“The Pumpkin”–A Poem and Memory Celebrating Fall

Happy Fall, readers! Since the autumnal equinox was yesterday, it’s official. ūüôā I hope you had a fun Hobbit Day and continue to celebrate through Tolkien Week. My family did indeed go mini-golfing as planned, which was lots of fun. We were very careful and checked the whole course before putting, because you know what they say about hobbits and¬†holes in the ground. ūüėČ

When the weather started to turn more autumnal here, I had a sudden flashback of a fall memory from several years ago (2008, to be precise). It came back to me as a poem, as flashbacks (luckily!) often do for me, since I record memories in words, writing the world in my head as I see it.

This is a memory from a time when a group of our friends from UIUC went to a nearby apple orchard. Jeremiah and I were in the same group, and we had dated before but weren’t dating at the time (yet). ūüėČ

I wanted to save the poem to share with you until it was officially fall. I hope it’s not too sappy-sweet, but then, it is the season for maple syrup and sweetened gourds of a certain variety–which will star in the poem today. ūüôā

I wanted to share a few photos from that day, too.

The group with some of our spoils (Jeremiah’s doing the American Gothic on the very left, and I’m on the very right).

This was surely meant for little kids, but that didn’t stop us from joining in the fun. It required some intense crouching.

Ripe for the picking!

But this is what I was really excited about, as you’ll read below (the pumpkins, not the modest-afterthought statue).

The Pumpkin

By: Amanda K. Fowler
I knew you loved me when
we went with friends to an apple orchard,
but I wanted a pumpkin
so you followed me to the rows of orange gourds.
They’d already been picked,
because crops were bad that year,
but you spent hours with me,
looking at each one,
turning them over and over.
I saw every curved side
underneath your hands.
We felt the dirt coat the skin
like afterbirth,
and I think
we imagined
they were babies,
and we had to find the one
that was ours.
The sun made
our shadows long,
and I grew discouraged,
and the others were far away
wagons and bellies
full of apples.
But then you found it:
our pumpkin baby.
It was huge,
and healthy,
and bright.
You brushed the dirt off
and showed me how
it had a flat side
from where it lay
while it grew against the earth,
and it would be perfect
for my carving,
you said.
I loved it,
and you looked smaller
under the weight
of the behemoth gourd,
but you never struggled
or grunted,
just carried the pumpkin
to the register
and then the car,
And when the others teased you
about looking at pumpkins all day,
you just smiled.
I never carved it;
it was already perfect.
And I knew I loved you then.
I hope you enjoyed the poem. Now, I’m itching to go back to an orchard! What’s on your fall celebration list? ūüôā

Happy Hobbit Day!

Tomorrow, September 22, has been designated as Hobbit Day, in celebration of both Frodo and Bilbo’s birthdays. The Hobbit fanpage on Facebook has provided a helpful guide for how to celebrate the day properly. But really, with such a special day, why not celebrate this all weekend–all month, even? It’s sort of like, why have only one breakfast? ūüėČ

According to Middle-Earth News, Hobbit Day is the kick-off to Tolkien Week. Check out their website for a listing of events, including a photo contest.

Do let me know if you plan to celebrate, and how it goes. As for me, I think our family will probably enjoy the cooler weather with a round of mini-golf. It does seem more Hobbity than full-sized golf. ūüėČ

Top Ten Tuesday: Book–>Movie Adaptations

Hello readers! I’ve decided I would like to participate in the “Top 10 Tuesday” trend suggested by The Broke and the Bookish on this blog. So each Tuesday, barring other pressing news I’d need to post instead, I will post a top-10 list right here on this blog.

Today,¬†I am going to list my top 10 personal favorite book-to-movie/television adaptations. You will notice the sci-fi/fantasy theme (except for #9). Not all of these movies perfectly mimic the books; some I think were even better (but some, worse–but not bad enough to exclude them from the list). Also, I only chose adaptations where I’ve read at least part of the book and seen at least part of the movie/series; I’ll specify where I haven’t finished. Read on and let me know what you think–what would YOU add or take off of this list?

1. Beauty and the Beast/Tangled (Rapunzel)/The Little Mermaid

Beauty and the Beast (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

OK, so I may be cheating a bit with this first one, but there’s a good reason I lumped them all together: they’re all semi-dark fairy tales adapted into Disney movies done well. In each case, I much prefer the movie to the original fairy tale, but perhaps it’s unfair that I saw the movies before reading the tales (I know, I know, but I couldn’t even read yet when two of them came out). I think part of this preference is because each of the movies are adapted for a modern audience, whereas the fairy tales were written for centuries past, with all of its societal influence–recall my “no book is an island” explanation. So while both the written tales and the movies seek to teach lessons, they are different lessons, even if the stories are almost the same. I think Disney did a great job with making happy endings for each of these that don’t diminish the suffering and growth the characters went through–it almost reinforces the good lessons by saying “do good and you will receive good.” One of these original tales has an ending so, so sad that I couldn’t get all the way through it, though I’ve read about it (I won’t spoil it for you, in case you haven’t read them). Plus all the heroines are way more kick-butt in the Disney versions, which you know I love. This is why I will forever be a Disney princess.

2. The Lord of the Rings (+ The Hobbit)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

You already know my love for this story is intense. I did see the LOTR movies before I read the books–and actually, reading them is a project I began several times in high school and still haven’t finished, and I can feel your eyes burning like Sauron while reading this, but rest assured they are on my to-finish-soon list. I did finish The Hobbit, and I’m a big fan of what Peter Jackson has done so far. This epic story of good vs. evil is so lush and complex that it will forever be a hallmark in my mind and the mind of literary (and cinematic) canons everywhere. I was not a fan of earlier film adaptations, but I love Jackson’s rendition, for all the flack he gets. (Again, adapting an older story for a modern audience requires some changes–and again, I will never be against making females more kick-butt.)

3. Stardust

Stardust (2007) Poster

Stardust (image courtesy of imdb.com)

Stardust¬†has always been described as a fairy tale for adults. It was a book written by Neil Gaiman before it was made into a movie, with the shortest time gap for adaptation so far on this list. In fact, Gaiman had a lot of input on the project. You can read an awesome interview about it here. Although he’s written scripts before, he had a specific screenwriter for this movie–and she had to be female, he said, to have the right touch. (An interesting quirk about Gaiman is that he ascribes a gender to all of his works; Stardust is a female book, he says, but it does appeal to all.) And while I LOVE Gaiman–one of my top 3 favorite authors of all time–I have to say I preferred the movie in this case. Gaiman did a fantastic job of writing in a true fairy tale style, but I think an inherent problem of that style is faraway narrative distance. I didn’t connect with the characters as much in the book as the movie, although I did enjoy the extra details and lore included in the book that weren’t in the movie. Also, I felt like the movie focused more on the love story, which is extremely appealing to a romantic sap like me. ‚̧ But Neil, if you’re reading this, I still love you the mostest, especially for The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere, and your accent.

4. Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera (photo courtesy of matineedeals.com)

There is nothing I don’t love about this movie adaptation–the costumes, the music, the scenery, the acting–it’s perfect. This is a case where I like the movie WAY better than the book, and I like it as much as the musical, which is nearly identical. The book came first, written by Gaston Leroux in 1910 as a horror story. It seems I’m not alone in my preference, because the book did not do well for a long time. It was pure horror and very little romance, and the heroine was much too weak. She’s the only one on this list who wouldn’t qualify as a strong female character, at least in the book (and it’d still be a stretch for the movie). While she is still manipulated in the musical and movie, I can forgive her because of her growth and passion, and because it’s kind of hard not to be manipulated by a psychopath, especially one who sings to you so dreamily and gives you roses, all while wearing a tuxedo.

5. Harry Potter

Harry Potter (images courtesy of the Harry Potter Wiki)

Harry Potter was such a special experience for my generation, ¬†because we grew up with Harry as the books and movies came out. The books and movies taught us all about courage, friendship, and love. Despite small discrepancies, I thought the movies were very faithful to the books. More had to be left out later in the series, because the books got longer, but still, the ideas and main events were preserved. I love both the books and the movies, and I’d like to reread the whole book series as an adult and see what it’s like from that perspective. J.K. Rowling opened up a whole world for writers and readers alike, and her magic extended beyond the pages and made kids want to read again. The movies had that power, too, compelling fans to read the books to see what they’d missed.

6. The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2012) Poster

The Hunger Games (image courtesy of imdb.com)

The Hunger Games is another mostly faithful book-to-movie adaptation. The rest of the movies aren’t out yet, but based on the first one (and the¬†INTENSE¬†trailer for the second one), I think they will not only be faithful but excellent. Some books read like movies, and this series is one of them. This made the violent parts a little gruesome to get through, but more than anything else I’ve ever read, all the violence had a purpose, and it was sobering. The first movie did a great job of balancing the theme of it with making it PG-13 enough for younger viewers to sit through; it will be interesting to see how they navigate that for the future movies, since, as series go, it will only get MORE INTENSE. The Hunger Games introduced me to the dystopia genre of books, which is one of my very favorite. The movies made me realize it was already one of my favorite cinematic genres, although I’ve seen more that did it wrong than right. THG has set the bar very high, and it’s made big steps in legitimizing YA books/movies for adults–not one I’d recommend for younger than high school. Oh, and BTW, ¬†Katniss (in¬†both the books and movie) is the ultimate strong female character–physically strong, emotionally responsive, and imperfect. She’s a great role model for women of all ages.

7. The Mortal Instruments

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013) Poster

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (image courtesy of imdb.com)

This first movie just came out, and I almost need to see it again to finalize how I feel about it. I love the book series, as I’ve mentioned, and the movie was fascinating and very cool. Most of it was¬†pretty faithful, up until a certain point where it started pulling in elements from future books, so let’s just say I was glad to be done with book 3 (of 6) before I saw the movie. I can understand some of the changes, but not all, at least without having seen any of the future movies. This is definitely one I’d recommend reading before seeing, but it’s still on the list because I know I really liked both versions. When I watch the movie again, I will try to watch it as a movie, not as a comparison to the book. What both got right was development of the primary characters, which is one of the main draws to this series. They are all complex, believable, and at the end of the day, lovable in their own ways. Both also did a fantastic job of portraying the world–it actually helped to see it on the big screen to tie all the elements together visually.

8. Dune

Dune (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This book series and TV miniseries has been one of my favorites since the beginning of high school. Like LOTR, it has a sweeping story about good vs. evil with a complex universe. And like LOTR, this is the only adaptation I like; the earlier one is soooo trippy, even for a universe where people get powers from a drug. Of course, these universes differ, and Dune has always been strictly sci-fi, whereas LOTR is strictly fantasy. I’ve read 2/3 of the Dune series and none of the other posthumous publications based on Herbert’s works; this is another to-finish series on my bookshelf. This miniseries adaptation was very faithful to the books, and it did a good job with pacing, scenery, acting, etc.

9. Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (image from GoT Wiki)

This one made it on the list mostly out of speculation. I must confess, I’ve only read a small bit of the first book of the series. I was holding off watching the series till I finished the books, but I couldn’t resist any longer. A few friends have recommended watching the series first because it helps you keep the characters straight to see them visually (though it’s still difficult, because there are a billion of them). I’m only 6 episodes in, but I’m already on the path to obsession. I think about it when I’m not watching it, and when I am watching I forget to watch the clock. It’s high fantasy in some ways like LOTR, but with more rated-R+ content and less magic. From what I’ve read so far, it’s a great adaptation, and I can’t wait to finish both versions (no rush, ¬†George R. R. Martin).

10. Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Poster

Pride and Prejudice, BBC miniseries (photo courtesy of imdb.com)

This is the only one on the list that isn’t sci-fi/fantasy, but I love it just as much. Oh, do I love it. Austen is one of my top writing, life, and humor influences; she’s one of those authors who’s changed my life in immeasurable ways. I can’t imagine many other books that have been adapted as much as this one, and I can’t imagine any book that fans would be more defensive of. That being said, the BBC version is well-loved by diehard fans of the book, and deservedly so–it is the closest book-to-screen match I have ever seen. The dialogue is verbatim in many parts. Settle yourself down for six hours of wit, romance, and eye candy (Mr. Firth, I’m talking about you), or escape in the pages/your own mind to the rural England of the nineteenth century–it’s up to you, because you’ll get the same experience either way. Elizabeth Bennet is an SFC of the Regency Era, convincing girls to be strong in their own rights rather than rely on the opinions and actions of others.

I hope you enjoyed the list! What do you think is missing? Let me know what your favorite book-to-screen adaptations are.

An Epic Kind of Night: “Lord of the Rings” at the Ravinia Festival

Happy Friday, readers! I wanted to tell you about the amazing daddy-daughter date I had last night. ‚̧

My dad and me pre-concert; cannot contain the excitement!

My excitement often overwhelms any hope of being photogenic in pictures, but such is the curse of a fangirl. (See my confession in my last post.)

Every morning I work, I wake up to Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT, on my radio alarm clock. Earlier this week, I heard an advertisement for an event at the Ravinia Festival: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra would be playing Howard Shore’s soundtrack while screening The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Whoa! Was early-morning grogginess causing auditory hallucinations? Could this meld of my favorite things actually be taking place?

Was there some kind of planetary alignment I was unaware of? (Illustration by EvilOverseer on deviantart)

After checking on their website, I realized it was true!

I’ve been going to the Ravinia Festival with my family since I was little. We’ve seen many fantastic performances there. Ravinia is a unique concert experience, open during the summer near Chicago, where you can hear the music inside their pavilion or out on the lawn. Both options have their merits: The lawn enables you to have a picnic and be more immersed in nature; Ravinia’s sprawling grounds are surrounded by huge trees, which provide a great platform for cicadas and birds to chime in. Inside the pavilion, you get to see the orchestra/performance, and you can hear the music directly, as opposed to amplified through speakers, both of¬†which are difficult on the lawn.

The outside experience at Ravinia

The inside experience at Ravinia

By the time I’d heard about the performance, the pavilion seats were already sold out, so that made the choice easy. I knew immediately whom I would ask to go with me: my dad! We have always geeked out about Lord of the Rings together, texting each other quotes during the day, making important life decisions based on what the characters would do, etc.

You Shall Not Pass gravy meme

My dad also happens to be my classical music buddy, the one who always listens to it, critiques it, and goes to see the concerts with me. So it was a perfect arrangement.

For something this epic, obviously, I had to go all-out.

Boromir knows.

In high school, one of my best friends Kara also frequently obsessed about LOTR with me, to the extent that we made iron-on shirts for our favorite LOTR races. I chose Hobbits, and she chose elves.

I <3 Hobbits shirt

We had to cut out and iron on each letter individually. So worth it.

We had to cut out and iron on each letter individually. So worth it.

I got stopped many times at the concert by people wanting to know about my shirt; I was proud to say my friend and I had made them. You see, I know how much work goes into making clothing/accessories, and I take it as a compliment when people ask me if I’ve made something. Unfortunately, not everyone does, as I learned at the opening night of the Lyric Opera when I asked a lady if she’d made her hat. It had the extreme opposite effect; whoops.

I topped off the shirt with this necklace:

Arwen’s Evenstar

which the ticket guy complimented, as he handed me my ticket, wearing this ring:

Aragorn’s Ring of Barahir

at which point I knew we were entering a festival with other LOTR superfans. This was confirmed when we saw someone dressed in a Gandalf costume. ūüôā

When we walked in 1.5 hours prior to the performance, believe it or not, the lawn was already packed. We lucked out in finding a prime spot for viewing, the screen only slightly obstructed by a light pole. Ravinia had fogged for bugs beforehand, which was very nice; we both escaped the night with 0 bug bites, which is positively unheard of for us.

One surprising element I found very fun was the pre-concert entertainment. On the screen, they displayed a live Twitter feed of people Tweeting @RaviniaFestival. This was a great touch, since so many people were there so far in advance of the concert. It was also great marketing, IMHO, because they got tons of new followers and looked super popular with people mass-Tweeting them for hours.

The @RaviniaFestival #LOTR Twitter Stream

Everyone tried to out-humor each other, and many were quite clever. Some particular gems I enjoyed were: “One does not simply park into @RaviniaFestival. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. #LOTR” and “Every time Legolas or Gimli says a number, take that many shots. #drinkinggame”

Mine didn’t make it onto the wall, but I did feel honored that @ChicagoSymphony (Orchestra) “favorited” it: “It’s feeling more crowded than Helm’s Deep here!” with this picture, which was only part of the front lawn section:

To make the night even more fantastic, there was a Lou Malnati’s pizzeria five minutes from the park, which just so happens to be our favorite food ever. My dad and I picked up a veggie pizza for a picnic on our way there.

Ambrosia: Lou Malnati’s veggie pizza

with carrot cake we bought at the festival for dessert. Another favorite!

When the screen changed and the orchestra started playing, everyone cheered and clapped, followed by audience silence–nice. I have to say the audience was wonderful, with no jeering, cursing, or drunken debauchery. The most disruptive it ever got was to whoop whenever Gandalf kicked butt, which we were all doing mentally, anyway.

The set-up was done quite well. The dialogue was toned down and captioned so that the music took the forefront, which was a really neat experience. The performance was flawless–perfectly in time and in tune, with heaps of passion from the orchestra, choirs, and vocal soloist. Even though I own the soundtracks and have listened to them countless times, it almost felt like hearing the music for the first time when I saw the visual scenes the songs matched. The regular movie version plays the music more quietly in the background so that the dialogue takes precedent–makes sense–so you don’t notice the music as much.¬†Shore’s soundtrack is so fantastic that it is standalone, but having the meld of the two together was pretty magical. It was like having insight into the composer and the director’s heads.

It was also neat being an audience member looking in. My high school orchestra played parts of this soundtrack once for a “Pops Concert” we did every year, and it felt so awesome to play violin in this epic music. Combining my love for the story and music with the “performance high” (mentioned in this post) of playing wonderful music on a favorite instrument–it was sublime. Hearing what something like that sounds like on the outside was a different kind of wonderful, too.¬†For the next concert, I definitely want to try to get a pavilion seat, because part of what I love about concerts is seeing the energy of the musicians. I actually found out afterwards that one of my friends from my writing program at DePaul, Angel Barrette Underhill (no relation to Frodo’s pseudonym), was singing in the choir, and that Kara was in the audience, too! What a small world. ūüôā

I hope you have a fabulous and epic weekend, readers. In closing this post, let me share the best part of this daddy-daughter date: