Halloween is Officially Lame

Even Being a Unicorn Can’t Save Halloween

Let me share the five reasons Halloween is now lame:

  1. Trunk or treat is a travesty. Canvasing the neighborhood on Halloween was supposed to be a little scary: going to unknown homes in the dark and knocking on the door… taking candy from a stranger… inviting a “trick” instead of a treat. Trunk or treat has all the thrills of pushing a shopping cart through a parking lot. Honestly, just walk down the isle of the grocery store and buy the candy you were going to hand out and just keep it for yourself. Lame.
  2. The costumes. Rarely do people don something monstrous or scary. Just you advertising the fact you watched that popular streaming series just like everyone else! Last year Squid Games, this year Dahmer. Or maybe you dressed like Hitler because you’re either clueless, racist, or both. Lame.
  3. Halloween parties. They’re just an excuse to party without having to come up with one. I’m sure you’d have been just as happy to get blasted on October 12th (Clergy Appreciation Day) had someone thought to invite you. Which they didn’t.
  4. The music (mostly) sucks. With the obvious exception of Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man Party and Thriller, the rest of it is pretty much trash. Ghostbusters, Monster Mash, Time Warp, Somebody’s Watching Me. On any other day of the year, you’d turn that song off the moment it started playing. Let’s not do the Time Warp again.
  5. Harvest Festival replacements. If you’re worried dressing your child as a witch is as satanic as playing Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s, you may have done the only thing arguably worse than a trunk or treat—sent your child to a Harvest Festival. Perhaps it’s the payoff for the spring Maypole dance (just don’t Google what the maypole really represents). Super lame.

If you had fun on Halloween, good for you. Perhaps as equally thrilling is the fact you had fun the Tuesday before last. Let’s just not pretend it’s because of Halloween, but in spite of it.

The Opportunity with The Rings of Power

At the heart of the culture war surrounding Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power comes a timeless invitation for those willing to look deeper.

The best characters in fiction aren’t a literal mirror of ourselves. Rather, they reflect our shared humanity—our limitations and weaknesses and our hopes and dreams. Today, as our ongoing culture wars rage on, Amazon finds itself in the unenviable position of both stepping into the shoes of Tolkien AND navigating the opportunities and pitfalls of what it means to be “woke” with the debut of the Rings of Power series. I think there’s an important discussion to be had here, but likely not the one the showrunners intended. And whether you’re a fan, a writer, or leading a team, there’s an opportunity to stop and reflect on what’s going on and what it might mean.

If you aren’t aware of the controversy surrounding the new Rings of Power series, it goes something like this:

  • The show contradicts or ignores established lore.
  • There seems to be an emphasis on forced diversity when the source material is largely based on Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon folklore.
  • Many view the Tolkien “scholars” on the show to be social justice revisionists.
  • The new series looks to subvert rather than build upon Peter Jackson’s high bar for Middle Earth adaptations.
  • A leaked report detailing the show had hired an intimacy coordinator and asked that actors be comfortable doing nude scenes evidenced just how far the showrunners had moved from Tolkien’s vision.
  • The series is described by writer and showrunner Patrick McKay as, “the novel Tolkien never wrote [done] as a mega-event series that could only happen now.”
  • There is a sense this is simply a money-grab for Amazon with little or no thought to the legions of loyal fans and the rich history of Tolkien’s work known the world over.

The new series places the mystical elf Galadriel front and center. Not so much like the Welsh water nymphs who serve as guardians of sacred fountains, wells, and grottoes, or in the Arthurian tradition of Vivien, the Lady of the Lake who presents Excalibur to the rightful king. In the Rings of Power, Galadriel is portrayed as a masculinized armor-wearing and sword-wielding martial combatant (at least in the trailers). Tolkien purists see the rewriting of her story as simply subversion for subversion’s sake with an eye toward turning a prophetess and “gift-giver” who took no direct role in the wars into the Action Girl TV Trope.

On the other side of the argument, in a 1973 letter, Tolkien wrote of Galadriel: “She was then of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats.” In The Unfinished Tales it says, “[Galadriel] looked upon the Dwarves also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the Orcs.”

For the record, I love a kick-butt female using the pointy end of a sword (or gun) to get things done. Imperator Furiosa is one of my favorite characters from Mad Max: Fury Road. And I enjoyed watching Naru, a young Comanche woman in 1719, fighting it out with the alien Predator on safari.

So what’s my point in all this?

My love of Tolkien stems from what he has to say about Mercy and Pity (he often capitalizes both words in the text). And yes, he was a Christian writing through a Catholic lens. He intentionally used the Christ descriptors of Priest, Prophet, and King as Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn. Thus, sacrifice and faith, death and return, and humble service are all given their due. These are ideals that resonate deeply in me, even though I am not a hobbit, a wizard, or a king. The physical traits of these characters aren’t important—that the weakest can be the strongest, the wisest the most steadfast, and the entitled the humblest servant are much more substantial. How these characters have and will be portrayed through gender, skin color, age, or race should not supplant the deeper insights such art can produce. In my mind, a thoughtful leader, writer, or fan can do both.

Mercy should be our primary concern.

In Tolkien’s books, Gollum is a twisted and cannibalistic ghoul (not unlike Sote the Outlaw in the Icelandic narrative poem Vǫlundarkviða who steals a cursed ring and buries himself alive to sleeplessly guard it with his weapons drawn). Yet Bilbo (and later Frodo) shows the wretched creature Mercy: “He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.”

Gandalf later tells Frodo who wished his cousin Bilbo (yes, they’re actually cousins) had slain the creature: “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.” Then in one of the most memorable moments of the book Gandalf says, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.”

Frodo would later show Mercy to Gollum even when he had every right not to. When Faramir had the monster in his sights, Frodo tells him not to shoot: “‘Let me go down quietly to him,’ said Frodo. ‘You may keep your bows bent, and shoot me at least, if I fail. I shall not run away.’” Not only does Frodo show Mercy, but he’s willing to trade his life for Gollum’s! That’s not just Mercy but love.

There is a lot you can unpack here, but one of the major insights from the Lord of the Rings for me is that we all succumb to evil (some sooner than others) and that the only real way to combat it is through caring about (loving) others and showing mercy even when it’s unwarranted. In the end, evil—which is a diminishing and cannibalizing force—will ultimately destroy itself. Our job is to resist and find opportunities for love and mercy at every turn. This is the great invitation for all us as human beings, expressed through one that measured “half” in all the ways that don’t matter.

Like Galadriel, the showrunners in the Rings of Power have an opportunity to take us into her mirror. Are they obsessed with what we see on the surface or do the insights pierce deeper? If the emphasis is just the surface reflection, then I think Amazon will have missed the mark. Because the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s world was never about seeing your own, recognized reflection staring back at you. Rather, it was (and hopefully remains) about seeing the less tangible but infinitely more important us. An us not with a line drawn between but a circle around.

Tropes and Why I Love Them

Not everyone knows what a trope is, and that’s okay. Thankfully, there’s an entire site devoted to them you can get lost in for hours. But before you do, here’s a nice definition of tropes from the website:

“A trope is a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognize. Tropes are the means by which a story is told by anyone who has a story to tell… Tropes are not the same thing as cliches. They may be brand new but seem trite and hackneyed; they may be thousands of years old but seem fresh and new. They are not bad, they are not good; tropes are tools that the creator of a work of art uses to express their ideas to the audience. It’s pretty much impossible to create a story without tropes.”

Whether you’re an author or avid reader, putting names to some of the tropes you’ve encountered or want to use can be highly entertaining. Personally, I like to take a few of the more traditional tropes and turn them on their heads. In Bad Unicorn, the Early World Librarian Connection wrote: “Fans of speculative fiction, fantasy adventure, classics like Narnia and modern stories of warlocks and witches will howl with laughter as readers recognize old and new tropes of the genre.” Now that’s the kind of review I’m happy to take. And in case you’re curious, there are over 30 tropes that deal specifically with laughing. Ha!

The Duck is Mocking Me… Again.

Sometimes I wake up with weird things in my head. The other morning it was a poem. I’m not sure why, only that the sounds of the neighbor’s duck pulled me from my blissful slumber. Also, I think it means I need to get out more.

The duck is mocking me again,

Trumpeting his freedom through the morning fence,

Another day of sun and wind and sky and earth,

As I roll out of bed at his joyous bell,

And shut the window. 

Kids, The Republic, and the Power of Story

Don’t Let Plato Fool You, Stories Rule!

According to Plato we should prevent children from hearing “any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons… For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal.” As a casual person who’s written causal tales, this sentiment has caused me a moment of reflection. As a philosophy major, I came to like Plato. A lot. And not just because I have a thing for togas and an aversion to hemlock.

I suspect Plato was purposefully being ironic when he wrote those words in The Republic. If we could govern ourselves on reason alone (and achieve a purely rational republic in the process) our cringe-worthy gotcha candidate debates would be less TMZ and more C-SPAN. Possibly even C-SPAN 2. But the world isn’t going to allow itself to be organized along purely rational lines.

So all those storytellers, poets, and musicians in ancient Greece are simply today’s campaign engineers, meme creators, and TikTok posters. We are like children in our republic: unable to parse emotion from reason, quick to pick sides and throw tantrums, easily swayed by the authority figure promising rewards or threatening punishment. I think Plato would be in favor of the censorship now being hotly debated across our social media platforms as he believed the freedom democracy enables is the very thing that threatens its existence. Talk about a high-wire act.

So I interpret Plato’s warning as we adults need to grow up a little (maybe a lot) and stop believing all the fantasy being told to us as facts. Kids, on the other hand, should never be dissuaded from reading and taking the allegorical into their minds and hearts. I would be quite happy if my children pondered the words of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings when he said, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”

Collector’s Edition?

Are you one of the few who received a version of Bad Unicorn with a fairly substantial misprint? It’s likely less than 20 of these versions exist, so if you got to a particular chapter and started scratching your head, let me know. Aladdin will send you a new copy, and you can keep yours as a treasured collector’s item. Just message me what the error is and you’re a winner—lucky you!

Bad Unicorn in Polish

The first foreign language edition of Bad Unicorn is now out and available in Polish. This makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside:




Tree of Woe

This is the official page of Simon & Schuster author Platte F. Clark.