comes after the final chapter where he provides some insight for the new context by briefly discussing weapons of the era, the people that were most adept at using them, and the terrain that seemed most amenable to Robin’s adventures. He finishes by saying that the story of Robin Hood was most likely Anglicised as it entered the popular consciousness of the conquering Saxons.

With some minor exceptions, most notably when his teacher speaks a few lines to a disembodied voice (ala Yoda and Ben Kenobi in Empire Strikes Back) there are not a lot of overt clichés in this novel. Granted, it’s a bit odd when French speaking characters who are speaking with one another (for our benefit in English, of course) revert to their native tongue for specific phrases the author writes in French. That technique was a bit lost on me, but that’s minor.

The story is well written. The plot is entertaining, and the multiple narrative strands are bursting with coherent political intrigue and manipulation that’s right out of Machiavelli’s book, The Prince. Aside from getting your head around all of the different characters, Hood is very readable, and one I would recommend.

Support local business and buy it here or here.

Advertisements

How do you Train a Dragon? Simple: Watch a Cat.

Posted in Review with tags on September 30, 2010 by JonH

First, let me qualify this post by saying I never thought I would be one of those crazy cat people.

Now, on with the review:

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the gangly and awkward teenage son of the Viking chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Eager to follow in his father’s–indeed the whole tribes’–footsteps as a dragon slayer, he sneaks out one night during a dragon attack and manages to knock one of the most feared dragons, a Night Fury, out of the sky with his homemade bolo cannon. The boy later discovers the injured animal lying by a river, tied up and defenseless. He sneaks up and threatens to kill the dragon by cutting out its heart thus earning his father’s respect, as well as his place as Viking warrior; but, he can’t do it. He doesn’t have the heart to kill, and instead he befriends the dragon and names it Toothless.
  
When I first saw the poster for How to Train your Dragon I couldn’t help but notice physical similarities between the main dragon and my cat Lizzie. After seeing the movie the similarities were even more pronounced: both are black, fast, hampered by a disability (the dragon has a bum tail-rudder, my cat has a bummer of a disease-feline leukemia. Not to make light of that, but she snores as well), and both are very mischievous. Interestingly, my cat physically embodies the dragon’s name in that she is toothless. That’s right, nary a molar in her maw; not a tusk in her toothbox; not a fang in her feeder. This, however, doesn’t stop her from slurping, gulping, and swallowing lots of food just like her fictional counterpart.

<

Most importantly, however, is the way Toothless is presented. Her actions, behaviours and movements are so catlike I can’t help but think the director and the artists spent a fair chunk of time observing these animals and translating their actions and behaviours into those of a fictitious creature. This is all to great effect as the dragon is so personable in how it behaves that you can’t help but be drawn in by its disposition. This, in my mind, is what’s most significant about the film. The makers of How to Train your Dragon have created a very sympathetic character in Toothless even though she does not speak.       

Deft psychological analysis aside, this movie is fun, has just enough violence, humour, and don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover morals to keep any youngster, oldster, and hipster satisfied for the duration. Produced by Dreamworks Animation, How to Train your Dragon has become that company’s second most successful North American release (Shrek being the first). Given the film’s success, there’s no doubt that a sequel is in the works.

On a Scale of One to Ten this Book can be Offensive

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , on September 13, 2010 by JonH

Roger, Alan, Michael, Demi. Add another Moore to the list of people that have more talent in one digit than I have in my entire body: Christopher.

My first encounter with Christopher Moore came when a friend handed me the book, “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”. Witty, ingenious, and, at times, downright irreverent, if Catholics had the equivalent of Islamic fatwa, Moore would have made the top ten, maybe even the top five, list of infidels for writing it.

Since then I’ve also had the chance to read “A Dirty Job” – another gem, and most recently, “Fool.”

Incidentally, since I read GAB and DJ prior to beginning this blog last year, my memory of them has faded somewhat, but I fully intend on rereading and writing about them in the near future. But for right now, while it’s fresh, I’m only going to touch on “Fool”.

“Fool” approaches Shakespeare’s King Lear much the same way Tom Stoppard’s play “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” approaches Hamlet: tangentially with some of the more iconic scenes given new life.

The eponymous fool of “Fool” is King Lear’s fool, Pocket (got it?). Pocket is a quick witted, sexually adventurous rogue loved by the king and his three daughters, Regan, Cordelia, and Goneril. When Lear decides to retire and divvy up his kingdom amongst his three daughters things start to get interesting.

Accompanied by his dim-witted understudy, Drool, his jester’s stick, Jones, a ghost that speaks only in rhyme, and a host of minor characters, Pocket finds himself to be the central cog in a plan to bring war to the kingdom and settle who the rightful ruler is once and for all.

Moore is a very talented writer. His stories are compelling and the language seems to roll off his tongue, or perhaps more accurately, drip off his pen? Metaphors aside, he creates believable scenes that we’re drawn into and intrigued by. However, I’ll admit that at the beginning there seemed to be a few too many characters for me to remember, but as the story progressed things fell into place and everyone’s role became more clearly defined.

However, this book probably isn’t for those of you that are easily offended by talk of masturbation, and sex. Scratch that, this book absolutely isn’t for those of you that are easily offended by such things, but you should get over that and read it anyways and then post your comments on this blog telling me how right I am. There are loads (that’s a pun for the basest of thinkers out there) of the aforementioned pleasantries, and sometimes it gets pretty descriptive – not in the Harlequin romance sort of way with Fabio’s hair blowing in the wind, but rather in the “he said that?” sort of way. Suffice to say some of the more descriptive scenes involve Pocket’s sidekick Drool and probably shouldn’t be read while having dinner.

Overall, even though I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I wasn’t drawn into it as quickly as I was with the other two novels mentioned; despite that minor hiccup, if it’s to be your second or third Christopher Moore novel, I think you’ll be hooked.

This book is rated:

Go here or here to buy it.

The Proposed Downtown Arena: What are your thoughts?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on September 6, 2010 by JonH

I’m sure by now everybody has heard about the Katz Group’s proposal for a downtown arena district. If you haven’t, a good place to get a biased bead on what is being proposed can be found on the Katz Group’s website specifically dedicated to all things arena at www.revitalizedowntown.ca.

Another great resource is this article that draws together and provides links to a lot of the media coverage over the past few years, some of which predates Katz’s tenure as the owner of the Oilers: http://communities.canada.com/edmontonjournal/blogs/hockey/archive/2009/09/02/news-and-opinion-on-edmonton-s-downtown-arena-debatea.aspx

For those that don’t mind seeing people squirm, an interesting snippet of video featuring dialogue between Councillor Don Iveson and some people from the Katz Group can be found here: Oilers won’t play at Rexall, Katz Group says.

The point here is to get your thoughts on the Katz Group’s proposal. The following questions are some food for thought:

Do you think public funds should be used to finance a private venture?

Do you think that the proposed arena district will have the desired affect of revitalizing Edmonton’s downtown core?

If the project goes ahead what should be done with the current Rexall Place?

Who should get the profits from events being held at the facility?

How would having a state-of-art facility such as the one being proposed make you feel as an Edmontonian? If you’re not from Edmonton, how would the proposed arena district affect your opinion of the city?