Top 10 best and worst characters of Twin Peaks (and what they teach about writing)

Twin Peaks

OK, so I am obsessed with the TV drama Twin Peaks. If you’re not familiar with it, then you either weren’t old enough in 1990 or you haven’t discovered it on Netflix yet (get cracking). Part of it is because of how ridiculously similar designer Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro’s great game Deadly Premonition is to it, particularly the first season — seriously, I could compose a whole article about everything they share in common. But since this isn’t a video game blog, I wanted to tie it back to writing (duh).

The 10 best and worst characters change dramatically over the course of the show,* but they’re also extremely likeable or easily loathed. Some of them I’ve grouped into pairs. (Everyone knows Agent Cooper is awesome, so I’ve left him off this list.)

Here’s what we can learn from them, whether or not you watch the show.

Some slight spoilers ahead.

The five best

Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings

Twin Peaks Ed Norma

In a show filled with psychotic murderers, abusive husbands, rebellious teenagers, and good-clean cops (note: all stereotypes), you crave normal. The town of Twin Peaks is anything but. This is a drama, after all, so the sticky situations the characters constantly find themselves in are naturally overblown.

Ed and Norma — lifelong friends who love each other but could never be together — are the best example of the sense of stability that’s missing from most of the show. While characters like protagonist/FBI agent Dale Cooper are reliably moral and just, Ed and Norma aren’t perfect by most people’s standards. Like many on the show, they partake in adulterous behavior, but unlike the other characters, you don’t hate them for it. You might actually cheer them on.

Ben and Audrey Horne

Twin Peaks Ben Horne

I wanted to discuss businessman Ben Horne and his daughter Audrey together because of how their relationship grows. Ben’s not exactly a model guy — he’s kind of a scumbag — but I liked him more and more as the show went on. He has this vibe about him like he knows how incredibly weird and messed up the goings-on of Twin Peaks are even if he’s responsible for some of them. He might not be as a physically intimidating or calculating as some of the other characters (Hank and Catherine, for instance), but he always bounces back and adapts to fickle situations. When everyone else is super serious, you can count on Ben for some levity — and a reality check. A character doesn’t have to be a good guy for him to be likeable or relatable.

Twin Peaks Audrey

Audrey is just as admirable as her father, if in different ways. She starts out as this immature high schooler until her childish tricks almost get her killed. From then on, she’s no longer a little girl crying for daddy’s attention. She’s determined to grow up, learn the business, and earn her father’s (and everyone else’s) respect the hard way. I gotta love her for that. Believable growth is just as important for turning a unlikeable character into a favorite one.

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The Casual Vacancy migrates to the small screen

J. K. Rowling

I still need to read J. K. Rowling’s new adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, but here’s some good news for those of you who are hopefully awaiting a follow-up of some kind.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) announced today that it’s turning the book into a TV series, and Rowling will be working “closely” on the project. Huffington Post is already nominating actors for the character roles.

Rowling told U.S.A. Today that she didn’t consider The Casual Vacancy “a very filmable book,” saying, “I think it’s a very novelly novel in that a lot of what goes on happens internally. You need to understand what’s going on inside people’s heads. So even though a lot happens in the novel, part of the appeal of it for me is that so much of it happens in people’s interior life, and film isn’t necessarily the best medium to portray that.”

Television would certainly allot the characters more individual screen time. What do you think? A show could potentially attract a completely different audience than the people who religiously read Harry Potter — a market that The Casual Vacancy seemed to have trouble reaching due to Rowling’s 180-turn in genre.

[Photo credit: Debra Hurford Brown]

Place your bets: Game of Thrones vs. Lord of the Rings

Game of Thrones TV show Jaime LannisterMTV Geek interviewed A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin about who would win in a fight: the characters from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or his own Game of Thrones series.

You can watch his responses in the video here. Just beware of spoilers, unless you’ve read A Storm of Swords/Film says you’re home free if you skip from 00:14 to 00:36.

Below are the matchups. The final count is 3-7 in favor of Tolkien. Do you agree with Martin’s assessments, or do you think he’s giving the heroes and villains of LotR too much credit? Can you think of any other good pairings?

The Lord of the Rings movie AragornAragon vs. Jaime Lannister
Smaug vs. Balerion
Saruman vs. Melisandre
Wargs vs. Direwolves
Ice vs. Glamdring
Frodo vs. Tyrion
Nazgûl vs. White Walkers
Cave Troll vs. Mag the Mighty
Gimli vs. The Mountain
Ned Stark vs. Boromir

If this were real, it would be awesome: A Joss Whedon Choose Your Own Adventure

The Cabin in the Woods choose your own adventure

Because the sacrifice doesn’t count unless they choose their path for themselves. [via Quantum Mechanix (QMx)]

Here are my thoughts on Cabin in the Woods, the movie.

Did you have a favorite Choose Your Own Adventure? Check out this newspaper interview with Edward Packard, the guy who started the series first with The Cave of Time in 1979 — a book that contains roughly 450 different adventures, according to the article. Crazy.

Watch the Cloud Atlas trailer before it blows by

Cloud Atlas film trailer

Apparently, the debut trailer for the upcoming movie Cloud Atlas appeared a little too early for Warner Bros.’ liking.

The studio has asked some websites to take the trailer down, but as of this writing, it’s still up on YouTube.

Cloud Atlas is based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name. It’s a book that jumps in narrative and plants unexpected twists in its six nested stories.

Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run) and the Wachovskis (The Matrix) are codirecting the film, whose nearly six-minute trailer is a beautifully constructed piece that reminds me a little of Inception. The film itself is rumored to be about three hours long.

In response to the trailer, Indiewire had this to say: “As big fans of the book, we’ve wondered for some time if the filmmakers would be able to come anywhere close to its material, but we have to confess that this is pretty stunning, for the most part. The production values look incredibly high, the scope and ambition and variety is [sic] like nothing else we’ve seen in a long time, and the cast, aided by some excellent makeup, look to be rising to the occasion; we can’t remember the last time we saw [Tom] Hanks or (more briefly) [Hugh] Grant look so engaged in their material (and if you’ve ever wanted to see Hanks as a goateed, balding London gangster, or Grant as a warpainted cannibal, the chance has finally arrived). We have no idea what you’ll make of this if you’re unfamiliar with the book. And we have no clue if this’ll actually work as a whole.”

The movie stars the likes of Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Bae Doona, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, James D’Arcy, and Ben Whishaw. It’s expected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on October 26.

Have you read Cloud Atlas? Do you think it can succeed as a movie?

Women in games: Buffy Summers vs. Juliet Starling

I wrote another piece for GamesBeat — this time questioning who the real Slayer is, Buffy Summers or Juliet Starling. I interviewed Lollipop Chainsaw story writer James Gunn, voice actress Tara Strong, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer enthusiast Lily Rothman (she contributed to Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, which I reviewed awhile ago). The article deals with misogyny and the quality of lead female characters in video games.

Let me know what you think. I hope everyone had a fantastic 4th of July!

Children and censorship: How much is too much?

The wonderful blogger Valerie Lawson wrote an excellent post recently about how censorship shelters children from reality. After reading her thoughts on the subject, I started to form a comment in response, but found that although I initially agreed with many of her statements, the more I wrote, the more my feelings differed from hers.

Valerie poses a very intelligent and provoking perspective, and before I delve into my counter-view, I’d like you to read some (or all — here’s the original post) of what she had to say. Then please weigh in with your own ideas on this controversial matter.

I love a good probing discussion, and while I do understand that some people think certain topics are unsuitable for children, I must say that I am firmly against censorship in any form. Period.

This stance of mine makes for a lively debate. Sometimes the challenge of my view comes from other writers – which I must say is so odd. I would assume that all writers would be completely open-minded and fully against censorship in all forms, but that is just not the case.  Maybe they would take these words literally:

”Obviously, the danger is not in the actual act of reading itself, but rather, the possibility that the texts children read will incite questions, introduce novel ideas, and provoke critical inquiry.” Persis M. Karim (The New Assault on Libraries)

I’ve had some enlightening discussions to say the least – some within my own local writing chapter. Here’s a fictionalized version of how one of these conversations might go:

My Fellow Writer: Do you think children/teenagers should be allowed to read books with so much violence, especially a book about children killing each other?

Me: Absolutely. Whether that book is Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games or some other book.

MFW: But don’t you think the violence is gratuitous?

Me: No. I actually think it’s toned down compared to reality. Haven’t you heard of the Invisible Children? This kind of thing is actually going on today, but on a much more brutal scale.

(Side note: This isn’t all happening in Uganda either, despite the wonderful media coverage Kony has received. According to Amnesty International’s website, “worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children are recruited…” And according to another website, this one for the SOS Children’s Villages, “Since 1998 there have been armed conflicts involving child soldiers in at least 36 countries.” )

MFW: Okay, but what about books with frank discussions of sex and characters making bad choices? Would you let your daughter read them?

Me: Definitely. I think books like Twenty Boy Summer and Beauty Queens (or whatever Ellen Hopkins book we’re talking about) encourage interesting conversations with her.

MFW: You talk to her about sex? ACK!

ME: Of course! Don’t you talk to your child about sex? If not, where does she go with her questions? The internet? Her friends? I’d much rather she felt comfortable coming to me and getting accurate information than risk her going elsewhere and believing that she could get pregnant from a toilet seat or something stupid like that. Or worse…having her end up pregnant. Period.

As forward as some of Valerie’s answers are, there’s a good point to them. While I think keeping mature books out of kids’ hands stems more from our wish to “protect” them than it does to condemn those very materials (although obviously, some people want them to disappear entirely), we have to face an important reality: Even we found out about this stuff on our own, regardless of whether our parents sheltered us. And most of us turned out okay, or at least functionally damaged.

Perhaps it’s better to openly allow children and teens access to this sort of content because it invites a controlled scenario, rather than one where they’re forced to resort to more unreliable and dangerous sources of information — like the Internet or friends who might not have someone’s best interests at heart (including their own).

However, my problem with her argument comes mainly from her claim of disagreeing with censorship “in any form.” When I think about the kinds of things I want — and don’t want — my future kids exposed to, an inherent part of me clenches up: No way would I show them a PG-13 movie when they’re seven! But most of my reservations originate from my awareness of how frightening and disturbing some images can be, especially to women and young girls. For females, once certain parts of the world are opened up to us, they’re hard to deal with — and for any of us who are filled with sadness and anger over the gender issues that women must grapple with every day, that’s a lifelong struggle. On a basic level (and one that relates to the topic at hand), I’m talking the sexual treatment and portrayal of women in film and other media (not to mention actual society). Some of those depictions are abusive, and others reinforce inflexible expectations and unrealistic standards. They don’t teach girls the right thing; they don’t empower them. Quite the opposite.

If one day I have a little girl, I don’t want her seeing that sort of degradation and injustice at an impressionable age and getting the wrong idea. Most of all, I don’t want to sit her down in front of it and encourage her to watch. And I don’t want my little boy to grow up thinking certain behavior is okay. When I think of monitoring books and movies and other content for kids, I don’t automatically equate that with “censorship.” Censorship to me is trying to block something out of existence entirely — putting it out of anyone’s reach, trying to stifle and condemn its messages, and instructing everyone to forget it’s even there.

Valerie gets this next part right: If you’re going to allow your children to explore everything the world has to offer, then you better damn well be prepared to talk with them about it afterward and teach them right from wrong and good from bad. Because at a young age, they don’t know the difference. They’re innocent and developmentally bound to repeat what they see and hear from us, so how could they? Sure, they’ll learn, and I feel that books are more trustworthy than other material, but they’re not substitutes for parenting. You wouldn’t drop a kid into a third-world country and leave them to the dogs so they can “learn about the real world.” You take them by the hand, make sure they feel safe, and tell them this is how things are, this is who they are, and that’s okay. It will be okay.

Maybe the people who want to ban books from schools and bar children and adolescents from sensitive media are those who don’t know how to explain why their contents make them uncomfortable — or don’t bother with making the time to. Maybe some people are just ignorant and stuck-up. But I think there are those who have grown up, suffered, and learned how the world is, and want to spare children from that reality as much as possible because it’s painful. We can never take back our childhood, and we’ll always wish some of the people in our lives had loved us more than they had. There’s a preciousness in giving our children sanctuary for as long as the world will let them have it — to allow them to believe, with unshakable certainty, that they’re safe from those who would do them and others harm.

It’s not important to give children free reign of all that’s before them. But to shape them into moral, intelligent human beings who will have to live every day in the sort of world we live in, it is important to guide. Think of the best literary parents, even adoptive ones, and note the careful balance of self-discovery and protection they provided their children. And when those parents went away, the children were prepared with love, confidence, and understanding. They could look toward all the darkness in the world and hold onto the small amount of good their parents had fostered within them.

Too many people worry about what their children will get their hands on because information is as much an implement of “power” as it is a means of destruction. And too many people would let their children explore the wild on their own, without any safe retreat.

What are your thoughts on what we should and shouldn’t grant children access to? When is it okay, and when is it not?

Why Cabin in the Woods wasn’t scary

Okay, so this post has only a little bit to do with books. Right now I’m reading a collection that examines the accomplished career of Joss Whedon—you know him as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, to name a handful. Shortly after I received the book, I went to see The Cabin in the Woods, a horror movie co-written by Whedon and Drew Goddard, who contributed to some of Whedon’s work in the past.

Imagine the supernatural “scares” of Buffy, add in a lot more humor and less camp (no singing vampires here), and you’ve got Cabin in the Woods. I had planned on waiting until my review of the Joss Whedon book to talk about the movie, but necessity calls: When someone writes an article as misleading as the one at Vulture.com, it demands a counter-response.

First off, the title: “Why Wasn’t Cabin in the Woods Scary?” I hoped the article was going to educate those who were missing the point because they were disappointed over the movie’s real nature (non-stop funny, smart, well-characterized—the list goes on, but “scary” isn’t on it), but instead the writers used it as a soap box to discuss what the movie allegedly did wrong … thus missing the point themselves.

(Warning: contains spoilers)

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Hey, Netflix users! Question time

Dear fellow Netflix users,

What are your favorite movie adaptations of books that you’ve found on Instant Streaming? Any worth a watch?

The last one I saw was probably the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I’m always on the lookout for a decent film on the service.