My youngest son is working his way through the Harry Potter movies, and my family was worried I’d feel like I missed out if they watched it when I sleep in during vacation (as I tend to do). I told them that once they get through the third movie, I don’t care.
You see, I feel like that fourth movie and the seventh movie are just terrible. You’re welcome to disagree, that’s just my opinion. Then I gave it some thought. I realized that my sincere and (in my opinion justified) feelings on movies four and seven tainted my objective view of movies five and six. I didn’t see the fifth movie as my son watched it, but I started watching the sixth movie, and I’m really enjoying it.
This confirmed my hypothesis. It’s a phenomena that happens a lot. A few bad episodes, chapters, or volumes can absolutely have a negative impact on the whole or even the next part of a series.
I’m still on vacation, so I never intended to go into too much detail about it. Instead, I just wanted to say I underestimated this particular movie, and I’m glad I gave it another shot.
I once bought the e-version of the first book in the series to read to one of my nieces, but she wasn’t quite old enough. But now the opportunity is here.
We were on vacation last weekend, and we’d forgotten to bring the Jesus Storybook Bible, which is what we normally read to our youngest. As soon as we realized we’d forgotten it, I had an idea:
“I have a book that I liked when I was a kid,” I said. “Would you like me to read that to you?”
I was afraid I’d get one page into it, and he’d get bored, again being perhaps too young to enjoy it. Now we’re three chapters in, and he’s excited to see what happens next.
I’ve always put a lot of stock into reading to children. First off, I love it. I read to my niece Saleah. I read to her younger brother, too, but I didn’t get as much time with that family as I did when Saleah was growing up. Some of the stuff I read, she didn’t enjoy. Some of it, she did.
Later, I read to one of my younger nieces (there isn’t a gender bias here, I swear. I just have a ton of nieces and just a few nephews). But now I get to read to my sons! We read to them every night. Julie and I swap nights. This gives us both time with the boys and time to ourselves when it’s the other parent’s turn. (The older boys are listening to The Half-Blood Prince in case you’re wondering.)
The really cool thing is I’m reading books I loved when I last read them, and since it’s been so long, it’s like reading them for the first time. Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement. I certainly remember how Harry Potter goes. But I’m still not sure I could name all four Boxcar Children. I just tired, and I couldn’t do it. So I have this wonderful chance to revisit old stories and share them with my sons. My oldest is getting to the point where he’s reading on his own, and my middle boy isn’t that far behind, but I find myself cherishing this time I get with them.
Reading didn’t become a big habit in my family until I was grown. I first started reading heavily with Natty Bumpo. Then I discovered the Star Wars Extended Universe. Then I discovered Dean Koontz, and then The Wheel of Time. I honestly believe that when we grow up reading, we grow up imagining and thinking. But the biggest value still comes with that personal, quiet time we get with our sons. Not only do the stories we read together entertain us, but the memories we create reading those stories to our children are ones I’ll always want to hold onto.
So here’s to The Boxcar Children! I’m so glad I get to share you with another generation. I hope he comes to love you as much as I do.
I love to read. It’s relaxing, and a good book can captivate even a whole generation. Just look at Harry Potter. That series flat out made reading “cool” again, but time is just too short. I read before work. I read before bed. I read in the bath just to give myself time to read.
But I don’t get through my TBR list nearly as quickly as I’d like. This leads me to audio books. The main reason I love audio book is that they let me read more. I listen to audiobooks when I drive to and from work and pretty much whenever I drive around. This gives me about two to three hours of reading more than I would have. I like a good car karaoke on occasion, but I inevitably want to find out what happens next in whatever story I’m reading at the moment. This extra time can help me either blast through a book I’m reading or get through another book I wouldn’t normally have time to read.
Here are a few other reasons audio books really make my day:
1: It lets me re-read books I love: A number of the sagas I love are large. I think the shortest series I like is four (main) books. So audiobooks let me refresh my mind on previous books before the newest book comes out. It also lets me go back and read entire sagas I love.
2: A good narrator can make a story even better: I have favorite narrators. James Marsters, Kate Reading, Michael Kramer, and Wil Wheaton to name a few. They bring the story to life. Now, I have friends who assert the voice actors in their head are better than the other narrators, but I just love hearing a story come to life. Now, when I read Wheel of Time, I hear Michael and Kate’s voices.
2a. A good narrator can make a book I wouldn’t like a book I loved. I did a review on The Chaos Walking Trilogy. It’s written in first-person present tense, which I would have never read (let alone written) in a book. But when a friend recommended the series, I fell in love with it mostly because of the voice actors. I later was inspired by that series to try writing in that style (Sojourn in Captivity).
3. It’s a safe way to try a book you wouldn’t normally try: So one complaint I get with audiobooks is that, “I can’t pay attention to it.” I’ve found that a good one can really hold my attention. But a boring (or even bad) book can be made far less painful in audio form because I can mentally check out here and there. Then there are the other books. I tried the first book in the Demon Cycle because I liked a short story Peter V. Brett did in an anthology. I tried it via audio because if I didn’t like it, I could just tune out here and there, and listen for the highlights. But I loved it!
These are the main reasons I love audiobooks, and, since I didn’t know what else I wanted to ramble about in today’s post, I thought I’d try to convince readers to give them a try. May I humbly suggest The Journals of Bob Drifter, Caught, The Power of Words, or Repressed? If you sign up for Audible, you get a free credit, and I can’t do more than offer you a free book.
I thought I might take a moment to discuss a topic near and dear to me. I love stories. They’re just so amazing, and each one is special for it’s own reason. But what happens when someone truly creates something exceptional? A trend I’m noticing these days is that the greater a creation someone has, the more demand that artist is to create something greater, but that’s not a consistent measurement for any number of reasons. Lately, I’ve seen a number of people talk about how awful something is. I’d be in the middle of asking why they didn’t like it, and, inevitably, the other person would say something like, “His first book was so much better!”
OHHHHhhhhh! You’re not evaluating this story on it’s own merit, you’re comparing it to something else. Is it a completely unreasonable thing? Maybe not. I mean, every author and artist I know truly wants the next project to be better than the last. But I don’t know that I’d want to be judged on my last work, especially if I were ever lucky enough to create something amazing.
So what I’m going to do is look at a few projects to hopefully show what I mean.
The Star Wars saga: This might honestly be the most beloved story of all time. Even people who hate Star Wars (like, from 1980-something and beyond) still know it. They still get the jokes and memes. The original trilogy was lightning in a bottle. It does so many things well, and it hit people and culture at a perfect point in history. Here’s my statement though, no follow up, ever, could hope to hold up against it. First, we’ve had some 30 years to romanticize that story. We grew up, loving it, watching it, and reaffirming our love for it.
I don’t have statistics to measure this, but I’d be willing to bet money a guy is more likely to meet and marry a second wife before he’d be willing to let anyone touch is beloved Star Wars. Bold statement right? Is it? God forbid, if I lost Julie, I’d be devastated. I love her. I truly believe God made her just for me in the same way he made Eve for Adam. Still, I’ve already asked her to try and find someone new if I die, and, after time, I might find someone new for myself. But whoever I meet, I’d meet and get to know on an individual level. How fair would this hypothetical situation be if I compared my second wife to Julie? Even more, people don’t really even consider it. Sure, they may recognize things or appreciate things that remind them of their original spouse, but they don’t hold the previous spouse against the current one.
But make a prequel movie that doesn’t meet the twenty years of expectations I’ve placed on it, and we’ll riot. Make a sequel that doesn’t line up with my fan theory, and I’ll start a petition demanding Disney retcon the movie, and then I’ll lose my stuff because the director lacked the courage to stand behind his conviction of starting an original story line. This isn’t opinion, search #StarWars on social media and look at the hate. My sons actually said, “The sequels ruined Star Wars.”
That gave me pause. “Did you even watch it?”
“Did you like it?”
“Then how did it ruin it?”
“My teacher said so.”
First off, my kids are supposed to be learning skills, not being force fed your own personal opinion on art and cultural issues, teachers. No my sons are TAUGHT to hate a thing just because they want to fit in. (Tangent over.)
Here’s my point. You can say you like Star Wars, or you can hate it. But I wonder, if we had someone watch Episode 8, and make sure that person never saw the originals. What would that person think? What would happen if we watched that movie just for that movie? Is it a part of a whole, sure, but fans today are measuring against decades of romanticized expectations and anticipation. Disney doesn’t stand a chance. I’m not saying 8 was the greatest ever, but it’s nowhere near the worst, and no amount of Jar Jar Binx can honestly ruin A New Hope.
So why talk about this? Am I trying to justify 8 vs the other episodes? No, like Disney, I don’t stand a chance. Neither does 9. Fans have chosen to love or hate that movie already, and they’ll love it or hate it regardless of the content because they’ve chosen to love it or hate it. It’s like politics. I could say the most hateful things, do the most horrible stuff in accordance to anyone’s opinions, but if I label myself a republican, republicans everywhere love me. Do the SAME stuff, and label myself a democrat and democrats everywhere will embrace me. It’s honestly the same with these transcendent works.
The Cursed Child: People everywhere are pretty polarized about this story as well. I loved it. Now, fans didn’t have the same amount of time to romanticize this story, and I’ve noticed the dissatisfaction is way down. Do a survey, and I’d bet money those who hate it are those who grew up with Harry. I mean that literally. If they started it at 12 and finished it at 20-something, they probably hate Child. Find those older readers who were more discerning and less impressionable, and at the very least I bet money that group will have a much more standard Bell curve. Why do they like Beasts? They went away from all those main characters. Why don’t they like Grimwald? They made editorial decisions on Dumbledore. The only real way to stay in a universe and not get flack would be to create a new story with new characters who don’t alter or affect the ones people fell in love with. Solo might be the most hated Star Wars movie (maybe). But Solo doesn’t stand a chance. We love Han, and if the Han we see doesn’t fit into our romanticized view, we hate him. Frankly, no one can meet your romanticized view of a character.
So I fear ever writing that transcendent story. Because people forget what it means to truly create something transcendent. It’s notable specifically because it’s unique and original. I think a lot of directors, writers, and creators are unfairly held to a transcendent standard, and it takes away one’s ability to simply enjoy a story on it’s own merit.
I very carefully didn’t give too many opinions on what I thought of these things because that’s my point. There is not fair comparison. There is no fair opinion. The very nature of an opinion is based on emotion and thought more than any measurable standard. I challenge readers and viewers to think about this the next time you watch or read something. I’ve seen things I didn’t enjoy as much. My wife asked if I’d watch a remake of Krull or a sequel. I’d probably see the sequel, but I’d have to work very hard not to be unreasonable. I’ve had decades to imagine how I thought the story would go. My life as a writer even began with my work to pen a sequel to the story. So anyone else’s vision would just be insulting to me on a personal level because of my own filter and not because of the actual work, which really isn’t fair.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Do you disagree? I’d really like to have a civil discussion on this.
Do you remember 1980s cartoons? A lot of them are being remade, but I remember a day when villains were just bad guys who did bad things. I’m still a fan of those villains in the right circumstance. Horror movies (most of them) follow that format still.
However, over the last, I’d say, ten years, readers and moviegoers have had a higher standard. They want sympathetic villains. Now, this isn’t exactly a “new” trend. I’d even admit that most great stories had sympathetic villains. Now, I know I’ve talked about sympathy sliders, but in this case I honestly mean villains I understood and felt a connection to.
I feel this has become the standard. What I’ve tried to do is think about situations where the reader demands a connection to the villain as opposed to those situations where they don’t care so much.
This is honestly just me musing on the subject, and I’d be interested to hear your comments below.
My thesis: The more they see the villain, the more the reader wants to understand him.
Jon Doe from Se7en. He’s the shadow in the dark. He’s the mysterious monster who we never even see until the last act of the movie. So when we finally come face to face, he’s a monster. That’s because this story is about Somerset and Mills. We get to know them. We care for them. A lot of mysteries follow this format (of course some don’t). The point is, I’ve never once talked to anyone about this movie and heard that person say, “that movie was terrible. I really couldn’t understand John Doe’s motivation.” That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but we don’t see him a lot, so we really don’t care what his side is. We just want Mills to put that gun down.
As I think, I’d posit that this style is most common in mysteries and thrillers. When the capture of the villain is the main plot thread. Again, there are exceptions, but the point is you can have a huge hit with a villain no one understands, so long as we don’t have to keep interacting with him. Short fiction where the bad guy is one to be chased and captured seems acceptable.
This is less true with larger works. It’s rare in epic fantasy to have a villain who isn’t at least understandable. But let’s take a look at two huge successes and see what distinguishes them.
The Lord of the Rings:
Sure, we understand the motivation. Get the ring; rule the world. But it’s not like we find ourselves ever feeling for the great eye do we? Also note, that eye and all his minions have less than ten percent of the story. This does a few things. It amps up the mystery and the threat. In fact, Wheel of Time shows us that the more we see the villain, the less imposing they are. In Eye of the World, Myrddraal are just horrifying. But after a few more books, we’re not so afraid of them anymore. We only THOUGHT they were imposing, but the Forsaken! Sure, in books 2-5. Now what Jordan did with that problem is he made them more sympathetic. So the Myrddrall are just made to be minions. The Forsaken, however, begin to get personal chapters, strife and pain. I love the series, but I can admit this was a bit hit or miss. The point is, the reader learns about them, and there’s opportunity for some degree of understanding.
Here’s where I admit that I’m struggling to think of a case where the villain is known. They’re out there, but it’s a challenge. The challenge is because while there is opposition to the main character, that opposition isn’t the main threat of the book. The main opposition isn’t seen much. The less we see them, the less we care (and I’d even argue want) to understand them.
I’m currently look at Best Fantasy Books HQ’s list of the best-selling fantasy series of all time, and I’d argue that while there is opposition to the main character, the main threat is still mostly unknown.
Harry Potter: We don’t see that V guy (no way I’m trying to spell that name) in the flesh until the fourth book. Sure we know about him, but we don’t really build a bond do we? Was anyone I’m unaware of sitting there going, “Well, I really think he has an argument for why he should be in power”? Nope. Sure, we could argue some affection for Draco, and did anyone not cry when Snape said, “Always”? But they weren’t “the main threat.”
Lord of the Rings: Discussed above.
Chronicles of Narnia: Well, it depends on which book you talk about, but in the ones I can remember, that there “main villain” was pretty much only showing up when it was time for the showdown.
Wheel of Time: Discussed above.
Discworld: I’ve only read one book. I’m sorry folks. It just didn’t grab me.
A Song of Ice and Fire: Anyone on team White Walker? Yes, there are many evil, hateful people in that book, and we know their motivations. We even understand most of them. However, that Night King is THE bad guy, and no one has posted a single meme asking “why don’t we know more about why he’s trying to ruin the world?”
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Luke, I believe, dies a hero. Kronos (the big bad) is there to scare people and get beat in the last book.
Inheritance Cycle: Murtagh is a tragic character, but he’s a victim and a pawn. Galbatorix? We saw him at the end for like, a second.
So, after careful consideration and research, I’ve formed a new thesis, especially when it comes to antagonists and big bads.
Conclusion: Fantasy sagas have two forms of opposition. 1) A sympathetic opposition. A character whom we feel something for as the series progresses. (Examples: Draco, Vader, Murtagh.) 2) a “big bad.” This is a force or evil we don’t see until the end unless it’s to threaten the hero and make him feel very small. (examples: Kronos, The Emperor, Galbatorix. Voldemort, (HEY! I spelled it right!))
I don’t feel this is an absolute. However, I do feel it is the standard. I once did a post about the symbiotic nature of heroes and villains, but those are in series and comics where the main conflict is the bond between those characters.
Spoiler Free Summary: 17 years after theBattle of Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all grown up with children of their own. Harry’s youngest is the odd man out. It picks up right where the last book left off, only we find out who young Albus Potter sits next to on the train, and it’s the most unlikely person. Albus struggles to be the boy who’s the son of the boy who lived, and he and his friend Scorpious find all the wrong ways to make a name for themselves. When they find a mission for themselves, a mission designed to fix one of Harry’s past mistakes, they only end up discovering the costs of trying to be heroes.
(NOTE: This isn’t a book. It’s a script. I think it was wise and kind of those involved to let people who love that world see what the next chapter is, and they did so in the most immediate format available. If you just want to KNOW what happened, this does the trick. Also, this isn’t a Harry Potter book. He has a significant role, but the book isn’t really about him.)
Character: This part frustrated me a bit. Albus has a solid arc, and he’s very proactive, which helps, but things seem to move a little too quickly for my taste here. It doesn’t hurt the book exactly, but readers should be ready to let a little development slide here. You can probably give some of that to the performance as this is a script, not a novel. I have to say this. The lesson and arc Albus goes through is far less external than Harry. I can see the reasoning here. Harry had to beat the overlord. How do you improve on that? Options: Bigger villain, or more dramatic focus. The most interesting part of Albus is the lesson he learned because it was the only one there was for him to learn.
Scorpious, on the other hand completely steals the show for me. I found him more compelling anyway. He’s a young man who has to struggle with his family’s mistakes, and all he wants to do is be a kid. My opinion, this story falls short if Scorpious isn’t in it. Where Harry was clearly the hero of the last generation, Scorpious carved a place for himself in my heart. Sure, Albus does some cool things, but he wasn’t nearly as heroic as his friend.
Exposition: This was a script, so we get a little insight into emotions and stage direction, but this is heavy based on dialogue.
Worldbuilding: This is where I think the book falls short. The writers are asking readers to believe that nearly two decades have passed, and there wasn’t a hint of progress in the world? Where the Mistborn world and even The Last Airbender worlds evolved, there’s nothing in this book to show any passage of time. This will be grounds for argument for anyone who cares to waste oxygen on it, but if the only reason they’re still using owls to communicate is because they always have, then what significant contributions are there to be made in the wizarding world? Especially with a Minister of Magic who was raised in a muggle world.
I think this is a failure on the part of the writers. I was glad to see more of the world of Harry Potter. We even get a peek at some magical developments. So if want you want is pretty much EXACTLY the same world you left, then you’re in luck. Of course, if you really wanted that, you could actually just reread the original series. For me, if I read a book nearly two decades after the last, I want some worldbuilding ways to note said passage of time.
Dialogue: I don’t actually know if the dialogue is “good” here. There’s a lot of it. The character’s voices feel unique. I’ve never read a script before, so perhaps there’s some expectation the actors will bring the words to life. It’s honest to say it didn’t meet my expectations, but that my expectations were higher because I knew dialogue would drive the story.
Description: Again, this was a script, so there’s not much there.
Overall: It was nostalgic to go back to this world and see what’s happened. I can say what I want about the worldbuilding, but that doesn’t diminish the wonderful characters in the story, nor does is make this book unentertaining. It is a fun, fast-paced story that I’m glad was published. I love knowing “what happened next,” and this book does that for us. I read this in about two days (which is fast even for me). Yes, I was more happy to see these characters in a new story than I was impressed with the actual plot, but it was still enjoyable. If you love Harry Potter, I imagine you’ll like this next chapter. If you didn’t love the world and style of the books though, you’ll be disappointed because it’s the same in this book.
I’m not actually one of those who sing the praises of J.K. Rowling. She did a lot for this industry, and I really enjoyed the saga. I’m just a bit less in awe of her actual writing, and I had some serious problems with Deathly Hallows. Regardless, I was very happy I read Cursed Child. I was glad to see the characters again, and I’d look forward to more from this new generation.