Shannara isn’t perfect, but gives me hope

Ever since the movie versions of Lord of the Rings appeared, I’ve been living in hope more epic fantasy novels will roar to life onscreen.

I love the LOTR movies so much, will never be tired of them. They represent everything I most love about the fantasy genre (and value in life) — adventure, discovery, magic, heroism, deep friendships… The fantastical world first envisioned by Tolkien is brilliantly brought to life by Peter Jackson and his team in those movies. I wanted (still want) more!

Next came the HBO TV adaptation of Game of Thrones. I was excited by this at first — a whole multi-book series of big fat fantasy in TV serial format. It had me salivating at the prospect. It didn’t matter that I never really liked the first book much, back when I first tried to read it it 1999. A TV series would prove a far more digestible format and save me from reading them…

As it turned out, no. Despite the fact that half a world of non-fantasy enthusiasts have become obsessed with GoT, this lifelong fantasy enthusiast could NOT get into it. I tried. Desperately, I tried. The production values are incredible — brilliant acting, fabulous screenplay, amazing visualisation and representation of GRRM’s imagined world on the screen. For those alone, I resolved to watch it, even if there weren’t any characters I actually liked…

In the end, I couldn’t go the distance. The violence — sexual, psychological and physical — did me in. Like several people I’ve spoken to, I made it up until the point where Joffrey gets killed (huzzah! oops, spoilers) and then gave it away.

So disappointing.

The Hobbit movies came and went. I didn’t hate them — they do have the same amazing artistic production values as LOTR; but the plot is shallow compared with the depth and complexity of LOTR. They cannot compare.

There are so many amazing fantasy stories out there. Books I absolutely adore. How about a super sexy adaptation of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series? Or a vivid imagining of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders? Or a poignant depiction of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan?

They would all make brilliant television.

It often seems, however, to be Young Adult or children’s books that are adapted into movies… Not counting the current trend for YA science fiction movies, I can think of Eragon (fantasy) that was made into a movie… And of course, Harry Potter.

Much as I do love Harry and friends, can we have more adult fantasy adaptations please? Preferably without the excessive violence of GoT?

This all brings me to the Chronicles of Shannara, which is what prompted me to write this post.

I got Netflix last week. (Yes, a bit slow on the uptake, I admit.) I was exploring all the options (where to start? OMG) when I came across the TV series, Chronicles of Shannara, which had been mentioned by a friend of mine, just the week before.

Ha! A new fantasy series on TV! Yesssss.

The Chronicles of Shannara is a recent fantasy TV series based on the “classic” books of Terry Brooks (the first books were published in the 1970s). (Actually, technically it’s not fantasy, being set in a post-apocalyptic earth that has lost all tech, but it feels like fantasy, with elves and magic and stuff.) So I thought I’d check it out.


I almost didn’t make it past the first episode, which was… pedestrian. Visually it’s quite an attractive and interesting representation of our technological world gone to the vines, but the acting was pretty wooden and the screenplay kind of stilted. Not to mention a derivative plot (which is why I never did read these books).

A couple of things stayed my hand from pressing the stop button — and indeed drew me through the entire 10-part series to the end.

Female main characters — not one, but two. Young women who are enterprising, resourceful, determined, competent, fully clothed (mostly — but discreet nudity is shared among the genders). In this TV series, female characters are not an obligatory afterthought, nor limited to a single main character. At the end of the series it’s these two young women who save the world, through trial, friendship and sacrifice. There’s a guy there who helps a bit.

Quest and adventure — Quest-based fantasy may be considered passe these days, but I still love it. I love exploring new worlds — or in this case a post-apocalyptic north-west America that’s now dominated by elves, trolls and gnomes. And I love the dynamic of a group of characters, finding their inner heroism, struggling to fulfill some sort of mission to save the world.


Don’t get me wrong, this show is still B-grade on all levels. It will never compare with GoT or LOTR screen adaptations. But it does have a whole lot of heart and a cast of heroic, likeable characters. I would still rather watch that than GoT any day.

What I really want is a TV adaptation of epic fantasy that combines the slick production of GoT with the heart of Shannara. Please?

My thoughts on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Yes. Pride and Prejudice. With zombies. It’s a thing.

I first tried reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s alternate version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice a number of years ago. I hated it. With. A. Passion.

Not because I’m a purist — I thought the idea sounded cool — but because I found it clunky. So much of the joy of reading Austen is in the beautiful turn of phrase, which got lost in the adaptation (even though slabs of the original book were retained).

But I thought at the time it would make a great film. And it does.

The movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is visually stunning and a whole lot of fun. Here’s the trailer:

Oh my, yes it’s that much fun.

I’ve just written a review for Festivale online magazine, which sent me along to a preview screening earlier this week. It’s not posted yet, but here’s a snippet:

Frocks. With weapons strapped beneath them. Dances. Country walks from Longbourne to Meryton and Netherfield – with the occasional zombie slaying. Five Bennett sisters. Blood and brains. And Mr Darcy. That’s what you can expect from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (directed by Burr Steers), which literally is Pride and Prejudice with the addition of more than a few zombies.

In this alternate take on Jane Austen’s classic novel, England has been suffering a plague of zombies for many decades. However, the Bennett sisters still enjoy going to balls and meeting young gentlemen – which they discuss avidly during morning sparring sessions to practice their Shaolin style zombie-fighting techniques. Lizzie declares a gentleman worth loving and marrying wouldn’t ask her to relinquish her weapons.


There is much to adore about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. One of the highlights for me was Elizabeth’s response to Mr Darcy’s proposal – a martial arts kick to his chest, with the rest of the famous dialogue played out (not verbatim) to the tune of punches, steel and broken furniture. In this alternate Regency, women have more independence and (as Lizzie says in another adapted famous scene) cannot be expected to be truly accomplished in both the womanly virtues and the art of fighting.

[ed 1 March — My full review is now posted on the Festivale website.]


On the whole, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gets the big thumbs up from me, and I will no doubt be adding the DVD to my Austen collection as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, I might have to go see it in the cinema again…

Journal ~ Festivities, finishing and The Force Awakens


Almost 20 years ago, I made a Christmas Advent calendar. I spent hours on the decoration, which is created from cut-up pieces of coloured paper, and it came out better than I ever imagined. Behind each door is a compartment for little daily surprises in the lead-up to Christmas.

Advent calendar - handmade by me

Advent calendar – handmade by me

For the past decade or so, I’ve been filling it up with gifts and chocolates each December for my various nieces and nephews — first one family and then the other. But this year, one of my sisters decided she would fill it for me as my Christmas present.

I can’t express how lovely it has been to open one of those little doors each day and receive a gift. There have been plenty of chocolates (ferrero rocher), but also rolls of washi tape, cute stationery items, a tin of puzzle cards, Christmas decorations, bookmarks, a magnet decorated by my nephew, silicone egg poachers, and a TARDIS tin with peppermints! Then, on Christmas day, a gorgeous pendant on a chain.

It’s felt like Christmas all month.


On the writing front, I’ve had a very productive month. Since declaring my intention a month ago to finish the second draft of my novel by Christmas, I actually managed to achieve this goal!

It’s not ‘finished’, of course. I now have to go over it and fix quite a few things. For one, there are aspects of my Mongolian research to be worked in. For another, I invented quite a few aspects of my ‘magic system’ in the final chapters, so now I have to go and retrofit this throughout the entire thing – gah!

But, on the whole, I’m pretty happy with the overall shape, so at this point in time I’m planning an edit and not a rewrite. (Famous last words.)

The Force Awakens

Like a large number of other people, I recently caught a screening of Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens. And I liked it a lot.

It’s immensely fun, and very reminiscent of the originals, right down to several plot points. I very much enjoyed Harrison Ford’s reprisal of Han Solo — probably the highlight for me. It’s also refreshing to have a resourceful female character as main protagonist, but I think they could have taken equality and diversity a lot further than they did.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my view, the fact the story builds on the platform established by the originals (as opposed to filling in backstory as did episodes 1-3) automatically gives it an advantage. In many ways, it’s a rehash of the same story, told in the same light-hearted abandon — and this is probably why it works for everyone who was so disappointed with eps 1-3. But it’s not really taking things anywhere new (yet). I hope the next movie does go somewhere a bit more unexpected…

Journal ~ update on words, song, Mockingjay

I’m in the middle of a nice little creative phase at present. The dayjob work levels went from one extreme to the other, and the latter half of November has presented lots of lovely time for me to catch my breath.

And lots of lovely time to work on finishing the second draft of this novel. It’s been slow going for the past several months, due to travel, work and plot tangles, but I really feel I’ve come out the other side. The end is in sight! I’d be so happy if I finished before Christmas. (That gives me, er, exactly one month…)

There’s also been a lot of singing in the past six weeks, with two concerts and involvement in several songs. It’s been wonderful to work with several different groups of people, some new and others familiar.

One of the songs River Wide River Deep was an original composition by Jack Tenan. He recorded the whole thing and has posted on Soundcloud…

That’s Jack singing lead vocals and playing all the instruments, with myself and my friend Christina singing backing vocals. I think it came out pretty well!

When I haven’t been singing (or rehearsing), most of my spare time has been spent reading. But I did manage to get out for some entertainment.

Tea Party smallFirst, I made it to a concert by The Tea Party a couple of weeks ago. Twenty years after its release, the band performed its seminal album The Edges of Twilight end to end. This album is one of my all time favourites and it was awesome to hear the whole thing live.

And then a couple of nights ago I made it to the cinema for the first time in ages to see The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2. The movie is really well done, and, from what I can remember, very close to the novel. The special effects were amazing.

My main complaint is related to the story/novel, rather than the movie itself…. i.e. most of the stuff that happens (Katniss and her warband trying to get through the Capital to assassinate President Snow — with a very high body count) is ultimately pointless. Well, OK, maybe not pointless… they ended up being a distraction for Snow, allowing the rebels to have their own victory. But I find it unsatisfying that a large part of the resolution of the trilogy is not due to any agency of Katniss’s. She’s essentially a pawn (as she is for most of Mockingjay). And, OK, yes she does take matters into her own hands right at the end, but that smacks of revenge, rather than a desire for greater good. (And, indeed, much of her motivation to kill Snow also lies in revenge.) Bottom line, I don’t really find Katniss heroic.

Is Mockingjay actually commenting on that? Is it exploring how the so-called “heroes” who people get behind, who give people hope, are often far from heroic? Because Mockingjay makes no bones of the fact that Katniss is a propaganda pawn for the rebels. I suppose I wanted her in the end to escape from that role. I wanted her decision to act for herself and go after Snow to mean something for the people she represents. But it really doesn’t.

OK, rambling. Thoughts?

Thoughts on The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

And so we come to the third and final installment of The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies, which wraps up this humble little story well. In the context of the first two Hobbit movies I was not disappointed.

It’s always wonderful to sit back and experience a few hours in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. Any excuse will do.

battle-of-the-five-armies-1The Battle of the Five Armies picks up exactly where The Desolation of Smaug (part 2) ended: Smaug flying off to smite Laketown. And boy does Smaug smite poor old Laketown. His fire-breathing ferocity is completely terrifying and the people are fleeing and the town is burning… And then Bard manages to slay the dragon. It’s all very spectacular.

They could have finished the second movie with this as the climax — and considering it was called The Desolation of Smaug, I have to wonder why they didn’t. But it certainly makes for a fabulous opening to this one.

The rest of the movie deals with the build-up and playing out of a mighty battle between dwarves, men, elves, orcs and monsters that takes place outside the gates of Erebor, the dwarven halls under the lonely mountain. Apparently both the massive pile of treasure and strategic position of the mountain are coveted by just about everyone.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) is one of the major driving forces of this movie, as he spirals into madness and paranoia as the result of ‘dragon sickness’, obsessed with retrieving the Arkenstone. He barricades his small party inside the mountain, irrationally refusing to treat with the survivors of Laketown or King Thranduil and his elves, who have arrived seeking to reclaim certain elven artifacts. But he eventually comes to his senses and I loved his final battle scenes against the pale orc, when he redeems his honour.

Martin Freeman is once again brilliant as Bilbo: honorable, brave, stubborn, resolute. He stands up to Thorin when the other dwarves won’t disobey their king, and although he doesn’t get to do too much in the battle, his actions leading up to it are significant.

Thranduil, the eleven king (and Legolas’s father), is a fairly major character in this movie, and I love the portrayal by Lee Pace. He’s again the perfect blend of arrogance, capriciousness with a measure of benevolence — and boy can he fight! He spins around, robes and hair flying, to great effect. Blood-spattered or no, he’s pretty hot.

Legolas is, of course, also once again a highlight. He doesn’t say a great deal, but he gets to do a lot of fighting with both arrows and swords, not to mention leaping around in mid-air and performing all manner of cool stunts.

Despite the fact neither Legolas or Tauriel impact the overall plot in any significant way (being additions for the movie), they do provide some of the more intimate ‘human’ moments amid all the fighting. The love triangle between the two of them and Kili (the hot dwarf) plays out in a fairly mild way, though; no doubt to fit within the constraints of the actual book. (Why would they want to do that?!)

The movie makers have created a nice little tie-in to Legolas’s role in LOTR at the end… although it’s still difficult to get a sense of how flinty Legolas transforms into more open-hearted and almost innocent Legolas by the time Fellowship starts. Since Legolas is over 2000 years old, the time period between The Hobbit and LOTR is negligible… The inconsistent portrayal bothers me, I confess. (Orlando Bloom also looks a bit different in the face, perhaps merely his 10 year age difference?)

Gandalf starts the movie imprisoned in the black fortress by the ring wraiths (similar to his imprisonment on Orthanc); but is rescued by Galadriel, accompanied by Elrond and Saruman. Here they come face to face with Sauron’s Great Eye for the first time and Galadriel does her scary dark queen impersonation and beats him back… I’m not sure how much of this is in the book, but I felt it was a bit overdone… overly dramatic — particularly given the level of ignorance about Sauron at the beginning of LOTR. Gandalf knows about Bilbo’s ring at the end of this movie… why doesn’t he even consider the possibility it’s the One Ring? Huh?

Battle-of-the-Five-Armies.2I couldn’t really get that excited by the storyline focusing on Bard and his three teenage children. Luke Evans is quite pleasing to look at, but somehow I didn’t feel that invested. The human survivors of Laketown spend much of the movie holed up in Dale, the ruined city outside Erebor that was abandoned when Smaug came to the mountain. They have to fight a lot of orcs.

In fact, a lack of depth in characterisation across the board remains my biggest complaint with the whole series of Hobbit movies. I think the writers could have done a lot more with most of the characters (including the various dwarves). Considering we’ve had two or three movies to get to know them, they remain, for the most part, fairly two-dimensional.

LOTR managed to make you care much more for its much larger cast of characters. They all have much greater depth of character and emotion. The Hobbit pretty much fails on this score in my view — it’s beautifully visual, with rousing action, but doesn’t have nearly as much heart.

It makes me realise how utterly brilliant the LOTR trilogy is, though.

As a final note, it was lovely to hear Billy Boyd (Pippin in LOTR) singing the song for the end credits of Battle of the Five Armies. All three of The Hobbit movies have real folky end-credit songs… it occurs to me to wonder whether they’ve used some of the original songs from The Hobbit, because after An Unexpected Journey none of the dwarven songs are featured in the movies. I must look into that.

Also, as with Return of the King, the end credits feature ‘sketches’ of all the main characters. Love that.

On the whole, I enjoyed Battle of the Five Armies rather a lot, for what it is. I did of course adjust my expectations after the first two, but even so I don’t think it has as much padding (unless you count many many battle scenes of different shapes and sizes).

The Hobbit trilogy may not leave the same lasting impression as the three LOTR movies, or inspire the same number of viewings, but it’s still a wonderful fantasy adventure that I will no doubt cherish and re-watch periodically for many years to come.

Here are links to my thoughts on An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug.

Thoughts on The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

As a huge fan of the Peter Jackson et al movies set in Middle Earth, I once again rocked up to the latest installment of The Hobbit hoping it would be wonderful.

Once again I enjoyed the movie —  the lavish and dedicated depiction of Tolkien’s fantastical world, the rousing adventure, the eye candy in the form of Legolas and Kili… But once again I can’t help comparing it with the Lord of the Rings movies and came away wishing it had managed to be more.

And in this case I think less would have yielded more. (Mild spoilers follow…)


The Desolation of Smaug picks up more or less where An Unexpected Journey left off. Like the first movie, the second also follows the book reasonably faithfully in terms of major events — the meeting with Beorn, the giant spiders of Mirkwood, capture by the elves of Mirkwood, escape via the barrels down the river to Laketown, arrival at the Lonely Mountain… However, after mining as much of the book as possible for kernels from which to seed subplots, the writers did invent a fair bit of content to bulk out the movie.

Legolas! As soon as I heard they were filming The Hobbit years ago, I hoped they would bring Legolas (Orlando Bloom) into it. In LOTR Legolas was always the son of Thranduil, King of the Elves in Mirkwood (his father having sent him to the Council of Elrond), and it made perfect sense to me that if Thorin’s party of dwarves encountered the elves of Mirkwood then Legolas would be there. It doesn’t matter to me that his character isn’t mentioned in the book. Since they’re embellishing the story, they might as well centre it on Legolas – yes!

The Legolas scenes are lots of fun — especially when he gets to kill orcs with those fabulous acrobatic-athletic moves. The dwarves-in-barrels escape scene is a great action scene. In the book it’s all rather mundane, but in the movie there are elves chasing dwarves, then orcs chasing dwarves, then elves chasing orcs… (Legolas balancing on dwarves’ heads as they float in barrels…) Arrows and axes flying everywhere. Awesome stuff.

Interestingly, the portrayal of Legolas in this film is much more hard-edged and flinty than in LOTR. He’s suspicious and rather more ruthless. I’m wondering what’s going to happen to soften him before his appearance in Fellowship…

I love Legolas.

If you’ve seen the movie trailers, you’ll know they’ve added a token ‘she-elf’ (urgh) too. I guess the sentiment is good, because there are few other women in the film anywhere. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is a captain in the Elf King’s guard, and is also a fearsome warrior. She develops a connection with Kili (Aidan Turner aka the hot dwarf), and already has the eye of Legolas, so there’s a little bit of a love triangle happening. Will be interesting to see where that goes.


The other major character introduced is a barge man from Laketown called Bard (Luke Evans). He helps smuggle the dwarves into Laketown (for a price), but has his own history and agenda. He’s presented as a fairly significant character in the film, and we sense he’s going to have a role to play — as are Legolas and Tauriel. (Turns out he comes into the book later on…)

However, ALL these additional plot lines jangle a bit awkwardly together and slow the pace of the movie down. To me it seemed a fairly clumsy attempt to pad out the movie to nearly three hours — all part of the artificial stretch of a simple children’s book into three long films.

After all, normally when books are made into films, the writers have to decide what to leave out, and come up with creative ways of incorporating as much as possible. The Hobbit movies have the reverse problem, with every nugget of book squeezed out until it’s completely dry — and then they make extra stuff up. (One aspect of the plot that is tightened is the time over which everything happens. Tolkien’s characters are notorious for hanging about for days and weeks in the one place, whether relaxing or hiding. There’s none of that happening here!)

On the other hand, I did rather like Gandalf’s (fabricated for the film) side journey to the abandoned tombs of the nine ring wraiths, and subsequent visit to the ruined citadel of the necromancer, where he learns of Sauron’s return. Although this is a blatant attempt to link The Hobbit more strongly to events in LOTR, I felt it worked — even if it renders Gandalf’s ignorance at the beginning of Fellowship a little odd. 

I also really liked the way Bilbo is a lot more hesitant to use the ring in the movie than in the book. One suspects Tolkien had no notion of how evil the ring was when he wrote The Hobbit… Bilbo slips it on and off at will, with no repercussions. Not so in the movie, where he definitely feels a sense of foreboding just holding it.

Martin Freeman is once again a highlight as Bilbo. He really is perfectly cast. The film remains loosely centred around him, although less than the first film, I think. Nonetheless, he gets his big chance to shine when he sneaks into the dragon’s lair and confronts Smaug the dragon. This is a great scene, although I confess I couldn’t sense much of Benedict Cumberbatch in Smaug.


Interestingly, I noticed several direct reflections of the LOTR movies in The Desolation of Smaug:

  • When Kili is suffering from a wound from a morgul shaft, those tending him call for the athelas plant (kingsfoil) only to be told it’s a weed. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when Frodo gets stabbed.)
  • Gandalf spends time imprisoned high up in an enemy fortress watching the enemy prepare for war. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when he’s imprisoned by Saruman.)
  • The journey through Mirkwood seemed very similar to the journey through Moria, with gnarly trees replacing caves.
  • Thorin’s lust for the arkenstone was starting to affect him something like the one ring affects its bearers.

I’m sure there are more parallels, and I’m not sure whether I liked them or not. The Hobbit is a different story, and I don’t think there’s a need for all the clumsy tie-ins.

Overall I think I liked The Desolation of Smaug about the same amount as An Unexpected Journey. Both are enjoyable returns to Middle Earth, but simply can’t live up to the LOTR movies. As I said in my post on An Unexpected Journey a year ago, the source material just isn’t there.

On second thoughts, maybe I liked The Desolation of Smaug a bit better… you know, Legolas. Heh.

If you’ve seen The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug, I’d love you to share your thoughts here in the comments.


My thoughts on Catching Fire

catching fireI loved Catching Fire, the movie. A lot more than I did the book. Which is unusual.

My major complaint with the book was that it seemed to repeat the same story and themes as the Hunger Games (the first book in the trilogy). It suffered from a lack in progression of the overall story arc. Katniss goes back into the arena to fight for her life. Yeah, whatever.

The movie sticks really close to the novel as I remember it — except for some reason I liked it a whole heap more. Maybe this was because I already knew what the story was and had accepted it. Or maybe it’s because the movie highlighted all the differences really well. Not sure.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, I’ll summarise the basic plot:

It’s set in the future dystopian nation of Panem, which comprises 12 oppressed ‘districts’ and a central dissipated ‘capital’. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Malark, winners of the recent Hunger Games (a barbaric reality TV show in which children from each district are annually forced to fight each other to the death), are trying to integrate back into their lives in district 12. But Katniss has attracted the attention of the not-so-nice President Snow, who sees her as a trouble-maker, and resolves to eradicate her and other past winners by sending them back into the arena…

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is fabulous. The rest of the cast is great too, but she truly shines — no surprises she’s one of the youngest ever Oscar winners (for Silver Linings Playbook earlier this year). 

Whereas The Hunger Games introduces you to this horrible world, Catching Fire does a lot more to show the brutality and oppression of the districts, thereby paving the way for the rebellion that is to follow. Because the movie broadens the viewpoint (the book is limited to Katniss’s first person narrative), the viewer is granted a deal more insight into the overall situation — especially President Snow’s scheming and the desperate plotting of a small rebel group. Somehow the ins and outs of the plot are a whole lot clearer in the movie.

The movie is beautiful to look at and exciting. The costumes are vivid (and they wear some truly wacky outfits in the capital), and each of Katniss’s show costumes are stunning (after all, it is a reality TV show!). Definitely many thumbs up from me!


Today’s blog theme is ‘which holiday movie do you love this year and why’. Catching Fire is the only recent film I’ve seen, so it’s a good thing I loved it! I’ll post links to other contributions as they come up.

Also, check out this far more thorough (and a little spoilerific) post from Siri Paulson on Catching Fire – book versus movie.

Movie review: Riddick

Last week I saw Riddick, the latest Vin Diesel blockbuster movie, and reviewed it for Festivale Online Magazine.

To summarise, I liked the opening (first 20 mins or so) a lot. The rest, not so much. Click through to read the full review!


Above is an image from the part of the movie I liked. It shows Riddick (who is stranded on an alien sun-scorched planet) and his ‘dog’ companion, which he’s reared from a pup. His relationship with the ‘dog’ is really sweet.

Anyone else seen Riddick? Thoughts?

Movie – The Conjuring

The ConjuringI recently saw The Conjuring, a new thriller/horror movie about a family which moves into a haunted farmhouse, and . . . well you can probably guess what happens next. It’s based on the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators around 40 years ago, who were also involved in the well-known Amityville haunting.

But this is NOT a cheap horror movie. Yes, it has the terrifying moments that make you jump. Yes, the house has dark corners, rough edges and a long-forgotten (pitch black) basement. Yes, it has the creepy music . . . and a very creepy doll.

But it also has a multi-dimensional storyline and good characterisation, largely due to the presence of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who move in with their team to help the poor Perron family defeat the malevolent presence in their house.

And it has some great roles for women.

I attended a preview screening of The Conjuring on behalf of Festivale online magazine and my full review of the movie is here. Bottom line — it scared me half to death and I wasn’t sure I would get any sleep that night, but I LOVED it.


It reminded me a lot of Poltergeist, which is pretty much the only horror movie of this ilk I’ve seen. (I don’t count Amityville Horror 3D!). Others have likened it to The Exorcist and the original Amityville Horror movie.

I definitely recommend The Conjuring if you’re a horror movie fan. But, be warned, I found it really scary!

What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

But what if Hogwarts really does exist?


Last year, I gave my nine year old niece the first Harry Potter book for her birthday. She wasn’t much of a bookworm… in fact, she preferred books on science or the natural world. Nonetheless, I decided to impose my love of Harry Potter on her and crossed my fingers that she would like it.

To my great delight, she loved it. She devoured Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and then immediately read it again. Following that, books 2 and 3 were borrowed and consumed. She hasn’t been permitted to read book 4 yet, but that’s only caused her to turn to the myriad other fantasy and adventure novels available for middle-grade readers. Almost overnight she turned into a bookworm.

Kudos to me, I think!

Last weekend, she and I sat down to a Harry Potter movie marathon of the first three movies. (She’s only allowed to watch each movie once she’s read the corresponding book — and to her credit she agrees with her mother’s ruling on this, because, having seen the first movie already, she’s already aware that the books are vastly superior and give her much more scope for the imagination.)

It was wonderful to sit with her and watch the films (which I’ve seen many times) with her for the first time — to experience her wonder, and calm her disquiet when she couldn’t quite remember what happened, and answer questions such as: “But what if Hogwarts really does exist? After all, we’re muggles, so how do we know it doesn’t?”

How easy it is to forget what it was like to be not-quite-ten with a keen imagination and love of far-away places… when we wanted so desperately for something to be real, we could almost persuade ourselves it was.

I’ve decided we’re going to have a Harry Potter Reading Club within the family, so all we adults have an excuse to re-read the books one at a time and discuss them together over afternoon tea…

In return for being a Harry Potter kindred spirit, I’ve also been inducted into the world of Pottermore — JK Rowling’s interactive web site for Harry fans. Here, one re-lives each book, chapter by chapter, collecting objects for one’s trunk, and attending Hogwarts as a student.

We get a shopping list in Diagon Alley, and with our budget of 500 galleons go shopping for all the school things we might need — including choosing a pet (I’ve got a black devilcat – heh) and being matched to a wand (sycamore with dragon heart string) — and then it’s off to Hogwarts to be sorted into a House (Gryffindor – huzzah!).

At the moment, I’m stuck in my first potions class, trying to figure out how to successfully make a potion within the time limit. It’s actually quite hard! You can earn house points and have ‘friends’ and leave messages on message boards etc — it’s kind of like facebook at Hogwarts. My user name is HazelDragon19664 — come play with me!

No wonder kids could almost be persuaded to believe Hogwarts might actually be real!

Have you ever wanted something so badly you’ve almost convinced yourself it’s happened? If Hogwarts really did exist, would you want to attend as a student? (I reckon I’d go back to high school just for the fun of it!)