Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Top Six Favorite Villains

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New 'top six' list of the week!  Villains... my other favorite type of character.  Antiheroes and villains are the best.  I like them so much that sometimes my sisters tease me for being one.  They're wrong, of course; just because I love to get into the character of my villains, and enjoy thinking up evil schemes to inflict upon my heroes, and identify the most with the villains from the shows I watch doesn't mean that I'm actually like them!  Although, I have to admit, I have scared myself occasionally with my naturally evil-sounding laughter.  But that's hardly my fault... is it?
At any rate, whether I'm like the villains or not, here is my list of my top six favorite villains!  If there is anyone you'd like to see added to the list, please let me know in the comments.  :D

And now, let us begin.  Villains, proceed!

WARNING:  Spoilers ahead.

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#1:  Amon
Story:  The Legend of Korra

Amon is the mysterious, charismatic leader of the Equalists, an anti-bending terrorist organization bent on eliminating all people with the ability to bend any of the four elements:  Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.  
As impossible as it seems to the people of the Avatar world, Amon has the ability to actually take away a person's bending abilities permanently.  This, coupled with his incredible fighting skills, tactical brilliance, and persuasive and inspiring mannerisms, makes him a terrifying threat to benders worldwide.  
And yet, as terrifying as he can be, Amon also seems to have a sense of honor.  He isn't just evil for the sake of evil; he seems to believe in what he says- that bending is the source of all evil in the world, and that it has been the cause of all the wars of the world.  He promises that in the new world that he forsees, all people will be equal.  There will be no tyranny, no oppression, and no cruel violence.  This makes him all the more dangerous.
However, as dedicated as he may seem, the character Tarrlok reveals a deep, dark secret about him toward the end.  The truth is that Amon himself is a bender!  He uses bloodbending (a form of waterbending) to take away a person's ability to bend.  Everything he told the people about his past, his convictions, and his agenda, was a lie.

#2:  Darth Vader
Story:  Star Wars

I realize that I included Darth Vader in my list of antiheroes.  But he also qualifies as a villain- and a scary one at that.
Darth Vader is the right-hand man of Emperor Sideous, the evil ruler of the galaxy.  Vader's face is never seen (until the very end), and he is clothed all over in a tight black suit.  His trademark raspy breathing is the result of the prosthetic respiration apparatus.  
Everyone fears Darth Vader, even the most powerful commanders of the Empire's army.  When he strides through the halls, or across the bridge of the great Imperial Star Destroyers, everyone stiffens, straightens, and makes sure that their performance is absolutely flawless.  The reason is that when you cross Darth Vader, you can pretty much guarantee that you'll meet your death by his infamous Force-Choke-Hold.
Sometimes, people tend to forget that he made a complete turn-around in the end, saving the life of his son and ultimately restoring peace to the galaxy.  However, over the years, he has become an icon of evil in popular culture, thus making it to my list of favorite villains.

#3:  Pitch  (Kozmotis Pitchiner)
Story:  The Guardians (Not to be confused with the 'Pitch' from the new movie, Rise of the Guardians)

Pitch, the dark king of all Nightmares, is one scary person.  He is gigantic, and the great black cape that he wears makes him seem even bigger.  He commands an army of Fearlings, shadow-like beings who are nothing but pure evil.  He is bent on destroying the peaceful, innocent, and hopeful nature of the children of the world, and destroy their dreams, turning them into creatures of darkness like himself.  He seems to take sadistic pleasure in tormenting any who stand in his way.
However, despite what you may think at first, Pitch was not always this way.  He was once known as General Kozmotis Pitchiner, a great hero in the Golden Age.  He was a brave, steadfast man who led his armies in a triumphant fight agains the Fearlings and their evil.  Together with the alliance of of beings across the galaxy, he drove them away and imprisoned them within the darkest reaches of a large prison planet. 
However, while he guarded them, they would call through the door, whispering to him, tormenting him with their constant evil.  Often, he would draw out a locket from beneath his clothes and stare into the face of his young daughter: his only hope and light during his strenuous duties.
Unfortunately, one day, the Fearlings caught on to his longing for his daughter and used it to manipulate him, hypnotizing him into opening the doors and setting them free.  They used their evil to corrupt him, thus turning him into the horror we know today as... the Boogieman.  
(Those of us who are fans of the book series, however, hope for his possible restoration to his former personality, as he has shown evidences of still loving his daughter.)

#4:  Lord Ombra
Story:  Peter and the Shadow Thieves (The Starcatcher sereies)

The main villain from the Starcatcher Seriers, Lord Ombra is PURE EVIL.  LITERALLY.  He is a creature unlike any on this earth.  He thrives in darkness, and has no particular form.  He clothes himself inside a drooping black robe, and snakes through the shadows like some horrendous phantom.  He has the ability to steal a person's shadow- or psyche.  By doing this, he can control their actions, read their thoughts, steal informaton, inhabit their bodies, and... possibly even kill them.  And all he has to do is touch your shadow.  He is the stuff of nightmares, and is almost unstoppable.
The only reason he ranked number four on this list, instead of three, is that over time, I felt that he was over-used.  In every book, Peter and Molly would find some way to vanquish him, yet in the next book, he'd find some way to return.  Eventually his scariness wore off, leaving you thinking about how predictable his actions were.
Nonetheless, Ombra scared me enough so that if I had been any younger when I read the series, I would have been scared of the dark for weeks!  0_0

#5:  Loki
Story:  The Avengers

Like Darth Vader, Loki was also on my list of antiheroes... but that was mostly for his part during the events of Thor.  In The Avengers, however, he has made the journey from antihero to full-fledged, demented villain.  He tries to take over earth, killing well over eighty people in two days.  He hates his brother, Thor, passionately, and treats all humankind with contempt and disdain.  At one point, he is seen commititng a terrible, awful, cruel act, and smiling like he enjoyed it!  He threatens to make Hawkeye (who is under his control) torture Black Widow in all the ways that she fears, just because he can.
He claims to be a god, declares himself the rightful ruler of all earth, and superior to all human life.  However, at the end, he gets his just reward, and is soundly smashed by Hulk.  XD  It was rather hilarious.  

#6:  Rigoud
Story:  Little Dorrit  (BBC miniseries)  

(Forgive me if I'm spelling his name wrong.  This is the spelling I found online, but it could be wrong.)
Rigoud, played brilliantly by Andy Serkis, is a terrifying murderer.  At the beginning of the show, he is in jail, awaiting what will most likely be a death sentence for the murder of his wife.  However, he proudly tells his cell mate that he did not murder her for her money... he murdered her just for the fun of it.  He confidently boasts that the authorities will not find enough evidence to convict him.  And, when a guard comes down to fetch him, he is proved right.  He is set free, and quickly makes his way to England, as France has become to hot for him.
Along the way, he murders several more people, and takes joy in tormenting his previous cell mate with ominous threats.  He acquires a box of documents detailing the scandal behind the birth of Arthur Clenam, as well as a dark secret involving young Amy Dorrit, thus becoming entangled in the mystery that connects both of them.  
Rigoud is a dark, scary villain, who is made all the more eerie by that disconcertingly cheerful song he sings and whistles while performing his murders.

-Rayne Speryll

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

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When high-school student Peter Parker discovers an old briefcase that reveals a new depth to the story of his parents' deaths, he goes to the one man who may be able to tell him the truth about the whole incident; Dr. Curt Connors.  
While there, Peter is bitten by a genetically modified spider- and instantly his life is changed forever.  He develops spider-like powers, and resolves to use his new talents to become a super hero.  His new name: Spider-Man.
However, his first true challenge comes when Dr. Connors tests a cross-species genetics serum on himself-- and winds up turning into a ferocious reptilian monster known as The Lizard.  It is up to Peter to stop him before the rest of New York City is transformed into these hideous beasts, and humanity is lost forever.

As a devoted fan of the old trilogy,  I was excited to see this new take on Spider-Man, if only to see if it compared.  And, much to my enjoyment, it did!  
This new movie is great.  It gives us a fresh new take on all the characters- although some of them, such as Mary Jane and J. Jonah Jamison, are missing.  The story is well done, the fight scenes exciting, and the science (although fictional) fascinating.  This new Peter Parker is hilarious to watch, as well as being a wonderful hero.
This adaption is very different from the Spider-Man Trilogy, so much so, in fact, that I can appreciate them as two different stories.  However, if you were to ask me which one I preferred... I can't say that I do prefer one over the other.  They are two completely separate works.  Although I will say this:  a lot of people mock the original Spider-Man (Toby McGuire) for being too emotional- a crybaby.  But the new Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), is just as emotional, just in a different way.  He is darker, and more broody than the original. His facial expressions are spazzy, and he is almost unbearably  awkward at times.  I guess it's just something you have to choose... do you want a hero who cries sometimes, and occasionally looks like he's going to sneeze, or do you want a hero who scowls like Anakin Skywalker and fumbles awkwardly in front of girls.  Personally, I like them both for who they are.  :)

The movie has one or two swear words, superhero action and violence, and one particular character is shot hundreds of times by multiple machine guns (the wounds are not shown).  One man is impaled on the claws of The Lizard, and the later character's arm is shown crumbling away in a disturbing manner.  There is a bit of romance thrown in with the rest of the plot; some passionate kissing, and one shirtless male.

Overall, I thought that The Amazing Spider-Man was a great movie- exciting, fun to watch, and very intriguing.  I am hoping that they decide to do a sequel, as I still have some unanswered questions.  Also, the soundtrack by James Horner added a certain depth to the scenes that just can't be beat.  
Anyway, I want to give a big thanks to my friend Captain, who let me borrow this movie to watch it.  He's also the reason I got to see The Avengers, so thanks for that too.  :)

-Rayne Speryll

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No particular subject... ;D

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Hopefully, I haven't unwittingly caused my readers' ultimate destruction by posting that Weeping Angel yesterday...  I guess we'll see!

*Looks around*  Anyone left?  Anyone here? Hello?

*Crickets*  *crickets*  *crickets*

Anyway, today, I've just returned home after spending several days at my grandparents' house.  All day traveling has left little time for blogging, but I thought that I'd take the time to post this update.
One of my friends, (whom I shall call Captain, here), found out that my family and I haven't seen The Amazing Spider Man yet, and promptly rushed into his house to get it for us.  Thus, I hope to watch it soon, and post a review as quickly as I can.  :)  I'm rather excited.  I've seen the original Spider-Man Trilogy, and I enjoyed it very much.  I'm anxious to see this new take on the character.

Alas... that is all I have for today.  I shall sign off, now... WAIT!  I almost forgot!  I found a hilarious picture the other day that asks a valid question about the Legend of Korra series.  It also happens to be about my favorite character, Amon. XD  Enjoy!

(All credit for the image goes to the artist Saperlotte, who can be found and thanked at
no copyright infringement intended. :)

Rayne Speryll

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Have fun staring at the screen all day!  XD  If you look away, well... have fun in the past.

-Rayne Speryll

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: The Legend of Korra

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The Legend of Korra is the sequel to Avatar: the Last Airbender.  It follows the adventures of Aang's successor- a hot-headed, impetuous sixteen-year-old named Korra, who has already mastered Water, Earth, and Fire, and is now to learn airbending.
However, when she travels to the United Republic to train, Korra finds that all is not well in the depths of the capital city.  Amon, the charismatic leader of the anti-bending Equalists, is causing unrest among the many non-benders.  In the name of Equality, he plans to eliminate bending from the world.  It is up to Korra and her new group of friends, Mako, Bolin, and Asami, to put a stop to his ominous plan and save the future of benders around the world.

Fans all over, including myself, anxiously awaited the arrival of this sequel.  And, when the series was finally released, we were not disappointed.  
The series is very different from Avatar: The Last Airbender in that it takes place in a much more modern time-period.  The technology in Republic City is like that of the 1940's.  This element lends a whole new feel to the world of Avatar, but manages to do so without losing the original attitude.
Korra, despite her sometimes arrogant behavior, is a strong, admirable hero, especially near the end.  Her new friends, Mako and Bolin, are similar to previous characters from The Last Airbender, yet simultaneously, they are their own characters as well.  The new Team Avatar is a fun group to watch.
The series' new villains are also great, just like in the original series.  Amon is truly terrifying... yet believable as well.  He is not evil for the sake of being evil, but it seems that he truly believes what he says.  He was my favorite character in the whole story.

As far as spiritual elements go, this new series is actually much better than Avatar: The Last Airbender.  At one point in the series, Korra experiences visions of memories from one of her "past lives.  This is a reference to the fact that the Avatar is supposedly the same spirit, reincarnated generation after generation.
Korra is visited once by the spirit of her predecessor, Aang.  However, other than this, there are no instances of contact with spiritual forces.  There are no episodes that need to be skipped for false teaching.  The entire series seemed to focus on the plot instead of the spiritual elements that were occasionally present in the previous series.

If you liked The Last Airbender, then I highly recommend this series to you.  If you are a fan of light action adventure, I also recommend this to you.  :)  It is a very enjoyable series, and I am looking forward to the next season, which is said to premier in April.
However, the creators have informed us that the spiritual elements are to return in the second series, so I will wait and see if it is as good as the first season.  

In closing- The Legend of Korra is a very good show, if not quite as in-depth as the first series.  I still re-watch it every now and then, and I am glad for a good, exciting adventure story to love once more.

-Rayne Speryll

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm Free! ...Or am I?

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About six months ago, I entered the orthodontists' office, skeptical, and a little nervous as well. For the most part, I kept my cool demeanor intact, but inside, I was dreading what the doctor might have to say.
The need for braces runs in my family. My younger sister, Aarathyn, has had braces twice, and my dad had both braces and headgear during his childhood. Needless to say, I had good reason to be worried.
Sure enough, after being looked over by the doctor, he gave me the dreaded news; I needed braces. Not only braces, but an expander, as well as a MARA device, and the possible removal of a few teeth.

And thus, my trials began. The woman who took my impressions had a complete disregard for other people's mouths, and for the first time in my life, I felt the tiniest inclination to bite someone. However, I tried to be understanding. They didn't really mean me harm, they just wanted to straighten out my mouth. Right?

Step Two was the expander. And let me tell you- expanders are the worst. For those of you who don't know what it is, let me show you.

That isn't me in the picture, but that is what they put inside my mouth. At first, I hated it. It was very intrusive. I had to completely relearn how to swallow and talk, because my tongue's movement was so restricted. I have to admit, I cried... a lot. It didn't help that because of the roughness with which my mouth was treated during impressions, my mouth was covered in swollen sores.
But, after the first few days, I got used to it, and the sores healed. In two weeks, I was able to talk normally again... for the most part. Words like 'key' and 'green' still sounded a little funny, but you get used to it. When people asked me how I was doing with the expander, I told them that I lived with it, and that it would be nice to have a straighter mouth when it was finished.

Step Three was the braces. They weren't so bad. I'll take braces over expanders any day! It hurts a little when they tighten the wires, but it's bearable.

Yesterday, I had the great joy of getting my expander taken out. Oh, the joy of running my tongue over the roof of my mouth! Oh, the freedom of being able to swallow normally, and to return to my original way of speaking! My gums are still very raw after being covered up for so many months, but they will heal.
Happily, I departed the orthodontists' office, whistling like I have not been able to for months. Then... not fifteen minutes later, I found out that they weren't quite finished.
Oh, no. My freedom was not to last. It seemed that I had traded one horror for another- now, in place of the expander, I have a retainer, to make sure that my mouth does not go back to the way it was before.


Now I have a lithp. It'th very annoying, thpeaking thith way. Oh, I'm thure I'll get uthed to it, but currently, I'm having trouble with thethe thtupid rathpy-thounding 's's.

Alright, perhaps I'm being a little dramatic. Already, I'm getting used to working around the obstruction. And this time, I only have to wear it for five weeks, instead of six months.
But it's not over yet.
In five weeks, just as I get rid of my retainer, they will initiate step three:

The MARA device.

Time will tell how this strange looking device will affect me. My sister Aarathyn has one already, and she seems to be fine, but I will make my decision once I have my own...

So! Make sure to tune in in five weeks, when I post the update of my oral progress. Until then!

-Rayne Speryll

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Six Best Heroes

Hello, there!  The new 'top' list comes a day early, as tomorrow, it is not likely that I will have time to post anything.  Enjoy!

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Last week, I did a list of my top six favorite antiheroes. This time, get ready for... Top Six Best Heroes!
Before we begin, I would like to make this statement: Jesus is the NUMBER ONE hero of them all! No one is greater than Him.
But, that being said, I do have a few other heroes. (Forgive me if three of these are from J.R.R. Tolkien's works. I did warn you that I was a Lord of the Rings fan!)
And now, without wasting unnecessary time, let's get down to business!

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

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#1: Beleg Cuthalion
Story: Narn I Hin Hurin (The Sons of Hurin)

Beleg Cuthalion is an elf of Doriath who makes his home in the north-marches. He meets and befriends the boy Túrin when he arrives in Doriath seeking shelter. Together with Mablung, Beleg teaches the young lad the art of combat, archery, sword play, and the like. Over time, Beleg and Túrin become close friends.
After Túrin is wrongly banished for a crime that was not his fault, Beleg, Mablung, and the elf maiden Nellas bring to light evidence that proves his innocence. When King Thingol pardons Túrin, it is Beleg who volunteers to search for him and bring him back.
While Beleg fails to convince Túrin to return, he decides to stay with him and help him where he can. Of all the people in this story, Beleg is probably the truest, selfless, most honest and wise character of them all. In every instance, he behaves as he ought to, whereas everyone else makes terrible mistakes that lead to disastrous consequences. Beleg is a quietly heroic character, and the best friend anyone could ask for. He continually forgives Túrin for his prideful nature, and never ceases to give him good advice. When he meets his tragic end, my heart cried out- for it seemed that with him died all hope of a happy ending.

#2: Aragorn Ellessar
Story: The Lord of the Rings

The last heir of Isildur, Aragorn lived most of his life in hiding, keeping his true identity secret. He was known simply as Strider, a grim ranger who was treated with suspicion by all. However, when he learns that the Ring has been found and that Frodo has set out on a quest to destroy it, he immediately offers his help to the hobbit. Time after time, he risks his life to protect the hobbits and ensure the success of their mission. Aragorn does not feel the need to be in the spotlight, or to take all the credit. For years, he defended the little town of Bree from terrible foes, yet never once received a word of thanks. Most of the townsfolk didn't even know of his great deeds.
Aragorn proves to be a cool and level-headed companion, and often offers wise advice. Over the course of the three books, he starts to take on leadership and responsibility for the Fellowship, and fully accepts his destiny to become King of Gondor. His journey from shadowy ranger to valiant king is subtle, but by the time The Return of the King comes along, and we are given a glimpse back at his character in The Fellowship of the Ring, we are amazed at how much he has grown. When he finally takes the throne at the end of the book, we know with great assurance that he will see Gondor restored to its former glory, and that Middle Earth is bound for an age of peace once more.

#3: Faramir
Story: The Lord of the Rings

Faramir is the youngest son of Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. All of his life, Faramir has known that Denethor favors his brother Boromir over him. Faramir is weaker than Boromir, and does not have a mind for battles and war as his brother does. Instead, Faramir prefers to listen to tales of the noble kings of old, and learn wisdom from Gandalf the Gray, who often visits him.
However, Faramir wants desperately to please his father, and trains with Boromir in order to do so. He and Boromir are very close, and harbor no ill feelings toward one another. Faramir would follow his brother anywhere.
After Boromir's death, Faramir comes across Frodo and Sam as they attempt to enter Mordor. According to the laws of Gondor, Faramir has them arrested for trespassing, and takes them to a hidden refuge to question them. There, he learns of his brother's fate, and is deeply grieved.
Sam is very suspicious of him at first, however, when faced with the temptation of the Ring, Faramir proves himself to be honorable through and through. He bravely refuses to take the Ring from them, telling them that even if he saw it lying on the side of the road, he would not take it up. He is able to completely resist the corruption of the Ring, even when he knows that if he were to take it, it would likely give him much favor with Denethor.
Watching the interactions between Faramir and his father is absolutely heartbreaking. Denethor completely disregards his son, and Faramir knows that he can do nothing about it. However, it is proved, near the end, that Denethor does feel love for him, and regrets the way he has treated him for his whole life.
I was delighted to see that Faramir gains a just reward for his integrity; true love. He and Eowyn of Rohan are some of the few people who get a sweet and happy ending.

#4: Obi Wan Kenobi
Story: Star Wars

Obi Wan Kenobi is the teacher of Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One. He has a difficult job, as Anakin is reckless, hot-headed, and prideful. However, he is faithful in his job, and becomes like a father to the young boy.
As Anakin grows up, their relationship turns from that of a father and son, to a deep brotherly bond. They respect one another, and work extremely well together. While they have their misunderstandings, they are intensely loyal to one another, and are rarely separated.
Obi Wan is brave, devoted, calm, wise, and courteous. He doesn't revel in the glory as his padawan does, and in fact, he is rather shy. He prefers a quiet life to all of the adventure and conflict he often deals with. In the midst of a galactic war, he manages to keep his head on straight and his priorities in order.
When Anakin is corrupted by the Dark Side and betrays the Jedi, Obi Wan is heartbroken, but he knows that he must put a stop to Anakin's evil. In one terrible battle, brother against brother, the two friends are pitted against one another, and the outcome is tragic.
However, Obi Wan manages to walk away from the event, and goes on to keep watch over Anakin's son, Luke, raising him up to become a hero in his own right. Without Obi Wan, the eventual defeat of the Empire would not have been possible.

#5: Lucy Sabine
Story: Moonraker's Bride

Lucy Sabine (born as Lucy Warring) was raised in China, however, she is English by blood. When she was just a baby, her parents died of the fever, and her care was handed over to old Mrs. Prothero, the keeper of an orphanage for baby girls.
As she grows up, Mrs. Prothero does her best to instill the English culture into Lucy. Because of this, Lucy grows up between two worlds, never really a part of either. However, she is a mature, responsible, and brave young woman who cares deeply for those around her. As Mrs. Prothero's health fails, and the orphanage's financial state crumbles, Lucy is forced to steal for a living in order to feed the children. One day, she is caught in the act of stealing, and thrown in prison.
It is there that she meets Nicholas Sabine, an Englishman who was arrested and sentenced to death while treasure hunting. Taking pity on her, Nicholas suggests a plan that will get her out of prison and set her up with enough money to live comfortably for a good while. She must marry him.
Sure enough, Lucy marries him and is released, and is grieved to hear of his execution not long afterward. However, this is only the beginning of her adventure. Shortly afterward, Lucy finds herself bound for England to become the ward of an English family. There, she finds herself entangled with a mystery and a feud that is generations old. Only she holds the key to it's unraveling, but even she herself does not know that that key might be.
Lucy is an honest, caring, and brave young woman who proves to be sensible even in times of great peril and stress. She comes as a shock to the calm, post-Victorian English world, but her determination makes her endearing to most people who get to know her.

#6: Howl Pendragon
Story: Howl's Moving Castle (book)

Howl Pendragon (born Howell Jenkins) is a talented and powerful wizard. He is selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, dishonest, and vain. He is a dashing, roguish gentleman who seems to enjoy making young women fall in love with him. However, as the book progresses, it is revealed that part of his behavior is a result of the fact that he lacks his heart- a problem which he must soon remedy, or risk his ultimate doom.
Despite his many negative qualities, Howl proves to be loyal and thoughtful to those around him. While he calls himself a coward (and often is), he also shows himself to be very heroic and self-sacrificial, especially when those he cares for are threatened. He overcomes his fear in order to protect the people he loves. While he is a vain, cocky fellow, he also knows where to place his priorities in times of danger. He is very endearing, and makes amends for his bad behavior by doing subtle good deeds without telling anyone. Over the course of the book, he falls in love with Sophie Hatter, and tries many times to release her from the spell that binds her. However, in the end, it proves to be she that rescues him from the terrible curse that pursues him, and they are happily wed.
One of the reasons Howl is one of my favorite heroes is that he is far from perfect. The flawed characters seem to be the most realistic and memorable. While I myself would never have married a man like Howl, he is a good, brave hero, worth remembering- if only as an example of what not to emanate!

-Rayne Speryll

(Credit for the image of Beleg goes to Anna Lee.  No copyright infringement intended.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle

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Howl's Moving Castle follows Sophie Hatter, the eldest daughter of an old milliner. When her father dies, and her stepmother inherits the shop, Sophie's two sisters are apprenticed to separate businesses, leaving Sophie to take on the dull job of running the hat shop.
Sophie, being the oldest, considers herself unable to have adventures like her sisters do, and resigns herself to a life of boring hat-making, and likely spinsterhood. However, it seems that she is destined for a much more... interesting future. Sophie unwittingly incurs the jealousy of a powerful witch, and finds herself cursed to become an old woman before her time. Now, Sophie's only hope for release lies in the mysterious Wizard Howl. But this wizard may prove to be just as dangerous as the Witch of the Waste, if not more so...

This book is a delightful read, filled with memorable characters, hilarious circumstances, light romance, and clever plot devices. I enjoyed it so much that it has now become one of my favorite books! Dianna Wynne Jones uses a charming, refined and slightly antiquated story-telling style, which made it all the more lovable to me. While some younger readers, and even older readers might be put off by this, it adds so much character to the story.

There are very few, if any negative elements. Magic is a common element in the story, but it is innocent magic, not true witchcraft, as can be found in the real world. Some of the characters in the story are referred to as witches and wizards, but it is clear that these terms only mean those with magical ability.
A reference is made to using a pentagram during a spell- (the pentagram is a symbol associated with Wicca)- but in the story it does not have anything to do with the cult.
One character, Calcifer, is called a fire demon. However, the term 'demon' in this story does not even remotely resemble what we know to be real demons. The two are completely separate.

Overall, the story of Howl's Moving Castle is a very good book. The magical elements are innocent, the plot is well thought out, and the characters are spectacular. My personal favorites were Howl and Sophie- especially when they are together. (Read the book, and you'll find out why for yourself!) When I look at the mastery of the book, I find myself amazed that it didn't become popular until Hayao Miyazaki's film was released. This book is a classic as far as I'm concerned. I highly recommend it for any lover of fantasy.

-Rayne Speryll

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saint Patrick

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I love Ireland, and I always have- ever since I was a little girl.  When I was two years old, I fell in love with the show Riverdance, and I continue to enjoy it to this day.  It is my goal, someday, to visit Ireland and get to know the places I've read about so often.

When most people think of St. Patrick's Day, they think of cute little leprechauns with orange beards, pots of gold at the end of a rainbow, and the fact that if they don't wear green, they'll get pinched.  But for me, when St. Patrick's Day rolls around, I think of the man for which it is named.  Patrick was an amazingly devoted Christian man with true love for the people of Ireland, and his tireless missionary work and extraordinary courage still inspires me today.

When he was born in 416 AD (a date which is occasionally disputed), he was named Maewyn Succat.  He was not born in Ireland, but in Wales, a nearby island.  Raised as a Roman Catholic, Maewyn had little education in his early life, but he did learn a deep faith and love for God.
Maewyn had difficulty expressing himself to people, a fact which caused him much discomfort. However, he put his trust in God, and lived happily for most of his life.

At the age of 16, Maewyn was captured by raiders who attacked the coast on which he lived.  He was taken aboard a ship and borne to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave.
For six years, he worked as a sheperd for a man named Michul.  He spent his days alone with the herds of sheep on a beautiful but lonely mountain.  Each day, he poured out his heart to God in prayer, asking for courage and strength when he was far from his home and family.  God sustained him in his solitude, and comforted him in his time of need.
It was through Him that Maewyn recieved a vision, telling him of God's plan to free him.  In the vision, Maewyn saw that a ship was waiting in a nearby harbor to take him home.
Without delay, Maewyn fled the mountains and made his way to where the ship waited.  Sure enough, it was there, just as the vision had foretold.
When Maewyn finally made it home to Wales, he was 22.  There, he was happily reunited with his family and friends.
For a long time, Maewyn had wanted to become a priest, so he set off to college and began to study.  After seven years of intense work, he was ordained, and became a bishop.  It was then that he received the name that has since become famous throughout the world; Patrick.

One night, Patrick had another vision.  In the vision, the people of Ireland begged him to return and walk among them to share his light with them.  So, after much prayer, Patrick and several of his friends made the journey to Ireland.
When they arrived, those people who had known Patrick in the days of his slavery remembered him, and welcomed him back warmly.
Patrick set out at once to teaching the gospel and starting churches throughout the land.  Often during his surmons, he would use a shamrock as an example of the Trinity.  He compared the three leaves of the shamrock to the three aspects of God's personality- The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each one is separate, yet they are all part of the same structure; the same God.  They are three, but they are one.
Patrick almost single-handedly brought Christianity to Ireland, and also published three books.  In 460 AD, Patrick went home to the Lord, and was mourned widely.  He is believed to have been buried in Downpatrick, Ireland.

*  *  *

-Rayne Speryll

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Losing You: Part II

*  *  *
Four years later...

Tahlia, now twelve years old, pulled her coat tighter around herself to keep the cold out.  It was January, and Januaries were always the coldest month of the year in the Northern Water Tribe. However, the cold weather did nothing to dampen her spirits as she trudged across the snowy wasteland to get to her cousin’s house.  Today was a special day.
When she reached her destination, she was greeted by the sight of Tarrlok, stacking wood near the house.
“Hey, Tarrlok!”  She said, waving.
Tarrlok stared to wave, but caught himself just in time before dropping the wood.  “Hi, Tahl’!  Nice to see you!”
Tahilia nodded, smiling.  “Nice to see you too.  Do you need any help with that wood?”
“Sure!”  Tarrlok said.  “There’s a few more armloads left, just around the corner, if you
want to get it.”  
Tahila ran around and filled her arms with wood, and caught up with him just as he was setting his own load down.  Turning to look at her, he said, “You look frozen!”
Tahila shrugged, ignoring the stinging of on her cheeks and nose.  “Ah, it’s nothing.” she said.  “How are you?”
Tarrlok dusted off his hands.  “Oh... pretty good.  Same as usual.”
“Pretty good?  That’s all?”  Tahlia teased. “Oh well, that’s what you always say.  It’s been awhile since you’ve come over to our house!  I take it you’ve been pretty busy?”
Tarrlok hesitated.  “Not exactly... but these last few days, we’ve been busy loading wood from the harbor and pulling it up here.”
“Sounds like fun.”  Tahlia joked.
“Eh, I guess it’s okay. At least we get to go down to the harbor and listen to the stories the sailors bring.  We’ve heard some pretty amazing stuff!”
Tahlia smiled.  “That does sound fun.  Would you and Noatak ever want to come and stay with us for a few days, once your work is finished?  We could get together and play, like we used to!”
Once again, Tarrlok hesitated before answering.  “Umm... I don’t know.  Dad keeps us pretty busy around here.  And he has another hunting trip planned for tomorrow.
“It’s nice that your dad takes so much time to take you both hunting.  It’s a great way to spend time with him.”  Tahlia said understandingly.
Tarrlok looked away, avoiding eye contact.  “Yeah... I guess.”
Frowning, Tahlia wondered why Tarrlok always reacted that way when she talked about his father.  Somewhere, through the years, both Tarrlok and Noatak had changed.  They were no longer the fun, openly loving brothers she had known.  Now they seemed uncomfortable and tight-lipped around her.  
Sighing, Tahlia knew she’d better do what she had come to do, instead of wasting more time.
“Listen, I can’t stay long. I have chores to finish at home.  But I brought something with me for Noatak.  It’s his birthday, isnt’ it?”  She said.
Tarrlok nodded. “Yes.  He turns fifteen today.”
“Where is he?  I haven’t seen him yet.”
Shrugging, Tarrlok answered, “Oh, he’s probably  out by the cliffs.  He goes there a lot these days.”
Tahlia smiled.  “Alright.  I’ll find him.”
“Stop by the house for a cup of hot cocoa when you come back!”  Tarrlok called after her.
Tahlia smiled.  Now that was more like the Tarrlok she knew.

Noatak sat, hugging his knees to his chest, and gazing out over the vast expanse of land that spread out before him.  Ominous storm clouds were gathering, churning and rolling together like great, dark waves.
He didn’t seem to mind the cold, nor the biting wind that nipped at his face.  As he stared, unblinking, over the landscape, no thought could be read from his ever-expressionless face.
However, a slight smile touched his lips as he turned his head a little bit.
“It’s no use, Tahlia. You can’t sneak up on me.”  He raised his hand, motioning for her to come forward.
“I never can!  You’re so good!  How can you always tell I’m coming?”  Tahlia said, running forward to sit by him.
“That’s my little secret.”  He replied.  The smile faded from his face as he turned back to face the storm.  
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  Tahlia asked.
“What is?”

“The landscape!  And the clouds!  What else?”
“Oh.  I suppose.”
“I brought you a birthday present.”  Said Tahlia, hoping to lighten his mood.  She held forth a small package, which she had kept in her pocket until now.
Taking it, Noatak removed his gloves and opened it.  The wrapping fell away to reveal a bone-knife with a beautifully carved hilt.
“Dad helped me make it, but I did the hilt myself.”  Tahlia said proudly.  “I used waterbending to do it, just like you showed me once!”
Noatak nodded.  “It’s very good.  Thanks.”
Tahlia was a little disappointed in his reaction, but she sensed it was not herself that had caused his bleak mood.
“We miss you, you know.”  She stated.  “Tarrlok and I... we play sometimes, but it’s just not the same without you.  You should come with us from time to time!  Hayau and the gang still play Ice-Ball every month.  Last time, a new kid joined us.  She’s from the Southern Water Tribe, and her family just moved here.  She’s a non-bender, but we figured out a way for her to play.  Hayau wasn’t too happy, but Tarrlok and I talked him into it.”
“Without bending?  That’s interesting.  I’ve thought of that...”  Noatak remarked.  
“She was really good.  I wish you could have seen it.”
“So do I.”
“Then why don’t you come next time?”  Tahlia asked.  “It’s been a while, but I know you’d be just as good.”
Noatak didn’t answer right away.  “I don’t know... something happens when you get older.  You stop wanting to play, and start thinking about more serious things.”
“Hayau’s the same age as you, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference for him.”
“Hayau’s different.”
The two of them fell silent, and Tahlia tried to think of something to say.  She had something on her mind, and she’d been wanting to talk about if for a long time.   Hesitating a little, Tahlia decided to ask her question anyway.  
“Noatak... is something wrong?  You and Tarrlok both seem... different, somehow.”
Noatak shook his head, never missing a beat.  “No, nothing’s wrong.”
Tahlia frowned.  “Then why are you acting like this?  You guys used to be fun, and happy.  But now you both seem like you’re hiding something.”
“We’re not hiding anything.”
“Why won’t you tell me?  Please, I’m your cousin.  Let me help!  Whatever it is, I’ll do my best.”
Noatak sighed, shaking his head.  “You can’t help.  Nothing’s wrong.  Everything is just fine.”
Tahlia looked away, knowing it was useless.  Whatever was bothering her two cousins, it was clear that they weren’t going to let her help.  She stood up, pulling her coat around herself.
“Well, I guess that’s it.  I have to get going; my mom and dad are waiting for me at home, and I have chores to finish.  Happy birthday.”
She turned around and trudged back toward the house to say goodby to Tarrlok.  Noatak didn’t turn, or even answer as she left.

*  *  *
Four days later...

It wasn’t until four days after Tarrlok and Noatak’s planned hunting trip that Tahlia and her family got the terrible news; Noatak had been lost in the snowstorm.  After searching for him for days and finding no trace of him, Tarrlok and Kodarr returned home, utterly defeated.  Noatak’s death took a heavy toll on Kymma and Kodarr.  Kymma became worn and withdrawn.  Gone was the warm and vibrant woman that had once been the light of the household.
It had taken Tahlia some time to accept what had happened.  It had all seemed so unreal!  Just for days before, she had been talking to him.  He had been right there beside her, as real as anyone else.
And now he was just gone.  Forever.

As for Tarrlok, he too was unsure of how to cope with the loss.  He would lie awake at night, hearing his mother’s quiet sobs from her room.  He wished he could tell her what had really happened the night that Noatak disappeared, but he knew that he could never, never let the truth be known to anyone.  He could never tell why Noatak had left, nor how he had begged him to stay.  He could never breath a word of the awful secret that he and Noatak had kept for years. That secret would be his, and his alone for the rest of his life.
But little did either he, or Tahlia know, that the story was not over yet.  It was far from over.  For both of them had forgotten just how determined Noatak could be.  His knack for survival was far from useless...

To be continued in... The Legend of Korra!


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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Losing You: A Legend of Korra Fanfiction

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This is my first time posting a fanfiction here!  As mentioned in the title, this story is set in the Legend of Korra fandom, the sequel series to Avatar: the Last Airbender.
This story details the childhood of my character Tahlia.  I hope to post more stories about her later.

DISCLAIMER:  I do not own the rights to The Legend of Korra.  Credit for the series goes to Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino.  This is purely a fan work, and is by no means to be associated with official material.

WARNING:  Contains spoilers for The Legend of Korra.

*  *  *

The Northern Water Tribe

Seven-year-old Talhia reached up, standing on the very tips of her toes in an attempt to reach the hairbrush that rested on her shelf.  Finding she was still unable to reach it, she gave a little hop and grabbed it.
“Oof!”  She squeaked as she landed on her rump.  Undeterred, she jumped back up and began brushing her thick brown hair into a neat braid.  Proudly, she surveyed herself in the mirror.
“Perfect!”  She announced happily.  Quickly, she pulled on her warm leather boots and coat and rushed out to the kitchen, where her mother could always be found.  

“Mom, can I go and see Aunty Kymma and Uncle Kodarr?”  She asked excitedly.
Her mother turned from her work to look at her.
“My, you’re already dressed and ready to go, aren’t you?”  She laughed.  “Why so excited?”
“Tarrlok and Noatak have a free day, so they invited me to come and play.  We’ll have snow ball fights, and make forts, and have races!  It’s going to be so fun!  Can I go, Mom, please?”
Smiling, her mother bent down and kissed her forehead.  “Alright, Tahlia.  You can go.  But you stay right with them!  And listen to what Noatak tells you.  He’ll watch out for you.”
“Okay, thanks!”  Tahlia said, hugging her mother.  She dashed out the door and headed for her cousin’s house.

As she went, Tahlia thought about all the fun that they would have that day.  Tarrlok and Noatak were the best cousins anyone could ask for.  They had taugh her all sorts of things, like how to use a staff, how to build an igloo... Noatak had even showed her how to form a snowball with waterbending.  Tahlia wasn’t very good at it yet, but she was learning.
It wasn’t long before Tahlia reached their house.  Kymma was busy hanging clothes to dry on the line, and saw her coming.  “Good morning, Tahlia!  I see you’re up bright and early today.”  She said, smiling.
“Yup!”  Tahlia said, coming over to greet her.  “Tarrlok told me to come early.”
“They’re out back right now with a few of their friends.”  Said Kymma. “Have fun!”
“Thanks, Aunty Kymma!”  Tahlia called as she rushed around to meet them.

Tarrlok’s eyes narrowed in concentration as he focused on the game.  Across from them, husky young boy was waterbending an ice-ball in neat, smooth circles between his hands.  Suddenly, he whirled around, flinging the snowball forward, just to Tarrlok’s left.
Tarrlok lunged in an attempt to block the ice-ball, but he missed and crashed into the snowbank.  The ball whizzed past him and landed in the rectangular pit behind him.  The rest of his team, which consisted of three other young boys, groaned.
The husky boy and  his team laughed, jumping up and down in their victory.  “Yes!”  He cried.  “Another score for Team IceWolf!”  

“Not so fast!”  Came a voice.  Confused, the others turned around to see Noatak standing with his hand
outstretched, and the snowball hovering just an inch above the pit.  He took advantage of the other team’s momentary disbelief to bend the ice-ball into the opposite pit, where it landed with a crash and shattered into hundreds of pieces.
Team IceWolf stared in shock, while Tarrlok’s team broke out in a cheer.  
“Yay!  Great job, Noatak!  Way to save the game!  Go, Team TurtleSeal!”
Noatak smiled.  “That gives us the extra point we needed.  We win, Hayau.”

Hayau, the husky boy, shrugged.  “Good game, Noa’.  Wanna play again?”
“Okay!”  Said Tarrlok.  The other boys readily agreed.
“Wait for me!  I want to play too.”  Tahlia called as she dashed around the corner.  Turning, Tarrlok smiled. “Hey, Tahlia, you made it!”
But Hayau frowned.  “Ah, you invited a girl?”
“Yeah, what’s the problem?”  Noatak asked testily.  
“We’re playing rough.  Girls don’t like to play rough!”  Hayau protested.
“Tahlia’s different.  Besides, she’s our cousin!”  Tarrlok said.
Hayau crossed his arms. “Well, she’s too young to play with us.  Look how short she is! She’d never keep up.  She’d just get in our way.”
Tahlia frowned.  “That’s not fair!  Why can’t I play?  Just ‘cause I can’t run as fast as you doesn’t mean I can’t play with you!”
“Calm down, Tahlia.  He’s just being a bully.”  Noatak said, placing his hand on her shoulder. Turning to Hayau, he said, “I’ll tell you what.  I’ll give up my place in the game, and team up with Tahlia instead.  Since you think she’s too weak to play, the two of us together should equal one player.  Does that sound fair?”
Hayau shrugged.  When it came to fair, Noatak was pretty unmoveable.  “Fine.  Do what you want.”
“Thanks, Noatak!”  Tahlia said, hugging him.  

Noatak smiled and patted her back.  “We’ll show him.”

“On your mark...”  Hayau said, bracing himself.  The other players crouched, ready for the game to begin.  
“... Get set.... GO!” Hayau finished.  The boys leaped into action, each vying for controll of the new ice-ball as it whizzed across the playing field.
This time, Hayau was determined was determined not to lose.  He ran forward, dodging the TurtleSeal players and aggressively snatching the ice-ball from their hands.  He continued running, taking aim and preparing to bend it into the TurtleSeal pit.  
The other players ran as fast as they could to keep up with him.  Tahilia struggled to run through the snow, but it was too deep for her.  
Beside her, Noatak grabbed her hand.  “Come on, Tahlia!  Now’s our chance!”
Tahlia put an extra burst of energy into her run, trying to keep up with him.  
Noatak looked up and saw the rest of his team attempting to keep Hayau from their goal-pit.  But Hayau wasn’t taking no for an answer.  When Tarrlok jumped in front of him, he arms held high to block the ice-ball, Hayou roughly shoved him aside and into the snow.  Noatak frowned.
Kneeling down, he said to Tahlia, “Come on, Tahl’. We can’t let him beat us, can we?”  
He motioned for her to climb on his back.  Obediently, Tahlia did so, and he quickly got up and started running.  Tahlia laughed as they picked up speed.  
“Come on!  Let’s get ‘em!”  She shouted.  
They reached the rest of the group just as Hayau was about to throw the ice-ball into the goal-pit.  
“You ready?”   Noatak asked.
“You bet!”  Tahlia replied.  

With that, Noatak dove down, landing on his back and sliding in front of Hayau. Before he hit the ground, Tahlia jumped up and used her waterbending to knock the ice-ball out of Hayau’s hands and into the air.
On the other side, Tarrlok was ready. He jumped up and grabbed the ball, sending it spinning into the IceWolf’s goal-pit.
Once again, the TurtleSeals burst into  a cheer as Noatak picked himself up and brushed the snow off of his coat.  Beaming, he took Tarrlok and Tahlia’s hands and held them in the air.
“We win!!!”  Tahlia and Tarrlok shouted.
“Still think she can’t play, Hayau?”  Noatak asked smugly.  
Grumbling, Hayau admitted that he had been wrong.  “Alright, fine.  So she can play.  You were right.”
Noatak winked at Tahlia.  “That’s the way to show him.  You’re one of the team, Tahlia!”

Tahlia smiled, and was about to say something, when she was interrupted by her uncle, Kodarr, appeared behind them.
“Tarrlok, Noatak!”  He shouted.  
Poor Tarrlok nearly jumped out of his skin.  The smile on Noatak’s face quickly disappeared as they both turned to face their father.
“Yes, Dad?”  Tarrlok answered.  
“Don’t you remember?  We have another hunting trip tonight. It’s time to get ready to go, if we want to do some hunting before nightfall.”
With a barely perceptible sigh, Noatak nodded and started walking toward the house.  
“Come on, Tarrlok.”  He said.  
Tarrlok waved goodbye to his friends.  “Bye, guys!  Sorry we have to leave so soon.  We’’ll see you later!”  he turned to Tahlia.  “Bye, Tahlia.  That was a great save you did!”
Tahlia smiled.  “Thanks.  Bye, Tarrlok, bye Noatak.  Have fun on your hunting trip!”
But this time, neither of them answered her.  Both of them just turned and followed their father back to the house.

Tahila sighed, and turned to go back to her own home.  For some reason she could never understand, Tarrlok and Noatak both changed when it came to hunting trips.

* * *

Tune in next time for Part II !

-Rayne Speryll