Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Wizard of Oz

The first thing that I remember when I think about The Wizard of Oz is the yellow-brick road. It begins at a point and spirals out until it's pointed in the direction of the wizard. I'm not sure what this signifies or what it means that they just HAPPENED to have a road begin right where Dorothy just HAPPENED to drop a house on a witch. Maybe it was prophecy. Maybe the munchkins are actually religiously devoted to Dorothy. Anyway...

Whoever played the witch did an amazing job of sounding like someone who would come from a small farming community and still be a really scary witch. The way she talked was not in evil overtones, but the way you would expect to hear a farmwife talk to her neighbour over the fence. This last viewing, I noticed that and was unconvinced of her evil until I remembered how scary the witch was when I was a kid, and I placed it in the concept of being a girl's dream. I guess everyone would talk like they were from a farm if you'd only ever been around farm folk. That said, the witch was brilliant.

How can this movie ever have been intended for children? A house falls on a witch and then her legs shrivel up and disappear. Then, the other witch dies when Dorothy foils a murder attempt on the scarecrow. She shrieks her death cries and what are the children left thinking? Probably something along the lines of, 'I hope daddy has psychiatry covered on his benefits.'

I never got the theme of The Wizard of Oz before this latest viewing. I like to hope that it says something about the time that it was written, rather than seeing it as a truism. A young farmgirl, pining for adventure and a change of scenery, is ripped from her comfortable surroundings, hailed as a hero and hand-delivered an adventure. Along the way, she completes her quest but is left abandoned by the so-called saviour. In the end, she is not permitted to leave until she realizes that everything she’s wanted was in the drab, black-and-white world of Kansas. So, the goal of her quest, rather than the search for some wizard, is a coming-of-age in which she ceases her childish dreaming and learns to appreciate what she has. It’s a charming little twist that comes full-circle to her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” dreams. The technicolor lure of Oz teaches her that she doesn’t need it.

When I think of movies that are influenced by The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz immediately comes to mind. The only thing I remember about The Wiz is that Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow and was accompanied by “Bacon”, a little puppet sidekick. I’m pretty sure that The Wiz missed the mark but it must have made some money, anyway.

Another medium affected by The Wizard of Oz is books. The Dark Tower, by Stephen King, is the most obvious example of a story touched by Oz. There is the immediate comparison – They go to Kansas and confront the wizard there. I believe one or more characters remark on the similarity. However, the overall story seems to hold the same type of quest that Dorothy undertook. Roland is looking for the tower and collects three friends. They follow a path, the beam, to a confrontation with a menacing villain, the Crimson King, who turns out to have no teeth. The wizard of Oz ends as a dream and, while I wont give you the end of The Dark Tower, many people view it as similarly unsatisfying.

All kinds of Modern Fantasy contains elements that were seen in The Wizard of Oz. The displaced hero, who just wants to go home, the magic item that allows the hero to contend with a foreign world and an enemy which destiny deems he will face. There’s even the idea of an obvious goal which turns out to be a red herring. Fear not, however, because the true meaning of the quest is just around the corner.

When I put all of this together, thinking of how The Wizard of Oz has affected modern fiction, movie-making and children’s nightmares, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Pretty good for a kid’s movie with a singing lion.’

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

101 in 1001 -- in the spirit of ripping my wife off

Because I like to take things that other people have done, change them and then pawn them off as my own, here is my list of 101 goals over the next 1001 days. That will put me squarely on Wednesday, May 13, 2009. I'll be 33, and well-ready to be done with this list.

Let me know what you think:

1. Finish “writing software”
2. Finish my book
3. Finish the dragon story
4. Finish the wedding story
5. Finish the samurai cross-stitch
6. Write one hundred non-updatish blog posts
7. Finish my football stat program
8. Start and finish another cross-stitch project
9. Outline part two of my book
10. Write part two of my book
11. Finish the installer section of my technical blog
12. Finish the Simpsons puzzle
13. Write a mystery story
14. Write a “101 things I’m grateful for” list
15. Write a letter to the editor
16. Get back into journaling
17. Complete all of the writing exercises I promised I’d do (scribe’s, and the two writing books)
18. Develop and deploy an application for PalmOS
19. Write a “101 things that piss me off” list
20. Finish the work on my walking stick
21. Make use of my coffee stir-sticks
22. Actually discuss things in discussion groups
23. Start a “favourite recipes” database – maybe with a simple front end – and keep it up
24. Write five short stories
25. Write five non-fantasy stories (of any length)
26. Write a “Wizard of Oz” writeup
27. Create, launch and maintain a family website
28. Create, launch and maintain a writing website
29. Submit a short story to an online magazine
30. Join an online debate and contribute regularly

31. Take my family on a vacation away from home
32. Finish Narnia with Nick
33. Start and finish Prydain with Nick
34. Adopt the boy
35. Start reading to Lillian
36. Get the oil changed in the car before or on the suggested date/mileage consistently
37. Move into my new house
38. Take my wife out dancing
39. Join the Ridgewood community league
40. Go on at least 1 field trip with Nicholas in grade 1.
41. Daddy-daughter day (once it’s feasible)
42. Dad-Nick day
43. Clean out the car once a month
44. Develop wedding pictures and pick some good ones to hang
45. Walks with lilly and the dog twice a week at least

46. Build a dog house
47. Build a shed
48. Turn the storage room into the workshop of my dreams
49. Transform the flex room into a downstairs bathroom with jacuzzi tub
50. Mow the lawn once per week in-season
51. Make sure that everything has a place in the new house
52. Tear down at least one wall in the basement
53. Fix the ceiling fan in the kitchen
54. Install and use Quicken Home Inventory for my home inventory
55. Wire network cables in the new house
56. Hang a clothes line in the back yard

57. Cut my to-read list in half
58. Catch up on all of the book series I am behind on
59. Get down to 220 lbs and stay there
60. Watch the first season of 24
61. Figure out calculus
62. Bake a cake
63. Barbecue some t-bone steaks
64. Write a letter to my former landlady and send it
65. Bring lunches to work daily.
66. Get up with the alarm for a month straight
67. Dedicate at least one day per month to the completion of these 101 in 1001 goals (daily routine aside)
68. Return to playing chess, taking it seriously enough to actually win now and again.
69. Stretch before and after each time I play a sport (pool excluded)
70. Focusing exercises once a week for two months
71. Apply at tigerfish for some freelance transcription work
72. Go canoeing (lake, river – something)
73. Join a committee or some volunteer thing like that at work and follow through
74. Finish either Metroid Prime or Zelda. Windwaker
75. Read the rest of “Lord of the Rings”
76. Buy two new pairs of work pants
77. Buy a pair of jeans that fits
78. Go a week without coffee
79. Go a month without eating out (work cafeteria included)
80. Play tennis
81. Drink water every meal for a month
82. Do engaged encounter weekend help at least twice a year
83. Donate blood

84. Ride the bike to work every day, weather permitting
85. Get rid of the “grinding” sound my bike makes
86. Tune up my bike (brakes, gears, chain, etc)
87. Long bike trip (details to come)

88. Completely organize my music
89. Completely organize our movies
90. Scan all of my drawings into the computer
91. Finish cataloging my book collection
92. Do a “Do I really need this?” on my book collection
93. Do a “Do I really need this?” on my CD collection
94. Do a “Do I really need this?” on my movie collection
95. Do a “Do I really need this?” on my clothes

96. Back up everything that’s necessary on the desktop computer
97. Reformat and reinstall on the desktop
98. Finish entering all the stuff I have on paper into the computer
99. Load all of my cds onto the computer (as MP3s)
100. Organize and store (or discard) every single email (work and home)
101. Finish learning web programming and Jakarta Struts

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mr. Darwin's Shooter

Take a God-fearing Christian, stick him in a boat with Charles Darwin, make them near-constant companions on a wildlife-collecting study and see what it does to the Christian.

Mr. Darwin’s Shooter is a fictionalized account of the life of Syms Covington, Darwin’s servant during his days aboard the Beagle, collecting specimens that laid the foundation for The Origin of Species. It involves Covington’s struggle to reconcile his beliefs with what Darwin is showing him about evolution.

The story bounces back and forth between Covington’s time with Darwin and some time in the future when Covington lives in Australia, his odd relationship with Dr. MacCracken, a man who appears to hold the key to Covington’s salvation.

Throughout the story, we learn more and more about Covington, where Darwin remains a distant, somewhat cold member of the gentry. An effort at characterization is made, showing how Darwin moves farther away from his belief in God as he goes deeper in his study of Evolutionary Theory and Natural Selection, but for the most part, he remains the same.

Covington comes of age in the backward-looking chapters. He loses friends, loses himself and falls in love. His charm is in his irrepressible spirit and his willingness to tackle anything that’s asked of him.

The older Covington is stodgy, set in his ways, and inflexible. However, he has an agenda of his own, and when, inevitably, he dies at the end of the story, it is in peace with his creator, and it is seen through his eyes as a reunion with all those he lost at sea.

Mr. Darwin’s Shooter was a pretty large step outside of the kind of books that I normally read – Fantasy, Mystery, Cop-Drama – and I was very pleasantly surprised by both the quality of writing and how moved I was by Covington’s desperate search for salvation and his need for the recognition of his master.

A Change in the Wind

A couple of questions: How much do the events of our youth affect us? I’m not talking about the day it was cold and someone made you walk to school. I’m talking about the jarring, I’ve-been-kicked-in-the-stomach-type things that change your perception of life and family.
How much should we let these things continue to affect us, half a lifetime removed from when they actually happened?
Is it reasonable to hope that things will get better by themselves, or is it best to poke at a problem to let some air out?
What happens when the cover falls off? Generally all hell breaks loose.

To make a long story short, I had a fight picked with me, then I was baited into a second fight. I fought back and knocked the cover off a fifteen-year-old secret that’s helped to shape the second half of my life. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Angry Liam? There is no Angry Liam.