Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Discussion: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Learn how to make your own HP wand! 
Welcome to Otherwise Fantastic's first monthly book discussion! Today we are discussing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I've tried to make these questions more complex than the others I found online to prompt deeper discussion among adults (my main audience).

 If you have ever participated in a Harry Potter book discussion, some of the questions may sound familiar, but read them carefully! I have changed many of them to try to get at more complex issues.

Also be sure to vote in the poll on the right for the book discussion to take place on Halloween!

Instructions:

Read through the discussion questions provided and answer as many as you like in a comment.

OR

Read through the comments and reply to join a conversation.

OR

Comment your own questions and thoughts about the book!

Introduce yourself

In your first comment, let us know:

What house would you belong to if you attended Hogwarts?

What would your favorite class or activity be?

Who is your favorite character from the books?

Discussion Questions

1. Adult Impact

Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular with both kids and adults?

What impacted you most during your most recent reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? How is it different from your first reading?

Why do you like the Harry Potter series? How has that changed as you've gotten older?

2. Book Questions

What are the advantages/disadvantages to Harry not being aware of the wizarding world and his place there before he starts school?

[Spoiler] Later in the series, we discover the reason behind Harry's strange connection to Voldemort, but is his Horcrux the only reason Harry's wand chooses him and why the sorting hat recommends the Slytherin house? What else might this symbolize?

I've always felt that Neville should have been given at least as many points as Harry at the end of The Sorcerer's Stone, but he only gets ten. How does this contrast reflect Dumbledore's values?

Harry is often exempt from the consequences of rule-breaking. How might his character have been impacted if this was not the case?

3. Film vs. Book Questions

Many things from the books were omitted from the film. How did their exclusion impact the story/plot/characters/themes/etc.?

  • Professor Snape's potion task for the protection of the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Harry and Hermione do not sneak Norbert to the Owlery for pick up by Charlie Weasley
  • The Dursleys dropping Harry off at the train station
  • The Sorting Hat's song
  • Peeves the Poltergeist

Do you think some of the darker aspects of the book were skimmed over in the movie? Would certain characters have reached a higher level of development had those darker themes been included? (Thank you to /u/rewindrevival on reddit's /r/harrypotter for this question!)


Don't forget to vote on the book for the October discussion! See the right hand side for poll.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How to Train Your Dragon: Book vs. Movie Themes

written by Carlie Mead (my sister)

Discussing all the differences between the How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) books and movies could create another entire series.

While both the books and the movies are about a young Viking named Hiccup and his dragon Toothless, they are actually dissimilar in their plots. The movies have Hiccup learning about the Viking enemies--dragons--and the books have Hiccup attempting to release the dragons from slavery to the Vikings.

But despite the many differences (Toothless!!!) the movies stay very close to the books in their main themes.

Growing Up

The most obvious theme throughout both is Hiccup growing up. From book 1 (2003) to book 12 (2015), Hiccup slowly becomes an adult through his decisions, discoveries, trials and many, many errors. Releasing the dragon Furious was a good decision, but ultimately led to a war, which taught Hiccup that he was willing to sacrifice everything to save the dragons he loves.

Movie Hiccup also grows up (if you didn’t see it, you must be blind!). From a young kid seeking to get attention, to a Viking chief, Hiccup learns to accept responsibility and goes from boy to man.

Standing Up for Your Beliefs

from How to Break a Dragon's Heart (Book #8)
In Cressida Cowell’s series, every character learns to stand up against what they believe to be wrong.

After allowing others to take credit for previous successes throughout the books, Hiccup eventually stands up against Alvin the Treacherous, the main antagonist, denying Alvin the right to be Grimbeard’s heir, and not backing down even when it seems that he had already lost. Because Hiccup is firm in what he knows to be true, Alvin can’t win.

Despite fighting for Alvin’s army because of the position of power given to him, in the end, even Snotlout had to stand up for what he truly believed, no matter what the cost.

The movies also, promote the idea of standing up for your beliefs. In movie 1, Hiccup was hiding his true feelings, until his fight against the Monstrous Nightmare, when he denied his Viking heritage and refused to do something he thought was wrong. In the second movie, Toothless must stand against his own nature and alpha dragon to save a loved one.

Destiny

Destiny plays a big part in both the books and movies. In the books, many people and several old prophesies tell Hiccup that he is destined to be a great chief because he finds certain objects, and completes foretold quests. No matter how Hiccup gets into the situation destiny has Hiccup fulfilling ancient prophesies word for word.

In the movie (number 1) Stoic tells Hiccup, “But you will kill dragons.” As a Viking, it is an expectation to kill them, especially if you want a girlfriend. Hiccup is a Viking, and despite befriending dragons, he still kills the queen bee dragon, because, as a Viking, it’s his destiny. Even in the second movie, although he doesn’t want to be chief, Hiccup had to accept who he was meant to be.

Conclusion


If you can get over a well-mannered Toothless, Snotlout living while Stoic’s dies, and that Camicazi turned into. . . Astrid? then it is easy to watch the movies and see the similar themes in the books. 


Which is better: the books or the movies? Leave a comment and let my sister know what you think!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Game that Made Me Cry: A Brief Review of Chrono Trigger

Wallpaper available here.
Chrono Trigger (1995) is the first Nintendo game I've played since Duck Hunt when I was a kid.

My RPG experience has been largely in PC games, especially the Dragon Age series, so I was really impressed by this game. It surprised me with how modern it felt. Granted the graphics have improved, but the mechanics behind play are still there.

Now, all of this should surprise no one familiar with the game. It has been frequently cited as one of the best video games of all time, after all. But the best part of Chrono Trigger for me was by far the character development.

As an avid reader, I've often experienced the sharp pain of loss at the end of a good book--one that concluded perfectly happy--but never before upon completing a video game.

Many players have criticized the characters as being flat and stereotypical. Very little time is dedicated to backstory, and there might altogether be a page of dialogue for each character. So why was I so attracted to Marle, Lucca, Frog, Robo, and even Chrono, who never spoke a word?

1. Stereotypes Make Easy Identifiers

As I mentioned in my article on anime, the presence of archetype characters allows for the quick introduction of characters, establishing what to expect from them and then deepening them as the story progresses.

In Chrono Trigger, much of the character development is the player projecting their own imagination of the sprites, guided lightly by the dialogue and plot. This results in greater player investment, especially in the characters they choose to include in their party.

2. Self-projection on Chrono

The main character Chrono never speaks. This allows the player to take on the role of view point character themselves, with little to no character filter. Again, this results in greater player investment, this time in the relationships between characters because they feel like your own relationships.

3. Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

While the challenge of establishing loyalty within your party can be entertaining in RPGs like Dragon Age, it can also be divisive to party dynamics. The characters are different and complex, often with contrary opinions that must be taken into account before making a decision.

In Chrono Trigger, this complexity is absent, but in its place, the player is left with the feeling of party unity. Everyone is working towards a big picture goal and backing the player's decisions 100%.

Furthermore, instead of being at odds with one another, the party members care for each other. Lucca fixes Robo several times, Robo comforts Lucca when she is upset, Marle is always the first to offer help, etc.

Modern RPGs often give the impression that the party would fall apart without the main character there to hold everyone together, but this is not the case in Chrono Trigger. When Chrono is absent, the party is still unified in its goal and committed to saving him.

This results in a theme of genuine friendship, trust, and support.

Conclusion

Stereotypical characters with limited formal character development can prompt more investment from the audience--player, reader, viewer--with a greater emotional payoff.

At the end of Chrono Tigger, when each character left the party to return home, I was upset. That reaction is one that I have never experienced at the hands of any other video game.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you played any retro games recently that you were impressed by?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Japanese Steampunk: A Brief Review of Stormdancer

Stormdancer (2012) by Jay Kristoff is an exciting blend of dystopia, steampunk, and feudal Japan.

Unlike other steampunk themed stories I've read such as Jim Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass and Foglio's Girl Genius series, Kristoff's Japanese flavored version presented some ethical dilemmas, but ultimately failed to comment on them.

Summary

Stormdancer is about a girl named Yukiko who is sent with her father to hunt an Arashitora--a creature thought to be extinct. The hunters believe this is a death sentence since anyone who fails to obey the Shõgun, Lord of the Shima Isles, is killed.

The quest is not so hopeless, but far more dangerous, and Yukiko finds herself trapped in the forest with a wounded Arashitora. As these two form a bond, Yukiko learns more about the Shõgun's crimes, against her country and her family.

Ethical Dilemmas

The story presents the moral dilemma behind assassinating an evil ruler. The Kagé rebels want Yukiko to use the Arashitora to kill the Shõgun, but she is reluctant until she learns of how he had her mother killed. Then, all the objections to the act are swept aside without comment.

The quandary and the discussion it sparked are promptly ignored for the sake of revenge.

Environmental Issues

The story also touches on environmental issues. Several people comment that their way of life is destroying their world, but Yukiko concludes that they everyday person working to survive doesn't care.

Yet the Arashitora blames Yukiko's people for the destruction, and Yukiko realizes that it is almost too late; something must be done. However, the "power to the people" theme leaves the answer less assured than perhaps Kristoff meant.

Theme

The central theme is Yukiko's belief that "people can decide for themselves" (177).

At the end of the story she hands that to them directly: "Each of you must decide where you stand....All we ask is that you refuse to kneel. You are the people. You have the power. Open your eyes. Open your minds. Then close the fingers on your hand" (313).

Problem

This theme sounds very nice, but it presents some problems, complicating the ethical dilemmas.

What if the people decide that continuing to destroy the environment is how they want to live for as long as they can?

What if defending their new-found hope means killing innocent people--people like Daichi, leader of the Kagé, who was a tool of the evil Shõgun? Yukiko spared his life claiming he couldn't be held accountable for being used.

What if the people decide to put another Shõgun in power who is even more corrupt? Should he be assassinated, too?

Conclusion

Kristoff presents a world where questions of morality are presented, but not answered clearly. I believe this is because underlying Kristoff's belief in the power of people to make their own decisions, he doesn't necessarily trust them to make the "right" decision.

For the sake of a hopeful conclusion, the questions prompted by the ethical dilemmas must be ignored. Perhaps the sequels unpack these ideas more. This opening novel was certainly entertaining, if not cogitative.


What is your favorite steampunk story? How was it different from other steampunk?


Note: Image is of the Calbuco Volcano eruption in April 2015. It is in the public domain.