Review of Star Wars Episode VII from a literary standpoint (spoiler alert)

***Contains some spoilers. Watch the movie first.***

I’ve spent a while waiting for the rest of Australia to get to the cinemas and see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens for nearly a week now, since the midnight screening that my engineer husband took me to while I yawned my head off. Post-Boxing Day, I figure enough people have seen it – and enough spoilers have already been posted all over the internet in reviews and Facebook posts. Here’s what I thought of Episode VII, from a strictly literary standpoint.

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Music to write by

Music to write by - typewriter treble clef. Image source: Scores for Writers

Image source: Scores for Writers

 

Ever wondered what type of music will help you to focus when writing in different genres? Here’s what’s worked for me in the genres in which I’ve written or edited.

 

Okay, NaNoWriMo is nearly over, with only five days until the end is declared. So if you’re nearly there, here’s some final inspiration, to give you the last push you need to get that baby out (what a gross analogy, seriously). And if you’re boycotting NNWM and you’re kind of sick of hearing about it, soon we’ll be back to awesome posts that are not all about how to write a novel in the shortest possible timeframe.

Why does music help you write?

Studies have consistently shown that classical, Baroque era music can help students study things they’ve already learnt once, and can help workers to concentrate better during long or repetitive tasks. For those in a busy study or work environment, music has also been proven effective for blocking out distracting background noise. If you’re writing, editing, or creating art, music can help you stay focused and be more creative and open to new ideas.

By contrast, if you’re trying to learn new information that requires your full attention, music can distract you from what you’re reading. So if you’re doing research about historical methods of leather tanning for a new book, you might want to turn the stereo off and focus on the history.

Listening to lyrics can be distracting from writing, so most of the music I’ve featured in this post is purely instrumental. This is because lyrics are words and you’re already trying to think about other words when you’re writing. (People in other disciplines like maths, science or IT have no trouble with listening to lyrics while they work – in fact it helps, since their domain is largely numbers and code (Lesuik, 2005).)

So what can you use to inspire you when writing in different genres? Read on to find out!

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Go where you find inspiration: Part 2: Real live animals that should be in fantasy novels

Go where you find inspiration, and go there often

 

My previous post was about the Art Gallery Museum and the intriguing characters I uncovered in the old portrait paintings there. Now let me tell you about the incredible animals I discovered, many for the first time, at the South Australian Museum.

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

Some of these guys really look like they should be in a fantasy or sci-fi novel, not in the real world. For that reason, I found these animals awakened in me again the desire to write fantasy, a genre I’ve spent many years in but often abandon for “more grown-up” genres like science fiction (haha) or drama.

I spent a few hours over three days walking through the ‘Mammals of the World’ taxidermy exhibit, because I just loved it the first day, but there was so much that I just felt I hadn’t taken it all in, needed another hit.

I was pacing back and forth behind the glass, getting a bit upset that these gorgeous things were dead, just carcasses posed for my viewing pleasure, and most of the living versions were endangered anyway, when it hit me. I wanted to write fantasy animals based on these real animals. Think about it – if I describe an animal to you just using the description, not labelling it by the name we know it, it would be harder for you to imagine, wouldn’t it? You might even think I was making it up.

My first mammal looks like some medieval fantasy writer got really tired of writing ad nauseum about wolves howling at the moon and running in packs and chasing our heroes through the woods, so he elongated the nose and tale of a fox and gave it giant ears, then shrunk it to cat size, and…

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

BAM! Fennec Fox. (Seriously, what’s with these adorable little guys? They’re so darn cute!)

Here are some of the other animals that inspired me:

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Do sci-fi and fantasy do what real life drama can’t? Decreasing bigotry and prejudice through reading

I’ve been thinking about how kids books can make a difference for disadvantaged people groups. The poor, the oppressed, the marginalised. Those starving in a third world, or held captive by a regime of fundamentalist beliefs, the homeless, the refugees, those who come here not speaking our language.

But I don’t think the best way to do it is to directly target those issues.

There are many award-winning, real-life dramas for kids that address racism or other forms of prejudice, like the multi-award-winning The Little Refugeeby famous refugee Ahn Do, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, or the more recent The Invisible Hero by Elizabeth Fensham. These are books that many kids read in school; in my day, it was To Kill A Mockingbird for anti-racism, and I Capture the Castle or A Little Princess for accepting poverty.

Wonderful as these books all are at persuading their child audience to be more welcoming and accepting of certain people groups, I think they can never be as successful at persuading their child audience to be more welcoming and accepting generally, as stories told through the from-out-of-left-field genres of fantasy and sci-fi.

An article yesterday on the topic (this one is from Arts Mic; read its other variations in most other major news outlets, e.g. Sydney Morning Herald) discussed a series of three studies of Italian kids who had to read Harry Potter for school. This study showed that kids who identified with Harry Potter had significantly stronger tolerance for minority groups such as refugees, other immigrants, and gay people. The more HP books they had read, the more tolerant they were. And in contrast, kids who identified in any way with Voldemort showed less tolerance for refugees and other minority groups.

It’s simple if you think about it. Harry befriends Hermione, a ‘mudblood’ (a Muggle-born witch); Ron, the son of a very poor family; Hagrid, a half-giant ostracised by non-giants and giants alike; and Neville, who due to no fault of his own shows less aptitude for their magical studies.

J.K. Rowling said in 2003 that she never set out to teach kids anything, but she did say at the conclusion of the series that she considered it “a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry”.

Harry with Hermione, Ron and Neville - from Arts Mic - image source: AP

Harry with Hermione, Ron and Neville – from Arts Mic – image source: AP

This revolution in kids, started by a fantasy book series, reminded me of a powerful sci-fi movement that changed how we think about minority groups in the Western World.

Trek Nation poster

Trek Nation – documentary, 2011

I was recently watching a 2011 documentary by Rod Roddenberry, the son of Eugene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek: Trek Nation. A lot of the documentary focussed on how Star Trek allowed its viewers to feel like it was okay to be different.

No, Star Trek wasn’t written specifically for kids, but a lot of kids watched it. It was clean – very little bad language, violence, or adult themes. And it changed how they grew up.

In one powerful line, Rod said the thing that struck me the most: that Star Trek viewers had been consistently shown to be more tolerant people in general. They were more tolerant and accepting towards other races, other genders or sexualities, and other worldviews, better than the average person.

Part of the reason for this is because the show was, from the beginning, multicultural in its choice of actors. At a time when there were few non-white or foreign roles in American television dramas (the UK did a little better), Roddenberry chose an African woman to play Uhura, a Scotsman for Scotty, a Japanese-American for Hikaru Sulu, and a half-Vulcan alien for Spock.

Do you think books about real-life drama can achieve the same thing in kids through such subtle methods, such subconscious and long-lasting success?

On a faith note, Jesus embraced the outsider everywhere he went, and supported multicultural attitudes and interfaith communication whole-heartedly.

In John 4:7, he talks with the Samaritan woman at the well.  In Luke 10 he tells the parable of the good Samaritan, which basically says, “Who is my neighbour?” “Everyone, even my enemies, people whose beliefs are totally the opposite of mine.”  And what does he say about enemies?  “Love your enemies.”

Then in Luke 9:54, Jesus and the disciples are looking down at a Samaritan village that has rejected the message of Jesus and thrown them out of town.  James and John turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?”  But what does Jesus do?  It says in verse 55, “But he rebuked them [the disciples].”  And this obviously has a huge impact on John, because later, in Acts 8:14, the disciples hear that Samaria has “accepted the word of God”, and as they’re deciding who to send there as missionaries, they choose Peter and John.

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