Archive for folklore

Age inappropriateness and fantasy

Posted in Fantasy, Middle fiction, Young adult with tags , on July 15, 2013 by Cara Marie

So while at Au Contraire this weekend (the local SF con), I made the mistake of going to a panel on introducing your kids to sci-fi and fantasy. And okay, I don’t have children, but I do have a young niece and nephew. I’m an ex-children’s bookshop employee. And as I have no interest in Lovecraft, this was my only other panel choice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the panel was going to go down the path of ‘all the YA these days is so disgusting’. The impetus being a woman asking for recommendations in the 9–12 age group (not YA, by the way. Also, while middle fiction might not get the press YA does, it’s hardly a languishing genre).

Someone mentioned Tamora Pierce, and the woman responded, oh, but she’d heard they had a lot of sex in them. And call her old-fashioned, but she didn’t want her 11-year-old reading books with sex in them.

Which I didn’t respond to, because I don’t argue with parents like that. But I had two thoughts:

  1. that is not an accurate description of Tamora Pierce’s books
  2. your 11-year-old is not going to be traumatised by reading a book that mentions sex.

Yes, some of Tamora Pierce’s books feature sex. Most of them do not. (There are certainly no 13-year-olds having sex, which this woman seemed to think there were.) And when the characters do have sex, it’s off-screen. You might get the character thinking about whether or not they want to have sex; you don’t get the actual sex.

The fact there’s sex going on may go entirely over your child’s head. But if it doesn’t, so what? They read about girls who consider whether or not having sex is right for them, girls who make sure to practice safe sex if they do, girls who are able to have open discussions with their mothers or mother-figures about sex.

My god, how awful.

Also, you know, I was reading Tamora Pierce when I was 11, and I’m kind of insulted by the idea that that was inappropriate. (I will concede that the Terry Goodkind I read at that age may have been inappropriate.)

The conversation went on to mention Ted Dawe’s Into the River, a book that recently caused a scandal by winning the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards (where ‘children’ includes teenagers, by the way). I haven’t read it, but apparently it features a ‘disgusting’ sex scene. From what my former boss has said, that’s kind of the point. Also the target audience is teenagers 15+. It’s hardly being thrust into the hands of innocent babes.

That was a digression, anyway. But the net effect was me feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and wondering just how rude it would be to walk out (it was a small room, and I wasn’t at the end of a row).

Then someone said that Grimms’ fairy stories originated as dirty jokes told by farmers. ‘And they decided it would be a good idea to write these down for children!’

Which apparently crossed a line for me, because I left then. (What, ‘and then the witch him into a bird!’, hur hur, snicker snicker? Had this woman even read a fairy story before?)

It’s a wonder I even survived to adulthood, reading all the filth that I read.

Reboot and folklore

Posted in Fantasy, Movies, Science fiction, TV with tags , , , on November 3, 2012 by Cara Marie

So L and I were discussing Reboot and he drew a comparison between Simba in The Lion King and Enzo. Both are caught in the conflict between two father figures, one good, one bad. The bad one seeks to displace the good one, and encourages the son to act out their youthful rebelliousness … in the hope that things will end badly.

And things do go badly, for a while. The bad father displaces the good father. The son is cast out into the wilderness. When eventually the son returns, the bad father is deposed (with more or less effort).

Except after Enzo comes back and Megabyte is defeated, he’s still messed up. There’s no ‘circle of life’ to reassure him; there is no re-emplacement of the status quo. He is literally scarred by his experiences.

(On the other hand, it could have been worse: he could have been Hamlet.)

I’m trying to think of fairy tales that follow this same pattern, but I’m not coming up with any – at least, not with men. The stories aren’t dissimilar to those where the good mother is replaced by the wicked stepmother (or the mother herself turns bad). We don’t see the early part of the story: the stepmother tends to want the daughter out quick-smart. But we do see the exile, once our heroine grows old enough to threaten the stepmother.

But, when the heroine takes her rightful place, it is not as her mother’s successor. Her stepmother’s wickedness may be revealed, but it is not her place the heroine takes. Our heroine becomes a queen in another realm. (Some versions of this kind of story forget about the stepmother in the second half, and the heroine’s mother-in-law becomes the villainess: in this case, the heroine is displacing her.)

Which I guess says something about gender roles in patrilineal societies where daughters marry out.

That’s something interesting about Snow White and the Huntsman, actually: Snow White is the heir who must reclaim her kingdom to set things right, rather than the cast-out princess who will reclaim her status in another realm. Snow White and the Huntsman may not have been the most coherent of movies, but it was certainly refreshing.

I don’t have any real conclusion to this, so I will just leave you with the observation that in Reboot Megabyte doesn’t marry Dot after getting rid of Bob. He waits until Bob is back in Mainframe. Then he uses Dot’s uncertainties about the way Bob has changed in his exile, and disguises himself as original!Bob … with the result that Dot almost marries him instead.

… that will never not be funny to me.

From Girl to Goddess: The The Heroine’s Journey – Valerie Estelle Frankel

Posted in Books, Non-fiction with tags , on August 16, 2012 by Cara Marie

From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey is an interesting enough book, but not overall convincing. Because it dealt mostly with fairy stories, there was little in it that illustrated the complete journey that Frankel describes – each story would tend to cover only parts of it, which makes it difficult to see a pervasive pattern. I would go along with her argument for the course of each chapter … but I never felt I saw the whole thing in its entireity.

I think the book would have been better served by not limiting itself to folklore. Certainly stories like The Labyrinth, The Wizard of Oz and Spirited Away have enough in common with the arc that she describes, and more completely, that they could have strengthened her thesis.

Also, I know I shouldn’t complain about a book that models itself off Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces dealing too much in archetypes. But all the characters in a folk tale being aspects of the protagonist, et cetera, drives me a bit batty. Especially some of the stuff about Athena – Frankel speaks of her as the quintessential woman upholding-the-patriarchy, but then discusses how Perseus defeats Medusa on Athena’s behalf – like Athena is so disconnected from her inner wild feminine that she has to send a man to meet with it on her behalf.

And I am just not quite buying it. Especially in combination with the idea that once upon a time all cultures worshipped a great mother goddess, at least until patriarchy came along, and the goddess was split into her different aspects while gods took over.

I’m sorry, I just find it hard to believe that before the ‘patriarchal’ religions took over, all faith was the same. Surely the patriarchy didn’t invent variety in religion?

So that was that book. I did enjoy the discussion of the individual stories a lot, and the variety of them pleased me … but I think I should just stay away from the Jungian folklore books.

Sometimes alternative canons grate

Posted in Comics with tags , , on February 4, 2012 by Cara Marie

Okay, I know the comics don’t equal the mythology. But. Since when does Heimdall see the future? Why is Freya, who is a witch and most likely a seeress, asking him for assistance? If she had to ask someone, there are a billion seeresses and seers in Norse mythology. Who aren’t Heimdall.

I like the All-mothers better in Journey into Mystery when they’re schooling Loki not to use sexist language. (That’s not fair. I like everything better in Journey into Mystery. And maybe Heimdall has been a seer for ages in the Thor comics. Just. Sometimes it is hard.)

Avengers Origins: Thor

Posted in Comics, Superhero with tags , , , , on January 9, 2012 by Cara Marie

Written by Kathryn Immonen, pencils by Al Barrionuevo

I know this series of one-shots is called ‘Avengers Origins’, but I was really hoping for Thor and Loki’s wacky teenage hi-jinks for this, not an Origin Story with a capital O. The sale material had led me to expect hi-jinks! So I was disappointed in that regard.

But then it had to add to the offense by just not being very good.

The structure is incoherent. At one point I was flicking back pages to make sure I hadn’t missed anything – quite a bit of the comic is about Thor (and Loki’s) relationship with Sif, and Sif being kidnapped is the fulcrum of Thor’s origin here. But we go from Thor intending to rescue Sif to ‘and then Thor ran around the nine realms killing things’ without actually seeing any details of the rescue, or the two interacting afterwards.

I felt sure I’d missed something, but no. Instead of going on to complete a story about Thor and Sif, the comic goes on to a speedy recap of Thor’s whole origin story (getting banished and so on). The pacing is all off, and instead of feeling like a whole, satisfying story, it feels like a mess.

The other thing that bothered me about this comic was Thor being sent to get treasures from the dwarves, because it takes a story I really like and then removes all the good bits. That is, the very motivation (Loki trying to cover his arse), the reason why Loki tries to stuff up the dwarves’ progress (in the comics, it’s to make Thor fail; in the mythology, it’s so he doesn’t have to pay up if the dwarves win the the bet), and the fantastic ending where Loki says he offered his head to the dwarves if they won, but he didn’t say anything about his neck, so the dwarves sew his lips shut instead and leave pissed off. Such a fitting punishment for the liesmith!

It takes those things away, all the character and the humour, and gives us something altogether less interesting. I know that the Marvel characters don’t always have much to do with the gods, but dammit, they shouldn’t be serving up such a bland retelling!

The only thing Immonen’s added to the story is a motivation for Loki’s shearing off Sif’s hair in the first place – it’s for a spell to make Sif fall in love with someone other than Thor (are we to assume Loki himself?) There’s no explanation for that act in the mythology (I personally subscribe to the ‘calling her an adulterer’ theory :D).

And I guess that illustrates the difference between mythology!Loki and comics!Loki. Mythology!Loki motivations are generally:

  1. Getting himself and/or the other gods out of trouble
  2. For the hell of it.

And comics!Loki’s motivations are generally:

  1. Villainy!
  2. Because he’s so jealous of Thor and everyone hates him.

Which has its appeals too, but in this instance it just means the story’s way less fun. (This is probably why I like Gillen’s kid!Loki so much: he seems to be drawing more on the mythological Loki.) And that on top of everything else wrong makes me wish I hadn’ t bothered with this issue.

Fairy tale men don’t marry up?

Posted in Fantasy, Movies with tags , on August 8, 2011 by Cara Marie

I never fail to be surprised by the things people say about fairy tales. The following is from an article on the princess-ification of girlhood, in this week’s Listener. It’s quoting Marek Tesar, who’s part of the Critical Studies in Education faculty at Auckland University.

“A girl becomes a princess by marrying a prince; a boy needs to be a prince. He will not become a prince through marriage or partnership.”

But he says the appeal of the perception that a princess is exclusive – there can only be one princess in “your” kingdom – can be a valuable tool in children’s play.

The second point is at least countered by saying “perception”. But really, I didn’t think The Twelve Dancing Princesses was that unknown a fairy tale. Here is the ending of Amabel William-Ellis’s retelling:

Then the King, true to the bargain, asked the soldier:

“Which of them will you choose for a wife?” and he answered:

“I’m not very young myself, so I will choose the eldest.” And they were married that very day, and the soldier was made heir to the Kingdom.

Which very much sounds to me like he became a prince. And as it stands, Tesar’s statement is simply untrue. It is not an uncommon fairy tale motif, for a commoner to become a prince. We can’t even say it’s not present in the Disney movies: is Aladdin not engaged to a Sultan’s daughter at the end of his story?

Maybe (I hope) Tesar was actually saying that children think that boys cannot become princes in fairy tales. In which case, why so? I would’ve liked the article to ask why we retell the princess-POV fairy tales so often, as opposed to those where poor soldiers or clever third brothers marry princesses?

And actually, if I think of the Disney movies as representative of the tales we can expect children to know, then we have Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog where the girl doesn’t start off as a princess (the lattermost being a change from the fairy tale). To which we can counter Aladdin and Tangled, with Tangled swapping the class positions so that we have the boy marrying up. I guess because princes aren’t as cool as rogues.

Tesar goes on to say, “from my experience, a lot of boys prefer playing the dragon rather than playing a prince.” Which, when I consider fairy tales featuring princes-who-have-always-been-princes, is not really a surprise. Those princes are often kind of boring – they’re the reward, not the protagonist.

Now I’m making sweeping statements. I’m sure I’ll think of exceptions later. Because fairy tales are always more complicated than we’d like to think.

On Amabel Williams-Ellis, who told my favourite fairy stories

Posted in Books with tags , on December 26, 2008 by Cara Marie

I’ve been reading ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’, which I got as a Christmas present – it’s a collection of mostly essays by female writers on their favourite fairy tales. Quite a few of them are ones I wasn’t familiar with as a child, and that, together with the loving descriptions of the books these writers had first read them in, got me thinking. My two fairy tale collections as a child were both retellings by Amabel Williams-Ellis – not that I noticed till recently, when I realised she’d also edited a collection of sci-fi stories that my mother owns.

The two books of fairy tales Mum has of hers are ‘The Arabian Nights’, and ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. Of course, these were not the only books of folklore my mother owns, but they were my favourites, the ones I read right through – including the notes at the back. Here in ‘The Arabian Nights’ it reads: “Warning to Children – Next come notes for grown-up people. They are horribly dull and written in long words and small print. No child could possibly enjoy reading them, and no sensible child would even try.”

I guess that tells you a lot about me. It’s no wonder I like my fairy tales with annotations, in as many different versions as possible. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to read the notes without bothering with the actual text of a book. Thinking about it, it’s quite impressive that these books have the notes they do – I’ve many more scholarly tomes that lack such delights. These are volumes intended for children, which is something Williams-Ellis discusses in ‘The Arabian Nights’ – her editorial choices, how it has affected her chosen voice, as well as the notes on the stories themselves.

Doing a quick google, I can’t find much on her – here, I find that her actual name was Lady Mary Annabel Nassau (‘Amabel’) Williams-Ellis (née Strachey), that she died when she was about 90, four years before I was born. The bibliography on that page is very incomplete – there’s a more extensive list on Library Thing.

Her father, husband and daughter all have entries on Wikipedia, but she does not. From her annotations in her fairy tale collections, it’s clear she was a scholar. She seems to have written several biographies, and looking at the contents page of ‘Out of This World’, it seems that she wrote sf as well as being an anthologist – there’s a short story here called ‘Changeling’. I haven’t read the anthology – I think I’ll have to, and actually, I’ve also just realised I own another sf collection she’s co-edited.

Funny, when you look, someone’s everywhere. Yet the internet is being rather unforthcoming about her. Which is most of why I am writing this now – I find it scary that someone could be forgotten like that.

Reading for January ’08

Posted in Books, Comics, Fantasy, Manga, Non-fiction, Science fiction with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by Cara Marie

Fiction

Day, R W – A Strong and Sudden Thaw
Kirino, Natsuo – Grotesque
Lee, Tanith – Eva Fairdeath
Mull, Brandon – Fablehaven
Nin, Anais – Artists and Models
Pierce, Tamora – Melting Stones
Tiptree Jr, James – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Valente, Catherynne – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden

In the Night Garden was the best book I read this month. I knew it was necessary for me after coffeeandink posted about its sequel. It is amazing, filled with stories within gorgeous stories, with invented mythology, and characters who choose to be monsters. Now I am waiting for In the Cities of Coin and Spice.

Non-fiction

Gould, Joan – Spinning Straw into Gold
Heinrich, Bernd – Mind of the Raven
Jones, David E – Combat, Ritual and Performance: Anthropology of the Martial Arts
Paul, Jonathan – When Kids Kill
Sei Shonagon – The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Tatar, Maria – Classic Fairy Tales

The best non-fiction book was The Norton Classic Fairy Tales, mostly because it gave you several different versions of various tales all next to each other, and it was really interesting to compare them. Maria Tatar writes an introduction for each type of story, then you get versions of the story from different cultures, including a modern-day retelling for most. At the end of it, you have a bunch of essays by various fairy tale scholars – some of which I enjoyed, others that irked me. I’m not very big on Freudian interpretations, see.

It amused me to see the way in which the stories changed – particularly Little Red Riding Hood. When you know the version where the woodchopper rescues them (The Grimms’ version), people say, ah, but originally there was no rescue (Charles Perrault). But here we have ‘The Story of Grandmother’ – which is a folk version on which Perrault’s was presumably based – in which the girl tricks the wolf, and rescues herself. Score!

And next to these, two modern retellings, in which Red Riding Hood is not conned by the wolf – ‘she whips a pistol from her knickers’, as Roald Dahl says (and you really should read that poem, and then this one).

A most worthwhile book!

Manga

CLAMP – xxxHolic, vol 7
Hino Matsuri – Vampire Knight, vol 2
Kazuo Umezo – Scary Book, vol 1
Kouno Fumiyo – Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Kubo Tite – Bleach, vol 10
Soryo Fuyumi – Eternal Sabbath, vol 1
Yazawa Ai – Nana, vol 8
Yuki Kaori – Angel Sanctuary, vol 1

Aside from the joy of more Nana, the most exciting manga for me was Eternal Sabbath. I liked the simplicity of the art, and the female scientest protagonist Mine, and how she related to Ryousuke, who is a genetically engineered being who can pretty much infiltrate himself into anything. Mine knows what he can do, and he knows she knows, but neither can do anything about it. I’m looking forward to reading more – and also pleased it’s only eight volumes. I’m very bitter about all these series that run into the twenties.

Comics

B, David – Epileptic, vol 1
Kibuishi, Kazu – Amulet, vol 1
Murase, Sho – Me2, vol 1
Pierce, Tamora – White Tiger
Powell, Nate – Please Release
Schreiber, Ellen – Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives, vol 1
Shaughnessy, Ian & Holmes, Mike – Shenanigans
Simmonds, Posy – Gemma Bovery
Various – Yuri Monogatari, vol 2
Watson, Andi – Glister, vols 1 & 2