I'm going to be taking a little bit of a break from Fairy Tale Fandom. Not sure how long. A few months maybe.
Lately, I've been getting a bit burned out on fairy tale related material. The thing is that I had been immersing myself in it for so long and seeing the same stuff depicted for so long that it started to feel like a bit too much of a chore. In the process both my goal of posting something every calendar week as well as my storytelling hobby ended up being harder to keep up with.
While that was going on, I found myself having much more to say about other things I'm a fan of. In the past few months I've had thoughts about comics, movies, TV and gaming that I've wanted to express and really no place to express them except my personal Facebook page. So, I launched a second blog entitled Universes Beckon. I mean, I suppose I could have written about that stuff on Fairy Tale Fandom but I would have had to tie it all back in to fairy tales and folklore, which wouldn't have been hard but also wouldn't necessarily have lined up with the points I wanted to make.
So, that's the deal. No more Fairy Tale Fandom for a little while but I will continue to be posting on Universes Beckon. I may pop in again to post a special Halloween post or something, but that's it. I'm hoping to come back with a fresh perspective and maybe a new approach. Right now, I'm having a lot of fun reading things that are not fairy tale retellings or folk tale collections for the first time in a couple of years.
So I'll see you again soon, just not too soon.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Okay, so this one might be more confession than review, but stick with me.
First, there are some things you should know about me and if you’ve been following me on this blog or on Twitter, you’ve probably had some inkling of for a while. First of all, I am not a professional critic. Second, I’m also not really a “fairy tale scholar”. When people have called me such online, I’ve generally rejected it and replied that I’m “just a fan”. This is for a variety of reasons. Lastly, I’m not particularly fond of reading the works of people who are considered fairy tale scholars. I’m really more of a fiction reader. Also, when I have tried to read the works of scholars, I felt like they were trying to tell me what to think about a story when I’d rather read the story myself and come to my own conclusions. I’ve tried, but I’ve never really enjoyed reading them. Really, I’m just a guy with a library school degree, a pastime telling stories, a lot of opinions and a platform on which to express them. Just thought you should keep these things in mind as you read forward.
So, a few months ago, I get contacted by a PR person at Princeton University Press asking me if I want to read and review the new book by Jack Zipes: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Now, at first glance this book doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that I would go for. For one, it’s by Jack Zipes. I’ve already said I don’t care much for reading scholarly works. But also because Zipes has become the face of the scholarly, anti-Hollywood view of fairy tales. If you have “OMG! Disney!” on one side, then you have Zipes on the other. And though I haven’t brought it up much, I have just as much of an issue with the anti-Disney contingent as I do with the Mouse itself. Mainly in the sense that Hollywood is what’s been keeping many of these tales alive and that whether we like it or not, a Hollywood movie getting adapted from a story is often a mark of a story or property gaining legitimacy in our current culture. The other issue is that it was a collection based around stories of a certain tale type, and I usually don’t read those. Most of the collections I read are regional (Japanese Tales, Folk Tales of the British Isles, Latin American Folktales, etc).
But still, this was Princeton University Press! Most of the people who actually ask me to review books for them are either small publishers or people who self-publish. Some stuff, like the stuff made by World Weaver Press, isn’t bad. But so much other stuff is. I’ve read so many stories where people think “fairy tale” just means throwing any fantasy concept in there or that it’s an excuse to write stories about cotillions and petticoats. But Princeton University Press felt like something major and serious. It felt like I had hit the big time. So, I agreed to it. Should I have? I’m not sure.
The book starts off with a piece by Zipes. He lays out that the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” concept is split into two different concepts. There’s the “Humiliated Apprentice” as immortalized in Goethe’s poem, Paul Dukas’s music and a certain Fantasia short. The other is the “Rebellious Apprentice” in which a boy goes to learn from a sorcerer and rebels against him leading to a situation in which the sorcerer and his apprentice chase each other while changing forms (note: I have encountered this type of story before in the form of a Yiddish folk tale and have even told it. Though, I can’t say I love the tale). The overarching idea that Zipes brings up is that the stories represent a “master/slave dialectic”. The idea being that apprentice work was pretty much equivalent to slavery centuries ago. To Zipes, the “Humiliated Apprentice” story represents a type of story meant to keep slaves down and depict rebelling against slavery as bad. The “Rebellious Apprentice” stories represent stories of a clever slave rebelling against his master and gaining a higher position. To be honest though, I’m not sure how much I buy all that. For one thing, it just seems much more likely and reasonable to me that the “Humiliated Apprentice” is more likely a story warning against hubris. The apprentice isn’t a slave rebelling against his master. He’s a little kid who thinks he can drive a car because he saw his dad do it and proceeds to get into a car wreck. As for the “Rebellious Apprentice” stories, while it makes a little more sense for it to be a master/slave thing, I just kind of wonder why so many of these stories bother with the apprenticeship stuff at all. A good number of these stories involve the character studying the sorcerer’s books while he’s not around. Why not just make it a slave who studies the books and then rebels using magic? This makes me think that maybe the tutelage aspect is a lot more important than Zipes is giving it credit for. Zipes talks about some other things. He touches on the subject of childism, which is prejudice against children. He gets in a couple digs at Disney, as he usually does. He even talks about the Harry Potter franchise and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether he likes it or not. He seems impressed at some points, but calls it banal at another. If anyone else has read this book and gets what he was going for, more power to you. But now this brings us to the tales themselves.
The book is separated into two parts, “Humiliated Apprentice Tales” and “Rebellious Apprentice Tales”. From there, each part is separated into sections by time period: “Early Tales”, “19th Century Tales”, “20th Century Tales” and the like. It’s pretty much what you’d expect. All the tales fit the archetype the book is focused on. I’m going to be honest with you, though. I started to lose interest in the stories after a while. Though there were differences between them, I started to feel like I was still just reading the same story over and over and over again. Some did deviate a fair bit and those were a pleasant surprise. For example, there’s an E. Nesbit story in there that I really like (I should really read more of her stuff). Such tales are few and far between, though. I should note that I was also getting burnt out on fairy tales at the time too, so that could be it.
I didn’t even finish the book yet. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see I got very close to the end but didn’t quite finish and it took me a good long while too. I’m posting this now because I was afraid it would take me a whole year to get through that last little bit.
But here’s the thing with this book and I want everyone to pay extra attention to this next paragraph before getting angry at me in the comments.
From as objective a standpoint as I can manage, there is nothing wrong with this book. It is not a bad book. It does not have any serious problems or red flags. All the chosen stories are appropriate to the topic of the book. Jack Zipes’s analysis is pretty much what you’d expect from Jack Zipes. It’s organized well. The thing is that it’s just not the kind of book I like. That doesn’t make it bad. We all have tastes and we all have opinions. If you like Jack Zipes and you like anthologies that focus on one specific tale type, you will probably like this book.
And now that that’s out there, I’m not sure when I’ll post again. I’m thinking about taking a hiatus from Fairy Tale Fandom (though, I’ll still post occasionally on my other blog Universes Beckon). I’m still a bit burned out on fairy tales. Also, I think I’ve hit a bit of a wall in terms of what to do with this blog. So, I've got some things to think about.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Okay, so it’s been a little while since I posted any fairy tale related material. I can assure you though, this one is worth the wait.
Snow White by Matt Phelan is a graphic novel that was released last year. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, not knowing when I’d get around to reading it. But boy am I glad I did.
The graphic novel, as you can probably tell by the title, retells the story of “Snow White”. However, there is one major switch in setting. Instead of being set in a non-distinct pre-Industrial European location, this version of “Snow White” takes place in New York City during the late 1920s and into the 1930s.
The change in setting works surprisingly well. There are times when such a change can seem like a gimmick, but Phelan pulls it off. Naturally, there are changes to who the characters and objects are in-story. Snow White here is a young heiress. Her stepmother, the Evil Queen, is now a former star of the Ziegfeld Follies. The seven dwarfs are a gang of street urchins living rough on the streets. The Huntsman is a down-and-out stagehand. The prince is a police detective. And the glass coffin is the display window of Macy’s on 42nd Street.
Probably my favorite change is what they did with the magic mirror. There are still plenty of mirrors in the story. The “Queen of the Follies” has a whole room full of mirrors to admire herself in. But the magic mirror itself has been replaced instead with a stock ticker. I know this may seem like a strange change, considering the Evil Queen’s usual association with vanity. However, think about what a stock ticker is supposed to do. It tells a person how well stocks that someone has invested in are doing. In other words, it tells people their worth. In a way, isn’t that also what the mirror in the original story was doing for the Evil Queen. At least, it probably did from her own perspective. Overall, the whole story is set in a time and place where value is placed on different things. The elements of youth and beauty are there, but in Depression era New York City the one thing that could make all the difference in the world is money. And the money that Snow has inherited from her father is a major factor in the Queen’s motivations.
Phelan tells the story with probably as few words as necessary, but that doesn’t matter because his visual storytelling skill is amazing. There are times when gestures, actions and expressions tell you everything you need to know. One particular scene comes to mind. Mr. Hunt (the Huntsman in this story) is sitting at a bar when he flashes back to when he was working at the theater. A stage manager calls for a step ladder so that the Queen can step up onto a platform. So, what does Mr. Hunt do? He gets down on all fours and lets the Queen step on his back to get up. That action and his expressions during that scene tell you everything you need to know about Mr. Hunt. He’s someone so taken with the Queen that he lets her step on him. And it makes the scene where he lets Snow White go all the more impressive and powerful.
As for the art itself? Well holy Perrault, this is a beautiful book!
The art is black and white but Phelan makes such good use of it. Who knew shades of gray could create so many different tones, moods and environments. 1930s New York practically jumps off the page through Phelan’s art.
There are some points I could nitpick. For example, the book does draw noticeably on the Disney version in some places. Notably, the part where the dwarfs chase the Queen and she ends up getting fried by a bolt of lightning. Only in this case it’s seven street urchins who chase her and she gets electrocuted by the electric sign on top of the Ziegfeld theater. But I can take that little bit of Disney homage because it was done creatively. Interestingly, with the movie released in 1938, it would have actually come out only a few years after this version of the story ends.
Really, if you somehow missed this, give it a try. As far as comics go, it’s one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve read in a long time.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Oh, goodie! We have another one of these.
It’s been about two years since I gave my impressions on the first Descendants movie. I remember that because I was recovering from heart valve surgery at the time I was doing it. You can read my review of the first movie right HERE.
As a quick recap, Descendants is about four children of Disney villains who are chosen to leave the island prison that holds all the villains and their descendants and attend school with the children of Disney heroes and sidekicks at a school named Auradon Prep.
Now, as a quick recap of the conditions that likely led to the creation of the Descendants concept: a couple years ago, Mattel (who used to make the Disney Princess doll line) decided to make a line of fashion dolls called Ever After High about the children of famous fairy tale characters going to a magical prep school. On top of that, the line was also set to have a series of web cartoons, books and accessories. Disney looked at it and said “Well . . . uh . . . we can do that too! So, nyah!” And Descendants was born. (Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it went but it’s how I imagine it went).
But if it was the case, then they’ve done what they set out to do. There are Descendants books and merchandise out there. There was even a series of web cartoons called Descendants: Wicked World. I watched a whole bunch of them (what can I say, I have a weakness for animation). The characters of Jay and Carlos take a bit of a back seat to the other female characters in the movie. The cartoon also introduces new characters like Ally (daughter of Alice), Freddie (daughter of Dr. Facilier), C.J. (daughter of Captain Hook) and Zevon (son of Yzma).
Got all that? Well, it doesn’t matter if you do or not, because Descendants 2 uses none of it.
Nope. None of it. In fact, the actress who voices Freddie Facilier even plays a completely different character in Descendants 2. They maybe used one song from the cartoon in the background of a scene and that’s it. It’s kind of like how Ghostbusters 2 treated The Real Ghostbusters.
Descendants 2 starts a little while after the first Descendants. Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen) has started up her own business making clothes for the other students, which is handy with a big cotillion coming up. Jay (son of Jafar) is excelling as a student athlete, this time as captain of the fencing team. Carlos (son of Cruella de Vil) is enjoying life as a converted dog lover with his terrier pal Dude. Meanwhile, Mal (daughter of Maleficent) is doing her best to deal with the pressure of being the girlfriend of King Ben (son of Belle and the Beast) and is finding it weighs on her quite a bit. So much so that she’s come to rely on using her mother’s evil spell book to meet all her responsibilities. Meanwhile, the other characters are dealing with their own things. Jay is dealing with the issue of Lonnie (daughter of Mulan) being barred from the fencing team because of her gender despite being very good. Carlos is trying to work up courage to ask Jane (the Fairy Godmother’s daughter) to the cotillion (honestly, it’s kind of nice to see Carlos get even that little arc. His whole story in the first one was “he gets a dog”). Evie’s the only one who doesn’t get an immediate arc because hers is more tied to Mal’s. You see, Mal soon finds herself overwhelmed by her new responsibilities and decides to return to the Isle of the Lost where she feels she fits in better. Then, Evie, Ben, Jay and Carlos go to convince her to come back. It’s then that we get Evie’s arc in that she’s seemingly going to lose her best friend because they’ve ended up in two very different places in that Evie thrives in Auradon while Mal feels crushed by the expectations placed on her. She comes to a conclusion about that with the help of a new character named Dizzy (the daughter of Drizella, the wicked step-sister). There is a more immediate threat though, seeing as Ben ends up getting kidnapped by Mal’s old rival Uma (daughter of Ursula, and played by China Anne McClain, former voice of Freddie Facilier) and her two henchman Harry (son of Captain Hook) and Gil (son of Gaston).
You know, I’ve often wondered if I was a little too nice to the first Descendants movie (I described it as “harmless” when maybe “stupid but harmless” would have been more apt). I gave it a certain amount of leeway because it seemed to be so entirely sincere about what it was. But I’m not going to lie, I kind of enjoyed Descendants 2. I’m not going to say it was a good movie. Heavens no! But if you go into it knowing how high to set your expectations, you’ll be fine. Sure, it still follows that “don’t sweat the details” approach to a back story (seriously, why is everything so modern and how did the Beast manage to unite all the Disney kingdoms across time and space?). Sure, everyone in the movie is dressed like they walked off a toy shelf, especially the villain kids who seem to embrace brightly colored leather and studs like no one has since the 1980s. But for the story they want to tell, they tell it well enough. There are even a couple places where they surprised me a little bit. They even skirted the edge of some heavier material with a couple of their lines (Mal asks Carlos “Don’t you miss when you could just scream at people and send them running?” Carlos replies “That was my mom who did that and I was usually on the receiving end” suggesting it was something of an abusive relationship). The soundtrack was catchy too. I particularly liked a Michael Jackson riff they did titled “Chillin’ Like a Villain”. They even improved on some stuff from the original. I made a note in my review of the first Descendants that I had trouble with the actors playing the adult villains like Maleficent, Jafar and the Evil Queen. Not only did the actors chew the scenery, but it’s just kind of sad to see formerly imposing villains having gone to seed. In Descendants 2, the only thing we see or hear from any adult villains are one of Ursula’s tentacles and the voices of both Ursula and Lady Tremaine. It’s true that there are things that I might have liked to see from these characters. Like Evie actually meeting and developing a relationship with her step-sister (half-sister?) Snow White. But, if you want to see complex family relationships on Disney Channel, it’s probably best to just watch Andi Mack. Disney’s Descendants 2 is a stupid, juvenile but enthusiastic and sincere Disney Channel Original Movie. In other words, it’s like every other Disney Channel Original Movie ever. You can’t really ask more from it than that.
So there we go. Not terrible. Not great. Just standard kids’ fare. And now that Descendants has become big enough to have two TV movies, a toy line, a web cartoon, kids’ books and other merchandise, maybe Disney can finally get over this “Mattel envy” that they’ve had for so long.
I wonder what Disney Channel’s next big movie project is. Let me just check Google really quick.
It says here that their next big thing is something called Zombies. It’s apparently a musical about a cheerleader from a conformist small town who falls in love with a zombie football star who transfers in from someplace called Zombietown.
So, monster teens attending a modern high school and maybe dealing with the prejudices of normal people. For some reason, that sounds strangely familiar.
OH, FOR GRIMM’S SAKE, DISNEY!
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Every Thursday, my Twitter feed undergoes a transformation.
That’s because on Twitter, Thurdays are Folklore Thursdays.
#Folklorethursday is a hashtag created by British folklore scholars Dee Dee Chaney, Willow C. Winsham and Seline Stevenson. It first hit Twitter on June 18, 2015.
Throughout the day, Chaney, Winsham and others moderate tweets from writers, folklorists, historians, scholars and bloggers like little ol’ me as they share links, pictures and tweets about folklore. And I know what you must be thinking, all that scholarly material, it must be kind of dry and boring. You couldn’t be more wrong. Though it might be reasonably scholarly material, Folklore Thursday tends to overflow with the exotic and the bizarre.
Every Thursday, my Twitter feed flows over with strange home remedies that require the use of unusual herbs or animal parts, ways to ward off the evil eye or guard oneself from witches, strange customs and superstitions from far away countries and more cryptozoological beasts than you can shake a stick at.
But now, onto the most important questions about Folklore Thursday.
How can I receive Folklore Thursday tweets in my Twitter feed?
Simple enough. Simply follow the @FolkloreThurs account on Twitter.
Is there a way I can participate in Folklore Thursday?
Yes! The first step is to find something folklore related online. When I started participating in Folklore Thursday, I used my own “The Stuff of Legends” posts. Then, write up your tweet, include your link and add the hashtag #folklorethursday and send it off.
Any special tips for taking part in Folklore Thursday?
I have one tip for my fellow American participants: remember that the headquarters for Folklore Thursday is in the UK. Because of time zones, Britain’s Thursday starts and ends several hours earlier than ours does. So, Folklore Thursday will likely be underway by the time you start your day. So, it might be necessary to get your tweet sorted the day before (picking the link, etc) so you can tweet it right when you get the first chance on Thursday.
If I can’t get enough of Folklore Thursday, where can I get more?
They have a website where many of the more interesting links and articles from Folklore Thursday are showcased. It’s at folklorethursday.com.
Are there any folklore based life tips you’d like to give us?
Yes. Always crush your eggshells when you use eggs in your cooking. That way, witches can’t use them as little boats to cause trouble at sea. This is just one of the many tips I’ve picked up from following Folklore Thursday.
So, I hope this post has made you aware of something cool and fun that’s worth checking out. It can be a little strange, but I find it can be a good weekly pick-me-up with times the way they are now.
Also, I’m not kidding about that eggshell thing. We can’t let those witches cause trouble at sea, now can we!