Monday, August 22, 2011

Entry 11: Chrestomanci!

Recently I encountered a series of children's fantasy books by Dianna Wynne Jones that I absolutely love: the Chrestomanci series. It includes the following books: Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, Conrad's Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg. (These are often found in three volumes of two books each.) There is also a volume of Chrestomanci short stories called Mixed Magics, but I have not read it, so from now on I will not mention it in this post. Hopefully I will read it someday and discuss it then.

I use the term "series" loosely here. Each book is a stand-alone story, and, while there is an internal chronological order, it's not really that important. The books could be read in any order, I think (I would make one caveat to that statement: You may enjoy the mystery of Charmed Life most if you read it first, but I did not read it first, and still enjoyed it. I read the books by internal chronology-- see below) . They all feature a character called "Chrestomanci." In a world where using magic is a part of everyday life, Chrestomanci is a government official who must monitor magic users and make sure they do not misuse their magic to harm others.

I have seen the books listed in several orders. The order in which I listed them in the above paragraph is what I would call the "recommended reading order": it is currently the most commonly found order, especially if one reads them in the three volumes as opposed to six separate books. However, there are two other prominent orders:

The order of original publishing:
1. Charmed Life
2. Magicians of Caprona
3. Witch Week
4. The Lives of Christopher Chant
5. Conrad's Fate
6. The Pinhoe Egg

And, the order of internal chronology (the order of time passing in the books):
1. The Lives of Christopher Chant
2. Conrad's Fate
3. Charmed Life
4. Magicians of Caprona*
5. Witch Week*
6. The Pinhoe Egg
Places 4 & 5 are interchangeable: The chronology of these two books is not as clearly defined as the others'.

There are several reasons I like these books:
1.) They are FUNNY. I read these books aloud with my husband, and every single one had us laughing out loud. Whether we were chuckling appreciatively at the sarcastic wit of one of the characters, or laughing uncontrollably at some of the slap-stick scenes and outrageous misunderstandings, these books never failed to tickle our funny-bones.
2.) They are mysteries. It wasn't until after I started reading Harry Potter (some 8 years ago now!), and then went back to other fantasy, that I realized my favorite type of fantasy is (possibly) the magical mystery, of which I think Harry Potter is a great example. I've been searching for more great examples of this sub-genre ever since. Chrestomanci definitely fits the bill. Each book usually consists of not one, but several mysteries, all woven together in an intricate plot. Since these books are written for children/young adults, the mysteries are probably fairly easy for most adult readers to solve (especially once they are familiar with the author's style), but I still love that the books keep me on my toes, constantly on the lookout for important, revelatory details that usually lead to exciting, suspenseful, and sometimes surprising, conclusions.
3.) The principal characters are interesting, sympathetic, and well-developed. This is a must-have for me in almost any book. Enough said.

I will finish by saying that I am very glad I read these books. I will probably continue to re-read them in the future. If you are looking for some good J/YA Fantasy, you could not do better than these. They are exceptionally well-written. I would caution, however, that I do not recommend them for children under twelve or so, for various reasons. If you read this ridiculously long review, then I congratulate you! Happy reading.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Entry 10: In which I share my favorite dubbed-over internet videos

I really hope this post doesn't offend anyone...........

When I was seven and eight years old, my family used to gather every Saturday night in my parent's bedroom, lounge on their big bed, and watch "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" together. (I can't believe I just admitted that to the entire universe.)

Now, my sisters and I loved Dr. Quinn. And we loved Sully even more. But our favorite part of this little family ceremony was the commercials. Because that was when my dad "said the funny things," as my sister put it. My dad always used to press the mute button and dub over the commercials in an outrageous fashion. It wasn't hard. Have you ever noticed the ridiculous acting in commercials? All my dad had to do was make his voice actually fit with what was already going on on the screen, and he had my sisters and me laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.

It was hilarious to me then, and the concept is still hilarious to me now. Any comedy routine that utilizes dubbing always makes me laugh. And that is why the youtube videos I'm about to link to are still (seven years after I first saw them-- gasp!) some of my favorite internet video clips of all time.

The hilarious dubbing isn't the only reason I still laugh at them, though. The other reason is that they are a pointed satire about common misconceptions of Jesus. (They are also funny because they make fun of the acting, costuming, and sets of the ancient Jesus film they dubbed over.) If you've seen these videos (and since they've been around 8 years, you probably have), you are now either laughing or groaning, because you know what I'm talking about. They were made by a church called Vintage 21 as part of a sermon series.

Remember what I said in the beginning now about offending people? If you've been living under a rock and are about to watch these videos for the first time, or if you've seen them before and been offended, please remember: these videos are not mocking Jesus, they are mocking a wrong perception of Him. They are funny because they are SO WRONG. As the church that made them put it in their description: "This is a satirical look at what some people think Jesus is like. Thank goodness He's not." (Emphasis mine. Amen!)

So here they are, with a quick summary of the idea they're satirizing. They're only about 2-3 minutes each, so if you haven't watched them, please do. Laughter is the best medicine, right? If you've watched them before and liked them, watch them again. I promise they're still just as funny. If you've seen them and didn't like them, or you haven't but know you won't because it's not your style of humor, well, I guess I can't please everyone. I'll try to have something for you next time.
Video Clip 1 : Jesus is too busy for us.
Video Clip 2 : Christianity is just a bunch of rules.
Video Clip 3 : Jesus just wants to condemn us.
Video Clip 4 : We can earn our way into heaven.

If you watched these, now or earlier, here are my questions: Which is your favorite? Why? (Mine is 3. Because it makes me laugh the hardest. Every time.) Also, can you tell what real Jesus story these scenes were originally meant to be (before they were dubbed)? I think I know all of them... A special question to any first-timers: Where have you been? Haha, just kidding.
P.S. I know this was extra long. If you read the whole thing, good job! I figured since the videos were so short I'd compensate with a long post. Next time I'll be asking you to watch a whole movie or read a whole book so, you know, the post will be shorter to give you more time to do that... or maybe not.

Entry 9: In which I discuss the direction this blog will (hopefully) take

I've finally decided the direction I'd like to go in with this blog: I will probably mostly share my reviews and thoughts on books, movies, music and other media. I will also share some of my philosophical and theological ponderings (occasionally).

Right now I'm pondering why Firefox says "ponderings" is not a word. Dumb Firefox.

I do this not because I think I have anything all that special to say, but because I have some friends who do something similar with their blogs, and I find I always learn about exciting new books and movies, and other random things that feed my soul, from them. I'm hoping to maybe, just maybe, pass on the favor.

Hopefully now that I know what I'm doing I'll post more regularly. But probably not.