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Fantasy’s Finest: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe


The inclusion of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” as being among fantasy’s finest might raise some eyebrows, but behind the cheesy 80’s cartoon lies a truly inspired concept. When first considering the world of He-Man, we immediately think of a standard fantasy world involving sword and sorcery, forgetting sometimes that MOTU was just as much sci-fi as it was fantasy. Vehicles flew alongside dragons, blasts from laser pistols were deflected by magic swords, and the evil wizard Skeletor used often employed hovering robots as his muscle. Surprisingly this mishmash of magic and science worked very well. The series always weighed heavily in favor of fantasy, but embracing technology into the mythos made room any story the writers could dream up.

Central to the story is lazy Prince Adam who, with the aid of his magic sword, can become the heroic He-Man. It’s Clark Kent/Superman meets Conan really, although the idea is improved upon by Adam bring vulnerable when not powered up as his alter ego. This much needed weakness adds tension and allows for a sense of danger. He-Man’s closest friend and sidekick is Cringer, a giant talking cat. This is a concept very close to my heart. The two main characters of my book, The Cat in the Cradle, just happen to be a boy and his talking cat. The similarities end there, but I’ve always been aware that I was drawing inspiration from my favorite childhood show.

Masters of the Universe was fairly progressive with its portrayal of strong, female characters. Teela was captain of the royal guard and could hold her own in battle. On the villain’s side, second in command went to witchy Evil-Lyn, one of the only competent members. Likewise, the Sorceress was used in place of the wise old wizard archetype, and was keeper of the most powerful magical secrets. Minorities weren’t as well represented in the cartoon, probably because not many characters were actually human. A scaly merman, a flying bird guy, a humanoid skunk, a robot with a heart, a blue guy with mechanical arms, even a man made of moss. Almost every character was a different type of species or creature, mostly due to the toy line that powered the cartoon. Commercialism aside, the variety of action figures made for a diverse and interesting cast.

The 80s version of the cartoon leaves a lot to be desired. Its frequent reuse of stock animation, public service announcements, and plots aimed low at child audiences of days gone by makes it hard to digest today. Luckily there was a new version of the show in 2004 that fully realized the story’s potential. The somewhat jumbled nature of the 80s concept was reined in and given order, the plots were intelligent with long reaching story arcs, and the action sequences had you on the edge of your seat. Sadly the toy line, the lifeblood of any cartoon, was mismanaged and ended the show prematurely. The two seasons that did air stand as a proud testament to just how excellent and exciting the world of Masters of the Universe can be.

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Ice cream. It’s what’s for dinner.

Ice cream is the hottest cold commodity in Germany. Every summer I’m astounded at the amount of ice cream that is sold, doing mental calculations of how much cafes earn while tonguing the hell out of a cone myself. It’s not terribly expensive. A waffle cone with a generous scoop of ice cream only costs 1 Euro, little more than a dollar, which feels even cheaper here since you can pay with a single coin. I’ve estimated that the most popular place in town earns about 2 Euro per minute, easily pulling in a €1,000 a day, but then they have an amazingly ideal location and really know how to dish it out cheap and fast.


For the more discerning customer, there are finer ice cream treats available than the humble cone, my favorite of which is picture above. Ice cream spaghett!. The noodles are made of vanilla ice cream and the tomato sauce from strawberry topping. Even grated parmesan is included, represented by coconut shreds. Honestly, I prefer the traditional cone, but I love the idea of faux entrees made of sweets.


Equally creative is the fried egg, which is really a halved peach surrounded by ice cream. If only the waffle included was made to look like toast! I asked the waiter why a straw was sticking out of my spaghetti ice cream, and he answered in English “STRAWberry!” That made a strange sort of sense, but I suspect he was just messing with me because Andreas’s fried egg included a straw too. I was grateful for them in the end, since Andreas used his to suck up the melted ice cream instead of licking his plate as he normally does at home. There are other faux foods like this available at ice cream cafes. My need to document such things combined with my appetite means they’ll probably show up on this blog sooner rather than later.

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Return of the Mountain Man

Published on July 18, 2009 by in Random, Vacation

The Three AmigosI’ve been safe and sound in New Mexico for a week now, which makes it odd that this blog entry is about Colorado. Andreas is a big fan of public transportation and has designed his fair share of trains. His passion for them inspired my dad to take us to Durango, Colorado to ride the narrow gauge train there.

I’m not a train enthusiast myself, but I do appreciate that we were treated to the very best seats in the most luxurious coach. My dad went all out, which made the ride up to the small shopping paradise of Silverton extremely pleasant and comfortable. We rode in the last car which allowed access to the rear platform to take in the stunning view. As the train follows the winding Animas River and climbs into the San Juan Mountains, it feels very much like returning to the Garden of Eden.

No matter how many photos we snap or videos we make, we never really manage to capture nature’s beauty. Something is always lost, an intangible quality missing from the actual experience. Regardless, it was wonderful up there in the mountains. I wanted to jump from the train, rip off my clothes and return to the wild. If this ends up being my last blog entry, you’ll know where to find me.

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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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