My Latest News
Search this site
Contact Me & Newsletter Sign Up
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    >My new video "A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT," in which I don chain mail to find glory, donuts and spare change for my quest. BIGGER SCREEN ON YOU TUBE

    CLASSIC BOOK trailer! [bigger screen on YouTube]

    more videos here

    Entries in fantasy (6)


    As Dungeons & Dragons Turns 40, Celebrating Its Ability To Unleash Unbridled Creativity


    What's down that rabbit hole or in that wardrobe? ‘Epic’ follows tradition of children’s fictions bridging earthly, fantasy realms 

    Movies about worlds disconnected from our own are commonplace. Think of the many science fiction and fantasy narratives that lie along the “Star Wars” to “The Lord of the Rings” continuum. These separate realities are filled with orcs and wizards, siths and spaceships. Humans may live there, but we Earthlings can’t visit them. No magic door leads from Boston to Tatooine, no trip down a rabbit hole or along the Red Line arrives in Middle-earth. “Epic” belongs to a different but equally longstanding tradition of fiction that bridges our world to other realms. Via some gateway, a journey is made to a kind of Neverland or Narnia. The trope is as old and dark as the burrow in “Alice in Wonderland” and Dorothy’s twister in “The Wizard of Oz.” You can follow these tunnels from “Labyrinth” to “Pan’s Labyrinth,” through “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” and beyond to every story that maps that liminal space between us and some parallel place.

    Click to read more ...


    ‘Trollhunter’ director pays homage to Norwegian folklore

    The troll hunters approach a massive “Jotnar" troll[This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe]

    by Ethan Gilsdorf

    Eighteenth- and 19th-century Norwegians believed in trolls. These huge humanoids wandered wild, marginal places and wastelands and caused trouble when they encountered humans.

    Nowadays, no one believes in trolls. But they still haunt and inhabit Norway’s folkloric consciousness, a still-pristine landscape of woods, mountains, and fiord lands, largely as comic characters. Think of the dim-witted troll in the Norwegian tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,’’ easily tricked by the goats and the butt of jokes.

    “Trollhunter,’’ which opens Friday, dusts off those fairy tales and updates them with a fresh, 21st-century coat of adventure and suspense — and ironic reality check.

    Trolls exist.

    But “fairy tales don’t always match reality,’’ grumbles Hans, the film’s misanthropic antihero.

    Written and directed by Norwegian André Ovredal, “Trollhunter’’ shares the first-person-reportage feel of “The Blair Witch Project,’’ as well as the shaky-camera monster-movie vibe of “Cloverfield.’’ Ovredal’s vision also includes doses of Steven Spielberg’s effects-driven shock and awe, as well as that director’s prevailing mistrust of authority.

    “I wanted to blend my love of ‘Indiana Jones’ with my love of trolls,’’ said Ovredal, 37, in Boston to promote his debut feature. Which explains why Hans the troll hunter wears a fedora.

    As with “Blair Witch,’’ what the audience sees, ostensibly, is footage shot by students. There are three of them, investigating a series of bear killings in the wilds of Norway. They hope to interview the “poacher.’’

    Finally agreeing to let the video crew follow him, the poacher is revealed to be Hans, a middle-aged, burned-out government employee working for the fictitious Troll Security Service (or TSS, an echo of the PST, Norway’s version of the CIA). His job: keep the troll population under control. Meanwhile, TSS bureaucrats devise bogus explanations — tornadoes, floods, bears — to explain any isolated troll-wrought damage or deaths.

    The troll hunter is played by Norway’s most famous and controversial comedian, Otto Jespersen, known for his crass, dark sense of humor. Here, Jespersen doesn’t aim for laughs. The portrayal is straight. “There’s nothing heroic about what I do,’’ he deadpans to the wide-eyed college kids.

    While the troll hunter is supposed to ensure Norwegians never learn that trolls exist, Hans eventually tires of the cover-up and lets the students document his methods. In doing so, “Trollhunter’’ manages to pay homage to Norway’s rich folklore and take jabs at government bureaucracy and politics. He complains he gets no overtime pay. After every killing, Hans must fill out a “Slayed Troll Form.’’ The current controversy over building electrical towers in Norway’s hinterlands is cleverly woven into the plot. Let’s just say those high-tension lines serve a purpose beyond bringing power to the people.

    “Because Norway has such rugged landscapes, it’s not surprising that many of the creatures of their cultural lore are connected so deeply with the earth and its perils,’’ noted Sandra Hordis, a professor at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa., who specializes in medieval literature and folklore. “They are beings sprung from soil and stone, and have come to permeate much of the folklore of the region.’’

    Trolls have given their names to natural features such as the rugged, dolomite formations called Trollholmsund and Trollstigen, a dramatic mountain road that translates as “Troll’s Ladder.’’

    Ovredal, who is known in Norway as a director of commercials, and his special-effects team wanted their trolls to have idiosyncratic and distinct personalities. Their creatures aren’t the Hulk-like, Middle-earth trolls Peter Jackson brought to life, nor are they the cute, neon-haired dolls from the 1960s. These trolls were inspired by “The Fairy Tales of Asbjornsen and Moe,’’ a book from the 1850s that Ovredal’s grandparents read to him as a boy.

    “I never read ‘Lord of Rings’ and never played the game D&D [Dungeons & Dragons],’’ said Ovredal. “There was a missing, collective mythology I had to create.’’

    Ovredal worked out a detailed “natural history of trolls’’ as fastidious as an entry in the D&D “Monster Manual.’’ His lexicon delineates four species: the one-armed “Ringlefinch,’’ the three-headed “Tosserlad,’’ the cave-dwelling “Mountain King,’’ and the massive “Jotnar.’’ All have oversize faces and bulbous noses. Norwegians know that sunlight turns trolls to stone. In Ovredal’s world, flashes of bright light also can make them explode. Here’s the scientific explanation: The UVB rays accelerate vitamin D and calcium production in their bodies, which either calcifies or detonates them.

    In a nod to folklore, “Trollhunter’’ also includes a bridge scene reminiscent of “Three Billy Goats Gruff.’’ And just as in the “fee-fi-fo-fum’’ nursery rhyme, these trolls can smell Christian blood.

    The director cut his teeth on Spielberg’s alien and fantasy films such as “Jaws,’’ “E.T.’’ and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’’ In those films, he said, “We have to figure out what is psychologically true in the fantastic.’’

    But overall, “Trollhunter’’ is more skeptical than Spielbergian. Ovredal likens his film more to “Man Bites Dog,’’ the Belgian mockumentary about a film crew following a serial killer. He didn't want to make the “typical Norwegian socialist-realist film.’’ Like “The Host’’ for South Koreans, perhaps this overlooked Scandinavian nation needs its own monster movie.

    “I hope they experience an adventure they have never seen before,’’ Ovredal said of US audiences. “A sense of humor that’s different. A monster they’ve never seen before. [And leave the theater] with a big smile on their face, and talk about it.’’

    Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at


    From fart jokes to infidelity

    The Farrelly Brothers discuss marriage, fidelity, The Flintstones, bathroom humor and their new comedy "Hall Pass"

    By Ethan Gilsdorf

    BOSTON --- Peter Farrelly loves his wife. He loves his kids. Yet, like many married men and women, he entertains wild visions of bachelor freedom. And for that impulse, in part, he blames "The Flintstones."

    "I saw Fred come home and saw Wilma just rip into him. 'Where have you been?! Myna myna nya!'" Peter says, mimicking Wilma's high-pitched shriek that he recalls from watching the show as a kid. "I thought, why doesn't he just leave? ... I wouldn't put up with that."

    Not wanting to put up with the day-to-day drudgery of marriage and its inherent declining sexual desire is the fantasy Peter and Bobby Farrelly tap into with their new comedy "Hall Pass," which opens today.

    Bobby and Peter Farrelly flank the author, Ethan GilsdorfMore so than with this fraternal filmmaking duo's previous films such as "Dumb and Dumber" (1994), "Me, Myself & Irene"  (2002), "Fever Pitch" (2005), and their most commercially successful film, "There's Something About Mary" (1998), "Hall Pass" takes on a topic many comedies avoid: domesticity and the vast distance from singlehood that married couples must endure.

    "We had all our friends at the screening last night," says Bobby. "I would say 98 percent of them are married. ... It's fun to do a story that most of them can seemingly relate to."

    "This one is probably closer to our actual lives than any other movie we've done," Peter adds.

    Loyal Farrelly brothers fans will be pleased to learn that, as always, bathroom humor is involved. But the film's premise isn't about giving a student a pass to head to the little boy's room. It's more like a "get out of jail free" card.

    Caught ogling women and becoming wistful for their days before the chains of marriage and fatherhood, two friends (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) are given a week's break from the bonds of matrimony by their way-too-understanding wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). Are they still on their game? Comedy ensues.

    A bit off their own games, Peter and Bobby eat breakfast in a suite at the Ritz Carlton in Boston. It's the morning after a recent Boston screening of "Hall Pass," and despite being a little groggy from the night's festivities, the brothers still can't resist recounting how the two of them, plus their 80-year-old father, recently all went in for a colonoscopy together. "A triple header," Bobby, 52, deadpans (Peter is two years his senior). "Good times. We've done that twice."

    But sharing a couch and a plate of pastries as they reminiscence about their path from Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Hollywood, the Farrellys aren't always the fart-joke, class-clown types you'd expect. Their material -- most of it -- is surprisingly PG-13 rated.

    That said, the Farrellys do like to talk about women. And sports. When a reporter informs them he once lived in Baton Rouge, Shaquille O'Neal's former stomping grounds, they want to know if they have "really pretty girls down there." (They do.)

    "If my wife came to me and said you can have a hall pass but I'm taking one, too, I wouldn't do it," says Peter, who dominates the discussion. (When Bobby speaks, he tends to let his eye wander to the window overlooking Downtown Crossing.) Running his fingers through his mop of brown hair, Peter continues, "but if she said you can have a hall pass; I'm staying home with the kids" -- he snaps his fingers -- "I would be out the door in about 30 seconds."

    Just like Fred Flintstone.

    "I would say girls are probably the single most alluring thing on the planet," Bobby says, his "the" more like "da," his Ocean State accent still coloring his speech.

    But Pete, as his bro calls him, fesses up that if he played the dream of bachelor freedom, he'd strike out. "If I couldn't use the movie rap that we're in the business, I can assure you that I'd get nowhere, without taking my wallet out." He mentions watching newly single friends in their 50s try to pick up women. "Horrifying and hilarious at the same time. It's shocking how much they have lost off their fast ball."

    In the case of "Hall Pass," Wilson and Sudeikis don't let their flabby physiques and Clinton-era musical knowledge prevent them from trying to score with chicks. While "Saturday Night Live" veteran Sudeikis may not have obvious lady-killer looks, the filmmakers needed to bring Owen Wilson's charm down a few notches -- otherwise, Bobby asks, "Where's the comedy?"

    "We dorked him up a little," says Pete. Wilson is dressed in plaid short-sleeves and a "Born in the USA" T-shirt.

    Despite taking place in Rhode Island and on the Cape, "Hall Pass" was shot in Georgia, partly due to tax breaks and the winter shooting schedule, with some second-unit footage shot in Providence. "People say why don't you just make it a Georgia story?" says Bobby. "Because we don't really know Georgia. We don't know how people talk."

    Today, Bobby lives on the South Shore with his wife and kids and commutes to Los Angeles when needed. Peter lives in Ojai, California, about 90 minutes north of LA -- "only because my wife is from Santa Monica."

    With "Hall Pass," the two have nine films under their belts in 17 years. But their direction hasn't progressed much technically since their debut, "Dumb and Dumber," when they didn't know a focus-puller from an F-stop.

    "We still don't know," Bobby says.

    So on the first day of shooting, the Farrellys still give the same speech. "We say, 'Look guys, we wrote the script, we understand the script, but there's a hell of a lot we don't understand. We're going to need your help,'" says Peter. Like with their writing collaboration, on the set, they divide the responsibilities. Peter works with the actors while his quieter sibling generally looks on from behind the monitor. Usually they agree if a performance is on target or if a gag is working, but if they disagree, they'll shoot it both ways and decide in the editing room.

    They stress that their comedy rests not on the outrageous humor, but on likable characters. Nailing down protagonists the audience cares about is the hard part. Once the goofy guys are in place (in many a Farrelly comedy, the men are clueless dorks while the women are savvy and hot) the gags flow naturally.

    But while the theme of "Hall Pass" may be slightly more earnest than in other Farrellymovies -- Peter insists that when the hijinks are over, it ultimately carries a "pro-marriage message" -- there's plenty of humor involving excrement, masturbation, and oral sex.

    The Farrelly's next project should also appeal their core fan base: a movie adaptation of "The Three Stooges," now in pre-production and scheduled to begin shooting later this year. While names including Russell Crowe and Benicio Del Toro (as the anger-management-challenged Moe), Sean Penn (as wild-haired Larry), and Jim Carrey (hairless Curly) were once attached to the project, at the moment, the film is not cast.

    "There's been more interest [from actors] in 'The Three Stooges' than any movie we've ever done," says Pete, "which is ironic since it's been the hardest movie to make because the studio thinks there's not enough interest in 'The Three Stooges.'" Confident there's still a Stooges audience, he called the studio's reticence a "head-scratcher."

    Set in the present day, the Farrelly's "Stooges" will include three individual episodes, staged much like the vaudeville-rooted original, in wide shot. "At all points you want to see all of them," says Bobby. "Typically the camera will tell you where to look. Look at his face. Look at how he reacts. It's doin' the work for ya. Not with the Stooges. You pick and choose what you want to watch."

    They'll shoot in color, but the palate will be black and white.

    "They're not big bright color guys," Pete says of the Stooges.

    "Unless they go golfing," Bobby says.

    After the "Stooges," then what?

    "We don't have a grand plan. You kind of do what's in your heart," says Peter. The  Stooges were in their hearts for a decade. "And then something else will come up and I don't know what it is." He pauses. "I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days we did a horror movie. Or a thriller."

    "We'll do something," Bobby says. "We do what we think is funny. We're not shy about it. We'll do it. We'll do it in a big way."

    Their next big thing done in a big way will surely include their brand of boundary-pushing humor. Yet Peter says there's a deeper theme that remains constant. "We write about love. Loving women, or loving baseball, or loving bowling, or loving something."

    Even loving Betty Rubble.

    He thinks back to Fred running out on Wilma. "I'd stay with Betty. I know Barney had a better thing going."


    Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms," his travel memoir/pop culture investigation into fantasy and gaming subcultures that the Huffington Post calls “part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky." National Public Radio described the book as "Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road" and proclaimed, “For anyone who has ever spent time within imaginary realms, the book will speak volumes.” Follow Ethan's adventures at


    You must see Marwencol

    [For more information on Marwencol, see ]

    Like all accomplished war photographers, Mark Hogancamp puts himself at risk.

    He shoots fugitive moments of violence, anguish, and bravery. But Hogancamp’s work differs from others’ in one key respect: The combat zones he enters don’t entirely exist in the real world. It’s the battlefield of his emotions that he’s trying to capture on film.

    Marwencol is a remarkable documentary about this peculiar man and the fictitious, painstakingly-detailed, 1/6-scale town he built in his yard. Set in Belgium during World War II and populated with dozens of buildings, military vehicles, and more than 100 foot-high, poseable action figures, Hogancamp’s simulacrum is called Marwencol.

    “Everything’s real,’’ Hogancamp gushes at one point in the film, demonstrating how a tiny pistol in one soldier’s hands has a working hammer and replaceable clip. “That all adds to my ferocity of getting into the story. I know what’s inside every satchel,’’ he says.

    Those contents include a stamp-size deed proving that Captain “Hogie’’ Hogancamp, the real man’s 12-inch alter ego, owns the doll-house-size, make-believe bar in this make-believe realm.

    The fine line separating real from imagined is the focus of this poignant and provocative documentary, winner of the Jury Award for best documentary at the SXSW Film Festival. [Marwencol opens at selected theaters in more than 40 cities nationwide, starting in November and continuing into December and January. More info on theater dates here:]

    Read the rest of the post here


    When literary authors slum in genre


    There’s a curious phenomenon happening out there in LiteraryLand: The territory of genre fiction is being invaded by the literary camp.

    While it could be argued that literary writers have always borrowed from fantasy, science fiction and horror, even stolen genre's best ideas, I think there's a new and significant shift happening in the past few years.

    Take Justin Cronin, writer of respectable stories, who recently leaped the chasm to the dystopian, undead-ridden realm of Twilight.  With The Passage, his post-apocalyptic, doorstopper of a saga, the author enters a new universe, seemingly snubbing his former life writing “serious books” like Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest, which won prizes like Pen/Hemingway Award, the Whiting Writer’s Award and the Stephen Crane Prize. Both books of fiction situate themselves solidly in the camp of literary fiction. They’re set on the planet Earth we know and love. Not so with The Passage, in which mutant vampire-like creatures ravage a post-apocalyptic U.S. of A. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road crossed with the movie The Road Warrior, with the psychological tonnage of John Fowles’ The Magus and the “huh?” ofThe Matrix.

    Now comes Ricky Moody, whose ironic novels like The Ice Storm andPurple America were solidly in the literary camp, telling us about life in a more-or-less recognizable world. His latest novel, The Four Fingers of Death, is a big departure, blending a B-movie classic with a dark future world. The plot: A doomed U.S. space mission to Mars and a subsequent accidental release of deadly bacteria picked up on the Red Planet results in that astronaut’s severed arm surviving re-entry to earth, and reanimating to embark on a wanton rampage of strangulation.

    And there’s probably other examples I’m forgetting at the moment.

    So what’s all this forsaking of one’s literary pedigree about?

    It began with the flipside of this equation. It used to be that genre writers had to claw their way up the ivory tower in order to be recognized by the literary tastemakers. Clearly, that’s shifted, as more and more fantasy, science fiction, and horror writers have been accepted by the mainstream and given their overdue lit cred. It’s been a hard row to hoe. J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and others helped blaze the trail to acceptance. Now these authors have been largely accepted into the canon. You can take university courses on fantasy literature and write dissertations on the homoerotic subtext simmering between Frodo and Sam. A whole generation, now of age and in college, grew up reading (or having read to them) the entire oeuvre of Harry Potter. That’s a sea change in the way fantasy will be seen in the future—not as some freaky subculture, but as widespread mass culture.

    Yes, Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing have delved into genre, although their works (A Handmaid's Tale, for example) was always taken as highbrow. Perhaps a better example: Stephen King, considered a hack horror writer for years who began publishing in the New Yorker in 1990. One wonders why the New Yorker finally caved and let him in the doors --- is this an implicit acknowledgement of his popularity? Or had King's writing gotten better. In any case, it's was a shocker when he began racking up impressive literary kudos, like in 2003 when the National Book Awards handed over its annual medal for distinguished contribution to American letters to King. Recently in May, the Los Angeles Public Library gave its Literary Award for his monstrous contribution to literature.

    Now, as muggles and Mordor have entered the popular lexicon, the glitterati of literary fiction find themselves “slumming” in the darker, fouler waters of genre. (One reason: It’s probably more fun to write.) But in the end, I think it’s all about call and response. Readers want richer, more complex and more imaginative and immersive stories. Writers want an audience, and that audience increasingly reads genre. Each side—literary and genre—leeches off the other. The two camps have more or less met in the middle.

    One wonders who’s going to delve into the dark waters next—Philip Roth? Salman Rushdie? Toni Morrison? Actually, it turns they already (sort of) have --- Roth explores alternative history in The Plot Against America
    Rushdie's "Magical Realism," of Midnight's Children, in which children have superpowers. You might even argue that Morrison's Beloved is a ghost story.


    [thanks to readers at, where this post originally appeared, for catching some errors and helping me revise this into a better essay]

    Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, which comes out in paperback in September. Contact him through his website,