Saturday, January 20, 2018

Once Upon a Pixel: Stardew Valley and the balance between magic and mundane.

I was going to wait on this one, but since I spent about seven hours playing this game the other day, I might as well tackle it now.

Lately I’ve been hooked on a game called Stardew Valley.  Stardew Valley is a farming/life simulator.  The idea is that you play a character that after getting tired of a life of corporate drudgery, inherits a farm from his or her grandfather.  The farm is in a place called Stardew Valley right outside of Pelican Town.  The farm is overgrown and it’s up to your character to clear it out and plant crops.  You can also fish, chop down trees, work in the mines, make friends with the locals (and eventually date and marry the single ones), cook, create artisan goods and raise animals.  All that basic, domestic, agrarian goodness.
And did I mention that there’s a wizard’s tower on the edge of the valley.? There are also little nature spirits living in the broken down old Community Center.  And there are monsters infesting the mines.  There are even rumors and evidence of dwarfs living in the mines. 

Yup.  Magic and fantasy exists in this game and no one seems too bothered by it.  And that’s why this game reminds me of fairy tales.

Fairy tales, like Stardew Valley involve magic but often find themselves most concerned with everyday problems.  The parents in “Tom Thumb” are concerned with the possibility of having a child.  Jack and his mother in “Jack and the Beanstalk” are worried about poverty and where their next meal is coming from.  “SnowWhite” and “Cinderella” are concerned with abusive family situations.  “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Bearskin” (among others) are both concerned with soldiers building some kind of life after a war has ended.  Don’t even get me started on all the ones that hinge on the idea of marriage.

If anything, the goals in Stardew Valley are even more tame than the ones in fairy tales.  Other than marriage, which is a common goal between both fairy tales and Stardew Valley.  Most of the goals in the game are things like planting and harvesting in keeping with the seasons.  Saving up enough materials and money to build new farm building.  Stuff like that.  But even that isn’t so far off from how fairy tales function.  The seasons and growing things are an issue.  The Tale of Tales had a story built on the changing of seasons called “The Twelve Months”.  I once read a French folk tale titled “The Wooden-Clog Maker and the King’s Daughter” in which one of the more miraculous, magical elements was a peach tree that bore fruit even in the winter (doesn’t seem like such a big deal today when we can get produce shipped from all over the world, but it’s a big deal in the story and it would be a big deal in Stardew Valley).
Fairy tales have kind of a strange double identity.  On one hand, they’re widely considered the hallmark of fanciful storytelling.  Someone saying “that’s just a fairy tale” usually means someone’s being unrealistic.  Yet, fairy tales are often the most grounded and relatable of all fantasy stories.  I mean, I’m sure there are relatable things in other fantasy genres.  Epic fantasy, for example, is about things like war and politics and I’m sure someone can relate to those things.  But fairy tales are about the things that happen between the war and the politics.  Things like getting married and planting crops and selling your cow and making sure you have enough food or money.

Fairy tales aren’t about the magic within the everyday or magic replacing the everyday.  They’re about magic existing alongside the everyday, like some kind of unusual neighbor.  All the while, the question of belief never even comes up.  It’s just not an issue.

I’m not quite sure I really managed to tease out a point here, but I think I may have at least provided some food for thought in regards to the unique qualities of fairy tales.  This relatability and groundedness might account for their continued staying power.  It might also be what makes Stardew Valley so damn addictive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to harvest the crops and tend to the animals before the winter comes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report: Geekerella.

So, let’s start off a new year of Fairy Tale Fandom with something that’s a bit of a mirror image of this blog.  We're a fandom take on fairy tales.  So, how about a fairy tale take on fandom?

Geekerella is a Young Adult novel written by Ashley Poston and published by Quirk Books (the same people who publish stuff like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, naturally) is a “Cinderella” story infused with the trappings of fandom.
The story follows two perspectives.  The first is our Cinderella, a young woman named Elle Wittimer.  Elle is a girl who’s put upon by her cruel step-mother and two wicked step-sisters.  She’s also still recovering from the death of her father and an attempted romance that ended in a particularly ugly fashion.  Her escape and salvation from this is immersing herself in the low-budget, cult favorite sci-fi show her father (who was a bit of an uber-geek himself) introduced her to: Starfield.

The other perspective is that of would-be Prince Charming, young actor Darien Freeman.  All of 18 years old, Darien made his name as a heartthrob on a CW-esque teen drama but has now landed what would have been his dream role as Prince Carmindor in the long-awaited Starfield movie.  Darien’s got his own problems though.  Namely, his controlling father/agent, a back-stabbing by a one time friend, his own insecurities about taking up an iconic role and his own loss of freedom and privacy that comes with being a celebrity.

Now, here’s where the real romantic comedy stuff kicks in.  It turns out, they don’t like each other even before they’ve met each other.  Elle has written off Darien as a shallow heartthrob and has expressed this on her Starfield fan blog in no uncertain terms.  This blog post has of course been picked up by online news sources and proceeded to go viral.  Darien has seen the post and has in turn written off Elle as an angry, reactionary, unflinching fan who will not give his performance a chance.  And yet, through a case of mistaken identity, the two begin texting each other when each of them desperately needs a confidante.
Yes, this is pretty much what everyone expects.  There are only so many different ways you can do a retelling of Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella”, especially a modernist take.  Here, it’s really the grace notes that really make the difference and they’re not even necessarily aspects of the Cinderella story.   Most of them are issues within the modern world of media fandom.

They touch on the idea of representation.  One of the big issues with the casting of Carmindor in the Starfield reboot is that he was played in the original TV series by a noteworthy Indian actor.  Fans of the show were apparently wishing desperately for the role to not end up whitewashed.  It’s also why the role is a big deal to Darien Freeman.  Darien is half-Indian and Carmindor is the first hero he ever saw on TV that looked like him.

They touch on the negative aspects of fandom.  Like fans who take advantage of others or try to be gatekeepers and keep people out of the community.  I’m not going to say much more because that’s a big part of one of the characters’ arcs.

But probably the thing that I noticed most and which kind of overlaps both the Cinderella thing and the fandom thing is how Elle acts.  Elle isn’t your typical pleasant Cinderella type.  She’s closed off and quick to judge.  She routinely pushes people away and feels like she can only count on herself.  Her immersion in Starfield is to a large degree a means of escape from her regular life.  Now, I’m not a psychologist by any means, but a lot of this is what I’d expect someone who experienced the kind of loss and abuse Cinderella did might react to it.  While they don’t get too deep into it, Elle’s just a little bit broken by her experiences.  But that’s okay because she can do better when she gets out of her own way, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve better.

Most of the typical Cinderella stuff is there in some form.  The Fairy Godmother is Elle’s coworker who’s an aspiring fashion designer.  The coach is the food truck The Magic Pumpkin that she works in.  The ball is a science fiction convention with her entrance and her dance with the prince split between two events: a cosplay contest and a cosplay dance.  There’s a bit of a twist with one of the step-sisters this time.  It’s one that’s been done before in other Cinderella projects but this time there’s a twist to the twist if you know what I’m saying.

I’m not going to say this is any sort of groundbreaking take on “Cinderella” because it’s not.  However, it is a lot of fun and moves at a nice brisk pace.  I’m not going to say it’s for everyone.  If you’re one of the types who gets annoyed when books or TV shows reference pop culture just for the sake of it, well there’s some of that in here.  I do think this would make for a nice vacation book or a palate cleanser after reading something a bit heavier if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.
Until next time, live long and prosper, may the Force be with you and never stop chasing that Happily Ever After. : )

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Tale Continues . . .

Well, that was fun.  I had my hiatus (more or less) to relax and get my ducks in a row.  I've reconsidered how I'm going to approach things here.  But this is to announce that the Fairy Tale Geek is back!
So, what can we expect in the near future?  Well, let's break it down a little bit.

Folk Tale Secret Stash- It's still going to be me making my case for folk tales that I think deserve more attention.  However, I'm going to try to make it even more international.  I've noticed that I've had some really big blind spots in my folk tale promotions, notably the continent of Africa and to a lesser extent North and South America and the Middle East.

Fantasy Literature Rewind- Still bringing back classic works of fantasy literature for another look.  On the occasions that I can tie it in with a recent movie I will.  But there are some other ones without tie ins that I definitely want to cover.  I want to spotlight more E. Nesbit and George MacDonald and get to Frank Stockton's stories and some of L. Frank Baum's less easily remembered works.  And while we're at it, can you believe I haven't covered The Wind in the Willows yet?  I also think I have a good one for March (I nearly did A Wrinkle in Time because of the upcoming Disney film, but I think this one has more folkloric mojo).

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Movie and TV reviews and spotlights on a case by case basis.  However, for part of this I want to have a little more fun with the format by adding some audience participation.  You see, I happen to be in the possession of the famous Cannon Movie Tales (well, most of them anyway).  In many ways, they are the holy grail of 1980s low-budget fairy tale films.  But it could take me a while to get around to viewing and reviewing all of them.  So, I want to make sure that my readers get to read the reviews they most want to see.  So, that's why I've added that poll widget on the left side of the blog.  So, the results of that poll will decide which movie I review next.
And that covers the "Big Three" columns on the blog.  Yes, I know I didn't mention Four-Color Fairy Tales or Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report or Once Upon a Pixel or The Top Seven, but those ones will pretty much come along as the situation demands (maybe not Top Seven, that one's kind of a pain in the butt to write).  I also won't be taking any review requests for a while because I'd really like to work my way through the stuff I've already amassed on my own that sits on my bookshelf unread.

But that's the plan going forward.  Hopefully, it'll be nothing but good things going forward.