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A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition by Charles M. Schulz

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a TraditionPremise: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a biographical tribute to the animated television classic. With stories about how the Christmas special came together, readers will learn about producer Lee Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez, musician Vince Guaraldi, and creator Charles Schulz.

The book includes the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi’s original score and publication notes for songs “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” and original animation art from the special. Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez give their perspective of their relationships with each of the contributors and with the Peanuts characters, along with how the special came to fruition.

Themes: Charles Schultz’s comics tell grown-up problems from the perspective of children. With deep theological and cultural insight, the Peanuts kids share wisdom about life through the simplicity of their story.

A Charlie Brown Christmas shares the true meaning of the holiday in a very literal sense. In sharing in the nostalgia of this Christmas classic, the topics of life, faith, friendship, and love are brought forth through the classic Peanuts comics.

Pros: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition told me so much about the people behind the cartoons that I didn’t know, but it also revealed to me more about the Peanuts creator. I like how they share how the cartoon eventually came to be, seemingly slapped together and lacking in content, but beloved to this day for its simplicity. I love that the book includes the full script and the original score of “Christmas Time is Here” and “Linus and Lucy.” The way the book is put together, sharing the different perspectives of the cartoon’s creators along with the artwork makes the book more than a keepsake. It really does feel more like a biography.

Cons: Knowing this was only about the Christmas special, I would have liked a more in depth look into Charles Schulz’s beliefs. I think it would have added to the meaning Schulz wanted to create through his work. And though there is a lot of original art, I would also have liked the A Charlie Brown Christmas to include more animation cells and storyboard sketches.

Recommendations: If you’re looking for biography and nostalgia, A Charlie Brown Christmas has plenty of both. I learned things not only about the Christmas special but about the people behind creating it. With a realistic view of how television shows are (or at least used to be) made, this book romanticizes how things came together to develop this classic cartoon loved by many. Great to pick up in bites or to read all the way through, lovers of the Peanuts gang and of the Charlie Brown Christmas special would do themselves well to pick up a copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition to understand how it all came together.

Charles M. Schulz museum
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The HobbitPremise: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a race of small folksy people who keep to themselves, love to eat and make merry, and who never have adventures. That is, they never have adventures until the wizard Gandalf stops in for a visit. Gandalf invites thirteen dwarves to Bilbo’s under the hill home to set off on a journey, and little does Bilbo know that he has been roped into the adventure to go along with them. In fact, he has been given a special job by Gandalf as their burglar to capture the long lost dwarf treasure.

The party gets help along the way from Gandalf, Elrond and the elves of Rivendell, Beorn the skin-changer, the great eagles, and the men of Dale. The elves of Mirkwood prove to be challenging and a troublesome annoyance, but even with their mutual antipathy with the dwarves they may find opportunity to both battle with and alongside each other to face less graceful foes.

On their adventure, the group encounters trolls, wolves, spiders, elves, goblins, and other crafty creatures. Their ultimate goal is to find the treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug. It is here that Bilbo’s role as the burglar becomes most important. Even achieving victory can bring about its own unforeseen struggles, and no one could have predicted what might happen if the group were able to eventually gain the treasure.

Themes: Living a comfortable life where nothing exciting ever happens, an adventure is forced upon Bilbo. When faced with a seemingly impossible task filled with trials throughout the journey, Bilbo’s capabilities are put to the test. He becomes more decisive, with those decisions being increasingly infused with wisdom. It is through trials that a person learns their true character.

The goal of the dwarves to obtain their lost riches is wrought with peril, and not just from the dangers of the threat of harm from spiders and trolls. The obsession to gather treasure leads some to turn on Bilbo, the one without whom they would have all been lost, and to put even their own lives before releasing a portion of their wealth that they only had known for a short time.

Pros: Few books can span time and generations like The Hobbit. It lays the groundwork for arguably the greatest epic fantasy of all time in The Lord of the Rings, but it is a good stepping stone to make the much larger trilogy more accessible. The Hobbit is full of wit and playfulness in the face of danger, giving voice to the little guy and making the reader see new ways of accomplishing goals apart from brute force. An entire world is encapsulated in this compact story so masterfully that it makes the world building of The Lord of the Rings that much more impressive.

Cons: The pacing in The Hobbit is somewhat disjointed. We go from having tea and washing dishes in the first chapter to being captured by trolls in chapter two. The narrative changes gears too quickly at times, speeding through the mountains but dragging on and on through Mirkwood. Unfortunately, the popular culture references, while humorous, seem out of place in the story and can give this beautiful story a dated feel. I have always felt there were too many characters in The Hobbit, especially with so many dwarves to have to give each one a unique personality.

Recommendations: The Hobbit is a glorious tale of adventure written for children but it can be enjoyed by everyone. With today’s shorter attention spans it might be boring to some people, or seem childish because of its intended audience, however The Hobbit makes the reader take a second look at taking risks and enjoying life. It speaks volumes about the corruption of riches while decrying war and its horrors. In spite of its flaws, I can’t help but love The Hobbit and recommend everyone read it. Try reading it out loud to someone, preferably a child, and the magic it contains will more readily reveal itself.

The Tolkien Estate
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Childrens, Classics, Fantasy

 

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The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

The WendigoPremise: Dr. Cathcart and his nephew Mr. Simpson go on a moose hunting trip deep into the wilderness of northern Canada with their guides Hank Davis and the French Canadian Joseph Défago, along with their Indian cook, Punk. They split up to cover more ground, Dr. Cathcart with Hank and Simpson with Défago, but the rumor of a creature that wanders the wild where they are headed begins to stir in their minds.

When Défago takes off unexpectedly, Simpson attempts to follow him, but Défago is so swift that he is unable to keep up. The strange tracks he leaves, however, reveal that Défago was chasing something else, something with even stranger tracks. Stranger still is the lingering scent of something unexplainable that those who have smelled it can only describe as the “odor of lions.”

Simpson somehow is able to make it back to the original camp alone. Dr. Cathcart and Hank are surprised to see him, especially without his guide. But when Défago returns on his own, he is somehow changed. Dr. Cathcart might know something of his condition, but it is Punk’s response in the end that is most telling.

Themes: The Wendigo is a story of the unknown, not only the stories and rumors of something in the wilderness, but the sheer anxiety of going into unexplored territory and living off the land and by your wits. This is a classic monster tale that asks the question, “Who or what is the monster here?”

The changes someone goes through when facing uninhabited lands can be thrilling, but it can also take a toll on your mind. At least, that is what The Wendigo says to us. The “call of the wild” can bring about a ferocity in a man that makes him lose a little of himself in the wild. And when brought back into civilization, that part of himself may not come back.

Pros: With classic horror stories the suspense is built by simply not showing the monster and by contrasting the fantastic with the mundane. Even in such a short story The Wendigo is packed with the perfect amount of character development, a vast setting, and an unsettling chill of something watching you at every turn.

Cons: Many authors of classic horror risk belaboring points and drawing out suspenseful situations through repetition, and The Wendigo is no exception. It can be tedious at times, but only briefly, if there is such a thing as briefly tedious. Thankfully, it is short and those parts can easily be plowed through.

Recommendations: If you have read Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and are looking for more authors of their ilk, look no further than Algernon Blackwood. The Wendigo gives us a look at the unknown and brings with it both fear and wonder, which many times both go hand in hand. It is authors like Blackwood with such a mastery of the craft of storytelling that make me enjoy reading classics. Go read this now, especially since it is fairly short and you can download the ebook for free.

The Wendigo on Goodreads
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Download ebook of The Wendigo in multiple formats from Project Gutenberg (also free!)

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Classics, Fantasy, Horror, Short Story

 

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