Category Archives: Let’s Talk About…

Let’s Talk About The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Ever Since Washington Irving published The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 his iconic monster The Headless Horseman has been a major part of American folklore. In fact, the town of Sleepy Hollow New York (which used to be called North Tarrytown but changed it to Sleepy Hollow in 1996) makes a ton of money every Halloween from that legend. They’re very proud of it.

There are a few things about that story though.

Firstly, people only talk about the Headless Horseman man talking about the story. The horseman only appears in the last few pages of the story. The majority of the story is about Ichabod Crane trying to get married to Katrina Van Tassel and making sure Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt doesn’t. We don’t get to see anything relating to hosts until Crane goes to a party where people are telling ghost stories and the big one was about The Headless Horseman.

If that’s the case why has it endured for almost two centuries? When you look at it, this is a tale of a guy from New York City heading north to a small town that’s completely different than NYC to be a schoolmaster and then falls for a local girl because daddy’s rich and is willing to fight the local boy for her hand. Think about that: Crane wanted to marry Katrina for money.

Ichabod Crane is a dick.

He does get his just deserts when The Headless Horseman kills him/spirits him away/makes him run back to NYC in the middle of the night on the bridge. So in essence, this can be taken as an American morality story saying that creed will lead you nowhere. Or, to put it another way, what goes around comes around.

As far as reading the story, it’s that late 18th/early19th Century super dry/formal writing that many 21st Century writers can’t get into. While that may be the case, the story is also pretty short. It’s only about 20-25 pages depending on what edition you’re reading. However, there is substance to the story. It creates a picture of how life was like in small New York State villages in the early 19th Century. In fact, the only thing that’s different today is technology and clothes. You go anywhere north of New York City today and you’ll be confused. New York State is so diverse (and gorgeous, especially in the fall) that NYC just feels like a red-headed stepchild.

And that is what Irving tried to do with this story. Not write a ghost story, but write a tale that shows the big city mixing with small-town life can be a negative but the soul of small-town life wins out. Take that how you may.

With that, read Washington Irving’s tale or even watch the many adaptations that were made about it. If you can, and love Halloween, head on over to Sleepy Hollow itself and see the town for yourself. Just don’t expect the town to be creepy looking. It’s just a normal 21st Century town with spooky legend. NYC has a LOT more ghosts and don’t get me started with Savanah Georgia or New Orleans.

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Let’s Talk About Scarred Lands: Termana

Many years back I was in a campaign that took place in Termana. I’ve never heard of that campaign setting before and, since one of the classes the DM allowed was the Shaman from The Shaman’s Handbook (Green Ronin Press) I jumped at playing the shaman in that world. Man, was I in for a world that’s hell on earth.

Termana is the southern continent in a world called Scarn (the northern continent is called Ghelspad.) It has the typical humans, dwarves, elves, orc and the like, BUT the idea of good in this is practically nonexistent. Yes, there are good-aligned people of Termana but they’re exception. I mean, the dwarves in the this are friggin Nazis.

Yes, Nazi dwarves. They worship a lawful evil god called Chardun, The Slaver. They have an empire where they enslave, well, everyone, they think they’re a superior race and will kill anyone who dares enter their empire. When I played, they had siege towers like in the Lord of the Rings movies. Good thing we were on a beach that had caves where we could hide and sneak around because no way my rogue/monk could handle that.

My rogue/monk also worshipped Belsameth, the Slayer along with half the party members. What happened to my shaman from the Iron Sands Desert (a southern area that’s, well, a desert that is full of iron that the titan Golthagga threw out because his forge is believed to be once located here.) Well, he was turned into a zombie sea creature (don’t remember what it was) and the party turned him into fish paste.

For those wondering about the titans, there was once a huge war between the titans and gods of Termana that got so bloody it created the blood ocean which also leads to the BEST and most messed up thing about Termana:

THE BLOOD BAYOU! Welcome to the stuff of nightmares. As it says, it’s a bayou that was transformed after the titan war. It’s here that lurks the scariest place you’ll ever see in any Termana campaign: The Carnival of Shadows. Yup, a carnival full of evil carnies, evil clowns, a lich, a Kraken that can cast spells (!) and, the king of them all, the Jack of Tears.

Let’s talk about this fellow. His followers worship him as a god, he tells his followers to make people come to the carnival and he’s got some scary stats. All I can say is this guy can cast both divine and arcane spells as a standard action as an 18th level caster and has a ton of immunities. My campaign had to deal with his minions all the time. We even met him but didn’t fight him. Good thing because a bunch of 7th level characters would’ve gotten creamed by him.

I highly recommend using him as the BEG. If you know how to use evil clowns, this guy can be amazing.

There’s a ton of other stuff, but I just wanted to highlight the messed-up bits of the world. Want to destroy your players’ morale? Termana and the Jack of Tears are your best bet.

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Let’s Talk About It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

Welcome to October, where all things scary come out including stores selling Christmas decorations way too early. One Halloween themed thing that’s not scary is the classic It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. yet it’s been airing every year in October since 1966. Why is that?

For the few who haven’t heard of this movie, the Peanuts gang are planning a Halloween party. Meanwhile, Linus is preparing to greet the Great Pumpkin who supposedly appears on Halloween night from a pumpkin patch and gives toys to all the good boys and girls. Yes, that’s a Halloween version of Santa.

Again, there’s nothing scary about this movie at all except it’s about Halloween so why do we love it so much. Well, let’s look at what it’s about. It’s a bunch of kids being kids on Halloween. That right there connects perfectly to every single kid. They’re going through that in October and us adults have done that too. Hell, us adults plan Halloween parties that feature costumes, booze and Cards Against Humanity. Yes, it’s a simple story but for something like this, there’s nothing that has to be complicated.

There’s also the Great Pumpkin. Where did this character come from? Simple: little kids come up with characters all the time. All the Great Pumpkin is is Linus combining Christmas with Halloween and coming up with a new mascot so to speak. That right there is brilliant because it adds a new layer to Linus’s character and it shows that he’s a kid. Ask a kid to come up with a new Halloween mascot and you’ll be surprised as to how creative they can be.

While it does take place in the 1960s, this kind of situation can happen in any decade because while kids’ tastes change, Haloween and what to do on Halloween is that one constant that hasn’t changed except for the costumes and candy.

So, while Halloween is about everything scary, there’s one Halloween thing that echos closer t reality and how kids really are during this time. That’s why it’s lasted so long and why even adults love it. It’s basically what Halloween is all about and that, my friends, is why It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is such an endearing classic.

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Walking Simulators: Should You bother Playing Them?

One of the newest video gaming genres is the walking simulator. It is exactly as it sounds: You just walk all over the game’s world clicking on things or going to a certain place and a cutscene starts. It’s basically a movie that you have to work to get the story. Yes, the gameplay is basically non-existent, which means the majority of gamers will just avoid them like plagues.

So, what caused me to talk about walking sims? I finally played one: The Town of Light.

You see, what made me buy this game (it was only $10, don’t worry) was the plot: a woman with a mental disorder returns to the closed down mental hospital she was committed to in order to remember what really happened to her and her friend. It’s also based on an actual Italian mental hospital and events that happened there.

Right off the bat, you can tell the storytelling is going to be her narrating everything. This could work if done right and it was done OK in this game. Yes, the things that happened to her were messed up, but how much of it really happened. Not to mention that despite the game having multiple story routes, the ending is the same and it is pretty messed up.

The only way I can think of that walking sims can actually be remembered is with strong storytelling. That’s basically all that these games can offer. If the story sucks, why bother? There are plenty of games that have great stories that have even spawned comics, novels, animated series and tons of merchandise.

Of course, gamers avoid these games because, well, are they really games? Technically speaking, yes. You need a human to control a character in a computer-generated world in order for something to happen. However, the lack of anything that can be considered gameplay is nonexistent.

Of course, the odd person will defend them saying how come people bash walking sims and not visual novels? Simple: visual novels usually have some type of gameplay element. Hell, Phoenix Wright has collecting evidence and then the trial part, Danganronpa has, well, the same thing but a lot more complicated and the first Corpse Party has you collecting items and running away from ghosts, a maniac and in one part a child molester. Same thing with point and click games: you collected items that you need in order to solve puzzles and then question the developer’s sanity when you find a puzzle that requires you put an octopus in a toilet, use prunes on this one guy which causes him to run to said toilet where he gets raped by the octopus and you getting his belt buckle. If you think I’m making this up, go play Discworld for the PC and PS1.

So, should you play a walking sim? If you just want a story where you control a character and you have to work in it by walking around a computer-generated world, then yes. If you want to play a game, look somewhere else. Do walking sims have a place in gaming? Absolutely! You’d be surprised what has fans nowadays and these developers have found that (small) audience.

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Let’s Talk About The Baby-sitters Club

Yes, you read that right. I’m a guy who was curious about the Baby-sitters Club books. Yes, I’m comfortable with my sexuality. I did it out of purely academic interest. I mean, they’re there to be read, right?

Anyway, I only read the first book Kristy’sGreat Idea. That was more than enough for me to give an honest view.

Basically, the first book is about four friends who create a club for babysitters (thus the title) and they babysit a whole bunch. That’s really it.

Yes, I’m aware there have been a lot more books written n the series (my sister had a whole bunch when she was a teenager but gave all the books away.) I’m a guy and know that 1. This series was not meant for me and 2. I can see the appeal of these books.

You see, every form of media has that one (or 100) series that really talks to people. For teenage girls, this is one of them because, even today, many girls make money babysitting. Based on this first book the babysitting stories are similar to what happened to the reader when they babysit. One thing of note is that, though a bit outdated, kids really are like this. There are good kids and then there are holy terrors. Babysitters have babysat all of these. Thus, female readers see themselves in these four girls’ shoes.

As mentioned above, the first book is a bit outdated. Since this was written in the 80s some things (like the old fashioned corded phone) will be alien to girls from this generation on. Girls will still read them because, besides the things mentioned above, the writing has not aged. There is no slang, regional sayings or even mentions of items from that time. This is another strength this series has and why some girls still read it.

Of course, these books aren’t masterpieces and aren’t as popular as they were in the 80s and 90s, but they can still be enjoyed. Think of it like this: boys have Goosebumps and girls and The Baby-sitters club. Though I am against this whole gender appropriate crap (I like Sailor Moon. Don’t say anything) this is one of those times where boys will not like what they’re reading.

Even though I’m, not the right audience, I can still see how and why this series got so popular and still read today. Though the popularity died down, girls can still read these books, enjoy them and identify with them. Just don’t expect anything too profound, though.

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Let’s Talk About The Killing Joke

I have no shame in stuff like this.

As many of you have hear, there is an animated version of The Killing Joke coming out this September. It’s about now a good time for me to talk about it. I remember reading this comic a few years ago and being underwhelmed by it. Yes, I did not like it when I read it a few years ago. With the movie announcement I, decided to give this comic a second chance. After reading it, I have a new found respect for it.

For those who don’t know, The Killing Joke is a Batman comic written by famed comic book writer Alan Moore. It’s about The Joker escaping Arkham Asylum and Batman is looking for him. Along the way, The Joker buys an abandoned amusement park, shoots Barbera Gordon and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon.

Only Alan Moore can make this plot work. You see, something like this needs that special kind of fucked up, and who better than a guy who looks like this to write it. That special kind of fucked up includes shooting, paralyzing and taking nude pictures of Barbera Gordon and an entire song about the joys of being crazy. The joy of reading this is is that it is not the typical Batman story. It’s more like a trip into someone’s messed up mind.

Ehn I first read it, I thought the ending was lame. Now that I have re-read it, it’s brilliant in a way. I can’t say what happens because it will be a spoiler, but if you pay attention you’ll understand why. It’s also open-ended, which sometimes sucks but this time, it’s pretty awesome. That is until DC fixed all that.

Speaking of DC fixing stuff, DC is now retconning Barbera being paralyzed. That is really, really stupid in my opinion. Also, one of the biggest reasons this comic had such an impact of Batman is because of Barbera getting paralyzed. That’s it. Not about The Joker finally having something resembling a background, not what happens in the ending. NO! Barbera getting paralyzed is a big deal.

The art is done by Brian Bolland. As with the story, the art is one of the reasons this comic has stood the test of time. The best parts are that whenever something is supposed to be demented, it looks demented. Just look at the most famous panel. That alone is iconic.

Will I be seeing the movie? Of course. The thing is, it is possible to mess this up because some of the imagery and scenes may be watered down. Also, Alan Moore REALLY hates every adaptation of his work.

With that, read The Killing Joke before the movie comes out. It has a great story, fucked up everything and great art. If the movie sucks, go to Alan Moore and tell him that you’re going to boycott any further adaptations of his works. He’ll probably thank you.

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Let’s Talk About The Epic of Gilgamesh.

If there’s one type of story all English majors, classical studies majors and Brooklyn College students must be subjected to it’s the epic poem. Of course, the ones all these schools force upon its students are The Iliad, The Odyssey and the Aeneid. We all know these stories because of something to do with the shaped Western history or something like that.

There is one that is equally important but is rarely taught in American schools is The Epic of Gilgamesh. Well, that’s why I’m here. Of course, what I’m about to say is just a layman’s interpretation of this epic.

First off, just like the Greek/Roman epics this was written down on tablets. The only difference is the Greek/Roman epics were performed by a ton of people, written down and passed on and rediscovered by a bunch of Renaissance Europeans in their entirety. Gilgamesh wasn’t so lucky. While archeologists found 11 tablets, most of them were in poor shape and most of the epic is missing. Although there were some tablets recently discovered, it’s still incomplete. That’s why it’s only about 70 pages long while the Greek/Roman ones are about 600.

Of course, the real reason people care about this epic poem is because it talks about a flood. Some people say that this is proof that there was a flood and that this was the inspiration for Noah’s Arc (or Noah’s Arc was the inspiration depending on who you ask.) That’s it really.

For those who don’t care about this flood business and want a reason to read it, that reason is because it’s entertaining. I don’t mean in a literary or high art sense, I mean in a superhero comic book sense. Yes, COMIC BOOK! You see, the plot is basically Gilgamesh gets into a fight with a wild man named Enkidu and then become friends. They then kill a bunch of mythical creatures,  Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh becomes sad and then dies. That’s it. There’s more to this story (Gilgamesh just dies after the flood story.) That’s a comic book story if ever there was one. It would be better if it was complete.

Of course, it does have the same repetition that all epics have. Remember, this was meant to be performed, not read. Reading certain parts does seem weird, though.

With that, read The Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s entertaining and important despite being incomplete. If more of the story comes to light, that would be a great victory for archeology and to literature.

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Let’s Talk About Why We Love Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Book ten of the bestselling young adult series Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been out for a while. And yours truly is a fan. (Don’t judge.) After finishing the tenth book, I got to thinking: Why has this series lasted so long and why does every book have so many holds on it at the library?

First, for those who don’t know, the story is about a middle school boy named Greg Heffley and his everyday life. His everyday life is filled with things that would annoy any teenager. The books are written in the first person since they are supposed to be Greg’s journal entries (thus the title.)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, some of the situations do come across as something you’d see in a bad Disney Channel/Nickelodeon sitcom. Though not as bad as those, these situations are a bit, lack of a better word, stupid. For example. in the ninth book Hard Luck, Greg uses a magic 8-ball to cheat on a test. His teacher catches him, takes him to the principal and calls it an “electronic cheating device.” Why is that stupid? Because, yes, the teacher may be old and doesn’t know about the latest technology, but the magic 8-ball first came out in NINETEEN FUCKING FIFTY! That teacher would have HAD a magic 8-ball when she was a kid. That scene made NO SENSE!

Now that I vented, let’s look at the positives. You see, many kids see themselves as Gregg because he pretty much is a modern day kid. He doesn’t act like what an adult thinks a kid is like, he acts like a kid. He likes video games, hates school, wants to just watch TV all day and loves summer because there is no school. On top of that, the things that do get him in trouble real life kids have done. Crashing your dad’s car, losing your kid brother, hiding stuff from your parents. These are all things kids have done.

Not to mention all think they have Greg’s family. Yes, they are pretty much cliches, but they feel realer than anything in this genre. There’s the overprotective mom who’s lie that because of Greg’s little brother; Greg’s brother Roderick acts like a lazy older teen who’s in a band and does some mean things to Greg, but he’s not over the top. He acts like what an older brother does act like towards his younger brother.

Another trope is the dorky friend with the super strict parents (Milhouse, Butters.) In this case, it’s Rowley. Rowley may be a trope, but he does have some redeeming qualities that make him an actual character instead of a trope.

And that’s why these books are entertaining. These characters are your typical young adult tropes, but they don’t act like them. Not to mention the plots and situations are more relatable and realistic than your typical young adult story (with some exemptions of course.)

So, does this series deserve the fame it has? In a way, yes it does.  It’s certainly better than many other series aimed at 10-14- year olds. It has the right amount of relatability to keep it interesting and knows when not to be stupid so that even adults can enjoy.

 

 

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Let’s Talk About Peer Reviews

Part of being in the arts is that your stuff will get reviewed. There is no way around this fact. There will be people who love your work, downright hate it or give an overwhelming “meh.” Or, as some people a little too sensitive about their work would say “haters” and “fans.” But then there’s the other type of people. These are your fellow writers/artists. The term for these people are “peers” or “contemporaries.”

That’s where things get a bit complicated. You see, this is where you can’t they’re “haters” or “jealous” or anything like that. These are people doing the same exact thing as you are. They HAVE done what you’ve done and will continue to do that. So, do you take advice from your peers or do you shun them? The obvious answer is to listen to them.

Now, I’m fully aware that there are hacks out there. But you have to admit that they are doing something to make money in their field. You can take this as a sort of taking advice and doing what they told you a million times better. Take that statement as a way of saying the student surpassing the teacher.

Has this type of thing caused any kind of rivalries? Of course! One of the best that comes to mind is between F. Scot Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. You see, Fitzgerald and Hemingway were at one time best of buddies. Once The Sun Also Rises was published, however, they had a major falling out.  There’s even an entire book that talks about this. Hell, I remember Brooklyn College offered an ENTIRE COURSE on these two. (Yes, I took it and got a B, thank you very much.) Hell, there’s an entire chart showing which writers hated which.

Why is that? Competition? Mudslinging? Or is it just each person giving their own opinions. I’d pick all of them. Yes, ALL OF THEM! You see, we as a species enjoy competition. Why do you think sports have been around for so long? Hell, why do you think there are video game tournaments? Us artists/writers are no different. We see one of our own publish something so, as a way of what today is called “supporting a fellow writer/artist” we by their stuff. And we form some strong opinions about it. One of my favorite reviews is of Salmon Rushdie saying about 50 Shades of Grey, “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” That right there is saying a lot.

Some people look at reviews by novelists and ask why. I say why not? We’re readers, too. We enjoy a good book as much as the next literate person. We also have a right to call a peer’s stuff garbage. We also have a right to praise the ever  living crap out of another’s work.

And that’s a good thing.

We as artists/writers thrive on the opinions of people in our industry. It’s one of the things that drive us to do what we do and love. We may not like some of the stuff that’s being said, but to many of us that’s fine as long as we don’t have to share a table at conventions or (god forbid) have talks on the same day. This is MY audience. Back, you scurvy dog.

For those asking, “why how did this idea come about?” It came about when reading the analysis Sei Hatsuno gave to Another. He started by saying, ” it is difficult for novelists to critique novels objectively,” and he is absolutely right. Novels are meant to give the reader a certain type of emotion(s). That’s how every review of everything comes from. We can add in some critical analysis to our reviews, but the sad truth is most of what is said comes from our emotions.

So, my fellow artists/writers, don’t be afraid to let out what you really feel about a peer. You may make an enemy or a very powerful ally. It’s our fuel and it’s how we make what we create better by one-upping each other. And that, my friends, is a win-win for the general public. It also keeps the tabloids in business.

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Let’s Talk About Terry Pratchett’s Later Novels.

As I said in my Eulogy to Sir. Terry Pratchett I am a huge fan of his. To me his best books are the Discworld books with their various characters that are so different, realistic and charming. Not to mention funny in a way normal humans can be funny.

However, I have run into a slight problem in recent years with his books. You see, his last few books have been mediocre at best and the humor is not there. Don’t get the wrong idea, Sir. Terry was a great writer with a ton of imagination and humor. The problem is that imagination seems to have been suppressed in his final year.

It all started with Wintersmith. Tiffany Aching is one the best YA characters to date because she does not fit into any mold. Wintersmith came along and she slowly started going into that mold. The sequel, I Shall Wear Midnight was less inspired than Wintersmith. In fact I don’t remember anything that happened in those books.

Actually, I don’t remember anything that happened in those books, Nation, Dodger, Snuff, The Long Earth and recently Raising Steam. The sad part is I’m currently reading Raising Steam. If you asked me what happened in The Color of Magic I’d tell you. Reaper Man? yup, because that book rocked. Hell, even Pyramids which is one of the weaker Discworld books.

Hell, I can tell you exactly what happened in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy and the Bromeliad Trilogy.

There may be a few reasons for this. One can be Pratchett fans expected a lot from him seeing how great his older books are. Exactly how hard did you laugh when Rincewind returned to Ankh-Morpork and started running around like a psycho? Hell, he even swallowed a bunch of Dibbler’s sausages and lived. I remember reading that scene in my college library and everyone looked at me weird because I was laughing so hard.

I hate to even bring it up, but another reason could have been his Alzheimer’s. I know Alzheimer’s is nothing to take lightly, but it does interfere with a lot of things. It’s amazing he did manage to write books with that disease. Unfortunately, it may have been a factor in the low quality of his last books. He may have had a lot on his mind and writing may have turned into a chore for him.

Don’t get mad at me, that could have been a possibility and I do respect the man for fighting through Alzheimer’s and pleasing his fans. I understand having Alzheimer’s is a struggle people have to deal with every day. I’m just theorizing that that may have played a part in it.

Now the sad part is that there will no longer be any more Discworld books. There is one more Discworld book called The Shepherd’s Crown, although how far it was before he died is a mystery. Of course, his daughter Rhianna has said she would continue to write Discworld books is a great thing. The problem lies in the fact that she may not be able to bring forth the essence of what Discworld is, though that does remain to be seen.

Sir. Terry Pratchett may have been a great novelist, but his last few books were not up to snuff. Whatever the reason for that shall remain a mystery. For now, I will try to re-read these books and maybe find something of value in them like I did with his older books. I will give my opinions on Rhianna Pratchett’s crack at the Discworld when they come out.

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