Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Four Loves Review

The Four Loves is a non-fiction book by C.S. Lewis about the different ways humans show their affection toward each other.  The book covers four main topics: storge, philia, eros, and agape.

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The Imaginative Conservative
My favorite part of this book was the beginning chapter when C.S. Lewis described the difference between love that needs something in return and love that gives something to the beloved.  It actually reminded me of this quote from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Queenie was reading Newt's mind and she deciphered that he had a past with someone that ended unhappily, and that the person was a "taker; you need a giver".

Image result for fantastic beasts she was a taker you need a giver

This is true of anyone.  How can anyone enjoy being around someone who is constantly taking things from them and never giving anything in return?  I think the point C.S. Lewis was trying to make is that both people in love need to give each other something 

This reminded me of the Giving Tree, another great story.

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If you know the heart-breaking story of the Giving Tree, you know that the tree ends up giving away everything it has to this little boy.  To me, this is the epitome of caring for someone.  If you're willing to give yourself away for someone else, it's clear you care about them.

The key is that both people need to be giving all of themselves all the time so it's not that you're emptying your bucket and staying empty.  You're emptying yourself and being filled with someone else's love.

Unfortunately the relationship between the boy and the tree was not very mutual and the boy gets off well while the tree basically dies.

I encourage you to read this book.  It's a really fast read and C.S. Lewis is insightful as always.  Let me know what you think about it!

And because this is C.S. Lewis, I couldn't restrain myself from annotating quotes:

“Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

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Huffington Post

Monday, November 28, 2016

Le Fantôme de l'Opera

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Well apparently it's Phantom of the Opera week, here at Lover of Lembas...?

So far I've reviewed the stage show (as presented in the 25th anniversary production) and the sad follow-up Love Never Dies.

*phantom accent commences* AND NOW, MY CLEVER FRIEND...

...the book!

The Phantom of the Opera was written by Gaston Leroux, known for his detective-fiction.  It was published in 1910 under the title Le Fantôme de l'Opera.

The beginning of the book is a note from Leroux explaining how the story truly took place the phantom was no mere ghost, but a real man who "haunted" an opera house.

"There may be more non-fiction mixed in with Leroux's story. Legend has it that Leroux gave a deathbed confession in 1927, claiming that what he had written 17 years earlier was absolutely true. While there is enough crossover between fact and fiction to make you wonder, Vidal says no worker or patron has ever encountered a ghost at the Paris Opera: “Although we do blame the Phantom as a joke if something inexplicable happens.” Link

The story goes that a singer named Christine sings at a gala for the retirement of the opera house's manager.  Her long lost friend Raoul hears her and begins to fall in love with her.

He follows her to her dressing room and hears her speaking with someone mysterious.

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eclecticmuse - DeviantArt

The story right away differs from the musical (or the other way around) because we are seeing things from Raoul's point of view and it makes him a character we route for much more than the character in the musical.

When the phantom doesn't get his way after sending notes requesting that Carlotta not be the soprano in one of the operas, he sabotages her voice and drops a chandelier on the audience.

The phantom kidnaps Christine and brings her to his underground lair.  Christine pulls off the phantom's mask revealing his abhorrent face and he decides to never let her go.  Christine begs for release and the phantom agrees to let her leave after two weeks as long as she will wear his ring.

Later on, Christine explains to Raoul how she was kidnapped and what the deal was.

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Again, we get more from Raoul's point of view as we learn of Christine's journey through his conversation with her.  Raoul and Christine pledge their love to one another, unaware the phantom is actually listening in on them.

The phantom, in a fit of jealousy, captures Christine during an opera and forces her to marry him or else he will blow up the opera house.  Christine refuses, sure someone will come to rescue her, but it is revealed that Raoul has already failed at rescuing her and is trapped by the phantom.

Christine agrees to marry the phantom in order to save the opera house, and promises not to commit suicide after the wedding if Raoul and his friend (also trapped) are released.  Erik complies and releases Raoul and Co.

Christine gives Erik (the phantom) a kiss on the face and the phantom reveals he has never been given a kiss even from his own mother.  Erik says he will die "of love" for Christine and begs her to visit him on his death day.

She returns his ring to him and buries him after he dies.

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Musicals On Line

I can't decide if I like the book or the stage production better.  I am leaning toward the stage production, but the book has some valuable things the stage production lacks.

In any case, take a read of some of the most heart-breaking quotes I've ever read:

“If I am the phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.”

“Erik is not truly dead. He lives on within the souls of those who choose to listen to the music of the night.”

“All I wanted was to be loved for myself."

“I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears... and she did not run away!...and she did not die!... She remained alive, weeping over me, weeping with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer.”
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Nitrogen52rus - DeviantArt

“Poor, unhappy Erik! Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Ah, yes, we must need pity the Opera ghost...”

“Know that it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!...Look, I am not laughing now, crying, crying for you, Christine, who have torn off my mask and who therefore can never leave me again!...Oh, mad Christine, who wanted to see me!”

“He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.”

“Tonight I gave you my soul, and I am dead."

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Phantom-of-DA-Opera - DeviantArt

“They played at hearts as other children might play at ball; only, as it was really their two hearts that they flung to and fro, they had to be very, very handy to catch them, each time, without hurting them.”

“Are people so unhappy when they love?"
"Yes, Christine, when they love and are not sure of being loved.”

“I am going to die of love....daroga....I am dying of love .... That's how it is... I loved her so! And I love her still...daroga.....and I am dying of love for her, I tell you! if you knew how beautiful she was when she let me kiss her...It was the first ...time, daroga, the first time I ever kissed a woman.. Yes, alive... I kissed her alive.... And she looked as beautiful as if she had been dead!”

“Holy angel, in Heaven blessed,
My spirit longs with thee to rest”

“Our lives are one masked ball.”

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I absolutely love this book, yet it tears me apart.  Erik is such a wonderful character.  He isn't a "bad guy", he's a good guy who does bad things.  I feel so bad for Erik, yet I know that what he does is inexcusable. 

He really is the definition of "mad in love".

Christine is also a really lovable character in the book because she understands the phantom's plight, but isn't floppy enough to go with him.  I think her decision in the end to go with Raoul, but to make sure the phantom understands he is loved, is a really great one.

Raoul is much more likable in the book as well because he seems like he really loves Christine through and through as opposed to Raoul in the musical who only sees her after she does well at the gala.

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Basically the characters are great, the story is amazing, and I love this book.  I do wish that the book could also sing to me because then it would be the best of both worlds...

It can't, but the stage production can.  I think the show and the book balance each other out perfectly, so as long as Love Never Dies is never mentioned in conjunction with these two works, I will be a happy camper :D

(Side note: as I was turning in a huge final I had to take, I found myself "this is the point of no return!")

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Love Never Dies

WARNING: What you're about to read is kind of half-kidding.  But also kind of serious.  But don't take it too seriously.  You've been warned.

Love may never die, but something died inside of me as I watched this.

I'm sorry, but this is literally the worst musical I have ever seen.

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It's kind of like the Hobbit movies.  They weren't horrible on their own merit--they had cool visual effects and I probably would have really liked them on their own.  I dislike them because they take something I love (the book) and twist it out of shape and misrepresent it.

In the same way, this musical is alright--it has it's shining moments--but it grossly perverts the original Phantom story and kind of robs it of any emotional value.

Nostalgia critic describes it (satirically) like this:

"A self-inserted fanfic that is destined to become a classic!  It is the sequel to the Phantom of the Opera everyone has always wanted.  What if the phantom and Christine had sex the night before the wedding?  Oh, and Raoul is a drunk, broke, gambler now.  And the phantom is like super successful and hosts a carnival.  And Christine totally still loves him.  Oh, and her ten year old son is actually the phantom's son!  Oh, and when she dies in the end, the son goes to live with the phantom forever!"

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This show has the following problems:

  • it contradicts the original show
  • the music is less than satisfactory
  • the characters are misrepresented and also bland

Can we first just talk about the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber first denied that this show was even in connection with Phantom of the Opera?? 

"I don't regard this as a sequel—it's a stand-alone piece."

Of course, right.  It's just another story about a phantom who wears a white mask, lived in an opera house in France and is obsessed with a singer named Christine.  Mmmkay, SURE, Webber.

He probably said this after he realized he contradicted his own musical.

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National Portrait Gallery | Face to Face blog - Smithsonian

He did retract the statement later, saying:

"Clearly, it is a sequel."

First, some positives.  The costumes were very beautiful, and the boy who played Christine's son Gustav was a really good singer.

...and that's about it...

By far the worst part of the show was how it contradicted it's source material.  

First of all, how on earth does Erik return?  He literally dies at the end of Phantom!  This is the exact quote from the book:

"Erik is dead." 



Second of all, how did Erik father a son?  

That fate which condemns me
To wallow in blood
Has also denied me
The joys of the flesh."


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I think what really happened was that Andrew Lloyd Webber was a die-hard phantom-shipper and this is his fanfiction based off that.  And yes, it basically is fanfiction since the actual story of the Phantom of the Opera isn't his (it's Gaston Leroux's).

The musical opens on Coney Island, and the musical instantly loses points because Paris was a much better setting.  Creepy clowns and circus performers creep around for awhile, singing about Coney Island and slapping viewers in the face with exposition.

Actually, the exposition is a huge problem.  Just before even the circus part, the phantom sings for what seems like hours about how he wants to hear Christine sing.  Flash to circus performers, and then Meg Giry is also there trying to impress the phantom by preforming in a show.  

Half of Meg's songs are just filler...

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Ah yes, who doesn't want to impress the known criminal kidnapper, murderer and arsonist???  Of course it's natural that Meg and Madame Giry would move across the ocean to Coney Island just to impress this dangerous stalker that killed some of their friends and co-workers!  Obviously.


Meg's story line is actually one of the weirdest parts of this entire musical.  She is so desperate for the phantom's attention, that when she doesn't get it, she threatens suicide.  During this entire sequence, the phantom is saying nice things to her and being cordial all around.

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WHAT ON EARTH.  This is not even the same character!  This is not a character arc!  This flies in the face of what the phantom stands for.  The phantom literally died out of love for Christine and was willing to do whatever he could for her--including murder!  He doesn't care about anyone but Christine, so does it really make sense that he would care at all about Meg?  No!  Of course not!

But any theatrical suicide attempt ultimately results in an accidental shot being fired and a character we like getting killed.  So Christine gets shot and dies in the phantom's arms in what could have been a nice scene.  

Could have been.  What was with Christine and the phantom being totally in love?  "Kiss me one last time!"  WHAT????  What what what what what what what.


I don't even have words to express how contradictory this musical was.  The entire time my mouth was hanging open, appalled that this even existed.  WHAT.

My brain can't formulate things right now.  I had this whole plan to review this musical, but now I don't think I can do it.  I am malfunctioning thinking about it.

Error, error!


Image result for raoul love never dies
Empress Books

Christine just leaves her husband of 10 years after maybe two days being around the phantom.  WHHHHHHHHHHHY.

And Christine lets phantom (you know, the guy who almost killed her fiance and forced her to marry him) take her son out around Coney Island where they take the strangest LSD-trip ever portrayed in a musical.  It is the most psychedelic thing I have ever seen.

Christine seems like an awful mother!  Her son Gustav asks if his father loves him, and Christine launches into a weird romantic song about following your heart.  It doesn't answer Gustav's question at all and is basically there to remind us that Christine is having second thoughts about the phantom.


Image result for raoul love never dies
Empress Books

I can't point out even one memorable melody.  It seemed like characters were just chanting the plot the entire time, and it really was not entertaining.  Meg, Raoul, and the phantom chat in a bar for probably a fourth of the running time.  

There was one specific song that just sounded completely like a pop-song and nothing like a musical or an opera.  The inconsistency makes me ill.

WELL THEN....I'm going to go listen to the original Phantom soundtrack a thousand times to cleanse myself.  

What did you think of Love Never Dies?

Perhaps I will actually review this at some point, but I just needed to get some of these thoughts out my head.  I feel better now.  *Sighs*

Saturday, November 26, 2016

25th Anniversary Phantom of the Opera

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to use the 25th anniversary Phantom recording with Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo, my favorite of all the recordings.

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When I first listened to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, I must admit that I was really disappointed.  I felt that it was using the same themes over and over again.  Most musicals do repeat themes of course, for example, the following are repeated in Les Miserables:

  • Look Down* (used in the beginning, later in Paris, and finally in the sewers)
  • Empty Chairs (used by the bishop, in the convent, and by Marius)
  • Valjean's Soliliquy (Valjean tears up his ticket of leave)
  • At the End of the Day (the workers at the garment factory)
  • Lovely Ladies (Fantine at the docks, after the barricades)
  • I Dreamed a Dream (Fantine, and later in One Day More)
  • Fantine gets arrested (Valjean rescues Fantine)
  • Who am I (Who am I, One Day More, story of Jean-Valjean to Marius)
  • Confrontation (Valjean and Javert fight)
  • Castle on a Cloud (when Cosette is singing)
  • Master of the House (in the Thenardier's inn, at the end when the leave)
  • Bargaining for Cosette (when Valjean rescues Cosette, when the Thenardiers are back in town)
  • Stars (Javert sings to himself)
  • Red and Black (in the cafe, in One Day More, at the barricade)
  • In My Life (Marius, Cosette, Eponine)
  • A Heart Full of Love (Marius and Cosette, and One Day More, and when Marius is healing)
  • On My Own (Eponine)
  • Do You Heart the People Sing (building the barricade, finale)
  • Javert visits barricade (offering to help barriaders, Javert's suicide)
  • First Attack (um, the first attack obviously)
  • A Little Fall of Rain (Eponine and Marius)
  • Drink With Me (Grantaire and company)
  • Bring Him Home (Valjean at barricade)
  • Little People Know...(Gavroche's death)
*Some of these are shortened titles

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But in Phantom, I only found a few themes that were repeated over and over again:

  • Phantom of the Opera (overture, in the Phantom's sewer, Raoul I've been there, Twisted Every Way)
  • Think of Me (Christine's audition, Masquerade)
  • Angel of Music (Christine and Meg, wandering child, track this murderer, the mirror)
  • Little Lotte/The Mirror 
  • Music of the Night (Down Once More, It's Over Now..., Raoul I've been there, 
  • I Remember
  • Stranger than you Dreamt it (Christine takes the phantom's mask off, "did you think that I would harm her...")
  • Masquerade (choral version, at the end with the phantom)
  • Wishing you were Somehow Here again (graveyard, ending)
  • Magical Lasso (sung with the ballerinas)
  • All I Ask of You (Raoul and Christine, reprise by the phantom, ending)
  • Notes (twice repeated in the same situation)
  • Point of No Return (duet with phantom and Christine, track down this murderer)
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Theatrehotspot - WordPress.com

And that's it.  Allowing for even the smallest differences in theme, there are only fourteen different melodies in Phantom, compared to the twenty-four unique melodies in Les Miserables.

At first, I rolled my eyes, assuming that this was all due to lazy composing, but as I listened more and more, I realized that there was a reason that these songs were repeated.  First of all, it gave the whole show a more operatic feel, even though it is certainly not an opera.  The repetition however, and the combination of challenging singing parts make it seem like one.

These songs were not arbitrarily thrown into the story, either.  

Whenever you hear the chromatic-six note deceleration (duhhhh, duh, duh, duh, duh, DUUUUUH), you know the phantom is near.  

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The most heartbreaking example of the effective repetition of themes is with Masquerade, when everyone sings it as a choir happily, almost mocking the phantom, and later when the phantom sings it to himself sadly. 

Another example is the "Christine I love you" first sung by Raoul on the rooftop, and then *wipes away tear* by the phantom in the end as Christine returns his ring.

Oh and how can I forget "give me the courage to show you you are not alone!" sung to the tune of Angel of Music when Christine is about to kiss the phantom?  This one line recalls all of the admiration and respect Christine once had for the phantom when he was her "angel of music" and in this instance is used to summon that respect and admiration in order to save him, Raoul, and herself.

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I've come to really appreciate the music, and I've practically permanently ruined my vocal chords trying to hit those high soprano notes (I guess you're supposed to warm up...).  Apparently my actual vocal range is between a tenor and an alto???  What?

And now, a just a few of my favorite Phantom musical moments:

Starting at 0:45

Starting at 1:12

The performances in the 25th anniversary show are incredible.  People claim Michael Crawford is the only phantom, but truly I believe Ramin Karimloo redefined the character and took him to emotional depths not tread before.  To me, the 25th anniversary recording is the only one worth listening to.

This is a strange sentiment for me because with Les Mis, I find value in both the movie recording (better orchestration) and the 10th anniversary recording (better singing).  But for Phantom, the 25th is the best all the way through, IMO.

Sierra Boggess is infinitely better than the actress who played Christine in the film, but she does have one moment when I cringe.  I really dislike the moment of "order your fine horses, be with them at the door!" because it sounds like "owdow yo fine howses" with some strange accent.

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I did read, however, that she was ill during the performance, plus she had to wear a tight corset all the way through which, considering the notes she was hitting, is incredible.

So I give the music of Phantom of the Opera a good grade.

But what about the story???

I found the story really heartbreaking and a source of conflict in myself.  I went through the same phase of emotions as Christine through the show.  First, I was intrigued by the mysterious "angel of music" and was delighted to get to visit his lair.  As the show progressed, I steadily came to dread the phantom and his strange ways.

Raoul as a character was kind of "meh" for me.  He seemed rushed in, and while I get that they knew each other as children, people change.  As Christine yells in a different context, "things have changed, Raoul!"

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In the book, I feel that Raoul was much more relatable and it was easier to root for him there.  I'll review the book at a different time, though.

Anyway, the story basically goes that Christine fills in for a long-time soprano, Carlotta.  There is a deformed man who lives beneath the opera house who overhears her and instantly falls in love with her voice.  He lures her to his lair beneath the opera house, promising her that he is the "angel of music" her father had promised to send her when he died.

Christine is very intrigued by the phantom, and the phantom hopes that Christine will come to love him.  Christine pulls off the phantom's mask, overcome with interest, revealing the phantom's disfigurement.  The phantom flies into a rage, believing that Christine will never love him now she knows how ugly he is.

Meanwhile, rumors have circulated that there is an "opera ghost" and notes have been sent to the managers ordering them on how to run the opera house and instructing them to put Christine in the lead role of the soprano.

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This causes a major upset because Carlotta has always been the soprano.  Despite the phantom's orders, the managers put Carlotta in the lead and the phantom sabotages the performance.  

After this, Christine begins to fall in love with her childhood friend, Raoul.  The phantom becomes jealous and vows to wreak havoc on the opera house.

More notes are sent, ordering that Christine become the star of the opera the phantom is forcing the managers to present.  The managers agree, thinking that they will be able to capture the phantom when he goes to watch Christine sing.

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Christine, however, has become increasingly frightened of the phantom and refuses to sing, flying to her father's grave for counsel.  The phantom finds her there and begins to earn her trust again.  He brings her back to his lair.

Raoul finds Christine and the phantom, determined to rescue Christine.  The phantom tells Christine that she must agree to marry him or else Raoul will die.

Instead, Christine gives the phantom a kiss, the first kiss that the phantom ever had (it is revealed that not even his mother would kiss him), and he realizes that he really does love Christine and doesn't want to force her to do anything.  He frees Raoul and the two escape.

The phantom laments the fact that he is "unlovable" because of his face, and Christine returns to give him a ring that the phantom had used to engage her.  The phantom reveals his love for Christine, and after Christine leaves him, he dies of love (off-stage, but is meant to be inferred).  Christine and Raoul get married.

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This story has some powerful themes surrounding true beauty and love.  The phantom is convinced that his deformity is the reason no one can love him.  But as Christine tells him, 

This haunted face
Holds no horror for me now.
It's in your soul
That the true distortion lies..."

It's not the phantom's hideous face that is the problem, it's his willingness to kill and kidnap to get what he wants:

"If he has to kill one thousand men
The phantom of the opera will kill and kill again."

The theme of true beauty is found in many other French works like Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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Compassion is another theme in the story.  No one cared for the phantom.  Even his own mother would recoil when he tried to give her a kiss.  The phantom longs for love and compassion but has been consistently denied this. 

Yet in his eyes, all the sadness in the world
Those pleading eyes that both threaten and adore."

His pain turns to anger and dark desire and lack of compassion on his part as past pains so often do in the best characters:

I love her!
Does that mean nothing?
I love her!
Show some compassion!

The world showed no compassion to me!"

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Hounded out by everyone,
Met with hatred everywhere,
No kind words from anyone,
No compassion anywhere...
Why, why...?"

Pity comes to late,
Turn around and face your fate,
An eternity of this before your eyes!"

I love the phantom as a character.  His tortured past and unfortunate circumstances make him a truly pitiable character, but that is balanced by his abominable behavior.  On the one hand, I just want Christine to love him, but on the other hand, his actions are inexcusable.  

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Even though it broke my heart to watch, I agree with Christine's decision to kiss the phantom and show him he is not unlovable, but to ultimately go with Raoul.  

What do you think?  Did you agree with Christine's decision??

I really love this musical.  I think it's second to Les Mis for favorite musical, though right now I am kind of in a phantom phase, where I listen to the soundtrack pretty much incessantly while I'm doing anything.  I would rather listen to Phantom right now, but I think once the novelty wears off I will round back to Les Mis as my favorite.  Only time will tell though, I suppose.

My point is that I love Phantom's music and it's characters.  

"It's over now, the music of the night!"

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Dream Crate

I recently found out about the monthly subscription service Loot Crate and that they were looking for fans to come up with what they would love to see in a future crate.

If you're unfamiliar with Loot Crate, basically you subscribe on the website and you are sent a crate filled with nerdy merchandise each month.

My dream crate theme is high fantasy, and I totally have lots of ideas!!

The first thing I would include, is this Tree of Gondor T-shirt.  

Image result for lord of the rings t shirts

You can't love high fantasy without knowing a fair amount about The Lord of the Rings, the father of it all!  We all know that Gondor is the best, is it not??  I have this T-shirt and I really love it because to the regular person, it looks just like a normal graphic design, but to real fellow fans it's a beacon of friendship.

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File 770

This is a One Ring Keychain.  Enough has been said.

Just be careful that no one steals it.  It's very precioussssss.....

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Winter is Coming

Ned Stark Bobblehead

I don't know much about Game of Thrones and I haven't seen it due to it's violent and graphic nature, but I can't put together a high fantasy crate without including a shout out to the modern best seller.

From what I can gather, Ned Stark is by far the best character and who wouldn't want a bobble head of him??  Plus (quite morbidly) you can take the head off the bobble head because Ned was decapitated...yikes.

High fantasy often invokes medieval themes or settings, and so I give you...

...chain mail mittens!!  

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Technically Harry Potter is not high fantasy, but it is one of the most popular fantasy franchises around.  Plus, who wouldn't love to have a 

Harry Potter wand?

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What would you put in your dream crate???

Thursday, November 24, 2016

House of Scorpions

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Nancy Farmer
Atheneum Books, 2002


The House of the Scorpion tells the story of a boy named Matt, raised without much contact with the outside world.  Throughout the story, he comes to discover that he is the clone of El Patron, the dictator of the land he lives in called Opium.

Even darker still, Matt slowly unfolds the mystery that he was created as a clone so that El Patron could harvest his heart or other organs and have them transplanted into his own body so he could live forever.

This story opens with a very confusing prologue about how Matt was placed into a cow for gestation.  When I first read this part, I will not deny that I was completely confused.  As the story goes on, however, things slowly are brought to light and it makes sense in the end.

I feel that this book in general suffered a bit from pacing problems.  Some sequences were really drawn out, particularly early on.  I understand that Matt's imprisonment by Rosa was a major part of the story and showed how Matt was treated like an animal, but it went on and on and on!

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The story also rushed certain parts, in my opinion.  Matt and Maria were very slow going in the beginning, and then suddenly when Maria returned from the convent, they were BFFs?  I get that Maria changed at the convent, but this was kind of out of left field in my opinion.

My favorite part of this story was not the characters, or even the plot.  I just really love looking at the rich symbolism in the book!

When I first started, I began annotating each time the Virgin Mary was mentioned.  I stopped counting after twenty-seven mentions in the first twenty chapters.  I also found it curious that Maria was the name of the love interest (obviously a call-back to the Virgin Mary).  

I am now fairly certain that Mary (and therefore Maria) are meant to symbolize acceptance and protection.  Celia, Matt's caretaker had a singular statue of the Virgin Mary she brought with her when she went under El Patron's control.  The statue is always referenced when Celia is hoping that Matt will be safe, and is mentioned when Matt feels nervous.

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Maria is one of the only characters that actually cares about Matt and accepts him even though he is a clone.  She tries to protect him from the start when she doesn't treat him like an animal as Rosa did, and even through the end she protects him by trying to get him safely to the convent.

Another symbolic thing I annotated for was the poppy fields.  I expected the fact that poppies were growing and the land was called Opium was going to factor into the story somehow, and maybe it does in the sequels, but in this book at least, it didn't become a huge component.  It was merely an explanation for El Patron's success.

I think that this symbolizes something deeper, however.  Karl Marx said religion was "the opiate of the masses" meaning that it was escapist or in denial.  Throughout the story, Matt desperately tries to convince himself that El Patron actually loves him and he isn't going to be harmed.  It's not until El Patron tries to kill Matt that he understands he needs to flee.

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Matt is escapist and in denial when it comes to understanding his ultimate fate.  When he eventually realizes El Patron regards him as expendable, he must flee Opium, and leave his denial behind.

This book has a lot of strong themes as well.  Acceptance, like I mentioned, is a huge point, but the limits of science are questioned (can science go to far?) and what makes someone a human is also brought up.

Throughout the story, I feel that one question pervades the story.  Most clones have their brains affected so they are not very aware of their surroundings and it's easier to harvest their organs when they're needed.  Matt was left conscious and able to think.  Was it an act of mercy for El Patron to give Matt his consciousness, or was it even worse of him to have him think he was living a regular life only to snatch it away?

What do you think?  Let me know.

Happy Thanksgiving to U.S. readers, as well :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Last Battle

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Plugged In

C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia
Geoffrey Bles, 1956

I finally finished all of The Chronicles of Narnia (for the second time)!

This story was the most bittersweet of all of the rest and the ending wanted to make me cry and smile at the same time.

But before we jump ahead, let's start at the beginning.  The story between Shift and Puzzle was really unexpected and a change from what the books normally open up with.

I must say that the allegory was strong with this one, but I must admit that even though I'm not a huge fan of allegory, I was intrigued because I wanted to figure out exactly what Shift and Puzzle represented which was fairly fun.

If you are unfamiliar with The Last Battle, I'll give a rundown of the major players.

Tirian is the king of Narnia who leads the troops against the Calormenes.

Polly is the friend of Digory from The Magician's Nephew and comes back to Narnia again where she is respected due to her role in the beginning of Narnia.

Jewel is a unicorn, also Tirian's best friend and counselor.

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Digory Kirke is the friend of Polly, from the same book and is also revered in Narnia.

Eustace comes back to fight with the Narnians--we know him from the Dawn Treader and Silver Chair.

Edmund who first came into play in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes back.

Lucy, Edmund's sister is back.

Susan Pevensie returns to the series.

High King Peter, the eldest of the Pevensies also comes back for the ending.

Shift is a gorilla who manipulates Puzzle and acts like a false prophet for Aslan.

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Puzzle is a donkey who is fooled by Shift.

Aslan is Aslan.  Obviously he's the same as he's been the entire series.

I would say this is probably my favorite of all the books.  I really loved the characters and I must say that I am actually a bit frightened of Shift.  It's spooky to have someone who seems so kind be on the opposite side.  The not knowing who you can trust is more unnerving in my opinion than having an ultimate enemy posed against you.

I was very sad to find that Susan did not return to Narnia with the rest of the siblings because she stopped believing in it, and thought it was childish.  It wasn't as satisfying that she wasn't around to seal up the series, but I understand why she didn't go.

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That said, I was really excited to have Digory, Polly, and the rest of the Pevensies make an appearance!  Ever since the end of Dawn Treader (and really since Prince Caspian) I've been missing all the Pevensies together.

The end of Narnia was super heartbreaking!  I will say that I did crack a smile when Digory mentioned Plato's allegory of the cave and how he was shocked the children didn't know about it ("what do they teach in schools these days?"  I'm with you, Digory!  I would love to learn more philosophy.

The end has a revelation that apparently all the people not present in Narnia but who were somehow associated with Narnia-adventurers are dead (except Susan)???  That was like a smack in the face!  Yikes!

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But the book wrapped itself into a neat little bow and ended with one of the best concluding sentences ever:  "All their life in the world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on Earth has read, which goes on forever, and in which each chapter is better than the one before."  (insert C.S. Lewis mic drop here)

I feel so accomplished knowing that I made it through and actually understood it this time (as opposed to other attempts which failed when I was younger).

What did you think about the concluding installment??

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