Of Heroes and the Batman – A No-Spoiler Review of The Dark Knight Rises

We went to see The Dark Knight Rises this week, my comic-book-geek husband and I.

I had anticipated enjoying it, and I really did. It was a very-well-done conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. While you can certainly see The Dark Knight Rises as a stand-alone movie, it makes much more sense if you see the other two first, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

was interested in this incarnation of Batman to begin with. Having been married to a DC Comics fan for 33 years, I am familiar with variations on the Batman theme, and the Dark Knight has always been, well, the darkest of these.  

That’s not to say he isn’t still the Batman and a compelling figure, because he is. I think this particular version, which Christian Bale has played so well, is the most human interpretation of Batman. You don’t just thrill to see him coming to the rescue, you hurt with him and sometimes you want to shake him and tell him to stop being so much like the rest of humanity and be the hero you want him to be. 

There’s plenty of action in the movie, of course, to make those of us who love action flicks interested. It has nail-biting tension and fantastic technology. But the heroes of the film are shown as human beings, with their feet of clay exposed for all the world to see. They have made and do make mistakes and poor choices, just like the rest of us. They do things they regret doing. And yet, they rise above that. They do what they can to make things right again. 

None of the main characters, either good and bad, are simply  comic-book, one-dimensional characters, despite their comic-book origins. They all have depth of character, and we get a glimpse into their motivations. We see how hardship can mold either heroes or villains, depending on how the individual involved chooses to react to those hardships. In many ways, the movie is about choices made, and the results of those choices. 

I came away from the movie with one line in particular echoing in my thoughts, one that I hope will be remembered by everyone who sees the movie. It reminds us that not only are the huge, highly visible heroic acts important, the small everyday kindnesses are, too. Batman, the doer of the huge heroic deeds, states, “A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hasn’t ended.” Something we all do well to remember.


Ivan and the Compass – a Youngest Son Story

Here is a story I wrote a few years back, and have always enjoyed. The Youngest Son is often a motif in folk and fairy tales, so I decided to write my own Youngest Son story.

“As long as you have a compass, you will never be lost!” Father told Sasha. Ivan was listening from behind the bushes. He didn’t mean to be, but he had been back there eating the pastry he had snitched from the kitchen when Father came along talking to Sasha. Sasha was going hunting in the forest with Father tomorrow. The two went on down the path to the pasture, and Ivan didn’t hear any more. Still, he thought about what he had heard. A compass sounded like a wondrous, magical thing. With one you would never get lost!

Ivan got lost a lot. He was always getting in trouble for wandering off. Sometimes he was lost to himself, sometimes just to Mother and Father. Still, it was a problem – more for Mother and Father than for Ivan, but they made sure it became his problem when they found him.

Ivan finished his ill-gotten pastry and wandered back to the house. He almost went to see the geese in the pond out in the pasture instead, but he remembered that last time he did that. Mother thought he had drowned because he took off his shoes to try and catch a gosling and Father had found the shoes, but not him, because by then he was crouched in the reeds, trying to catch a frog. When Ivan got home, late and shoeless, Mother was crying, with her apron over her head, and Father was looking very stern. When they found out he was not drowned, he had been sent to bed without his supper. This seemed a bit strange to Ivan. He would have thought they would be happy that he wasn’t drowned. Sasha and Ilya had laughed.

When he got back to the house, everyone was busy. Sasha and Father were milking the cows, Mother was making dinner, and Ilya was doing his schoolwork. Ilya was a good scholar, and had won a place at the big school in town.

Ivan knew if anyone saw him, they would put him to work, so he slipped up into the hayloft to look for the kittens the old tabby had had last month. He thought about taking a walk to see if he could find a buried treasure, but the last time he did that he wound up in the woods, not quite sure where he was, and had missed supper trying to find his way out. Father had come to find him, and was angry with Ivan for getting lost. When they got home, Mother had been crying with her apron over her head again, and Sasha and Ilya had laughed at him again, both for looking for treasure and for getting lost. Once more, Father had made him go to bed without eating, but Ivan hadn’t thought this was much of a problem. He hadn’t wanted a cold dinner, anyway, and he was very tired from all the walking he had done.

Up in the hayloft, Ivan couldn’t find any kittens, so he jumped down into the haystack beside the barn and headed for the woodpile to look for mice. Finding no mice and still shedding bits of hay from his clothes, Ivan slipped through the parlor window into the house and tiptoed up the stairs. Ilya was still at his studies. Ivan sat quietly and watched him for a while. Sometimes if Ilya was doing history or literature, he would tell Ivan tales from what he was learning. Ivan liked that. But tonight, Ilya was playing with a little tool, making circles on paper, and measuring them. After he watched for a while, Ivan got bored. He finally asked, “What is that thing you are using?”

Ilya replied, “It’s just a compass.”

Ivan’s heart raced. It was a compass, that magical thing that meant you could never get lost. He wondered why Ilya was using it, and was going to ask, when Mother called, “Supper!” and they both ran down the stairs to eat.

After supper, Mother and Father caught Ivan before he could get away and made him do his chores, which he had managed to neglect all day. It took him until bedtime to finish them.

By the time he went upstairs to sleep, Ilya had the compass put away in his schoolbag, and Ivan forgot to ask him about it.

The next morning, Ivan was awake early, before his brothers. He saw the little silver compass peeking out of Ilya’s school bag. Today wasn’t a school day. Perhaps he could get away with borrowing it, just for a while, so he could go out for a bit without getting lost and in trouble. He dressed quickly, and had just slipped the compass in his pocket when Father came upstairs to get Sasha so they could go hunting.

Father and Sasha were in a hurry, and didn’t notice anything amiss. Father told Ivan to be good, and not to worry his mother, just this once, for he was getting tired of Ivan making Mother cry into her apron, and then Father and Sasha left. The compass was cool and sharp in Ivan’s pocket, but he didn’t let on that it was there. Ivan had no intention of worrying his mother. He had the magic compass, so he wouldn’t get lost, and Mother would never know.

He left Ilya sleeping and slipped downstairs to grab some bread, cheese and a lovely red apple to put in his pockets, and he was off. Father and Sasha had gone to the big forest, so Ivan thought that he would just go the woods on the other side of the village. It wouldn’t make for quite as good an adventure, but it couldn’t be helped. He didn’t want to meet up with Father and Sasha. They would scold him and send him home. They might even take the magical compass for themselves!

Ivan slipped through the fields beside the village. He did not go through the village, because if anyone saw him, they would stop him and send him home, saying he would get lost and he shouldn’t worry his parents. This had happened more than once.

It took a little longer to go around, but he was soon in the cool shade of the trees, where the underbrush was trampled by people looking for firewood. He went a little deeper in and whistled a happy little tune. He was off on an adventure for certain, today!

He walked beneath the trees, watching small animals scurry away, and listening to the birds sing. He splashed through a small stream and chased a blue dragonfly into a meadow full of flowers. Then he sat down on a rock and ate his bread and cheese. Spying some berry bushes across the way, he went to pick some to wash down the bread and cheese. They were very good, and he was happily plucking and eating berries when he heard a snuffling behind him.

Little boys aren’t the only ones who like berries, and when he turned around, Ivan saw that bears like them too. The bear clearly did not want to share the berry bushes with Ivan and was coming closer, growling.


Ivan thought quickly, “I do not want to lose my life to this bear, but the if the compass keeps me from getting lost, perhaps it will also keep me from losing my life!” So he whipped out the compass, and spread it out and spun around in a circle just as he had seen Ilya do, but in the air instead of on paper. A large circle appeared where the compass had spun around and then the circle fell to the ground. It was a huge berry pie! Ivan reached down, grabbed the pie, and tossed it towards the bear.

Now the bear knew a good thing when he saw it and stopped to slurp up the pie. Ivan scooted into the bushes and away down a path until he was well away from the berry bushes and the bear.

Since he was on the path, he decided to follow it and see where it went. He walked happily along it until he came to a large stream. He was delighted. This was just the right size stream to try tickling trout. Sasha and Ilya had told him all about tickling trout. You had to be ever so still and slip your hand under them and gently rub their bellies until they weren’t suspecting anything and then scoop them out of the water as fast as you could.

Ivan promptly lay down on his belly on the bank to see if he could tickle a trout.

He did not see a trout, or any other fish for that matter, and he squirmed closer to the water, and then closer still to see if he could see one. He squirmed closer yet again, when SPLASH! He wiggled right over the edge and into the stream.

Now, the stream was deeper and faster than it looked. Ivan found that he could not touch the bottom and the bank was moving away quickly. He could swim a little – Father had taught him after thinking he had drowned in the goose pond – so he kept his head above the water while he felt for the compass. He pulled it out, swirled it around in the water, and all of a sudden he felt something underneath him.

A large round lily pad was coming up under him, and soon folded around him like a huge cup. He was floating along on top of the stream in a lily pad boat! This was fun! Ivan happily bobbed along down the stream and when it joined up with the river, he decided to see where that took him for a while. He floated past the fields and beyond the little village, and soon he was floating through the big forest. He saw a sandy beach ahead, and by paddling with his hand, managed to land his lily-boat there.  When he hopped out, the lily pad floated off, and Ivan was on his own again.

Now, Ivan knew that Father and Sasha were hunting in the big forest today, but he decided that since the forest was such a big place that they probably wouldn’t meet up. So, he started off into the big, tall trees to see what he could find there.

After a little bit, Ivan heard a snuffling and snorting sound. “Not another bear!” he thought, but then he came round a big tree and saw that it was not a bear, but a wild boar. Ivan had heard tales about wild boars, and knew how dangerous they were. He backed up slowly, before it could see him, and climbed into one of the enormous forest trees. He sat on a limb, watching the boar, and wondering what he was going to do. He took out his apple and ate it while he thought.

Then Ivan heard voices. It was Father and Sasha, and they were coming this way! Ivan was struck with terror at the thought that the boar might go after Father and Sasha. He threw down the rest of his apple to distract the boar. Thinking quickly, he pulled out his compass and, stretching it out as wide as it would go, twirled it in the air. A very large circle floated down from Ivan’s perch in the tree and landed on the path below, between the boar and Father and Sasha. It kept floating downward, and suddenly there was a large pit in the middle of the path.

The boar heard the people coming down the path and charged towards them – and right into the pit.

“What was that noise?” asked Father. “It sounded just like a wild boar!”

“I hope not,” replied Sasha nervously.

Ivan put his hands over his mouth so they would not hear him giggling in the tree over their heads.

“Look!” cried Father. “I don’t remember this pit being on this path, but it has caught a boar for us!”

As they set about getting the boar out of the pit and preparing to haul it away, Ivan crept down the tree and away from the path. He was getting hungry, and tired – it must be time for lunch by now – and he was ready to go home. He pulled out his trusty compass and twirled it in the air one more time. A stream of sparkling lights flew from the compass and off through the trees. Ivan followed at a jog and soon found himself very near home. The lights twinkled out and Ivan walked the rest of the way happily. Truly, he had had a wonderful day, and not gotten lost once, thanks to the magical compass.

When he came into the kitchen, Mother was just putting out lunch on the table. She scolded him, “Where have you been all morning? I thought you had gotten lost again! And look at you! What a mess you are! Go and wash and put on clean clothes right now, before you come to  this table!” Ivan ran off to change before she could ask him any more questions.

When he came back down the stairs, Father and Sasha were back. “You should see the grand boar we found in a pit in the woods! We are taking it to the village for a big pig roast!” boomed Father. Ilya came in from inspecting the boar and caught sight of Ivan, and the compass in Ivan’s pocket.

“Ivan! What are you doing with my compass? I have been looking all over for it! This is not a toy for you to play with!” cried Ilya.

Ivan said, “But Father says that if you have a compass you will never get lost, so since people always fuss at me about getting lost, I thought it might be a good thing for me!”

Ilya snatched it away and answered, “This is not the same kind of compass. This one is for geometry, for making circles!”

Father laughed and said, “Yes, Ivan, the other sort of compass is this,” and he took out a small case with letters in a circle and a small arrow in the middle. “this one always shows you which way is north. It is not magical, though. You must know the direction you need to go. Although I wish there were a magical compass for you, little one, with the way you like to get lost!” and he laughed.

Ivan opened his mouth to tell Father that he was wrong, Ilya’s was a magical compass, but then he closed it again. Sometimes it wasn’t worth it to try to tell big people anything.

“Hey!” said Ilya, “What have you done with this!? It is filthy! Look, I found berry bits on it, and water weed stuck in it, and dirt in it, too. And what’s this sparkly stuff all over the ends?”

Ivan just smiled.

(c) Jane W. Wolfinbarger, 2007



I have been thinking about mass murder in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater on July 20th, and our (society’s) reactions to it.

I know it bothered my husband and me – it ate at me much of the day. It bothered our (adult) children, too. Our oldest son lives a time zone away, and because of a very busy schedule, didn’t hear about it until evening. But he called to talk about it when he heard. It bothered him quite a bit – more than he expected.

I was thinking about why we were bothered by it, and I think it disturbs us on many levels.

The first is obvious – we feel horror that lives were wantonly taken, and sadness for those who lost loved ones or were injured.

And then there is the nagging feeling at the bottom of it all. The “why?” feeling, and the feeling of fear we get when things are not in our control. We always want to know why something – especially something terrible – happens. What happens to cause someone to do something so heinous? We think that if we can figure out why, maybe we can keep something like this from happening again.

But often the reasons that someone resorts to mass murder are incomprehensible for the rest of us. Did something that any other person may have shrugged off, set them off? Or have they lost all empathy and compassion for others? Whatever the reason is, it is something that most of us will never, ever understand.

So we sit here, viewing the results with horror, never knowing why it all happened and feel completely helpless to prevent it from happening again. And that, I think, is the part that will continue to bother us, long after the media coverage is over: The helplessness to understand why, and thus to prevent, the horror from happening again.

The Great and Powerful – Oz

Dorothy, from the original W. W. Denslow illustrationsWhen my husband called me into his home office to look at something on the computer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Usually it’s something about computers, or the internet, or something equally geeky that he knows I’ll like and wants to share. But to my surprise, it was a movie trailer – for the new Oz movie.

My name is Jane, and I am an Oz-fanatic.

I have loved Oz since I first saw the 1939 movie as a small child in the 1960’s. It came on every year in the spring, and I always anticipated it eagerly. It became even better when we got a color TV. I was as amazed as Dorothy when she opened that door into Munchkinland.

The summer between second and third grades held an even bigger treat. No doubt realizing that my love of the movie would translate well into the world of books, my mother replied to a special offer and got me seven of the fourteen books L. Frank Baum wrote about Oz. These were sturdy, library-bound Reilly and Lee hardcovers, made to withstand years of hard reading. They weren’t in order; I received the first, second, fourth, etc. But I didn’t care. I was enthralled. A big box of books had come for ME!

Now, I wasn’t a reluctant reader by any means, but at the end of second grade, I was only just venturing into chapter books. The Oz books were a bit of a step. So my mother, ever the teacher, devised an evil plan. She would read me the first chapter of an Oz book, and then leave me with the book, after refusing to read any more to me.

It worked. By the end of the summer, I had read most of the seven and loved Oz more than ever. And although I didn’t read much other speculative fiction until I was in college (besides a battered copy of Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book and C. S. Lewis’  Narnia series), the hook was truly and deeply set, and I eventually became a ravenous reader of science fiction and fantasy. Writing it followed.

Over the years, I read other volumes from the series. (For some reason, we never had a chance to purchase the rest of the series. I once asked my mother about this, and it had puzzled her, too.) I found a few at the public library, and others at book stores. To this day, I still don’t have the entire set in hardcover, but I was more than happy to fill my gaps when they reissued the entire series as paperbacks. There were Oz books by several other authors, too, and I found a few of them and read them. I got the entire Baum series, The Complete Wizard of Oz Collection (All 15 books) With table of contents, too, when I got my Kindle.

I read Philip Jose Farmer’s book, A Barnstormer in Oz, when it came out in the 1980’s and enjoyed it. I found the new take on my old friend Oz delightful. I didn’t have any problem with new embellishments to my childhood memories, perhaps because I have always seen Oz as a fantastical place where anything can happen.

I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read Gregory Maguire’s Oz books. I keep meaning to, and will someday. I have the first of them, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years), all ready to go on my Kindle. I hear great things about them, and I imagine I will be delighted with the new additions to the world that I have loved since childhood.

The new Oz movie looks like fun. It’s a back story, telling the story of the Wizard before Dorothy comes to Oz. I saw an interview with two of the stars, and it turns out they read and loved the Oz books as children, just as I did. That alone gives me great hope for this film.

Sam Raimi is directing the movie, and as a long-time fan of his, I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with it. And as for special effects – well, Oz was made for CGI.

I can’t wait to see what happens! In the meantime, I can re-read my Oz books and make a dent in the Maguire books, too.

E Pluribus Unum

Like people up and down the Rocky Mountain region in the western United States, I have watched as area after area exploded with wildfire.

Sixty miles south of Laramie, the mountains just outside of Ft. Collins had a huge blaze; we got the smoke up here in Laramie. We waited and watched with them, via the media, as people were evacuated and hoped their homes survived. We watched firefighters flood the area, and air tankers and helicopters drop water and slurry on the flames.

Then the mountains by Colorado Springs burst into flame, and the fire roared down into the subdivisions on the periphery of town, burning scores of houses as people watched, helpless. Again, the firefighters stepped into the heat and the flames and halted the fiery monster.

Closer to home, fire raged at the far northern end of Albany County, the county Laramie is in, but while the fire consumed quite a few acres, the rugged area doesn’t hold a large population. It did take some homes, but not as many, and the rough terrain made it hard to fight the fire.

We watched, here in Laramie, as populations thanked the firefighters who saved lives, homes, and properties, and we were thankful along with them.

And we also watched with fear in our eyes, because the winter was warm and dry, the summer has been hot and dry, and the mountains here are full of dead timber – conifers killed by pine beetles during the last few years – fuel for any fire. It was only a matter of time before Mother Nature decided to clean house. (Or some thoughtless idiot started a blaze – sadly, that is always a possibility.)

Then last week, the fire we had been dreading burst into being – the Squirrel Creek Fire in the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow Mountains. And the firefighters came to help us.

Laramie itself is not in the path of the fire; 30 miles of grassland and sagebrush lie between the mountains and us, but when the total population of your county is in the 30,000’s, everyone knows everyone, and it’s like your next-door neighbors getting burned out. The ranches, cabins and tiny communities of Fox Park, Woods Landing and Albany are filled with people who work in Laramie, or send their kids to school in Laramie, who shop in Laramie, and have friends in Laramie. They are as much a part of us as if they lived in town. And out here, we step in and help when help is needed.

But it is incredible to see the response the rest of the world has had to our fire. As in Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs, firefighters from across the US have come into our town to fight the fire. Hot Shot teams, helicopters, an incident commander on the national level with much experience under his belt, all have responded to help us.

And this is humbling.

It’s humbling to think that people will come in and help, come from all over to do this life-threatening, miserably hot work to help our community.

This year, on the fourth of July, we don’t have fireworks here. The fire in the mountains is more than enough. But we have a reminder of the meaning of living in the USA, the way it is supposed to be.

E Pluribus Unum – From many, one. Everyone coming together from all over to help – as one.


Firefighters’ tents, erected on the grounds of Laramie High School, where they are camping while fighting our fire. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.