CHRM-101: Introduction

5 Sep


Part One – Introduction:

Please introduce yourself and tell me why you’re taking Charms. This is informal, so here are some questions that you may consider:

  • When did you know you had magical talent?
  • What interests you about Charms?
  • What would you like to learn in the class?
  • Are you interested in spell casting theory (how it is done)?
  • Would you like to learn just spells that are from official sources (such as the books, movies, games, etc.) or would you like to learn some spells that were not seen in the official sources?
  • What about Charms excites you?

Please dedicate 1-2 paragraphs to this portion.


Part Two – Journal Plan:

You will be responsible for keeping a journal that documents your experience practicing the Charms we discuss in class. You can use a physical journal or notebook, or a program like Word or OneNote, as long as you can somehow enter it into the submission box when required. Here are some ways you can write the journal, though there are MANY options:

  • a traditional journal entry,
  • a list of thoughts and observations,
  • as a role-playing exercise (where you explain what you do as if writing a story),
  • and other options not on the list.

I want you to tell me, for Part Two, how you will be writing your journal (IE which of the above options you’ve chosen). Please dedicate 2-5 sentences for this part.


PART ONE – Introduction:

Greetings Professor!

I’m Justin and I am very excited to be starting my magical education with Charms!

I recall an evening in my early youth, in the frigid Canadian winter, when my Great-Uncle (or, as we call him, “Grunkle”) Caractacus was telling me a story by the firelight. He was a fantastic spinner of yarn, always ready with a silly voice or an improvised sound effect, and through his performances the lives of witches and wizards past – and the miraculous magic they performed – would come alive again. On this night, he was telling me of the Spanish conquest of Central America, where a very evil and very powerful wizard named Felipe Cinquedea Bolivar had kidnapped an Aztec princess (this tale is no doubt dreadfully familiar to you, but to my yet-unformed mind, it was as exciting and revelatory as life itself). As he spoke of the princess’s plight – of how she discovered her own magical power at the pyramid’s peak beneath the moon bathed in midsummer blood – I became agitated. She seemed so real, so alive and brave and strong and unjustly hurt, and while I sat there wide-eyed behind my glasses, the muggle appliances in the kitchen beyond were exploding with sparks and flame. I paid them no mind, lost as I was in these tales of the past, but I imagine Grunkle Caractacus knew then that magic was in my future. He was – as always – completely correct.

As the fundamental nexus of all spellcasting, Charms seems to me to be a crucial discipline. I’m excited to embrace both its theoretical and practical sides, and I hope to apply them toward a broader understanding of where magic comes from, and what it means to wield it. Spells from official sources are of course very welcome, but as a Ravenclaw I am driven by a thirst for knowledge, and I am eager to push the boundaries of what magic can accomplish – so bring on the unprecedented!

PART TWO – Journal Plan:

I intend to keep notes on my Charms studies in point form. I believe this will be an efficient and scientific way to document my experiences, and still allow for some philosphical reflection, if I am inspired to make any such observations. I can’t wait to get started.


ASTR-101: Intro & Favourite Constellation

5 Sep


As an introductory essay, you’ll be writing about your favourite constellation. This essay needs to be NO LESS than 200 wordslong, and needs to be comprised of three paragraphs – detailed below. In addition, you need to include a picture of your constellation.

  1. Paragraph 1 needs to detail which constellation you’ve chosen, why you’ve chosen that constellation, and some information about the constellation.
  2. Paragraph 2 needs to retell the creation myth for your constellation. Most constellations have a Greek or Roman creation myth, you need to research this and tell the story in your own words. You may use another culture’s myth if you find one; it is not required to use only Greek or Roman. If you happen to choose a constellation without a traditional creation myth, then please use this paragraph to explain when it was discovered, who discovered it, how it was named, etc.
  3. Paragraph 3 is where you get creative! You need to create an entirely new creation myth for your constellation. Your created myth needs to read like a short story. No points will be deducted if you chose to make this section more than one paragraph.


My favourite constellation is a pair of stars identified in the ancient world by the Nords, who named them the Eyes of Thjazi. This constellation is perhaps better known in modern times as Gemini, the Twins of the Zodiac, combining the stars Castor and Pollux. These two stars are matched in brightness and sit side by side, which is why they resemble a pair of eyes, and reach their peak in the sky in January. For this reason, they are associated with the winter goddess Skadi in the Nordic tradition. I’ve chosen this ancient and unique constellation for its simplicity, beauty, and the exciting tale which provides its namesake.

Thjazi (sometimes anglicized as “Thiassi”) was a giant of Jotenheim in Norse mythology, and the father of the goddess Skadi. According to legend, he conspired with the trickster god Loki of Asgard to kidnap Idunn, the goddess of youth who provided life-sustaining fruit to her fellow Asgardians. When it was discovered that Loki was responsible for this crime, he was commanded on pain of death to return to Jotenheim and steal Idunn back. With the aid of a magical falcon-cloak gifted to him by the goddess Freyja, he succeeded in rescuing Idunn, but Thjazi was killed in the process. This infuriated the giant’s surviving daughter Skadi, who demanded reparations for her father’s death. Three forms of compensation were offered to her by the gods of Asgard: she would be allowed to choose a husband from their number (on the condition that she would only be able to see their feet), she would be placated with a gift of laughter (which Loki himself provided by, perhaps rather boorishly, tying a goat to his own testicles), and her father’s eyes, cast into the heavens by the All-Father Odin, would be turned into a pair of bright and shining stars. Thus do the Nords remember these twin stars as the Eyes of Thjazi.

While this primeval tale is a ripping yarn, it fails to connect the constellation – namely, the stars Castor and Pollux – to a significant mythological event. Thjazi’s eyes hardly play a major role in the narrative, and it seems that a symbol of spirit, personality, and watchfulness as potent as the eye could be a much more compelling story device. If I could retell the origin of the Eyes of Thjazi, it would go something like this:

Thjazi, mightiest of Jotunheim’s giants, would often take the form of a great eagle – a creature known for its keen eyesight – and fly the length and breadth of his realm, observing all that transpired below. His daughter Skadi was the goddess of winter and delighted in the thrill of the hunt. One fateful night, she decided to brave the untamed wild of Jotunheim to track the mighty stag Dvalinn, who nipped with his brothers at the branches of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree. Skadi ventured forth into the snow, unaware that the trickster god Loki of neighbouring Asgard was following her, intent on causing mischief. Skadi tracked Dvalinn into the tallest and most treacherous mountain passes, until she was within range with her bow. As she tensed for her shot, Loki – watching from afar – used his magic to conjure an illusion, making it seem as though Dvalinn had multiplied. Skadi was confused, thinking that the stag had been joined by his brothers, and in her confusion she loosed her arrow too early. The stags, real and imagined, scattered – and Skadi spent the next five hundred years lost in the frigid peaks of the mountain range, in pursuit of a quarry that always seemed to elude her.

Thjazi, noticing that his daughter had not returned, took to the skies in eagle form, scanning Jotunheim with his sharp raptor vision for any sign of Skadi. But the snow and wind of the mountains concealed much, and he could not find her. Eventually Loki returned to check on his good work, and unwittingly revealed his presence to the searching eyes of Thjazi. They met on the side of a mountain, where the giant demanded to know why Loki had come. The god of mischief was boastful, and told Thjazi of the trick he had played. The giant became enraged and attacked Loki, their titanic battle sending avalanches cascading down the mountain’s face. Skadi, alerted by the tumbling snow, arrived to see Loki strike the killing blow on her father. She fled to Asgard in her grief, and demanded justice from the gods who lived there. Loki was humiliated as punishment for his crimes, forced to walk the halls of his homeland with a goat tied to his testicles. In reparation, Skadi was given her choice of Asgardian husbands, and her father’s ever-watchful eyes were cast into the heavens by the All-Father Odin, so that they might watch over his beloved daughter for all time.

Web of Shame: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

9 May

I’m probably foolish to think that the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies should have been enough. That series got tiresome fast, but until now I never thought I’d be pining for the colourful, cheesy, fantastical, flawed comic book world that Raimi built in Marvel’s fictional New York City. But if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has anything to teach us, it’s that there’s no limit to what a studio like Sony will sacrifice in the name of a profitable product, including contrivances like plot, character, believability, and logic – which Raimi’s films at least acknowledged, if sometimes in a fumbling way.

The film follows Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he struggles with graduation from high school, complications in his relationship with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and the rekindling of an old friendship with Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan). Predictably, Peter is late for graduation, fumbles his romance, and unwittingly steers Harry towards evil. There’s also a man made out of electricity called Electro (played by Jamie Foxx in what seems to be the only motivated performance in the film), because apparently one villain isn’t enough. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 takes many cues from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but it misses that one; Batman only ever dealt with one real antagonist at a time. Those films were imperfect, but their grittiness and dark tone suited the Batman context. That kind of tone is deeply unwelcome in a Spider-Man movie, which should focus on fun characters, exciting and inventive action sequences, and a lighthearted spirit. Director Marc Webb seems happy to capitalize on the elements that made The Dark Knight series a box-office success, without really grasping why these elements worked (or, more pointedly, why they wouldn’t work in his own film).

Both of Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films insist upon the inclusion of a backstory in which Peter attempts to solve a mystery surrounding the disappearance and death of his parents. This subplot, or anything like it, was wholly absent from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and they hardly suffered for it; I am at a loss to understand why it’s positioned as being central to the Spider-Man story when it could have been removed with literally zero affect on the film. At the inevitable moment at Peter’s graduation where Aunt May says “I wish your Uncle Ben could have been here”, Peter is quick to add, “And my folks,” and it’s like the forced shoehorning of that line into a conversation that wasn’t about his parents is an echo of the whole subplot, an addendum that doesn’t add anything. I’m already indisposed to these movies because of how utterly unnecessary they feel, so I have little patience for an unnecessary subplot. The film is polished yet pandering, very indicative of the kind of flashy, brainless, lowest-common-denominator screenwriting I’ve come to expect from the duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The problem is twofold: either they are more than willing to bend the knee to the studio bigwigs who write their cheques and make concessions instead of honest stories, or they genuinely have no respect for the intelligence of their audience, and neither possibility is something I can abide. Perhaps these larger structural issues can’t be placed on their shoulders, but the unnatural and hackneyed dialogue certainly can. Even people in a comic book universe don’t communicate this way.

The film feels very dishonest and constructed, very much a hodgepodge of disparate pieces of other successful films sewn together Frankenstein-style. Peter has a poster of the movie Blow Up on his wall and it’s like OK, I get it, he’s a photographer. But if you want him to be a journalist and a science genius and an engineer and a superhero and a relatable protagonist, then these elements need to be handled more delicately, and woven in more cleverly. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is awful, and that Andrew Garfield croaks his way through the “ain’t”s and “hey man”s that seem appropriate for a Brooklyn teen, but not for a socially-awkward chemical engineer. It’s abundantly clear that the producers and Sony execs decided their Spider-Man movie needed to have certain marketable elements in it in order to appeal to as many people as possible, and then tasked the writers and director with making a genuinely enjoyable film out of them; basically, the mission statement seems to have been: “Please make our advertisement into a feature-length film”. I admire their tenacity in trying to make that happen, although I’m not sure you can call it a success. Sony’s Vaio laptops and Ericsson cellphones are more than common sights; they’re pushed into centre frame. We’re meant to infer that Electro is drawn to Times Square because he feeds off of electricity and Times Square, with all its brilliant lights and billboards, must be the “most electrical part of the city” (even though the final showdown between him and Spider-Man takes place in a power station, doubtless coursing with a hundred times the voltage of Times Square). But this actually happens because it’s where Sony could sell the most adspace and still convince you it’s a movie – ads strewn across a power station would have been too obvious. The mid-credits scene – now a staple of the comic book film, intended to tantalize you with details about the inevitable sequel –  is simply a context-free clip from the upcoming X-Men movie, a film franchise which isn’t even owned by Sony. They were too lazy to write and film a scene bridging the gap between this Spidey film and the next one, so they used the expected mid-credits scene as just another billboard. The shamelessness verges on infuriating.

The only part of the whole thing that’s convincing is Spider-Man himself. When Peter’s in the suit, he’s the perfect film incarnation of the web-slinging, wisecracking, spandex-suited superhero you’d pay to see. Garfield absolutely looks the part, as well – this is the most convincing the costume has ever been, and his lanky frame really sells it; his nimble CGI antics are well-choreographed, well-shot, and exemplary of Spider-Man’s hyperkinetic abilities. He spends so little time in the suit, though, probably a quarter of the film’s runtime, and the success of his performance is due more to the film’s talented digital artists than the star himself. I recall reading that Garfield and Emma Stone were praised for their onscreen chemistry in The Amazing Spider-Man, especially because of their offscreen romance, but Stone provides more than her share here – she’s the funny, endearing, charismatic one, and she absolutely carries the couple, despite her quote-unquote quirky dialogue ringing false more often than not. I can’t get over that Aunt May is played by Sally Field; she never stops being Sally Field, and I can’t not see her as Sally Field. She’s as incongruous in this comic-book context as Christopher Lee would be in a romantic comedy. And why cast Shakespearean veteran Colm Feore as an Oscorp fatcat, or the excellent Paul Giamatti as classic Spidey villain The Rhino, if you’re going to underuse them? Giamatti has about eight lines to work with, all of which are cliched takes on “I am unstoppable!”, and his two – count ‘em, two – scenes bookend the film with no context, arc, explanation, or resolution. They knew better than to try and top J.K. Simmons, though, whose J. Jonah Jameson was probably the most memorable part of the Raimi trilogy, here restricting the character to a blithe offscreen reference (Peter emails him a photo). His cartoonish portrayal of the cantankerous newspaper chief fit brilliantly into Raimi’s more unrealistic films, but such a spirited performance would easily outshine anyone in this new series by a New York mile.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also distinguishes itself with possibly the worst soundtrack I’ve heard yet this year. Hollywood’s eminent musical hack, Hans Zimmer, is teamed up with pop-producing media darling Pharrell, and I’m baffled by the flagrancy of these choices – these men were picked because they are famous, and not because they were a) a good fit for the Spider-Man universe, or b) able to create an engaging and memorable score. Zimmer and Pharrell do manage to construct a musical setting for the film which is as pandering and disposable as the film itself, so maybe they’re a good choice in that regard. A comic book movie needs a strong melodic theme, something people will hum as they leave the theatre (think John Williams’ unforgettable Superman theme). Instead we’re made to suffer through Zimmer’s tired trademark orchestra blasts (the now-infamous BWAAAHHH from 2010’s Inception – how has this film music fad survived for four years?) and Pharrell’s inappropriately-placed pop-dubstep. That’s what the kids like these days, right, dubstep? Let’s throw some of that in there, why not. That could by the rallying cry for the entire production: “why not”. It’s a shame nobody took the time or effort to actually answer the question.

The trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends with a smash-cut shot of Spider-Man swinging a manhole cover at the Rhino, halfway through a showdown-style fight sequence – now, imagine my surprise when the film itself ended on the exact same shot. This is fundamentally dishonest: you buy the ticket in order to see what happens next. They advertised a fight that doesn’t occur. These issues compound upon one another and the film’s cynicism quickly began to mirror my own, until we both just sat there fuming. That’s not how this is supposed to work. If you’re not a comic book movie fan, feel confident in avoiding this shallow clunker, and if you are, may Stan Lee have mercy on your soul. Nothing that you treasure about the genre is evident here, except the sight of Spidey in his suit, which you can buy at your local comic book shop for far less than the price of a movie ticket.