“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

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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

The Status Effect That Never Healed

*TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of depression, self-harm, suicide*

So far in my “impactful literature” series of blogs, I’ve examined two of my favorite literary works. The Horse and His Boy taught me about the power of personal agency, looking beneath the surface to fine something’s true nature, and the hope that we’ll always find where we belong; The Mortal Instruments empowered me as a writer through its portrayal of words as magical, and empowers me as a person by giving me the motivation to fight battles I know to be important. Normally, this would be the part where I would be telling you about another book that taught me important life lessons or gave me strength, but this time, I’m going to go a little deeper. Gamer Girl, a young adult novel written by Mari Mancusi, didn’t simply teach me something or strengthen me; it may have helped save my life. Continue reading

Why I Want To Be A Shadowhunter

In my last post concerning books that had a considerable impact on my life, I discussed a volume of The Chronicles of Narniaa book series from my childhood.  In this second installment, however, I’m looking at a literary work that made an entrance into my life rather recently: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.  I actually only began reading these books in the summer of 2013 – the movie adaptation of the first book, City of Bones, was coming out that August and I wanted to have the book read before I went to see the film.  “What in the world, Alex,” you might be thinking. “How on earth could these books have so much meaning to you if you only read them seven months ago?!”

Funny story about that, actually. But first, some background (possible spoilers ahead; you have been warned): 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!

What’s Your Talent?

Prilla is a relatively inexperienced fairy, eager to try new things – just like us!

Nearly everyone who knows me on even a minimal level knows that I have many passions; check out my About Me page for nearly the entire list!  With all these different things I’m interested in, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park to decide what I was going to study here at Lincoln Memorial University.  I suppose if I had to summarize why I chose to declare as an English major, I would do it best with an analogy from someone else’s story:  Gail Carson Levine’s Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, which follows the story of Tinker Bell and the other fairies of the magical nook within Neverland, Fairy Haven.  Yes, I know what you all must be thinking:  a collegiate-level writer, using children’s literature to prove a point?  Stranger and far worse things have happened, readers.

In Fairy Haven, each fairy has a special “talent”, what she or he is innately good at – their passion, their craft, and essentially their purpose in relation to the fairy community as a whole.  When a fairy is born, they will make what is called “the announcement”, where they reveal their talent to the others.  This announcement is effortless and intrinsic, as natural as breathing or flying.

Of course, us college students aren’t fairies (unfortunately, as I’d love to be one) – our purpose in life isn’t always so clear.  Many students choose their “talent” – their major, for all intents and purposes in this comparison – based on passion, but many also choose based on economic necessity, what their parents or friends want them to do, or what will lead them to the most success financially.

I almost chose my “talent” based on what I thought would bring me economic success – while I was still in high school, Mass Communications was originally my choice for a major, after I realized the career choices that would open to me with a Communications degree.  However, the longer I pondered on it, the more I wondered whether I was starting out on this path for the wrong reasons, and eventually gave up on the idea.

When I finalized my decision to attend LMU, I still wondered what I would study, since I had pretty much abandoned my first plan of action.  As I continued thinking about what I could possibly do (buying into the myth that my major would determine my career for the entirety of my life), I began agonizing over the impending choice; I was figuratively driving myself insane.  I felt much like Prilla, the main character of Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, a fairy who arrives in Fairy Haven seemingly without a talent, and feels very lost and unsure of herself for a good majority of the story. When I went to my mother to vent about the issue (I am immensely grateful to be able to do this without reservations), she offered me wise advice, as she always does:  “You’re a writer, and have been for years.  You can do a lot with that, and you love it. Why not go into writing or English?”

Now that got the ball rolling.  I thought back to my earlier years and realized that through all of them, I had loved reading, and excelled in my literature classes.  When I was in middle and high school, I spent the good majority of my free time writing; I took my favorite characters and put them in situations that hadn’t happened in their original stories, and then began to create characters of my own and craft their stories.  In school, I looked forward to writing assignments more than anything else, whether it was creative or informative. Perhaps, I thought, this was what I was meant to do after all.

When asked to confirm my major at the LMU New Student Registration over the summer, I replied “English”.  It was effortless, intrinsic, as natural as breathing or flying.  Just like Prilla, my “talent” had been there all along; it only needed a little bit of a push to bring it to the surface.

Stories are one of my talents – what are yours?

Keep in mind that – I’ll keep saying this – college students aren’t fairies.  Our “talent” doesn’t necessarily determine our purpose in life, nor is it the only thing we can do well.  My major may be English, but that doesn’t stop me from participating in the various music ensembles of LMU and being entranced with the fascinating study of Sociology.  I’ve met Criminal Justice majors who can’t get enough of creative writing classes, English majors who excel in biochemistry – the possibilities are endless.  This is, in a way, what our college experience is all about:  expanding our horizons.  Even if you love your major, don’t let it limit you.  Prilla, even after she found her talent, still enjoyed joining her friends in the activities that went along with their talents!

Perhaps it’s not a walk in the park or a fly through Winter Woods to choose a major, but with a lot of thought and a little help, anything is possible! Have you discovered your “talent” yet?  Have you always known what your talent was?  Are you still searching, still waiting for the push that will reveal the right talent for you?  Or do you have more than one talent?  I look forward to hearing your stories in the comments!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to overanalyze more children’s literature.  If you’d like to know more about my literary antics at LMU, feel free to follow my blog – I’d love to share my adventures with you!