There are too many things that I’d love to talk about to really deal with in depth on this site. Instead, I’ve given a paragraph or two to some of my favorite non-Tolkien stuff. I’ll keep adding to this list as I feel moved to.
Disclaimer: this page was last updated in 2012 and my opinions on some of these subjects have changed since then.
Some of the greatest films ever made, in my (not exactly humble) opinion. These were some of the first movies I can remember seeing, and they fired my imagination as no other movies (and few books) ever have. The worlds (however unrealistically monolithic), creatures, and technology inspired many hours of imagination and fantasizing to me as a little kid, and I still enjoy seeing the Galaxy Far Far Away on screen. The films take the power of myth and fantasy but put it into a science fiction setting and tell a story in the tradition of 1940s adventure serials. Unlike so many genre-fusions that end up appealing to no one, however, George Lucas was able to create three classics of cinema that appeal to people of all ages and walks of life.
Then he made the Prequel Trilogy, and while I (unlike many fans) find them to be decently entertaining movies, I do not find them classics on the order of the Original Trilogy. Because of my age I saw the prequels not long after the originals, and while I have become more discerning when it comes to movies since then, I retain a great deal of nostalgia for the entire saga. Before there was I was a movie fan, before I knew what LOTR was, and even before I discovered Harry Potter … there was Star Wars.
Yes, I know it’s a “children’s book”, but so is The Hobbit. Yes, I know it’s a hodgepodge of folkloric and mythological creatures from a variety of traditions, but the elements are woven together into a masterful tapestry of a story. This ranks with Star Wars as a childhood classic, and is one of my favourite fantasy worlds. The story itself is pretty good too, though it is the setting and the characters that really make this a classic. I think the series hit its high point with the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, but I enjoy all of them. I found the last book to be something of a let-down when I first read it, but it is by no means bad.
The HP movies, on the other hand, are something of a mixed bag. Chris Columbus seems to be hated by everyone except hardcore Potter purists (which I do not consider myself to be, my opinions about Tolkien movies notwithstanding). While the first two films are definitely much more stiff than those that came after, I think part of that was the young (but learning) cast. The role of the director is important though, and I think it was largely the involvement of Alfonso Cuaron that elevated Prisoner of Azkaban to the heights of cinematic excellence. Unfortunately none of the latter films could live up to that legacy (although Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows Part 1 came the closest) in part because the snowballing of dropped sub-plots eventually rendered much of the series’ continuity nonsensical. Prisoner is partially to blame for this, but the effects of its cuts would not be felt for a while.
My reservations about the film series’ comparative quality aside, both the books and the movies were an important part of my childhood. They’re certainly the only work of fiction that helped define my generation. The premiere of the last movie in July 2011, shortly before my 17th birthday, felt like a major milestone for me. I was saying goodbye to my childhood in a way. Fortunately the story never went away though, and I still love revisiting Hogwarts and its world.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Put another one down for the “children’s stories that can appeal to older people” category. This cartoon series originally aired on Nickelodeon but is – surprisingly – not sickeningly juvenile. It is drawn in the visual style of anime and set in an Asian-influenced world, but it tells a universal sort of hero story. It has strong characters and writing as well as a remarkable amount of action for a show of its type, and is an all-around enjoyable viewing experience. Like many fans I was somewhat disappointed that the show only ran for three seasons, but it reached the logical and satisfying end of its story in the season three finale. I have a lot of respect for the creators of the show as well as Nickelodeon for not dragging it out with pointless filler.
I was really looking forward to the live-action movie adaptation of the first season of the show, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, before it came out. I re-watched the whole series in preparation for the movie’s release and even the absolutely horrible reviews from both critics and fellow fans could not dissuade me from holding out hope. Within a few minutes of the movie’s beginning, however, I was forced to admit that I had been hoping in vain. After that it was an hour-and-a-half-long descent into despair as chance after chance for a redeeming scene or ending was stripped away. Doubtless the movie was hilarious to bad-movie-watchers but it was painful for me given my affinity for the source material.
Fortunately, only a few weeks after the movie was released, the creators of the original show announced a brand new sequel series titled The Legend of Korra, after the avatar who succeeds Aang. I was somewhat skeptical at first due to the finality of the original series’ ending. The official comic book series intended to bridge the two series disappointed me and increased my skepticism. However, the first two episodes of Korra previewed online in March 2012, three weeks before the official premiere on TV, and they dispelled all my worries. The show is at once instantly recognizable and entirely its own creature. Expect to hear more about this from me as the show continues.
Anime in general has always been closely associated with Avatar for me. There seems to be a never-ending dispute over whether or not Avatar can be considered anime, and without wishing to weigh in on that, I’ll just say that it was the A:TLA fandom that introduced me to anime and got me to start watching. I should note that saying “I like anime” is almost as vague as saying “I like books” or “I like movies”, since anime represents a wide range of genres, themes, and art styles. I certainly don’t like every anime I’ve seen, but I find Japanese animation to generally be engaging for a number of reasons.
For starters, I just enjoy animation period. I’m certainly not a hater of American animation. However, most American animated shows are shoe-horned into either juvenile, cartoony kids shows (think SpongeBob) or primetime comedies, most of which seem to be ripping off The Simpsons. That’s not to say that all shows in these categories are bad, but they get stale after a while. There are exceptions, of course (Avatar being one of them), but it was a big adjustment seeing the breadth of different sorts of stories that are told in anime. There are some anime genres that I’m not as appreciative of (Haruhi Suzumiya dragged me grudgingly towards Moe, but beyond that I’m not a fan of it; not yet anyway) but the variety is wonderful.
I could go on and on until this whole site was nothing but anime talk so I’ll try to stop now, but check out the reviews page for more about anime series and movies (coming soon!).
A Song of Ice and Fire
Tolkien has, for better or worse, pretty much defined the fantasy genre since The Lord of the Rings was published. His influence grew even greater after the widespread success of Dungeons & Dragons with its spin-offs of Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and others. These days, the fantasy sections of most bookstores are full of stories set in faux-medieval populated by vaguely (or explicitly) Tolkienian races going on epic Quests to rid the world of Dark Lords and Evil. Unfortunately, a lot of also fails to deliver anything other than a regurgitation of what has been done many times before.
A Song of Ice and Fire, while it’s world is rather medieval (though later medieval than most), downplays the explicitly fantastical elements in favour of greater development of human characters and genre. Instead of a Quest, author George R.R. Martin tells a story of a war (or series of wars) sweeping the continent of Westeros. It’s gritty and definitely “R-rated” (or the equivalent for those outside of the U.S.), but it’s got some of the best fantasy writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Unfortunately, G.R.R.M. dragged on quite a bit in the fourth book, which could have easily been half its length with very little of importance cut. From what I’ve been told, the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, is not much of an improvement in this respect, although I have not yet read it myself.
Also worth giving a shout-out to is the HBO series Game of Thrones, which is adapting the series for television. The first season covered the first book in ten hour-long episodes. I am not honestly a huge fan of the TV series but I have a lot of respect for HBO for making a big-budget fantasy show. Fantasy epics are rare enough in movies and practically unheard of on television, so I welcome any new quality entry in the genre.
In this day and age most of us take the Internet for granted, using it every day for many different purposes. If we really stop and think about it though, it’s amazing how much information and power each and every one of us with a personal computer (that includes Macs; PC =! Windows machine) have at our fingertips every time we go online. It goes beyond Google and Wikipedia: so many libraries have uploaded information that … oh, who am I kidding? Lolcats.
On a more serious note, I think the communities that the Internet makes possible are nothing short of amazing. From Usenet starting in 1979, to bulletin boards, to blogs, and most recently to social networks like Facebook, the Internet allows people to talk to each other despite living thousands of miles apart. I would never have met so many amazing people if I didn’t have access to the Internet, and I am immensely grateful to the Internet for that.