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Fantasy’s Finest: Avatar the Last Airbender

Children’s cartoons are often overlooked by the adult populace. It’s a shame because fiction geared toward kids is often more daring and innovative, unhindered by concerns of what the audience might accept. Avatar: the Last Airbender is a wonderful example of this, a show that manages to be adventurous and fun while still being earnest and emotional. The world of Avatar is made up of four nations; The Earth Kingdom, The Fire Nation, The Air Nomads, and The Water Tribe. Select members of each nation can magically manipulate the element of their people, an art known as bending.

The Avatar is the only person capable of bending all four elements, and acts as a sort of ambassador/policeman to the four nations, keeping them all in check and ensuring peace. The Avatar always exists, reincarnating upon his (sometimes her) death. Unexpectedly, the Avatar goes missing. In his absence the Fire Nation decimates the people of Air and Water, and the Earth Kingdom seals itself off from the rest of the world. After many years Katara of the Water Tribe and her brother Sokka find the Avatar, reincarnated as a young boy named Aang. Together they must help him master all four elements so he may defeat the Fire Lord and bring peace to the world again.

Basic premise out of the way, each episode is its own individual adventure while adding to the overall story arc. It’s a smart show too. Events aren’t forgotten just
because they aired last week. The show references itself often, minor characters resurfacing from time to time. As for the main characters, they grow on you and soon
avatar1feel like friends of your own. The writing for the show is phenomenal, entertaining while tackling serious global issues. The backdrop of war torn nations was very poignant during the years the show first aired. The show is also heavily influenced by Eastern styles and philosophies.

When my book The Cat in the Cradle comes out, many readers may think it was directly inspired by Avatar. Characters in my story can manipulate the elements (ten instead of four) and some of the same issues, such as the morality of killing your enemy, are explored. I can safely say that my manuscript was already completed before I discovered this show, but I saw in Avatar a kindred spirit to my own story. Much more than just a kids cartoon, Avatar made me laugh, cry, and keep tuning in until the last brilliant episode. The show came to a graceful end after three seasons and didn’t try to artificially extend itself despite its popularity. All three seasons are now available on DVD for newcomers to enjoy or for old fans to rediscover.

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Weird Germany: The Potato Pimp

Published on July 9, 2009 by in Weird Germany

There’s a man, his wife, a truck, and a whole lot of vegetables. And they mean business. The man, let’s call him the Potato Pimp, parks his truck outside of apartment buildings and homes and rings his bell like an ice-cream man, but it’s potatoes and veggies that he’s peddling. In Berlin they were a bit more subtle and would ring the doorbell. The Potato Pimp is all about show, which is good because he never manages to sell much. We also have a door-to-door honey guy. The thing is, you can only buy a year’s supply at a time. Give me Girl Scout cookies any day!

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The Process of Adapting Popular Books to Box Office Hits

Published on July 8, 2009 by in Movies, Random

Gandalf-LOTRThere have been dozens, if not hundreds of films based on novels. Some of the most successful (both commercially and artistically) films have been an adaptation of a book or short story. With the success of “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger games” there is a lot to be gained from these kinds of films.

Book adaptations are not easily pulled off, either. There have been a number of flopped adaptations as well. An adaptation is the balancing act of fan loyalties, artistic direction, and box office priorities. When it comes down to it, filmmakers must ensure success at both the box office and the hearts of fans by staying to the theme of the novel while still making an entertaining film.

Preserving the soul

It is difficult to cram a 1000+ page novel into two and half hours of film. This inevitably creates a challenge: some of the story must stay, and some of it must be cut for the big screen. This is a bittersweet sacrifice as it makes the story more palatable, but may reduce emotional ties (and perhaps important plot elements) to the audience.

An example is cutting out tertiary themes, as was the case with the first “Hunger Games” film, directed by Gary Ross. He made a film that both newcomers and fans of the original novel could appreciate by discarding certain parts of the book would not translate well to screen. Although the new Hunger Games movie is strictly in theaters, you can find the first film played on cable. Find more information on cable movie scheduling through your provider.

Characters in the mind and the screen

Casting is also an immensely important part of the adaptation process. When someone read’s a book, he or she develops an image of characters in both appearance and personality. Both movie and book fans have certain expectations that must be met.

An example of a great characterization that works was Ian McKellen in his role as Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings.” Not only did he match the physical description of the wizard in the novels, but he was also a well-known actor that is famous for his portrayal of wise characters. His overall friendly demeanor and knowledgeable disposition made him enjoyable to watch for both fans of the novel and newcomers.

Artistic Direction

It also helps if you have a director like academy award winner Martin Scorsese and acclaimed screenwriter John Logan that are both a big fan of the novel. This was the case for Brian Selznick’s novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Although he played no formal role in the production of the film, he still believes the film version, “Hugo” was faithful to novel and entertaining.

Scorsese made sure that the entire film crew read the book and had it accessible on set at all times. It goes to show that a director who loves original material can help maintain the heart of a novel when it makes its way to the big screen.
In the end it is all about preserving the soul of a novel while making sure it is compelling and entertaining to watch in theater. The goals of both a novel and film are the same, to awe and inspire.

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Fantasy’s Finest: Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures

Published on July 6, 2009 by in Books, Fantasy


This is the first in a series of posts that celebrate my favorite fantasy, whether it be books, movies, comics, or cartoons. I’m starting out with one of my favorite series. Packed with humor and overflowing with creativity, Robert Asprin’s Myth series has always been the sincerest of pleasures to read.

The first book, Another Fine Myth, begins with apprentice magician Skeeve struggling to perform even the most simple of magic. It’s no wonder considering that Skeeve would rather be a thief. His master decides to summon a demon to scare some respect into him, but during the ritual is attacked by an assassin. Master and assassin manage to kill each other, leaving Skeeve alone with the summoned demon.

Aahz, as we learn the demon is called, is simply a magician from another dimension. Having lost his own magical skills, Aahz takes Skeeve under his wing, teaching him magic and more often the fine art of the con. Over the course of the series they visit different worlds, hopping from dimension to dimension and getting into trouble while trying to make a profit at the same time.

The stories are humorous while maintaining the seriousness of the conflicts they face. It’s not an easy combination to pull off, but Asprin manages wonderfully. The first six book in the series are brilliant. It’s with the 7th book, M.Y.T.H Inc. Link, that the series begins to suffer. The point of view is given to minor characters instead of Skeeve, and the personalities of the major players become unrecognizable. The late Robert Asprin led a troubled life, suffering from long bouts of writer’s block and battles with the IRS. He even gave up writing to be a street musician in New Orleans at one point.

Perhaps because of this the Myth books only get progressively worse as they go along, but those early novels remain timeless masterpieces. Five years before Pratchett would pen his first Discworld novel, Asprin was already bringing humor to the world of fantasy. His novels are slim and yet carry more creativity than books three times their size. Give them a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommended reading:

Another Fine Myth (1978) ISBN 0-441-02359-2
Myth Conceptions (1980) ISBN 0-441-55519-5
Myth Directions (1982) ISBN 0-441-55525-X
Hit or Myth (1983) ISBN 0-441-33850-X
Myth-ing Persons (1984) ISBN 0-441-55276-5
Little Myth Marker (1985) ISBN 0-441-48499-9

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The Illustration Process

I remember in my younger days how, when reading fantasy novels, I would often turn a critical eye to the cover. Inevitably there would be a couple details that didn’t perfectly match the author’s description. Often it was an incorrect hair style, the wrong weapon, or a falsely colored dragon. I often wondered how this could happen. Didn’t the artist read the book? Didn’t the author have a say? Wouldn’t they demand a correction before publication or did they not care?

In addition to the cover art, my husband Andreas has kindly volunteered to draw 25 illustrations for The Cat in the Cradle, one for each chapter. He’s already familiar with my book so we sat down to work out some rough sketches together. I even took a red pen to these early drafts, keen to prevent the errors I was used to spotting.

The fabled mushushu

The results were unexpected. Andreas keeps coming up with images much more creative than my imagination. He brings vivid life and detail to my fictional locations, much more than I originally visualized. I didn’t get exactly what I was imagining. I got something much better. It’s great! I’ve even done rewrites to incorporate some of his ideas. Below you can see a time-lapse video of Andreas drawing one of the chapter illustrations, sandwiched in between me acting all dorky over how much I love him.

Interestingly enough, there is one drawing that conflicts with what my book describes. I like what he did too much to ask him to change it and I can’t find a way to write around it. In the end I decided to keep it in there as a loving tribute to a long standing tradition.

You can see more of Andreas’ work at his web site:

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Weird Germany: Pfand Bottles

Published on June 14, 2009 by in Weird Germany

Recycling is sexy! Unfortunately it isn’t a perfect system. You never get 100% of the material back, but it’s still much better than being wasteful. The clever Germans have found a way of getting it all back by reusing bottles. Every beer or cola you drink in Germany comes from a previously used bottle that has been put through a sanitation process. That’s right, the bottles are washed. Don’t judge. You drink from someone else’s glass every time you visit a restaurant, and I promise you they aren’t as thoroughly cleaned. It’s safe, economic, and fun. Yes, fun. The best part is bringing the bottles back to the store. Check it out:

You get anywhere from 8 to 25 cents for every bottle you return. Don’t get too excited, you have to pay that nominal fee (Pfand) for every drink you buy. Not everyone cares enough to take their bottles back, but luckily there are scavengers that regularly search out bottles in the name of easy cash. Using greed as an incentive to encourage recycling is pure genius!

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