“Nothing about him reminded me of humanity.”

So, did everyone see Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast?  Any thoughts?  I thought it was an ok remake, though of course the 1991 film was better.  Only Angela Lansbury can sing the title song, amirite?

I did like the very Rococo style going on inside the castle, very fitting for the time period (late 18th century France) in which the original novella by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve was published.

Beauty-Beast-2017-Movie-Posters

And did you notice they called Belle’s village Villeneuve? 😀

As it happens, one of the units in the Rutgers fairy tale course is about the evolution of Beauty and the Beast tales.  As with the Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard units, I read some stories beyond the syllabus, including the original version by Villeneuve and Angela Carter’s two BatB stories.

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 Note: Mature topics and SPOILERS ahead for all the stories discussed.

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 The origins of “Beauty and the Beast”

I say that Villeneuve’s is the original version of the story called “Beauty and the Beast,” but, in fact, the story (as a literary fairy tale) can be traced back to Apuleius’ 2nd-century “Cupid and Psyche.”  Villeneuve carried over many details and plot points from Apuleius’ story into her novella:

 Apuleius:  To appease the goddess Venus, who is offended by the mortal princess Psyche’s beauty, the god Apollo decrees that Psyche will marry a vicious creature. Venus is later furious with Cupid for marrying Psyche instead because they are not equals.

 Villeneuve:  A cranky fairy decrees that the princess known as Beauty will “become the bride of a monster, to expiate the folly of a mother who had the frailty to let herself be captivated by the fleeting and contemptible beauty of a mortal” – referring to the law that a Fairy can’t marry someone with less power than her own. [1]

 Apuleius:  Psyche’s preparation for her journey to the appointed wedding spot is described in funereal terms — “black torches were lighted, the pleasant songs were turned into pitiful cries, the melody of Hymen was ended with deadly howling, the maiden that should be married did wipe her eyes with her veil …” [2]

 Villeneuve:  The display of fireworks and other lights that greet Beauty when she arrives at the Beast’s palace prompts her to comment, “that the preparations for her death were more brilliant than the bridal pomp of the greatest king in the world.” [3]

 Apuleius: Every night, Psyche is visited by her mysterious husband, who she discovers is not a beast, but is really the god Cupid.

 Villeneuve: Every evening, Beauty dines with the Beast, and every night, she dreams of his true form, which is described as “beautiful as Cupid is painted.” [4]

cupid-kissing-psyche

And so on.

The better-known early version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the one written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, which greatly condenses Villeneuve’s novella – Beauty has five siblings instead of eleven; she visits her family for just over a week instead of two months; and gone are all the details of her life with her family and with the Beast, as well as all the backstories – Beaumont’s story ends very soon after the Beast’s transformation.

Beauty is not a princess in disguise in Beaumont’s tale, but simply a merchant’s daughter, so the story becomes more of a rags-to-riches type, and the Beast asks Beauty to marry him each night instead of to sleep with him, because Beaumont intended her version for a much younger audience. What remains is the main message about choosing inner qualities like kindness and virtue over physical attraction. Overall, Beaumont’s is a simpler story than Villeneuve’s.

Personally, I like Villeneuve’s better, with its fleshed-out descriptions of Beauty’s life with her adoptive family in the city and country, her time in the Beast’s palace, and the backstories of the prince/Beast, as well as of Beauty’s birth family. My favorite part was the forbidden-love story of the Fairy and the king of the Happy Isle, and how it affected the lives of Beauty and the prince/Beast. I liked the details of the Fairy order that lives in the sky and does good deeds around the world, but is supposed to stay detached from human beings, yet can’t help getting tangled up in human lives anyway.

Mixed Messages: Autonomy vs. Obedience

One notable difference between Apuleius’ story and Villeneuve’s is the level of freedom and choice that Beauty seems to have. In Apuleius’ tale, Psyche has no choice in giving herself up to her appointed husband; the gods ordered it, so she must go, whereas Villeneuve’s Beast insists that Beauty come to him of her own free will. And, whereas Cupid consummates his marriage to Psyche whether she wants to or not, the Beast (at least in the Dowson translation) asks Beauty every evening if he may sleep with her, and leaves her alone each time she rejects him.

Beauty and the Beast TalesIn her introduction to the SurLaLune collection of Beauty and the Beast tales, Heidi Anne Heiner argues that the Beast’s question “implies control and choice for Beauty over her own body and sexuality, something that was not legally hers or that of any woman who was handed over as property in marriage to a husband in centuries past.” [5]

On the other hand, just like the stories we discussed in the last post, “Beauty and the Beast” is a tale of obedience – in this case, a woman’s obedience and self-sacrifice to the husband chosen for her. According to Maria Tatar, Beauty and the Beast tales reflect the idea that “the female partner in arranged marriages of an earlier era was … expected to give up any notion of autonomy.” [6] And Beauty’s relationship with the Beast is an arranged marriage in Villeneuve’s version (arranged by the Fairies, in this case), despite the Beast’s insistence that she come to him by choice. “Marriage in general,” says Tatar, “was seen as the ‘absolute surrender’ of woman to man.” When the Beast, upon first meeting Beauty, asks what she thinks he’ll do to her once she’s alone with him, she replies, “Whatever may seem good to you … my life is at your disposal, and I am ready to submit myself blindly to whatever fate you have reserved for me.” [7]

This focus on wifely obedience is coupled with the message that when dealing with a man, a woman should act not according to her own desires, but out of a sense of gratitude. Beauty is pressured, both internally and by other characters, to “[o]bey the impulses of gratitude” (presumably when the Beast asks to sleep with/marry her). [8] She can’t even leave the palace to visit her family without being called ungrateful, especially when her visit lasts longer than expected. Basically, if a guy buys you fancy dinners and clothes and expensive entertainment, you owe him your body and your complete loyalty in return, whether you’re really into him or not :-/

Even Angela Carter, in her more modern collection of fairy tales, gives her Beauty a questionable level of sexual autonomy in “The Tiger’s Bride.” Though the narrator at first shames the tiger-man for asking to see her naked body, he only lets her go after she shows some skin – and after he forces her to look at his own naked body. True, the narrator chooses to stay with him in the end, but where else would she have gone in those times? Her father was happy without her as long as he had his riches, and would probably have gambled her away again the next time he was desperate.

Mixed Messages: You have a great personality

Then there’s the better-known theme of Beauty and the Beast stories – inner vs. outer beauty. Apuleius’ story is all about the dangers of physical beauty (for mortals, at least). Psyche’s problems start because she’s considered more beautiful than Venus, invoking the goddess’ wrath. Then she loses Cupid because she tries to see his physical appearance instead of blindly trusting that the person she sleeps with every night is not, in fact, a vicious monster (even though everyone tells her he’s a vicious monster… :-/ ). And then, circling back to the first problem, she fails the last test in her search for Cupid because she tries to use a gift of divine beauty on herself instead of giving it all to Venus.

The message, though, is not so much “focus on personality instead of appearances” as it is “know your place,” or “mortal beauty should not upstage divine beauty.” And even that’s not so clear, because, in the end, Cupid comes back to Psyche and she’s invited to live with the gods despite Venus’ jealousy. It’s certainly not a tale of choosing virtue over physical beauty, because, as Tatar notes, Psyche’s final test also involves ignoring people who ask her for help. Whereas the Beauty in later stories is encouraged to make her final choice out of pity and compassion, Psyche is encouraged to harden her heart in order to get the gift of divine beauty. [9]

It is Villeneuve and later writers who added the message about choosing inner qualities over physical beauty. In Villeneuve’s version, the characters in Beauty’s dreams constantly tell her not to trust appearances, and in Beaumont’s story, Beauty reminds herself in the end that, “it is neither wit, nor a fine person, in a husband, that makes a woman happy, but virtue, sweetness of temper, and complaisance …” [10] Carter’s “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” even goes so far as to say that the Beast, a lion in this case instead of an elephant-nosed creature, is more beautiful than a human man.

BatBInterestingly, in Disney’s versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s the prince, rather than Belle, who has to learn the lesson about valuing inner qualities over outer beauty. He rejected a woman based on her appearance, so now he has to find a woman who will look past his appearance. This comes from Villeneuve’s story, in which the prince is cursed because he rejected the marriage proposal of an old Fairy – though it’s actually the prince’s mother who explicitly insulted the Fairy’s appearance.

And yet, despite all these claims that personality is more important than physical appearance, even Carter’s Beauty (in “Mr. Lyon”) still gets a human stud in the end, as an ironic reward for not choosing by physical appearance. In fact, near the end of Villeneuve’s story, Beauty is told that by choosing the Beast, she can have both the husband she feels obligated to choose and the Cupid-like man she’s been dreaming of. On the one hand, this is meant to be a huge clue-by-four to the head that the two men are the same person. On the other hand, it could have also been a nudge-nudge-wink-wink suggestion that a woman can marry one man out of duty, but have a side fling to fulfill her more physical desires.

Villeneuve certainly wasn’t averse to putting risqué elements in her story, including more liberal views on women’s sexuality – she even makes a point that, whenever Beauty dreams of the handsome lover, she is “not restrained by the rigid customs of society, and slumber [leaves] her free to act naturally” [11] – so who’s to say she wasn’t hinting that Beauty could carry on an affair in addition to marrying out of duty?

The prince certainly doesn’t have to learn to ignore people’s physical appearances in the 18th-century stories. Yes, Villeneuve’s prince was cursed for rejecting an old and unattractive Fairy, but the story implies he was justified in doing so. The Fairy is characterized as wicked for cursing the prince because, according to the Fairies’ law, she shouldn’t have pursued a human mate in the first place. Beaumont doesn’t even give the Fairy a backstory; she’s simply a “wicked fairy” who cursed the prince for no reason. In the end, he gets to be an attractive man again, and gets a young and attractive wife to boot.

It is “The Tiger’s Bride” that reverses the transformation in the end. Rather than changing the Beast into a man, Carter pulls a Shrek ending (or, rather, Shrek pulled a Carter ending) and changes Beauty into a beast. As she stands naked before the tiger, he licks her human skin away to reveal “a nascent patina of shining hairs.” [12] The message here is that it’s the human body that’s really the disguise for the more-beautiful creature underneath.

But then, the focus is still on physical beauty rather than personality, isn’t it? What kind of person is the Beast when he only frees his prisoner after she obeys his order to show her body, even partially? What kind of “marriage” can come from that sort of relationship?

Review 

 So, what is the message of “Beauty and the Beast”? Is it about choosing a marriage based on feelings and virtues rather than appearances? Or is it about choosing socially valued character traits in order to be rewarded with physical beauty? Is it about a woman who controls her own future and sexuality? Or is it about a woman who’s pressured into an arranged marriage against her own desires? Or is it, even, about Stockholm Syndrome? [13]

What do you think? Do you have a favorite version of “Beauty and the Beast”? Is it one of the older versions or a new twist?

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[1] Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. “The Story of Beauty and the Beast (Dowson Translation).” Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World. Ed. Heidi Anne Heiner. SurLaLune Press, 2013. Kindle ed. Loc. 3410.

[2] Apuleius. “Cupid and Psyche (Adlington Translation).” Beauty and the Beast Tales. Loc. 966.

[3] Villeneuve. Loc. 2088.

[4] Villeneuve. “The Story of Beauty and the Beast (Planché Translation).” Loc. 4182.

[5] Heidi Anne Heiner. “Introduction: Beauties and Their Beasts.” Beauty and the Beast Tales. Loc. 727.

[6] Maria Tatar. “Beauties and Beasts: From Blind Obedience to Love at First Sight.” Off With Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992. Pgs. 141-142.

[7] Villeneuve. “The Story of Beauty and the Beast (Dowson Translation).” Loc. 2113.

 [8] Ibid. Loc. 2193.

[9] Tatar. Pg. 152.

[10] Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. “Beauty and the Beast.” Beauty and the Beast Tales. Loc. 5838.

[11] Villeneuve. “The Story of Beauty and the Beast (Planché Translation).” Loc. 4468.

[12] Angela Carter. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Bloody Chamber. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Pg. 83.

[13] Lindsay Ellis, formerly The Nostalgia Chick, has an interesting video on why she thinks Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast is not a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, Scholarly Musings | Leave a comment

“Don’t you love the cold forest? Doesn’t the howl of the wolf thrill you through with fearful delight?”

I’ve been following the reading list on an online syllabus for “Fairy Tales Then and Now,” a course at Rutgers.  The first two units focus on versions of Little Red Riding Hood and disobedience tales like Bluebeard, in versions from Charles Perrault to Margaret Atwood.

Note:  There will be spoilers for all of the stories I discuss.  Also, these are pretty adult stories, with mature themes and all.

little-red-riding-hood
illustration by Divica Landrova

According to Robert Darnton, pre-Grimm versions of Red Riding Hood reflected the brutal reality of French peasant life, in which good people did not always get happy endings, and the wicked did not always get punished.  In some of these earlier versions of the story, whether the girl strays from the path or not, she and her grandmother still get eaten by the wolf, and no woodcutter comes to save them.  Even Perrault, in his fairy tales for the more elite members of society, retained this un-happily ever after ending.

The Grimms, on the other hand, provided two happy endings – the familiar one in which the huntsman rescues the girl and grandmother, and a second ending in which the girl outsmarts another wolf at her grandmother’s house, this time by drowning him in a trough full of water used to boil sausages.

Though Perrault is more explicit about his message, both his and the Grimms’ versions make use of the stereotypical man-eating wolf to caution young women against trusting strangers.  “I call them wolves,” says Perrault,

                                   but you will find
That some are not the savage kind,
Not howling, ravening or raging;
Their manners seem, instead, engaging,
They’re softly-spoken and discreet.
Young ladies whom they talk to on the street
They follow to their homes and through the hall,
And upstairs to their rooms, when they’re there
They’re not as friendly as they might appear:
These are the most dangerous wolves of all. (1)

little-red-riding-hood2
illustration by Gustave Dore

Then there are the twisted Red Riding Hood tales by Angela Carter, Jim C. Hines, and Tanith Lee.  These authors blend human and wolf nature together in three werewolf tales. Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” draws from Perrault’s characterization of human wolves as the most dangerous creatures, with their seductive charm that lures the young woman out of the realm of innocence, into a sexual awakening.

Is it a bet? he asked her.  Shall we make a game of it?  What will you give me if I get to your grandmother’s house before you?
What would you like? she asked disingenuously.
A kiss.
Commonplaces of a rustic seduction; she lowered her eyes and blushed. (2)

But in the end, Carter shows how the human side of the werewolf can be tamed through the same technique of seduction.  As in some of the old French versions of the tale, Red Riding Hood does a strip-tease for the wolf, only in this version, the tactic saves the girl from being eaten, because the werewolf, unlike the ordinary wolf, can think of other things besides his stomach.

In Hines’ and Lee’s stories, it is the grandmother herself who is the werewolf, rather than a helpless victim of nature, and when she passes her gift on to her grauddaughter, it is the wolf inside that will save Little Red from the human (or fey) world.  Hines’ Grandmother in “The Red Path” is a deviant from a religious order known as the Church of the Fey; she’s a human illegally using magic reserved for the fairies.  Her granddaughter, Roudette, visits with the intention of saving Grandmother from her wicked ways, but it is Grandmother who saves Roudette in the end, passing on her magic wolf skin so Roudette can save herself and the rest of her family from the Church’s wrath.

Lee’s Anna the Matriarch in “Wolfland” is an eccentric widow who lives in a chateau in the middle of a forest watched over by a wolf goddess.  By eating the goddess’ yellow flowers that contain the wolf magic, Anna gives herself the means to save herself, and her daughter, from an abusive husband.  Now it is her granddaughter Liesl’s turn to receive the gift, explicitly to save Anna from the goddess’ price at the end of her life, but also, implicitly, to protect Liesl herself from unworthy men.

Both Lee’s and Hines’ versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” show that the wolf is something not to be avoided or feared by women, but embraced.  It is humans, or faeries and their human followers, who must be feared instead.

Next:  Bluebeard tales

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(1)  Charles Perrault.  “Little Red Riding-Hood.”  The Complete Fairy Tales.  New York: Oxford UP, 2009.  Pg. 103.

(2)  Angela Carter.  The Company of Wolves.  New York: Harper & Row, 1979.  Pgs. 148-49.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, short stories, spooky | Leave a comment

The Whale Rider

whale-riderWiti Ihimaera.  The Whale Rider.  NZ ePenguin, 2008 (orig. 1987).  Kindle ed.

Rating:  5 out of 5 spears of destiny thrown across a thousand years.

. . . . .

I listed this one in my 2013 year-end review, but never got around to reviewing it.  I just let it percolate and percolate in my head, until now, two re-reads later, I’ve finally decided it’s time.

This story has so many things I love:  magical realism, oceanic folklore, girl power, and it’s seriously setting off my Ocean Girl radar with its talk of a time when people could speak with whales!

ocean-girl-radar

The language and imagery are gorgeous, the plot is well structured, and it’s not like other Chosen One stories I’ve read (though, if I had one complaint, it would be that Kahu is a bit too perfect; she’s more a symbol than a 3-dimensional character…which, then again, isn’t such a bad thing if you look at The Whale Rider as a fairy tale).

The story

The story begins one spring, when a girl is born into the line of men descended from Kahutia te Rangi, the ancient ancestor of the Whangara Maori tribe who rode to New Zealand on the back of a whale.  The current leader of the tribe, Koro Apirana, is disgusted by this break in the male line of descent, but he is even more furious when his grandson names the girl after the Whale Rider.  As for Kahu, she falls in love with her great-grandfather at first sight, and as she grows up, she keeps trying to gain his love, and he keeps pushing her away.

Meanwhile, not having a great-grandson to whom he can pass on his knowledge, Koro keeps looking among the other boys of the tribe for the one who will lead the tribe in the future, all the while missing the signs pointing to Kahu as that person.  But one night, when Kahu is eight, a disaster happens that gives her the opportunity to finally get Koro’s attention.

Not another Chosen One story (or is it?)

Well, on the one hand, this is the Chosen One-iest story I’ve ever read.  Kahu has ALL THE SIGNS pointing to her as The One meant to lead the tribe and save their connection to the sea.  Her parents controversially name her after the famous Whale Rider who founded the tribe.  As a baby, Kahu only likes Maori food.  She’s obsessed with Koro Apirana – who himself is known as “Super Maori” among the younger generation – no matter how much he pushes her away.  She sneaks into Koro’s cultural lessons all the time.  She’s the only one who cries while listening to stories about whale hunting.  She makes whale sounds while staring off into the sea, and the whales seem to listen to her.  She’s at the top of her class and leader of the culture group at school.  And on.  And on.  And on.

Koro must be seriously stubborn in his misogyny to not see all these giant neon signs pointing to the future leader he’s been looking for.

But it’s not the kind of Chosen One story I’ve gotten used to.  Two cases in point:

  • It’s not one of those stories in which the Chosen One is an outsider who sweeps in to save and/or revolutionize an indigenous community (looking at you, Avatar and The Road to El Dorado).

Kahu is part of the community, and though she does challenge the traditional attitude toward females, she’s not the first to do so.  Her great-grandmother, Nanny Flowers, is a descendant of Muriwai, a woman who took charge in a dangerous situation while the male leaders were away and saved her people from being drowned at sea.  Nanny Flowers calls her “the greatest chief of [her] tribe.”

There was also Mihi Kotukutuku, Nanny Flowers’ aunt, who once stood on sacred ground – something women were not supposed to do – and challenged the chief when he yelled for her to sit down.

‘No you sit down! I am a senior line to yours!’ Not only that, but Mihi had then turned her back to him, bent over, lifted up her petticoats and said, ‘Anyway, here is the place where you come from!’ In this way Mihi had emphasized that all men are born of women.  (pg. 81)

Kahu follows in Mihi and Muriwai’s footsteps by sneaking into the young men’s cultural lessons, and just showing all those signs that she, and not one of the young men, is meant to be the one to whom Koro passes the mantle.

  • The story is told from the p.o.v. of a member of the community, rather than focusing entirely on Kahu.

This isn’t just Kahu’s story.  It’s the Whangara community’s story.  In particular, it’s told from the point of view of her uncle Rawiri, who’s sixteen when Kahu is born.  Throughout the story, Rawiri does focus on his experiences with Kahu, but there’s also an interlude in which he describes his four years abroad in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and how they shaped him as a Maori.  The story is as much about his understanding of himself and his community’s destiny as it is about watching the Chosen One fulfill that destiny.

On a side note, some of my favorite parts of Rawiri’s narration were his descriptions of Nanny Flowers and her fights with Koro.

‘He isn’t any chief. I’m his chief,’ she emphasized to me and, then, over her shoulder to Koro Apirana, ‘and don’t you forget it either.’ Squelch, went her fingers as she dug them into the dough.
‘Te mea te mea,’ Koro Apirana said. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’
‘Don’t you mock me,’ Nanny Flowers responded. Ouch, went the bread as she flattened it with her arms. She looked at me grimly and said, ‘He knows I’m right. He knows I’m a descendant of old Muriwai, and she was the greatest chief of my tribe. Yeah,’ and Help, said the dough as she pummelled it and prodded it and stretched it and strangled it…

No sooner was I out the door when the battle began. You coward, said the dough as I ducked.  (pgs. 16-17)

Fairy tale and magical realism

The Whale Rider feels like a new legend, a continuation of the original legend of Kahutia te Rangi.  At several points in the story, the narrator repeats the ritual line:

Hui e, haumi e, taiki e.
Let it be done.

This serves to emphasize that the events in Kahu’s life are part of the tribe’s destiny, that they are meant to be.

As a character, Kahu at times seems more like a symbol than a dynamic person, with just how good and kind and dutiful she is – just like the female protagonists in some fairy tales.  She’s devoted to the leader of her tribe, and doesn’t let his rejections discourage her.  She’s a model Maori child, only drinking water and eating Maori food, rather than junk food and soda like other children.  All this serves to mark her not only as the Chosen One, but as a mythical figure in her tribe’s history.

Also enhancing the story’s mythic quality are the elements of magical realism.  According to Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, magical realism serves as a form of “political and cultural disruption: magic is often given as a cultural corrective…”  In The Whale Rider, magical realism signals a turning point in the tribe’s history, a time of great change to the status quo.

It starts with the founding of the tribe by Kahutia te Rangi, who made his entrance in the most unusual way – on the back of a whale.  He was so in sync with the whale that he taught him to contract his muscles to make handholds, stirrups and a saddle, as well as a breathing hole for when they dove deep.  And as he approaches the new land, Kahutia threw small spears; some became birds and sea creatures, but the last one was meant to land a thousand years later, when the tribe needed it most.

At several points in the present day story, Rawiri thinks he sees a spear flying through the air and landing nearby.  This signals the coming of another great change, this one to the status quo as Koro Apirana sees it.

Conclusion

The Whale Rider is a tribute to Maori mythology and traditions, and a celebration of powerful women like Muriwai, Nanny Flowers, and Kahu herself.  It’s a beautiful work of magical realism, full of poetic language and imagery, and a unique Chosen One story.

The movie is also pretty neat, but the book goes into much more depth about Maori history and beliefs, and how Kahu fits into it all.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, magical realism, Ocean Girl radar | 1 Comment

2016 year-end review

It’s that time again!  Peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes, last-minute shopping and family reunions, and lists of this year’s highlights.

As a general reading trend this year, I’ve been reading a lot more LGBTQIA literature, and I think it’s an awesome sign that more and more of these stories are being published now.  If you’re interested in adding to your own TBR pile, I highly recommend following the GayYA blog.

Without further ado, the following are my favorite reads of 2016.  As in my 2015 review, I’ve also added a section for some of my favorite short stories of the year.

Reviewed here @ Postcards:

George  What We Left Behind  Symptoms of Being Human  Rumplestiltskin Problem
Neptune Rising  Seven Tears at high tide  lumberjanes_cover  vassa

More favorites:

when-the-moonAnna-Marie McLemore.  When the Moon Was Ours.  New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.

A lovely work of magical realism set in a small town where the river turns girls into water, lovesickness is a creature that can be pulled from the body, and roses grow out of your best friend’s wrist.

It’s a story about family secrets and personal truths, fighting blackmail and standing up for the people you care about.

It’s full of beautiful, dreamy language, and I love that the chapters are named after the moon’s seas, lakes, and bays (because Sam paints and hangs realistic moon lanterns all over town).  If you like magical realism and LGBTQIA stories, I highly recommend this book.

being-jazzJazz Jennings.  Being Jazz.  New York: Crown, 2016.

I remember watching the Barbara Walters special that introduced Jazz and her family back in 2007, when she was six.  Assigned male at birth, Jazz knew from a very young age that she was a girl.  Her parents allowed her to start presenting as female in public on her fifth birthday, and since then have been super supportive through all the difficulties Jazz faced – fighting for permission to use the girls’ bathroom in school and to play on a girls’ soccer team, and dealing with ignorant classmates and adults.

In addition to fighting for her rights and promoting trans awareness, Jazz has tried to live an ordinary life, making friends, getting top grades in school, and figuring out what she wants to do after high school.  In her spare time, she’s even started a business making and selling swimmable mermaid tails.  How cool is that??

Jazz has a very funny, engaging voice and a very confident attitude toward life.  This is definitely a valuable book for anyone who wants to learn more about transgender experiences.

dreaming-in-indian  urban-tribes

Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds.  Dreaming in Indian.  Toronto: Annick Press, 2014.

Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds.  Urban Tribes.  Toronto: Annick Press, 2015.

“There is no one Indigenous perspective … no one Indigenous story.  We are tremendously diverse peoples with tremendously diverse life experiences.  We are not frozen in the past, nor are we automatically just like everybody else.  That is why it is so important for everyone to share their own story.  In revealing their personal truths, they help us all gain a better appreciation for the messy, awesome, fun reality of the world we live in.”
– Wab Kinew (Anishinaabe), Dreaming in Indian pg. 11.

These are two collections of stories, poetry and art by, and interviews of Indigenous youth across Canada and the U.S., reflecting on their experiences with racism and stereotypes, and showing how they blend their cultural traditions with 21st century Western life and pop culture.  Like Christian Allaire, whose love of “spray-painted Dries Van Noten pants” and punk band tees, spiked bracelets and “weird formal suit vests” led him to become a freelance fashion journalist in Toronto.  But his connection to his Indigenous cultures made him aware of the problem of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry, something he has made it his mission to fight against.

Or like Cree/Dene musician iskwé, who uses her music to raise awareness of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.  Or Arigon Starr, who created the Super Indian comics – about a 13-year-old boy who gets super powers from eating chemically enhanced processed cheese – as an alternative to the way Native Americans have been portrayed by non-native artists in comics like X-Men, Daredevil and Turok.

The articles are complemented by vibrant artwork and photographs that make these a really neat read.

people-of-the-sea  tales-of-the-seal-people

David Thomson.  The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend.  Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.

Duncan Williamson.  Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales.  New York: Interlink, 2005.

Since they were young, Thomson and Williamson have traveled in search of seal stories, Williamson while working for crofters and fishermen on the west coast of Scotland, and Thomson while traveling through Ireland and the Scottish islands.  Many of these stories were considered family history, passed down by grandparents and great grandparents, or something that happened to the teller or to a friend or neighbor.

…even at the age of thirteen, I knew that these crofters and fishermen in their sixties, and older, were giving me something private and something special.  Stories from tradition are magic – because they are given to you as a present – you are let into the personal lives of your friends. (Williamson, pg. 3)

Thomson’s book reads like a travelogue with the stories and anecdotes woven in, while Williamson’s is a more typical collection of stories with introductory notes on the people who told them to him.  Some of my favorites were the story of Brita and the Seal-man, the story of the Clan MacCodrum, “The Lighthouse Keeper,” and “The Wounded Seal.”  I also really liked the section on selkie songs at the end of Thomson’s book, where he discusses the history and variations of songs like “The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerrie.”

These are two must-haves for anyone who loves selkie stories.

Short stories:

  • “Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen (from Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling).  In the town of Ykaterinislav, Ukraine, a moneylender named Shmuel tries to help an unfortunate neighbor whose boasting father risks the wrath of the mayor over stories of flax spun into gold-trimmed clothing. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished… Like Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic,” this is a very clever re-invention of “Rumplestiltskin,” and I like how Yolen sets it up as a legend from her own family.
  • “Rapunzel,” by Anne Bishop (from Black Swan, White Raven, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling). Told from three perspectives – the mother, the witch, and Rapunzel herself – it starts out as the familiar story of desperate lettuce cravings and secret princely visits, but then veers off in a lovely new direction of female empowerment.
  • “Straw Into Gold,” “The Domovoi,” and “As Good as Gold” (from The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde), three stories that twist the Rumpelstiltskin story to answer questions like why the miller would make such a weird boast to the king, or why Rumpelstiltskin would sing such a convenient song about his name.  “Straw Into Gold” is about a kind elf who falls in love with the miller’s daughter, “The Domovoi” is a protective household being from Slavic folklore, and “As Good as Gold” is about a kind king who isn’t in the habit of threatening to decapitate girls or burn them at the stake.
  • Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rags and Riches” (from Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling).  Troll’s Eye View is a collection of stories that offers a more sympathetic view of fairy tale villains like the Molly Whuppie’s giants or Rapunzel’s Mother Gothel.  “A Delicate Architecture” is about an Austrian confectioner’s daughter who was raised to be obsessed with all things sugary, until she becomes a master at creating anything – even a house – out of sweets.  “Rags and Riches” fleshes out the role of the servant who forces the princess to work as a goose girl.  Both stories offer a new perspective into why these women did such wicked things in their respective fairy tales.
  • “The Twelfth Girl,” by Malinda Lo (from Grim, ed. Christine Johnson).  A modern retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  As soon as she transfers to the Virginia Sloane School for Girls, Liv is drawn to the mysterious Harley and her friends.  They seem to get away with anything, even sneaking off campus every night to party.  And then, unbelievably, Liv is invited to join the club.  At first she’s excited, but soon she realizes the mythical world they enter has a terrible price.
  • “Service Call,” by Philip K. Dick (from The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories).

Since I’ve been following blogs like Insatiable Booksluts and booksnobbery, I’ve been hearing on and off how much sj loves Philip K. Dick, and after a while I decided I wanted in.  At least to dabble.  So I followed her handy flowchart and checked my local library for the collection containing “The Minority Report.”  While not all the stories clicked with me, “Service Call” was delightfully dystopian.  A man receives a visitor from the future (who doesn’t realize he’s gone back in time), a repairman answering what he thinks is a fix-it request for something called a swibble.  As they converse, the man is horrified to find out what a swibble is, and what it means for the world of the future.

. . . . .

So!  What were your favorite reads of 2016?  What are you looking forward to in 2017?  Have a safe and happy holiday season, and I’ll see you next year!

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Source

 

Posted in family, fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, humor, LGBTQIA, magical realism, romantic, selkies, year-end review | Leave a comment

“A living flood of night”

vassaSarah Porter.  Vassa in the Night.  New York: Tor Books, 2016.

Rating:  4 out of 5 lilac-nailed disembodied hands who would love to chop your head off.

This was a good choice for Halloween, what with much of the story taking place at night and the constant danger of decapitation by a maniacal witch and her pet disembodied hands.  And of course I was going to read anything new by Sarah Porter, who previously ruined me for other mermaid tales with her Lost Voices trilogy.

The story takes place in a Brooklyn where witches own dancing convenience stores and lizard men practice law, where human men can pay to transform themselves into dogs via magical skins, and where the nights last much longer than they should.  Vassa Lisa Lowenstein lives with her step-family in a washed-out neighborhood terrorized by the local convenience store whose proprietor says she only beheads shoplifters.  Except some are beginning to suspect she targets innocent people too.

As the Lost Voices trilogy was a modern twist on mermaid lore, Vassa is a modern twist on Russian Baba Yaga tales.  It’s particularly tied to the story “Vasilissa the Beautiful,” in which a girl is sent to the house of a witch to ask for fire, and must perform several impossible tasks before she can leave alive.

The most important element from the original Russian tale, which carries over into Vassa, is the magic doll given to the protagonist by her dying mother.  In Porter’s version, she’s a wise-cracking wooden humanoid named Erg, who is truly one of the most memorable characters in the story.

“They ran off with their feeble delusions, more like,” Erg chirps.  “With a big pile of coupons for stupid, they ran off. I hope they try to buy a shiny new car with that! And designer snailskin handbags! And a diamond-crusted pony!”

Other things I liked:

  • The five Interludes that interrupt the main plot to offer backstory for several of the side characters like Vassa’s father and the BY’s parking lot swans.
  • Vassa has some of the same beautiful language and imagery as Lost Voices did, with moments like this:

…my territory is an island of blood and snow shimmered by the sunset-colored light misting out of BY’s.  My country is the stump where I unwrap the candy bar for Erg and set it on my thigh.  She eats in a living, shifting cathedral of arched white necks.
Maybe it’s small, my territory, but inside it I can still love what’s in front of me with all the heart I have left.

  • As the movie Ever After did with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, Vassa deviates from the original story by making one of Vassa’s step-sisters kinder and more sympathetic.  Chelsea cares for Vassa and at one point even tries to save her from BY’s.

What I didn’t like:

  • The problem with Chelsea is that she gives up too easily, and it feels more like sloppy writing than an actual character flaw.  She barely tries to stop Vassa from going to BY’s in the first place, and when she does try to get her out, she gives up too easily.  We’re told she’s probably a little scared to approach BY’s, but it still seems out of character for her to give up on Vassa so quickly.
  • Vassa is supposed to keep Erg a secret from everyone, and this is especially important at BY’s, but there’s a moment when the two of them are talking out in the open, in easy view of Babs’ pet hands, and yet somehow neither of the hands notices Erg.

Overall:

It wasn’t as amazing as Lost Voices, but it’s a good addition to the list of fairy tale retellings, and like I said, it was a fun read for Halloween.  Have you read anything particularly Halloween-flavored this month?

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, spooky | 3 Comments

Selkie Girl

2752371Laurie Brooks.  Selkie Girl.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Rating:  3 out of 5 Chosen One stories

Of course I thought this would be right up my alley.  I first encountered this story as a one-act play years ago, and it was cool seeing it fleshed out into novel form.  The story is about Ellen/Elin Jean, the thirteen/sixteen-year-old daughter of a selkie and a human crofter who lives in the Orkney Islands (in the novel it’s narrowed down to Shapinsay Island), who doesn’t know why she was born with webbed hands that the other island youth make fun of constantly.  In the book, her father is much crueler and angrier about this condition, and barely lets Elin Jean leave the house, whereas in the play he’s the one who wants her to dance at the Midsummer festival with him in front of their whole town.  But that night she finds something that changes everything, and takes off on a journey to discover her heritage and her destiny (the novel turns this into a Chosen One story, similar to Isabel of the Whales).

Things I liked:

  • The details of Elin Jean’s life on Shapinsay, like the rock she calls Odin’s Throne, where she sits and watches the sea; the way she says “Giddy God!” and prays to St. Magnus; and the way her mother calls her “Peedie Buddo.”
  • The selkies’ folktale about Britta and Dane, which explains the origin of selkies.
  • The way the story explains the origin of the legendary Clan McCodrun.

 

Things I didn’t:

This section contains SPOILERS.  The non-spoilery gist is that there’s an unnecessary scene and several major character inconsistencies in the second half of the book.

 

  • The short appearance of the sea trows, small goblin-like creatures that almost eat Elin Jean soon after she turns into a seal.  This scene felt unnecessary.  The story didn’t need the introduction of another magical species.  They’re not like the Tylwyth Teg in Home From the Sea, who are part of the larger community of magical beings in the UK, and who contribute to important moments in the story; the sea trows just pop in for that one scene and are never mentioned again.
  • The scene in which Elin Jean (I’m going to call her EJ from now on) meets Tam again, months after having ditched him for the sea, is important because it’s the moment she learns about her father’s vengeance on the seals via more frequent culls, which leads EJ to realize what her Chosen One destiny is.

That’s all well and good.  The problem is, this scene comes after EJ’s disastrous escapade with a popular clique of young selkies.  Her protector Arnfin is furious that he failed to keep tabs on her, so you’d think he’d be way more careful of protecting the Chosen One after that – especially from humans, whom he’s explicitly warned her to stay away from and who were the source of the major danger during her escapade.  Yet he hangs back and allows EJ to get up close to a human she explicitly admits she isn’t sure of re: his attitude toward seals.  This should’ve raised a big red flag for Arnfin, but it doesn’t.

  • After EJ and her mother disappear into the sea, EJ’s father loses it.  He’s especially devastated to lose EJ, which leads him to take revenge on the seals for calling her away.  And yet, when EJ comes back to him, he doesn’t try to hold onto her like he did before she disappeared; as I said, he used to barely let her out of the house, let alone to the beach, but now he doesn’t care if she goes for long walks by the sea.  He also doesn’t care if she hangs out with Tam every day, despite having bad-mouthed him before as an unsuitable match.  It turns out he doesn’t care about having her back after all, and instead keeps moaning for her to call her mother back to him.
  • But then, when he does see his wife again on the next Midsummer’s Eve, and she leaves her sealskin lying in a pile on the sand, where he can easily steal it again (seriously, Margaret? Seriously?), he doesn’t bother, for some reason.  It seems, like with EJ, he doesn’t really care about getting his wife back after all.

 

This was an ok story.  I liked its portrayal of selkie culture, and the way it explains the origin of selkies, but the issues in the second half of the book really threw off my groove.

 

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, selkies | Leave a comment

Friendship to the Max!

lumberjanes_coverNoelle Stevenson, et al.  Lumberjanes.  Los Angeles: Boom! Studios, 2014-present.

Rating:  4.75 out of 5 punk rock mermaids

Lately, I’ve been hooked on the Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson (of Nimona fame) et al.  Boom! Studios calls it “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls,” a series focused on five adventure-attracting teens attending a summer camp “for hardcore lady-types” in the middle of a supernatural-entity-filled forest.

There’s April – the one with super strength who cares most about earning all the badges, and is obsessed with mermaids;

Jo – the science genius who can invent anything on a dime, and April’s best friend since childhood;

Mal – the punk one who was almost part of a band back home, is afraid of water but will deal with it for her friends, and is totes in love with Molly;

Molly – the raccoon-hat-wearing archery master who is totes in love with Mal;

Ripley – the adorably out of control one who leaps first and asks questions later, and loves unicorns and glitter;

and Jen – their practical, put-upon cabin counselor who just wants to lead a normal, well-behaved bunch of ladies who follow the rules and don’t constantly get into dangerous supernatural hijinks.Lumberjanes 4

The camp is led by Rosie the riveter, who knows perfectly well what goes on in these woods and trusts the campers to handle it without her interference (most of the time).  There’s also the mysterious Bear Woman who occasionally jumps in to save the girls or lead them through a dinosaur-filled parallel dimension or grumble about how Rosie runs the camp.

My favorite things:

  • Last year, BookRiot had a post on creative swears in speculative fiction, a stylistic technique that can add to a story’s world-building.  Well, Lumberjanes definitely has one of the best examples of creative exclamations that fit with the story’s themes.  At this camp that builds strong female leaders, the characters use the names of strong, influential women in their exclamations.  Like:

Lumberjanes 7

and

Lumberjanes

  • The badges – at this camp, you earn badges like Jail Break, Pungeon Master (for the well-timed and witty use of word-play), Knot On Your Life, and Space Jamborie.  It’s another addition to the word-building, fitting into the humor of the Lumberjanes experience.
  • Mal and Molly – they are the stinking cutest couple ever.
  • The selkies – Issues 21-24 contain a story arc about our five protagonists’ run-in with a group of selkies who steal a counselor’s ship and accuse her of stealing a sealskin.  I especially liked the character Monday, who has the same punk look as Mal, rather than the traditional look of a selkie.
  • The mermaids – again with the punk theme, this is a modern, rock-music-loving pod of lake merpeople who know how to throw an awesome party.

To nitpick a little, there are a few moments that don’t make sense, like when a Greek goddess somehow doesn’t know anything about the astrology associated with her, or (slight spoiler alert) when the story seems to go surprisingly dark as a side character gets blood-splatteringly smashed into a wall by a mythical monster, only to show up a little later with nothing more than a broken arm.  If you’re going to go dark, you might as well be consistent about it; otherwise, stick with the lighthearted tone of the rest of the story.

Anyhoo, if you’re a fan of Gravity Falls like me, and are looking for an awesome, funny, butt-kicking-female-centered comic series, I highly recommend Lumberjanes.

 

Posted in comics, fantasy, favorites, humor, LGBTQIA, mermaids, selkies | 1 Comment

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

911xmhn92brlJ.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  New York: Arther A. Levine Books, 2016.

Rating:  2 out of 5 illegal Time Turners

Sooo…yeah.  There’s going to be a lot of nitpicking in this post.  Consider yourself warned.

I wanted to like this story so much more.  Like everyone else, I was looking forward to a new Harry Potter book, even though I was disappointed it wouldn’t be in the typical novel form.  It’s still officially the eighth Harry Potter book, and that’s worth celebrating.  If I lived in the Chicago area, I totally would’ve wanted to partake in one of these amazing cauldron cakes at Lezbrarian’s HP release party!

But I didn’t like the story.  The plot was full of issues, and overall it felt like someone’s fanfiction rather than a canon Harry Potter story.  And there was barely a “cursed child” in it!  [Edit: See below spoiler warning.]

But before I get to the grumbling and nitpicking, here are some things I did like:

  • This bit with Ron in the modified recap of the Deathly Hallows Epilogue, in which he does a got-your-nose trick for young Lily Potter:  “His hand is empty.  It’s a lame trick.  Everyone enjoys its lameness.
  • The Trolley Witch.  She’s slightly fleshed out this story, with a bit of backstory and personality beyond just calling out “Anything from the trolley, dears?”  She’s actually kind of badass.
  • That Hermione kept her maiden name, so Rose and Hugo are Granger-Weasleys.
  • Even though Rowling has said that she kind of regrets pairing Hermione with Ron in the Epilogue, she didn’t let that affect their chemistry throughout this story.  I totally said an internal “Aww” when Ron said he wanted to renew their marriage.
  • This description of the time travel:  “And time stops.  And then it turns over, thinks a bit, and begins spooling backwards, slow at first . . .

And now…

. . .

SPOILERS AHEAD

. . .

. . .

Of course Albus Potter gets sorted into Slytherin, and of course he becomes best friends with Scorpius Malfoy, and of course Harry isn’t thrilled about this, and of course it becomes a forbidden friendship, and of course Voldemort and Belatrix got it on behind the scenes in Deathly Hallows and had a secret child together.  This all feels like fanfic material to me.

You know what didn’t make total sense?

  • I can see Harry not being thrilled that his son is best friends with a Malfoy, even though it seems like he and Draco have come to an understanding by the end of Deathly Hallows.  But he made that big speech about it being totally cool if Albus gets into Slytherin, and yet it’s implied later that he is kind of bothered by it.  Though, maybe that develops from Albus’ negative attitude and insistence that he must be a disappointing son for ending up in Slytherin.
  • And then Harry turns the rest of the 180 and decides to believe the rumors about Scorpius being Voldemort’s son, despite his earlier assurances to Draco that the Ministry doesn’t believe that ridiculousness.  Because clearly that’s what Bane’s vague prediction meant, right?  It must be Scorpius who’s the “dark cloud” around Albus.  I mean, I guess it fits with Harry’s tendency, when he was a teen, to latch onto a belief/”evidence” and not question it.  Like when he believed Sirius Black was actually being tortured and dragged his friends into a raid on the Ministry, or when he believed Draco was a Death Eater and took it upon himself to spy on him throughout Half-Blood Prince (and, ok, he was right about that one).  But you’d think he would have grown more careful about these sorts of things as an adult.
  • Once he’s latched onto the Voldemort’s son rumor, Harry is a total jerk to Professor McGonagall, threatening to bring the Ministry down on Hogwarts if she doesn’t help him keep Albus and Scorpius apart.  I guess it does remind me of teen Harry being a jerk to Lupin, also supposedly for a good cause, but again, I’d have thought Harry would have grown beyond that kind of behavior.  And his apology after he realizes he’s been an awful prat is pretty rushed.  Hi Professor I need to find Albus now oh by the way I’m sorry about earlier but help me find Albus now!
  • The whole “cursed child” thing is just a few lines about the authorities checking Albus for hexes after his first time travel experiment, and another few lines in which Draco says one of his ancestors was cursed, which showed up as an illness in his wife…I guess that’s supposed to make Scorpius sort of cursed?  Maybe?  [Edit:  Or maybe Delphi’s the “cursed child.”  Being Voldemort’s kid has to be a kind of curse, amirite?]

Speaking of Albus and Scorpius…

Issues with the time travel plot (prepare yourselves; there are many points here):

  • How exactly do Albus and Scorpius climb out the window and up the side of the Hogwarts Express without a ladder or handholds or something?  And once they’re up there, and the Trolley Witch tells them the Express doesn’t want students to leave before they get to Hogwarts, how are they still able to jump off?  And somehow nobody else notices them jumping and stops the train.  Was no one looking out the window?  Did the Trolley Witch wait until the end of the trip to mention that two students are missing?
  • How did Delphi get the bits of Ron, Harry and Hermione to make the Polyjuice Potion?  And somehow, no one in the Ministry hears the big commotion in Hermione’s office when Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi are being attacked by the bookcases while trying to find the Time Turner.  And somehow the three of them get out of the Ministry without being noticed, even though the Polyjuice had worn off and they look like themselves again.  I guess we’re supposed to assume Delphi Apparated them out?  And amazingly, Hermione never notices that the books have been messed around, thus signaling that someone’s stolen the Time Turner.

eightthousand

  • And how exactly does this Time Turner work?  Apparently, all you have to do is press it once (or sometimes just hold it) and it spins back to the exact time you want.  Convenient.
  • Once Albus and Scorpius go back to the first trial of the Triwizard Tournament, Albus is able to do the disarming spell in front of a whole crowd of students (after only a few minutes of practice), and yet 14-year-old Hermione is the only one who (maybe) sees him do it (and doesn’t even realize he looks just like one of her best friends).  They’re all like, OMG where did Cedric’s wand go?  Oh well, guess it’s just a freak accident.
  • Once they get back to the present and are surrounded by the adults, no one notices Scorpius put the Time Turner back in his pocket.  Convenient.
  • When their first try doesn’t save Cedric after all, Albus and Scorpius go back to the second trial to try fixing that.  And apparently, if Cedric Diggory had lost the second trial, he would have been so upset he’d have become a Death Eater, and killed Neville Longbottom, making Harry and friends lose the Battle of Hogwarts, and helping Voldemort take over the world.  Um…

Scrubs

Cedric’s stronger than that.  He’s known for being a really decent guy, so he wouldn’t turn to the dark side just because he lost a competition.

  • In the Dark Timeline, Snape is still alive and teaching Potions (guess he lost the Defense Against the Dark Arts position again).  And he’s apparently really easy to convince that Scorpius is from another reality in which Voldemort didn’t win.  Seriously, even if Scorpius mentioned Lily, it seems too far-fetched for Snape to automatically believe the rest of Scorpius’ story.
  • Delphi, who’s actually a villain now, is able to use the Time Turner while they’re already in the past, even though there’s supposed to be a five minute time limit (which I’m pretty sure they’ve run through by the time Delphi comes up with her final plan).  And as for that plan, I don’t get why she doesn’t just try to kill Harry herself instead of waiting for Voldemort to try to convince him that she’s from the future and knows he’s going to be cursed if he tries to kill Harry.  [Edit: Ok, never mind.  If she tried to kill Harry herself, Lily’s love charm would have kicked her butt and she wouldn’t get to enjoy the Dark Timeline.]
  • Finally, once they figure out Delphi’s evil plan, Albus and Scorpius get to Godric’s Hollow to stop her.  They figure out they need to use tincture of Demiguise to write an invisible message onto Harry’s baby blanket so adult Harry will see it at the right time.  How convenient that Bathilda Bagshot happens to have some Demiguises lying around, amirite?  But then, how did they get the blanket away from Lily and Harry without anyone noticing?

taking-candy-from-a-baby-o

. . .

Again, I realize a lot of these points are nitpicking, but they really got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.  I guess it was still fun to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione in action again, but it wasn’t the way I’d hoped.  What did you think?  Did you like the story?  Was it the return to the wizarding world you’d hoped for?

 

Posted in family, fantasy | 2 Comments

Seven Tears at High Tide

Seven Tears at high tideC. B. Lee. Seven Tears at High Tide. Duet Books, 2015.

Rating:  4 out of 5 servings of fried fish

I learned about this one through Gay YA’s list of Asian Characters in LGBTQIA+ YA. It’s a gorgeous story about two guys, one selkie and one human, who fall in love one summer. Kevin starts the summer with a broken heart, suddenly and humiliatingly rejected by the guy he’d been with for months, who it turns out was just using Kevin. So he goes to the beach and, remembering a legend his mother once told him, lets seven tears fall into the water before making a wish. Almost immediately, he meets Morgan, a strange boy who declares his love for Kevin, and although Kevin isn’t sure about his own feelings, he does find Morgan compelling.

Things I loved:

This is not only a beautiful love story; it’s also a wonderful selkie story, adding something new to the mythos. In Lee’s world, selkies learn much about human culture from the Sea, which is like a living encyclopedia they can communicate with.

Morgan believes, though, like his mother and most of his herd, that the Sea is alive, and not just a magical network of information, not just a collection of memories and stories from which selkies can pull knowledge. He’s felt the Sea’s life, knows that the Sea, after centuries of emotions and dreams and desires poured into it, is a force to be reckoned with.

It was fun watching Morgan learn more about human culture from Kevin – things like malls and movies and fried foods. And it was neat to see the way selkies blend their human and seal natures – the way they choose multiple mates throughout their lives, the way they gather to sing and tell stories.

You know what’s also amazing? How ultra supportive Kevin’s parents are when he comes out to them as bisexual, and how supportive most of his school is. There are the few jerks, but they’re in the minority. All the other characters we meet treat Kevin and Morgan like any other couple.

Things I didn’t love:

The bigger stuff:

I wasn’t sure I liked the present-tense p.o.v. I get the appeal, the way it slows the world down and makes you feel like you’re really in the moment. But the only place I’ve really felt like that worked was in The Hunger Games, which is full of action that feels even more intense when you experience it in the present tense.

But the thing that really threw off my reading groove was the climax. It was another case, like in Tides and Akata Witch, in which the adults (or one adult, in this case) let the kids (or one kid, in this case) go into a too-dangerous situation all by themselves. How convenient, then, that the villains are incredibly sloppy and too easily overcome. Their involvement in the story was built up nicely throughout the story, but the pay-off was really disappointing. In fact, I think they could’ve been left out of the story altogether, because the real focus, the part that I was most drawn to, was Kevin and Morgan’s romance and the obstacles related to selkie culture that they have to overcome.

And regarding that, the Sea’s rules seem contradictory at times.  I give more details about this behind the spoiler tag in my Goodreads review.

The smaller stuff:

Morgan somehow already knows how to read, despite this summer being the first time he’s ever shifted into human form. Even if he learned it from the Sea, that would be a little too far-fetched.

He can also swim amazingly in his human form, again despite the fact that he’s so unused to that form.

Selkies can “talk” to each other, with quotation marks and everything, while in seal form. It would have made more sense for their seal-form communication to be written in italics, like thoughts.

Overall:

 Despite the issues with plot and point of view, the characters and the main focus were compelling enough to make this a Must Own book. I really cared about Kevin and Morgan, both individually and as a couple, and would have loved to read more about their adventures, and more about Morgan’s selkie herd. This is definitely a book I highly recommend, especially to anyone who loves selkie stories.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, LGBTQIA, romantic, selkies | Leave a comment

Drown: a Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale

DrownEsther Dalseno.  Drown: a Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale.  Berlin: 3 Little Birds Books, 2015.

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 oranges

This book gave me such mixed feelings. I first learned of it from Tess of Tesscatiful, and it seemed right up my alley – a dark twist on “The Little Mermaid” with a whole “fictional mythology” surrounding the existence of merpeople:

         It came about, of course, because of the wrath of a woman.
The rumour was to blame. A commonplace, folklore rumour typical to a fishing village settled on the coast of one of the world’s most unpredictable seas. That rumour still exists and hardly in this town alone. It is written on the face of every person you have ever met, in the subtext of every book you’ve ever read. It is the hope of every unhappy person. Right now, it is on the tip of your tongue.

It really was a creative, beautiful fleshing out of the original story that retained the fairy tale feel, as Tess noted, by leaving all of the characters nameless. They are simply “the mermaid,” “the Prince,” “the Sea King,” etc. And I loved the moments of magical realism (or can I call it that if the story is already a fantasy?) – heartbeats that were loud enough for everyone to hear, hearts that exploded from too many new ideas, the smell of flowers found wherever merpeople felt love, the things the mermaid could see in the Uncle’s eyes –

         “My Uncle,” said the Prince by way of an excuse, “his behavior…that is to say, his conduct…he hasn’t been the same since the war.”
The little mermaid nodded, for she had detected the shadows in his Uncle’s eyes, and sometimes she saw figures there, black figures with their hair on fire.

Oh, and there’s this gorgeous description of the sun and stars:

The God was going to sleep now, for half of it was buried in the ocean, but the little mermaid was not sad because she knew that she would see it again. Time ticked by, and she did not move, and when the God was fast asleep, she saw its angels emerge in the sky and wink down at her, thousands of them.

I did find it interesting that Tess and I interpreted very differently the mermaid’s main desire.  In Tess’ view, the mermaid’s first priority was to gain an Immortal Soul, and the Prince was the cherry on top, but I saw it the other way around.  I think the story focuses much more on the mermaid’s obsession with the Prince than on her occasional thoughts about the Immortal Soul.  The idea of love is a huge theme in the story; it’s what throws the entire mer-kingdom into chaos after the mermaid admits to one of her sisters her feelings for the Prince.  Overall, there’s much more focus on the merpeople’s hearts than on their lack of souls.

Now, as lovely as the story was, there were a number of elements that substantially bothered me. Like the constant proofreading errors.  And the implication that it would be terrible if the prince were more interested in men than women. And the many negative comments about gypsies (or, rather, “sea gypsies”):

…the gypsy folk, who travelled in groups all over the ocean, causing strife and chaos.

It was her very good fortune that she was not attacked by gypsies on her way…

She felt sorry for the hideous sea-gypsies…

…as everyone knew that disease and all manner of foul things came from close fraternization with sea-gypsies.

Then there are the logic issues:

  • The mermaid is supposed to feel unbearable pain with every step she takes, yet no one seems to notice her pain until weeks later, when the Prince wonders if her shoes are pinching her feet. Apparently she has extremely good control of her facial expressions (except she usually doesn’t, as her sisters always notice), and manages never to limp except for that one time the Prince notices.
  • Why does the nanny say there’s no way to gain an Immortal Soul when the mermaid first asks about it, but when she confronts the mermaid for constantly going to the surface to see the Prince, the nanny suddenly remembers that one can gain a soul by marrying a human?
  • As Tess points out, the mermaid has an odd ability to taste things despite not having a tongue anymore.
  • If the merpeople are supposed to lack the ability to feel, why are they terrified whenever they hear someone’s heartbeat? And why is the Sea King nervous and fearful after he mates with the sea witch (and how exactly do merpeople mate? That’s a bit of world-building I wish Desano had established)? Is it because of the spell she gave him earlier? That should’ve been explained more clearly.

And why do the merpeople have this saying –

 “Those who small-talk for a year
won’t then leave those who they hold dear”

– if they don’t have the ability to hold anyone dear?

I wanted to like this story so much more. It’s a creative fairy tale re-telling and it’s about mermaids, but the proofreading and logical errors really detracted from my enjoyment. I’m glad for the experience, but it could have been so much better.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, mermaids, romantic | 2 Comments