Monday, December 20, 2010

The Day Draws Closer...

We have only a few more days left until Christmas. We can imagine that Santa and his elves at the North Pole are rushing like crazy to finish their preparations for the big holiday. They're not the only ones. Many people across the globe are finishing their shopping for food and presents for the big day. People are also traveling to be with their families this time of year.

I'm sorry about not having anything to post about last week, but a lot of stuff was going on. Now I'm back home, and waiting eagerly for the holiday to come. I wish everyone on this blog a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Mysteries of the Ocean

Well, as of today, the next adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia series (the Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is now in theaters. One of C.S. Lewis's popular stories, it follows the adventures of Edmund, Lucy, and their practical cousin Eustace as they journey across Narnia's oceans to find Aslan's Country. This book explores a part of Narnia that, like our oceans, are deep and mysterious. In fact, so little is known about our oceans and what lies underneath them that people have been trying to figure that out for years.
One of the earliest tales of a sailor exploring the oceans goes back to Ancient Greece, in Homer's epic tale The Odyssey. The hero, Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Rome), has helped Greece win the Trojan war, but a series of events leads him to take 20 years to get home. Along the way, he encounters man-eating cyclopes, deadly enchanting sirens, and the infamous Scylla and Charybdis. These adventures are referenced in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, showing that the author was familiar with tales from Ancient Greece.
The Norse also had tales of sea creatures lurking in the deep. The most famous of these creatures was the Kraken, a giant octopus/squid like creature that pulled ships down to the bottom of the sea. What's scary is that the legend of the Kraken may have actually been a real creature! Although they don't pull ships down to the bottom of the sea, there is evidence that giant squid live in the oceans. Remains of giant squid have even been found in the stomachs of sperm whales, showing that if provoked they can be aggressive!
One of the most famous monsters to be seen in the oceans are sea serpents. For hundreds of years sailors have told stories of large, snake-like creatures that swam in the oceans. No reports of destroying ships are known, but that doesn't mean they were capable of doing so. They can easily be seen as the ocean's equivalent of the dragon, except that they didn't breathe fire or eat anyone (even though they could easily eat a ship if they wanted to).
Another famous sea creature that probably everyone is familiar with is the mermaid. These are some of the most unusual creatures around, because they were half fish, half women (more recent stories added male versions as well). The early stories had them behave like sirens, using songs to lure sailors to their deaths. More recent stories just have them as sea dwellers who love to sing. Perhaps the most famous story featuring mermaids is Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, which became Disney's 28th animated film. Tales of mermaids have withstood the test of time, and it's quite safe to assume that they will still exist in fantasy stories for years to come.
While people had many stories about creatures hiding in the deep oceans, there is evidence that shows that long ago, the oceans were filled with monsters. Throughout history, super predators have evolved in the oceans of the world. In the Devonian era, the oceans were ruled by a monstrous fish-like creature known as Dunkleosteus, a fish with a bite so nasty a person would lose their leg completely from it. Later, in the age of the dinosaurs, creatures like Elasmosaurus (a long-necked plesiosaurus), Liopleurodon (a huge short-neck pliosaur the size of a whale), and Mosasaurus (a crocodile-like creature with flippers) ruled the oceans. After the dinosaurs came the whales, but these were killers like Basilosaurus, nothing like the gentle giants of today.
Perhaps the most ferocious sea creature was the real life Jaws: Megalodon. Megalodon was a 50-foot shark that swam in the oceans about 25 to 1.5 million years ago. This shark was capable of eating whatever it wanted. No doubt the great whites of today would seem like harmless guppies compared to this creature. If it were still alive, nothing would be left of the surfers who'd probably get attacked.
The oceans are a vast and mysterious place. Writers and movie makers have been telling stories that explore these vast realms (like Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Disney/Pixar's film Finding Nemo). With the way research technology has advanced, we may find more discoveries under the sea that we had no idea existed or were possible.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where does "The End" Occur?

Well, fans of the famous Chronicles of Narnia series won't have to wait too much longer until they can return to Narnia. The next film in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, sets sail this Friday. Being the third story in Narnia's universe, this brings up an interesting question: When does "The End" truly occur?
What is it about stories that keeps authors writing about them? Is it the lure to show readers what happens to the heroes of their stories? Is it to keep writing? Or is it just to make more money? Whatever the reason, it pleases fans to see more adventures with some of their favorite characters. I guess if a story can be imagined by the author that continues the adventures and exploits of their characters, they'll write it.
No matter how popular the characters may get, one thing always has to happen: the series must come to a close. This is one thing that fans dislike about series the most, because it means no more adventures with some of their favorite characters. I suspect that authors try to make up for this by making the last book as great a story as it can possibly get. But even though the stories may come to an end, "The End" may not happen for those characters. If people love the characters hard enough, they will keep them alive in their imaginations.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Spell of Winter

Were I am right now, the snow has melted away again. For some people here, that's a good thing. For me, it means I may have to wait weeks for the snow to get back. I prefer to have a white holiday season.
When I was a little kid, the coming of snow meant fun (and possibly a few days off of school). I remember taking my sled to slide down snow covered hills with. My brothers were good at ice skating, but I could never get the hang of it.
The snow in winter also makes me think of a time period that had lots of snow: The Ice Ages. This time period commonly refers to a time about 20,000 years ago when large glaciers covered most of North America, Europe, and Asia. This was the time of Woolly Mammoths, Woolly Rhinos, and primitive man (sorry, Smilodons, or Saber-tooth cats, were alive at this time, but mainly lived in South America). The world was definitely much colder then (try picturing the North Pole without Santa or his elves). Even though it was a harsh time, I enjoy thinking of the ice ages and the creatures that lived in that time. It's even possible that there's a place in Dymos where the ice age continues (we'll just have to wait and see).
In my young mind as a kid, the coming of snow was a good thing. It was a reminder that Christmas would be coming soon. That was a time we would start getting out our decorations and making snowmen to decorate our front yard. My brothers would also have the occasional snowball fight. One of the good things that I think anyone would enjoy is coming in to sit by a warm fire drinking hot chocolate. I won't be doing that kind of stuff this year, but it's good to look back upon fond memories all the same.
Winter was a magical time for my childhood. I still enjoy it as an adult, when the world seems to take upon a new look, and the start of more family time. I hope everyone who gets to see snow this year will enjoy and treasure their memories.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The History of Christmas

Well, we've only got 23 days, almost 22, left until the most wonderful day of the year arrives. This holiday is widely celebrated across the globe as a time to be with family, and to help make others happy. Christmas has become a time of decorations, cookies, presents, and Santa Claus, but the message behind it all has remained the same. Let's take a trip through time to see how the holiday began.
The word Christmas first appeared sometime in the year 1038. It was used as a day of feasting and celebrating of the birth of Jesus Christ, and christian scholars in those days had agreed that the day of that event was December 25. This has been debated by many scholars for years, but the depth of those arguments are too long to go into. The point is, it was a day set apart in the middle ages for people to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.
For many people, this tradition continues to this day. The Nativity is one of the most famous stories children can read about during this time of year. Many Christian churches do different things to bring this event to life (from plays to walkthroughs, where people can walk about in a re-created Bethlehem). Some people even set up Nativity sets outside of their homes so people who drive by can enjoy the memory of the holiday's origins.
As time went by, people have added more ways to celebrate this holiday. People in Roman settlements (and some Jewish people as well) used to bring in branches from evergreen plants for the winter. Some of these plants included holm, ivy, bays, and hollies (which is still used as a decoration today). The Christmas tree was a way to Christianize a pagan tradition surrounding the Winter Solstice, which involved green plants as well. The custom was first said to have originated in Germany before becoming widespread in Britain by 1841. However, it wasn't until about 30 years later that Christmas trees began popping up in America. Today we add ornaments and lights to the trees, probably as a way to keep light shining in the darkness.
Some people may think Christmas carols may be a thing which is relatively new, but it isn't. Songs about this holiday go all the way back to 4th Century Rome, the first being Veni redemptor gentium. Songs were added on in the Middle Ages including Adesti Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful, which is still sung today). One of the most famous carols added was in 1818, and Austria was the first country to hear Silent Night. Christmas carols have been added that appear to be mainly for entertainment purposes, including Deck the Halls (1784) and Jingle Bells (1857, and was copyrighted in America).
Probably one of the most iconic practices this time of year is gift giving. Many companies and businesses use this as a way to bring in lots of money this time of year. However, in the Middle Ages, it was banned by the church because they thought it had pagan origins. However, it was reinstated after being recognized as a symbol of the gifts the Magi brought the baby Jesus on that special day. Today we have a new person who brings gifts to girls and boys across the world...Santa Claus.
Santa, unarguably one of Christmas's most famous icons, didn't start out as a jolly man from a workshop at the North Pole. The earliest version of Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas, who was Bishop of Myra during the 4th century. Saint Nicholas loved children, and used to care for them and give them gifts. A feast was eventually established on December 6 where the practice of gift giving came to fruition. Saint Nicholas would check the behavior of children for a year, and would decide if they deserved a gift or not. Over the years, the story of a man giving gifts to good children spread throughout Europe, although the name would change. Examples included Father Christmas and Kris Kringle (an English corruption of Christkindl), and the practice of gift giving was moved to December 24 (Christmas Eve). When those traditions and stories were brought over to America, the name became Santa Claus. Originally drawn in Bishop's robes, his attire was changed to the fur-wearing old man we know today. The elves and Mrs. Claus would not come until much later.
Although Christmas goes back a long way and has had many changes over the year, the spirit of the holiday remains the same. It's a time where we gather with friends and family to enjoy each others company. No matter how many changes the holiday may experience, the spirit of love and joy will always be in the holiday.