Stories that Make Me Happy

For this week’s post, I’m publishing a bit later in the week than I normally do because I’m participating in the Classic Movie Ice Cream Social blog-a-thon, hosted by Movies Silently. While I must confess that I haven’t watched a great many silent films, I thoroughly enjoy reading the blog, and I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling as it’s done through the vehicle of silent film. 

A good story is a good story, in my opinion, whether it’s a book, a musical, a comic, a silent film, a poem, or a song. So for this blog-a-thon, I’m sharing two of my favorite classic films that I think not only tell a good story, but just plain make me feel happy.

The Wizard of Oz

I’ve blogged about The Wizard of Oz numerous times before, because, well, it’s The Wizard of Oz. I love all of Baum’s Oz books, and I love the musical Wicked, but for me what started it all was watching the classic 1939 movie on TV as a kid. I know I’m dating myself here, but when I was really little, The Wizard of Oz would air on network TV once a year, and the whole world (or at least my family) would drop everything for the evening and watch it. We had two television sets (I know, we were big time), and thankfully one of them was a color set. Ah, that magical moment when Dorothy opens the door of her dingy house into the brightly colored world of Oz! Of course I now have the movie on DVD and can watch it any time I want, but it always takes me back to the special days when it was a rare treat. Continue reading

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Four Things

This week I’m stealing my blog topic from my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage. She’s a lovely person and blogs about vintage fashion, which is something I knew little about until I started writing historical fiction.

Anyway, the idea of this post is to not talk about writerly stuff per se, but rather to reveal some slightly more personal things about me. So here we go – four things about me: Continue reading

Sequel Syndrome – It’s not a New Thing

You know that awesome movie or book that becomes a sudden best-selling blockbuster? Everyone loves it, so what’s the next thing that happens? Yep – a sequel. And frequently, the sequel is nowhere near as excellent as the first one. Sometimes, if the sequel isn’t a total bomb (or even if it is), then an entire series is spawned out of something that probably should have remained a one-shot. (Anybody remember sequels that shouldn’t have happened, like Jurassic Park II and III, or many of the Disney animated direct-to-video sequels of the 90s?)

This is known as “sequel syndrome,” and it’s not actually something created by Disney or 90s adventure movies.It’s been a thing for about as long as we’ve had commercial entertainment. Continue reading

10 More Wonderful Quotes from Oz

I recently compiled a list of ten great quotes from the various Oz stories – everything from Baum’s original tales to the 1939 movie to Wicked the Musical. But I couldn’t stop at just ten. Even if you’re not an Oz buff, I’m sure you can find a witty or meaningful quote in this bunch.

 

“Everything in life is unusual until you get accustomed to it.” The Scarecrow, from The Marvelous Land of Oz

Says the man made of burlap and straw. Point taken. Different isn’t bad – it’s just different.OzHat

 

“So much of me is made from what I learned from you. You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

This is one of the best quotes about friendship I’ve ever come across, and reminds us that a love story does not have to be about sex and romance.

 

“But in Oz we are loved for ourselves alone, and for our kindness to one another, and for our good deeds.” Princess Ozma, from The Road to Oz

Even in Oz society is not always as perfect as Ozma claims here, but to her credit, this is a creed that she herself lives by and employs as she rules her people. And here on earth we’d do well to keep this attitude more in our daily lives.

 

“Nothing’s impossible if you just put your mind to it.” Oz, from Oz the Great and Powerful

Just remember that if a small-town circus performer could defeat two wicked witches with this attitude, then you can do anything.

 

“The only way to do a thing
Is do it when you can,
And do it cheerfully, and sing
And work and think and plan.
The only really unhappy one
Is he who dares to shirk;
The only really happy one
Is he who cares to work.”
Johnny Dooit, from The Road to Oz

This little rhyme speaks the truth for itself, I think.

 

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” The Wizard, from The Wizard of Oz

This is so true. And one who is deeply loved usually can’t help but love in return.

 

“No one can be unlucky who has the intelligence to direct his own actions.” Scraps, from The Patchwork Girl of Oz

The stuffed patchwork doll named Scraps displays almost Scarecrow-level wisdom with this statement. Even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, we still have free will and can make choices.

 

“We get up at noon and start to work at one. Take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done. Jolly good fun!” The citizens of Emerald City, from The Wizard of Oz

This is my kind of workday. Can I live here? This line is from the song “The Merry Old Land of Oz”; so if you’ve seen the movie, you now have that song in your head. You’re welcome.

 

“But those as knows the least have a habit of thinkin’ they know all there is to know, while them as knows the most admits what a turr’ble big world this is.” Cap’n Bill, from The Scarecrow of Oz

Sad but true. I’m sure we’ve all met an ignorant know-it-all or two.

 

“He had nine book-trees, on which grew a choice selection of story-books. …the books were picked and husked and ready to read. If they were picked too soon, the stories were found to be confused and uninteresting and the spelling bad. However, if allowed to ripen perfectly, the stories were fine reading and the spelling and grammar excellent.” from Tik-Tok of Oz

I love the magical land that Baum invented, where most anything you could want probably grows on a tree somewhere. I also love Baum’s not-so-subtle hint to aspiring authors everywhere: if you pick (publish) your book too soon, without giving it time to ripen (with rewriting, revising, and editorial help), then most readers will be confused, bored, or just get bogged down in grammatical errors.

Bonus quote:

“Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

I put this in here to be funny, because nobody knows what this means. And if you’ve seen Wicked, then you are now singing the song “No Good Deed.” You’re welcome.

When the Movie is Better than the Book

As a novel writer, I always feel a bit guilty when I like the film version of something better than the book. I feel like a traitor to my craft, almost, for daring to like a reimagining better than the sacred literary original.

But then I remember that movies are a valid storytelling medium – just like short stories, poetry, stage plays, and comic books. Even though my main focus right now is novel writing, I am first and foremost a lover of stories. And sometimes, the movie version really tells a better story than the book.

Take for example The Wizard of Oz. I grew up watching the movie every time it came on network TV (as did everyone in my generation and older, probably). I was overjoyed when VCRs became commonplace (remember those?) and The Wizard of Oz was released on video tape.

I can quote basically the whole movie, I know all the songs, I’ve tried dancing like the Scarecrow (not as easy as it looks), and I’d still like to have a pet flying monkey or maybe a Horse of a Different Color. I’m also a big fan of some of the “prequel” stories – the Disney movie Oz the Great and Powerful, and the musical Wicked. But up until now, I’d never read the original book that started it all.

When I started reading Baum’s first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I knew that my perceptions of the story would be colored by the 1939 movie and everything that came from that (see the aforementioned Oz and Wicked). But I set my expectations aside and purposefully selected an ebook version of the original 1899 edition that had all of the original illustrations, so that I wouldn’t be seeing Judy Garland on every other page.

Sticklers for the “original book version” of a story likely disapprove of The Wizard of Oz movie, because it was nothing like the book. A few glaring differences (besides the obvious lack of song and dance routines in the book) would be:

  • The gentle Tin Man is devoted to Dorothy and his friends, but lacking a heart, he is thoughtlessly violent and slaughters great numbers of creatures of all sorts if they even appear to be hindering Dorothy’s quest. (Rather ghastly for a children’s book, in my mind).
  • The Wicked Witch of the West is a feeble old crone who is terrified of both Dorothy and the Lion. She is also not green (reducing Margaret Hamilton’s character back to only Elmira Gulch, and negating about half of the songs in Wicked).
  • On that note, Miss Gulch is not in the book, nor are the loveable farmhands or Professor Marvel. Dorothy does not dream of going to Oz – she really does get sucked up in a cyclone, along with the house. Poor Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – childless and homeless all in one day!
  • The shoes are silver, not ruby. The Good Witch of the North sends Dorothy on her way, while Glinda (the Good Witch of the South) doesn’t appear until the very end.

Before I continue, please note that I am not complaining or giving a negative review of the book. My intention here is to illustrate the dramatic differences between this book and the movie sensation it spawned, and why I think the movie told a better story.

From a storytelling perspective, the script writers for the film told a more cohesive, believable story. Here are a few writing techniques that I think the film achieved better than the book:

  • Cutting or combining minor characters – such as using the single character of Glinda to perform the acts done by both of the Good Witches in the book.
  • Dorothy’s desire to return home was very believable in the film, due to the amount of time spent on developing the world of the Kansas farm and the people in her life. In the book, Dorothy dislikes Kansas and seems to show little fondness for her aunt and uncle. While it’s understandable that she would want to return to the familiar, her intense desire to leave Oz just as soon as she arrives seems forced.
  • A clear antagonist. In the film, Dorothy’s enemy Elmira Gulch becomes her enemy in Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West makes repeated appearances and actively tries to interfere with their quest. Her main goal as an antagonist is to get the shoes that Glinda gave to Dorothy. In the book, the Wicked Witch doesn’t appear until near the end; and while she does capture Dorothy and tries to get her to take off the shoes, the entire Dorothy-is-captured-and-her-friends-rescue-her sequence is very anti-climactic in the book.
  • The use of plot devices. The shoes belonging to the late Wicked Witch of the East are a much bigger deal in the film than in the book, and to a much better effect, I feel. Glinda gives them to Dorothy with the instructions to never let the Witch of the West have them, because the shoes are talismans of great magic. The shoes become one of the major features of the plot. In the book, the Witch of the North (that extra character who is not Glinda) basically tosses the shoes Dorothy’s way with a remark to the effect of “well, she’s dead so you can have them if you want.” (Paraphrasing here. This is not verbatim what Baum wrote).
  • Also, the Wicked Witch of the West’s iconic broom is not in the book. (This would mean no dramatic “Surrender, Dorothy” skywriting in the movie, and no “Defying Gravity” song in the Wicked musical.) But that aside, the broom becomes a plot point much like the shoes. It not only represents evil magic (as the shoes represent good magic), but it serves as the token by which Dorothy and company prove their worth to the Wizard. After the melting of the Wicked Witch in the book, they return to the Emerald City with a “by the way, she’s dead, and you’ll just have to take our word for it.” (Paraphrasing here again.) In the film, the broomstick is a tangible indicator that the protagonists are worthy of not only being the main characters, but actually being the heroes, too.

Again, I am not trying to say anything bad about the original. Baum wrote a book that at the time was unlike anything seen before, and he created a rich fantasy world. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an instant success, and Baum wrote many other Oz books because of it (which I am currently working my way through). This strange little story – grisly, anti-climactic, and full of modern storytelling no-no’s – grew into an important part of our culture, and the world of Oz has endured for over 100 years.

I have nothing but respect and appreciation for what Baum wrote. But I am also grateful to everyone at MGM in the 1930s for pulling the best elements out of this book and turning it into not only a visual and musical spectacle, but a stronger and more memorable story. So in this case, I am not ashamed to say that the movie was better than the book. May we all aspire to have our stories get better with the re-telling.

Fantasy Characters as Role Models

Finding role models in fiction is not a new concept (or even a new idea for a blog post, probably). But I’ve been thinking and reading lately about characters, how to write them, and what they can mean to readers. So here’s a short list of some of my favorite characters from fantasy and science fiction, and what they can teach us about how to live and how to behave.

Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings Loyalty

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Hobbit sidekick. Except he’s more than just a sidekick. He’s more than a gardener, a bodyguard, or even a good friend. He’s a man so loyal to his friend and to his own word that he faces off against orcs, a giant spider, and a raging volcano just because he told Gandalf that he’d protect Frodo. His word is his bond, no matter what.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series – Courage 

Hermione can be described in many ways: smart, clever, nerdy, loyal. But really, none of these traits would enable her to accomplish half of what she does if she weren’t exceptionally courageous. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s feeling the fear and doing what you need to do anyway. From the first book on, Hermione bravely steps out to help save the day, never letting fear of Voldemort – or worse, expulsion from Hogwarts – stop her from doing what she knows is right.

John Sheridan from Babylon 5 – Justice

Captain Sheridan is the perfect leader for the Babylon 5 space station – he’s brave, smart, and a true warrior. All of this stems from his fierce sense of justice. When faced with the tough decisions of life, the ones with no clear-cut right or wrong, he uses his sense of justice and fairness to temper his decisions. He lives by the understanding that every decision – good or bad – comes with consequences. Whether others label him as a hero or a villain, he stays true to his principles of justice and personal responsibility.

Fezzik from The Princess Bride – Honesty

Fezzik the gentle giant is kind, patient, and maybe a little slow, but he’s the most honest character in the story. While he never directly rebels against Vizzini, his honesty prevents him from carrying out his malicious orders to kill Westley. He’s intensely loyal to his friend Inigo, and once he determines that Buttercup and Westley are the good guys, he never stops supporting them because he believes in rightness and honesty.

Princess Anna from Frozen – Compassion

Anna is brave, eternally optimistic, and loves her sister dearly. But really, her greatest role model-worthy trait is compassion. Her love for Elsa is more than just a sister bond. Despite her shock and confusion when Elsa reveals her powers, Anna immediately understands how Elsa must be feeling. Her ability to empathize with Elsa’s fear and loneliness is what drives her to literally freeze to death for her sister’s sake.

The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz – Wisdom

The Scarecrow is the smart one without any brains, but he’s also very wise, which is a different sort of intelligence. Wisdom such as knowing when to take charge – which he does for most of the story – and when to let someone else lead (by telling the Lion that he’s the one to lead them into the Wicked Witch’s castle, or by submitting to Glinda’s authority at the end of the movie). Wisdom tells him to trust this strange girl and her little dog. The intelligence of knowing the Pythagorean theorem is less important in life than making wise decisions.

The Addams Family – Love

From the movies to the classic TV show to the original cartoons by Charles Addams, Gomez and Morticia Addams have represented the ultimate in passion and romance. But there’s more to love than romance. Love means sticking together no matter what storm is raging, or standing up for a loved one who might be acting very unlovable. This family may have dead flowers as the centerpiece and a loose hand that runs around the house, but they have love. No outside force or inner turmoil pits Gomez and Morticia against each other, or draws their children away. Even Uncle Fester’s poor decisions can’t make the others turn their backs on him. Any family that wants to stay strong should put as much of an emphasis on love as the Addams do.

Yes, I know that this is a really short list. I could have listed several hundred characters, and made this post longer than the epic fantasy trilogy I’m working on, so I had to pare it down somehow. If you have a favorite fantasy character that has positive role model traits, feel free to share in the comments!