Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach

From my understanding, most people have never heard of Parzival, so I suppose I must begin by enlightening you on who he was. I’m sure you’re all familiar with King Arthur and the Round Table. If not, in quick summary, King Arthur created an exclusive group of knights who sat about a round table that represented the equality between them all (because the table was round, no one sat at the head). Parzival was one of these knights, and he fought very hard to achieve this. This book tells his story and how he learned the ways of knighthood, making many consequential mistakes along the way. Although the book is titled “Parzival,” it also tells the story of Gawain, another knight of the Round Table. I believe his story was included to highlight the polarities and differences between the two knights and how they changed and matured.

Parzival’s upbringing was anything but knightly. His father was a renowned knight, but he died in combat and his mother was fearful that the same fate would fall upon her son. She never spoke of knights, and sheltered Parzival, hoping he’d stay with her in the safety of their secluded home in the woods forever. Obviously, this did not happen, and one day, Parzival came across a trio of knights in gleaming armour in the woods. He was completely awestruck, and because his mother had sheltered him so, he was convinced that he was in the presence of God. The bemused knights told him otherwise, and he rushed home telling his dismayed mother he wished to ride off and become a knight. Completely distraught, she dressed him in fools’ clothes and gave him a lame pony, still hoping he’d embarrass himself and come back to her.

Farther along his journey, Parzival comes across a castle (which he later discovered was the Grail Castle). While at the castle, he witnesses a beautiful display of the Holy Grail, and is itching to ask a question, but does not end up asking it. When he leaves, he is chastised by the guard for not asking the question. Parzival later learns that by asking the question, he could’ve saved an injured king and freed all the inhabitants of the castle from their captivity. He is utterly disappointed in himself and ashamed at his failure. Parzival realises that he is not worthy of the Round Table until he rights his wrong. He then goes in search of the Grail Castle once again, hoping to earn his place at the Round Table.

Though this book was a bit dry at some parts, I still think its was an intriguing read, as I really don’t know much about knights and their customs. It was also interesting to hear a bit more about this time period (the middle ages in Europe), and how vastly different it is from today’s world. This story was originally passed down orally by the French, and was later transcribed in German by Eschenbach. Some French words in the story were left untranslated which helped maintain and emphasise the culture and tradition described in the book. Though it was not the easiest read, I don’t regret reading it, and I think anyone who is interested in knights and the middle ages would enjoy it.

-Elina T.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Have you ever been to the circus? Were you blown away by the trapeze artists and the animals who jumped through impossibly small hoops? Well, imagine a circus which operates solely on magic. A circus composed of people with real magical abilities. People who can actually make themselves disappear; people who can create wonderlands made of ice. Now imagine that this circus opens at sunset and closes at dawn; it is only open at night. What I’ve just asked you to imagine is called the Le Cirque des Rêves — the Circus of Dreams.

Even as a young child, Celia Bowen had extraordinary talent. Her father, Prospero, is a renowned and boastful magician who enters into a competition of sorts with a mysterious Mr. A.H–. Prospero teaches Celia the art of magic, specifically illusions. Mr. A.H– chooses an orphan boy as his protege: Marco Alisdair. He takes a different angle with him and reveals to Marco the art of magic through texts and glyphs.

Celia begins performing at Le Cirque des Rêves as the illusionist, while Marco takes a more subdued role as assistant to the proprietor of the circus: Chandresh. Very little of the competition is revealed to the two competitors. In fact, the only thing they know for sure is that they are involved in a competition and that giving up is not an option. Neither knows anything about their rival, much less who it is; nor do they know much about the rules or endgame. As one might expect, as the story progresses Celia and Marco begin falling in love, and neither is aware of the consequences that this might entail.

Even before I had begun reading this book, I had fallen in love with it. The cover is beautiful, and I feel as if it fits very well with the themes of the story — mystery and magic. The way in which this story is written was interesting, and I believe it too added to the mystery and fantasy behind it all. It is written from the prospective of a whole array of different characters including Celia, Marco, Prospero, Mr. A.H–, Chandresh, a German clockmaker, a boy who is completely enamoured by the circus, and other circus performers (including the contortionist: Tsukiko, and twins called Poppet and Widget).

This was a great and fairly quick read. Erin Morgenstern does a beautiful job lacing themes of fantasy, magic, and mystery into her words. This book took me to a completely different world filled with magic and wonder. I’d give anything to visit Le Cirque des Rêves

-Elina T.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks

The Unfinished World and Other Stories is a beautifully written piece of literature filled with a wide variety of short stories. These stories revolve about everything from time travel and space to thrilling tales of kingdoms and magic. I was truly amazed by the sheer creativity and eccentricity which Sparks was able to spill out and expertly mold into eloquent, intriguing, and though-provoking stories. Each story is unique and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Although they are completely unrelated, they all seem to have some sort of other-worldy ethereal sense to them. Maybe it’s because of the style in which it’s written, or it could simply be the creative flare with which the author forms her worlds and characters. Either way, I was completely blown away by this book, and cannot get over how utterly incomparable and ingenious it is.

Because this book is composed of so many stories, I have grudgingly decided to speak about only two of them — The Unfinished World ( I suppose I must talk about this one) and my favourite out of the other short stories: And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love.

The Unfinished World (for which this collection of stories was named) tells the story of a boy named Set. Set is an unusual boy who struggles to find and understand himself and his past as he grows older. When he was younger, he was attacked by a bear, and he died…well, sort of. He ended up surviving the attack, but there has always been something missing…no one can quite put their finger on it. He’s never been the same since; there’s an empty hole in his soul. Set follows in the footsteps of his older brother who travels to Hollywood in pursuit of his dreams. Set becomes well-known, and everyone sees him as a handsome, hard-working young man. Anyone who really knew Set would know that that is just a facade — part of him is missing. Then he meets Inge, and she turns his life around.

And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love is a short, but deep and meaningful love story. Early in their lives, a young man and a young woman meet one another and fall in love. However, both have jobs which require constant traveling. They show their love for each other by sending wood carvings and sculptures to each other. By this means, they continue their relationship. A detail which I thought to be particularly lovely was that one would send an artistic portrait to the other, having remembered, in full and perfect detail, what they looked like.

Despite the fact that some of these stories are extremely short (just two or three pages in some cases), the author has a unique ability to weave in and evoke so much emotion. Some of the stories were slightly confusing, some more intense, and some were pretty dark (I would recommend an older audience for this book). However, I would definitely recommend this book, as it felt as if I was in a completely different world while reading it.

-Elina T.

TV Review: The Office (U.S.)

The Office is unlike any show I’ve seen before (granted I really haven’t seen an extensive variety of shows). What I noticed first is that there is no music (aside from the intro theme music). In this show, the characters know that there is a camera there, recording everything that they say and/or do. Most of the time, the camera just follows the characters around the office, but there are times where the camera will sit with each character individually and interview them about what is happening.

All of the characters are funny and quirky in their own unique ways, which I really like. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the regional manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a paper company. He’s most likely the most flamboyant and eccentric boss you’ll ever see. His philosophy is: friend first, boss second. He’s constantly trying to fit in with all of his employees, while struggling with intermittent relationship problems. Yet, through all of this, he remains bubbly and confident in himself. Although he often says rude and unprecedented things, his true intentions are honorable (most of the time).

Throughout the show, Dunder Mifflin undergoes many changes — people come and go, there are changes in leadership, people are transferred. The camera follows and records everyone’s reactions through all the mayhem and chaos.

The other characters include the sales staff: Jim, Stanley, Dwight (Michael’s loyal Assistant to the Regional Manager), Phyllis, and Andy. In accounting: Angela, Oscar, and Kevin. Meredith, Kelly, Creed, and Ryan are each their own department. Pam, the receptionist, Toby, the HR rep (whom Michael has an unexplainable hate towards), and the warehouse workers led by Darryl. I love how well each of the characters are developed, despite the fact that there are so many of them.

If you enjoy comedy movies or shows, I’d definitely recommend this. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge comedy fan, but I ended up really enjoying this show. So, even if you’re not sure that you’ll like it, at least give it a try — it might turn out to be your favourite show yet.

-Elina T.

Film Review: The Big Short

The Big Short is a film based upon the economic housing market crash in 2007. The film follows three groups of people who all become involved in concurrent situations.

A man named Michael Burry is the manager of a hedge fund and discovers, after reading through an extensive list mortgages, that the United States’ housing market is extremely unstable. Quite certain of his findings, he predicts that the housing market would crash in the second quarter of 2007. This, having piqued his interest, led him to visit multiple banks, asking each whether he’d be able to invest in a credit default swap market. This would allow him to bet against market-based house mortgages. The banks, perceiving a far different future for the housing market, readily accepted Burry’s offers. In all, Burry spent 1.3 billion dollars betting against the mortgages. This also meant that he had to pay hefty premiums to the banks he’d made deals with. Many of his clients were upset by this, considering it a ‘rash action’ on his part, and asked for him to sell them all back immediately. Fortunately, Burry ignored these commands, and continued following his instinct.

Jared Vennett, a salesman at Deutsche Bank, becomes interested in Burry’s tactic after hearing from another bank who had sold Burry a credit swap. Vennett is drawn to this idea, and decides to invest some of his own money in these swaps. While contacting banks, Vennett mistakenly calls Mark Baum, the FrontPoint hedge fund manager. Baum, who already has a bad taste for big banks, decides to invest in swaps as well.

Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley had started a small firm out of their garage, and become interested in the idea of buying credit swaps (the idea is introduced to them by Vennett). They started out with about 100,000 dollars, but are now handling millions through their strategy of buying cheap insurances with big potential payouts. The strategy had done them well thus far, and the buying of credit swaps seemed a very favourable idea to them. Unfortunately, their earnings fell short of the minimum required for an ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Organisation) certificate. This would’ve allowed them to make swaps like Baum’s and Burry’s, however, since they couldn’t attain this certification, they were forced to resort to another method. They had met an older man named Ben Rickert, who is a retired securities trader. Although he is a bit reluctant, Charlie and Jamie are able to convince him to help them. When they attend the American Securitisation Forum, they end up making better deals by betting on mortgage securities with higher ratings. The banks they encounter eagerly accept their offers, as they see the mortgage securities to be extremely stable. However, they begin suspecting that banks are committing fraud, as the Securities and Exchange Commission has no method of regulating mortgage-backed security activity.

Despite their seemingly victorious night, Rickert is disappointed and disgusted in the two young men. He points out that while they become filthy rich, they’ll be ruining the lives of countless other people. Unemployment rates would skyrocket, and an economic crash would also lead to deaths. They then realise that the banks intended on maintaining the value of their swaps and then short them before the now inevitable economic crash. In desperation, the two once again call upon Ben, who is on vacation in England. While sitting in a pub, Ben is able to sell most of their swaps, and in the end, they make a total profit of 80 million dollars.

In the end, Burry earns a total of 2.69 billion dollars. His fund’s value had increased by 489% after the house market had crashed. Baum and his team profited by 1 billion dollars, with a complete loss of faith in the banking system.

It was interesting to see how Burry was able to see through everyone’s certainty in the housing market. It was also interesting to hear the story behind these people’s reasoning and why they did the things they did. This movie was very informative and captivating and told the story of the housing market crash in 2007 in a very succinct and understandable manner.

-Elina T.

The Big Short is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy was written by Dante Alighieri who grew up in Florence, Italy during the Middle Ages. During this time, there was great political tension, especially between two groups. The first was for the papacy and they were called the Ghibelline. The other, which Dante was a member of, demanded of independence from the Church, and they were called the Guelph. After the Ghibelline fell, the Guelph broke into two separate sectors: the white Guelph and the black Guelph. Although initially the white Guelph were triumphant, the black Guelph returned not long after and exiled many of the prominent white leaders, Dante among them. While in exile, a vision came to him, and this is when he wrote The Divine Comedy.

There are three parts to the Comedy. It begins with the Inferno, which is probably the most widely known. The second book is called Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the third: Paradiso (Paradise). At the beginning of the poem, Dante describes how he has lost his way, and is lost in a figurative “dark wood”. Luckily, Virgil, Dante’s symbol for human reason, approaches him and explains that the only way he may return to the true way is if he makes the arduous journey through Inferno, Purgatory, and finally, Paradiso. Virgil acts as Dante’s guide through Inferno and Purgatory, but Beatrice (a character which represents divine love to Dante) leads him through Paradiso.

This book was interesting for numerous reasons. For one, I had never before read anything remotely like it. The comedy is formatted in stanzas, each with three lines. Coincidentally, there are thirty-three cantos (Italian for chapters) in each book, and there are three parts (Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradiso). There are many other elements in this book which revolved around the significance of the number three which was very interesting.

This book is packed with symbolism, analogies, and allegories. It was a bit difficult to wrap my head around some parts despite the fact that the writing itself wasn’t very extensive. I found it extremely interesting to think that all of this had come in the form of a vision to Dante. There is so much detail, and so many little complexities, which it makes it difficult to imagine how he could’ve recalled all of it in such illustrious detail.

This book was originally written in Italian, and there are many different translations, which all differ slightly depending on the translator and their take on Dante’s work. The version I read was translated by John Ciardi. I found this version very helpful as it had summaries at the beginning of each chapter, which really helped me to better understand the story.

Despite the fact that it is called The Divine Comedy, it’s not actually a comedy. The poem describes Dante’s journey through the three books as he found his way back to the true path. This book is fairly well-known, but I know few people who have actually read the entirety of it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I still thought it was a very intriguing read.

-Elina T.

Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Anticipating the Next “Fantastic Beasts” Film

Mid-November, an article was released on Pottermore titled “Everything we know about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald so far.” The article revealed a lot about what we could expect from the next film.

Firstly, the film takes place in 1927, just a few months after the events that occurred in the first movie. It follows the story of Newt Scamander to Europe (specifically Paris and London), so we are traveling closer to Dumbledore’s home in Goodric’s Hollow and Hogwarts. Based on the title (The Crimes of Grindelwald), it may be assumed that this film will follow Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) and elaborate on his story. We know from the books that Grindelwald and Dumbledore have a history, and it appears as if it will be expanded upon in this movie. Based on the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it seems as if Dumbledore also had some sort of relationship with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as we know he argued against his expulsion from Hogwarts.

It is inevitable that Grindelwald will escape from MACUSA (the U.S.’s version of the Ministry of Magic). Looking back at the books, we know that Grindelwald’s rise was not unlike that of Voldemort. It was a dark time for muggles and wizards alike. Grindelwald’s intention was also aligned with Voldemort’s: they both believed that pure-bloods were superior, and that anyone who did not fit into this category did not deserve the right to use magic. We also know that Grindelwald is in possession of the Elder Wand (because of a picture of the cast that was released along with the article), which Dumbledore later acquires as he has it throughout the Harry Potter films. The picture also depicts the mysterious Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) mentioned in the previous film sitting with Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) — Newt’s brother. Another important note — Credence (Ezra Miller) is alive! At the end of the first movie, it seemed as if he was killed after transforming into his Obscurus form. However, he appeared in the picture with everyone else, so he must’ve survived… right?

Although we already know quite a bit about the movie, there are still bound to be surprises and plot twists. I’m extremely excited to see this movie, and am glad that the characters from the first movie will be returning, along with many new faces. J. K. Rowling herself has written the screenplay, and David Yates is directing the film. It will be released in the U.S. on November 16th, 2018.

I loved the first movie and I know I’ll love this one too! It’s really intriguing to hear everyone’s backstories and how it shaped them into who they are in the Harry Potter books and movies. I can’t wait for this movie!!!

-Elina T.