Happy First Monday of August, friends! When I settled in my writing nook to compose this post, I had Anne Shirley’s quote, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” running through my head…except I mentally replaced “Octobers” with “Augusts.”
Not that August is my favorite month. It’s actually my least favorite, haha. But I’m trying–I’m really trying, y’all–to keep my upper lip stiff, my head high, and my shoulders back this month. 2020 has been hard, and I fear it’ll only get worse from here till November. But I truly believe that there are many, many tools at our disposal with which we can build “Cosmos out of Chaos” (as the lovely Madeleine L’Engle would say).
So without further ado, here are the ways I’m keeping my head screwed on and my mind fixed on goodness, even amid in the sweltering heat and turmoil of August 2020:
More reading, less scrolling
I’m notorious for taking my social media off my phone, putting it back on for a while, then removing it again. Twitter and Pinterest are fun, but it’s too easy to spend an inordinate amount of time on them, especially when I’m tired. I know it’s time to get rid of the apps when my phone starts feeling more like an appendage than, well, a phone.
Now that my phone is considerably more boring, I’m breezing through my reading list! Emily and I are reading Wuthering Heights together (first time for both of us), but I’m also reading Accidental Theologians (more on that in a minute) and A Wrinkle in Time. I’m just over halfway through The Right to Write, and I’m almost finished with the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone audiobook.
Listening to good podcasts
My weekly job allows me a lot of good “listening” time–so when I’m not enjoying Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and by the way, guys, Quidditch is wild), I’m listening to podcasts that enrich my mind and soothe my soul. These days I’ve been listening to:
- Speaking With Joy: Joy Clarkson is going through A Wrinkle in Time for her summer book club! I’ve read this book many times, but this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed it! Joy’s excellent commentary helps, along with the fact that I’ve read Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction. Also: Star Trek, Doctor Who, Interstellar, and the Avengers have given me far more insight into tesseracts and the fifth dimension than I had in previous readings.
- Abiding Together: this podcast is actually geared towards Catholic women, but in spite of some theological differences, I’ve gleaned so much wisdom from these wise and joyous ladies about prayer, passionate intimacy with Christ, and being a bright and shining light in a dark world.
- What the Force‘s “Meta Music” Series: Odd name, I know, but this Star Wars podcast has done an amazing job of analyzing the way John Williams and other composers tells stories through their music! Every time I listen to an episode from this series, I’m in awe not just of these composers’ genius, but of how God created music with all its patterns and tones and order.
Enjoying other projects & “creative rehab”
Sometimes I focus so hard and deep on my stories, I’ll keep writing long after exhaustion sets in–and I don’t allow myself much time for any other creative outlets, either. This month, however, I’m trying to strike a healthier balance: I’ll still write in the morning when my brain is the sharpest, but I’m taking up embroidery and stationery-making in the afternoons! I’m also going to watch all the imagination- and courage-inspiring movies in my evening free time. I need to “fill the creative well,” especially as I start writing my next novel.
Studying the lives of holy women
Now let’s get back to that book I mentioned earlier, Accidental Theologians! I’m reading this one for ten minutes every morning while I wake up, right before my prayers and Bible reading. It focuses on the lives and writings of Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux–capacious and courageous women who loved the Lord Jesus with a passion. I don’t agree with everything they believed, but they’re definitely encouraging me as I navigate these trying times.
“Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.”–The Book of Common Prayer
This is my prayer for August. Let’s be honest: the world is terrifying right now, and more than ever I find myself fighting for joy, courage, and the peace which the world definitely can’t give (and never could). I think the key may lie in having our minds fixed on the doing of His will, no matter what happens.
Having FUN with my new story!
Next week my siblings get back to school…which means that next week, all my pre-production work (outlining, character development, etc.) will hopefully pay off and I’ll start writing the opening chapters of The Thin Places, my new Celtic fantasy story.
Am I nervous? You betcha. Am I also excited? OH YES. In many ways, it’s the story I’ve been wanting to write for a while: a cross between fantasy and contemporary featuring the Loch Ness Monster, some lovely Beren & Luthien vibes, and plenty of nods to The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and Thor: The Dark World (which I will forever maintain was A GOOD MOVIE™). But beginnings are always a bit scary and I know the first day may be really hard…so maybe I’ll start work on that first chapter this week to alleviate some of the pressure? I certainly covet your prayers as I begin this project!
How are YOU handling + processing + bracing yourself + enduring the stress and tumult of the past few months? Please let me know in the comments so I can share your wisdom and insights…and maybe even pray for you if you have a specific request? We’re all in this together!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, meaning I receive a small commission if you make any purchase through links marked clearly with an asterisk, at no cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for more info.
The 1994 adaptation of Little Women—the one starring Winona Ryder as the indomitable Jo March*–will always be my favorite Little Women. Watching it while we prepare our Thanksgiving dinner every year is an important family tradition of ours, and that’s just one of many reasons it’ll always have a special place in my heart.
That said, I won’t be comparing and contrasting that Little Women with Greta Gerwig’s beautiful 2019 adaptation* in this particular post! That would be like comparing apples and oranges. Besides, the new movie–with Saorise Ronan playing an incredible Jo–more adequately highlights the topic of this final installment of my “Women of Substance” series: the unique capaciousness of womanhood.
Pretty much everyone is familiar with the story of Little Women: “Four young sisters with their own distinct personalities and ambitions persevere through the trials and tribulations of life during the American Civil War.” For author Louisa May Alcott, the story was semi-autobiographical. For readers (and moviegoers), it remains a timeless tale where you’ll almost certainly relate to at least one of the heroines.
This most recent retelling of the story*, however, focuses on Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s dreams, and how the obstacles and character flaws they face will affect the outcome of those dreams. They live in a world where feminine value lies in marital status, and each of the sisters must deal with that harsh reality in her own way. Yet as difficult as it often is, they’re more than capable of making the most of their situations…and their desires.
Meg wants to be a homemaker. Jo wants to do great things with her stories. Beth is content to stay at home with her parents. Amy is, perhaps, the most ambitious of them all, hoping to become a great artist and marry well enough to support her mother and sisters one day.
Some might look at these girls and say, “Well, Meg’s dream is clearly superior–she wants to be a wife and a mother.” Others consider Jo’s idealism and assume, “Well, she wants to change the world with her art–she is the best of them all.” Others prefer Beth’s peaceful, almost monastic lifestyle, and still others get on the more pragmatic Amy train.
But here’s the thing. Each sister’s dreams are all valid. None of them are more worthy or superior to the other. “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant,” Meg tells Jo on the morning of her wedding. What a wonderful world it would be if more people took those words to heart!
Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as ‘just’ hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as ‘just’ beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is ‘just’ all a woman is fit for!
Yet even as the girls chase their dreams and the desires of their hearts–with a few stumbles along the way–they’re always reminded of one thing: their dreams are not for themselves alone. None of them will ever reach their full potential in self-absorbed isolation.
Meg does get her happily-ever-after with her husband and two babies…but her happiness (and that of her home) sometimes requires cheerful self-sacrifice. Beth does remain safe and snug within the comforts of home…yet even in her tiny sphere she gives back to those around her. Amy finds both the financial security and artistic fulfillment she craves…but she also gives Laurie the love and the home he so desperately needs and wants.
And as for Jo, the central heroine of Little Women*, she does end up writing all those great, impactful words…but only because she takes Beth’s words to heart: “Do what Marmee taught us to do. Do it for someone else.“
The word Capacious means, “having a lot of space inside”–but its Latin roots offer a more interesting take: it comes from the term “capax,” which means capable. When I speak of the “capaciousness” of womanhood, I’m talking about our God-given complexity and strength. As the March Girls prove so compellingly, women are capable of so much…because God made us capable. We are nurturers, cultivators, and civilizers, and we take those powers (for powers they most certainly are!) into whatever arena or sphere God has given each of us. Some of us, like Meg and Amy, are destined for marriage and motherhood, and those will always be beautiful callings. But those of us who walk roads less traveled are no less capable of nurturing, cultivating, and civilizing…and we’re no less beautiful, either.
“A woman of substance can make a life for herself anywhere.”
I hope that these past few articles examining the stories of Circe, Ophelia, and the March Sisters have encouraged all my readers–not just the ladies!–to make good use of your minds, your souls, and your hearts. May we all live fully and bravely within the spaces God has given us!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, meaning I receive a small commission if you make any purchase through links marked clearly with an asterisk, at no cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for more info.
You may think you know my story. You’ve heard it ends in madness, hearts broken, blood spilled, a kingdom lost. That is a story, but it is not mine. I did not lose my way. I did not lose myself to vengeance. Instead, I found my way to hope…”
Okay, okay, I admit it: after prancing out of The Rise of Skywalker back in December I took to IMDB, combing its time-honored halls for any other films wherein I might catch glimpses of my favorite faces. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given my love for both cozy rom-coms and historical dramas, Paterson, Operation Finale, and Ophelia shot to the top of a resulting “watchlist.”
But Ophelia* was at the very top, not only because I love mah girl Daisy Ridley, but because it’s JUST. SO. PRETTY. It’s also the perfect addition to my “Women of Substance” series (begun last week with my review of Circe), since Lady Ophelia herself is a great example of a tested yet quietly triumphant young woman.
Ophelia* tells the story of one of William Shakespeare’s most tragic heroines, the insane love interest of the equally tragic Prince Hamlet. Only in this retelling, Ophelia is not insane. In fact, one could argue she’s the only sane character in the entire film! When we first meet her she’s a bit of a tomboy, mischievous and curious about her new home within the Danish royal court. Eventually Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, takes Ophelia under her wing, training her to be one of her own ladies-in-waiting.
But while Ophelia becomes a discreet and often overlooked member of the Queen’s following, she’s no dumb cluck. She’s highly educated, gentle, and well-spoken, yet retains enough of her childhood whimsy to enjoy a frolic in a meadow or a swim in a nearby pond. And even as her romance with Prince Hamlet develops (and leads to a secret marriage–gasp!!!), she remains keenly aware of the crafty intrigues and alliances swirling around her. She never says much, and she definitely knows how to keep a secret.
But Ophelia will not be manipulated or intimidated. She’s loyal, but she isn’t blind. And she will not sacrifice herself or her principles…not even for the man she loves.
Ophelia* is an interesting movie because it really just assumes that you know this story like the back of your hand. You don’t see the King’s ghost informing Hamlet that he was murdered…because Ophelia doesn’t see it. You don’t see Polonius’ unfortunate death…because Ophelia wasn’t there to witness it. When I say this is a retelling of Hamlet told STRICTLY from Ophelia’s viewpoint, I mean it.
But it’s also interesting because–like Circe—this isn’t the story you think it is. You think Circe is going to be about a wily witch who turns the dude-bros into pigs ’cause she’s spiteful…until you find out she’s a lonely, heartbroken goddess who turns men into pigs because she was badly hurt, and she isn’t about to let it happen again. You think Ophelia* will be about Hamlet’s girlfriend who drives herself mad and drowns herself…until you find out she’s a levelheaded, tenacious young woman who takes to heart her father’s maxims to her brother:
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar…
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment…
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
—Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
Ophelia is guileless and compassionate, gentle and unpretentious. But she is also straightforward, strong-willed, and resolutely determined to do what is right, even when everyone else pressures her to do, say, or be otherwise. In the end, her steadfastness is rewarded: she’s the last one standing among the haunted cast of Hamlet, free to build a peaceful future for herself and her baby. (YEP, there’s a baby!)
So once again, if a woman of substance can make a life for herself anywhere, then Lady Ophelia qualifies with flying colors.
Next Monday, for Part 3, we’ll take a look at the newest cinematic adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, meaning I receive a small commission if you make any purchase through links marked clearly with an asterisk, at no cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for more info.
All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without a sea. Yet now look where I sail.”
–Madeline Miller, Circe
Welcome to Part One of my new blog series, “Women of Substance!” For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts on three different stories, each of which features a heroine of compassion, integrity, and vision. Today we begin with Madeline Miller’s novel Circe*, the story of one of Greek mythology’s most famous sorceresses.
When my sister Katie fell in love with the audiobook read by Perdita Weeks*, I was definitely curious. The cunning femme fatale of The Odyssey seemed an odd choice for a protagonist, but I gave it a whirl, listening to the first episode at work…and then going straight to the second episode…and then the third episode…and then…well, you get the picture.
From the electric rivalry between the Olympians and the Titans, to the lavish descriptions of both divine palaces and the ancient world, to the haunting story of a vivid, relatable heroine, Circe* captivates you from Chapter One. This book has become one of my favorite novels, and Circe herself (or rather, this reinterpretation of her) one of my favorite heroines.
If, as Nurse Lucille Anderson declares in Call the Midwife, “A woman of substance can make a life for herself anywhere,” then few do it better than Circe, daughter of the Greek sun god Helios. It’s clear from her childhood that she’s different from the other gods and goddesses. She’s thoughtful, empathetic, deeply interested in the rough, fleeting lives of mortals…and she nurses an inconsolable longing for a place and purpose she can’t yet pinpoint.
Such independent thought and genuine compassion for the gods’ human playthings, however, make Circe both an oddity and a threat. After all, her own uncle Prometheus was exiled for teaching humans about fire. But the true extent of her nonconformity comes to light when everyone realizes she and her siblings have mysterious gifts of transformation and illusion. As “witches” with their own power independent of Zeus and his cronies, they put Olympian authority in jeopardy.
Ultimately, Circe’s refusal to deny the source of her power (herself, not some random accident)–doom her to a life of exile on the island of Aiaia. Any other nymph might’ve wallowed in self-pity, but not Circe. She makes the most of her isolation. Honing her skills in pharmakeia (magic) and raising a menagerie of loyal pets, she not only becomes her own person, but answers numerous cries for help from her frequent mortal visitors. And when she finally meets Odysseus, the lost prince of Ithaca, her love for him and his family changes her long, lonely life forever.
Yes, Circe is a “witch.” Yes, this is Greek myth, which means everyone is going to bed with everyone else. But Circe’s magic is something she was born with, and the sexual content is very discreet–far less graphic than what I read in high school in The Iliad…or what I read a few months ago in Becoming Mrs. Lewis.
Those caveats aside, Circe’s story resonated with me. Her centuries-long search for purpose and her journey towards wholeness were moving and relatable. As she matured from an unassertive nymph into a wise, fierce, delightfully earthy champion of mortals, I often found myself asking myself, Where am I using bitterness to protect myself? Where do I limit myself with nothing but my own self-doubts? Am I using the time and gifts bestowed upon me to serve others, or simply to gratify myself?
Circe is also held in stark contrast to the other gods who simply don’t care about anything other than their own interests. Where they scorn or ignore the humans, she often risks her own well-being to protect her mortal friends. Her love isn’t always returned in kind: one horrific betrayal leaves her so embittered, she starts turning all her human visitors into pigs. (Enter Odysseus and his crew, stage right.)
But this harsh self-protection isn’t permanent. Not long after Circe opens herself up to love again, she finally meets the one man who truly sees her. And once she realizes she’s loved unconditionally, she has the courage to find out who she truly is. It’s awesome, it’s satisfying, and it’s inspiring…because aren’t we all braver when we know we’re completely loved?
(And no, her One True Love is not Odysseus. This guy is infinitely better. But since I was so surprised by this plot twist that I literally screeched in delight, I shan’t spoil it here. You’ll have to read it yo’self 😉 )
Circe is formidable and sharp-tongued, ready to fight anyone who looks at her friends, her house (OH THAT HOUSE), her lioness, or her baby in a way she doesn’t like. But she’s also observant, curious, humble enough to question her own motives, infinitely tender with those she loves, and a mender of torn and broken things. Through perseverance, courage, her wits, and her unshakable compassion, she makes a life for herself in the middle of nowhere. By Nurse Lucille’s definition, she definitely qualifies as the first of my three “Women of Substance.”
Next Monday we’ll examine the film Ophelia, the beautiful cinematic retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. See you then!
(*waves enthusiastically*) Hi, guys!!! How’s everybody doing? We survived the first half of a year that feels like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting hit by an airplane! WE ARE CHAMPIONS!
As much as I love blogging, I have to say: I really needed that break. The first few weeks of June were a bit touch-and-go as far as Real Life was concerned, and I’m grateful I didn’t have to worry about updating A Writer’s Tale during that time. I also ended up taking a short Twitter hiatus, just so I could clear my head of all the shrieking political voices. The world is nuts, y’all. Better to cultivate courage and show kindness to the people in your own sphere than to scream into the Void.
But ALSO…I got a lot done in June. And by a lot, I mean…
I WROTE THE FIRST 20,000 WORDS OF ONE NOVEL, AND STARTED DEVELOPMENT ON ANOTHER.
The first idea is the story I worked on during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo, an Arranged Royal Marriage fantasy with a strong “Hades & Persephone” vibe (a trope I’ve really come to love). The second idea is far more quirky with great potential for hilarity: four misfit-scientists stumble into a parallel world while searching for the Loch Ness Monster.
Interestingly, when I presented both ideas to four of my younger sisters (aged 19, 17, 13, and 10), they ALL agreed, without hesitation or disagreement, that they found the second idea far more exciting and original. And since they really are my target audience, I’m listening! I’m not abandoning the Royal Marriage Story, but I’m definitely pursuing the Loch Ness Story with confidence…and also focusing on it for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo.
So yes, I definitely needed the blogging break–and I thank all my readers for their patience over the past month! But the hiatus is officially over, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things…and with that, I’m ready to announce a themed blog series for the next three weeks!
My family and I are watching the eighth season of Call the Midwife these days, and one quote from Nurse Lucille Anderson really stuck out to me: “A woman of substance can make a life for herself anywhere.” When Lucille used this phrase, she was talking about the kind of woman who uses her strength, intelligence, kindness, and dreams in the service of others. Not only did this scene bring tears to my eyes (and a nugget of encouragement that I really needed that particular evening), but it also summed up the message behind one book and two movies that I recently enjoyed.
NUMBER ONE: Circe, by Madeline Miller, a reimagining of Greek mythology’s most formidable yet compassionate sorceress…
NUMBER TWO: Ophelia, a cinematic retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the perspective of its observant and principled heroine…
NUMBER THREE: Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Little Women, which turns the old familiar story of the March sisters on its head in refreshing new ways.
Circe, Ophelia, and the March Sisters: they may not seem like they’d go together, but I’m really looking forward to examining all three under the common theme of “Women of Substance.”
And with that, I shall take my leave this week and return here on Monday! It’s good to be back, and I can’t wait to start interacting with y’all on a regular basis again.
This is my FINAL WEEK of my blog hiatus, friends! Thank you so much for your patience over the last five Mondays; the break has been lovely, but I’m so excited about getting back to sharing new things with y’all next week. The following review was originally written in December of 2018. Don’t forget, you’re still more than welcome to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely!
It’s quite appropriate that my family and I re-watched The Martian this weekend, since NASA’s latest exploratory machine, InSight, landed on Mars on November 26th! I’m really excited about InSight, especially since it sent back some absolutely gorgeous pictures of the Martian landscape. (And yes, I do try to keep up with space exploration stuff. Apparently NASA is planning moon landings in the near future, and I can’t wait!) [EDIT June 2020: NASA did announce last summer that we should have astronauts back on the Moon by 2024!]
The Martian is fictional, but if we do get around to sending astronauts to Mars (which is highly likely), it does present us with an eerily plausible scenario: Mark Watney, American astronaut, is accidentally left behind on the Red Planet when he and his fellow explorers make an emergency evacuation from their NASA base. For the next year and a half he fights to survive, using only the tools and shelters left behind by his crew, as well as his own expertise and positive attitude. Eventually he’s able to make contact with Earth, confirming that he didn’t die in the horrific storm that separated him from his crew mates–but getting him off Mars is easier said than done, and will require all the ingenuity for which NASA has always been famous.
It’s been a while since I first saw The Martian, but this time I really noticed the way Watney guards his thoughts. He could’ve easily given up as soon as he realized that he wasn’t just alone on Mars, but that he had been impaled by debris. Bleeding and panicking, he could’ve lain down and died right then and there. Instead, he keeps his cool, performing an agonizing surgery on himself before having a rest and assessing the situation. That done, he promptly declares: “I’m not gonna die here.”
True, he has the advantage of enough NASA rations for six people, plus a fully-functioning base. But he doesn’t rely solely on those short-term solutions. He starts thinking long-term, working on the confident hope that he can and will survive until NASA sends their next manned mission to Mars. Utilizing his skills as a botanist, he finds a way to grow a crop of potatoes. Then he ventures out into the barren landscape and locates one of the old Rovers so he can contact Earth. He even keeps a video diary, talking to himself and making jokes and entertaining himself with his commander’s old disco music.
Watney does struggle–hard–when a tragic accident obliterates one of his biggest victories. We also see him dealing with the utter desolation of being the only person on the planet, and the possibility that he may not see his parents again. He is aware, even in his finest moments, that even after all his hard work he still might not make it home. But even then, he fights–hard!–for hope. And he lets himself process his sorrows and frustrations in healthy outbursts before getting right back to work.
In my opinion, that’s so important in stories about survival. It wouldn’t be realistic if we didn’t see Watney floundering, weeping, and even raging as the weight of his situation bears down on him. But it wouldn’t be nearly as inspiring, either, if we didn’t also see him fighting back the dark despair with both a great sense of humor, a keen awareness of the beauty around him, and a solid, relentless work ethic. All three of those things–humor, gratitude, and work–have helped me whenever I’ve been fighting what Winston Churchill called “The Black Dog.” It was really encouraging to see Watney using the same tools to keep his own spirits high!
There are several instances of bad language in The Martian and a brief scene of rear nudity, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for younger viewers unless you have a good filter. But for older viewers interested in some really good (and fairly realistic) science fiction, an inspiring (often humorous!) survival story, and the depiction of a close-knit team who’d do anything to get their friend back home safe and sound–The Martian is a very good choice.
As I take a month’s hiatus from writing new content for my blog, I invite you to revisit with me a few of my old posts. This one was originally written in March of 2019 and has been slightly edited. Don’t forget, you’re still more than welcome to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely! Amazon Affiliate Links are marked with an asterisk.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned in a previous post that my mom and I have been watching Doctor Who together–and it has been fantastic. Her no-nonsense commentary and her indignation if ever I fail to warn her about a Scary Moment are worth their weight in gold. We love Eleven and Twelve the best, agree that Donna Noble and Bill Potts are the most relatable of all the companions, and probably laugh way too hard at Missy. In fact, our only major disagreement has been over whether or not Twelve and Clara are splendiferous together. We’ve decided, with queenly graciousness, to agree to disagree on this subject.
Amid all these adventures with Mom, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and analyze Murray Gold’s lovely, emotionally-driven music. I’m still familiarizing myself with the music from the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant eras, so if any of my readers have specific recommendations from those series’ soundtracks, please let me know! I’m most familiar with the music from the Smith/Capaldi years, though…so today, I’m sharing with you my favorite tracks from Series 5-9, almost all of which I listen to every day as part of my Writing Playlist.
I’m also including Amazon links to each track, so you can listen to the sample and/or buy it yourself! “A Good Man?” and “Face the Raven” are the only ones that require you to buy the whole album if you want them; HOWEVER, you can buy them individually on iTunes, and you can still listen to the samples on Amazon.
This track’s title is a little misleading. One would assume (as I did) that it’s the Eleventh Doctor’s theme, but it’s actually a more rousing, adventurous version of Amy’s Theme*. One of the things I love about Doctor Who during Steven Moffat’s tenure is its fairytale quality, and I feel like that really comes through in this piece. The first minute and a half is soft and mysterious, with subdued vocals, a lilting melody, and tinkling chimes in the background. But then it builds to a fierce and triumphant crescendo as Amy Pond finally steps into the TARDIS for the first time with her Raggedy Man, and a whole new adventure begins.
“Vincent and the Doctor” is undoubtedly one of the best episodes of Doctor Who, and this track comes from the final scene where Amy and the Doctor find Vincent van Gogh’s “thank-you note” in the Musée d’Orsay. I love the French vibe; I’m guessing that that’s some type of accordion we hear at the beginning, the same sort of sound you’d hear on, say, the Ratatouille soundtrack. The first half of the piece is light and thoughtful, but swells into a half-orchestral, half-electronic climax as Amy approaches Van Gogh’s famous sunflower painting.
It’s hard to describe how deeply I love this piece, which comes from the climactic scene of “Let’s Kill Hitler”–the one where a young, conflicted River Song finds out who she is and what she is destined to become. It starts out dark and questioning, a sad and imploring violin standing out among a subdued orchestra…until River finally makes her decision to save the Doctor’s life. Preceded by an unexpected burst of drums, strings and brass, the violin lets forth a desperate, determined solo that builds and builds and BUILDS until a solo trumpet (or horn?) joins in–and oh, it makes your heart want to explode right out of your chest. (I’m listening to it as I write this, by the way–can you tell my emotions are going ninety to nothing?)
Clara Oswald was my first companion and is still my favorite companion, and this was the first piece of music that jumped out at me when I first watched Series 7 back in the autumn of 2017. Her theme has its own fairytale-like quality, but in a totally different way from Amy’s. Whereas Amy’s theme is more hushed and haunting, Clara’s is light, whimsical, and delicate. The theme does take a short detour into darker, more ominous territory, probably hinting at the baffling mystery of the Impossible Girl–but it rallies right back into a soaring, imaginative melody.
“The Rings of Akhaten” was the episode that made me realize I’d made a very good decision in starting Doctor Who, thanks to its excellent world-building. The repetitive lyrics of “The Long Song” are, in the story, part of a ceremonial and emotional plea for a hero’s assistance–but although they’re grounded in a specific planet’s ancient culture, one might easily assume the words are supposed to apply to a certain heroic Time Lord, as well. About 3/4 through the song the lyrics end and are followed by an intensifying, choral-accompanied climax. I must admit, I love singing along with this one in the car.
This track immediately follows “The Long Song” in “The Rings of Akhaten.” Like “The Enigma of River Song,” there’s a definite melancholy to it–but unlike “Enigma,” it doesn’t include a marked change of mood halfway through the song. This track is used twice in Series 7–the first time on Akhaten, and the second time on Trenzalore, when the Eleventh Doctor regenerates. The Long Song’s refrain, “Wake up,” dominates near the end. I always find it significant when a piece of music is reused for a regeneration scene. It’s like an echo, a clue that that earlier scene must’ve been really important to the Doctor.
This track starts out very, quiet, very mysterious, and very dark…until a light, questioning melody breaks out about 45 seconds in. From there, the song continues asking the question (“Am I a good man?”), getting louder and more insistent…until you hear the unmistakable whir of a sonic screwdriver. The question is finally answered as the Twelfth Doctor’s epic theme explodes into being. I really love the counter melodies here: the slower, stronger primary melody, played by the brass section, and the much faster secondary melody, executed by a pretty mean string section.
Anyone who knows the emotional significance of this track knows why I love it. It’s got some major counter melodies going on, but why? Because one melody is the Eleventh Doctor’s theme…and the other melody is the Twelfth Doctor’s theme. This track comes from that moment in “Death in Heaven” when the Twelfth Doctor finally comes to terms with himself and his identity. It’s kind of like the musical version of that earlier, visual moment when Clara is on the phone with Eleven while Twelve stands right next to her: just as they’re fundamentally the same exact man, their themes are able to intertwine without discord.
This track may seem like a surprising addition, since I bawled like a baby for the episode “Face the Raven.” Nevertheless, it’s a noteworthy piece, if only because of that one discordant chord in the haunting piano refrain of Clara’s theme. It sticks out like a sore thumb–yet it’s not accidental. It’s actually a great touch: something truly horrible is about to happen, Clara knows it, and it’s traumatic enough to affect her theme. But when the refrain plays again, a little more than halfway through the song, the discordant chord is gone: Clara, by this point in the scene has accepted her fate. I love the solo violin in the last 30 seconds, too. Part of this track is repeated in the episode of “Hell Bent,” when the Doctor and Clara are discussing whether or not they should use the neural block that’ll wipe either his or her memory.
If you listen to no other track in this post, listen to this one. This is from the climactic end of that feat of directing, storytelling, and acting, “Heaven Sent.” This is the scene where the Doctor punches through the diamond wall for four and a half billion years, all while telling the story of a shepherd’s boy and a bird on a mountain. Oh, this track…the melody, the drums, the fierce, defiant climax…this is truly my favorite piece of Doctor Who music, and it will make you want to fight the sun. Interestingly, it’s used THREE OTHER TIMES outside of “Heaven Sent.” A more tragic version plays when the Twelfth Doctor makes his stand against the Cybermen in “The Doctor Falls,” while the original version plays at the end of “Twice Upon a Time” when he regenerates. But the one that made me squeak with surprise is actually in the 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor.” A softer version of “The Shepherd’s Boy” plays during the scene in the Gallifreyan barn when the War Doctor, the Tenth Doctor, and the Eleventh Doctor realize they can save their home planet after all! #FEELS
This simple, soothing, acoustic version of Clara’s Theme is just too lovely to pass up. There’s not much to comment on, really, except to provide a bit of heart-melting trivia: Peter Capaldi really did play this song on his guitar for Jenna Coleman to react against during her last day of filming, and she cried.
Congrats to everyone who got to the end of this post, haha. This one is from the final scene of “The Husbands of River Song,” AKA one of the episodes (along with “The Lodger”) that I watch whenever I need a good laugh. The chorals are gentle and light, while the wind instruments, bells, and piano lend to the shifting moods of sadness, resignation, and finally a joyful surprise worthy of a Doctor Who Christmas special.
Which of these tracks is your favorite? Or do you have a recommendation for me? Let me know in the comments!
As I take a month’s hiatus from writing new content for my blog, I invite you to revisit with me a few of my old posts. This one was originally written in August of 2018 and has been slightly edited. Don’t forget, you’re still more than welcome to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely! Amazon Affiliate Links are marked with an asterisk.
All Creatures Great and Small ran from 1978-1980 to 1988-1990, and was based on the memoirs of Scotland-born veterinarian James Herriot. (“James Herriot” was actually a pseudonym–the real man’s name was Alf White–but for this post’s purposes I’m sticking with the pseudonym.) I’ve actually only seen the earlier (1978-1980) run, but that’s still three seasons with 13 to 14 episodes each, so I’m hardly deprived!
The show begins just like the books*: young and newly-graduated James Herriot arrives in the village of Darrowby to interview for a job with local veterinarian, Siegfried Farnon. Siegfried offers him the job pretty quickly once James proves his skills as a vet, and with that James (and the audience) are thrust into the often-hilarious (but sometimes-grim) realities of a British farming community. And we’re not talking just any British farming community, but the Yorkshire farming community. These people are hardy, common-sense folk who “don’t like parting with their brass” and turn a wary eye on strangers–but once you prove you’re not an idiot and willing to work hard, they’ll welcome you with open arms.
James himself is an absolute dear. He’s even-tempered, diligent, kindly, and persevering–but he’s not perfect, either. He has a difficult time saying “no” when he should, he’s much too hard on himself, and he worries about what people think of him. But honestly, that just makes him even more endearing and relatable. Especially since he’s such a good guy deep down.
And really, you can say the same for everyone at Skeldale House: they’re just good people. Siegfried, for example: he’s loud and eccentric, often demanding and the king of gaslighting (which can be very annoying)–but deep down he’s a kindhearted soul who tries to do the right thing by humans and animals alike. Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan (AKA “the debauched choirboy”) is the personification of Chaotic Good: he’d far rather spend his days at the local pub than work alongside his brother and James, but you can’t help but roll your eyes and then cheer him on as he learns more about the veterinary practice through actual experience than from books. Helen Alderson, the beautiful farm girl who eventually becomes James’ wife, is a gentling presence among these three wildly conflicting personalities–while the grim-faced but soft-hearted housekeeper Mrs. Hall keeps them all in line.
And those are just the occupants of Skeldale House. Throughout the course of the series you meet all kinds of colorful characters from the Yorkshire Dales, from the half-deaf Mr. Mulligan whose wolfhound won’t stop “womitin’ bad,” to the persevering widow Mrs. Dalby who fights to keep her husband’s cattle alive, to the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey and her spoiled Pekingese Tricky-Woo.
All Creatures Great and Small is a gentle, humble show. The vividly-written villagers, the challenges and triumphs of farm life, and the gorgeous English countryside are all such a delight to watch! But the older I get, the more I appreciate these good, industrious characters–and I’m encouraged by the thought that while none of them live grand or adventurous lives, they’re perfectly content with their place in the world. They simply do what must be done, with a stiff upper lip and hope for the future.
All Creatures Great and Small is definitely on the older side, so expect some abrupt scene transitions, minimal background music, and that distinctive “look” of 80’s TV. Expect, too, some mild British swearing (also in the books) and very thick Yorkshire accents (thank goodness for closed captioning!). But if you love animals, England, delightful and eccentric characters, and World War II-era stories, be sure to give this one a try!
(The above images contain links to the Amazon pages for the seasons I’ve watched!)
As I take a month’s hiatus from writing new content for my blog, I invite you to revisit with me a few of my old posts. This one, a slightly-edited review of my favorite Star Trek novel series, was written on my old blog in April of 2016. This is awesome sci-fi literature, folks. And don’t forget, you’re still more than welcome to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely! All links with an asterisk are Amazon Affiliate links.
“Her name, to which various people had recently been appending curses, was Ael i’Mhiessan t’Rllaillieu. Her rank, in the common tongue, was khre’Riov: commander general. Her serial number was a string of sixteen characters that by now she knew as well as she knew her fourth name, though they meant infinitely less to her. And considering these matters in such a fashion was at least marginally appropriate just now, for she was in a trap.
“How long she would remain there, however, remained to be seen…”
–Diane Duane, My Enemy, My Ally
Don’t ask me how to pronounce Ael’s second and third names, because I’m afraid I’m just as lost as you probably are. What I can tell you is that she is one of my favorite Star Trek heroines of all time, and that if you’re going to read any of the Star Trek novels, Diane Duane’s fantastic Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages* series (and its concluding novel, The Empty Chair*) are some of the finest you’ll ever get your hands on.
Ael is the aunt of the female Romulan commander in the Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident.” Unsurprisingly, Ael harbors considerable anger against Captain Kirk and Spock for their deception of her niece, who was subsequently punished for her “carelessness.” But she sets aside her resentment when she uncovers a blood-curdling plot by the Romulan government to harness Vulcan mind powers for their own purposes. She reaches out to the now-Admiral Kirk, and together they plan a daring rescue of the captured Vulcans, eventually becoming trusted allies and friends.
And that’s just the first book. I didn’t realize until I was almost finished with My Enemy, My Ally* that it was the first in a quintet! The Romulan Way* ends with Ael’s “theft” of the legendary Sword of the Empty Chair; Swordhunt* and Honor Blade* follow her rise as a revolutionary figure and the outbreak of war between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. The Empty Chair* concludes with the liberated Romulans (AKA the Rihannsu) declaring a reluctant Ael their new Empress.
My love for Star Trek aside, these books are just good literature. As a writer I learned so much about world-building from them, while Diane Duane’s writing style is beautiful and vivid. To paraphrase the old quote about showing-not-telling, she doesn’t tell you the moon is shining; she shows you the light on broken glass.
Not only that, but she gives us complex, admirable characters. Ael is described as a tiny woman (“If she was five foot one, that was granting her an inch or so; if she weighed as much as a hundred and ten pounds, that was on a dense planet”), but awesome things come in small packages: she is as fierce and cunning as she is kind and good-humored. She’s burdened by concerns for her crew’s safety, her value for innocent life, and her devotion to the Romulan principles of honor. But unlike her nation’s leaders, she’d rather do the right thing and risk losing her life–or worse, her name-than tolerate injustice. Ael is also the only person I’ve seen yet, besides Spock or Dr. McCoy, who can sass Jim Kirk and get away with it.
Besides Ael, you have a full and diverse cast of characters: Arrhae, the Federation agent genetically altered to look like a Romulan; Tafv, Ael’s enigmatic son; the three Praetors who really rule the Romulan Senate, each a distinct character in his own right; and, of course, all of our old friends: Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. Even Ambassador Fox, the busybody diplomat in “A Taste of Armageddon,” makes a brief appearance. It’s an epic tale, with plenty of humor, mysterious subplots, and revolutionary, even libertarian overtones. Writers of dystopian and sci-fi novels should take note: stories about freedom fighters–especially female freedom fighters, ahem–don’t have to be depressing.
So, if you’re interested in reading any Trek novels, I highly recommend these. Of course, I am biased towards anything about Vulcans and Romulans. But if you like political intrigue, good and noble heroines, clever banter, and vivid storytelling…with these books, you’re in for a treat.
As I take a month’s hiatus from writing new content for my blog, I invite you to revisit with me a few of my old posts. This first one was written in April of 2018 and remains, in my opinion, one of the prettiest posts I’ve ever put together. Enjoy the frills and folderols–and yes, still feel free to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely!
Ever since I saw Cranford (and its Christmas-centered sequel, Return to Cranford) the 1840’s have been my second-favorite decade after the 1940’s as far as ladies’ fashions are concerned. The utterly outrageous hoop skirts of the 1860’s were still twenty years away, while the huge leg-‘o-mutton sleeves of the 1830’s were also falling out of favor. Of course, corsets were in full use and I have no doubt those women smothered during the summertime, but I do think the dresses were simply beautiful and wouldn’t even mind wearing one of them for a day–corset and all–just for the aesthetic and the experience.
This is why the dresses in Victoria hold a special appeal for me. The series starts in the very late 1830’s, of course, so the first two dresses that caught my eye do feature the fashionably enormous sleeves and dropped shoulders of that decade, as featured in the collages below.
Victoria wears either this navy blue frock or a very similar one with polka dots several times in the first three episodes. The neat thing about both dresses is that she can change the look of it simply by adding a lace collar like this one. She continues to make good use of this ingenious option with nearly all her dresses throughout both seasons. More on that later.
We only get a quick glimpse of her coronation gown, but it’s absolutely lavish. Take a look at the pattern on the fabric–absolutely beautiful. And, to quote the real Lord Melbourne’s actual comment regarding one of Victoria’s dresses, “Amazing sleeves!” The fact that she gave Dash a bath while still wearing this piece of art is both adorable and a little horrifying!
For a long time, this pink dress won my grand prize for “Favorite Dress (At Least In The First Season).” It got bumped down a bit by the Purple Dress (more on that one later), but I still love the collar and the lace hanging from the sleeves–and oh, the color! I know it’s not cool anymore, but I actually do like pink.
I believe it was the show’s costumer (or maybe Daisy Goodwin?) who stated that Victoria’s clothes reflect her growth as a woman. The earlier the episode, the more girlish and “princess-like” her clothes are. The pink dress and the coronation gown are perfect examples of this, but we see a definite shift after Victoria proposes to Melbourne at Brocket Hall. From that point on, her wardrobe starts to mature with her. Gone are the puffed sleeves and girlish patterns. Even her hairstyles change, as seen early on in her courtship with Prince Albert.
I call the dress featured above “the Cinderella gown,” on account of the color and shimmering material reminding me of Lily James’ ballgown in the live-action Cinderella. It’s still on the “princess-y” side, but in the right-hand picture from “The Clockwork Prince” you definitely see the much more grown-up hairstyle coming into play. Note, too, the pointed waist as the 1840’s aesthetic begins to emerge.
The “Proposal Dress” also features a more grown-up hairstyle–and oh goodness, those sleeves–and the ruffles! We get to see this one again the day after Victoria and Albert’s wedding, in much more natural lighting. The candlelight of the proposal scene left me unsure about the color–for the longest time I thought it was pale yellow–but after fiddling with the color/brightness tools on my graphics program, I now think it’s more “peachy.” Notice the embroidery on the bodice, too!
This powder-blue dress is my sister Anna’s favorite, and my second-favorite. Victoria wears it several times with or without the lace collar and with different hairstyles. But again, the addition of the collar makes it seem like she’s wearing a completely different dress! Only the color and the pleats in the bodice give it away.
Queen Victoria really did love purple, so the dress she wears when she confronts Albert just before their wedding is a historically-accurate costuming choice. And after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve finally decided: this one is my favorite. That deep, rich purple has been my favorite color since I was very small, the dress itself is more on the conservative side (hello, My Personal Aesthetic)–and we’re really seeing the elegant silhouette of the 1840’s that I raved about earlier.
This dress actually shows up for the first time during the “Ladies in Waiting” episode, and I’m pretty sure it’s also the first dress we see with long, close-fitting sleeves! BUT! I strongly suspect it’s also the same dress as the powder-blue one. Either the costuming department re-dyed it or simply used the same pattern, then added a different collar and took the lace off the sleeves. I never noticed it until I started putting this post together!
And last but not least for Season 1, the one I call the “White Tea Dress.” This is the one Victoria wears when she makes a deal with Uncle Sussex about his wife’s title and Albert’s position of precedence. As far as I can tell we only see it once, but it’s positively queenly, isn’t it? It’s the perfect outfit for a scene where Victoria makes incredible use of both her intelligence and authority, but in a restrained, dignified way.
Which one of these dresses is your favorite? Or do you have another one from Victoria: Season 1 that I didn’t mention? Or even an outfit from Season 2? Let me know in the comments!
Two weeks ago, Emily of The Altogether Unexpected and I collaborated on “Defending The Rise of Skywalker,” a mega-post where we discussed exactly why we love the rather controversial, admittedly flawed, but nevertheless wonderful final film of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.
This week, we are so excited to bring you Part 2: our VIDEO discussion on The Rise of Skywalker‘s redemptive themes!
Enjoy our musings on how you can find the Christian concept of Ordo Salutis (“Order of Salvation”) in the Bendemption–how the themes of redemption and restoration affect nearly every other story arc (the Serpent, the message on the Sith knife, the Dyad, etc.)–how the Jedi Order can be seen as a metaphor for the Church–and much, much more!
We had way too much fun putting this video together, and we hope you enjoy actually seeing our faces and hearing our voices as we philosophize (and fangirl) over one of our favorite movies. Last but not least, let’s give Emily a big hand for her beautiful editing! She spend a lot of time weaving a few movie clips and a hilarious opening crawl into the video, and the end result is pretty awesome. She’ll be posting the video with her own thoughts on her blog as well, so be sure to check out her link and read her introductory thoughts, too 🙂
As always, feel free to engage us with questions, comments, debates, and fangirling/fanboying!
UPDATE (MAY 21, 2017): Since we posted this vlog, Emily’s ORIGINAL edit of the discussion, full of Star Wars clips and music, was cleared by Disney’s censors on YouTube! As a result, I’ve updated this post with this richer and very beautiful version of the vlog. Enjoy!