Tag Archives: #fictionalfavorites

Z is for Zuko: #AtoZchallenge

Oh, my sweet baby Zuko.

I knew from the moment I chose the theme of Fictional Favorites that it would be bookended by characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This post covers a huge character arc, so if you’ve yet to see the show and want to remain unspoiled, move along. Don’t worry; you can come back and read this once you’ve watched all three seasons.

*****SPOILERS for Avatar: The Last Airbender*****

As the series opens, 16 year old Prince Zuko is on a quest to find the missing Avatar. The completion of this task is the only thing that will allow him to reclaim his birthright, win back the respect of his father, and restore his honor.

Zuko’s drive to find the Avatar defines his every moment, as does his anger. It comes as a surprise to find that he had a decent childhood.
His mother was warm and loving.


Then,  his father Ozai claimed the throne and title of Fire Lord.


Yup; he can also bend lighting.

Zuko’s mother was sent away. The boy was left to the company of his gifted but manipulative sister Azula and the growing disregard and disappointment of his father. When Zuko was 13, he begged to be allowed to attend a military strategy meeting. Speaking out against a plan to sacrifice troops in a diversionary maneuver, he was called out for insubordination by his father. Ozai demanded Zuko reclaim his honor by participating in an Agni Kai, a firebending duel, then stepped up to fight the boy himself. Zuko would not lift a hand against his father, and asked forgiveness. It was denied.
He was scarred, banished, and set upon a fool’s errand to regain his honour.  This is all Zuko has left, and he clings to it.

Despite his father’s disdain, Zuko is a formidable firebender.
He’s also skilled with dual blades.

His very nature is at war with itself: he longs for the acceptance of his war-like father, but finds appeal in the more reasoned, kinder approach of his Uncle Iroh. For a time, it looks as if Zuko might find  peace without fulfilling his quest. Then his sister returns with promises of Ozai’s praise, of a place at his side.


FYI: she bends lightning, too.

Zuko betrays his uncle and they return to the Fire Nation: Iroh in chains, Zuko certain that his honor will be restored at last.  He’s a prince once more.

He remains conflicted. He’s angry, he’s moody, he’s given to the dramatic.
At last, he realizes why he’s so desperately unhappy.



His honor was always his to reclaim for himself: his choice, his path.

Armed with newfound resolve, he confronts his father.

“Zuko: For so long, all I wanted was for you to love me, to accept me. I thought it was my honor I wanted, but really, I was just trying to please you. You, my father, who banished me just for talking out of turn. My father, who challenged me, a thirteen-year-old boy, to an Agni Kai. How could you possibly justify a duel with a child?

Ozai:  It was to teach you respect!

Zuko: It was cruel! And it was wrong.”

He announces his intention to join the Avatar, to bring peace to the Four Nations. He heads to the prison to free his uncle, but Iroh has broken himself out of jail and is long gone. Zuko follows the Gaang, though he struggles with how to approach them. Straightforward seems best.
Naturally, the team is pretty wary, sending him packing.
When he steps up to protect them during an attack (of an assassin he had previously hired, no less), they tentatively agree to give him a chance. Appa is totally cool with this.
He finds his place in Team Avatar gradually. Zuko teaches Aang firebending, though it requires a quick field trip.


He fights alongside Sokka on a mission to rescue Sokka’s father.

They form a comfortable friendship.


On the eve of battle, he is reunited with Uncle Iroh – the man who has been more of a father to him than Ozai ever was. The man he betrayed. The man who loves him and is deeply proud of him.


As the members of the Gaang disperse to their separate fights, Zuko meets Azula in a spectacular Agni Kai. Seriously, the entire scene is stunning, from visuals to choreography to score.
When the war is won, newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko is free to make good his promise of rebuilding a kinder world.
“I promised my uncle that I would restore the honor of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided, but with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path and begin a new era of love and peace. “


#Zuko 2016!

I know I ran long with this, and even so failed to touch on particular character beats, dialogue, and moments that make Zuko such a well-realized, memorable character. Flameo, hotman. Flameo.

And so ends the A to Z Challenge for 2016. Thanks for stopping by, for commenting, for liking, for being the awesome people that you are.


Y is for Yvaine: #AtoZchallenge

Neil Gaiman’s novel (or in its first incarnation, story with pictures) Stardust is, at its heart, a Victorian fairy story. Ordinary village boy is hopelessly in love with beautiful village girl. Boy pledges to fulfill a quest to win girl’s heart, and ventures into an unknown realm to do so. The quest: retrieve a fallen star. The unknown realm: the world beyond the Wall. Faerieland.

When a star falls onto earth, there is light and heat and then cold, pitted rock.  When one lands in Faerie…

“And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said “Ow”, and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck”, and then it said “Ow”, once more.”

And there you have Yvaine. She who once graced the night sky, dancing with radiance, has been slammed to earth. Leg broken. Completely alone. When all but pounced upon by our cheerful young village lad, she’s not in the best of moods.
“You’re the star,” said Tristran, comprehension dawning. “And you’re a clodpoll,” said the girl, bitterly, “and a ninny, a numbskull, a lackwit and a coxcomb!”

When Tristran explains the nature of his quest – return Yvaine to his village crush – she is understandably cross.

“I just want you to know,’ said the girl, coldly, ‘that whoever you are and whatever you intend with me, I shall give you no aid of any kind, nor shall I assist you, and I shall do whatever is in my power to frustrate your plans and devices.’ And then she added, with feeling, ‘Idiot.”

He has no desire to bind Yvaine forever, merely to prove that he was able to retrieve the star and so win the affection of his village girl. In fact, he intends to help the star return to her home when his task is complete.

“That doesn’t happen,” she explained. “Stars fall. They don’t go back up again.” “You could be the first,” he told her.”


Of course the heart of a star holds powerful magic, and there are many who would stop at nothing to claim it. Other forces come into play. Princes and sorceresses seek the fallen star. There is trouble, as in any true quest, at every turn. Tristran finds courage and heroism. Yvaine finds (continued) tenacity and deep, unexpected love.


For his part, Tristran is equally smitten.

“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize how much he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man has been called.”

When villains are vanquished and affections are sorted, Yvaine has her happy-ever-after with Tristran. They adventure for a while, then settle down to rule his rightful realm. But she is a star, and will shine for time untold. When her love sleeps, forever and at last, she remains: a star bound to earth.

“They say that each night, when the duties of state permit, she climbs, on foot, and limps, alone, to the highest peak of the palace, where she stands for hour after hour, seeming not to notice the cold peak winds. She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”



postscript: While I fully adore the original novel, I really liked the 2007 movie adaptation; just planting that flag.



X is for X-Wing: #AtoZchallenge

Hello. I am the X-Wing fighter.

There have been many variations on my basic model, but one thing is clear: I am THE fighter of the Rebellion and the Resistance. I am sleek. I am strong. I am ready to bring the pain with my s-foils, my maneuverability, my adjustable weapons array.
I have been paired with the finest pilots.


Wedge Antilles.


Luke Skywalker.


*grrroowwwrr* I mean, Poe Dameron.

I am down with the astromechs.

I can not promise I won’t fall to enemy fire, but I will do my best.

I am as beautiful in flight as I am deadly. Rebellion, Resistance, whatever comes next…


*pew pew pew*

… I am there for you.

V is for Samuel Vimes: #AtoZchallenge

There is no more fascinating, deep, and complex character in my Fictional Favorites theme than that of Samuel Vimes, and there is no way I am going to be able to do him justice within the bounds of this challenge*. Of all the characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, this is the one who is the closest representative of the author himself. He’s rough, cranky, even-handed, fierce, grounded. He has no patience for fools and even less for bullies. No matter his social standing, he’s a copper. He’s the law. Conflict is crime. It really is that simple.

Sam Vimes was born into abject poverty, but his mother did her best to give him the best she could offer. Their stoop was scrubbed clean, and his clothes were threadbare but meticulously mended. He was sent to school. He was expected to be more.

“Vimes had never mastered ambition. It was something that happened to other people.”

He joined the City Watch at age sixteen.  There was a free uniform and the chance to make some money, but it came under the auspices of corrupt politicians, war, and the shaping of a city that didn’t care for its poor and forgotten. Vimes battles alcoholism, crippling cynicism, and the Beast, a barely contained soul-deep rage.

“These were dangerous thoughts, he knew. They were the kind that crept up on a Watchman when the chase was over and it was just you and him, facing one another in that breathless little pinch between the crime and the punishment.”

But there is the oath he swore. There is the law. There is his understanding of human nature with all of its darkness, but there is an unshakable belief in justice and in a love for his city. For those who serve under him. For the badge, the symbol that keeps the Beast at bay.

“Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light. That was the job of a good Watchman, Carrot always said. To light a candle in the dark.”

He has a reflexive dislike of the upper class (after all, he’s a descendent of Ol’ Stoneface Vimes, who killed the last king of Ankh-Morpork), which makes things awkward when he falls in love with/marries the supremely amazing Lady Sybil Ramkin. There are trappings and expectations which he very grudgingly adopts.

“He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.”

He deals with violence, cruelty, sexism, stupidity, war, and prejudice.

“That’s blasphemy,” said the vampire.

He gasped as Vimes shot him a glance like sunlight. “That’s what people say when the voiceless speak.”

He navigates his own past, mentors his younger self. He battles an ancient darkness, in no small part because he is expected to be there to read his infant son a bedtime story. He’s brutal and kind. He’s broken and astonishingly steadfast. He’s the conflict within us all, and he’s the assurance that what is just, what is right, what is good will win out.

“He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew…then it was too high.”

He’s also wry, funny, unexpectedly charming, and no little bit sexy. Vimes is a great gift from a deft and accomplished storyteller. Thank you, Terry Pratchett. Thank you for  Sam Vimes. I’m honored to know you both.


How do they rise?


*keep it concise? There are four solid pages of quotes alone.

U is for Uncle Iroh: #AtoZchallenge

Uncle Iroh, y’all.


                             *******Spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender********

When we first meet Uncle Iroh, we see the genial companion to the young, brash Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. We learn he’s fond of food and tea and Pai Sho*.


As the series progresses, we find out who he was, what changed him, what matters most now, and it’s hard to divorce that from a chronological discussion of character. So. Quick overview. Iroh was the eldest son of Fire Lord Azulon and grandson of Fire Lord Ozai, who initiated the conquest of the Four Kingdoms. A renowned general and exceptionally gifted Firebender, the Dragon of the West was on track to take down the Earth Kingdom stronghold of Ba Sing Se when he received word his only son had been killed in action. Overcome by grief, he abandoned the siege. While he was making his way back to the Fire Nation, his father died, and although Iroh was next in line for the throne, his younger brother Ozai claimed the title. Iroh, no longer interested in power, did not dispute the claim. His once warlike nature gentled; he gained an appreciation for the spiritual and for enjoying life, quite contrary to the Fire Nation’s martial spirit. It’s a testament to his generous nature and decency that he continued respected and well-liked.

When his nephew Zuko was cast out by his father**, given the task of finding the Avatar, Uncle Iroh volunteered to accompany the prince. He viewed him as his own son.

Iroh’s calm is a welcome foil for his nephew’s tempestuousness.

He’s chill.
He loooooves his tea.

“I know you’re not supposed to cry over spilled tea, but… it’s just so sad.”


“Uncle Iroh: Euch! This tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice.

Zuko:  Uncle, that’s what all tea is.

Uncle Iroh: How could a member of my own family say something so horrible!”


But he loves his nephew just as much. More. But also, tea.

“Uncle Iroh: So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat? Disgraceful. Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you. Thanks again for the tea. It was delicious.

Zuko: Did you really mean that, Uncle?

Uncle Iroh: Of course. I told you, ginseng tea is my favorite.”***

Tea jokes aside, Uncle Iroh is a generous and decent soul.


and then encourages him to follow his dream of being a masseuse because IROH BELIEVES IN HIM


Let’s not forget that this loving spirit was forged in heartbreak.


Brave soldier boy comes marching home.


And let’s not forget that he is seriously badass.

“Iroh: Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname, ‘The Dragon of the West?’

Azula: I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, Uncle.

Iroh: It’s more of a demonstration, really.”

He can redirect lightning. I repeat, LIGHTNING.


By his very nature he’s avuncular. He’s nurturing, understanding, supportive, and full of sage advice.

“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”

“You sound like my nephew, always thinking you need to do things on your own without anyone’s support. There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.”

“You must never give into dispair. Allow yourself to slip down that road, and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”

When his nephew seems to be following the darkest path, when Zuko allows his uncle to be imprisoned, Iroh’s only concern is for the boy.

Doesn’t stop him from honing that roast-duck loving body into a MACHINE and breaking out of prison with his bare hands, but still… his first thought is Zuko. Always. And when Zuko arrives at his own decision, forges his own way, Iroh is there. So proud of his boy.

zuko iroh embrace

‘When gifs Make You Cry: The SaucyDryad Story’

The dialogue in this scene guts me, every single time.

Maybe I love Uncle Iroh so much because he’s the kind of person I want to be. He makes me believe I can shape my life, tragedy and depression and everyday crap bedamned. You can be strong and sweet, badass and kind, and you can always find some manner of delight in a cup of tea with a stranger. Still working on it, but I aim to live my life in a way that would make Uncle Iroh proud.

* which turns out is super important to his character, because this is the AvatarVerse and the smallest details matter.
**more on that on Day Z
***later on it’s jasmine. I only mention this because jasmine is MY favorite, and that connects me to Iroh in a way I will defend as Important and Real



T is for Toothless: #AtoZchallenge

I had little interest upon the initial release of 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon. I was familiar with, though not particularly enamored of, the book series. My enjoyment of previous Dreamworks projects was hit-or-miss. When I finally got around to seeing HTTYD, I was floored. Excellent storytelling, a protagonist who made a difference through kindness and engineering, lovely animation, and dragons. Well, one dragon in particular.

But first, a quick bit of human-character backstory. Hiccup isn’t like the rest of his Viking clan. He’s small and prone to dreaming. He solves problems with his mind rather than an axe or sword.  Still, he’s determined to prove his dragon-slaying warrior worth, and manages (with a device of his own design) to fell one of the creatures. When he tracks it, he finds that 1. it’s a fabled Night Fury and 2. it’s still alive. With what he deems as weakness, what we know is compassion, Hiccup frees the dragon.

He later realizes the Night Fury is injured (half of it’s tail fin gone) and unable to fly. Owning his responsibility for the creature’s situation, he approaches and ultimately befriends the dragon he names Toothless.

Toothless is a clever one. Watching Hiccup use a stick to make a drawing (of the dragon) in the dirt, he rips up a tree and shares his own.



If you look closely, you can see it’s an approximation of Hiccup’s face.

He ably conveys his feelings when Hiccup is about to step on his drawing, and when he withdraws.

With a small, tentative movement, he offers his trust.
(trust-building scene, complete with glorious score, in its entirety here. You’re welcome.)

Toothless is remarkably expressive overall. Note his textbook-perfect skepticism.
The dopey grin.
He’s basically an enormous, black, scaled kitty.


Night Fury! Get down! (hi, Handsome Tom)

While the second movie didn’t have the same effortless charm of the first, the visuals were absolutely gorgeous, especially when showing Toothless in flight.
Toothless-become-Alpha is fierce and beautiful.

The best, the most important, part of both movies is the bond between Toothless and Hiccup.
They support one another.

They are partners. Best friends. Brothers.


One would be lucky to have a Night Fury as a friend. One would be beyond blessed for that dragon to be Toothless.

I live in hope. 🙂

R is for Rey: #AtoZchallenge

Let’s take a moment to consider Rey.

Abandoned as a child on the harsh planet of Jakku, she could have fallen to anger and despair. She embraced resilience, learning to scavenge, to build, to teach herself.


She embraced hope that one day her family would return despite the crushing press of passing years. She learned to stand up for herself, but never lost her sense of kindness and decency.

She’s not immune to frustration…



…but her compassion runs deep.

She’s determined.


This gif is my new visual mantra.

Resourceful, and adorably giddy at her own victories.

She makes an impression on living legends, however grumpy they might be.

She’s not had much experience with friendship, but knows a kindred spirit at once.


Note: this is behind the scenes, a moment between the actors. Sharing because their friendship is super adorable; they call each other ‘peanut.’ CUTEST!

She’s impatient.

She is, at last, the one someone returned for.


All of her scavenging and tinkering and getting her hands dirty didn’t prepare her for the realization that she is so very much more, and so very powerful. When she is hit with the visions from Luke’s lightsaber, she flat out bolts. She wants nothing to do with something so vast and unknown.

It’s seeing her friends in trouble that leads her to return, and even though it results in her own capture, that power has been awakened. Rey is able to manipulate it, maybe through childhood memories of training or maybe through her Jakku-born tenacity.


Perfect moment. I never fail to well up.

There is no going back, nor any reason to. As scary as forward can be, Rey takes those steps (so, so many steps).


A moment of appreciation for Daisy Ridley’s face. Good gracious, she says seventeen things in a single frame without uttering a word.



A moment of appreciation for these arm coverings. I need them in my life, and on my arms.

I’m so very thankful for Rey, for her part in the the unfolding story of the final trilogy.  I’m delighted to search ‘Rey Cosplay’ and see all the children who implored their parents to make them a costume. I’m enjoying the speculation about her parentage, even though I personally hope she has no connections to any of the Big Names – let her be a ‘nobody’ like the rest of us. Most of all, I’m happy to share in the journey of a well written, beautifully acted character that has resonated with me from her first onscreen moment. Well done, Star Wars franchise, and well done scavenger.

Bonus: Regency Rey. Check out the artist’s other SW:TFA portraits; they are all excellent.