Fantasy on the Big Screen

February Fantasy Month Banner

Sadly, there is a dearth of good fantasy movies out there. I don’t know why this is. There are tons of great fantasy stories, but translating them to the screen seems to get the best of a lot of movie directors/producers. A few of them do it well, and thankfully fantasy has begun to rise in the ranks of popularity as a movie-genre, but still there just aren’t a ton of great fantasy movies out there. Maybe it’s because dragons are overwhelmingly difficult to get “correct.” Or perhaps it’s just that when it comes to visuals, the budget gets spent on special effects and nothing is left over to pay the actors… I don’t know what it is.

Let me be clear. There are actually quite a few Fantasy Movies in existence. It’s finding good ones that can be difficult. Fantasy movies have a tendency to come out either a touch ridiculous, or super cheesy, or really not at all family-friendly.

So today, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite lesser-known fantasy films. I’m sure you can’t possibly have missed the big blockbusters of recent days such as The Hobbit Trilogy and The Lord of the Rings… or the Harry Potter Saga… or the overwhelming mass of superhero movies both from the studios of Marvel and DC (Aquaman was AWESOME by the way). So I’m not going to cover those. I’m going to talk about ten of my favorite lesser-well-known fantasy favorite movies.

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So, I started my list with 24 titles… but I didn’t want to write the monolithic post that would require. So… I took off any movies I’ve talked about or reviewed on the blog before, like The Neverending Story (which I haven’t done a whole post on, but have definitely mentioned several times), StardustReign of Fire, Ella EnchantedThe Princess Bride, Bridge to Terabithia, and Ladyhawke - which are by far my FAVORITE fantasy films, and that’s why they aren’t in this post. In case you were wondering. Or worried.

Then I knocked off a few that I didn’t think really fit the “fantasy” criteria as well as others, Cowboys and Aliens is super fun, but definitely more sci-fi than fantasy, Tall Tale, Into the West, The Lake House, Heaven Can Wait, Phenomenon, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty all came off the list because they all kind of fall into a nebulous category of having fantastical elements, but not necessarily being “fantasy” movies.

And that leaves me with 10 Lesser-Well-Known Fantasy Movies that I enjoyed and I think you might, too.

10. Simply Irresistible 

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in what I think is her best role, this enchanting little rom-com is fun and fantastical and maaaaybe a little weird. If you like stories like You’ve Got Mail, I.Q. and Leap Year but your one complaint is that there is no MAGIC in those movies… then this one is for you. Amanda is a truly terrible chef. She can’t cook at all. Which is a problem, because she’s inherited her mom’s restaurant, and if something doesn’t change soon, she’s going to lose her business. But when her sous-chef brings home a magical crab from the outdoor food market… Amanda suddenly gets an inexplicable talent-boost. What’s more, her food begins to affect the people who eat it with whatever emotions she was feeling at the time she cooked it.

This one barely makes the list because the ridiculous factor is almost off the charts… but it’s cute and fun. There is one moment of crude humor that I remember.

9. The Dark Tower (PG-13 – for violence)

The only movie on this list I do NOT own… this one came out of nowhere and surprised me. It also marks the first time I’ve ever been tempted to read a Stephen King novel. Also, it proved that Matthew McConaughey can play a very convincing villain. Wow. I’d say this is a little confusing at times, and lacked heart… but the acting was good and the story was intriguing, definitely making me want to know more about this world and characters. It’s a unique blend of science fantasy and wild west that definitely caught my attention. Personally, I’d choose Equilibrium over this one every time, but Equilibrium is rated R so… ahem – can’t really recommend that one in my list of “family friendly fantasy movies.” *grin*

8. Epic

When I saw the trailers for this one, I thought it was just going to be a rehash of Fern Gully smacking us all over the head with the “humans are evil” agenda. However, I was pleasantly surprised! While there ARE tiny people living in the forest – called “Leafmen,” their greatest enemy isn’t humans… it is wicked creatures called Boggans, whose job is to control rot and decay in the forest. However, the Boggans are not content with the areas of authority they have, and they are constantly seeking to take over. During a Boggan attack when the Leafmen are at their most vulnerable, a young woman (whose father has been obsessively searching for these tiny people and subsequently got laughed out of various serious scientific communities) gets magically miniaturized and drafted into the struggle between growth and decay, life and death.

Additionally, this is a very sweet story of the restoration of the relationship between the main character and her father.

7. Quest for Camelot

I’m always amazed at how few people even know this movie exists. Enter the legendary world of King Arthur, complete with mythical creatures and the magical blade Excaliber. When Sir Rupert, one of King Arthur’s knights, turns against him and attacks, a young girl named Kayley loses her father who leaps to defend the king. Fast-forward approximately 10 years and Kayley has grown up a bit, but she’s still dreaming of adventure like the kind her father told her about in stories. Meanwhile, Sir Rupert has not gone away forever. He’s been plotting his next scheme to take Arthur’s throne – but his attempt to steal Excaliber is foiled. When he takes her mother hostage as part of his plan, it is up to Kayley to retrieve Excaliber from where it got lost in the forest and return it to its rightful owner.

A beautiful story with awesome characters and absolutely gorgeous music, this one rivals most of the Disney Princess movies, in my humble opinion!

6. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

This movie is so beautiful. Just from a visual perspective, the artistry of the animation is breath-taking. The story and characters are quite compelling as well. A young owl gets taken prisoner and sees his friends and brother get brainwashed by the Pure Ones (a sect of owls that is trying to create an army to take over the kingdom the MC is from). He makes a daring escape and must team up with some unlikely companions in order to save everything he loves.

5. How to Train Your Dragon

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Okay, this one isn’t really “less” well known, but it had to make the list. One of my all-time favorite dragon movies, and if you haven’t seen the cartoon spin-off “Dragons: Race to the Edge,” you’re seriously missing out. (It’s available on Netflix) My kids LOVE it, and I really enjoy it as well. Very good cartoon series.

4. Rise of the Guardians

I fell in love with this movie immediately after seeing it for the first time. The idea of the myths and legends we grow up with as kids (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman…) being the “guardians” of childhood is both compelling and beautiful. If you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend it.

3. The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PG-13 – violence)

This really was an underrated film. For being based on a video game, it actually turned out to be a super fun romp of a movie. An adopted prince. A conspiracy to steal the crown. A magical dagger that can turn back time. A young man accused of a crime he did not commit… this movie has all the elements needed for an epic fantasy experience, and what’s more, I would argue that it delivers what it promises. Fun. Action. Magic. And Jake Gyllenhal at his best.

2. Ever After

Okay, so this one isn’t so “less” well known either. But in my opinion it is still the best live-action fairy-tale retelling movie out there. I have grown to love the 2015 Cinderella movie… but it still doesn’t even come close to the magical feel, romance, and “edge-of-my-seat” type thrill that Ever After brings to me every time I watch it. I just love this movie and can watch it over and over. Despite the fact that it is devoid of most “fantasy” elements, it makes the list by being a Fairy Tale Retelling, and an epic one at that.

1. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Topping my chart today… (honestly, I couldn’t quite decide between this and Prince of Persia… but Nicholas Cage + Jay Baruchel work together to beat out Jake Gyllenhal by a TEENY TINY margin. Partially because it’s fun seeing what “Hiccup” really looks like — *grin* — but also because Nick Cage… in quite possibly his best role ever… as a wizard. Merlin’s Apprentice, to be precise. But now he must take on an apprentice of his own and teach him quickly how to master the magical arts in order to save Manhattan from a powerful enemy. This movie is really fun. So much humor, so much crazy, so much ridiculous… and yet… it actually works and is a pretty epic movie. And that’s what I love about it.

 

So there you have it. A list of awesome fantasy movies you can watch with the family.

What are some of your favorite fantasy movies? Any I neglected to list here?

 

All images found using Google Image Search (except How to Train Your Dragon and the picture of the pile of movies at the beginning, I took those myself)

~ jenelle

Second Son Read Along: Chapter 20

Second Son Read Along

It really feels like we’re getting into the home stretch on this book! I hope that you are enjoying the story and the characters. But don’t get too comfortable yet, there’s still some adventure to be had before we reach the final chapter…

Arnaud’s first day as king…

The previous day has taken its toll on Arnaud, and we see him truly wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Possibly for the first time in his life… actually. In the first draft of this story, Arnaud’s temper tantrum went mostly unaddressed. But my first editor mentioned that it was so out of character for Arnaud, that I (and the other characters) really shouldn’t let him get away with it. This is why good editors are worth their weight in gold – and the really good ones tell you when something needs to be changed! I do believe the scene is much stronger for Scelwhyn and Brant’s remonstrations of Arnaud’s behavior, as well as his immediate repentance… because Arnaud knows better, and just because he woke up in a bad mood and angry at the world is no excuse for treating people badly. Especially people who are just trying to help him.

Once he gets past his morning tantrum, Arnaud makes a quick about-face and turns all his energy to learning what the country requires of him. Getting lost on the way to breakfast is not an experience he wishes to repeat, and he also asks Brant to teach him how to use a sword. This surprises Brant, but again we see that Arnaud is a pretty sharp cookie, and while he may not demand answers, not much slips past him unnoticed.

This longer section allows you a glimpse into Arnaud’s first days in the palace, and Brant’s role at his side.

Calyssia is leaving

The oldest daughter of Scelwhyn has a duty she has been shirking. Hopefully you’ve gotten a pretty good handle on her more recent back story. The more I return to this world, the more I realize how many more stories there could be. Someday, I think I’ll have to release an anthology of short stories that go hand-in-hand with this series, because even with all the history I crammed into this book, I still had to leave so much out.

On the road again

Moving along, we find that some time has passed and Brant and Arnaud are on their tour of the kingdom. Arnaud is congratulating himself for buying himself a bit of a respite from having to take on the full responsibility of ruling a kingdom… but before he can really even begin his “last” adventure, disaster strikes!

Discussion Questions:

1. Are you a morning person or a night-owl?

2. Have you ever said sharp words to someone that you didn’t really mean and that they didn’t really deserve, they just happened to be there in the moment of your frustration?

3. What do you think of the potential romance between Arnaud and Zara? Do you ship them yet, or do you need to see them together more? Do you think theirs is a relationship that could work or is it doomed to failure before it begins due to their very different backgrounds?

4. Do you think Arnaud is going to be all right?

~ jenelle

Second Son Read Along: Chapter 19

February Fantasy Month Banner

Welcome back to the read-along! How’s it going? Was the unexpected break last week kind of nice? I know it was kind of nice for me, actually, it let me get all my fantasy month posts written up and scheduled so that I could spend more time focusing on the read-along posts!

On the road again

We left Arnaud saying good-bye to his aunt and uncle who raised him as their own, and we pick up the story now just a few hours later. Suddenly, he turns to Brant and utters some familiar words: “are good-byes always so hard?” And interestingly enough… even though it annoyed Brant when Sheyardin did it to him, we find that Brant has grown a lot in the past years, and he finally understands some of the wisdom his mentor tried to impart to him… because he gives Arnaud the same response: “No… sometimes they are harder.” Brant has learned the sad truth behind those words, he has said good-byes that would shake Arnaud to the core. And we get a glimpse here of Arnaud’s maturity, that he accepts this cryptic response without argument.

They arrive and the palace and Scelwhyn informs Arnaud of the time-table and introduces him to the tailor. Yes. Yes, I did name the tailor “Tucker.” King Jairem’s not the only one with a sense of humor.

Zara

If you’ve read King’s Warrior, hopefully you are getting a little bit of a kick out of Zara… noticing that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. And if you haven’t, well, I hope she amuses you anyway.

I do not approve of punching someone in the eye for giving you a compliment, but my characters don’t always do things I approve of.

Coronation

I added this bit in the final edits. Originally, the coronation took place in the square where King Jairem made his announcement. However, my Senior year of college I took a class that went to London for the month of January and one of the places we went was Edinburgh, Scotland. While we were there, Derek and I and another friend climbed up a fell (taller than a hill, shorter than a mountain) called “Arthur’s Seat” that is supposedly the place where King Arthur was crowned king. It was one of the most incredible adventures I’ve ever been on. We followed a path that wound its way ever upward and the climb took us three or four hours. When we got to the top, just as twilight descended and bathed the world around us in a purple glow, my imagination went crazy and for a moment I could SEE the lords and ladies on their horses lining the path we’d just taken, the crowds of people arrayed at the foot of the hill, their necks craning back as they watched Merlin raise the crown high in the sky above the kneeling Arthur’s head.

So when I went back to revise this book, being as I am completely in love with all things Arthurian legend, I wanted to capture that moment, that imagining… and since I’d already written Fortress Hill conveniently behind the castle, I managed to work it in.

Banquet

Poor Arnaud! First they make him climb a mountain, then they crown him king, and now he has to go personally greet hundreds of well-wishers at a formal banquet… it might be asking a bit too much of this country boy. But I love how quickly he determines to acclimate to his new position – determining to remember names and faces and be a personable sort of king.

He gets through the line of well-wishers fairly admirably, only truly discomfited by the mouse in Leila’s sleeve… but I suppose he can be forgiven for that!

But then he meets young Zara… and suddenly being forced to attend this banquet no longer seems such a chore. He even asks her to dance and they seem to be getting along great… except that she has to leave… and only then does Arnaud realize that he has already failed in his self-appointed task… so taken in by this lovely guest was he, that if she gave him her name… he honestly can’t remember it! (Of course, the reader knows who it was, but I think that makes it more entertaining).

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you have a favorite King Arthur retelling? Or – if you’re not a huge fan of King Arthur stories – do you have a favorite myth or legend?

2. What is your opinion of Zara so far?

~ jenelle

A Founder of Fantasy Fiction

February Fantasy Month Banner Hello there, fellow wanderers, fellow readers, fellow dreamers. Today’s post is going to be a little bit different. I got chatting about one of my all-time favorite authors over on facebook, and all the things I wanted to say started to pile up and I realized it was more of a blog post than a FB post. Some of you may remember the Realm Makers conference I went to last year? Well…

It all started when I found out who the Guest of Honor will be this year at Realm Makers.

Terry Brooks.

TERRY BROOKS!

Cue hyperventilation.

Of course they announce this in a year when I’d agreed with my husband that we weren’t going to try to get to Realm Makers this year. Sigh.

Anyway, as this announcement has made the rounds, there’s been much excitement. But there have also been a lot of people scratching their heads because either: they’ve never read any of his books OR they’ve never heard of this author. There’s also been a mad scramble of people asking, “who is this?” and “which of his books should I read before I go to Realm Makers?” because, like a lot of fantasy authors, his list of published works is rather lengthy and that can be a bit overwhelming/intimidating.

I’m going to try to answer both of these questions, as well as share with you a little bit about what this author means to me.

Some of you already know, I wrote my first book in college and titled it “The Dragon’s Eye.” This later got totally rewritten and retitled “King’s Warrior.” Anyway, during my sophomore year, my parents had gotten the book bound and printed (though not published) and one of my fantasy-loving friends begged me to let him read it. So I did, and when he returned it, he enthusiastically said that he enjoyed it and then followed up with, “You MUST have read Terry Brooks!”

I gave him a blank stare and he said, “The Sword of Shannara? Your style is so much like his, you HAVE to have read it!” I shook my head and said I’d never heard of Brooks OR Shannara. But you can bet it was the next book I grabbed when I went to the book store. (Our library at school was great but… well… its fiction section would easily fit under my bed in its entirety).

My own personal collection of Terry Brooks novels.

My own personal collection of Terry Brooks novels.

Thus began my journey through the world of Shannara. I was hooked. And as I delved deeper into his series, buying every book as it released, I grew more and more enthralled with this author, with his world, his characters, and his stories. While I had already discovered and enjoyed the worlds of Weis/Hickman and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time… I DEVOURED everything in the Shannara series while also being gratified at finding an adult fantasy series that never devolved into being about romance or bedroom scenes the way that most other fantasy authors eventually did at some point. To this day, Brooks remains one of the cleanest main-stream fantasy authors I’ve ever found from that era. I’ve gotten a little behind on his more recent releases, so I have some catching up to do, but I’ve read and own 24 of his books and he hasn’t disappointed me yet.

This was the first series I read that made excellent use of the sagas-within-a-series device. What I mean by that is that while all the Shannara books take place in the same WORLD, the series is broken up into trilogies and quadrilogies that follow a set of different characters. The characters you meet in the first trilogy are the grandparents (or great-great grandparents? It’s been a while) of the characters in the second trilogy, and so on and so forth. It’s not always a direct family connection, but there is always some kind of connection that helps the reader know how each new set of characters relates back to those who have come before.

And the AHA moment in the Genesis trilogy…. well… it’s epic!

You can find the Shannara Publication order at Goodreads HERE. Looking at this list, I’ve read Shannara Books 1-5, 7-9, 13-16, 18-21, 23-25.

Book 25 came out in 2011, which was about when I stopped buying so many books… having multiple children both decreased my ability to spend as much time reading books as I had been accustomed, and meant that money I had previously allocated to books had to go to buying mundane (but oh, so important) things like diapers.

So, which book would I recommend starting with?

Well, if you want truly Epic Fantasy, then you could start with Sword of Shannara. It doesn’t get any more classic fantasy than that.

However, I have come to realize that when I recommend these books, particularly to people who are already well-entrenched in the love of the fantasy genre, that I have to offer a caveat: this book was published in 1977.

That might not seem like a big deal, until you start to realize that very few other fantasy books were available at that time. In many ways, Brooks is one of the founders of the modern fantasy-fiction section (not the Father of Modern Fantasy Fiction, that honor belongs to Tolkien, of course). He published his first fantasy book (Sword of Shannara) in 1977. Why is that important? Well, because it predates most every other well-known fantasy author I can think of. He predates Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – the legendary Dragonlance authors, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan with his Wheel of Time, Stephen R. Lawhead, David Eddings, and Timothy Zahn just to name a few. The Sword of Shannara came out the same year as George R.R. Martin’s first fantasy novel, as well.

Brooks quite literally blazed the trail of fantasy fiction. Those of us who come after… we owe him a lot. So, if you do decide to start with The Sword of Shannara, you kind of have to keep that important datapoint in mind. There was no other fantasy fiction to read at that time. Besides Tolkien, Lewis, and MacDonald, fairy tales, and mythology, Brooks didn’t have the plethora of fantasy books to read and draw from the way that we do now. The Prydain Chronicles and Earthsea were out, but those (while also classics) still fall solidly into the YA reader-group. He was writing in this genre before anyone else was, before the genre was even a real genre! Most of the fantasy tropes and archetypes didn’t even EXIST yet. If you read this book and think, “Wow… so many tropes!” just remember, he wrote them FIRST. He helped invent them!

In many ways, Brooks is to the fantasy genre what Burroughs is to science fiction with his Princess of Mars series.

So, that’s where Shannara begins if you love reading in publication order.

Another option if you want to dive into the world of Shannara is to start with the Genesis of Shannara: Armageddon’s Children. This one, published in 2006 is the beginning of my favorite Shannara trilogy to-date and chronologically could come first in the series (technically Running with the Demon is the FIRST full-length novel chronologically, but I haven’t read that one, so I don’t know how good it is – which is why I’m recommending Armageddon’s Children instead).

However…. the big AHA moment of the Genesis trilogy is one I personally feel is more fun if you’ve read the books in published order, first. Just my opinion. It also showcases Brooks’ writing ability, honed as it was over 30 years! Now… if the size of Shannara in general just totally freaks you out and overwhelms you and fills you with dread…. then there is ANOTHER option.

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Magic Kingdom for Sale: SOLD! The Kingdom of Landover series is much shorter, only 6 books long. And if you only have time to read one, you can read the first one and it wraps up nicely without leaving you hanging off a cliff. This series is very different in tone and feel, being lighter and more humorous and fun. There is still a glimmer of epic, but it’s also very much a PORTAL fantasy, so if you love fantasy that starts in our world and following an everyday, ordinary person into a totally different realm of magic and mystery… this is the series for you!

Of course, now I’m really wishing I could figure out a way to go to Realm Makers… but if I don’t… then I need y’all to take a bunch of pictures for me. And… maybe I could send one of you my stack of Brooks-books and you could get them all signed for me?!?!? *grin*

~ jenelle