Friday, September 25, 2015

The Grand Tolkien Tag of Special Magnificence

It’s that jolly time of year again… the week of Hamlette’s splendiferous Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence! Do hop over and visit her blog at The Edge of the Precipice for all sorts of games and giveaways and general excitement! :) And here are my tag answers:

1. What draws you to Tolkien's stories? (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.) ~ Since my father’s periodically read them aloud ever since I was little they’ve always been a part of me (hence, I don’t tend to think hard on it that often), but when reading them myself again last year I connected on a whole new level with Tolkien’s mastery of both character and language.

2. What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw? What did you think of it? ~ Honestly, I don’t remember. I know the first I read aloud myself was The Hobbit and I liked it quite well that first time (and still do), but never quite as much as the LOTR. :)

3. Name three of your favorite characters and tell us why you like them. ~ Noting that this is very kindly three of my favorites (thank you, Hamlette!), I’ll say Faramir, Merry, and Pippin. I highlighted quite a few of the reasons about Faramir in a post here. As for Merry and Pippin… in all the pain and uncertainties and wild adventures and joys of their quest, they grow to full maturity—becoming, really, ‘more of themselves’—their wit growing keen and their hearts readied for kings service. Such a breathtaking picture! (Not to mention that they’re excellent company. ;))

4. Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention? ~ Maybe Celeborn? At least in the LOTR, we’re given so few details and I always wonder about him.

5. What Middle Earth character do you relate to the most? ~ Oh, this is a hard one! This last time I was closely identifying with Pippin, I think, particularly near the end, and also Merry. And—actually—Aragorn, which was completely and entirely unexpected and thoroughly wonderful.

6. If you could ask Professor Tolkien one Middle Earth-related question, what would you like to ask him? ~ I’d like to know if (for him) things were ever not working out and lining up. Was he ever frustrated during the writing process? I know he must have been at some time or other… When and where did he get stuck? It would be so fascinating to hear firsthand how the characters developed in his own mind as he went along. :)

7. Are there any pieces of Middle Earth merchandise you would particularly like to own, but don't? ~ Mixing in with the gorgeous landscape pictures, I’ve also been illustrating this post with paintings from a talented artist I found via Pinterest (who sells his work on Etsy) and, seriously...

It’s the first one I found and it’s on my Christmas wish list (for any of you out there who might be interested in such information ;)).

And also a dark green, handcrafted mug with gold lettering twining up and round it with this quote (highlighted also below as #7): “…in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”

Or this one: 

8. What battle would you absolutely not want to be part of? ~ The battles in ROTK have such an epic feel—darkness and despair and the coming of light—that I would actually rather experience them if called upon to live through to the glory and joy on the other side. Perhaps because it’s described in such detail—or just because it’s the first I remember hearing about—I’ve always thought The Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit particularly disagreeable.

9. Would you rather eat a meal at Rivendell or Bag End? ~ Since I’m feeling like eggs and bacon and Suchlike Substantial Fare at the moment… Bag End. Truthfully, though, I’ve always wished I could be in on the supper at Farmer Maggot’s. :) And also, it's not because elvish food would be insubstantial. Far from it. It would be a feast of flowing wines and graciously rich dishes. (Incidentally, somehow I can’t imagine feeling overfull after having eaten of elven food. Satisfied and thoughtful, perhaps, but no indigestion.)

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

#1: “All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” – FOTR

#2: “Their farewells had been said in the great hall by the fire, and they were only waiting now for Gandalf, who had not yet come out of the house. A gleam of firelight came from the open doors, and soft lights were glowing in many windows. Bilbo huddled in a cloak stood silent on the doorstep beside Frodo. Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him. The others could only be seen as grey shapes in the darkness. Sam was standing by the pony, sucking his teeth, and staring moodily into the gloom where the river roared stonily below; his desire for adventure was at its lowest ebb.” – FOTR

#3: “Then came the voice of Faramir close behind. ‘Let them see!’ he said. The scarves were removed and their hoods thrown back, and they blinked and gasped. 

“They stood on a wet floor of polished stone, the doorstep, as it were, of a rough-hewn gate of rock opening dark behind them. But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstretched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire.” – TTT

#4: “…As he went by the cave-mouth he saw that the Curtain was now become a dazzling veil of silk and pearls and silver thread: melting icicles of moonlight.” – TTT

#5: “It’s saying a lot too much,” said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. “Why, Sam,” he said, “to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”

“Now, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, “you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.” 

“So was I,” said Frodo, “and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’” 

“Maybe,” said Sam, “but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway.” – TTT

#6: Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost wall, shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets.” - ROTK

#7: “You did indeed!” said Gandalf, laughing suddenly; and he came and stood beside Pippin, putting his arm about the hobbit’s shoulders, and gazing out the window. Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.” – ROTK

#8: “But Aragorn smiled. ‘It will serve,’ he said. ‘The worst is now over. Stay and be comforted!’ Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy. And then he cast the leaves into the bowls of steaming water that were brought to him, and at once all hearts were lightened. …But Aragorn stood up as one refreshed, and his eyes smiled as he held a bowl before Faramir’s dreaming face.

“…Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. ‘My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?’ 

‘Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!’ said Aragorn. ‘You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.’” – ROTK 

Thank you for the excellent questions, Hamlette! ;) 

And everyone, be sure to join in the festivities. I'd love to see your tag answers!

Tell me! What is one of your favorite characters and do we have any answers in common?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Movie Review ~ Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott (1998)

The time has finally come for reviewing my third top favorite movie of all time, forming as it does a trio with Shadow on the Mesa (#1) and the '04 N&S (#2)—and coming in ahead of Stagecoach, Tangled, Rob Roy, Angel and the Badman, and Emma, etc. I’ve been planning this for quite a while, but as I was working on it I realized just how much I love its late summer/early autumn setting, making this a perfectly opportune time!

And now—with that pre-ramble out of the way—our Ever After post! (Possibly to be known also hereafter as screen cap overdose. ;D)

First off, Ever After has it all: a rich, satisfying wealth of adventure, beauty, humor, character development, masterful storytelling, and poignant, beautiful, twist-your-heartstrings romance. And then there are the gorgeous settings and music! The sixteenth century springs to life with all its breathtaking brilliance, clarity, and exuberance.

I want you to vividly experience the intensity and turns of the story for yourself, so in the following (with great self-restraint) I’m going to try and not give too many spoilers. 

However, there are a number of rumblings (vague content rumors and so forth) flying here and there, which is why it initially took me quite a while to see it, not being able to decide what exactly was up with it content-wise. So what I am going to do, is hopefully share the kind of particulars I personally would have found super helpful when trying to make up my mind. (To paraphrase Uncle Max, detailing “every last eensy-teensy frightful little detail.”)

First for some of the misconceptions. The biggest of these I had upon reading the advertising was that Danielle (i.e. Cinderella) was an independent, very modern, sixteenth century feminist. She’s nothing of the kind.

Well educated, strong in her own beliefs, feisty and spirited, yet equally gentle and soft-spoken, showing both honor and respect to the end, she’s absolutely beautiful! (More on her later.)

The second comes from the summary floating around saying something along the lines of “having the courage to make your dreams come true.” From that I got the impression (again) that it would be one of those “follow your heart at the expense of everyone and everything else” type stories. I am going to give a few spoilers on this one below, but let me assure you here and now—it isn’t. Not remotely. (Don’t you love it when the advertisers try to create a blaze? The same thing happened with my copy of N&S.)

Next for the ‘content’ stuff. As aforementioned, it’s robustly in period—permeated to the hilt with rich Renaissance/late-medieval atmosphere. In other words, it’s not Victorian. 

Some period idioms are used (i.e. “tub of guts,” for instance) and That Certain Exclamation is used a couple times (for reference, about as much as the ‘95 P&P and in similar context). There’s one incident with a page near the end (where I think he’s caught attending to some personal business), but it’s NOT overt and really and truly, decidedly un-obvious. Absolutely nothing is shown. Earlier, a lady’s shoulder is shown as she’s slipping on a gown and later her upper back is shown after a whipping. Chamber pots are referenced and emptied out windows.

But please take my word for all this. Really. None of this content is more ‘iffy’ than some stuff in (for another familiar instance) Little Dorrit. In fact, much, much less so. I’m just detailing every last thing I can possibly think of to give as clear and persuasive a picture as possible. :)

Now on to the squeal-worthy part! And here I have to share some trivia facts too delightful to pass up.

#1: The story opens with the brothers Grimm calling on a nineteenth century French queen in her absolutely sumptuous rooms and fact #1 is something I only just noticed when working on this review. Have you ever noticed (those of you who have already seen this) that her bed is Leonardo’s ship from the masquerade ball?

#2: Incredibly (of all his work) it’s one of my two favorite Da Vinci paintings running through the entire story—fitting it with amazing perfection!

#3: I recently found an official movie ranking site had compiled a list of their favorite Cinderella adaptations this spring, reading from bottom to top. I didn’t recognize a lot at first and as I was scrolling I started going, “Oh… Ever After isn’t even getting mentioned in passing.” Based on some of the other variations they had, it seemed like it should at least have made the list. I was getting ruffled, but since (technically) it is a bit of a different take on the story I tried to remain calm and kept scrolling down.

The 2015 Cinderella came up as #2 and I thought, “That’s wild. I wonder what version they can possibly pick for #1?” Trying to will away the butterflies and starting to get excited as whatever-it-was would probably be worth seeing if it topped the 2015 Cinderella, I scrolled one last time and… guess what it was?!?! Yes! Absolutely! Ever After!!!! To say I’m still ecstatic would be an understatement. :)

This is probably the first film I’ve ever seen where I thought every single person (major and minor characters) were utterly and perfectly cast. 

There are a number of familiar faces, including Judy Parfitt (whom I’d seen all my growing up in the 80’s P&P as Lady Catherine and then later in Little Dorrit) playing the prince’s mother. And I love her in the part! It’s definitely my favorite of her roles. She’s so warm and gracious and regal!

And… we got all the way through before we realized we’d seen Dougray Scott (Prince Henry) in the Zorro tv show of all exciting wonders! He’s much younger in Zorro, but it’s especially funny as he has a roughly similar character arc—just about seven years earlier.

But now for the rest of the casting:

The young Danielle does excellently and her relationship with her father is absolute perfection.

There are the dear servants.

And Gustave.

Leonardo da Vinci

(“Then you learn to pay attention.”)

The Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Danielle’s stepmother).

(“She’s mute, my lord.”)

Marguerite, the nasty stepsister.

And Jacqueline who is SO sweet (with some of the most quote-adaptable comebacks)!

There’s the king (I love how his character changes—I wasn’t expecting it!)

The captain of the guard.

And the de Ghent household’s “benefactor”, Pierre Le Pieu, who is appropriately wicked and creepy.

And of course, the gypsies…

But first and foremost, there’s Danielle de Barbarac and Prince Henry.

During and throughout their various adventures together in river and wood, he treats her with such perfect and thorough respect and honor.

His character arc is incredible.

He becomes a man. And looking back over that arc, the depth and balance of the oft-times conflicting growth within it is astounding.

And there is Danielle herself. 

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what true beauty looks like. Courageous strength to risk oneself for a loved one—to say the hard words when called upon—is not incompatible with true femininity.  They’re inseparable qualities. Gentleness and grace with fierce loyalty. A clarity of vision and steadfastness of soul. The beauty of a gem wrought—fashioned—bent and shaped to glory through duress and pain, shining even in the darkness with the radiant light lying always at its heart.

Vibrant and pulsating with the potent reality of life, Ever After is a story of grace on the undeserving. The adventure of life is worth every pain—and the weight of glory on the other side is immense.

“While Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after—the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.”

(And I’m sorry, this last one’s blurry, but oh… the joy of it!!!)

In conclusion (and to borrow a phrase from my sister), it’s one of my greatest heart stories—true, good, beautiful, poignant, heady, glory-reflecting story—and I love it hard!

Tell me! Have you seen Ever After? What do you think?

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