79-Hera Syndulla

Favorite Character Types

I loved Chelsea’s post about her favorite types of characters, and she kindly let me borrow the idea for my own blog!  These are the folks I most enjoy reading about:

The Principled/Steadfast Fighter

Captain America is probably the poster boy for this type!

This character may fit into the generic “good guy” category, but his (or her) defining feature is dedication to what he believes is right.  Characters such as Captain America, John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises, Jarrod Barkley from The Big Valley, Jane Eyre, Fanny Price, Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games, King Tirian from The Last Battle, and Puddleglum from The Silver Chair.  (Gloomy as Puddleglum is, when things are on the line, he’s steadfast in his principles!)

And this kind of character doesn’t always win the battle–Travis from The Alamo is this type (though, in a twist, definitely not a generic good guy).  But while winning the battle is important, for this character, doing what he believes is right is the ultimate fight.  And I love these kinds of characters because they give me hope, inspire me to stand up for my principles.

The Gentle/ Good-Hearted Fighter

Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda from the 2002 mini-series.

This is the guy who may seem like he’s too mild or gentle or soft-hearted to fight–but for these guys, Good Is Not Soft.  This is the character who cares deeply about his world, his loved ones, and his morals, and because of that deep love, he fights as fiercely as any hardened warrior.  Frodo and Faramir from The Lord of the Rings are the prime examples, but others are Jean Valjean, Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street, Igor from Victor Frankenstein, Fanny Price (again), and Bilbo Baggins.  Possibly also Daniel Deronda.  Steve Barton’s portrayal of Raoul also fits this category.  Just listen to his rendition of “All I Ask of You”–he’s understated, but earnest, and you can tell that he’d be willing to walk through fire for Christine.

This character is a subset of the principled fighter, but I enjoy this type because their fierceness is unexpected.  They get the upper hand because they look too tender to  do any damage–and yet they ultimately care so very deeply they’re willing to lay down their lives to defend what they love.  Durant from my story Gentle Fire is definitely this type.

The No-Nonsense Mentor

A comic I drew back in 2013!

Forget the wise old man smoking a pipe and delivering quiet (if vague) words of wisdom; I like the mentors who tell it like it is and won’t put up with your whining, who whip ya into shape, and have a sharp wit to boot.  Think Gandalf, Alfred Pennyworth, Obi-Wan from the prequels, and Captain Pellew from the Horatio Hornblower TV series.  Dr. Livesey from Treasure Island kinda fits this category as well.

I think I like this type because the “wise old man” mentor type seems to deliver very vague advice and let the hero figure out the context/deeper meaning on his own.  And if I were a young hero-in-training, I would be incredibly frustrated.  Either tell me what to do point blank, or let me do it my way.  No waffling in between those options, please.  And the no-nonsense mentor does not waffle.  Their advice is “take it or leave it.”  That, and I love a sharp wit.  🙂

Honest, Honorable Men

These guys get labelled “bland” or “boring” because All Girls Want Bad Boys–until we’re pestered by that one boy who won’t take no for an answer, and then our distaste for honorable men comes back to bite us.

Ahem.  Sorry, got sidetracked.  But seriously, what’s wrong with a respectful and honest guy?  Just because they lack an edgy dark side doesn’t mean they’re boring.  Case in point would be Charles Darnay from A Tale of Two Cities.  Many people compare him to Sydney Carton and declare Sydney a more interesting character.  But that doesn’t mean Charles is one-dimensional.  He makes mistakes.  He should have told his family he was heading back to France.  His pride was nettled as Englishmen ridiculed the French aristocracy, the class to which he belonged–even though he had renounced his heritage.  And just look at his interactions with Lucie—when alone with his beloved, this honest, straightforward, principled young man turns into a sentimental softie who calls her pet names.  It’s adorable.

(And from a story analysis perspective, if Charles hadn’t been honorable and honest, Sydney would probably not have been inspired to change.  Comparing himself to Charles showed him what he could be, if he just made the effort.  But that’s another topic for another post.)

Other honest, honorable characters are Jarrod Barkley, Daniel Deronda, Mr. Darcy, and Edward Ferras from Sense & Sensibility, and James Green from Mercy Street.  A female example would be Jane Eyre (actually,  we could use  more female characters in this category.  I specified male characters because I respect those qualities, and I”m tired of the bad boy attraction, but women ought to be honest and honorable too.)

The Leader

This is how I picture Peter Pevensie!

I love a man who takes charge (without being a bully) and who knows what to do in the situation.  A man with initiative and willing to plunge right into things and get involved.  I can’t express how much I love the leaders!.  Characters like Jarrod Barkley, Captain America, Peter Pevensie, Aragorn, Hadley Fraser’s Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera, and  Lucky Jack from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

I like the leaders because, first of all, that is the role God assigned to men.  And I respect a man who embraces that role and doesn’t let the culture dictate otherwise.  It’s also quite admirable when a man sees what needs to be done and steps up to the plate, takes the responsibility of handling a sticky situation and tries to solve the problems that get thrown his way.

The Tragic Hero/Antagonist

Henry Jekyll

Often presented in a cautionary tale, I like the heroes who definitely have a downward arc, but who also have either a valid point about the situation or good intentions.  Characters like Javert from Les Miserables: he’s often viewed as the antagonist with no room for mercy or grace in his mind–but think just how sad that is!  Also, as much as I root for Valjean, he did break his parole.  Javert was justified in at least locating the fugitive.

Other such characters would be Robert Angier from The Prestige (film), Dr. Jekyll from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.  Oh, and Boromir, my goodness.  Possibly also Maedhros from The Silmarillion; I relate to that guy more than I should (we’re both the eldest, both responsible, both very honor/duty driven, devastated by any mistakes that violate those last two values…)  And I would argue Gale Hawthorne fits into this category.  Because he was determined, intelligent, intuitive, and creative.  And he misused all that, even though he was trying to help win the war.

I am honestly not sure why I like this kind of character.  I don’t enjoy watching someone destroy themselves–maybe it’s a combination of respect for whatever good intentions the character has, plus a sobering warning.

Silk Hiding Steel

These are the ladies who seem like products of their time (in historical fiction) or the so-hated doormats in a contemporary setting.  These ladies are actually not doormats.  They are quiet but firm, gentle but principled–and as such, when push comes to shove, they are unflinching, industrious, and intelligent with spines of steel.  Lucie Manette, for example.  She was gentle and compassionate, and she spends most of the book caring for her family.  She also followed her husband to France when he was unjustly imprisoned, worked bravely in a foreign country where she was in constant danger of being also imprisoned herself, and every day, journeyed to a corner of the street where her husband might be able to see her if he could get to one of the upper windows of the prison.  And she stood there for two hours to let him catch a glimpse of her when he was able to.  Every day.  Just to encourage her imprisoned husband and remind him that she was there for him.  She also suffered no breakdowns, and she persevered through apprehension and uncertainty for two years.  Oh, and the Reign of Terror was going on during this time.   Lucie swoons only after her husband is unjustly imprisoned for the second time and sentenced to death.  How in the world is she a weak character?

Or take Christine from The Phantom of the Opera.  She seems naive and overly-trusting–but notice that she trusts only those people she considers friends.  Which at first included the Phantom, but after she learns his true identity, she flees from him and never ultimately trusts him again.  She also, after being lied to and betrayed by the man she considered her mentor, was not afraid to love again, and trusted Raoul to protect her (even though she disagreed with his methods later).  And after all that–she remained compassionate toward the man who had hurt her so badly.  Christine is awesome, guys.  For deeper analysis of her character, check out my post here.

Jane Eyre also fits this Silk Hiding Steel category, and Elinor Dashwood , Fanny Price, Emma Green from Mercy Street, and Lisa Carew from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.  Probably others I can’t think of just now.  🙂

So there you have it, some of my favorite character types!  Are there any more you would add to the list?

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79-Hera Syndulla

T-Swift Book Tag!

Bella tagged me the other day for this really creative tag—one using titles of various Taylor Swift songs.  And I’m a sucker for blog tags, so this is going to be fun!

1. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

(Pick a book or series that you were pretty sure you were in love with, but then wanted to break up with)

This was a fantasy series, and a fantasy series written by a Christian.  So the stories wouldn’t have demonic magic and other fantasy elements I objected to, right?

Well…no, there weren’t any of those elements.  But the writing style was hard to read; there was so much description (repeat: so much description) in the prologue that I actually lost my mental image of the scene.  A form of sensory overload, I guess.  The writing style continued flowery and redundant through the rest of the story, and it read as an attempted mimicry of Tolkien’s simple grandeur.  (Spoiler alert: it failed.)  The writing was so bad in some parts, that I took a pencil and actually struck through phrases and rewrote them in the margins.  That soothed my tortured editor’s soul.

And out of the 15+ characters, I half-liked only one and truly liked only two—and one of those two characters was a really minor one.  I did enjoy this series reading it for the first time while the twists of the story were new.  But when I read it a second time, I could barely get through the first ten chapters.  Definitely never getting back together, and if I read this series again, it will be only to review it.

2. Red

(Pick a book with a RED cover)

REEED!  THE BLOOD OF ANGRY MEEEEEN!  BL–oh, wait.  Although that’s not too far off the mark…

I never thought I would like The Hunger Games series.  But though Suzanne Collins wrote some pretty dark and depressing twists, they serve a purpose in the story—they make a point about humanity.  Nobody decent ever wins the Games because in a gladiator style fight-to-the-death contest, nobody really can.  She’s brutally honest about how each Victor bought his or her freedom at a dear price, and were often haunted the rest of their lives by what happened during their fight in each Hunger Games.  She did not create a world that a young, feisty teen heroine could escape with nary a scratch, physical or moral.  If anything, her characters are struggling to survive in a world that makes beasts of them all—and fighting for survival more than anything else.

But the story isn’t nonstop darkness either.  The exception to all the points above is Peeta Mellark.  Peeta chooses not stoop to the level of the shallow Capitol citizens or the Tributes and Victors so desperate for survival.  And his actions show the other characters that they can do the right thing regardless of circumstances, that they can choose another path.  Most of them don’t, but Peeta’s example is still there, as a silent contrast to the mistakes everyone else makes.

3. The Best Day

(Pick a book that makes you feel nostalgic)

Long before The Lord of the Rings hit the bookshelves, Professor Tolkien made up a wondrous world for his children: the world of the North Pole, home of Father Christmas.  Letters were left by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, written in shaky old handwriting, that related the anecdotes of Father Christmas, his assistant the North Polar Bear, the Red and Green Elves, and various other characters.

I love this book because of those funny anecdotes, Tolkien’s style of writing, and the pictures that accompany the letters.  I read this book every Christmas, and I often read parts of it to my brothers as well—they laugh heartily at some of the rhymes at the end!

4. Love Story

(Pick a book with forbidden love)

Can I skip this one?  Stories built around romance aren’t my thing, and forbidden romance strikes me as awfully melodramatic.  I would rather read about a couple who marries early in the story and learns to love each other and put up with each other on a daily basis (and not as a comedy either.)

Which is why I’m writing such a story.  🙂

5. I Knew You Were Trouble

(Pick a book with a bad character you couldn’t help but love)

Heh.  Bad behavior in fictional characters instantly severs my respect.  (Same thing happens with real people.)  But one character I’m fascinated by (though certainly don’t love) is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff is rotten to the core, but intelligent, cunning, forceful, and charismatic enough to get away with it.  He’s often described as “gipsy” brown, but nobody really knows his ethnicity.  Which adds to the mystery of who he is—and on that note, nobody knows who his parents were.  (People have speculated that Heathcliff is Mr. Earnshaw’s illegitimate son, but given the way the Emily Bronte portrayed Heathclif’s character and influence, I think she purposefully kept his parentage a mystery for the sake of mystery.  Anyway, if Heathcliff was Mr. Earnshaw’s son, even illegitimately, that revelation could have been a game-changer for the plot—for instance, the romance would become near-incest.  The Brontes were messed up, but not that messed up.)

So Heathcliff is intriguing because of the mysteries surrounding him and because of the forcefulness of his character and cunning.  Being passionately in love does not dull this man’s wits; rather, it sharpens them.  Unfortunately for the rest of the characters.  Ladies, do you really want to crush on a guy who nearly bashed in the head of a five-year-old as revenge on the kid’s father?  You might want to change the caption of your Pinterest pins from “Heathcliff my Love” to “get this guy a restraining order, pronto.”  Although odds are, he would ignore that piece of paper.  Heathcliff is a fascinating character, but a terrifying one.  It’s almost like watching a tornado—you want to get out of there, yet you can’t look away.

6. Innocent

(Pick a book that someone ruined the ending for)

Actually, I tend to spoil the books myself.  If I’m not sure a book will be worth my time, I look up reviews before buying it (therefore running into multiple spoilers).  Or if I don’t really care about the story, but kinda want to know what happens, I’ll skip ahead and read a bit.  (So naughty.)

A book that fell into the first category, was The Ale Boy’s Feast.

That cover art, though…

I loved the first book in the series, skipped the second because I disagreed with some plot elements, liked the third book, but wasn’t sure this last would be worth my time.  So I tracked down enough reviews to get a basic idea of what happens .  I finally decided to take the risk—and boy, was it worth it!  And the story still revealed twists that I hadn’t anticipated.

A book in the second category (don’t care enough to finish; curious enough to peek ahead) was Two Crosses.  I really didn’t care about the characters but vaguely wanted to know what happened.  So I skipped ahead a bit to read.  And got freaked out by one of the story twists, and then lost interest and never finished the book.

7. Everything Has Changed

(Pick a character from a book who goes through extensive character development)

You knew this was coming–Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney first appears in such a slovenly state that he looks almost debauched.  Second impressions don’t change this image; he’s drunk, rude, and apathetic about his work and his life.  Or rather, he seems to be apathetic.  Early on, Dickens shows us flashes of remorse, humanity, and lost hope that keeps readers from writing Sydney off as a hopeless case.  (And unlike Heathcliff, there is nothing charismatic about him either.)  Through hints dropped through the story, we learn that Sydney was once a bright young student, but lost hope or lost purpose, and came to hate himself, to drink because of it, and to despise himself further.

But through Charles Darnay’s silent example, and Lucie Manett’s compassion and kindness, Sydney begins to see himself in a newer light: to see himself for what he is, but also to see what he could be.  Neither Charles nor Lucie writes him off as hopeless; they treat him as a normal human being while not glossing over his faults either; this creates a very clear mirror for Sydney to appraise himself.  Lucie’s compassion and kindness touch him in particular; and he begins to hope again.

He makes little efforts never to appear drunk before the Darnay family, but he does not actually change his habits and behavior until near the end of the story.  When conflict is at its hardest for the Darnays and their friends, Sydney sets in motion a selfless plot, sticks to it like steel, and remembers Scripture for the first time in years while wandering the streets of Paris.  I really can’t describe his transformation with justice; read the book yourself.

8. You Belong With Me

(Pick your most anticipated book release)

My own novels.  🙂

Hoho, sorry, couldn’t resist.  Only that won’t be for another 17 years.

One book I anticipated before its release was Rachel Starr Thomson’s Coming Day, the final book in her Seventh World Trilogy.

I’ll probably always have nostalgic and grateful feelings for this series because I read it while writing my first trilogy.  Reading these books and keeping up with Rachel’s blog gave 17-year-old novice writer me the encouragement to keep plugging away.

9. Forever and Always

(Pick your favorite book couple)

I have to say Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.  What I like about this pairing is that they fall in love, not because of their looks (she was plain, he was “ugly” according to the male beauty standards of the day), but because of their intelligence, and because of their personalities.  Falling in love also happens overtime and in very mundane ways.  And they must go through trials before they can be together.  While these difficulties are indeed external, they reflect the important need for internal change.  Jane has to fix her priorities (she confesses that she’d made an idol of Rochester), and Rochester must be humbled before they can be together.

I complained about melodramatic forbidden love earlier, even though, to a degree, the romance in Jane Eyre is exactly that.  But Bronte got away with it because she made me care about both characters, and because Jane’s and Rochester’s actions grow organically, out of the circumstances and personalities already established.

BONUS QUESTIONS! (Added by Bella)

10. Never Grow Up

(A book you read when you’re feeling sad/emotional)

This book is hilarious, guys.  A series of personal anecdotes by the authors (cousins, who were both home schooled) shows just how funny mishaps, accidents, and family quirks can be if you look at them with the right attitude.  The authors describe their crazy, fun, hectic life with good humor and a wise outlook on life.  When I first read this book, I laughed out loud at every other paragraph!

11. Begin Again

(A book you’ve read multiple times but always go back to it because it’s that good)

The Chronicles of Narnia, and…

The Lord of the Rings!  I grew up with these books, and I’ve been reading them for 17 years (in the case of the Narnia books) and 13 years (in the case of LotR).  And every time I reread them, I notice something new, either about the characters, the story themes, the writing style, the symbolism, or…I could go on, but I’d like to keep these descriptions short.  🙂

12. Starlight

(A book you hid in bed with/fell asleep reading)

This one, but only because I just wanted to finish and be done with it.  No offense to the author, but 3/4 of the way through, I still didn’t understand what the point was.

13. I Know Places

(The number one book you would take on a long trip away from home)

Going to borrow one of Bella’s answers and say The Hobbit.  Maybe because journeying is a prime theme of the book?  Or maybe because, like Bilbo, I would rather be home than abroad.  Unless the destination was San Antonio, Texas, in which case, I’m off like a shot from an 18-pounder.

Look at this gorgeous edition my grandmother bought me!

14. Change

(A book you’ve never read but want and plan to)

I want to read this one only because it looks like an interesting social critique/commentary, as well as a remark on human nature.

I also want to read Watership Down someday; Julia recommended it, and it’s her favorite book.  (I would showcase a picture, but our copy seems to have disappeared.)

BONUS QUESTIONS 2!  (Added by Christine)

15. Long Live

(A modern book you think should be a classic or a classic that should be more widely read today)

First category:

Part adventure and part mystery, this story is about four children recruited as secret agents by kindly Mr. Benedict.  He suspects that the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened is hiding a dreadful secret, and since it is an academy for children, child agents are the only ones who have a chance.  That, and children are so easily overlooked by adults that his team should be able to find critical information before it’s too late.

The mystery grows darker and deeper as the story goes on–and though the book was written for children, and children are the heroes, adults will find this story very deep and thought-provoking.  Particularly how the students and staff on the island are manipulated by very cunning mind control.  When I first read this story, I couldn’t put it down, and I think it deserves to become a classic.

Second category (classic that should be more widely read):

This is Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.  (You can’t tell by cover; this edition is from 1944.)  It’s one of the most confounding mysteries I’ve ever read, with false clues and red herrings galore.  The whole reason the mystery of the stolen diamond arose is pretty mundane—but the red herrings, and misleading clues are what make it so fascinating.  Also the fact that each part of the story has a different narrator, and, just as in real life, you kinda have to sift motives and figure out just how colored everyone’s perspective is.  And even the most biased narrations reveal new story layers and clues that carry over into the next bit.

I think this one should be more widely read because of the unique narrative style and the twists and turns the mystery takes.

16. Mean

(A book you have a personal vendetta against for whatever reason)

Hoo boy.  I actually have a long list of books that annoy/anger me.  But the top series for this category would be the Elsie Dinsmore books (the Life of Faith reboots, that is; I’ve never read the originals).

Elsie annoys me because she’s too perfect at age eight for me to relate to.  I get that the writers are trying to set an example, but come on.  That amount of perfection in an eight-year-old is bound to make us hate her.  Because unlike Elsie, the rest of us have a sin nature.

Okay, I’m being snarky.  But Elsie never really messes up or makes serious mistakes that she has to learn from—her struggles are usually inflicted upon her by the other characters.  And she’s so spiritually mature at age eight that there’s no room for growth or improvement.  That, I think, is the fatal flaw of the series.  In real life, sanctification and growing more like Christ is a process, learned through studying the Bible, observing others, making mistakes, going through trials, and so on.  Stories intended to enlighten and encourage should reflect that, should show that growth process rather than portray near-perfection at the start.  And yes, there’s a place for setting an example via a noble character (Frodo Baggins from LotR is one of my favorite characters of all time), but here on this earth, nobody is going to attain perfection.  And I think stories should reflect that, but should also show characters striving to be more like Christ.

17.  Safe & Sound

(A “comfort book”)

Definitely the American Girl Josefina series!  I love Josefina’s character: sweet, but determined; shy, but with a spine of steel and high hopes.  She has such close, loving relationships with her sisters and her father, and the rancho where they live is a setting both unique and familiar–it’s pretty much a farm, just set in the Spanish West world.  I love the descriptions of weaving blankets, celebrating Christmas, trading in Santa Fe, the New Mexico summers and fandangos.

I had so much fun with this tag!  Thanks to Bella for tagging me!

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79-Hera Syndulla

10 Favorite Musicals! – Part 1

Overflowing Mind & Pen

All right, it’s here!  10 favorite musicals implies, of course, that I enjoy and listen to more than just those; the ones that didn’t make the top favorites list are: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Maury Yeston’s Phantom; The Lord of the Rings; The In-Between; The Sound of Music; Cinderella; and H. M. S. Pinafore.  (I may have forgotten a couple; I listen to a lot of musicals.  🙂 )

As such, I’m going to mention three favorites in this post, three more in the next post, and the final four in the last post.  Writing about all ten in one post would probably break the record for the World’s Longest Post Fangirling Post About Musicals.

Right, we’re off.

#1: Jane Eyre

Adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre tells the story of an orphan from her loveless childhood to her lonely young womanhood as a governess—but her situation is at Thornfield hall, the master of which, Mr. Rochester, kindles a spark of life in her that had remained long hidden.

Great.  I just made my favorite novel sound like a CBD romance thingy.

Anyway, Jane Eyre is my favorite musical of all time, which is why I’m mad that it (a) closed after only 7 months and (b) was apparently never filmed.  Or at least never released on DVD.  Fortunately, there’s a soundtrack available, and when I discovered the musical in June 2014, I fell in love with the score instantly.

This musical is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (second only to the 1983 mini-series with Timothy Dalton).  Most notably, Helen is an influential character, and the story includes her faith and its impact on Jane’s character.  Helen even gets a beautiful number of her own: the song “Forgiveness”.  Also, in many of the songs, the lyrics are phrases or wording taken straight from the book (though tweaked to fit rhythm and rhyme).

The musical did make some changes: St. John not only has a minor role, but he was upgraded to be slightly kinder than he was in the book.  Also, Mrs. Fairfax was turned from a quiet, orderly housekeeper into an absent-minded figure of comic relief.  I understand the reason; the story needed some humor, and a stage play doesn’t adapt Charlotte Bronte’s dry wit very well, unless the audience is willing to sit for 3 hours listening to exchange of dialogue.  Still, it’s one thing to add comic relief; another to change a character’s entirely personality.

In general, however, the story stuck to the source material.  And the music is beautiful on its own merit: the melodies are haunting, quiet, souring, lonely, joyful.  The lyrics are poetic, passionate, and encouraging.  (That said, there is some scattered cursing throughout the songs; Mr. Rochester is the main culprit here.  Just something to watch out for.)

In fact, it’s hard to pick a favorite song; it would be easier to list the numbers I don’t care for (only three out of 25!).  But I’m going to go with Helen’s song “Forgiveness”.  In it, she admonishes Jane that “You have to be strong to offer good for evil, to return right for wrong.”  So many people act like a stubborn, fighting attitude is strength.  And if you’re fighting for what’s right, yes.  But it’s equally as strong to hold your tongue and “learn to endure.”  On the flip side, she tells Jane “You can continue to grieve, but know the Gospel* is true.  You must forgive those who lie and bless them that curse you.”  In other words, there’s no need to be a stoic about suffering, but to endure it with the knowledge that God knows–and blesses–who is right.

*I’m not sure if she means that “forgive those who lie” is the Gospel, or if she’s referring to the Gospel and the principle separately.  The first case is incorrect; “forgive those who like &etc.” is not the Gospel…but substituting the word “scripture” removes this problem.  🙂

 

#2: The Phantom of the Opera

Erik instructs young soprano Christine Daae in singing, masquerading as her Angel of Music.  Erik also terrorizes the opera house as the mysterious Phantom of the Opera.  When Christine learns his true identity, she flees from his guardianship, but this Phantom has a desperate fixation on her, hoping for her love.

 I’m terrible at writing any synopsis, apparently.  Also, it’s hard to describe every aspect of The Phantom of the Opera.

Which is one reason why I like it.  At first glance, the story seems to be a Gothic romance; and to some degree, it is, but it’s also about love, trust, and compassion.  The Phantom, hideously deformed and therefore outcast from society, desperately seeks Christine’s love, but goes about winning it the wrong way.  Christine, alone in the world after her father’s death, also seeks love and guardianship and at first thinks she’ll find them in the Phantom, at first trusts him.  But then that trust is shattered when the Phantom reveals his true identity.  Christine flees, and puts her trust in Raoul, her childhood playmate and now her sweetheart who also seeks to win her love.  Which turn of events, of course, angers the Phantom.

So yes, in one sense it’s a Gothic romance, and there is definitely a love triangle.  But it’s not a beautifully dramatic one; if anything, it complicates things, brings terror and doom to Raoul and Christine.  Christine knows the Phantom is dangerous and must be stopped, but she can’t help but pity him.  Raoul would move heaven and earth to protect Christine, and the Phantom would destroy heaven and earth to win her love. In fact, he tries to do just that.

But then, at the end, he performs an act of sacrificial love.  All three of the protagonists, in fact, display sacrificial love for someone else, and that, I think, is ultimately what the story is about.  If you truly love someone, what will you give up for his/her happiness?

Speaking of love, this musical has one of my favorite love songs of all time, “All I Ask of You.”  And yes, the lyrics describe sacrificial love.  Rather than being a feel-good, he’s-the-one-who-flutters-my-heart type of love song, it speaks of service and leadership, sacrifice and loyalty, trust and commitment.

(Raoul)

No more talk of darkness

Forget these wide-eyed fears

I’m here; nothing can harm you

My words will warm and calm you

Let me be your freedom

Let daylight dry your tears

I’m here, with you, beside you

To guard you and to guide you.

(Christine)

Say you’ll love me every waking moment

Turn my head with talk of summertime

Say you need me with you now and always

Promise me that all you say is true

That’s all I ask of you

The rest of the score is similar: powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies.  I fell in love with the film soundtrack at age 12 and fell in love with the 25th Anniversary Concert about 10 years later, and I’ve never looked back.  The vocal talent required to perform this musical is impressive, and I’ve wanted to sing like Christine ever since I heard the film soundtrack.  For the record, my favorite Phantom is John Owen-Jones, my favorite Christine is Gina Beck (with Rebecca Caine as a close second), and my favorite Raoul is a toss-up between Hadley Fraser and Steve Barton.  (When I’m not feeling well, I listen to Barton’s performance of “All I Ask of You”; his voice is so gentle and steady and reassuring.)

And there’s dancing in this musical.  I tend to like a musical better if there’s dancing as well as singing, and this one contains two nice ballet numbers.  And the musical also has funny, lighthearted lines and sequences to break up the tension of the main story line.

Lastly, I love the characters of this story.  I like Christine and Raoul the best, but all three main characters are deeper and more layered than they first appear.  Christine, for example, comes across as air headed at first, but when you look closer, you see that she takes the word of those she trusts and is cautious around people whom she does not trust so closely.  Raoul seems to be (at best) a hot piece of cardboard and (at worst) an obstacle to the Phantom’s happiness, until you look closer and understand his reasoning and his devotion to Christine.  I’ve written and posted a dissertation about Raoul’s character (and one staunchly in defense of his good qualities, as he is generally hated by the fandom), and I’m working on a dissertation about Christine’s.  And I’ll probably write one for the Phantom at some point.

The only caveats are scattered cursing throughout the musical, and the number “The Point of No Return” has some pretty sensual subtext.  We just skip that song.  🙂

As with the musical Jane Eyre, it’s hard to pick a favorite song from The Phantom of the Opera.  But I’m going to go with “All I Ask of You” because it’s about trust, loyalty, commitment.  It speaks of sacrifice from both parties; it centers on the mutual need they have for each other; yet it also is romantic.  How much more romantic can you get than a man promising to “hold you and to hide you.”?

 

#3: A Tale of Two Cities

Adapted from Dickens’ novel, the story describes three French families suffering from the corruption of the French nobility shortly before the Revolution.  Lucie Manette, after being reunited with her father, who was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for years, remove to England and become acquainted with Charles Darnay, a young Frenchman with something of a mysterious past.  Meanwhile in France, the Defarges had enough with the suffering of their people and become instrumental in the acts of the Revolution.  All these characters impact each other in minor ways on the surface, but they are also connected in a more sinister way, that, when discovered, that will resurface deep anger and pain.

Give me a break.  It’s hard to describe Dickens’ novels succinctly.  But then, that’s why I love them.  🙂

This is one of the few musicals that can make me cry.  I am not the sort to cry over books and films; if someone tells me, “Oh, that movie is a tearjerker,” there is actually 99% chance I will not cry.  But with this story, I’m always in a puddle by the Finale, if not long before.  In fact, I tend to lose it when Charles weeps during “Let Her Be A Child.”

The musical focuses more on Sydney Carton, the English lawyer who frees Charles Darnay from an unjust trial in England, but who seems not to care about anything in the world.  Which is untrue; his careless attitude merely conceals a heart of long-enduring pain and disappointment.  (Actually, it’s the PBS Theatrical concert [available on DVD] that focuses on Sydney and his character arc.  The theatrical concert is an abridged form of the Original Broadway production.  The OBC was filmed, apparently, but never released on DVD *grumble growl*.  However, we do have the theatrical concert, and it gives a taste of what the full production must be like.)

What’s interesting to me is the contrasts between the main characters.  Sydney compares himself (unfavorably) to Charles Darnay, and Lucie is simply but powerfully compared to Madame Defarge.  Both ladies lost their families at a young age.  Both suffered at the hands of aristocrats.  Both endured loneliness and pain.  But each lady responded to that differently.  Madame Defarge let the pain twist her into cold fury, an anger that could be satisfied (in theory) only by revenge: “I’ve waited twenty-five years for this day!  Doctor Manette may forget; Doctor Manette may forgive, but this one survivor will never let Evremonde live!”

Lucy, on the other, hand, let that pain make her compassionate*.  She did not become hard and bitter; when reunited with her father after all those years, she says, “We both were lost, but now that’s all behind us, all the endless years I never knew you.”  She does not resent the family who unjustly imprisoned her father; and she does not condemn the descendant of that family for his ancestor’s actions.

It is this kindness and forgiveness that gets Sydney Carton’s attention.  She treats him like a normal human being and shows concern for his welfare; upon learning that he was not at church on Christmas Eve, she simply says, “It’s not our business where you were, Mr. Carton,” and invites him to share Christmas dinner with her family, saying he was not eating enough and needed a little fattening.

*This observation is not actually mine; this post brought the contrast to my attention.

This kindness and forgiveness helps Sydney see the world in a new light.  In his song “I Can’t Recall,” he says, “The heavens seem an inch away, not cold and empty like before.”  It almost sounds as though he viewed God as a distant being, one who did not listen and did not care about the world below, much less Sydney’s own hopelessness.  But Lucie’s caring put into words and actions the benevolence attributed to God.  And by the end of the musical, his outlook about God and sacrifice has changed completely.

And I need to change the subject before I melt into a useless puddle.

The melodies in this story are unique because of how amazingly they mirror and evoke the emotion of the moment.  But the lyrics are especially powerful.  For example, the song “Everything Stays the Same” describes the futility of the violence of the French Revolution, and quite frankly, it reminds me of the whining protests going on today.

Come join the revolution

Come play the latest game

Not much has changed, but then again

Not everything stays the same

Because of the amazing lyrics, it’s hard to pick a favorite song.  Get used to that line of thought; it’s prevalent among my favorite musicals.  After much thought, and nail-biting, and hair-pulling, and listening to the soundtrack again, and listening to my favorite songs on repeat, and all but dissolving into a puddle again, I picked “Let Her Be A Child” as my favorite.  Sydney muses on the fate of Lucie’s family–and her daughter–if Charles is unjustly killed, and resolves to do all he can to save him.

Sydney now considers others more important than himself.  The bitterness and hopelessness of his life has faded; he received the unreserved love of the whole Darnay family: Charles, Lucie, and their little girl.  Which showed him, in a way, the love of God.  The Darnays treated him like a member of their family, and Sydney does not hesitate now to show how much he cares.  As he tells another character, “They gave me a family; now I’m giving it back.”

“It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.  It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

~Sydney Carton

*melts into a useless puddle*

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