A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 26

Z is for — Zorro, from Johnston McCulley’s classic adventure, The Mark of Zorro

Swish, swish, swish. Three flicks of the blade carve the infamous Z as Zorro leaves his mark on another adversary. Dressed all in black, his face hidden behind a black mask, the legendary hero of 1820s Spanish California rides to the rescue of the poor and oppressed, fighting injustice like a Robin Hood of the old west. Don Diego de la Vega, nobleman and wealthy landowner, plays the vapid fop in public while hiding his secret identity as the masked highwayman.

Zorro (Spanish for fox) was originally created by McCulley in 1919 as a five-part serialized story entitled The Curse of Capistrano — the nickname given Zorro by the corrupt politicians and soldiers for his constant bedeviling. The 1920 silent film with Douglas Fairbanks further popularized the tale. McCulley penned over 60 stories of the adventures of Zorro, and the character has since been immortalized in many other film and novel and television adaptations.

I always liked the Disney TV series with Guy Williams that originally ran from 1957 to 1959. I remember watching the reruns as I was growing up. I’ve also seen the 1920 Fairbanks movie and both movies with Antonio Banderas, from 1998 and 2005. On my to-be-watched list are the 1940 film with Tyrone Power, the 1990s series with Duncan Regehr, and some of the animated versions.

Best of all, though, I liked the Queen of Swords — Zorro with a twist: a female swordswoman in a black mask, fighting injustice in early 19th century Spanish California. The TV series with Tessie Santiago ran for one season from 2000 to 2001. Given the scarcity of female sword-wielding action heroes, I so wish it had run longer.

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Tessie Santiago as Tessa Alvarado in The Queen of Swords

Tessie Santiago as Tessa Alvarado in
The Queen of Swords

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 25

Y is for — Yoda, Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Such were the wise words of Yoda, legendary Jedi Master in George Lucas’ blockbuster film, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda wants Luke Skywalker to lift Luke’s X-wing fighter space ship out of a swamp, using the Force, a sort of mystical energy that permeates everything. A skeptical Luke says he will try, at which point Yoda utters his profound words. When Luke fails to raise the ship and gives up, saying it can’t be done, Yoda calmly and very easily raises it out the muck himself, proving that it can, indeed, be done.

Yoda is one of my favorite characters from the original Star Wars saga. Small, green, and wizened, he is a wonderful blend of wisdom, humor, and inner strength — a formidable opponent of the Dark Side. No one knows exactly what he is. His species and origin have never been revealed. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Yoda is actually a puppet, voiced and performed by Frank Oz, the man behind Muppets Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover from Sesame Street.

Yoda’s nuggets of wisdom and manner of speech (“When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.” Return of the Jedi) are instantly recognizable, even by many who’ve never seen the Star Wars movies. Of all Yoda’s famous quotes, I like best “Do or do not. There is no try.” Very inspirational to me it is.

Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Yoda from
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 24

X is for — Xena, Warrior Princess

As I’ve mentioned (probably too many times now), I love a good swashbuckling adventure with lots of action and sword fighting — particularly sword fighting. And I’ve found many books, movies, and TV shows with exciting sword fights and duels. The problem is that most of the time it’s the men who get to have all the fun. Female swordswomen, other than Red Sonja and Athos’ Musketeer daughter, are few and far between, which is why I like Xena. She’s strong and fierce and can handle a sword as well as, if not better than, any man out there.

Xena, Warrior Princess was a TV series spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys with Kevin Sorbo, that ran from 1995 to 2001. In her past, Xena, played by Lucy Lawless, was a ruthless warrior and warlord, but at the start of the series, she has renounced her cruel and power-hungry ways and turned to the side of good. She travels through a fictional world of ancient Greece and surrounding areas, along with her sidekick and conscience Gabrielle, played by Renee O’Connor. Xena seeks to redeem herself for her past evils by helping the weak and oppressed. Her new chosen path isn’t easy. Sometimes she struggles with her inner demons and teeters on the brink of reverting to her old ways, but Gabrielle’s influence keeps her going in the right direction.

I liked Xena, Warrior Princess, not just because of the sword fighting and adventure, but also because of the camaraderie between Xena and Gabrielle, the humor, and the quirky supporting characters that added so much to the show.

One interesting bit of trivia: Xena executive producer Sam Raimi also directed the Spider-man trilogy, the Evil Dead series, and Oz the Great and Powerful, among other things. His younger brother, Ted Raimi, played the recurring role of Joxer in Xena.

If anyone knows of other movies/TV shows with female sword fighters, please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for more.

Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O'Connor as Gabrielle from Xena, Warrior Princess Photo Credit: Hercules/Xena wiki

Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle
from Xena, Warrior Princess
Photo Credit: Hercules/Xena wiki

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 23

W is for — Wonder Woman, superheroine from DC Comics

Warrior, superhero, Amazon princess. The character of Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman, was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston and published in DC Comics in the early 1940s. In the original story arc, she is the daughter of Hippolyte, Amazon queen, who presides over the race of warrior women on Paradise Island (Themyscira). Diana’s life changes forever when Captain Steve Trevor crashes his plane on the island. While nursing him back to health, Diana falls in love with him. She wins the right to take Trevor back to the world of Men and remains in that world, fighting evil.

As a member of the Justice League, Wonder Woman fights alongside Superman, Batman, and a host of other superheroes, battling villains with her super strength and speed and hand-to-hand combat skills, as well as her Lasso of Truth, indestructible bracelets, and boomerang-like, razor-sharp tiara.

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of the superhero genre, Wonder Woman was my one exception. I followed her storyline in the Justice League and Super Friends cartoons as a kid, and later enjoyed the TV series that aired from 1975 to 1979 with Lynda Carter.

I love Wonder Woman’s strength and her ability to take care of herself. No damsel in distress is she. She can kick butt with the best of them, yet she’s also warm, caring, and compassionate toward the human race, and tirelessly works to protect them from the never-ending evils of the world. A worthy superhero, indeed.

Wonder Woman from the DC Animated Universe

Wonder Woman
from the DC Animated Universe

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 22

V is for — Velma Dinkley, from the Scooby Doo cartoons

When I was growing up, I loved Saturday morning Scooby Doo. The original series, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, ran from 1969 to 1970. Mystery solvers, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their Great Dane, Scooby Doo, traveled to various places in their psychedelically-painted van, the Mystery Machine. Wherever they went, strange things happened, and Fred would invariably say, “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.” Or words to that effect. Then the gang would set about gathering clues and solving the mystery.

Velma was the smartest of the group, always figuring out whodunit by the end of the show. “Jinkies!” — her catchphrase — prefaced many a startling discovery or sudden “monster” appearance that sent everyone scrambling. Her one Achilles’ heel was her glasses, which she was forever losing at the most inopportune moment, usually when she was about to run into the ghost or whatever villainous creature they were investigating at the time. And as anyone who has ever watched Scooby Doo knows, she can’t see a thing without her glasses!

The Scooby Doo show went through several incarnations over the years, including animated movies and live-action feature films. I haven’t seen any of the live-action films because I just don’t think they can compare to the cartoons I loved so much. My favorite animated Scooby Doo series are the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, the New Scooby Doo Movies with celebrity guest stars (1972-1974), and What’s New, Scooby Doo? (2005-2006).

One of the funniest episodes is A Terrifying Round with a Menacing Metallic Clown, from season three of What’s New, Scooby Doo?. Velma, who is terrified of clowns, swaps roles with the cowardly Shaggy, who wants the mystery solved so he can continue his mini-golf tournament and win the championship. He boldly analyzes the clues and takes on the monstrous clown, while Velma cowers and runs. Other favorites include, from the New Scooby Doo Movies, Episode #15: The Caped Crusader Caper with Batman and Robin and the gang helping a hilariously stuttering professor, and Episode #17: The Mystery of Haunted Island with the Globetrotters.

Velma

Velma

Fred, Velma, Scooby Doo, Shaggy, and Daphne

Fred, Velma, Scooby Doo, Shaggy, and Daphne

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 21

U is for — Queen Upsteeplebat, from Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series

When I first read the name Queen Upsteeplebat, I thought to myself, What kind of a name is that? Being a reader of fantasy and science fiction, I’ve run across some odd names before, but that has to be one of the strangest. And such a huge, long name for such a tiny person. “Her Exquisite and Unforgotten Majesty,” Queen Upsteeplebat is the leader of the Rooftoppers, a race of little people similar to Lilliputians or Mary Norton’s Borrowers. They live in the towers and forgotten places of Shadowmarch Castle. Rooftopper warriors ride trained mice and wear nutshell armor and helmets made from bird skulls. The queen rides a white dove and her regal bearing commands respect from everyone, large or small. Williams describes her thus: She “rode directly between the dove’s wings with her legs curled beneath her and the reins little more than a sparkling cobweb in her hands. Her gown was brown and gray, rich with ornament, and her hair was dark red.” She “was not so much pretty as handsome, with a fine, strong-boned face and eyes that looked up … without any discernible fear.”

Queen Upsteeplebat and the Rooftoppers meet with one of the Funderlings (Dwarf-like people) to warn him of the evil that is rising beneath Shadowmarch Castle. Beetledown the Bowman, a Rooftopper gutter-scout, aids the Funderlings and is instrumental in dealing a crippling blow to the enemy in the final battle in the fourth book of the series, Shadowheart. Though the Rooftoppers are supporting characters rather than main characters, I found them endearing and more interesting than most of the other characters in the books. Their bravery and sacrifice equaled that of those a hundred times their size.

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 20

T is for — TinTin, from The Adventures of TinTin by Belgian cartoonist Herge

I’d never heard of TinTin until my family and I saw the Steven Spielberg / Peter Jackson movie The Adventures of TinTin that hit theaters in 2011. Such a wonderful blend of action and comedy! We enjoyed it immensely. Afterward, we hit the library and looked up the books on which the movie was based and discovered a new favorite author. Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, under the pseudonym of Herge, had written over twenty comic-book-style books relating the many adventures of TinTin and his faithful dog, Snowy.

TinTin, a young Belgian reporter, investigates news stories all over the world, and, along with Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and the bumbling detective duo, Thomson and Thompson, heroically takes down the villains. The books were written from the 1930s through the 1970s, and though they are exciting and funny, they aren’t always politically correct, so be warned if you read them.

The Spielberg / Jackson movie was based on three of Herge’s books: The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944), and The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941). A sequel to the TinTin movie, The Adventures of TinTin: Prisoners of the Sun, is due out in 2016. I can’t wait to see it.

Professor Calculus, Captain Haddock, TinTin, Thomson & Thompson, Bianca Castafiore, and Snowy from Herge's The Adventures of TinTin

Professor Calculus, Captain Haddock, TinTin, Thomson & Thompson, Bianca Castafiore, and Snowy
from Herge’s The Adventures of TinTin

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 19

S is for — Severus Snape, from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Out of all the many characters in Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the most complex and interesting was Severus Snape. Potions Master, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (briefly), Half-blood Prince, member of the Order of the Phoenix, Death-Eater. Snape had many titles, but I would add another: Hero. Unbeknownst to everyone but Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Snape walked a razor line between the Order of the Phoenix and the side of good, and Voldemort and the evil Death-Eaters, working tirelessly to keep Harry Potter alive because of his deep love for Harry’s mother, Lily. Yes, he initially chose the wrong path toward darkness, but the strength of his love redeemed him and brought him back from the edge of evil.

It’s no wonder he chose the dark path, considering his childhood of neglect and abuse and the bullying he suffered from James Potter (Harry’s father) and Sirius Black. They tormented him for no reason other than his unkemptness and outcast personality and his friendship with Lily, in whom James had an interest. After the bullying was revealed via Harry’s sneaking a look at Snape’s memories in the Pensieve in The Order of the Phoenix, I disliked James Potter as much as Snape did. When Harry asked Sirius about the episode, Sirius’ only excuse was that James was 15 and “A lot of people are idiots at the age of 15.” Well, I’m sorry, but being 15 is no excuse for bad behavior, and there is NO excuse for bullying, period.

After that episode, I really wanted Harry to man up and apologize to Snape for his father’s behavior. I don’t know if it would have made a difference in Snape’s treatment of Harry because Snape’s hatred of James was so deep-seated, but it seemed like the right thing to do, and I would have gained respect for Harry if he’d done it. As it was, I lost some respect for him and James and Sirius, and my opinion of them was forever colored by that incident.

Snape lived a lonely and difficult life, completely reviled and misunderstood, yet he had courage and strength of character and such capacity for love. His love for Lily, though unrequited, saved his soul. I mourned his tragic end and wondered what he would have been like if he’d had a secure and loving childhood and if Lily had loved him back. Sadly, I’ll never know.

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series Photo Credit: Harry Potter Wikia

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
in the Harry Potter series
Photo Credit: Harry Potter Wikia

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 18

R is for — Robin Hood, legendary outlaw and hero of Sherwood Forest

When someone mentions Robin Hood, my first thought is of the 1938 movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. I love their portrayals of Robin and Maid Marian, and there’s enough action and sword fighting for a rousing good time. Heroes of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and his Merry Men battle the evil Prince John and his thugs, Guy of Gisbourne and the cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham, protecting the weak and stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

As much as I love the movie, I like the book even more. I read Paul Creswick’s 1917 edition, which differs quite a bit from the movie and gives an in-depth portrayal of Robin of Locksley’s life from a young boy, through adulthood, to his sad end. The rich details and background make his story that much more compelling. The reader gets to see what made him the man he was.

According to the legend, Robin of Locksley lived during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart, who ruled England in the Middle Ages, during the twelfth century. It’s not known for certain if the legend is based on fact or fancy, but it’s the kind of story that everyone wants to believe in — where good triumphs over evil and tyranny is thrown down.

I’ve enjoyed many versions of the Robin Hood story over the years, from books, movies, and even cartoons. The most outlandish adaptation was Rocket Robin Hood, a Canadian cartoon that aired in the late 1960s and had Robin and his merry band fighting Prince John in outer space on the New Sherwood Planet Asteroid in the year 3000. My favorite version, and by far the funniest, is the 1958 Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies Robin Hood Daffy, with Daffy Duck in the title role and Porky Pig as Friar Tuck. I’ve seen it a thousand times, and it still makes me giggle like I did when I first saw it as a kid. For those who like cartoons, here’s a link to it.

Robin Hood Daffy

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 17

Q is for — Jonny Quest, from the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon

I loved watching Saturday morning cartoons when I was growing up. It was so much fun to sit on the couch in my pjs and laugh to the likes of Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, the Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, and the Funky Phantom, to name a few.

One of my all-time favorites was Jonny Quest. Jonny Quest was different — full of excitement and adventure with much more realism and a fascinating scientific/techno slant. Jonny; his father, scientist Dr. Benton Quest; bodyguard Race Bannon; Hadji, an Indian boy adopted into the family; and cute dog Bandit traveled all over the world, usually either for Dr. Quest’s work or to investigate some dangerous or top secret situation that required his expertise. And what was really neat was that they used all these nifty gadgets like jet packs, videophone communicators, and hover crafts that were on the cutting edge of technology or beyond, at the time.

The cartoons weren’t without controversy, however. Some people objected to the use of firearms in the shows, the scary-looking monsters, and the dangerous and intense situations the Quest group ended up in, as well as the fact that some characters, mostly bad guys, actually died. It is NOT a cartoon for young children.

But for me, a tween craving adventure, the shows were thrilling trips to exotic locations, where peril and intrigue abounded, and kids my own age (Jonny and Hadji were 11) were right in the middle of the action. Humor lightened many of the episodes, and the strong family dynamic between the Quests, Hadji, and Race Bannon anchored them.

My favorites are Episode #3: The Curse of Anubis, about a cursed Egyptian tomb; Episode #1: Mystery of the Lizard Men, about villains using laser to destroy a moon rocket; and Episode #20: The Invisible Monster, about a rampaging creature made of electrical energy. The first two are exciting and funny, the third, eerily suspenseful.

My one complaint about the show (and my daughter’s, as well) is that there aren’t any girls. I would have liked it even more if Jonny had had a sister that shared in his escapades. As it is, the only female character that takes part in their adventures is Jade, a former love of Race Bannon’s with a shady past, and she only appears twice out of 26 episodes. Jonny’s mother died sometime in the past and is never mentioned.

A reboot of the show, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, made in the late 1990s, included the new character of Jessie Bannon, purportedly Race Bannon and Jade’s daughter. Unfortunately, I found this version to be a major disappointment with plots that were less coherent, less believable, and much darker, with little, if any, humor and without the warmth of the family unit so prominent in the original.

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The Quest team from the 1964-1965 television series. Front row (left to right): Dr. Benton Quest and Roger "Race" Bannon. Back row: Jonny Quest, Hadji, and Bandit

The Quest team from the 1964-1965 television series. Front row (left to right): Dr. Benton Quest and Roger “Race” Bannon. Back row: Jonny Quest, Hadji, and Bandit
Photo Credits: Wikipedia