Passing The Torch

I grew up at the most amazing time.

I know a lot of people would argue that the late 80’s/early 90’s were not a mecca for anything except poor fashion choices, but here are the perks that come with being an ’85 kid.

The Little Mermaid was the Disney movie all my friends knew and loved. Every trip to a pool, lake, or ocean… we were mermaids. I got in trouble more than once for brushing my hair with a fork in public. The sing along potential from that movie is amazing, and who doesn’t want a cranky crab as a sidekick?

I learned about traveling through the digestive track with The Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle was my cartoon tutor about all the wonderful things you could explore in life. Though, admittedly, I did have nightmares about shrinking, being swallowed, and getting permanently trapped in a person’s throat.

I also grew up alongside Harry Potter. I was just past the stage where I could hope for a letter from Hogwarts, but I was perfectly placed to revel in the wonder of the wizarding world. When the final books were released, I was an adult who could go to the midnight release and binge the books through the night. I made it through the Harry Potter series spoiler free. That is a feat, my friend.

Teenaged angst? Buffy The Vampire Slayer was right there, not only having way worse dating drama than I could ever cook up, but proving that girls kick butt… seriously.

And an epic bonus, I was old enough to watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies in theatres! I had grown up with a serious crush on Elijah Wood, and though the hobbit feet still freak me out, seeing someone so close to my age succeed on such a massive level was incredible. Also, the movies are just great.

Here comes the part where I sound really old.

Kids today just don’t get the awesomeness that was my youth!

The Little Mermaid has its own ride at Disney World and Disneyland, which is super awesome, but Ariel has been replaced (in general, not on the ride) with the modern princesses. I love that Elsa and Anna save each other, and it’s great that Moana has no love interest at all. Sure, The Little Mermaid might be a little sexist and there are some major plot holes, but it’s still a great movie! I worry that over time this classic will be pushed into the realm of Steamboat Willie where clips will be watched without context on YouTube, and small children will wonder why anyone would want to buy that hat at Disney World.

With the reboot of The Magic School Bus, kids today think they’re the ones to discover the magic of Ms. Frizzle. Don’t let the children convince you of this. Enough said.

It’s sort of the same boat with Harry Potter. Kids don’t understand why an adult would be so obsessed. I’ve been to the theme park (which is amazing, btw), and kids don’t seem to understand why there are so many grown ups who want to get a good view in the windows, or watch Dumbledore speak in his office. I have an interactive wand, and kids glare at you like you’ve stomped on their puppy when you don’t let them cut the line to cast spells. This is my childhood, kid. You can wait in line like the rest of us.

Poor Buffy has been relegated to a dark corner of the TV universe where kids will probably never see it.

I actually had a teenager tell me they didn’t like the Lord of the Rings movies because there wasn’t enough plot. I had to explain the difference between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

So, here I am, stuck in a world of swirling nostalgia. On the one hand, it’s nice to love something like Buffy where I don’t have to argue the timeline and validity of a universe to people who can’t drive.

But I do want the next generation to experience the joy and wonder of Harry’s sorting. I want them to know that Sam is the real hero. It’s a balance that’s hard to find.

Maybe we could all agree to just slap an est. sticker on all great media, so kids would know the history of the stories they enjoy.

The new generation can’t steal the joy that was my childhood, but maybe, just maybe, we could teach them why they are just going to have to wait their turn to cast the wingardium leviosa spell on the feather at Flourish and Blotts.

Villians We Secretly Want to Be

Have you ever wanted to be just a little bit evil? I don’t mean like robbing a store or something real world bad, but fantastically evil. I have henchman evil.

Maybe it’s just my dramatic side, but there are a few evil folks I would shank a flying monkey to spend a day in their non-ruby shoes.

The first one is easy for me: The Wicked Witch of the West. I adore her. I want to be her sans melting into oblivion. I love her so much that when I got to play her in The Wizard of Oz it kicked all other roles out of the race for most fun had on stage.

Being evil is fun. It’s not just the cackle or having wicked flying monkeys to do your bidding. There’s something satisfying in staring down the person everyone is supposed to be rooting for and saying, “Over my dead body, goody two shoes!” Unfortunately, the good guys usually do end up stepping over your dead body on the way to success, but hey, you had fun while you were alive.

Also, not to kill my own point, but is the Wicked Witch of the West really evil at all? I don’t mean isn’t the book/musical Wicked right about our dear green lady. I mean really think about it. A weird girl comes in and kills your sister. There is one thing that you want from your departed sister, and the murderer takes it? Then she comes after you to kill you and steal your thing? Dorothy might really be the bad guy in Oz.

Next up: Malificent. I love her. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But that voice, that hat! She oozes power and control. It’s actually pretty sexy. And then she turns into a dragon! A freaking dragon! Who cares about talking dragons when you can be a fire breathing dragon!

And the White Witch in Narnia. Okay, so the cold might get old. But the grace, the poise, the army of evil animals to do her bidding. And if she needs a break, she can just climb back up into her sleigh and eat Turkish delight!

Of course, things end badly for all three witchy women, but think of their shining moments of evil. Great battles where no man comes to their rescue! They stand at the front of the battle and cry for blood! It’s brilliant!

Of course, there are good women who are also badasses. The Black Widow is awesome. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is great.

But I watch Buffy, and I really just want to be pre-niceness Spike. I want to ride around in a car with black-painted windows and cause chaos.

Or I could be the Darkling from the Grisha Trilogy. He’s sexy, powerful, has an amazing carriage to ride around being evil in. He causes chaos like he’s making tea, and I love it.

I guess in the end, the real question is do you want to be a bad guy who dies fighting for darkness and evil. Okay, so there are a ton of moral questions stuck in there, too, but we’re going to pretend that morality and conscience don’t matter for a second.

I like bad guys who believe in their evil cause with such conviction that they are willing to suffer a horrible death at the hands of the hero just for a chance at success. Even if that cause is only ruling the kingdom or getting back some stolen shoes. And if you get a sweet ride or some awesome animal henchman, all the better.

Sometimes you just get the itch to be a witch.

Dysfunctional Relationships in Fantasy: Love Triangles and Codependency Pushing the Hero Forward

I love a good romance in a book. Star-crossed lovers, the girl next door, the unexpected crush, I love them all. But there are some times you read a book and just want to shake the characters. Scream at them in an older and wiser, holier-than-thou voice, “What are you thinking?! Do you have any idea how much therapy you’re going to need to recover from this? Do you have any idea how much therapy costs?”

I’m not under the impression that all characters should make good life choices, let alone good love choices. That story would be thoroughly disinteresting. Where would Emma be if she hadn’t decided to meddle in other people’s love lives? She probably would have married Mr. Knightly, but her journey wouldn’t have been very interesting. Juliet would have ended up better off if she had just told Romeo “No,” but then we wouldn’t have one of the classic, tragic love stories to moon over. Bad choices, Jules, but it makes for a good story.

So I want to look at some of the modern fiction examples of bad relationship choices. ‘Cause how better to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Not long ago I read a great book by Neal Shusterman titled Scythe. It’s a very cool YA book. There are people whose job it is to go around killing other people for population control. There are two teen apprentices of death, and they end up pitted against each other and only one can survive. Any normal person who was told, “Hey, it’s you or this other person you just met” would probably be like, “Okay, I’m going to fight for my life.” But no, no, there’s a vague crush, so death is worth it for the other person to survive.

What? They’re teenagers. Seventeen-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to get tattoos, let alone die for this person they think they like but haven’t even tried to go on a road trip with. But they’re pushed into a high-stakes situation where momentum forces their relationship into instant codependency and forces the story to a point where death seems the obvious choice. I mean, who doesn’t dream of sacrificing their life to save someone they haven’t even kissed?

Okay, let’s move it back to a more well-known venue.

Let’s talk about Maze Runner. I know, not something that you would turn to in search of romance. But we have a boy who wants to be near a girl due to a deep-seeded, scientifically-induced need/her being the only girl he’s ever actually known. We’ve got telepathy, covert plans, and the desperate need to only trust each other. That creepy trust pushes the entire story forward. They have been made to think together, and while that co-dependency is shattered, it is the bond that sets them apart from everyone that surrounds them. Bad love choices = heart-pounding thrills.

Diving further into the mainstream for some even worse choices in love, let’s talk about Peeta. Poor, poor Peeta. He doesn’t have the guts to tell the girl he’s been in love with since before puberty that he loves her, but he’s willing to die for her no questions asked? Granted, it’s a great read. I love The Hunger Games! I even like the movie version. But for a teenager to say, “You sang, and you’re a badass, so I’m totally cool with dying for you even though I’m really not the guy you like,” is a terrible decision. Never be on the death end of a love triangle. It leaves the living two each other for comfort and you in the ground!

But without Peeta, Katniss would lose her relatability in the first hundred pages. She’d just be a chick in the woods covered in other kids’ blood. But Peeta’s love for her, even though he’s trapped in a love triangle of doom, gives us something to love about Katniss. He sees every good feature she has, and his version of her not only gives Katniss something to strive for, but gives us a person we hope she’ll become. He pushes her and her story further than could be done if it were just a book about a girl with a bow and bad government.

There are a few lessons to be learned from the fictional follies of love. If you’re going to risk your life for someone, maybe be sure they’d bother to do the same for you. Bad choices makes great stories. And if I ever find myself stuck in a fictional world, I’m going back to school to be a therapist, because God knows these poor kids need some serious help.

XP Points or Death: Maturing Your YA Character.

I am admittedly new to the world of XP points. I didn’t even play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time until a few months ago when my friends, like so many others, decided we needed to learn how to play after watching Stranger Things. D&D is fun; you get to hang out with your friends and battle goblins. It’s like “choose your own adventure” books but gets to be considered a social activity.

I learned a lot in our D&D sessions. I should never choose a character who is aligned with lawful good. I have a tendency to torture goblins when they won’t do what I want (but I mean, come on, what’s a few burned feet between friends.) I learned that no matter what cave entrance you choose, someone will shoot at you. And I learned that if you don’t level up fast enough, soon a single goblin will be able to kill you.

What do all these deep and meaningful revelations mean, other than I should never be sent on an information-gathering mission in hostile territory? They give meaning to the way that we structure stories.

Dungeons and Dragons is basically freeform storytelling. You start at the beginning with a goal. You encounter things to obstruct or distract from your goal and other characters who will help or hurt you. Through this discovery of new information, your goals can change, either through creating side quests (I mean, we couldn’t let those goblins steal the cart with our hostage hidden in the back) or by changing your perspective on what the end goal should be.

Living in a character and pushing them through a story with other characters that aren’t just in your head, fighting you on what you should do next or questioning your motives, is an amazing experience for an author.

Each character starts out with attributes, things that they are good at that the other characters aren’t, and you have to learn to use each others strengths to push forward. One girl was really good at negotiation, one guy had all the gold, I was good with a longbow, etc. And we could manage that way, living off each other’s strengths, for a while. But the goblins and other monsters kept getting stronger, and we couldn’t just rely on each other’s strengths any longer. But there was no magic elixir to suddenly make my character super strong and athletic. I had to make it through the battle alive to gain points to be stronger in the next battle. Which is exactly what we do to our characters in books.

Let’s put it in the context of Harry Potter (overdone, I know, but it’s a useful point of reference). If the Harry Potter who met Voldemort in the great hall at the end of the series met poor, stuttering Professor Quirrell at the Mirror of Erised, he would have easily stunned Quirrell, gotten the stone, and gotten out. Conversely, if tiny Harry barely out of the cupboard met a Dementor, he would be soulless, and the series would be over. Either way you flip it, there is no more story to be told.

Growing a character doesn’t happen instantly (of course, there are exceptions. Cliché again, but Bella suddenly became the strongest vampire in town), it happens slowly. They go through something scary, hard, or dangerous, and they come out on the other side with more experience, better equipped to meet the next crisis.

They learn a new spell, learn a new skill, or could even meet a new ally. Anyway you spin it, they come out of the battle more ready to meet the big boss waiting at the end. So, we have to test our characters. Giving them obstacles, trials, triumphs, and defeats. Growing them carefully as humans and as heroes. So that when the final goblins come, they will have the XP to defend themselves and win the day. Maybe they’ll be so changed at the end we’ll barely recognize the goblin torturer we met at the start. But the journey creates us, bit by bit, point by point, till we reach the end.