Up the Trail from Texas by J. Frank Dobie

Texas Tuesday.

This book, published in 1955, is one of the Landmark History series from Random House. The publisher had a policy of hiring the best writers, award winning authors and experts in history and in particular historical eras and events, to write these books, and it shows. J. Frank Dobie was a journalist and a rancher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin for many years. He was instrumental in saving the Texas Longhorn from extinction. He wrote over twenty books about the history, folklore, and traditions of Texas. If anyone was qualified to write a Landmark history book about the history of the cattle, cowboys, and trail drives of Texas, it was Mr. Dobie.

And Up the Trail from Texas is certainly a well-written, exciting nonfiction compilation of the stories of various cowmen, trail bosses, and cowboys that Mr. Dobie interviewed personally, along with information about the real life of a trail driving cowboy and the logistics and work of a trail drive from Texas to the northern cattle markets in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana. Read about drouths, blizzards, lightning, and floods, encounters with the Comanche and other Indians, and about the jobs the cowboys were expected to perform. Dobie’s writing especially shine when he is recounting the stories that the cowmen told him, many of them recalling in old age their youthful exploits and adventures on the cattle trail.

I remember when I was a kid of a girl watching Clint Eastwood as drover Rowdy Yates in the early 1960’s TV series, Rawhide. I think the writers of Rawhide must have read Mr. Dobie’s books, especially this one. If I were teaching a unit on the cowboys and trail drives of the 1860’s, I’d read a couple chapters of Up the Trail from Texas to my students each day until we finished the book, and then I’d let them watch a few episodes of Rawhide.

Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,
Though they’re disapprovin’,
Keep them dogies movin’, rawhide.
Don’t try to understand ’em,
Just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.
Soon we’ll be livin’ high and wide.
My heart’s calculatin’,
My true love will be waitin’,
Be waitin’ at the end of my ride.
Move ’em on, head ’em up,
Head ’em up, move ’em on,
Move ’em on, head ’em up, rawhide!
Head ’em out, ride ’em in,
Ride ’em in, let ’em out,
Cut ’em out, ride ’em in, rawhide!

At the end of each episode, trail boss Gil Favor would call out, “Head’em up! Move’em out!”

K-Drama Update, Summer 2015

So, here are the Korean drama series (K-dramas)that I’ve watched so far. Links are to full reviews.

'11_1024' photo (c) 2004, Lawliet Tsuki - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Full House. Romantic comedy with an implausible premise but irresistible characters and romantic scenes.

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600′s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South. This drama is still my favorite K-drama ever.
Headmistress at The Common Room on King2Hearts.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

Iris (Season 1) Unusual for K-dramas, this series has at least two seasons. I’ve only watched the first one. A spy thriller, lots of violence, fascinating, conflicted characters. My Semicolon review here. I think I’ll try the second season soon, which I’ve heard is even better than the first one.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.
Reviewed by The Headmistress at The Common Room.

Flower Boy Next Door. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon) is a popular video game star from Spain, and Go Dok Mi is a reclusive writer who guards her heart because she has been hurt deeply in the past. When Enrique catches Dok Mi spying on him —with binoculars–the fun begins as he pursues her. The boy next door, Jin Rak, is also interested in Dok Mi, but she just wants to be left alone–or does she? Dok Mi has one mood throughout: sullen and pouty and depressed. Nevertheless, the story was fun, and Enrique/Yoon is cute.

I Miss You Terribly sad melodrama dealing with sensitive themes such as child and spousal abuse, desertion, bullying, kidnapping and rape. It’s also about identity. Who am I? Am I who I decide to be? Is my family the people to whom I was born or the people I decide to make my family? And what about redemption and forgiveness? The ending, which is what I’ve learned you have to watch for in K-dramas, is heart-rending, but satisfying.

That Winter, the Wind Blows is a melodrama about a poor little rich blind girl who has no one to trust. Her father has just died (in mysterious circumstances). Her “step-mother” is really her father’s mistress and may be after her money. Her fiancé also may have ulterior motives. So she goes looking for her long lost brother from whom she was parted at the age of five, before she went blind. Unfortunately for her, the brother she finds isn’t her real brother. Complications ensue. The cinematography is beautiful in this one, and the acting is excellent, except when they linger too long on the hopeless, longing looks. But the ending is (warning!) really, really ambiguous and unsatisfying.

Dream High is a rom-com set in a performing arts high school. The Headmistress compares it to the American TV series Fame. Lots of competition, winning and losing, who’s the best singer/dancer/composer/performer. And there’s some cute romance among the (older) teachers and parents and among the students.

King of Dramas is a drama about making K-dramas. The leading characters are all K-drama writers or actors and actresses or producers. The Headmistress says it’s filled with inside jokes, which obviously went over my head, but I enjoyed the sort-of inside look at the industry anyway. The ending is rather unbelievably sappy, but I didn’t mind. It was much better than a more realistic ending would have been.

Heirs is a fairly new K-drama (fall 2013) starring Lee Min-ho, an incredibly cute and popular actor who also starred in City Hunter and a popular one I couldn’t get into, Boys Over Flowers. Lee Min-ho was good in this drama about high school puppy love among the rich and famous, actually rich boy and poor girl. The girl was a little bit annoying with all the pouting and enduring sadness. The girl’s mom was mute, and I enjoyed her character. The actress who played the mom was excellent. The rich dads in this drama are all horrible, and the rich moms aren’t much better. And yet the children try really hard to respect and obey their villainous parents. It’s a Korean thing, and I’m not sure it’s a bad Korean thing since most parents aren’t nearly as autocratic and manipulative and unreasonable as the parents in Heirs. At least, parents in the USA aren’t that bad, and I hope they aren’t in Korea either. I liked Heirs, and I agree with what The Headmistress says about the relationship between the brothers. However, the American in me really wanted both brothers to walk away from their dictator daddy and start their own company. They nearly did, but all is forgiven in the end.

I tried to watch You Who Came from the Stars—three different times—on the strength of recommendations from lots of K-drama fans, but I just couldn’t get interested in the same way that I fell into most of the above. I must have missed something that everyone else loved, but I don’t know what it was. I watched several, actually many, episodes, but the magic just wasn’t there for me.

Th K-dramas I’m going to try next: IRIS 2, God’s Quiz, It’s Okay That’s Love, Marriage Not Dating, Scent of a Woman, What’s Up?, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, When a Man Loves, and Pasta. Most of these suggestions I got from this post at The Common Room.

More K-Drama Recommendations

Julie at Happy Catholic: When a Man Loves. Julie’s friend Renee says, “The main character, Han Tae Sang, is a thug for a loan shark who turns his life around. The show is full of great Catholic themes like mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.”

The Headmistress at The Common Room recommends You Who Came from the Stars. High praise: “I might even like it better than, or at least as well as, King2Hearts, my previous favorite.”

One reason I’m enjoying my exploration of the world of K-drama so much is the structure and composition of the dramas themselves. K-dramas generally have a set number (16-20) of related episodes. The entire drama has a beginning, a middle and an ending, and each episode builds on the ones that come before it. So, it’s a bit like watching a soap opera, but a soap opera with an ending. Some of the K-dramas are drawn out and artificially stretched a bit to fit this format, but the scheme usually works to give enough time for character development, but not so much that the plot and the characters’ interactions become repetitious and boring. In the best of the dramas, hints as to the characters back stories and motivations are embedded in the first few episodes, to be revealed and explored fully in the later episodes.

Unlike American TV series, which are more like a series of short stories about the same characters, very episodic in nature, K-dramas are like a novel with a long slow development of plot and characters until the action reaches its climax in episode 15, 16, or 17– and a final ending, either happy (comedic drama) or sad (melodrama) in the last episode(s).

I prefer novels to short stories.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

This YA novel by well-known author Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Twisted, Wintergirls, Chains, and Forge) is what I call “an ABC after school special” work of fiction. For those of you who aren’t old enough to remember the after school special movies that were featured on the ABC network back in the day, they were usually dramas (sometimes comedy or documentary) aimed at middle school and young adult audiences about issues that the producers thought were relevant to teens: drug abuse, teen pregnancy, popularity, cancer, sexual harassment, blended families, racism, alcoholism, anorexia, etc. Each drama usually focused on one or more of these teen issues and gave guidance to viewers about how to handle the problem in the form of a story or parable or panel discussion.

Well, The Impossible Knife of Memory is a problem novel about the issue of having a parent who is a veteran suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. As the novel opens, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been traveling the country for the past five years, running away from Andy’s recurring nightmares and violent outbursts in response to his time as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Andy is a mess, but he’s decided that Hayley needs a more stable life and a chance to graduate from a brick-and-mortar school. So, the two of them move back to Andy’s hometown.

For the rest of the book, Andy, the dad, messes up: marijuana, fights, alcoholism, suicide attempts, incoherent and dictatorial behavior, criminal associates, and general irresponsibility. Hayley tries to take care of her father and live a “normal” teen life at school at the same time. She acquires a boyfriend, Finn, who is cute and sweet, mostly, but has his own dysfunctional family. In fact, all of Hayley’s friends and acquaintances seem to come from seriously messed-up families. Does Ms. Anderson mean to indicate that all teens deal with some form of parental misbehavior and irresponsibility, or is it just that Hayley picks the ones with dysfunctional families to be friends with?

The title indicates that the book will be about the double-edged sword that is memory: how our memories can both strengthen us and capture us in a web of hopelessness, depending on how we see and process those memories. I’m not sure that the theme indicated in the title came through clearly; I was too distracted by “cute little puppy-dog-like” Finn and by Hayley’s need to get away from her borderline abusive dad. I couldn’t think about the larger themes and issues that the book was trying to illuminate. Maybe if ABC made it into an after-school special, the script writers would hone the focus. As it was, I felt sorry for Hayley, liked Finn, couldn’t stand Gracie (best friend) and her boyfriend, and wanted Andy to go a hospital and get some help.

And that’s about all I gleaned from this particular after-school special novel. I prefer Ms. Anderson’s historical fiction. The book, and maybe the TV special, would be rated PG for some language and “adult” situations and discussions, such as drug abuse, suicide, and adultery.

The 9th Gift of Christmas in Denmark, 1843

“Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven.” ~The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen.

'The Little Match Girl' photo (c) 2008, Justin Ennis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s Gifts:
A song: On December 8, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on CBS.

A booklist: Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas (books about writing and reading poetry) at Seedlings in Stone

A birthday: John Milton, poet, b.1608.
Joel Chandler Harris, folklorist, b.1848

A poem: Hymn on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton.

K-Drama Update

So, here are the Korean drama series (K-dramas)that I’ve watched so far. Links are to full reviews.

'11_1024' photo (c) 2004, Lawliet Tsuki - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/IRIS (1) Spies, and traitors, and tragedy, and violence.

Full House. Romantic comedy with an implausible premise but irresistible characters and romantic scenes.

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600′s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.

Flower Boy Next Door. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon) is a popular video game star from Spain, and Go Dok Mi is a reclusive writer who guards her heart because she has been hurt deeply in the past. When Enrique catches Dok Mi spying on him —with binoculars–the fun begins as he pursues her. The boy next door, Jin Rak, is also interested in Dok Mi, but she just wants to be left alone–or does she? Dok Mi has one mood throughout: sullen and pouty and depressed. Nevertheless, the story was fun, and Enrique/Yoon is cute.

I Miss You Terribly sad melodrama dealing with sensitive themes such as child and spousal abuse, desertion, bullying, kidnapping and rape. It’s also about identity. Who am I? Am I who I decide to be? Is my family the people to whom I was born or the people I decide to make my family? And what about redemption and forgiveness? The ending, which is what I’ve learned you have to watch for in K-dramas, is heart-rending, but satisfying.

That Winter, the Wind Blows is a melodrama about a poor little rich blind girl who has no one to trust. Her father has just died (in mysterious circumstances). Her “step-mother” is really her father’s mistress and may be after her money. Her fiancé also may have ulterior motives. So she goes looking for her long lost brother from whom she was parted at the age of five, before she went blind. Unfortunately for her, the brother she finds isn’t her real brother. Complications ensue. The cinematography is beautiful in this one, and the acting is excellent, except when they linger too long on the hopeless, longing looks. But the ending is (warning!) really, really ambiguous and unsatisfying.

So, now, I’m ready for something a little lighter than the last two K-dramas I’ve watched. I think I’ll try this one called What’s Up? or else Dream High.t

Must Be a K-Thing

In the K-dramas (Korean TV) I’ve been watching, I’ve noticed certain repeated idiosyncrasies and bits of business that show up over and over. All of these things seem odd to my American sensibilities, but I suppose they’re normal in Korea, or at least on Korean TV.

1. Nosebleeds. In a crisis or sometimes at the most inconvenient times, the lead actor or actress gets a nosebleed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an American actor with a nosebleed. Koreans must have sensitive noses.

2. Sticking out the tongue. In the U.S., five year olds taunt each other by sticking out their tongues. Much older than that, and it just isn’t done. Kim Na Na (yes, that’s her name) sticks out her tongue at Lee Yoon Sung in City Hunter. The serious and mature Hang Ah sticks out her tongue at the very immature Prince Jae Ha in The King 2 Hearts. Korean girls poke fun by sticking out their tongues at the young man they’re flirting/sparring with? (Headmistress at THe Common Room: “Our experience in living in Japan and visiting Korea is that Asians really like cute a lot. It’s not just for kids.”) See #8 for more examples of the “cuteness” dealio.

3. Short skirts and high heels. All of the young ladies are quite chaste for the most part, no passionate kissing or PDA or cleavage, but they wear really, really short skirts and high heels all the time, even when a girl is running away from the bad guy. It looks uncomfortable to me–and bad policy if you’re trying to make a quick getaway. Sometimes the leading lady falls off her heels, or the shoe breaks, which may lead to:

4. The twisted or sprained ankle. This sort of accident, apparently very common in the course of a Korean romance, causes the hero, or sometimes the heroine, to come to the rescue with bandages and sympathy. If not a twisted ankle, some other bump or bruise can provide an opportunity for romantic first aid.

5. Romantic flashbacks: Lots of flashbacks with music to romantic moments between the couple who are fated to be together but can’t quite seem to get together. Sometimes it’s a montage of several near-miss and sentimental incidents. Sometimes they’re playing in a fountain or a park, or the girl falls asleep with the guy gently moving a strand of her hair away from her face. But these flashback moments all have in common that they are taken out of context. Usually, the interlude ended in a misunderstanding or a fight, but the reminiscing person never remembers that part.

6. Cellphones. Cellphones are ubiquitous in all the K-dramas I’ve watched. Yeah, I know they are pretty common here in the U.S., but the K-drama characters take it to another level. In Queen Inhyun’s Man, the cell phone becomes almost a central character or Hitchcockian MacGuffin.

7. Spunky girls and rude guys. I think the spunky girl with martial arts skilz would work in a U.S. romantic comedy or drama, but the rude guy who turns out to be sweet and honorable underneath would be outa there in a New York minute.

8. Piggyback rides. Really, grown-up guys are frequently giving their significant other lovely lady a piggyback ride. It seems . . . odd, but kind of cute. Other romantic situations in K-dramas: falling asleep on the guy’s couch (or shoulder), riding a two-seater bicycle together, running through a fountain, feeding each other (preferably feeding each other Ramen).

9. Actors as main characters and “play within a play”. Queen Inhyun’s Man is about an actress who is playing Queen Inhyun in an historical drama. In the series called The Greatest Love Doko Jin is an immensely popular actor, and his love interest is a singer/actress trying to make a comeback. I just started watching Full House, and the main guy is . . . an immensely popular actor.

10. Wrist-grabbing. The guy will grab the girl’s wrist to fend her off or express his displeasure. It doesn’t seem to be as rude and almost-abusive to the Korean girl in question as it looks to me.

11. Time travel and amnesia both show up frequently.

I’m not an expert on K-dramas, but I have become somewhat fascinated and maybe slightly addicted. I’m not sure what the draw is. My progeny certainly can’t fathom the attraction. Anyway, here are the ones I’ve watched with comments:

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600’s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.

Full House. I just started this one and can’t tell you much about it, other than it’s rather implausible. In the first episode, the main character’s “friends” just sent her on a wild goose chase of a trip to China and sold her house while she was away. It looks as if the girl, Ji-eun, is fated to cross paths (repeatedly) with famous actor, Young-jae, who turns out to be the one who bought her house from the unscrupulous friends.

Actually, implausibility could be another Korean drama trope. North Koreans and South Koreans making nice with each other over joint military maneuvers? Doko Jin the famous actor mooning over a potato plant? A revenge-seeking superhero with mommy and daddy issues? Time travel via Buddhist scroll and cellphone?

However, I am addicted nonetheless, and I willingly suspend my disbelief and watch with bated breath to see what will happen next.

Duck Dynasty and The Duck Commander Family

Other than K-dramas, the other culture I’ve been exploring via television lately is that of redneck Louisiana and duck-hunting as portrayed in the A&E series Duck Dynasty. It’s just as fascinating, if not quite as foreign, as Korean drama culture.

Duck Dynasty is a “reality TV” series starring the Robertson clan, owners of a multi-million dollar business that creates products for duck hunters, including duck calls, hunting videos, and other hunting paraphernalia. The company is called Duck Commander, and there’s a companion company, Buck Commander, that sells stuff for deer hunters. The show, however, isn’t about hunting so much as it is about the Robertsons and their weird and wonderful family dynamic.

Meet the Robertsons:

Phil is the family patriarch, the man who founded Duck Commander, a fanatical and skilled duck hunter, designer of the double reed duck call that is Duck Commander’s featured product. Phil wants everyone to be “happy, happy, happy” without bothering him too much, and he doesn’t have much use for “yuppies” and modern technology.
Ms. Kay is Phil’s wife and mother to the four Robertson boys. Ms. Kay can cook anything and make it taste great; her speciality is fried squirrel and squirrel brains. She says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and squirrel brains make you smart.
Three of the “boys” are featured in the TV show:
Willie is the CEO of Duck COmmander. He spends most of his time on the TV show trying to get the rest of the family to work and build duck calls instead of taking naps, going hunting, and generally goofing off.
Jase is Willie’s older brother, but he’s more interested in working in the duck call room, designing duck calls and testing them. Jase and Willie have different,complementary roles in the business, but outside of business hours they are highly competitive in everything from fishing to sports to cooking to outwitting one another.
Jep is the baby of the family, kind of quiet, but according to the book he does a lot of the filming for the hunting videos.
The other main character in the TV shows is Uncle Si, a Vietnam veteran who has the best and funniest lines in the show. Uncle Si makes the reeds for the duck calls. He also drinks sweet tea by the gallon from a plastic Tupperware glass that he carries with him everywhere. Uncle Si reminds me of a combination of Engineer Husband’s two brothers: the storytelling, the exaggerations, the beard, the eccentricity.

After I watched most of seasons one and two of Duck Dynasty, I wanted to know how much of the show was true and how much was put-on. So I read The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty by Willie and Korie (Willie’s wife) Robertson (with Mark Schlabach). The book isn’t a classic, but it serves the purpose of giving more information about the Robertson family background. Each TV episode closes with the entire clan gathered around the table, and Phil prays a blessing over the food and the family. The book tells how the family came to have such a strong heritage of faith in God. It wasn’t easy. Phil and Kay married young, and Phil became an alcoholic and deserted the family for a time. After God brought him to a realization of his need for Christ and his love of his family, Phil returned to Ms. Kay and his sons and became a strong man of God, still a little quirky but grounded in the Bible and faith in God’s provision.

I highly recommend the TV series, and then the book if you want more information about this wacky, unconventional, and inspirational family. Warning: the Robertsons are NOT your typical rich, sophisticated family. They like to blow things up, shoot animals and eat them, and generally run wild. It’s a great TV show to watch with the young men in your family, older men, too.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and King 2 Hearts

War and peace is a recurring theme in literature, in movies and television, and in history. Seraphina, winner of the Cybil Award of 2012 in the Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy category, is about trust and mistrust between two different species, dragons and humans, in the kingdom of Goredd. My latest (second) K-drama, The King 2 Hearts, is about war and peace, trust and mistrust, between North and South Korea. Both the book and the TV series share some commonalities:

Tough-as-nails, but tender on the inside commoner girl meets insecure, but charming prince. Romance ensues.

Cultural differences create misunderstandings and lead two nations to the brink of war.

Evil villain tries to provoke war between the two groups.

Relationship between the girl and the prince mirrors the uneasy relationship between the two countries. Danger lurks everywhere, and almost all of the main characters come near to death multiple times in both Seraphina and King 2 Hearts.

There are also differences between the two stories. In the book, the dragons are emotionless, mathematical, and super-rational, unless they have taken on human form in which case they must be on guard against getting tripped up by human emotions. Yes, the dragons can transform into human bodies. (No, the humans can’t get dragon bodies–which doesn’t seem quite fair.) And Seraphina, our young protagonist, has a very special problem: she hides a secret that would, if revealed, turn everyone, both dragon and human against her and perhaps cost her life.

So, there’s a lot of interplay in Seraphina between the supposed opposite ways of viewing life: artistic and emotional or mathematical and rational. Unfortunately, Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk did it better. The idea of bridging cultural differences and making peace by bringing together two cultures is more interesting. Seraphina brings together the two cultures in the book because she has a unique identity, (POSSIBLE SPOILER) half dragon and half human. In King 2 Hearts the attempt to bridge two cultures is embodied in the proposed marriage of the South Korean prince to a North Korean bride. Of course, reconciling two disparate cultures is difficult, whether it’s an internal conflict or recurring discord and confrontation between two people who actually love each other.

It’s the conflict that keeps the story fresh and compelling. King 2 Hearts consists of 20 episodes, a length that I’m told is common for Korean dramas. It probably could have been improved by being shortened by about five episodes and tightened up. Some of the characters—the “psycho” super-villain, his stoned hired assassin, and the U.S. government official with the speech impediment, in particular–were rather unbelievable and cringe-worthy. But the series itself was addictive; I kept thinking I’d watch just one more episode, then one more, then one more . . .

If you want some (mostly clean) romance embedded in a story with Important Stuff to Say about war and peace I’d recommend Seraphina if you have a few hours to read a fantasy novel, and King 2 Hearts only if you have about twenty hours to invest in a roller-coaster of a TV show, with sub-titles and loads of Korean politics, mores and traditions. Consume both if you’re a glutton for political drama, fantasy, spy thrillers, romantic sparring, and a surprising but satisfactory resolution.

I hope to write more about King 2 Hearts and the other K-drama that I’ve watched, Queen In-hyun’s Man, soon. Suffice it to say I think I already have a K-drama problem, and I can’t, can’t, can’t start any more shows anytime soon or else I might be accused of family-neglect.

Related links:
Steph Su reviews Seraphina.
The Readventurer reviews Seraphina.
Charlotte’s Library on Seraphina.

With an Accent: The King 2 Hearts.
The Common Room: A Few of my Favorite Korean Dramas.

K-Dramas Recommended

The following K-Dramas (Korean TV drama) have been recommended lately in various blog posts that I have seen. I’m making a list here for future reference. Why is the latest TV-watching fad (other than Downton Abbey) seemingly coming out of tiny Korea?

Queen in Hyuns Man aka Queen and I, recommended at Christ and Pop Culture. Time travel romance. Also recommended at With an Accent. I started watching this one, and so far it’s cute, but a little confusing.

King 2 Hearts, recommended at The Common Room.

Full House, with actors Song Hye-kyo, Rain, Han Eun-jeong and Kim Sung-soo, recommended at The Common Room. Romantic comedy.

City Hunter, recommended at The Common Room. Also recommended at Christ and Pop Culture. Crime/revenge story.

Jumong, recommended at The Common Room. Historical drama.

Secret Garden, recommended at The Common Room. Body-swapping romantic comedy.

Rooftop Prince, recommended at Something Out of the Ordinary.

Faith/The Great Doctor, recommended at The Common Room. Time travel historical drama.

Hello Miss, recommended at The Common Room.

Golden Bride, recommended in a comment by Harmonyl at The Common Room post on K-drama.

Tree With Deep Roots, recommended in a comment by Harmonyl at The Common Room post on K-drama. Combination mystery thriller, action, romance, and historical.

Dong-yi, recommended in a comment by Harmonyl at The Common Room post on K-drama. Historical drama.

Heartstrings, recommended at The Common Room.

Don’t Ask Me About the Past, recommended at The Common Room

Apparently, you can watch these on Hulu or sometimes on Netflix, and lots of people are enjoying them. The Headmistress at The Common Room says she’s addicted. I don’t have room in my life for any new addictions, but around the first of the year I may check one of these series/movies out.

Any other suggestions?