Magical Mondays: Nature Spirits and Environmentalism

In honor of Earth Day, which was just this past Saturday, let’s talk about Earth magic! Many fantasy stories are filled with the idea that the Earth is a magical thing, and it certainly seems that way in real life. After all, this beautiful planet is where we live and grow, and where we get to see gorgeous sights or amazing animals. After watching just one episode of Planet Earth, you can understand why so many fantasy authors see the Earth and magic as one and the same.

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But despite the fact that our world is so beautiful and amazing, fantasy authors have also recognized that humans, for whatever reason, seem intent on destroying it. Because of this, fantasy authors tend to incorporate nature spirits that fight on behalf of nature and call us to take up the fight as well. Even when fantasy authors write about other worlds that are different from ours, they still address issues of environmentalism that are relevant to our society.

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Newt Scamander, Animal Rights, and the Environment

newt-pickettWell, it looks like we here in America will soon be wreaking even more havoc on our environment. Trump’s recent attacks on the EPA and other scientific communities and his support of climate change denial are terrifying. Add to this his approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline, along with a wall that will potentially endanger over one hundred different species, and we certainly seem to be gearing up for not only a humanitarian crisis but also an environmental one. Now more than ever we need strong messages in support of the environment and animal rights. That’s why I am so glad that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out recently.

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Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, Nature, and Community

It happened: I finally heard those familiar notes of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” floating around, so that must mean that the winter holiday season has finally started. Amidst the constant reminders of such-and-such shopping days until Christmas, I would be remiss if I didn’t do a little shilling myself. To be fair, though, this shilling is a long time coming.

One of the largest breakout hits of the year was Stardew Valley, a love letter to farming sims everywhere developed by one person, ConcernedApe, over the course of four years. Stardew Valley offers its players a true choice to approach the game however they want, and while there is a very loose main plot, you don’t really have to follow it if you don’t want to. If you want to spend your time chilling in the mines, you can do that. If you want to actually use your farm for farming things, you can do that, too. You can also choose to pursue a significant other in a way that isn’t limited by the typical heteronormativity of most dating mechanics. There are lots of ways in which Stardew Valley really shines in the farm sim genre, and one of the ways I wasn’t expecting was how it approaches the idea of community as aided by the valley’s supernatural inhabitants. 

The Junimos (small Jell-O-like creatures) in Stardew Valley silently stand back and watch the town, gently guiding the player character through the main plot of restoring the town’s community center should the player choose to help them. Thinking about it a little, these cute creatures reminded me of the Harvest Sprites from the Harvest Moon series. While much more proactive and full of personality, these creatures, too, set the player on the path to saving the land, waking up the Harvest Goddess, or whatever else the plot needs you to do. Yet their main goals and how they intertwine with the mortals they watch over—especially through the player character who can actually talk to them—differ in ways that raises the question: does nature itself nurture and shape a community, or does a community shape the nature around them?

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Magical Mondays: Tales of Vesperia and Magical Environmentalism

Magic is a very personal tool. It can be used to empower or enslave, create and destroy, and set certain special people on their journeys of self-discovery. In this way, while magic can have a direct impact on the world, that impact is typically made through the people who wield it. In video games, it’s basically a given that magic is going to be part of it if we have a fantasy setting, and while it’s interesting to see new takes on people wielding magic and how it affects societal divides and the growth or stagnation of cultures, I was faced with a new way of interpreting magic when playing Tales of Vesperia. This magic could be harnessed by living creatures, but humans were only just learning how to tame the beast, so to speak. This magic was, at times, violent, mysterious, and a more visceral threat than the main antagonist of the game: an interpretation that more pieces of fiction should utilize.

Tales of Vesperia GroupSpoilers for Tales of Vesperia under the cut.

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Throwback Thursdays: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home aka “The One with the Whales”

I’m still grieving Leonard Nimoy and watching all things Trek, so it seemed only logical to review my favorite Star Trek film—one that Nimoy directed—for today’s Throwback Thursday.

The Voyage Home castLet’s make no mistake, guys; this is the best Star Trek movie ever made. Now before everyone starts yelling “What about Wrath of Khan?!” let me say this: I know Wrath of Khan is genuinely regarded as the best Star Trek movie, and I grant that it is absolutely excellent. But of all the Trek movies, the 1986 movie The Voyage Home, more affectionately called “the one with the whales”, best captures the spirit of the Star Trek original series (TOS). The humor and action portrayed in this movie gives a chance for all of our favorite characters to really shine, and introduces one of my favorite female characters.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Avatar, Eywa, and Faith

Avatar is one of those movies it’s easy to have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s visually stunning. A lot of effort went into its making, and that shows. Avatar takes us to another world that seems nothing short of magical compared to our own. Hell, it’s even got dragons and floating mountains. On the other hand, though, the story sucks. The characters are underdeveloped, the overall message is both racist and ableist, and despite giving us an expansive world with its own peoples and cultures, the movie never adequately explores its own characters.

avatar_pandora_background_seedAll too often, Avatar got caught up in its own message—environmentalism, which is not a bad message to have—but the movie never found a good balance between telling a story and preaching a lesson. None of that is more apparent than its take on religion.

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FernGully: The Bodacious Review

In dabbling through Tim Curry’s filmography a bit more, I have to wonder if he’s been a little type-casted as the charismatic villain; not to say that he isn’t great at it, but I have yet to find a film where he isn’t one of the main antagonists, if not the antagonist. Today is another case of the latter, and again he shines, but luckily I’m not clinging to his small amount of lines as the saving grace for the entire film. Yes, even though Curry’s part is proportionally smaller than any of the other leads, the film is good enough on its own that I’m not left wanting.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest is another one of those films that I watched when I was younger and never saw again for whatever reason. Being a remnant from the 90’s, rife with all that totally cool and radical (and dated) lingo, and an environmental cartoon, I wasn’t expecting it to hold up well. Apparently FernGully not only taught me about forest preservation, but also not to make lazy judgments before I re-watch something. Although the 90’s was strong here, the film more than holds up in the modern era, and even the animation remains gorgeous.

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Saving the Environment and Geekdom

When it comes to geeks trying to save the planet, things can get complicated. It either tends to be really heavy-handed and naïve or to demonize anything involving saving the planet.

The big conflict is often between saving the environment and the march of progress, and many stories tend to proclaim one as good while demonizing the other, which is obviously problematic.

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