TV on DVD Review: Clash of the Gods: The Complete Season One

Hey all…

Lately there seems to be a resurgence of myths in media… Movies such as Percy Jackson & The OlympiansThe Lightning Thief and the remake of Clash of the Titans (and the rumored sequels to both) made a combined $230+ million at the box office – so obviously there’s a market there. For me it’s been far too long since we saw myths on the big screen, so hopefully this won’t be the end of classic myths and monsters find their way back into popular culture. Big screen or small, it’s great to see them back and bigger than ever.

That said, the History Channel has once again presented an impressive series about Greek and Norse gods and heroes as well as the heroic journey of a certain group of Hobbits. Clash of the Gods: The Complete Season One has been split into 10 episodes with great content and solid production value. Using the myths and stories as a starting point, the series explores them through a combination of history, traditional storytelling, CGI, make-up, costumes, and sets. It’s a far cry from the filmstrips and dry texts I remember from my school days.

Starting with the father figure of Greek myth, the first episode centers on Zeus and how he fought his father, the Titan Cronos, to free his brothers and sisters trapped within the tyrant’s belly. You see, Cronos feared that one of his children would rise up and overthrow him. So as his wife Rhea gave birth to a child, Cronos would snatch it and swallow it whole. When Zeus was about to be born, Rhea decided his fate would be different. When Cronos came to swallow Zeus, Rhea gave him a rock to swallow instead and he never knew the difference. Zeus was then raised in secret and hatched his plan to free his siblings and take his rightful place as a god. And that was just the beginning of Zeus’ rise to power.

Once Zeus and his siblings were in power, the series could explore other aspects of Greek mythology and other stories. Later episodes dealt with Hercules and his many labors and hardships, the god and realm of Hades and his shared time with his consort Persephone, the tale of the Minotaur of Crete and the Labyrinth built by Daedalus and his son Icarus, and so on. The first seven episodes deal exclusively with Greek gods, demigods, heroes, and monsters.

In the last three episodes, we are entertained by tales beyond the Aegean Sea. We learn of Beowulf, the great Scandanavian hero who defeated Grendel in the classic poem. We discover the Christian, German, and Scandanavian roots of the world of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. And finally we explore the different realms of Yggdrasil, the World Tree – Asgard, home to the gods; Midgard, world of humankind; and Hel, the netherworld. Thor, the warrior of Norse myth, is locked in a battle to the end of days – Ragnarok – with Nidhogg, a serpent big enough to wrap all the way around the World Tree.

Beyond simply walking us through these various tales, we learn of the archaeological evidence found to support them. For example, we see some of the caves that the Greeks thought were entrances to Hades, Greek realm of the dead. And we see the walls of what may have been the legendary city of Troy from Homer’s stories of the Trojan War and the aftermath. It was amazing to consider that these myths were most likely based on real world places, people, and events.

The colored contact-lenses used by the human actors throughout the series got a bit old after a while, I have to say that they did present an easy way to know which characters were gods or demigods and which were merely human. For example, characters such as Zeus and Poseidon wore bright blue- or white-colored contacts as full gods and characters such as Hercules and Perseus, both demigods with a god as a father, had slightly less brightly-colored contacts. Even Thor had red contacts in one of the final episodes. But characters such as Odysseus, who were completely human, wore no contacts that we could see.

If you’re looking for a way to learn more about Greek mythology or merely want to see a well-written and produced series about heroes and gods, Clash of the Gods: The Complete Season One is a fun way to reconnect with classic myths and legends. I hope to see Clash of the Gods continue with tales from other areas of the world such as Egypt, India, or perhaps ancient Babylon. There are many more gods, goddesses, and heroes to explore!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out this series on DVD from Barnes & Noble below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Book Review: Strange But True America by John Hafnor, illustrated by Dale Crawford

Here’s a blast from my past…

Back when I was in college, I worked for a magazine for a while called GIS World. I helped out in the advertising department doing odd jobs a few hours a week and learned a bit about how magazines were put together. During that time, I worked with a guy named John Hafnor who worked as the Director of Sales and Marketing at the magazine for over a decade. So when I saw he was writing a new series of books about strange tales from American history, I knew I had to give it a look!

John wrote Strange But True America and Dale Crawford did all of the amazing illustrations throughout the book. The tales between the covers show the bizarre nature of American life from before there was a United States to the last decade or so. And the stories, as the book says on the back cover, are “a 50-state tour de force or every oddball fact missing from standard history books.”

For example, take the gorgeous state of Alaska. Did you know that one of the craziest April Fool’s Day pranks ever was done in 1974 in Alaska? About 13 miles away from Sitka, Alaska, lies Mt. Edgecumbe. It’s an extinct volcano about 1300 feet high that’s been dead forever. Well, on April 1, 1974, people in Sitka were calling the police and radio stations to see what was going on – there was smoke coming out of the top of Mt. Edgecumbe. Turns out that Sitka’s legendary prankster, Porky Bickar, had arranged to have more than 200 tires and smoke bombs dropped in the crater. Porky then dropped diesel fuel and a match in to cause all the commotion. Who knew that making an extinct volcano appear active would get so much attention? Evidently Alaskan Airlines had pilots divert over the crater to get a peek and the Associated Press sent the news around the world… One heck of a prank!

Another story in the book told the tale of 4-year-old May Pierstorff from Idaho. Her folks couldn’t afford a train ticket for a visit to her grandma’s house 75 miles away, so they decided to just pop their daughter in the mail. Evidently in 1914, there was a limit of 50 pounds per package and little May only weighed 48.5 lbs. With her 53 cents in stamps pinned to her coat, the little girl was delivered without fail to grandma’s house by the train’s mail clerk – who just happened to be her mother’s cousin. Somehow I don’t think we could get away with that today.

Finally, here’s a story about a house in Wisconsin built at the bottom of a hill with large boulders on top. On April 24, 1995, a 55-ton boulder fell and bounced nearly 500 feet, crashing through the roof and landing in the master bedroom of this house. Thankfully, the lady of the house had just left the room after taking pictures of the recent remodeling. Funny enough, in 1901 there was another house on the same property – all that was left in 1995 was a garage built on the spot. Evidently a boulder fell on that house in the middle of the night and landed on the couple sleeping in the bed. The wife was killed instantly, but her blind husband fell into the cellar and only had a small bump on his forehead. Does the land these homes were built on have some kind of boulder-attracting property I wonder?

The book is full of weird little facts like these. And each is kept to a single page, with the story told on the left and a full page illustration on the right. So these are perfect for digesting a few at a time if you don’t have time to read. The illustrations are amusing and very detailed to go along with the stories themselves.

For more information, check out their web page at http://www.strangetrueus.com. There are some samples from the book as well as a list of educator resources if you’re looking at using these tales in a classroom. As a former history teacher himself, Hafnor knows the power of a good tale to intrigue students and keep them interested!

If you’re a history fan and love weird but true tales, I’d urge you to find and pick up a copy of Strange But True America at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookseller. Hafnor and Crawford have put together an amazing array of stories to keep you entertained from cover to cover.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these books today!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Book Review: Fairy Hunters, Ink. by Sheila A. Dane

Hi all!

Do you believe in fairies? Sheila A. Dane does, and in Fairy Hunters, Ink. you meet Ashley, Big Rabbit, Turtle, and all of the different fairies they find during their many expeditions. Though the book is subtitled “A Book of Fairies for Children and (Not So) Grown Ups”, I think Dane did a magnificent job of writing this to capture a sense of childlike wonder throughout the text.

From the very beginning, the reader follows along as this small group of Fairy Hunters explores the area around the narrator’s (a young girl) house. They find many different faeries, from the Button Fairies having parties in the narrator’s closet at the beginning of the book to the Picnic Fairies and the Gremlin of Unfinished Business at the end.

Also included are illustrations by Rose Csorba, who did a beautiful job of capturing the little absurdities of each of the fairies encountered. She also did a beautiful job on the cover, which is also included as an interior illustration.

I read through the book with my two young daughters and really enjoyed it. It’s hard to explain though – the writing is interesting at times, with little asides and odd capitalizations, made-up words and so on. But I think this lends to the charm of the book, making the reader feel as though they’re reading something written by a child.

Among our favorite fairy stories were:

  • Pocket Fairies… “All Pockets have Fairies, at least until the Pocket gets a hole and your Fairy falls out…” They tend to be frazzled looking, though they aren’t generally frazzled – they just look that way because they live in your pocket.
  • Sock Fairies… “It’s favorite form of Mischief seems to be going in the laundry and stealing Socks.” We have a big problem with Sock Fairies at my house.
  • Button Fairies… “I either have a lot of mice [in my closet] or all my buttons fell off at once and are having parties in my closet at night. And they haven’t invited me, which I think is quite Rude.” We have a big problem with Button Fairies at our house as well – like all kids, I think they’re allergic to tidy closets or have a lot of Button Fairies causing issues when they sleep!

There seems to have been renewed interest in fairies in children’s books of late. We really enjoyed the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, but those have a slightly darker tone than Fairy Hunters, Ink.. It’s nice to be able to share lighter fare with children to explain some of life’s little “mysteries.”

Dane has a website FairyHunters.net, where she is writing regular blog articles that will eventually become the sequel. I know we look forward to the sequel and will share it with other kids and parents as the opportunity arises. Be sure to look for Fairy Hunters, Ink by Sheila A. Dane at your local library or favorite bookstore!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other books below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]