A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 16

P is for — Sir Percy Blakeney, from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I love adventure stories. The Scarlet Pimpernel is another exciting adventure set in England and France during the French Revolution. Many, many aristocrats — men, women, and children — have been sent to the guillotine, regardless of whether or not they’ve personally oppressed the poor. All French aristocrats are guilty in the eyes of the lower classes and must pay the price. Sir Percy Blakeney, an English nobleman and master of disguise, daringly rescues innocent people bound for the guillotine and smuggles them to safety in England. His calling card — the seal of a small, star-shaped, red flower: a scarlet pimpernel. Acting the brainless fop in public, he engages in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the leaders of the Revolution who are determined to catch him.

I love the 1982 movie version with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen (pre-Gandalf). Even though it’s a made-for-TV-movie, it’s a great swashbuckler with sword fights and daring escapes, beautiful costumes, and first-rate performances by the lead actors. I haven’t yet seen the 1934 movie with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, but I’ve read good things about it and have it high up on my to-be-watched list.

P_ScarletPimpernelBookCover

P_ScarletPimpernelMovie

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 15

O is for — Odysseus, from Homer’s The Odyssey

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy.”

I had to memorize those first four lines, along with some other passages, in one of my high school English classes, some thirty-plus years ago. To this day, I can still recite the first two lines from memory, which amazes me since half the time, I can’t remember what day of the week it is.

This is another one of those books I had fully expected to dislike or be bored with. But the more I read, the more I realized the poetic translation from the Greek original wasn’t that difficult to understand, and the exciting adventure it told made the reading well worth the effort. Who can forget Odysseus’ battles with Polyphemus the Cyclops, or the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis? His ten-year struggle to return home after the fall of Troy is truly epic.

The story has been brought to the big screen a number of times with varying results. I enjoyed the 1954 version, entitled Ulysses (Odysseus in Roman mythology), with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn. The movie takes liberties with the book as all movies do, but it’s still an entertaining production. From what I’ve read, the 1997 TV miniseries, The Odyssey, with Armand Assante is also quite good. It’s currently on my very long to-be-watched list.

O_OdysseyBook

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 14

N is for — Nancy Drew, from the Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene

I first discovered Nancy Drew when I was nine years old. My mom had eight of the old titles on the shelf, having enjoyed them, herself, when she was a youngster. I picked up The Secret of the Old Clock, the first book in the series, and was immediately drawn into the mystery and excitement of a missing will, a trail of clues, and a frightening encounter with a gang of robbers. From there, I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on, eventually reading all the way up through the first fifty-six Grosset and Dunlap editions.

Nancy Drew has only grown in popularity, engendering many spin-offs for varying age groups, such as the Nancy Drew Files, Nancy Drew Notebooks, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, and Nancy Drew Girl Detective, to name a few, along with crossover titles with those detective brothers, the Hardy Boys. There’ve been movies, a TV series, (which I also loved), and now computer games, which my daughter loves (and I find fun, too!). My daughter is following in my footsteps and working her way through the original series from the beginning, and she’s read some of the other series, as well.

That’s what I like most about Nancy Drew — my family has solved mysteries along with her for three generations, and will hopefully continue to do so for many more.

Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, 1977-1979

Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew in
The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, 1977-1979

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N_NancyDrew_8Books

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 13

M is for — Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Commander and Chief Engineer on the Starship Enterprise

I’ve always been a fan of the original Star Trek series that ran from 1966 to 1969. Captain James. T. Kirk and his intrepid crew aboard the USS Enterprise boldly went “where no man had gone before.” Even though the “big three” of Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were the major players on the show, my favorite character was Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, played by James Doohan. I loved his Scottish brogue and his wry sense of humor. His technical wizardry kept the starship together and pulled the captain and crew’s bacon out of the fire many times. The dramatic exchanges between Kirk and Scotty over engine and transporter troubles were every bit as suspenseful as what was going on outside the ship.

In my favorite episode, The Doomsday Machine, Captain Kirk plans to use a crippled starship, the USS Constellation, as a bomb to destroy a cone-shaped machine that has been roaming through the galaxy, obliterating entire planets. Kirk pilots the Constellation toward the open maw of the machine and triggers the detonator, giving his crew aboard the Enterprise thirty seconds to beam him off the Constellation, back to his own ship. But an earlier attack by the machine damaged the Enterprise’s transporter, and it malfunctions. Scotty races the clock to fix the transporter to save Kirk before the Constellation explodes. No matter how many times I watch the episode, I’m still on the edge of my seat at the end.

Never seeking higher rank, Scotty is happy just being an engineer and taking care of the Enterprise. Two of his funniest moments come in my second-favorite episode, The Trouble with Tribbles. Some of the Enterprise crew, with Scotty in charge, and some crew members from an enemy Klingon ship are taking shore leave on the same space station, under an uneasy truce. Lieutenant Commander Scott has been given strict instructions to keep order and not let anyone in his charge pick a fight with the Klingons. In the hilarious scene that follows, Scotty, himself, starts a brawl, not when the Klingons insult his captain, but when they insult his beloved ship. The end of the episode is equally funny when Scotty finds the perfect solution to getting rid of the rapidly proliferating Tribbles — living, purring furballs that love humans but hate Klingons as much as the Klingons hate them. I can’t watch the show without smiling.

An interesting note about James Doohan — he lost a finger when he was seriously wounded in battle on D-Day, 1944. As a result, he hid his hand during the filming of the show and only on rare occasions was the maimed hand visible. One of those occasions was in the Tribbles episode.

James Doohan as Lt. Commander and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott from Star Trek Photo Credit: en.memory-alpha.org/wiki

James Doohan as Lt. Commander and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott from Star Trek
Photo Credit: en.memory-alpha.org/wiki

The USS Constellation about to enter the Doomsday Machine

The USS Constellation about to enter
the Doomsday Machine

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Scotty with an armload of tribbles Photo Credit: Startrek.com

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Scotty
with an armload of tribbles
Photo Credit: Startrek.com

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 12

L is for — two Lucys: Lucy Pevensie and Lucy Waring from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic.

After reading the Chronicles of Narnia, in my much younger days, whenever I saw a wardrobe or even a closet in someone’s house, my first impulse was to open it and see if it led anywhere. I didn’t, of course, because that would have been incredibly rude, but I always wondered what it would be like to actually find a doorway to another world as Lucy Pevensie does in Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I would have felt as she did: excited, curious, and more than a little scared.

Lucy is the youngest of the four Pevensie siblings, and she isn’t taken seriously by her brothers and sister at the start of the story. They don’t believe her when she tells them about Narnia, but she proves them wrong, and so begins their amazing adventure. I enjoyed the Chronicles very much and liked seeing Lucy grow into a strong, self-confident, courageous young woman.

In Mary Stewart’s romantic thriller, This Rough Magic, Lucy Waring is a young actress vacationing on the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean. Her vacation, however, goes horribly wrong when she gets caught up in a nightmare of deceit and murder. She must use all of her wits and courage to save herself from being the next one dead.

I really enjoy Stewart’s romantic suspense thrillers. One of the things that draws me in is that, not just Lucy, but all of Stewart’s heroines are ordinary women who travel to exotic locales and get tangled up in perilous situations, not of their making. The books are exciting reads with plenty of romance and, always, satisfying endings.

Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie with Mr. Tumnus the Faun in Disney's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 2005 Photo Credit: Narnia Wikia

Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie
with Mr. Tumnus the Faun in
Disney’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 2005
Photo Credit: Narnia Wikia

Chronicles of Narnia

Chronicles of Narnia

Mary Stewart's Books

Mary Stewart’s Books

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 11

K is for — Kermit the Frog from Jim Henson’s Muppets.

“Heigh ho, Kermit the Frog here…”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love characters that make me laugh. I grew up watching the Muppet Show hosted by that much-harried green amphibian, Kermit. The Muppet Show was a variety show full of zany song and dance numbers, over-the-top gags and slapstick comedy, and general wackiness that never failed to keep me in stitches. I remember very well looking forward to the weekly laugh-fest. An amazing array of A-List actors and entertainers guest-starred on the show, and it was so funny watching them get “Muppetified.” Through it all, Kermit did his best to keep things under control and not lose his temper.

The Muppet Show was such a hit with my family that we bought hand puppet versions of many of the characters, along with Sesame Street and Looney Tunes characters, and put on our own way-out “Muppet Shows” for friends and family.

Loving the Muppets as we do, we, of course, had to go see the new movie, Muppets Most Wanted. It was an okay movie with some funny moments. The kids loved it, and it spawned another go-round of watching our old Muppet Show videos. One of my favorites is the ridiculously silly Star Wars episode with Mark Hamill, C3P0, R2D2, Chewbacca, and “Derth Nader.” Another is the episode with Harry Belafonte. In the final segment, he talks about, then sings a wonderful song with African roots that is so uplifting and inspiring that I sing it in my head for days afterward. According to Brian Henson, the late Jim Henson’s son who introduces each episode, the intricate African puppets that sing with Harry Belafonte were specially made for that performance. Enjoy!

Muppets Cast Photo Credit: Muppets Wikia

Muppets Cast
Photo Credit: Muppets Wikia

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 10

J is for — Jane from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

I first read Jane Eyre in junior high English. It was on one of those required reading lists containing books that, for my age group, were more often than not, shall we say… uninteresting. I fully expected Jane Eyre to fall into that category, and because it was the thickest book on the list, decided to read it first to get it out of the way. To my amazement, I discovered that I actually liked it and soon became engrossed in the travails of Jane and Mr. Rochester, and the mystery at Thornfield. I learned a valuable lesson from the experience: read before you judge.

Jane has so many wonderful qualities — honesty, forthrightness, courage. I love her perseverance, her resilience, and her kindness in forgiving those who have wronged her. She is a great reminder to a world that glorifies perfect faces and bodies that it is beauty on the inside that counts.

Of the six movie versions I’ve seen, I think I like the 2006 BBC Masterpiece Theater production with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens the best. They have great chemistry, and everything is well done — the brooding atmosphere, the harrowing suspense, and romantic tension with scenes that aren’t overdone. Wilson is perfect as Plain Jane, both strong and vulnerable. There are moments after her encounters with Mr. Rochester when she positively glows, no longer plain but young and pretty and in love. Stephens reminds me of a rougher Hugh Jackman, with enough presence and just enough attractiveness, but not too much, to keep things interesting.

Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, BBC, 2006

Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as
Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester
in Jane Eyre, BBC, 2006
Photo Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk

J_JaneEyre_BookMovie

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 9

I is for — Inigo Montoya from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

My kids looked at me like I was nuts the first time I got The Princess Bride out for us to watch. The fact that I was randomly spouting the above line in a Spanish accent is probably why. Inigo is my favorite character from the movie — a “wizard” swordsman on a seemingly endless quest to avenge his father’s murder. Even though he starts out as one of the bad guys, you can’t help but like him. The initial conversation and ensuing duel between Inigo and the Man in Black is one of the best scenes in the movie. So is the confrontation between Inigo and the Six-Fingered Man. I cheered at the moment of Inigo’s final triumph.

Though I’ve watched the movie many times, I’d never read the book until recently. I was surprised to find that the movie followed the book quite closely, with the main differences being the exclusion of the “Zoo of Death” (which really wasn’t that important) and the book’s weird ending. I have to say this is one of the few cases — and maybe the only case — where I prefer the movie to the book.

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride Photo Credit: Princess Bride Wikia

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in
The Princess Bride
Photo Credit: Princess Bride Wikia

I_PrincessBride

A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 8

H is for — Jasper Holt from Grace Livingston Hill’s The Finding of Jasper Holt.

Jasper Holt is a character few will likely know. He’s the type of hero I’m always drawn to — the misunderstood man everyone thinks is a bad guy, when really he isn’t. He keeps to himself, lives by his own code of honor, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of him. His heart of gold is deeply buried, a well-kept secret.

Until, that is, he rescues a young woman during a train wreck. He treats her like a gentleman and makes sure she gets back to her family unharmed. She sees beyond his hard outer shell and staunchly defends him to all her relatives and friends who don’t believe her when she tells them who rescued her. In the end, they finally see his true character.

I first started reading Grace Livingston Hill’s Christian romances in my early teens. The wonderful, spiritually moving stories gave me shining examples of how relationships should be, with heroes and heroines who treat themselves and others with respect and where love means — as Olaf, the snowman from Disney’s Frozen, so eloquently put it: “That’s when you put someone else’s needs before your own.”

The Finding of Jasper Holt was originally published in 1915. Hill wrote over 100 novels, and I’ve read most all of them — some of them many times. The uplifting stories of perseverance, love, and faith always leave me with a smile.

Grace Livingston Hill Photo Credit: www.gracelivingstonhill.com

Grace Livingston Hill
Photo Credit: http://www.gracelivingstonhill.com

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A to Z Challenge: Fictional Favorites, Day 7

G is for — Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Who else but Gandalf, wandering wizard and guardian of Middle Earth? He is the epitome of a great spellcaster, the standard to which all other wizards are held, at least, by me. When I hear the word “wizard,” an image of Gandalf immediately comes to mind. His long gray hair and beard, gray robes, tall peaked hat, and crooked staff personify my ideal of a wizard. And not only does he wield powerful magic, he wields a sword equally well — a formidable opponent indeed. Yet wisdom and compassion rule his actions, and love for his fellow Men — and Hobbits — and all those who work for the good of Middle Earth. Actor Sir Ian McKellen plays him perfectly in the Peter Jackson films. He IS Gandalf.

When Gandalf arrives on Bilbo’s doorstep, Bilbo wants nothing to do with him or his adventurous quest. I, on the other hand, would have leaped at the chance to take part in such an adventure and, in my younger days, often imagined doing just that. What a thrill it would have been! And I suspect I’m not the only one to have had such imaginings. I’m sure there are many kindred spirits who would have loved to hear those words: “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure…”

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf Photo Credit: LOTR Wikia

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Photo Credit: LOTR Wikia

Gandalf and Bilbo from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Photo Credit: LOTR Wikia

Gandalf and Bilbo from
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Photo Credit: LOTR Wikia

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