November 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you know that when it comes to fairy tale film adaptations, I am hard to impress. And when it comes to those made by the D-word, The Mouse, the corporation-we-must-not-name, I am skeptical at the very best. Fairy tales in film – well, it’s a long and complicated history. You could argue that the unstoppable popularity of 20th Century animated fairy tale films has kept these ancient stories alive in the public imagination. You could also argue (and I usually do) that the making of a fairy tale into a colorful, copyrighted commodity only serves to keep one version in the public imagination, and that more often than not, that one version is a very flat, very uninteresting version of that tale’s ancestors.
This isn’t a new argument – and because this argument has gained traction in recent years, we’ve actually seen film studios try to beef up their fairy tale adaptations, to make them darker and stranger. Examples: Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood. Sometimes they succeed. Often, though, even these “darker” fairy tales are just as silly as the cartoons, a badly plotted action film wearing a sheen of recognizable names and familiar fairy dust to help sell it. They use grainier filters, but will often shy away from exploring the deeper levels of the fairy tales: the sexual awakenings, the illogical yet primal relationships between characters that make one evil and the other their prey.
There are very, very few fairy tale film adaptations that make me feel like the director and the writer wanted to explore something more, rather than simply repackaging a certain corporation’s vision into something sell-able for a new market.
So I was surprised by the recently released teaser trailer for Disney’s Maleficent, and how much I actually want to see the film. Like the Grinch hearing the Whos down in Who-ville singing, I cupped my ear. I didn’t feel the urge to immediately dismiss this. In fact, I was intrigued. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 31, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Happy Halloween from Something to Read for the Train & A Grimm Project!
004. The Tale of the Boy Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was
*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*
When the bed stopped its bucking and the cats had gone to find milk, I straightened my suspenders and set off to explore the final wing of the castle. What fun I’d had so far—sheets askew and cards scattered, the castle had the look of a gaming den. One final hallway, one final door. I rapped my knuckles loudly, and the door gave way.
Ah, it’s you, someone said.
I could see no one in the dark. The voice was quiet and raspy.
Nursing a cold there, eh, sir? I said.
I heard a scratching noise near my feet. Fumbling in my pockets, I found the last match and lit it against my shoe sole. The small light flickered—two eyes looked up at me from the stone floor, reflecting the match’s dance.
Hullo, what are you doing down there? I asked. The man—for that’s what the speaker was, a very old man with a beard as long as his body, and pointed nails caked with dirt—extended a bony hand towards me and touched my cheek. Careful there, Granddad, I said. Those nails look sharp enough to scratch.
I had forgotten how full those cheeks were in my youth, the man said. Look, how healthy that hay-colored hair. So handsome, I was.
I didn’t much care for the smell of him.
See here, old dirt-nail, old fish-stink, which way to the treasure? Dawn’s a-coming fast, and if I don’t find it by then, we’re good as burnt toast, no use to anybody. Help me out, will you, instead of lying there?
There is no treasure, the old man said. His eyes had become very bright, this I noticed just before the match fizzled down and nipped my thumb and forefinger with a sharp little searing. There is only you.
I backed away, feeling around behind me for the door. You’re dotty, you are. If you’ll be no help to me, then fie with you. I’ll find it on my own, and by morning, too.
I’m sure you will, the man said, waving to me faintly as I left the room and faced the deeper darkness of the hall. Yes, I’m sure this time you will.
Old tosser, I thought.
October 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My first review with Slate is up today, on the latest in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. Here’s an excerpt:
The emotional crunch of book three, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, is September’s worry that her Persephone visa, which allows her to return each spring to Fairyland, will soon be null and void. Valente’s imagination for whimsical locales in this series reaches a pinnacle with this book, as we follow September to a highway in the stars, a moon-city that grows along the swirling insides of a giant shell, and a lightning jungle that crackles with electricity. But the Fairyland books are not about Fairyland itself—its wonderful locations are merely colorful backdrops for September’s transformation from a Somewhat Heartless 12-year-old into a complex 14-year-old. And despite the presence of beloved characters from earlier novels, The Girl Who Soared is an adolescent’s tale, full of raw emotion, unabashed wonder, and touching uncertainty.
Read the rest here.
I’m terrible at being coy: I’ll go ahead and admit that having an article on Slate is a big deal for me. Two years ago, when I left school and moved to Poughkeepsie, I started this blog in my off hours working at a restaurant, hoping that eventually it would lead to something good. It’s led to a ton of good, and the book that first inspired me to start blogging was Valente’s Deathless, a dark, adult take on Russian folklore. So publishing a review in a mag like Slate, about another of Valente’s books, seems satisfyingly full-circle for me. I’m very grateful for the chance, and I hope it leads to even more good stuff in the future. Thanks for reading!
September 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
Tuesday the 24th marks the release of xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, editor Kate Bernheimer’s follow-up to 2010’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales. Bernheimer’s raison d’etre is the fairy tale and its form, and her previous anthology celebrated the malleable and enduring nature of fairy tales through fairy tale-inspired short stories by contemporary authors. But with xo Orpheus, tales of gods instead of princes, Heavens instead of hearths, were the challenge.
Myths are innately different from fairy tales, because myths, in Bernheimer’s own words, are about “the celestial, the magical, [the] other, [myth is] from on high down, and intersects with the humans. And in fairy tales, [the ineffable is] among us.” Myths are our explanations not of everyday life, but of the world at large, how it came to be, and who made it so. Retelling a myth means rewriting our explanations of the world. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My newest procrastination tool, “A Grimm Project,” is off to a good start! I’ve used 5 out of 242 of Grimms’ fairy tales as inspiration for short fictional freewrites (I try to time myself to 10 minutes, more or less), and those 5 freewrites are up on the blog for your enjoyment. I’m going in order, from “001. The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich” to “242. The Robber and His Sons” according to Jack Zipes’ The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and posting both a short analysis and a freewrite for each tale.
But I’d love some more voices in this conversation – please take a look, and contribute a freewrite of your own in the comments section. Each month I’d like to publish a “Readers Responses” post with your freewrites. Share a snippet inspired by a tale already featured on the blog to be included in the next “Readers Responses” post, or of an upcoming tale, to be included in a post close to the time when that tale will be featured on the blog (I’m going in order, after all).
So please click over to “A Grimm Project” to check out my progress, and join in. Thanks!
August 29, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It’s called “A Grimm Project,” and I hope you’ll click through and follow it.
“A Grimm Project” is a prompt-driven romp through all 242 tales in the 1987 edition of Jack Zipes’s The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. I have been writing about other peoples’ work for a long time, and needed an impetus to create my own. So you all will need to hold me accountable, as I create a freewrite on this new blog in response to each fairy tale in the book.
You can help out, too! Each week over on A Grimm Project I’ll be posting on the next tale, in order, in the book, and then posting a short “response” to the tale. Some will be harder than others, but there will be NO SKIPPING. And if you feel inspired by a particular tale, please email me your freewrite in the email provided in the “About the Project” section, or post it in the comments. Each month, I’ll choose some favorites to be included in a special post. So please check it out, follow, and contribute!
You can already read my first entries, on the first tale in the Grimms’ collection, “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich,” here.
August 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
It’s been quite a while since my last post, and I’ve been missing my dear little blog. But I’ve been busy writing up a storm, and some other projects are taking shape. I hope to be posting more regularly again soon!
In the meantime, I’ve got another review up at Bookslut, on the Oxford University Press’s The Classic Horror of H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Roger Luckhurst. Check it out here: www.bookslut.com.
I had a little bit of trouble writing this review, because while I was familiar with Lovecraft’s writing and the expansive Mythos that it spawned, and I have great respect for his influence in genre lit, I didn’t know much about his biography. What I learned in Roger Luckhurst’s thoughtful and engaging introduction was enough to sour me towards Lovecraft as a man, and to view his writing through a different lens.
Lovecraft was a xenophobe and a racist, and was quite outspoken about this. He had a deep fear of “otherness,” and this influenced his writing in a big way.
So I was faced with a question–can I still admire this author? How much should personal politics affect the way we revere authors whose contributions to our collective imaginations and our culture are undeniable? I still don’t have a good answer, but at least I tried to explain my thought process, when given the chance to learn more about HPL and his world.
“It is strange to think that what makes Lovecraft’s fictions so terrifying, uncanny — and thus enduring — are the very products of his troubling fear of otherness. We cannot separate the man from the work in the same manner, to cite a recent example, that potential audiences of Ender’s Game were recently asked by Orson Scott Card to ignore his homophobia on the grounds that Ender’s Game, being set “more than a century in the future,” had nothing to do with his political views. Were Lovecraft alive to make the same strange plea, it would be hard for him to argue that the revulsion and fear his characters feel when face to face with extreme otherness do not mirror his own.
So why read Lovecraft? Twenty years ago, S.T. Joshi proposed that this question would always bear asking, until Weird fiction became a more accepted genre, worthy of study. But now, with the renaissance of speculative fiction, sci-fi, and Weird fiction currently saturating literary magazines and publishing houses, genre seems no longer to be the crux of the question. But the question still exists. What with Lovecraft’s literary demerits, and the influence of racism and xenophobia on his work, the question seems even more pressing, despite the current interest in strange tales. I can’t offer you an answer (and neither, I would like to point out, does Luckhurst).
I will say that there is something satisfyingly uncanny about reading Lovecraft that is only compounded by this context. Like his many narrators, readers of Lovecraft will find themselves glimpsing something deeply unsettling: a worldview and a man filled both with revulsion and with wonder.”
Thanks for reading!