Nerds in the World

A Geek Abroad

Mae Govannen, mellyn nin!

You may be wondering where I’ve been for the last month. For once, the answer isn’t “in my house, being lazy and watching copious amounts of TV.” No, this time the answer is much more exciting. I was touring the UK and Ireland on a three-and-a-half-week solo trip. I’d never been to those particular islands before, unbelievably, so it was a wonderful experience. And a nerdy one. Because most of the places I went out of my way to see were somehow related to my favourite books, movies, TV programmes, etc. And if I learned anything from this trip, it’s that the UK is a fabulous place to be a nerd.

Here are some of the geeky highlights of my adventure:

Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It's not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It’s not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

The Globe in its glory.

The Globe in its glory. (Albeit a bit blurry.)

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

It's also the Hospital Wing.

It’s also the Hospital Wing. And the upper floor is the Hogwarts Library, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there.

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I've ever seen - Blackwell's.

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I’ve ever seen – Blackwell’s.

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

By the way, no words, or pictures, could even begin to capture the utter awesomeness that is Oxford. Even if you’re not as huge a fan of Tolkien and Lewis as I am. It’s like everything good and beautiful about the last thousand years of Western history concentrated into a few square miles of marble and forests. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in England, don’t leave without seeing Oxford.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer.

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer. (And believe me, it was a chore climbing up there.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I'm pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It's also what the Jedi library looks like, but that's only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I’m pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It’s also what the Jedi library looks like, but that’s only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Here's Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

Here’s Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

And here's my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

And here’s my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

You may recognize this restaurant from "The Impossible Astronaut." it's called Eddie's American Diner, and their burgers are good (though the milkshakes are rubbish).

You may recognize this restaurant from “The Impossible Astronaut.” It’s called Eddie’s American Diner, and their burgers are good, but the malts are rubbish.

This street has stood in for several London streets, including the one where the evil Santa robots attacked.

This street has stood in for several London streets, particularly the one where the evil Santa robots attacked in “The Christmas Invasion.”

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

Long story short, I shamelessly indulged my inner geek for a whole month, and it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I highly recommend it as a cure for dullness and everyday American reality. But now I’m excited to get back to inflicting my geeky thoughts on you lot again! Stay tuned!

Namarie,
Aldy

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Harry Potter

Some Deep Thoughts about Hogwarts Houses

Every child starting his or her first year at Hogwarts gets sorted into one of the four Houses. This sorting is supposedly based on the virtues that define the student: bravery, daring, nerve and chivalry for Gryffindor; hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play for Hufflepuff; intelligence, knowledge and wit for Ravenclaw; and ambition, cunning and resourcefulness for Slytherin.

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But realistically, we all know that sorting 11-year-olds based on those criteria would never work. Most 11-year-olds have never had the chance to show a lot of bravery or cunning (at least, one hopes not). And what if the student is ambitious and intelligent? Or brave and hard working? These qualities are hardly mutually exclusive. Even in the books, Harry’s sorting could have gone either way – Gryffindor or Slytherin. The hat only chose him for Gryffindor because he asked it to. And wouldn’t Hermione be a better fit for Ravenclaw than Gryffindor?

I don’t think Sorting works the way it was initially explained in The Philosopher’s Stone – i.e., “the Sorting Hat puts you in the house that seems to suit your personality best.” Again and again throughout the series, Dumbledore reminds us that “it is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we truly are.” I have a theory, and this theory states that ALL new Hogwarts students choose their houses. The Sorting Hat’s only purpose is to find out where they truly want to be. No one ever ends up in a house they didn’t prefer.

So what house you belong to isn’t based on who you already are, but who you want to become. That’s why families often stay in the same House for generations. Harry picked Gryffindor because he wanted to be brave and strong like his father. Sirius picked Gryffindor because he didn’t want to be like his family. People who grow up to be Death Eaters tend to pick Slytherin because they want to become powerful and feared someday. Some people grow up to be the person they wanted to be, like Harry, Hermione and Ron. Others, like Peter Pettigrew (can you believe that guy was a Gryffindor?), don’t. Snape is a more positive example.

And this is why I can confidently say I am a Ravenclaw. Because even if I’m not as intelligent and wise as I’d like to think I am, or as utterly awesome as Luna Lovegood, that’s who I would like to someday become.

Namarie,
Aldy

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Nerdish Musings

Fictional Couples Are the Best

It’s Valentine’s Day. Siiiiiiggghhhhh….

This is the most annoying, divisive holiday on the planet. People who are in love (and aren’t too cynical) like it because it gives them an excuse to be romantic with their significant other. Florists, candy makers, and greeting card companies LOVE it because it gives them an excuse to market their products more aggressively than at any other time of year.

Everyone else hates it. I’m part of “everyone else,” so today tends to bring out my misanthropic side. However, I am trying very hard not to be cynical. Love is, after all, a thing worth celebrating, and, to a certain extent, so are chocolate hearts.

So, in an effort to bring a little bit of positivity to this day, here are a few happy couples that don’t nauseate me–largely because they’re not real, but still. Happy Valentine’s Day from:

1. Eowyn and Faramir

They’re both awesome characters separately, but together? Perfection.

 

2. Ten and Rose

“Don’t tell Amy and Rory or Eleven and River, but WE’RE the best couple on this show.”

 

3. Han and Leia

Princess + scruffy-looking nerf herder = the truest of true love.

 

4. Wash and Zoe

They were the most happily-married couple ever seen on telly. RIP, Wash.

 

5. Remus and Tonks

Lupin > Jacob. Tonks >>>> Bella. They weren’t in the movies enough.

 

6. Dean and Baby

Just kidding…kind of. She IS the most important woman in his life, though.

 

Here’s hoping all you readers find a valentine as wonderful as these characters did.

Namarie,
Aldy

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monthly fandom

Happy Christmas, Harry!

Ever notice how much time Harry Potter spends celebrating Christmas? At least one chapter of each book takes place around Christmas time, and some really important things happen during these chapters. Maybe because it’s one of the two holidays that Hogwarts makes a point of celebrating (the other being Halloween, of course). Christmas in the wizarding world is a time for fun, family, food, and, occasionally, the advancement of the plot. As a result, Harry has had several truly magical holidays and a few…not-so-great ones. Let’s rank them, shall we?

#1 – The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts is undoubtedly his happiest. It’s the first time he has a real Christmas–you know, with friends who actually care about him and give him presents. And it’s Hogwarts, so there’s a ridiculous amount of great food, and the presents are magical. Most importantly, this is the Christmas when Harry gets his invisibility cloak. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! His first use of it leads to his discovery of the Mirror of Erised, which is, in a way, a nice Christmas present as well.

#2 – The Prisoner of Azkaban

This Christmas is mostly notable for another great present that Harry receives: a Firebolt broomstick. This gift helps him win his first and only Quidditch Cup with the Gryffindor team later in the book, and we eventually find out that it came from his godfather, Sirius. Good times all around!

#3 – The Goblet of Fire

If only my Christmas parties could look like this…

 

This book gives us the Yule Ball, a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament in which Harry is participating. It’s a bit of an awkward affair, what with Harry and Ron’s total disinterest in their dates, Ron’s unfortunate dress robes, and Hermione’s angst over not being invited by Ron. But Hermione does get a great makeover, we get our first unmistakable signs that Ron and Hermione like each other, and we find out that Hagrid is, indeed, half giant. It’s a very fun chapter for the reader, if not quite so much for the characters.

#4 – The Chamber of Secrets

Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend this holiday at Hogwarts brewing Polyjuice Potion and infiltrating the Slytherin common room (to find out whether Draco is opening the Chamber of Secrets). Turns out he isn’t, and Hermione accidentally turns herself into a cat. Way to go, team.

#5 – The Half-Blood Prince

Neville is especially not having a happy holiday.

 

More Ron and Hermione drama this Christmas. Also, an unwelcome job offer from the Ministry of Magic, and (according to the movie) a completely gratuitous chase scene and the burning of the Burrow. At least no permanent harm was done.

#6 – The Order of the Phoenix

Since this book takes place during Harry’s most annoying teenage angst phase, it’s not surprising that he spent most of his Christmas holiday sulking. Not that he didn’t have a few legitimate reasons to sulk, what with Umbridge taking over Hogwarts, his dreams of Voldemort, and having to spend Christmas surrounded by pickled house-elf heads. Then there was that visit to St. Mungo’s, where we met Neville’s parents. All around, this was a rather sad holiday. At least Sirius was happy…one last time…

#7 – The Deathly Hallows

Happy Christmas, Harry. Sorry everything sucks.

 

But none of Harry’s previous bad Christmases can hold a candle to this one. Let’s see – he gets attacked by a snake hiding in the corpse of an old lady, breaks his wand, almost gets killed by Voldemort, has some seriously unsettling flashbacks to his parents’ death, finds out about Dumbledore’s dark past, and fails once again to destroy the horcrux. Yaaaay! (Although if you think of the sword of Gryffindor and Ron’s return as late Christmas presents, maybe it wasn’t so bad.)

Even if Harry’s Christmases were a bit of a rollercoaster, wouldn’t you just love to be a wizard this time of year? Most of the presents the kids get are awesome, and the food is so good, it’s amazing they’re not all obese by the end of the series. And all you have to do to prepare that food is wave your wand and watch the results! Holiday stress? Doesn’t exist! Man, people in the wizarding world have it made.

But the best things about wizarding Christmases are, thankfully, real–big family gatherings, fun parties, gifts, snow, and good food. They take a little more work to achieve in the real world, but they do exist.

Namarie,
Aldy

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monthly fandom, Nerdish Musings

All the Merry Fandoms!

Well, it’s December 2 already, which means it’s high time I introduced the fandom of the month. But for December, I’ve decided to change things up a bit.

Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year in most of the English-speaking world. It’s such an important (and emotionally-loaded) day in our culture that it tends to crop up rather a lot in fiction. Only the most serious and serialized TV shows can go for long without airing a Christmas episode, and many movies and novels spend a great deal of time depicting celebrations of Christmas (or a thinly-veiled substitute). For some reason, it often takes on special significance in fantasy and sci-fi. Maybe it’s because of the holiday’s strong roots in pagan and Christian mythology, or because of all the quirky traditions that go along with those roots, or perhaps because many people associate it with the wonder and imagination of childhood. Some authors use it as a fun, nostalgic break in the action; others like to milk the dark side of the holiday for all it’s worth. Either way, Christmas and the fandoms seem to get along quite well together.

So this month, to help us all get into the holiday spirit, I’ll be looking at all the different ways my fandoms celebrate Christmas. There will be episode and book highlights, and I may also provide some recipes, shopping items, etc. to add a little nerdiness to your merry-making.

CE-LE-BRATE! CE-LE-BRATE!

 

Stay tuned!

Namarie,
Aldy

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monthly fandom, Nerdish Musings

LOTR and the Harry Potter Seal of Approval

So, today’s the last day of National Banned Books Week here in the U.S., which is always a fun way to celebrate the utter failure of censorship to stop people from reading good books (and sometimes bad ones).

Fun fact: The Lord of the Rings is on the American Library Association’s list of “banned and challenged books.” Apparently in 2001, some folks decided to burn it and other Tolkien works outside Christ Community Church in Alamagordo, New Mexico. It has also been banned in some Christian schools over the years. Why? Because it’s a Satanic book, of course!

I like to call this sort of thing “the Harry Potter seal of approval.” Some people just can’t handle the use of magic in literature, even if it’s in a completely fantastical setting and not at all based on real-life witchcraft. They sometimes overreact to the point of burning the book to make a statement. And as in the case of Harry Potter, these people always end up doing absolutely nothing to hinder the popularity of the book. At this point, if you wanted to burn every Tolkien book in existence, you’d need a heck of a lot of gasoline.

Satanism might be a common accusation for fantasy books, but it’s a particularly ridiculous one to level at The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic his entire life, and he based much of the mythology of Middle Earth on biblical stories and imagery (see the Fall of Numenor in The Silmarillion for the most obvious example). And although his writings do feature wizards who cast magic spells and so forth, he portrays them as cosmic beings who are closer to angels than anything else.

But hey, now I can say I read a banned book for Banned Books Week!  And if you, like me, have made it a goal to pick up each of the books on the ALA list of banned classics, The Lord of the Rings is a much easier place to start than, say, James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

Namarie,
Aldy

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Not To Mention the Pincers…

Here’s something nice about the Harry Potter movies: my favourite scene from The Half-Blood Prince! Who says Harry has no sense of humor?

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Slughorn: “He had a family, I suppose?”

Harry: “Oh, yeah.”

Hagrid: “Seriously misunderstood creatures, spiders are. It’s the eyes, I reckon. They unnerve some folk.”

Harry: “Not to mention the pincers.”

 

Although I have to say, I have a hard time choosing between this part and Ron’s love potion scene.

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“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The moon.”

😀 LOL!!

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