Sunday, July 30, 2023

How Harry Potter Ruined Literature

Well, not all literature, of course. Just children's literature.

As part of the "clean up" of my mother's estate, I've had to go through all her worldly possessions, the vast bulk of which were retained in the house in which she lived the last 45 years. My mother was not one to throw things out that might retain usefulness...and far less likely to do so for anything of sentimental value...and so I've found plenty of possessions that I recall her having owned since BEFORE we moved into the house where she lived the majority of her life (i.e. the house my family moved to when I was four years old). Hell, I've found things from before MY time, carefully preserved, in boxes, chest, dressers, etc.  An old steamer trunk contained not only her wedding veil, but the top piece from her wedding cake and (what I can only presume is) a  saved piece of the cake itself. A cedar "hope chest" containing mementoes of her childhood, including her own childhood journals, diaries, and scrap books. 75 years of life saved...her own, her family's, those of myself and my brother.

And, of course, books. My family..on my mother's side...has always been readers and lovers of books. I own shelves and shelves of books in my own home...more than half a dozen stuffed full. My mother had twice as many, most of which go from floor to ceiling, some shelves having two rows of books (one in front of the other)...and then there are cardboard boxes, crates, filled with other books (carefully organized by author or genre) that she probably intended for donation, having found a need to clear shelf space (to make room for new volumes). 

Going through the books in my mother's home, I have come across shelves containing my own books...books from my youth, books that I haven't read since I was a child of 10 or 11 or younger. Most of these slim paperbacks, the kinds of books one (once) found on the shelves of school and public libraries designated for young readers. Adventures or mysteries or (subdued) science fiction featuring young (kid or teen) protagonists. What I used to think of as typical kids reading. Many of these...especially anything with a detective or mystery or "horror" (think "ghost story") theme I've collected for my daughter, who struggles to find books that pique (let alone hold) her interest. 

And I realized something the other day as I collected these books and showed them to my nine year old and saw her delight and excitement...I realized just how different children's books are these days. The books that I used to read...regardless of the genre, regardless of supernatural or fantastical elements that they might include...were still just about kids. Normal everyday kids. Kids thrust into strange situations or experiencing dramatic circumstances, but kids readily identifiable as normal children. 

NOT individuals suddenly discovering that they have "magic powers" and are destined to go to wizard school to learn why they speak to snakes. NOT kids who are descended from Greek gods. NOT kids who have been trained since birth to become super spies covertly working for MI6 or the CIA as soon as they hit puberty. NOT children endowed with wealth and resources and family legacies of secret societies.

In other words, NOT the protagonists of the various popular kids books...or, rather, series of books...that line the shelves of Barnes & Noble and that my son (and the few kids we know that might read as voraciously as my son) tends to read. Kids' literature these days are not about a normal child having to deal with an extraordinary turn of events...instead, they are stories of extraordinary, fantastical "children" dealing with the burden of being some sort of "Chosen One" figure.


Frankly, it made me (and makes me) more and more irritated the more I think about it. Yes, the Pevensie children of C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are destined to become the High Kings and Queens or Cair Paravel, but only after starting as normal everyday children and undergoing incredible experiences. They are quite ordinary in many respects, and the children of Lewis's later Narnia chronicles are even MORE ordinary...just normal kids trying to get by in spite of the weirdness of their surroundings. The same holds true for Baum's Dorothy Gale...folks of Oz may presume Dorothy has some magical powers or abilities, but Dorothy herself operates under no such delusion. 

But those aren't the books I'm talking about anyway. Those take place in Narnia or Oz or whatever...most of the children's books I'm talking about take place on real world Earth with normal kids that discover an extra-terrestrial or a treasure map or a haunted castle or whatever. Normal kids with normal kid issues (family, school, whatever) in addition to whatever circumstances the author of the book throws at them...and forced to find inner resolve or ingenuity or courage or determination or whatever to deal with that extraordinary situation as a normal child in addition to dealing with the standard kid issues of family, school, etc.  

In REAL fashion. Not just casting a spell on your parents to make them forget you exist so you can go off and fight evil with your wand.

I'm sorry...I know a lot of my readers are probably twenty-plus years younger than myself and grew up reading and loving Rowling's books. I've never liked them all that much. And their incredible success has fueled trends in children's literature that I dislike immensely. Call me an old curmudgeon (I call myself one anyway).

Just wanted to get that all off my chest.

Saturday, July 15, 2023


Hey! Must be the money!

["Ride wit me" playing in the background as I start to type this post. Followed quickly by another incredibly insipid song, "Butterfly" by the stupid stupid band Crazy Town. Only difference...far as I can that Nelly was nominated for a Grammy for God-knows-what reason]

*sigh* Don't mind me. It's been a long day. And a long week. And a long month.

I decided, a few days ago, that it was time to introduce the kids to the various Batman movies. Of course, they know who Batman addition to numerous animated shows, Lego films, and comic books, they've seen many of the old Adam West sitcom episodes (and the 1966 movie starring the same actor). But for [reasons] we've just never gotten around to watching the later films, not the first series kicked off by Tim Burton in '89, nor the Chris Nolan series from the early 2000's, nor any of DC's rather sorry attempts to create something like the Marvel Cinematic 'verse.

Which, considering A) the kids have seen nearly every Marvel film ever made (multiple times), and B) have long proclaimed Batman as one of their favorite superheroes of all time...well, it felt like it was time to fire up Ye Old On-Demand streaming service and get to watching.

Now, a couple+ of preamble thoughts for folks.
  1. I've never been what you call a "big" Batman fan. Despite having owned and read comics and toys and (does anyone remember these?) colorforms of the Caped Crusader since I was a wee lad of 3 or so, he was never very high on my list. Captain America, the Hulk, and Spider-Man certainly outrank him. Within the DC universe he'd definitely come in somewhere below Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman (heck, I owned more Blue Devil comics as a teen than I ever owned of Batman titles). He was just never one of my favorites, okay?
  2. Having said that, I've seen many of the various Batman films over the years. Well, I watched the first Michael Keaton one, and I've seen all the Chris Nolan films (multiple times). And I have seen Batman vs. Superman and rather enjoyed it (right up until the ending with Wonder Woman and Doomsday making trashy fan-service appearances)...Affleck may be my favorite Bruce Wayne of all time. 
  3. As an adult I do enjoy a LOT about the Batman concept...though I probably still prefer Batgirl.
So, after running through the trailers for all the various Batman films, the kids decided that the first (1989) one with Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin's ex-wife (sorry...hold on. Kim Basinger. Jeez, my memory).  It was...pretty good. Some of it is really good. Not, unfortunately, most of the Keaton bits...he brings too much comedic sensibility to the role, something that doesn't fit very well with [my perception of] Batman. But I rather love all the other members of the cast, and their performances.

And here's the other thing I quite liked about the film: it wonderfully captures a near picture-perfect look at the starting career of a 1st level superhero in Heroes Unlimited. Of course, I'm talking an early edition of HU, not that bloated "2E" version. Burton's Batman could easily be a 1st level Hardware character from HU Revised (you need the Revised edition for its rules on building super-vehicles) splitting the character's budget between his car, flimsy "bat-jet," and computer-filled lair.

Grapple gun? Check.
Which I love (duh) as it gives me great ideas for the types of encounters, story, and staging one would do for such a character/game.

A day or two after this, we sat down to watch Batman Returns, the kids having thoroughly bought in to the project. Having never before seen the film, I was quite taken aback by how strange and surreal the thing is...far more of a Tim Burton film, I suppose, but quite dark and strange for a superhero film...especially a pop icon superhero like Batman. 

[and which led me to research the strange development history of every single Batman film. Fascinating, though quite a deep rabbit hole to tumble into]

Also it's a I fell asleep during the movie (a lot of long days lately, did I mention...?) and so will probably need to go back and re-watch the ending. But this film, too, struck me less as a coherent story, and more of a series of images, scenes, and situations designed to provoke emotional responses...which is fine (some films do that), but I guess it's not my preference.

However, Batman Returns still feels like someone's Heroes Unlimited game...probably more so, due to its overall weird disjointedness. Watching it felt like Burton was the young GM who, fresh off a successful romp in HU with his one buddy (Keaton, playing the bat-themed hardware character) brings in a second, NEW player (Michelle Pfeiffer) and tries to find a way to integrate her cat-themed anarchist into the ongoing campaign. It's still low-level, high-competence gameplay of the HU world vaporizing Thanos on the horizon, no Kryptonian mothership crashing into New York, just a weird penguin-themed villain teaming up with smash-able stooges with guns...with the usual, expected results.

Yeah, "expected." It's a tad strange to watch Batman casually murdering folks in these movies (as compared to the comic character or the later Nolan films), but casual murder of mooks and villains is par for the course in your average Heroes Unlimited game. Well, in my experience...probably there are GMs out there who have seen more Principled (in the HU alignment sense) behavior from their PCs. 

It's just tough when hand grenades retail for $60 a pop.

Anyway. The busy-ness continues (it's taken me some three days to find the time to write this up). Another multi-game soccer tournament going on this afternoon on the other side of Lake Washington. The stress of life events has been...getting to me, a bit, I guess. If the dog gets me up at 2am, I can find it difficult to get back to sleep, especially if I start to dwell on all the stuff I've got going on. Which sucks. I might have to get back on the regular coffee. Musings about Batman and (especially) Heroes Unlimited is a welcome distraction from everything.  Might have to get a game going, in the near future. Stuff like these old movies are fairly inspirational.

One last interesting (to me, anyway) thought. When the 1989 Batman (Burton) film premiered, I was 16 years old, and definitely NOT a Batman fan. I think I might have still been collecting Silver Surfer comics at the time(?)...a bit more "cosmic" in scope in terms of conflict. I had been exposed to the Heroes Unlimited game by this point (friends in high school), but they were running something far more high powered with the Revised rules in combo with Transdimensional TMNT. Those guys (they were all gaming with females ended at middle school and didn't start up again till university), were BIG into comic books in general and Batman in particular (I'm sure they saw all those movies, while I tapped out after the first). And, yet, they never ran anything "street level" in their games...instead they added as much "twink" as they could, even creating a list of "mega-powers" when HU's major powers weren't deemed beefy enough. Thinking back, it really makes me wonder what the appeal Palladium held for them, at all. Crunchy character building? Granular move-by-move combat? Bullet calibers and grenades?

Weird. They never did want to play Rifts and ridiculed that game soundly (unlike myself). 

All right. That's enough for now. Time to wake the family.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Happy 4th of July

Summer business (busy-ness) has officially landed. This year, in addition to all the usual stuff (kids, soccer tournaments, road trips, etc.) I'm dealing with all the 'stuff' of my deceased mother's estate. 

It's...a lot. Just the logistics of it all.

And cleaning out my mom's house has resulted in us cleaning out our own house. Split the kids into separate bedrooms. Converting the toy room into the new guest bedroom. Organizing the junk-filled garage.'s a lot.

SO...that's why I'm not posting (in case folks are wondering). "Pickle ball camp" starts tomorrow (in friggin' Mercer Island) and I have been tasked with driving the carpool. I will be making a lot of phone calls to various banks and creditors while the kids are learning how to bat a whiffle ball with a ping-pong paddle. 


Probably should grill today. And mow the lawn. D&D is going to have to wait a bit.

Happy 4th, folks. Hope y'all are having a good one!
: )