Welcome to the Stifyn Emrys blog. Visit this site to stay updated on the latest news and releases from author Stifyn Emrys, along with serious, silly and occasionally sarcastic observations about the world around us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Twilight Begs to be Taken Seriously

It occurred to me last night, while watching the movie Stardust, why I didn't like Twilight - the main reason, anyway.

These two movies have a couple of things in common. They're both supernatural adventures, and at least one character in both films sparkles. (Yeah, I had to go there.) But Stardust has something Twilight doesn't have: a sense of humor about itself. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and it actually makes the audience laugh on purpose.

A lot of people - myself included - have made a lot of jokes at Twilight's expense. There are snickers about sparkling vampires, memes about so-and-so being "still a better love story than Twilight" and so forth. But if you're laughing at Twilight, something's wrong, because there's no indication this was the intended result. Do you remember a single joke in Twilight? One piece of self-deprecating humor? A single bit of silliness to break the tension?

I can think of one: the arm-wrestling scene, which was too predictable to be too funny. Beyond that, however, they just weren't there - or if they were, they weren't memorable. This is a movie that wants people to take it seriously, which is fine if you're Schindler's List, but just seems pretentious in the context of this movie.

I got to thinking about all the supernatural movies I'd seen, from Stardust to the Harry Potter films to the Avengers, and they all contained a healthy dose of chuckles - even a couple of hearty belly laughs. But everything about Twilight is dead serious, from furtive glances between characters to the over-the-top syrupy-romance soundtrack. Hell, even The Hunger Games (a much better film in the same broad Young Adult genre as Twilight) had Stanley Tucci camping it up as a cross between Regis Philbin, Simon Cowell and early '70s Elton John.

For all you Twihards out there, I will give you this: The last movie in the trio is marginally better than the first three. It has a fun fight scene (though not up to Avengers or X-Men standards) and Kristen Stewart actually shows some semblance of believable emotion. I haven't read any of Stephanie Meyer's books, so this isn't a commentary on them. I haven't read the book Stardust, either, but I know from his other works that author Neil Gaiman throws in a healthy dose of humor - ranging from silly to sardonic - to keep the reader on his/her toes.

There's a lesson to be learned from watching the Twilight finale. If you take yourself too seriously, others may not.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Light is Restored

(to the tune of O Come All Ye Faithful)
O come, all ye satyrs,
Play thy flutes and trumpets
O come ye, O come ye from forest and fen
The light that is golden
Born on the horizon
O come and greet the morning,
O come and greet the morning,
O come and greet the morning,
The light is restored
Sing from the fields
Men of every station
Bring forth the sickle ’neath the mistle above
A new king shall come
To reign in all the forest
O come and greet the new king,
O come and greet the new king,
O come and greet the new king,
His throne is restored.
The robin shall greet thee
Anew this winter morning
Free from the dark of night our song shall ascend
No foot shall falter
The robin shall greet thee

           O come and greet the new king,
           O come and greet the new king,
           O come and greet the new king,
           His throne is restored.
Light now the hearthfire!
Raise thy glass in tribute!
Wassail! Wassail! Rejoice in your hearts
Hail, friend and kinsman!
Hail, stag and stallion!
O come and feast rejoicing,
O come and feast rejoicing,
O come and feast rejoicing,
The light is restored
O come and be grateful!
The new day is triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye from glade and from glen;
A new day unfolding
A new sun is arising
O come and greet the morning,
O come and greet the morning,
O come and greet the morning,
The light is restored

Original lyrics by Stifyn Emrys © 2011

No One Owns the Stars

Autumn's Glow

A poem I wrote a few years back. Enjoy!

Morning sings on the scrub jay’s wings
Autumn glows in leaves of gold
Time condensed
New urgency sensed
Squirrels store their precious bounty
Season’s hearth fires crackle
Marshmallows are roasted
Frozen noses peek out under woolen caps
On the eve of hibernation
Morning mist casts its net across us
And we reflect

We yawn
We rest
We gather for our fest
We eat
We drink
We are merry as we meet

Remembrance sweet and poignant
Fills our minds, our hearts, our days
Our nights are spent ’neath comforters
Bundled for the chill encroaching
Heartbeats heard more easily
The bustle in slow motion

A soft smile
A gentle glance
A simple touch
Another chance

© 2007 Stifyn Emrys

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sometimes, You Gotta Be Intolerant

Sometimes, tolerance breeds tolerance. That's the rule of reciprocity. We humans don't like to feel indebted, so we've been known to bend over backward to pay our debts - to scratch the back of the person who scratched ours.

It's this sort of reciprocity that's behind the Golden Rule, some concepts of Karma, the Wiccan three-fold law and so forth. It's also at the root of monetary systems all the way from barter to capitalism. And the idea of "giving back."

But sometimes, it doesn't work that way. Sometimes, tolerance breeds intolerance. This usually occurs for one of two reasons:

  1. Someone sees everyone else obeying this rule of reciprocity and decides to "get ahead' by violating it. 
  2. Someone views something else as more important than observing the rule.
If you're in the first class, you're a thief of sorts. If you're in the second, you're a zealot - someone who thinks your philosophy is more important than maintaining social norms. 

Sometimes, they'll resort to a form of psychological trickery. They'll scratch your back - even though you didn't have an itch and never asked for it - in order to put you in debt and wrangle some favor out of you in return.

This is the kind of stuff that produces Facebook memes extolling the virtues of honesty and straightforward behavior. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone practiced those virtues? But they don't. No matter how badly we'd like to believe it, we can't simply go waltzing down the primrose path of reciprocity without keeping our eyes open for ne'er-do-wells who lie in wait.

Certainly, we don't want to become so jaded that we write everybody off based on labels and prejudice. What we do want to do is keep our eyes open for certain warning signs.

Thieves, for instance, may promise something that's too good to be true. They're advertising a false reciprocity - you'll give up a lot more than you get if you believe them. Zealots, on the other hand, put dogma ahead of principle. They tend to be fundamentalists of one ilk or another. 

They may violate the Golden Rule for the sake of "salvation" and "overcoming the devil." They may overlook the karma for the sake of revenge.   Or they may put conversion to their cause - religious, economic, political or whatever - ahead of the principles they claim to espouse. This is how Soviet fascists used an egalitarian philosophy (communism) to support a decidedly unequal state of affairs. 

Simply behaving with tolerance toward thieves will accomplish two things: leave you poorer and leave the thieves free to rob someone else. Behaving with tolerance toward zealots will also accomplish two things: leave you oppressed and leave them free to oppress others.

It may not be politically correct to say so, but sometimes, intolerance is the only noble course of action.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hunting for a Reason to Kill Bambi

Some humans seem to enjoy killing.

Take hunting, for example. I just don't get it.

Don't misunderstand me, I know ranchers need to protect their livestock. And I understand killing animals to avoid overpopulation and throwing the food chain out of whack.

What I don't get is the "sportsmen" (and women) who use population control as an excuse to get their jollies by killing Bambi or Donald Duck. These kind of people seem to think it's an accomplishment to kill a badly overmatched animal that isn't threatening them and isn't necessary to their survival. They laugh and boast about it, all the while going on ad nauseam about the "thrill of the hunt."

Sure, many hunters actually eat the meat of the animals they kill, and/or use their skins. But that doesn't explain the enjoyment they get out of killing. Back in the day - way back in the day - if your family were starving and you brought down a buck or a bison, it made sense to get excited. It meant you'd get to eat. Which meant you'd get to survive another day or two.

But without that kind of incentive, enjoying a "kill" makes no sense to me.

I'm not a hardcore vegan or vegetarian. Humans are omnivores. I'm not passing judgment on anyone's choice of diet. What I'm questioning is why people insist on hunting when it's not necessary. Do they hate animals? Or do they think supposedly "lesser" creatures were put on this earth solely to amuse a bunch of arrogant buffoons at the top of the food chain. (That would be us.) Maybe they think to themselves, "Animals don't feel pain, and if they do, what does it matter? Didn't God give us dominion over them to do with them as we see fit?"

Except God didn't. Various scriptures depict various gods demanding that humans kill animals on altars for their (the gods') enjoyment. These deities were obviously the ones in charge. So it's no surprise that some people use religion as an excuse to kill animals. To them, it isn't about controlling the population or keeping predators away, it's because some god supposedly demands it.

They lop off a cow's head or stab a camel in the chest or brutalize some other defenseless animal - all for the sake of some religious ritual. But here's the cold, hard truth: If you're using religion to justify animal cruelty, you're not practicing religion. You're practicing cruelty. Period. End of discussion. Many of these same gods once demanded that we sacrifice humans for their pleasure, but at least we've gotten past that - unless you count the millions who are slaughtered in religious wars around the world.

It boils down to this: A lot of people seem to think gods are better than people, and people are better than animals. But is that really the case?

What if we were to try an alternative way of thinking? Instead of placing degrees of value on life, why not simply value life itself? If we as a species chose to make life more important than religion, more important than recreation, maybe we'd learn something. About ourselves. About the universe. About those we share that universe with.

Self-defense? Survival? That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about people who kill animals in the name of sport or spirituality and who, in doing so, reveal something starkly horrific about the human condition: When you peel away all the rhetoric and rationalization, some people don't kill because they have to. They kill because they want to.

And that, my friends, isn't just scary. It's horrifying.

A Little Holiday (Bronx) Cheer

With apologies to Abbott and Costello (above), I couldn't resist adapting their classic "Who's on First?" routine for the holiday season, lampooning the whole "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" debate.

"Season's greetings."

"Who is Season? You are the one greeting me, but why are you speaking in the third person?"

"I am not Season. 'Tis the season!"

"Who's 'Tis? Never heard of him. Or is it a her?
"Never mind then, Happy Holiday!"

"Oh, I remember him. He was in the shootout at the OK Corral."

"No, that's Doc Holliday. Let's try again. Merry Christmas!"

"Sorry, I don't know anyone named Mary. Why not try your little black book?"

"Joyeux Noel, then!"

"You just struck out, mate. I don't know Joy or Noel, either. Why are you wasting my time asking about girls. Go to a bar or sign up for one of those dating services."

"Are you Jewish?"

"I think my mother was, on my father's side."



"I didn't sneeze. You said you were Jewish, and ... "

"Just cover your mouth next time, OK?"

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

"Well, I know a little Spanish."

"Very good, then! Feliz Navidad!"

"Felix the Cat? Decent cartoon but a little dated. That guitarist, Jose Feliciano, tried to do a cover of the theme song. It was horrible. Didn't sound a thing like the original."

"Oh, this is hopeless. I give up. Go ahead and be miserable for all I care."

"That's a very mean thing to say. Yule be sorry!"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gaiman's Neverwhere Hits the Spot

I've just finished reading Neil Gaiman's novel "Neverwhere," which I keep wanting to spell (unaccountably) "Neverwear." An oddity: The title is never used, as far as I could tell, during the text of the novel itself. It's not the proper name of the locality where the action occurs, or of the time when it occurs.

The novel is a definite page-turner, in start contrast to "American Gods," which I tried in vain to finish. I finished "Neverwhere" in about four days (lightning speed for my slothful self); by that time, I'd reached about Page 20 of "American Gods." One sweeps you up, while the other leaves you to stumble along.

One thing Gaiman accomplishes with "Neverwhere" is that he leaves several questions unanswered, but somehow convinces the reader, through some pretty impressive prose, not to care in the least. He creates an alternate world where the rules aren't ever fully clear. Normally, that would be off-putting (at least for me), but in this case, it didn't matter. In some ways, it even added to the book's charm. The story didn't get bogged down in analytical details, instead hurtling me forward through a shadowy reality that was nonetheless steeped in vivid description.

This was a lot of fun. Not quite up to Gaiman's collaboration with Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens," but close and perhaps closest in tone - of his works that I've read - to "The Graveyard Book." The protagonist, a nondescript corporate clone named Richard who collects troll dolls, becomes a hero despite himself. It's refreshing to find Gaiman dealing with male-female interactions without resorting to such cliches as over-the-top romance or blatant sensuality. There's none of either here, but there are  hints of some very human feelings and the ambiguities that often accompany them.

There are also a couple of nasty villains and a few nice plot twists that manage to be clever without becoming convoluted. Gaiman telegraphs his punches once or twice (I won't say where, as I don't want to give anything away), but it doesn't spoil the plot. On the other hand, he keeps the reader guessing enough to more than compensate for any brief pauses in the neighborhood of predictability.

Definitely worth picking up if you're looking for a quick, engaging road trip through an alternate reality beneath the streets of London.