literature

The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.1

Character name: Sebastian Moran

Reference: In the original canon, Sebastian Moran is a colonel, not a peer of the realm, but he shares the distinction in this episode (very nearly named after the original story: “Empty House” = “Empty Hearse”) of being the central villain of the first story after Holmes’ return from his supposedly fatal end at the Reichenbach Fall.

Moran is one of several suspected terrorists Sherlock calls his “rats,” so when we find a bomb set up in a tunnel called Sumatra, we also of course hear the echo of a never-penned, only-mentioned adventure called the “Giant Rat of Sumatra.”

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Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey: II

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey:

 

Part II

Read Part I for a discussion of the concept of the Monomyth and the Hero’s Journey.

A DU grad student of mine about ten years ago (back when they let me create classes with interesting and useful topics) came up with a system for a Villain’s Journey. His idea came about from the many readings in class, and he mused that villains also must go through a Journey, but the steps have got to be different than the path a hero takes. Here’s the Villain’s Journey this student concocted, in its 8 stages parallel to the Hero’s Journey:

8-Step Villain’s Journey (by Jon Thumim):

1. moral conflict

Nobody ever sets out to become a villain. Even villains like Iago, who seem to enjoy their role of Bad Guy, still make choices, moral choices, based on an Objective (for more on objective, tactics, and obstacles, revisit my 3 Rules for Protagonists). The villain is faced with a moral conflict, and must act on it to embark on their journey.

2. Precipice

Much like the hero’s Threshold, the Precipice is the boundary between the mundane everyday regular life, and the Realm within which the villain will become a villain. Once they fall over that precipice, there’s no turning back.

3. Sith Trials

These are the tests and challenges the villain must move through in order to achieve their objective. These trials are often more torturous and self-destructive than the Jedi trials, and the villain, unlike the hero, usually has no help in their endeavors.

4. The Void

This is where the villain faces total annihilation. Sometimes the Conflict with the Hero stage happens before this one, causing the obliteration; but sometimes it can be as simple as our villain getting a glimpse into the nothingness, which is (like the hero’s abyss) the biggest challenge for the villain, the most difficult trial and one it’s not certain they’ll survive. In fact, as we’ll see in stage 7, they probably won’t.

5. Conflict w/hero

The villain’s comeuppance and time to shine as the villain they are comes in this stage, where they must face off against their own Boss Monster, the hero. Very rarely does the villain win this contest.

6. Forswear mentor

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Whatever you think of Episode I, this image from its poster has always struck me. It’s…illustrative. It’s actually much more compelling than the actual story the movie gave us.

The life of the villain is a solitary one, and where the hero will Atone with the Father, the villain will do no such thing, rejecting and forswearing any teachings, gifts, or help their magical guide or mentor may have supplied till now (or they’ll take the money and run, thank you very much). They’ve grown villainously beyond the fairy godperson and will face their world alone.

7. Dismemberment

Where the hero underwent a Transformation, becoming more themselves than ever before as they became the hero, the villain’s transformation is much more destructive. The villain isn’t transformed into themselves, but is instead annihilated, ripped apart, until there are only pieces left. In contemporary stories, this tends to be a metaphorical dismemberment, but in ancient folk and fairy tales, it’s literal.

8. Resurrection

The villain is obliterated, annihilated, by their journey, and when resurrected, they’re never the same. Often in old stories and in fantasy tales, the villain is now no longer a healthy human being, but an unnatural abomination, often actually undead. Voldemort and his horcruxes are a vivid example of this.

What do you think of this dark, Mirror-Mirror version of the Monomyth? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Hero’s Journey / Villain’s Journey: I

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey :

 

Part I

When I was very young and first learned about story formulae, it distressed me, as I was worried very much about originality at the time. But once I grew into my writership and my voice and became more and more well read, I realized that formulae like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey function as skeletons, a strong (and yes, necessarily same) structure that a storyteller can then hang original flesh and clothing on top of. See Kirby Ferguson’s Everything Is A Remix episode wherein he talks about the materials George Lucas used to build the bird’s nest that is Star Wars, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the recycled, and a new view of what it means to be “original.”

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, laid out the basic structure for all story, something he called the Monomyth. The original Journey consists of 17 different phases or stages the hero goes through, from the Call to the Apotheosis to the Magical Flight, and so on. Many writers have shortened this formula down to a more manageable three stages: The Call, Road Of Trials, and Return. Personally, I prefer an 8-stage version a teacher concocted from the original 17, in that with the 8 stages, we get the detail of the Journey more specifically than the very simplified 3-step version, but it is much easier to swallow (and more versatile) than the full 17. And I have taught my writing students this 8-stage version in my own Jenn way for many years (part Campbell’s words, part pop culture/my own. And ain’t that just so postmodern of me?).

(Only thing better is my 3 Rules for Protagonists, based on Stanislavsky’s acting “Method.” And it is better. But this piece of writing is specifically about the hero’s and villain’s Journey, so I digress…)

Anyway. This is my take:

8-step version Hero’s Journey

1. call to adventure

Our hero (oh, and, side note: I eschew use of the word “heroine,” as it is merely the diminutive form of the noun. I don’t use the word “actress” for the same reason. The feminine should not be diminutive. A person is a hero or an actor, no matter what gender they express) gets whisked away on the adventure. The snug norm of regular life is disrupted, and it’s time to embark upon the unknown. Very often, the hero resists the Call (or even outright refuses it), but no matter if they do, they end up running after those dwarves without a pocket-handkerchief, or taking the red pill, or falling down the rabbit hole regardless.

2. Threshold

This is the gateway to the Magical Realm. In old stories (and often In new fantasies), this is where the hero enters the Forest. Usually there’s some kind of terrifying guardian at this gate, and the hero must use their own bravery and wit (and often, help and/or gifts from a wise mentor or fairy godperson) in order to get through. The doorway to nirvana is guarded by two fearsome swordsmen, for example, and the way back to the Garden of Eden is flanked by terrible (also sword-wielding) seraphim. But crossing the threshold is only the first challenge for the hero…

3. Jedi trials

Once the hero is in the Other Realm, away from the normal world as we know it, they’re immediately in mortal, life-changing danger. They must undergo a series of challenges in order to move on, each one tougher and more dangerous than the one before. And each test makes the hero stronger, and teaches them more. This stage is the one where our hero may meet other characters like the Temptress/Goddess and the Trickster, and may or may not lose their magical guide here. The first Star Wars movie follows this precisely, as once Luke crosses through the threshold (Mos Eisely spaceport; you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy), he meets Leia, Han, Chewie, and loses Obi-Wan. Sorry, did you need a spoiler alert?

4. Abyss

This is the worst, darkest, direst of the Jedi Trials. This is the most difficult test the hero goes through, the one where they almost give up, or nearly perish. If our hero is in a video game, this is where they must fight the Boss Monster, and it’s uncertain whether or not they’ll succeed.

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“You chose…wisely.”

5. A-ha moment

This is the moment when the hero puts their hands on the Holy Grail. When they attain their objective, or realize it’s not attainable. Indiana Jones literally did this in the third movie of that trilogy (yes, the Indiana Jones franchise is only a trilogy lalalalala I can’t hear you what are you saying about a crystal skull)….

6. Transformation

Sometimes this happens right with the a-ha moment, or the a-ha moment happens because of this. This stage is where the hero changes irrevocably—no longer are they the hapless teenager, scared little girl, or impatient farmboy. That abyss was the straw that broke the hero’s back and transformed them into an actual hero.

7. Atonement w/father

Often if the hero is female, this stage is an atonement with the mother figure instead, but just as often it’s a father figure regardless of heroic gender. Even more usually, the father figure is the highest god, The Father, as it were. The Norse and Greek myths were all about this stage, though usually the atonement comes in the form of punishment in those tales.

8. Return w/boon

The hero must return with all the wisdom and superpowers and whatever else they’ve gained along their journey, to bring the boon of their new heroship to benefit the community. This return is often where you’ll find the stage called Magical Flight, where the hero continues to have help in order to cross back over the threshold into the regular world. Now the hero is what Campbell called Master of Two Worlds, able to exist both in the enchanted realm and the world of workaday reality.

 

Stay tuned for Part II, where I will introduce and discuss the concept of the Villain’s Journey.

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Video Killed the Paper Star (Part II)

In the first of these VKPS posts, I discussed and showed the Grammar Video Lesson assignment. Of course, you can surely see, lovely lurkers, how this assignment could work quite well in any class subject, any field.

The second way I encourage video projects instead of writing is in the Reading Response. Now, as a prof of the humanities, I perforce assign lots of reading to my students. I curate the reading carefully, and I always ask for a Reading Response (with a few specific guidelines as far as what I’d like to see in their responses). Basically, I want to see that they’ve done the reading, and I want to know what they think about it. More: I want them to connect the readings to other stuff they’re doing, and synthesize it within the rest of their scholarly (and other) experiences.

The Reading Responses (oh, and these are for ALL my courses, not just the ones on writing) usually end up being a few paragraphs of sloppy writing and an accompanying image up on a blog (my assigning blog creation for classes is a whole ‘nother post). But I always give the students the vlog option. Which is simply that they can record a video of their reading response in lieu of a written one, and they post it the same way they would a written response.

Surprisingly, not many students opt for the video version of this, but two students in particular found the option invaluable.

Nate’s writing skill wasn’t top notch, but his immersion in the stage combat class material was. He would ruminate on the readings into his phone while walking through campus, interspersing his thoughts with footage from class, making for an engaging, thoughtful, and thorough response. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much from a written response from him, and he also got interested in video composition, adding these skills to his technological knowledge in classes. There’s a technology requirement in all general ed courses (which this one wasn’t), which is another reason why assigning videos is a good thing in the comp courses. Here are two examples of Nate’s work from advanced stage combat at Metro. These were from a few years ago, so if you wonder at the video quality, that’s why.

the final over view from Nathan Taves on Vimeo.

Another interview with me and suported by the club. from Nathan Taves on Vimeo.

Jackson is a Composition student of mine. Now these classes are all about writing essays, and for him, writing is a major struggle. So when I gave him the vlog option for the reading responses, he jumped at the chance to have some assignments that didn’t involve writing. Thing is, when he shared his notes for his video responses with me, it was apparent that his understanding of the reading was complete, and when you see his videos, you can hear yourself how intelligent and on top of the material he is. If I had not given him the option to respond with video instead of writing, you better believe I wouldn’t have been able to tell this.

Reading Response Chapter 1 from Jackson Stallings on Vimeo.

Reading response ch 14 from Jackson Stallings on Vimeo.

So there you have it. Two instances of video assignments working well for higher education. That’s not to mention the read-aloud assignment for Children’s Literature…..

Musings Upon a New (ish) Semester

Well fuck. 

I use invective, lovely lurkers, with conscience and reason. Why I just used one of the words that would make my movie Rated R in America is that I just saw that the last post on this blog was posted in, like, mid-August. Seriously, what the fuck? Why do you tolerate this kind of behavior from me, huh? Are you all so busy reading Parallel Bars that you can’t be bothered? Can’t say I blame you, truth be told…

So I’m jogging in the reins of Week 4 at both Metro and Front Range, Week 2 of Regis, and the verrrry beginning of Week 1 at DU. And lemme tell ya about the cool shit that’s happening at all those fine institutions (okay, I’m going with this invective thing):

At Metro: I’m teaching that online Staging Cultures course I’ve told you about before. It’s a really good reading list, lovely lurkers. Let me know if you want it. I’m also doing a MW (that’s Monday & Wednesday, kids) Intro to Theatre, which is a delightful gen ed course I haven’t done in a while. Man are those First Year Success students bright eyed and enthusiastically bushy tailed! They’re just about to embark on their historical presentation projects AND their Raisin in the Sun unit, so wow how much good material can we stomach at 11am? A lot, apparently. Youthful energy, I’m tellin ya…

Beginning Stage Combat over at Metro is Friday mornings as is usual, but as is not usual, it’s SO FULL YOU GUYS! There’s, like, 24 or something people in it, and they’re all lovely young talented energetic insane theatre majors and I am having so much fun and getting so old…. They’re just about to start choreographing their Unarmed fights, and I could not be more excited!

At Regis: I have two lovely and talented grad students doing a one on one Writing the Novel course w me; and one other lovely and talented grad student doing my own self-constructed YA Literature course (one on one, natch. It’s nearly always one on one at Regis). It’s going to be some stellar writing, which will only make me wish I had more time to work on my own work….

At Front Range: it’s two evening courses: a Comp I and a Comp II. The former is revising their Mini-Essays as we speak (Er, as I type), and you know what that means! That’s right: the Mini-Essay Contest winner post is imminent! Let’s hope it’s not the next one, as I need to be more frequent than that here….

Comp II as is usual these days for me, functions under a theme of Creativity and Innovation. They just finished their (quite high quality) Elevator Pitches, and now have just been introduced to the Analyzing An Image essay, which is where they pick an ad or psa and analyze it in essay format. Should be some good reading.

And finally,

At DU: Children’s Literature started today! As my ancient, steam-powered laptop decided to become a doorstop recently, it was quite the challenge to get that course shell updated and ready to go for a fresh crop of Professional Writing graduate students. But I am nothing if not diligent. And, yes, I have a lot of work to do still, but hey at least it’s up and functioning, and thanks to the SO, I have a brand spanking new refurbished box I can now use to get everything even more ship-shape. Thanks to that generous soul…

Oh but that’s not all! I also continue to have professional endeavors:

Bronze Fox Burlesque is doing their next show at License no.1 under the loose theme of Clue (the movie) and murder mysteries in general. I am mulling over choreography for a duet and a new solo right now…

Metro is doing The Country Wife in a couple weeks, a ribald comedy of no manners at all, and I am consulting the period movement as well as choreographing and directing a raucous chick fight with fans. And maybe fisticuffs.

I’m still writing for Parallel Bars and Your Boulder, editing the SO’s spectacular new book, and I’m just now starting to think I could remount my Retro Reviews of Sherlock, over on Sherlock’s Home, now the 4th season is far enough away…..

So.

Megan shows my Intro students the ropes. Literally.

Hm.

I guess there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to post here. Yeah, well. NO FUCKING EXCUSES, AMIRITE?

Ahem. Carry on….

Outrageous Fortune

ofbwtherapy

Rehearsal for Outrageous Fortune. The Dr. Ruth-type Prospera coaches we Tragedians Anonymous into embracing our tragedies and moving forward…

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Stage Movement begging session to praise to the skies a theatrical project I’m a part of: Viva’s Outrageous Fortune. Viva is a company connected to Boulder’s Society For Creative Aging, and as such, its large cast is quite diverse both in the age and the experience areas. The Boulder Weekly has a thoughtful article on some of the philosophies behind it, which you can read here. Basically, it’s Shakespeare’s tragic characters in group therapy in an attempt to find closure with their tragic lives, and things go rather amuck when some characters try and change their Outrageous Fortune to make one of their own.

On a personal level, I’ve had a lot of fun cultivating my Valley-Girl-Desdemona character, but also in choreographing the second largest fight scene I’ve ever had to tackle. An extra challenge in coordinating this giant fight scene is knowing that around 85% of the players are of an advanced age, such that certain moves are not only difficult, but dangerous and even impossible. But I am very happy with how it’s turning out, and the show as a whole should be a heckuva lot of fun to see.

Outrageous Fortune opens this Saturday and runs two weekends. Find your tickets here.

The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.1, 2, and 3

Line: (variations on:) MYCROFT: The East wind is coming.

Reference: In the BBC series, this phrase refers to a scary story Mycroft would tell Sherlock as a child (at least that’s the indication). In canon story “His Last Bow,” a Sherlock Holmes in his sixties says to elderly Watson, just after they unmask a German spy, “There’s an East wind coming,” referring to the onset of World War One. Watson responds that he thinks on the contrary, it’s very warm. This optimism makes Holmes muse upon the impending terrible times thusly:

Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.

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The More You Holmes

From: ep. 4.1

Title: The Six Thatchers

Reference: This title is obviously a play on the canon short story title, “The Six Napoleons,” and one must wonder what sort of dig Mofftiss is making about Thatcher, being a Napoleon substitute in the title of the ep. One also wonders if there will be smashed plaster busts, the mafia,  and the Black Pearl of the Borgias involved.

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NiB Review re-post: A Dance in Blood Velvet

Here’s the sequel to A Taste of Blood wine, that I was talking about earlier, lovely lurkers. These books do stick with you after experiencing them. This one in particular hit me in a particular way, as I was in a place where I guess you could say I needed it when it came across my desk.


Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington

Review by Prof. Jenn

 

dibvThe re-publishing of Warrington’s lush vampire epic continues with A Dance in Blood Velvet–a story that takes place after They Lived Happily Ever After. Because hey, vampires really do have literally the opportunity to do so. However, as former humans with every human foible still intact, it’s not so simple. Relationships become tautly intertwined as Karl’s former companions reawaken and challenge what Charlotte has found and begun with her new life as a vampire. Charlotte herself is learning what sort of a vampire she is becoming as well as dealing with searing jealousy which finds manifestation (or retaliation?) in her obsession with a ballerina.

Warrington has a gift for portraying realistic strong feelings and is an excellent author of character. Because of this, what we get in this sequel is not over-ornate romanticism but powerful driven characters, going for their objectives no matter what. The reader finds it hard to put the book down, as long as it is, because she must find out what happens next. As far as how it reads as a sequel, I can imagine someone coming into this story without having traveled with the characters before, as there is enough explanation (without info dumps) and opening discussions between Karl and Charlotte that one could hit the ground running without having read the first one. Though, you’ll want to read the first one too.

This book ends with a potential serial villain much in the vein of Batman’s Catwoman–definitely an antagonist and dangerous, but surprisingly not always not on our heroes’ side…and we are left with the idea that yes, we will be seeing this villain again.

Bottom Line: this series is extremely well written–A Dance in Blood Velvet is a taut, tense, exhilarating read.

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