“Where The Road Then Takes Me, I Cannot Tell…”

My dear readers, today, I write about a very emotional event, and am very glad that you can’t actually see me crying onto my keyboard.

If there’s anything I’ve associated with the beautiful season of winter over the past three years (besides the usual, like snow, the Solstice, my birthday…), it’s The Hobbit. Specifically, the Peter Jackson movie adaptations of The Hobbit, which have been released every mid-December since 2012, my senior year of high school. It’s gotten to the point where I can hardly imagine December coming without a new Middle-Earth movie…and now, this is the last one. Battle of the Five Armies marks the end of the trilogy, and this will presumably be the last ever live-action adaptation of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth universe as well (we’re running out of books, after all).

This particular chapter of a fandom that I’ve been in for almost a third of my life has come to a close. Continue reading


You Are What You Read

When I moved from my (incredibly cozy) dorm at LMU back to my nearby home at the end of this past semester, my first thought upon trying to get settled in was: wow, my room is a MESS. I hadn’t lived in it regularly for quite a few months, after all; clutter that I couldn’t be bothered to tidy up had gradually piled up during my weekend visits, along with a thin layer of dust. The state of my desk drawers and closet were despicable enough, but the mess in my room that made me cringe the most was my bookshelf. It took me a while to get around to the task, but once I had cleared away the old papers, empty binders, and barely-used sketchbooks that I had left there once upon a time, I turned to the actual books themselves. Some were new, some were older, some never read, and some…missing.

In my mind, at least, the books I’ve read are a way of tracking how I’ve evolved as a person. Having so many chunks of the metaphorical narrative, at least more recently, was a bit disconcerting. I decided to bring a few of the books I had long since stored away back out into the open air, and a few trips to the attic later, I had a newly-organized bookshelf and a trip down memory lane before my eyes.

10252080_772932569391822_1754344186425947344_nThe top shelf is now filled with nothing but manga volumes, manga magazines, and other such graphics novels, as became tradition in my middle school years once I began my ongoing love affair with Japanese media. After carefully categorizing them by genre or author (everything by my favorite manga artist CLAMP go together, for instance, regardless of genre), it became apparent that my collection is very sporadic – I only have two full series’ collected, for example – but every volume I have holds a very special memory of one kind or another. I’m very reluctant to part with even the manga that I hardly read anymore; it would almost be like giving away a part of my body. It also became obvious that my collection of American comics is…lacking, to say the least. The Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain America: Winter Soldier omnibuses are the extent of my collection.

10320582_772932572725155_7729735636449508993_nThe next section was the easiest to organize, as it’s the genre I own the most of: fantasy. This shelf contains many stories of its own: a newly-bought omnibus of The Chronicles of Narnia replacing the old falling-apart scholastic paperbacks I once owned, a mass market paperback of A Clash of Kings sitting on its own since the friend I lent A Game of Thrones to still hasn’t returned it. A more recent addition, The Mortal Instruments series, stands one book short of a full set since my pre-order of the final volume won’t ship until approximately November (and it’s driving me insane because I need to know what’s going to happen to Alec and Magnus!). The Lord of the Rings refuses to stop staring at me, reminding me that I haven’t finished it yet; Harry Potter is no better, nearly begging me to reread it and make up for all the time we lost back in elementary school when my parents wouldn’t allow me to read it. Perhaps the most colorful and nostalgic series stands out among the rest: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, all gorgeous hardcovers that I bought to replace the worn-through paperbacks I began reading in middle school and devoured again and again, entranced by the dreamlike places and the characters’ enduring charm and hope. I definitely want that story of a boy and his dragon to last, if no others do.

The next shelf down is full of stories I’ve relived many of times, stories that haven’t finished, and stories that haven’t even started. This is my “miscellaneous” collection of books separated into genres that I don’t have enough of to warrant their own shelf: science fiction, historical and realistic fiction, drama, mythology, you get the picture. The most prominent feature is my extensive collection of The Babysitters’ Club series, which had been hiding in my attic for most of my high school years; I was scarcely without one of those battered 80s-era paperbacks during middle school (perhaps it was these books that gave me my in-school reputation of being an incurable bookworm, a role I eagerly embraced). Three novels of a six-part series of teenage spy books sits waiting to be finished, along with scarcely opened copies of Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur that we had meant to read in my senior English class but never had the time to get through completely. What I like to call my “social justice” fiction books are grouped together: the children-fighting-to-the-death epics Battle Royale and The Hunger Games trilogy, and the massive Les Misérables, put together because they all made me realize just how much I empathize with revolutionary idealists who fight for social freedom and equality.

10313818_772932576058488_8910147950457682909_nOn the bottom shelf, beside a few nonfiction books on writing, an omnibus of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and my collection of books on alternative spirituality, sits the final series I fished from my attic: The Twilight Saga. While it’s unlikely I’ll actually go back and reread them anytime soon, this early high school obsession serves as a wonderful reminder of how far I’ve come in my literary pursuits.

What we add to our bookshelves – and what we choose to leave off of them – can be a wonderful and interesting monument to our interests, growth, and ongoing self-discovery. What are the books that stand out most in your collection? Is there any special meaning to how you arrange them? Are there any that you go back to over and over, any that you scarcely touch or that you’ve been meaning to dive into? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

“Roads Go Ever Ever On…”

In this installment of my literary series, I return with a book that brings me significantly happier memories than the last one I discussed (Gamer Girl). Not only is it one of my favorite fantasy novels, it’s quite possibly one of the most famous fantasy novels of all time, and with good reason! Penned by linguistic and literary genius J.R.R. Tolkien, this beloved book serves as the prequel to the mega-popular work The Lord of the Rings. Guessed it yet? It could only be The Hobbit!

(Well, it could also be The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, or the Unfinished Tales …but that’s a different topic entirely.) Continue reading

“To Narnia and the North!”

Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting old books of mine that I remember having a profound impact on me in some way. This one is merely the first of many! When contemplating favorite childhood books, I don’t have to dig very far in my memory to recall The Chronicles of Narnia. This enchanting high fantasy series by C.S. Lewis has everything an avid fairy-tale fan and aspiring fantasy writer could ask for: alternate worlds and kingdoms, talking beasts, kings and queens, warriors and magicians, good versus evil. Needless to say, after reading only one of the books, I fell in love instantly. Afterward, and throughout my earlier middle school years, my mother and I read the entire series together, from book one to seven.  However, the third book of the series, The Horse and His Boy, was always both of our favorites.  This story follows the journey of a boy named Shasta, Aravis the runaway noblewoman, and the two talking Narnian horses Bree and Hwin, who are undertaking a quest to escape their unhappy lives in the country of Calormen and find refuge in Narnia to the north. Not only did I find this book in the series to be the most enjoyable, with amazing characters along with high-stakes adventure, but I also thought it was one of the most profound. With each stage of the characters’ journey came different lessons and insights that I found myself taking to heart more than I had expected to starting out.

I’m more of a Lasaraleen than an Aravis.

Perhaps my favorite characters in the story were the thoroughly contrasting human females of the cast. Aravis is a girl of noble birth who prefers sword-fighting and horseback riding to traditionally feminine wiles, and is running to Narnia to escape a forced engagement. Her best friend, a noblewoman named Lasaraleen, is in contrast a sheltered but elegant and caring lady, a “terrible giggler” who couldn’t get enough of parties and gossip. When reading through the two girls’ interactions, I was perplexed; I found myself identifying more with Lasaraleen, and even liking her more than Aravis! Shouldn’t I have been more aligned with the hero than the slightly ditzy side character? That attitude changed, however, when Aravis said this: “Good-bye, and I thought your dresses were lovely. And I think your house is lovely too. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely life – though it wouldn’t suit me.” In that quote, it was made clear that neither girl was being portrayed in a negative light for her choices; they were simply different, and that was completely fine. This notion had a profound effect upon my attitude from then onward; I didn’t have to be anything. If I wanted to be a beautiful princess or kick butt with a sword, or both, or neither, I could. The idea that I had the agency to be whatever I wished was drastically important for me to hear as a young girl, and perhaps is even more important to me today with so many choices looming on the horizon.

The two princes of Archenland are together as they should be – Shasta has finally found where he belongs. Finding where I belong, however, may not be so cut and dry.

Perhaps it’s during one of the last phases of the characters’ journey to Narnia that one of my favorite messages of the tale comes to light. (Spoilers ahead!) Shasta, the male lead of the book, was found as an orphan and raised in the country of Calormen his entire life but was clearly not native to that country with his fair complexion characteristic of Northern countries. When Shasta, Aravis, and the horses finally reached Archenland, the country between Calormen and Narnia, Shasta’s origins are finally revealed: he is actually the long-lost Prince Cor of Archenland, twin brother to the younger Prince Corin that he met earlier on in the story. This is by far the plot twist that caught me off guard the most; Shasta was the absolute last character I would have expected to turn out to be royalty of all things! Then I at last realized the message of this plot point: not only that some things aren’t what they appear to be, but also that we will always manage to find our way back to where we truly belong. When I first read this book in my younger years, I was overjoyed that Shasta had finally found his identity, his family, and his home. Perhaps this was because, in a way, I hadn’t yet found mine; I was still searching for where I was meant to be and what I was meant to learn in order to become the person I wanted to be (adolescence is such a wonderfully confusing time). In a way, both Shasta and I were in essence lost souls, trying to make sense of our place in this confusing world we were being flung into far too quickly for our liking. Now that I’m much older, in college, and beginning to refine the process of “figuring myself out”, I feel as if I’m less of a Shasta and more of a Prince Cor. I’m finding my niche and becoming more confident in the identity I’m choosing for myself.

I find it amazing that the stories such as The Horse and His Boy that I’ve been exposed to, no matter how long ago, still stay in my mind and have an effect on me to this day. From high fantasy, to young adult books, to graphic novels, there are so many books that have shaped my understanding of myself and the world around me.

Expect more posts detailing my favorite stories soon! Feel free to follow my blog to stay tuned – and of course, tell me about your favorite books in the comments!

Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide (Results May Vary)

After a lovely winter break that was a bit longer than expected due to the Polar Vortex of Iciness and Doom, my fellow students and I are back at LMU for another exciting semester of studies! Thankfully, the two extra days we were out of classes to avoid freezing didn’t do much to quell my enthusiasm – if anything, it gave me more free time to kick my creative juices into gear and work on a favorite hobby of mine: writing. I’m taking quite a few humanities-oriented classes this semester (American Literature I, Comparative Religions, World History, and an Honors course devoted to second-order reasoning), and thus I expect that writing will play a decent part in all of them. While I, of course, prefer to devote time to my own fictional creations, I also enjoy writing academically, not only because I’m fairly adept at it but also because it allows me to hone skills that I can carry over to any type of writing. A few of the things I try to keep in mind before beginning or while working on a writing project can be applied to both writing for school and writing prose for fun.

1) Write about things that you like – if that’s not possible, find something to like!

Being able to write academically about things I’m into is an amazing feeling – even if my analysis can never live up to the primary source!

I completely feel your pain: your professor assigned you a five-page paper about the absolute dullest thing you can imagine, right? Been there, done that, and it’s not the end of the world. In academic writing, if you have even the slightest hint of a chance to choose what you can write about, by all means choose a topic that you can get into and are excited about analyzing or researching! On a major research paper in a past English class, I was given the chance to choose my own topic and chose to write about the cultural impact of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, my favorite book at the time, and thus writing the paper was nothing short of a blast. Things don’t always work out so well, though: if you find yourself stuck writing on a completely blah topic, then it’s possible find some way to make it interesting! For a Sociology paper on gender roles in children’s advertising, I chose to analyze the commercials shown during a cartoon I loved as a child, Yu-Gi-Oh!, rather than bore myself waiting for commercial breaks during preschool shows to write about. If one looks hard enough and doesn’t get discouraged, almost every writing assignment can be at least mildly exciting. Trust me on this: pieces of writing almost always come out better if you’re interested in the subject.

Continue reading

Yama-Con 2013: Nerds Have More Fun

As a member of the collective community of fandoms and interests most often known as “nerds”, I’ve begun to associate the concept of home with not only where I live and study, but also with the constantly changing places that I’m able to gather with other members of the nerd community, which are most often in the form of conventions.  One of the most amazing things about this group of people is that we’re all so varied in our interests, and yet see ourselves as a huge family.  Whether we like Japanese animation and manga, American animation and comic books, science fiction, fantasy, or some combination of all of the above, we’re able to interact with each other coming from a place of understanding and comradery.  I was fortunate to be able to experience this comradery once again when I attended Yama-Con in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, only about two hours away from LMU.

This particular adventure began when a friend of mine asked me if I would help him run an educational panel he would be presenting at Yama-Con.  Realizing that this would be an amazing chance for me to obtain practice with both public speaking and teaching, I told him I would think it over.  When my best friend Hayley’s mother asked if I would help her chaperone the students who were a part of the Anime Club she ran at a local high school on a trip to the convention, the deal was sealed for me.  I began planning the trip immediately! Continue reading