“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” (2014) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” (2014) Review

When New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers first released the news that Peter Jackson would adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, “The Hobbit” into three films, I had not been pleased. I thought the novel could have easily been adapted into two films or even a single film. Now that Jackson’s third film, “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES”, I realized that my feelings had not changed.

I still believe what I had originally stated . . . an adaptation of Tolkien’s novel could have easily been limited to a single film. I believe I would have enjoyed it, considering my feelings for Tolkien’s tale. But you know what? I do not regret that Jackson had spread the story into the three films. A single movie or a trilogy, I enjoyed Jackson’s take on the story about Bilbo Baggins and his involvement with a group of dwarves under the leadership of one Thorin Oakenshield. But when I learned that this third film would feature a long, detailed conflict known as “the Battle of the Five Armies”, I found myself not looking forward to the story’s conclusion for the first time, since the release of the first movie. The problem is that I still had memories of the battles featured in the last two movies of Jackson’s adaptation of “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy – “THE TWO TOWERS” and “RETURN OF THE KING”. I did not enjoy watching them over a decade ago. And I felt certain that I would not enjoy watching the “Battle of the Five Armies”.

There were aspects of this third HOBBIT that made it less enjoyable for me than the first two films. First of all, Bilbo and his traveling companions reached their destination in the last act of the previous film, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”. Which meant that the story ceased to be a road trip. With the exception of a few scenes that featured Gandalf the Gray at Dol Guldur and Smaug’s destruction of Laketown, the majority of the film was set at the dwarves’ kingdom of Erebor and the nearby town of Dale. A bit disappointing. I also found the movie’s limited focus on Thorin’s company of dwarves rather disappointing as well. With the exception of Thorin and one of his nephews, Kili, the screenplay focused less on the dwarves and more on the other characters – especially Bard the Bowman and King Thranduil. Another aspect of the plot that disturbed me, was that it made a big deal of Thorin’s greed in the form of “dragon sickness”. Yet, it barely focused on King Thranduil’s willingness to go to war against the dwarves for an elven necklace of white gems inside Erebor. Worse, the movie’s plot brushed aside Laketown resident Bard’s own greed. Yeah . . . I said it. I believe Bard had developed his own greed for some of the treasure inside Erebor. During the movie’s first half hour, he made it clear to Alfrid Lickspittle that he had no interested in the Erebor treasure (which he had regarded as cursed) and only wanted aid in the form of food, shelter and medicine from Thorin. Yet, within another half hour, he was demanding some of the treasure for himself and other Laketown survivors. What led to this turnabout in Bard’s demands? Why did the screenplay fail to explain it?

Remember when I had predicted that I would not like the battle sequence featured in this movie? Well . . . I was right. I did not like it. Let me correct myself. I did not like most of it. I found the majority of the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” ridiculously long and overblown . . . just like the other battle sequences in “THE TWO TOWERS” and “RETURN OF THE KING”. Now that I think of it, the movie’s battle sequence also reminded me of “the Battle at Hogwarts” featured in the 2011 movie, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART II”, with the constant number of interruptions that allowed the battle to last longer than necessary. It is only by the grace of God that I was able to tolerate the “Battle of the Five Armies” a bit more than the Helm’s Deep, Pelennor Fields, Black Gate and Hogwarts battles. And I will tell you why.

What made the Battle of the Five Armies a little more tolerable for me? One, it had began under unusual circumstances. Instead of a battle in which the Erebor Dwarves fought side-by-side with Men of Dale and the Woodland Realm Elves against the Moria Orcs, Goblins and Wargs; the battle nearly became a conflict between the dwarves and an alliance between the Dale men and the elves over the treasure inside the Erebor mines. But the appearance of an army of orcs, goblins and wargs led by Orc chieftain Azog quickly led to a shifting of alliances. I found that rather interesting. The Battle of the Five Armies may have began with rather odd circumstances, it ended with a good deal of poignancy and tragedy that left me in tears. And I cannot say the same for the battles featured in “THE TWO TOWERS”, “RETURN OF THE KING” and “DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART II”.

I have never read “The Hobbit”, so I have no idea if J.R.R. Tolkien had any plans to write “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy around the time when he wrote the 1937 novel. But I have to admire the way Peter Jackson and the movie’s other screenwriters – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro – set up the events featured in “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, both in this movie and the previous two films. This was especially apparent in moments that featured Bilbo’s use of Sauron’s One Ring; his eventual reluctance to inform Gandalf about it; Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman’s encounter with Sauron, during their attempt to rescue Gandalf from Dol Guldur; Saruman’s doom-filled decision to deal with the fleeing and formless Sauron; and Thranduil’s post-battle suggestion that Legolas meet with a young Dunedain ranger named “Strider”. The movie even ended where “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” began – on Bilbo’s 111st birthday, setting in motion, the events of 2001-2003 movie trilogy. I have to say . . . good job.

However, what really impressed me about “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” was how the screenwriters handled the political chaos that seemed to mark the story. I am not criticizing the story in any way. I just found it rather amazing at how Gandalf’s concerns over Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield’s past history with Azog and his bout of “dragon sickness” brought about so much political chaos in this story. And I must say that Jackson and the other three screenwriters handled it so well. The continuing romance between Thorin’s younger nephew Kili and the Silvan elf guard Tauriel is also handled well in the movie. Their time together seemed less than it was in “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”. But thanks to Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly’s performances, there were two scenes featuring the pair that really impressed me – Kili’s plea to Tauriel that she follow him to Erebor and their efforts to save each other from the Orc called Bolg. Aside from Kili and Tauriel, one of the most interesting relationships in the movie was that between Bilbo and Thorin. In fact, their relationship has been interesting since the moment Bilbo first rejected Gandalf’s suggestion that he join Thorin’s companay as a burglar in “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. Thorin’s bout with “dragon sickness” came close to seriously undermining the pair’s friendship that had thrived since the company’s escape from Moria in the first film. Which is why I found their reconciliation and final scene together so poignant, thanks to Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage’s performances. But the one scene that really left me in tears featured Bilbo’s final good-bye to the dwarves that were part of Thorin’s quest. I felt surprised by how much I truly grew to like these guys. Even more so than the members of the Ring Fellowship from “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy.

“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” only earned one Academy Award – namely a Best Sound Editing for Brent Burge and Jason Canovas. One technical nomination? One? That was it? No nominations for special effects, costume designs, or editing. There was not even a nomination for Andrew Lesnie’s outstanding cinematography, as shown in the following image:

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I discovered that “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING” received eleven Academy Award nominations . . . and won all of its categories. And I am appalled. Why? Despite its flaws, I still hold “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” in a higher regard. Now I realize that I am not the last word on the quality of any movie. But I am entitled to my own opinions. I am sorry, but I simply have a higher opinion of “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” than either the second and third films in “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And I cannot take the Oscars seriously if the only nomination they could give this film was for Best Sound Editing.

I certainly had no problems with the performances featured in the movie. Although I was slightly disappointed by the decreased presence of most of the dwarves in Thorin’s company, they still managed to give first-rate performances . . . especially Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Dean O’Gorman as Fíli, and Ken Stott as Balin. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee reprised their roles as Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman the White and gave solid, but not particularly earth-shattering performances. I could also say the same about Ian Holm, who returned as Old Bilbo in the movie’s final scene and Sylvester McCoy, who briefly appeared as Gandalf’s fellow wizard, Radagast the Brown. Two performances in the movie struck me as particularly funny – Ryan Gage as the greedy and imaginative Laketown official Alfrid, and Billy Connolly as Thorin’s loud and sardonic cousin Dáin. Lee Pace gave a colorful and fascinating performance as the complicated and not always likable Elvenking of Mirkwood, Thranduil. And Benedict Cumberbatch continued to send chills down my spine, thanks to his exceptional performance as the voice for the malignant dragon, Smaug.

Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly continued to generate sparks as the two star-crossed lovers, Kili and Tauriel. I found them especially effective in two scenes I had earlier mentioned. Both Orlando Bloom and Luke Evans gave excellent performances as Elven prince Legolas and Laketown archer Bard the Bowman. For the first time, I also noticed that the pair could have easily portrayed cousins. Honestly. Ian McKellen was excellent as usual portraying Gandalf the Grey – especially in his scenes with Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman. I like to think that the latter made his mark as the reluctant adventurer, Bilbo Baggins. Freeman did an excellent job of developing his character from the prissy homebody to the clever and brave Hobbit. But my vote for the best performance in the movie would go to Richard Armitage for his complicated and fascinating portrayal of the Erebor Dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield. Actually, I feel that Armitage had been knocking it out of the ballpark since the first film. But in my opinion, two scenes in “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” featured his best performances as the ambiguous Thorin – namely the latter’s final struggle with “dragon fever” that I found absolutely brilliant and the poignant farewell between his character and Bilbo.

I cannot deny that “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” is my least favorite of the three films based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel. But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy it very much, thanks to Peter Jackson’s energetic direction, excellent production values and some superb performances from a cast led by Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage.

Becoming “the Dark One”

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I wrote this article during the summer of 2015 – a month or two before Season Five of “ONCE UPON A TIME” aired:

 

BECOMING “THE DARK ONE”

I have a confession to make. I was disappointed at how Emma Swan became the new “Dark One” in the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. She did so by committing a noble act. And I found that . . . unsatisfying.

The Season One episode, (1.08) “Desperate Soul” had revealed that Rumpelstiltskin had originally become “the Dark One” when he was recruited by the title’s previous holder, Zoso, to find the dagger that would either allow the former to control him or acquire magical power by killing him. Zoso goaded Rumpelstiltskin into anger by questioning the paternity of latter’s son, Baelfire/Neal Cassidy, and the latter killed him. Rumpelstiltskin became the new “Dark One” and remained so for several centuries.

But nothing similar happened to Emma. Instead, she had become “the Dark One” in the series’ Season Four finale, (4.23) “Operation Mongoose, Part II”, by saving Regina Mills from an entity that would allow the latter to assume that title. She did so by allowing herself to become possessed by said entity. Before becoming possessed, Emma told Regina that she wanted prevent Regina’s moral progress from being disrupted. Well, I am glad that Regina was prevented from becoming “the Dark One”. But . . . pardon me for saying this, but Emma’s reasoning struck me as rather patronizing. And it seemed that Horowitz and Kitsis may have taken the whole “savior complex” a bit too far this time. At least to me.

Emma had been worried about the regression of Regina’s moral compass? She should have been worried about her own. Despite the Sorcerer Apprentice’s spell that had allegedly transferred Emma’s inner evil to the daughter of Maleficent, Lily Page, in a (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” flashback, I personally suspect that his spell went no where. After all, I had regarded Emma’s moral compass already questionable by the she first had arrived in Storybrooke back in Season One. She had spent most of her adolescent as a thief. Both she and former boyfriend, Neal, had stolen a yellow Volkswagen . . . which was never returned by Neal or Emma. When she told Regina that her car was stolen in (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, she seemed to be lacking in any remorse over her crime. She had also committed a series of petty crimes – including destruction of private property, and breaking and entering – that should have landed her behind bars in Storybrooke or fired as the town’s sheriff back in Season One. Her rescue of son Henry Mills from the clutches of Cruella de Vil in (4.19) “Sympathy for the De Vil” nearly endangered his life. Yet . . . very few people have commented on this. While trapped in the Enchanted Forest’s past, her decision to save Maid Marian from being executed by Regina in (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”, literally ended in disaster. And if viewers really believed that the Apprentice had removed all signs of Emma’s inner evil before she was born; why did the Chernabog demon, which allegedly only sought out one with the heart with the greatest potential for evil in order to devour said heart, went after Emma, instead of the former Evil Queen in “Darkness on the Edge of Town”? What did that say about Emma’s true nature – spell or no spell?

Unfortunately, the series’ reluctance to openly acknowledge Emma’s unpleasant side has not done her character any credit. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are afraid of a deep exploration how low Emma can sink on her own. Or when they are willing to do so, they are either very vague about it or sweep it under the rug. Why, I do not know. To this day, no one seems willing to criticize Emma for keeping a stolen vehicle. No one bothered to point out that her decision to act as Marian’s savior had led to disaster. No one. Not a single character on the show (aside from an angry Regina in early Season Four) or any of the series’ viewers. No one had questioned Emma’s method of killing Cruella de Vil in “Sympathy for the De Vil” . . . especially since she could have saved Henry without ending Cruella’s life and nearly endangering his. Well, I take that back. Horowitz and Kitsis claimed that Emma had “stepped over the line” by killing Cruella. The problem is that they never made the effort to clarify their comment – not to the fans or on the show. I have noticed that the only times Emma’s actions were really criticized happened during late Season Three when she was determined to upset the Charming family dynamics by returning to New York City with Henry.

Then . . . Emma has become “the Dark One”. Through an act of noble sacrifice. UGH! Kitsis and Horowitz spent most of Season Four building up to how unpleasant Emma could be . . . and ended it all in a nice bow tie with forgiveness toward her parents’ perfidy. And what did they do next? Allowed Emma to become “the Dark One” through an act of sacrifice. This whole story arc would have been more interesting if Emma’s Season Four descent into evil could have ended with her falling under “the Dark One” curse via her own emotions or acts. But noooooo! Once again, the possibility in revealing how low Emma can sink winds up being pushed aside or in this case, sugar coated.

When will “ONCE UPON A TIME” be willing to expose Emma’s true potential for evil without resorting to vague or evasive storytelling, or possession by magical entity? They managed to do so with her parents, Snow White and David, Prince Charming during late Season Four. The show finally had a big chance to explore Emma’s less than sterling qualities in early Season Five, thanks to her actions as “the Dark One”. However, by the second half of Season Five, the Charmings had blamed her actions on “the Dark One” curse and swept her acts under the table . . . as usual. Worse, many fans had decided to condemn Killian Jones aka Captain Hook’s actions after Emma had transformed him into a Dark One and ignore her own actions.

There is still a chance for Emma to become a more interesting character if Horowitz and Kitsis would allow this to eventually happen in Season Six. But I have a deep suspicion that the series will end before the two show runners would be willing to do so.

Bigos

Below is an article about the Polish dish known as Bigos:

BIGOS

When one mentions hunter’s stew, dishes such as Burgoo, or Bruinswick Stew usually comes to mind. But there is one hunter’s stew that dates back even further. I am referring to Bigos, which is a dish that originated in the Eastern European countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine.

The dish dates back to the medieval era and can trace its roots to fourteenth century Poland. The ironic thing is that the dish’s originator was not Polish. In fact, his name was Jogaila, a Lithuanian Grand Duke who became the Polish king Władysław Jagiełło in 1385. He had created the dish – namely a hunter’s stew – for his guests at a hunting party, after he had ascended the Polish throne. The name “bigos” allegedly means “confusion”, “big mess” or “trouble” in Polish. However, Polish linguists trace the word “bigos” to a German origin. The PWN Dictionary of Foreign Words speculates that it derives from the past participle begossen of a German verb that means “to douse”. And Bigos was usually doused with wine in earlier years.

Bigos usually consists of white cabbage, sauerkraut, various cuts of meat, tomatoes, honey and mushrooms. For those who do not eat meat or do not have any available, Bigos can be prepared without it. And it can be prepared without the white cabbage. But sauerkraut is absolutely essential. The type of meat found in Bigos can be smoked pork, ham, bacon, sausage, veal and beef. However, since Bigos is a hunter’s stew, meats such as venison, rabbit or other game can usually be found, as well. The stew is usually seasoned with pepper, caraway, bay leaf, marjoram, dried or smoked plums, pimenta, juniper berries and red wine. Bigos is usually served with mashed potatoes or rye bread.

Below is a recipe for Bigos from the Simplyrecipe.com website:

Bigos

Ingredients

1 ounce dried porcini or other wild mushrooms
2 Tbsp bacon fat or vegetable oil
2 pounds pork shoulder
1 large onion, chopped
1 head cabbage (regular, not savoy or red), chopped
1 1/2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms
1-2 pounds kielbasa or other smoked sausage
1 smoked ham hock
1 pound fresh Polish sausage (optional)
1 25-ounce jar of fresh sauerkraut (we recommend Bubbies, which you may be able to find in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket)
1 bottle of pilsner or lager beer
1 Tbsp juniper berries (optional)
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
2 Tbsp dried marjoram
Salt
20 prunes, sliced in half (optional)
2 Tbsp tomato paste (optional)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (optional)
1-2 Tbsp mustard or horseradish (optional)

Preparation

Pour hot tap water over the dried mushrooms and submerge them for 20-40 minutes, or until soft. Grind or crush the juniper berries and black peppercorns roughly; you don’t want a powder. Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, about 2 inches. Cut the sausages into similar-sized chunks. Drain the sauerkraut and set aside. Clean off any dirt from the mushrooms and cut them into large pieces; leave small ones whole.

Heat the bacon fat or vegetable oil in a large lidded pot for a minute or two. Working in batches if necessary, brown the pork shoulder over medium-high heat. Do not crowd the pan. Set the browned meat aside.

Put the onion and fresh cabbage into the pot and sauté for a few minutes, stirring often, until the cabbage is soft. Sprinkle a little salt over them. The vegetables will give off plenty of water, and when they do, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot. If you are making the tomato-based version, add the tomato paste here. Once the pot is clean and the cabbage and onions soft, remove from the pot and set aside with the pork shoulder.

Add the mushrooms and cook them without any additional oil, stirring often, until they release their water. Once they do, sprinkle a little salt on the mushrooms. When the water is nearly all gone, add back the pork shoulder, the cabbage-and-onion mixture, and then everything else except the prunes. Add the beer, if using, or the tomato sauce if you’re making the tomato-based version. Stir well to combine.

You should not have enough liquid to submerge everything. That’s good: Bigos is a “dry” stew, and besides, the ingredients will give off more liquid as they cook. Bring everything to a simmer, cover the pot and cook gently for at least 2 hours.

Bigos is better the longer it cooks, but you can eat it once the ham hock falls apart. Check at 2 hours, and then every 30 minutes after that. When the hock is tender, fish it out and pull off the meat and fat from the bones Discard the bones and the fat, then chop the meat roughly and return to the pot. Add the prunes and cook until they are tender, at least 30 more minutes.

Bigos is best served simply, with rye bread and a beer. If you want a little kick, add the mustard or horseradish right before you eat it. Bigos improves with age, too, which is why this recipe makes so much: Your leftovers will be even better than the stew was on the first day.

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery II

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro from the third and fourth seasons of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME” and the 2013-2014 series, “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND”:

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery II
The Ladies

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Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and David try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Jones (Captain Hook) set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Isaac Heller aka the Author and Rumpelstiltskin.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences, and Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

“CASHELMARA” (1974) Book Review

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“CASHELMARA” (1974) Book Review

My experiences with novels by Susan Howatch are rather limited. If I must be honest, I have only finished three of her novels. I tried reading two other novels – “THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT” (1977) and the first novel in The Starbridge Series, “GLITTERING IMAGES” (1987). However, I could not maintain any interest in the last two novels. Neither focused upon the history of an upper-class British family, which happened to be my main interest when I was in my late teens and early twenties.

One of the three novels I did finish was 1974’s “CASHELMARA”, a saga that focused upon an Anglo-Irish family called the De Salis. The story began in 1859 when Edward Baron de Salis journeyed to antebellum New York City to visit his late wife’s cousins, the Marriotts; and ends some 32 years later in 1891 with his grandson Edward, resorting to extraordinary means to regain control of the family’s Irish estate called Cashelmara. During this 32 year journey, readers become acquainted with six main characters and a fascinating cast of supporting characters that add to Howatch’s tale.

Before reading “CASHELMARA”, one has to understand that it is one of three novels that are based upon one of the British Royal Family’s royal houses – that of the Plantagenets. The 1971 novel, “PENMARRIC” focused on characters based upon the Plantagenet line that stretched from King Henry II to one of his younger sons, King John. However, Howatch skimped a generation and decided to continue her focus on the Plantagenet line with John’s grandson, King Edward I and finished the novel with a character based upon the latter’s grandson, King Edward III. “CASHELMARA” is divided into six segments. Those segments are narrated by the following characters:

*Edward, Baron de Salis – a middle-aged English aristocrat and owner of both Woodhammer Hall (in England) and Cashelmara (based upon King Edward I)
*Marguerite Marriott, Baroness de Salis – a 17-18 year-old adolescent from a wealthy New York family who becomes Edward’s second wife (based upon Margaret of France, later Edward I’s second consort)
*Patrick, Baron de Salis – Edward’s only surviving son, who loses Woodhammer Hall ten years after his father’s death via gambling debts (based upon King Edward II)
*Sarah Marriott, Baroness de Salis – Marguerite’s oldest niece and Patrick’s wife (based upon Isabella of France, later Edward II’s consort)
*Maxwell Drummond – an Irish tenant farmer on the Cashelmara estate, who becomes Sarah’s lover and Patrick’s enemy (based upon Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Isabella’s lover)
*Edward “Ned”, Baron de Salis – Patrick and Sarah’s oldest son (based upon King Edward III)

Another aspect about “CASHELMARA” that Howatch fans might find fascinating is that “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”could be considered a direct sequel to the former novel. Remember . . . “CASHELMARA” ended with Ned as the novel’s narrator. And Ned is supposed to be based upon Edward III. “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” began with Robert Goodwin, who is based upon Edward the Black Prince, Edward III’s oldest son. Since Robert’s father was still alive in the first half of the 1984 novel, this means that Howatch based two characters on Edward III – Ned de Salis and “Bobby” Goodwin. Really, one might as well view “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” as more of a direct sequel to “CASHELMARA” than“PENMARRIC”. In fact, Bobby Goodwin’s background story in the 1984 novel is practically a re-enactment of what happened between Ned and his parents, Patrick and Sarah in “CASHELMARA”, but with a few changes.

How do I feel about “CASHELMARA”? I thought Howatch had created a very fascinating tale. On one level, she took a family saga and placed it within a setting that gave readers a look at how British Imperial policy worked in Ireland. And we saw this policy in motion via the viewpoint of an aristocratic family – except for the Maxwell Drummond character. And although there are many novels set within the British Empire – even in Ireland – “CASHELMARA” is probably the only one that I can recall that had been written by Howatch. More importantly, Howatch’s description of the Cashelmara estate left a stark image in my mind that I found rather interesting. It was interesting that half of the major characters regarded the Irish estate with a negative view. The other three major characters seemed to have different views of Cashelmara. Edward de Salis seemed to have a mixed view of the estate. Cashelmara reminded him of the period he had enjoyed as a child. Yet at the same time, it stood as a reminder of his failure to offer genuine help to his tenants during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Ironically, the de Salis family and their tenants would find themselves facing another famine over thirty years later. Maxwell Drummond seemed to regard Cashelmara as a symbol of his ambition to become a landowner and a gentleman. And he would try to achieve these goals through Sarah with disastrous results. As far as Ned de Salis was concerned, Cashelmara was his home, and a family legacy that he would go through great lengths to regain. After all, his father Patrick had lost the family’s English estate, Woodhammer Hall, sometime before his birth.

Most of the novel proved to be interesting in its own right. The first two segments – narrated by Edward de Salis and his second wife, Marguerite – also proved to be interesting. Howatch did an excellent job in painting a portrait of both antebellum New York City and mid-Victorian England at the end of the 1850s and into the 1860s. Readers got a peek into Edward’s fascination with his future bride, along with his the disappointment he felt regarding his children. But I especially enjoyed Marguerite’s narration. I found it interesting to read how this 18 year-old girl struggled to maintain a healthy and happy marriage with a man over thirty years her senior. Marguerite’s narration also revealed the struggles that she had to endure as an American in a foreign country. Between others – including her husband – making assumptions about her American nationality, dealing with the British high society’s reactions to the American Civil War, and struggling to act as a mediator between Edward and her stepchildren; the 1860s proved to be somewhat difficult for Marguerite. However, being a strong-willed young woman in her own right, she survived.

Also, I found “CASHELMARA” to be the most disturbing tale of the three family sagas written by the author. What made this novel so disturbing? It has to be the marriage between Patrick and Sarah de Salis. Howatch based their marriage on the lives of Edward II and his wife, Isabella. But from what I have read, the private lives of the Plantagenet monarch and his consort were not as disturbing as the marriage between Patrick and Sarah. The novel’s third segment, told from Patrick’s point-of-view, revealed their courtship and the first four years of their marriage. It also revealed how Sarah’s spending and especially Patrick’s gambling habits managed to dwindle away his fortune. Their financial problems had only added to the existing strain caused by Patrick’s continuing friendship with his childhood friend, Derry Stranahan. But the segment narrated by Sarah also proved to be the novel’s nadir in terms of what occurred and how low her marriage to Patrick had sunk. And for Sarah and Patrick, their marriage had sunk to alcoholism and loss of property for him; imprisonment and rape for her. Despite the ugliness that permeated Sarah’s segment, the latter also proved to be one of the two most interesting in the novel.

Like “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”, the novel’s last segment proved to be the most difficult for me. Narrated by Sarah and Patrick’s oldest child, Ned, I had some difficulty relating to the character. Perhaps Ned was simply too young. After all, he aged from thirteen to seventeen or eighteen years old during this last segment. But I recall that one of the segments of “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” had been narrated by a character named Christopher “Kester” Goodwin, who aged from nine to nineteen years old. I had no problems with the Kester character from “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”, but I did with the Ned de Salis character. Why? Perhaps I did not find him that fascinating. Or perhaps I found his penchant to view his father as a hero, Maxwell Drummond as a villain and his mother as a stooge for Drummond a little too simple for me to stomach. I find it difficult to relate to characters who harbor one-dimensional views about life and other people. And because Howatch ensured that Ned never learned what his mother had endured at the hands of Patrick and the latter’s lover/estate manager, Hugh McGowan, I found my ability to relate to him even more difficult.

I have read some reviews of “CASHELMARA’ and discovered that a good number of readers managed to enjoy this family saga very much. Only a handful seemed to regard the characters as unsympathetic and not worthy of their interest. I believe that a first-rate author could create a sympathetic character with unpleasant traits, if he or she had a mind to do so. Susan Howatch certainly managed to create some very interesting characters – aside from one – for“CASHELMARA”. She also created a first-rate family saga that still remains fresh after forty-one years.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: The Frustration of an Outlaw Queen Shipper

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: THE FRUSTRATION OF AN OUTLAW QUEEN SHIPPER

The latest plot development of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” has left me in a state of frustration. This plot development . . . or twist has to do with the relationship between the characters Mayor Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen and Robin Hood aka Robin of Locksley. And the ironic thing is that my frustration is not centered on the actual plot twist, but has a good deal to do with the fan reaction to it.

I guess we all know what happened. In a previous episode called (4.17) “Heart of Gold”, Regina learned from her former mentor, Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin that not only was her half-sister Zelena aka the Wicked Witch of the West was still alive, she had been impersonating Maid Marian since the second half of the Season Three episode, (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”. After being defeated by Regina in (3.20) “Kansas”, Zelena was murdered by a vengeful Rumpelstiltskin, who wanted her dead in retaliation for his son’s death. However, after stabbing Zelena, the latter transformed into essence and eventually opened the time portal she had planned to use to wipe Regina, Snow White, Emma and young Henry Mills from existence. Zelena reformed into human shape in the Enchanted Forest past and followed Emma and Killian Jones aka Captain Hook around. She saw that Emma had decided to change the timeline and save the real Maid Marian from execution on the Evil Queen’s order. Zelena took the opportunity to kill Marian when Emma and Hook were distracted and allow them to drag her to Storybrooke and the 21st century.

In (4.11) “Heroes and Villains”, “Marian” decided that she no longer wanted to be with Robin, since he seemed to be very much in love with Regina. However, the Snow Queen’s freezing spell, which was cast on Zelena in (4.03) “Rocky Road”, began affecting the latter . . . despite the former’s death in the previous episode, (4.10) “Shattered Sight”. Regina insisted that she and Robin end their romance for good and for him to accompany “Marian” out of Storybrooke to take care of her and Roland. In “Heart of Gold”, both she and Rumpelstiltskin learned that “Marian” was Zelena. When Regina accompanied Emma on a road trip to find Maleficent’s daughter in (4.19) “Lily”, they end up in New York City. Regina managed to expose “Marian” as Zelena to a very surprised Robin. But she received her own surprise when Zelena revealed that she was pregnant with Robin’s child.

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Not only did this revelation send shock waves throughout the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom, it also exposed some very interesting reactions to this plot twist. Well . . . I did not find these fan reactions “interesting” per se, merely annoying. I was surprised by the number of hostile reactions directed at Robin by the show’s fans. Especially the Outlaw Queen (Regina/Robin) fans. They accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of bad writing. They labeled Zelena as something of a cross between a psychotic monster and a slut. But most of their hostility seemed to be directed at Robin. They accused him of stupidity, claiming that he should have known that his wife was not the real Maid Marian. They accused him of being betraying Regina’s love. Some idiots even accused Robin of being fickle in regard to his feelings about Regina. Some fans even wondered how Regina could ever forgive Robin for choosing to be with “Marian” over staying in Storybrooke with her. When I read these complaints and accusations, I could not help but shake my head in disbelief. Does anyone understand what a story is about? Anyone? Did anyone understand what kind of man Robin was . . . or the era that he came from?

I wonder how many of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fans were aware that Robin was not a veteran of the 21st century like Regina, the Charming family and most of Storybrooke’s citizens. Mind you, he had experienced the 21st century longer than “Marian” (let us assume for a brief moment that we are talking about the real Marian). That is why Regina had convinced him to leave Storybrooke with “Marian” and Roland in the first place. In her mind, “Marian” had no real experience with the 21st century – in Storybrooke and elsewhere. And Roland is a mere child. Regina believed and Robin realized that neither would have been able to survive the outside world on their own. It was either accompany “Marian” and Roland to New York or allow “Marian to die from Ingrid’s curse.

Did anyone ever understood the era that Robin came from? He came from a period in time that believed in honoring obligations. You know . . . . doing the right thing in the eyes of society, instead of doing what you want to do with no regard to the consequences. Even Regina came from that period, despite her questionable moral compass and three decades in late 20th and early 21st centuries Maine. When Zelena revealed her true identity to Rumpelstiltskin, she informed the latter that she had hoped to ruin Regina’s happiness by making Robin fall in love with her (as “Marian”). However, Zelena realized that she could not use Robin’s past life with Marian and simply seduce him. His feelings for Regina kept getting in the way. In fact, he spent a good deal of their initial time in New York mourning over the end of his relationship with Regina and causing a good deal of tension between him and “Marian”. In the end, it took conversations with both Zelena and Rumpelstiltskin to make Robin believe he had to put Regina behind him for good and try to rebuild his old family for the sake of peace. Zelena saw Regina’s image on Robin’s cell phone and went into a rant about how his feelings for Regina prevented them from trying to re-establish their lives together in New York (actually, I do wonder how long it took them to get to New York without a car). In other words, Zelena dumped a massive guilt trip on Robin. It did not help that Rumpelstiltskin’s advice about finding happiness wherever he can find it led Robin to believe that he needed to make due with what his life had provided and try to form a stable family life with “Marian” and Roland.

And when Robin found out that “Marian” was Zelena, in his mind he still could not leave her. Especially since he believes that she is pregnant with his child. I doubt very much that Robin cares for Zelena. Chances are he is probably upset that she had deceived him . . . and probably killed the real Marian. But he is also thinking of his unborn child . . . that is if Zelena is actually pregnant. I simply do not believe that Robin is the type of many who would shirk his own responsibilities. He is simply not the deadbeat type. He obviously feels obligated to take care of his unborn child, whether he wants to or not. Robin is nothing like Zelena’s own father, the gardener who had seduced and abandoned Cora after she became pregnant. And for this, along with his decision to take care of “Marian” and Roland in New York City, Robin is being criticized by many fans.

Personally, I find this anger toward Robin rather baffling. When the character was first introduced, no one had a problem with his “code of honor”, along with his open-mindedness (especially toward Regina). But when it got in the way of a“happily ever after” with Regina – THEIR decision that he needed leave Storybrooke with “Marian” and his refusal to give up on the child he had conceived with “Marian”/Zelena – they dumped all sorts or ire on the man. These fans want him to be a good man . . . as long as his moral code does not get in the way of what they conceive as a perfect romance with Regina. Hypocritical much? Worse, they are now questioning Robin’s true feelings for Regina. Why? Because he had moved past Regina . . . too fast. Robin never really moved past Regina. He simply adjusted to a new life and situation. He is still in love with her. Although it took him a while, Robin came to the conclusion that any kind of life with Regina will always be over as long as “Marian” remains affected by Ingrid’s spell. And since “Marian” is still his wife, with whom he still shares a son . . . This is how Zelena was finally able to garner some kind of affection and intimacy with him, after her previously failed efforts to get him to fall in love with her. And she was only able to achieve this, disguised as Marian. Now, she has an unborn child as a weapon to keep Regina and Robin apart. How long this will last, I have no idea.

Personally, I believe this whole situation with Robin and Zelena is karmic payback for Regina. She is paying the price for using the curse (along with Princess Abigail/Kathryn Nolan) to disrupt Snow and Charming’s relationship. Just as Snow and Charming are experiencing karmic payback for not only taking an unborn Lily, but for using it to manipulate Emma’s own moral compass. In fact, I suspect their earlier loss of Emma through the curse might be payback for kidnapping Lily. Even Emma has experienced karmic payback for giving away Henry (even though her action is not a crime). After all, he will never be completely hers. Never. The same could be said for Regina, who was responsible for the Charmings being forced to give up Emma. And for a brief moment, I believe Emma experienced karmic payback for car theft, when Lily drove away with the yellow Volkswagen bug – the same car that she and Neal had stolen in Portland. It remains to be seen if Emma and the other characters will experience consequences for their other questionable actions.

Following the news of Zelena’s pregnancy, cries that Outlaw Queen was through were posted on the Internet – despite the fact that the series’ run was far from over. These naysayers still believe that Robin needs to dump his “code of honor” in order to have a trouble-free relationship with Regina. They also accused Horowitz and Kitsis of transforming “ONCE UPON A TIME” into a soap opera. HUH? Who are they kidding? The series has always been a combination of a fantasy-adventure and SOAP OPERA. I mean . . . really! The number of bat-shit crazy story arcs and plot twists that have popped up on this show, since its debut in the Fall of 2011 is mind boggling. The most obvious aspect of this series’ soap operish trait is Henry Mills’ crazy family tree. His mother is the first born of Snow White and Prince Charming. His father is Rumpelstiltskin’s son. His step-grandmother is Belle (from “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”) His paternal grandfather is Peter Pan, who proved to be the most evil and selfish character on this show, so far. His adoptive mother and step-great-grandmother is the Evil Queen. Robin Hood almost became his adoptive father (and he still might by the series’ end). There is a chance that Captain Hook, who had an affair with his paternal grandmother, might become his stepfather. The Queen of Hearts (Cora Mills) is his adoptive grandmother. And the Wicked Witch of the West (Zelena Mills) is his adoptive aunt. I mean . . . what the fuck? Is this bat-shit crazy or what? How can any complain about the latest plot development between Robin and Zelena, when the series has been full of these crazy and soap operish plot twists since it began? Quality writing has never been the hallmark of this series.

Part of me suspect that today’s fans of movies, television and novels long for fictional romances that are trouble free? But why? What is it about today’s audiences that they cannot deal with any kind of emotional conflict or drama between a romantic couple? What is this stupid need for an established couple to be emotionally trouble free and only deal with external threats? It is just so fucking pathetic. It seems as if no one understand or appreciates real storytelling these days. I suspect this is what people really want:

“A couple or family are emotionally secure and lack any hints of moral ambiguity whatsoever. They never fight, make questionable judgments or endure emotional conflicts whatsoever. Instead, all of the conflicts they endure are from an external threat, which is quickly dealt with by the end of a television episode or a movie.

In other words, they want ideal relationships with not moral ambiguity whatsoever and quickly resolved story arcs. I cannot even count the number of times I have spotted comments by television, movie and literary fans on the Internet, who long for an idealized and trouble-free romance between two fictional characters. And I not only fear that storytellers – in all mediums – might give them what they want, but that today’s culture is really going down the drain.

It is rather ironic that when Regina and Robin finally became romantically involved in late Season Three, some fans had complained that their romance seemed a bit too rushed. I had suggested that their story might be far from over. Ever since Emma and Hook brought “Marian”/Zelena to Storybrooke, I proved to be right. But now, these same fans are complaining over the numerous ways that Horowitz and Kitsis seemed to be complicating Regina and Robin’s romance. I swear . . . people can be incredibly fickle.