Tag Archives: tragedy

Merlin (2008 TV Series)


AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson


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ghostingAuthor: Edith Pattou

My rating: 5 of 5

On the last weekend of summer, right before the beginning of senior year, a group of teens find themselves thrown together. Some of them have close connections. For others, any connections they may have had are by now ancient history. Others barely have any connection to the group at all. But on this one night, they go to a party together. And that’s when things begin to go horribly wrong.

Wow, incredible book. First off, Ghosting isn’t a ghost story–it has nothing to do with ghosts, except perhaps our own personal ones. Secondly, it’s nothing like what I was expecting from Edith Pattou; everything I’ve read of hers previously has been awesome fantasies or fairy tale retellings. This book is more like a modern-day nightmare, at least for the first part. It’s the tale of several teens–a largely diverse group–and one ill-fated evening where everything seems to go from bad to worse in an ever-increasing weight of bad karma. Drugs, alcohol, dares . . . and finally a gunshot. It’s pretty horrifying. But the author handles the whole situation very well. And the second half of the book, the aftermath if you will, is immensely healing, beautiful even. It’s the sort of story that both warns against making dangerous choices and also offers hope for those who have made those choices. I love that the entire story is told in free-verse poetry, from the perspectives of numerous individuals. The author does a great job of making each person’s voice and perspective shine distinctly. Ghosting is both a terrible and a beautiful story, definitely one that’s best for a more mature audience, yet one that is tasteful and meaningful. Highly recommended.

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Blackbird House

Author: Alice Hoffmanblackbird house

My rating: 4.5 of 5

On the outskirts of a small town just off the shores of Cape Cod sits a small house known to the locals as Blackbird House. Lovingly built by a fisherman–for his wife to live in while he went to sea–in the early days before our country was an actual country, the house has seen numerous inhabitants over the years. Each family has had its own story, and each story has left its own unique mark on the land and the house, connecting the lives lived there across the ages, memory upon memory.

Blackbird House is a welcome, although unexpected, collection of tales centering on a small cabin near the shore. I guess I ought to expect this sort of work from Alice Hoffman, but she still has the gift to surprise me–which is actually really nice. Every tale in this collection was enjoyable in its own right, and seeing the connections between them made them even more interesting. Not that there are particular thematic connections or anything that direct; there are all sorts of stories and characters here, everything from sweet, unexpected romances to heartbreaking tragedies to tales of ungrateful modern youth. No, the connections are more subtle than that, motifs that carry throughout: the sweet peas and the pond behind the house, the white blackbird that haunts the house, red shoes (a sure sign of witches!), that sort of thing. I loved the slice of history that’s presented here, ranging chronologically from early settlement days all the way to very recent years. Yet spun throughout the history is a feel of fairy tales that gives a different weight and experience to these stories, making them timeless in a unique and beautiful way. Blackbird House is definitely an adult collection, but for adult readers–whether your preference is historical fiction, short stories, or even fairy tales–I think this book has something unique and special to offer that is well worth reading.


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Girl on a Platter

Mangaka: Meca TanakaGirl on a Platter

Alternative Title: Sara no Ue no Kanojo

My rating: 3.5 of 5

On a mountain overlooking a remote village, a dragon god lives in human form, eking out an existence on the small birds his toad-spirit servants can bring to him. Every fifty years, the village sends a human sacrifice up the mountain for him to eat, allowing him the energy to take true dragon form and theoretically bringing prosperity to the village. But this time, the village’s offering is entirely unacceptable–not a plump, properly terrified citizen. No, they send a scrawny, blank-faced orphan girl who’s spent her entire nameless life knowing she would end her life as dragon food. Completely dissatisfied with this turn of events, the dragon refuses to eat her and even allows her to stay with him, naming her Tsubame (“swallow,” hmm?) and choosing to continue living off of the mountain birds. But the foolish villagers are, of course, unwilling to leave matters as they stand. . . .

Meca Tanaka’s manga are usually super cute and sweet shoujo stories. Girl on a Platter is a very interesting–and very short–one shot manga, and yes, in a way it is cute and sweet. But it’s also immensely more dark and disturbing than her usual. And, while many of her stories involve a fantasy element, this is the first that I’ve seen that’s completely removed from normal life, choosing rather to delve into more traditional Asian mythology. It’s interesting, for sure. I actually like the characters–they’re somewhat enigmatic and complex, but they don’t have outstandingly annoying traits and the mystery adds to the intrigue. They’re really pretty too; well, Tanaka-sensei’s art is always gorgeous. I think the biggest negative for this story is just that it’s so short. The ending is extremely open, to the point that it can be confusing, and in general there’s just not enough time to really develop the story. But for all of that, I think it was enjoyable. If you’re interested in a slightly darker shoujo fantasy, and especially if you’re also short on time to read, I think Girl on a Platter would be a good choice to try.

Note: As is sadly the case with many (most) one-shots, this manga does not have an official English translation. However, there are some quite decent fan translations available if you look.

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Death of a Salesman

Author: Arthur Miller

Willy has spent his whole adult life as a salesman, telling himself he’s on the road to wealth and stability. He’s told his boys they’re on the way to greatness as well. His self-sacrificing wife Linda has always supported him in his beliefs. . . . But the truth is that he’s never owned up to his own failings, never admitted he might not be as good as he wants to be. He’s even gotten his family convinced that they’re all much more successful than they really are. But when poverty comes knocking, Willy must make some adult decisions–something he’s never really done his entire life. His son Biff is starting to own up to who he really is, who his father really is. Is Willy capable of making the same hard decision?

I’m well aware that Death of a Salesman is considered a classic play; however, it was never taught in the literature classes I took in high school and college, so I’m coming at it strictly based on what I see from reading it. In that light, I would say that this is an excellent story, although rather depressing. It was written in the late 1940’s, and delivers a certain flavor because of that. I think even more so, though, it has a slightly childish feel simply because the characters are so immature. It’s like they never grew up. Probably the most rewarding part of reading this is seeing Biff choosing to acknowledge himself–and at that point, you’re feeling proud of a klepto loser! I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while the characters are unappealing, they are portrayed well. Linda is an interesting character in that you can’t really tell to what extent she believes the lies versus recognizing the truth and willfully choosing the lies . . . nor can you easily tell why she would choose the life she has. Of note, it’s really odd to read a play this old with that much swearing in it; it was probably pretty shocking when it was first performed, but my strongest impression is not shock but a feeling that all the swearing just proves the characters’ immaturity. I’m not sure whether I’d recommend Death of a Salesman or not–it’s certainly a classic, and probably should be read just for that, but I still find it depressing.

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Mangaka: CLAMP

It is said that the falling snowflakes are the tears of the snow maidens. But ask a snow maiden, and you might get a different story altogether. In fact, she might tell you stories similar to the ones a young traveler heard when he spoke to a pale, beautiful woman out in the snowy wilderness . . . you might even hear stories to make you weep yourself.

I love the way in which Shirahime-Syo is both very unique for CLAMP and is yet quintessentially theirs. This is a single volume of manga containing three short stories that almost resemble folk tales. This feeling is enhanced by the art style which is, again, both extremely CLAMP and yet different from their norm, evoking a more traditional Japanese painting style. It’s very beautiful, haunting almost. The style fits the stories perfectly. All three tales are of old Japan (or somewhere that looks similar), out in the wilds during the deep snows, and in each story, there is an initial impression  of a man-versus-nature sort of story. Yet somehow in the midst of that, the stories get turned back upon man, showing that we are our own worst problem. The stories are poignant and beautiful, tragically lovely. I’m sure not everyone would enjoy them, but I truly think all readers would benefit from reading Shirahime-Syo at least once; it’s a moving experience.

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Author: Stephen King

There are certain things everyone “knows” about Carrie White: She’s fat and pimply and doesn’t take care of herself. She’s spacey and odd when you do try to talk to her. Her mom’s a hyper-religious nutcase. Carrie’s the obvious victim for everyone’s bullying. But there are things no one knows about her–or if they ever did know, they’ve buried that knowledge deep: Somewhere underneath the surface, Carrie White is a strong person, one who will only take so much. And she’s got an amazing power that’s rarely even heard of. One day, the kids at her school will push her too far, and the resulting reaction will be unimaginable. . . .

Having read two of Stephen King’s books now, I truly get the impression that he is generally misrepresented. I get that Carrie is horror, in a sense–at least in the latter half of the book. But it’s more that just that. It’s a deep psychological study of how bullying, stress, and extreme parental situations affect the psyche of a growing child, especially when going through other extreme changes such as puberty. And King deals with all of this exceptionally. I admit that, had I read this a few years ago, I probably would have been appalled on numerous levels, by the open brutality, the graphic descriptions of first menstruation, etc., but I think for a mature reader, this is necessary setup for what comes later. I love the way King describes part of the story directly and parts as excerpts from various papers and books, all told in alternating voices; it gives the story a more complete perspective and keeps things (even more) interesting. Not that it needs the boost–it’s intense all the way through, even before the inferno begins! My one personal complaint is that there are no chapter breaks, only a separation between the two halves of this around-300-page book; this kept me drawn into the story as there was never a break, but I needed to get up and do stuff, and this made it difficult. Truly though, for a mature reader (may I emphasize that) who enjoys horror/thrillers but wants a bit more complex and developed story, Carrie is an excellent option.


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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

Author: Ian Doescher

Inspired by the works of William Shakespeare & George Lucas

Mayhap you’ve heard the tale of a time long ago and far away. A time when brave rebels allied themselves against an evil empire. When a beautiful princess fell in love with a (maybe) reformed smuggler. A time when great leaders trained young warriors in the hope that things may turn out differently this time. It was a time when the Force was strong both for good and evil, when a moment’s choice could alter the course of fate forever. Verily, it was a time not unlike our own. . . .

As a fan of both classic Shakespeare and of the Star Wars movies, I have loved what Doescher is doing in combining the two from his first volume, Verily, a New Hope. I think William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is an excellent follow up, continuing in the same vein as episode four as well as including several details to add to the writing even more. There were several points I found specifically intriguing about this volume. I love the way Doescher adds in details and expressions of internal feeling that wouldn’t have fit in an action movie but are perfect in this context–they add a lot to the reader’s appreciation of the action. His use of monologuing to describe some of the action scenes (as opposed to simply including stage directions to be acted out) is also an interesting choice; it adds character to the flow of the script, I think. His choice to use haiku for Yoda’s speech was also fascinating–unexpected, for sure, but it works, breaking the reader out of his expectations of Yoda’s speech patterns and focusing on the character and wisdom he seeks to imbue upon his young pupil. Finally, let’s face it, hearing Leia and Han love-fight in Shakespearean English is something not to be missed! My general opinion is that William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is something that will be greatly enjoyed by those who share my love for both Shakespeare and Star Wars–and completely lost on everyone else, but that’s okay, right?

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No. 6

Story by: Atsuko Asano

Art by: Hinoki Kino

In the walled utopia of No. 6, Shion has spent his childhood living the life of an ideal citizen: educated, privileged, conforming. But somewhere deep beneath the surface, Shion is not simply the obedient boy he seems, and one stormy night as he opened his window to the rain, everything changed. Because that evening brought not only the rain, but also a boy, hunted, injured, and not much older than himself–a boy being tracked by the government of No. 6 as a dangerous criminal. Shion helps the boy, who goes only by the name “Rat,” to safety, staying behind in No. 6 himself. But after that night’s encounter, something was set in motion, and neither Shion’s nor Rat’s life would ever be the same again.

No. 6 is an incredible dystopian manga in a world where dystopian stories exist ad nauseum. Truly, I’m just about sick of dystopian books, but this manga is something special. The world is brilliantly well-developed in its isolation and intentional misinformation, and the combination of Rat’s rage against the city balanced against Shion’s gradual realization of the government’s corruption is very nicely done. The characters are subtle, complex, and moving: Rat with his suave competence, his skills with all sorts of robotics and weaponry, his love of classic literature, his surprising career as an actor/singer, his external sarcasm and coldness, and his secret fragility. Shion with his baby face, his utter innocence of any sort of real life outside of No. 6’s protection, his brains, his tenderness, and his underlying instability and even cruelty. And of course, the miscellaneous other individuals who come to their aid, all painstakingly written. I think the relationship between Shion and Rat is fascinating as well–they clearly care for each other, yet there’s this level of mistrust there also, coupled with the fact that Shion loves what Rat hates: the city itself–it’s clearly a very complicated situation for them both. Kino’s treatment of the story in manga format is commendable; the characters are grippingly true to themselves, the scenery is lovely, and the manga as a whole is beautiful in spite of the often violent material. No. 6 is a dystopian/shounen ai manga that I would definitely recommend–something of a favorite of mine, actually.

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Swan Lake

Author: Mark Helprin

Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg

In an isolated alpine cottage, an old man sits telling a story to an innocent, eager little girl. Unlike her present life or the stories she’s heard before, this is a story of tragedy and human cruelty. But it’s also a story of love and beauty. And in a sense, it’s her own story, one she desperately needs to hear.

Swan Lake is one of those stories that is much more, in every sense, than initial first impressions would make it appear. Initially, it seems simplistic, childish, old-fashioned, bucolic, and overly descriptive. Within half a dozen pages, it proves itself to be anything but–rather it is wondrous, tragic, beautiful, poetic, aching, and insightful. This book takes the basic story of the original Tchaikovsky ballet and expands the story of Odette and the prince into a deep, moving fairy tale of a story. I particularly enjoyed the part of the old storyteller–he is a character of great depth and interest whom I could see appearing readily in a Lloyd Alexander novel. Swan Lake is definitely a recommended read–preferably in a quiet location over a cup of hot tea. . . . It’s the sort of book that bears quiet contemplation.

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