Friday, March 30, 2007

A Statement in the Case

Sorry for taking this long, all. I was unable to even touch a computer for a while there, so I will apologize once more and get on with it.

I really found A Statement in the Case to be an interesting story. I really liked how Theodora Goss worked in all the Hungarian elements in the story. The question I have for everyone to start my rather belated discussion of my story is: were there really those fantastic creatures in the cages, or were they simply, as the narrator says, visions of a drunk man? Personally, I think they were there, but I've always been a romantic like that. The second question I pose is was the fire murder. Yes, I know I've started off with the two hardest questions to answer, but I think it fair seeing as long as I took to ask them.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Interesting names in Strange and Norrell

So I'm about 750 pages into this humongous novel of greatness and I noticed that Stephen Black's horse that was given to him by the man with the thistle down hair is named Firenze. I was wondering if anyone else thinks this is a shout out to Harry Potter (since the name of the main centaur in the series is also Firenze). There is another name that jumped out at me earlier in the novel but I can't remember it right now...but I was also wondering if anyone else has noticed some parallels between the two works, because I have noticed a couple but don't want to give the plot away to anyone who hasn't gotten far enough.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cruel Sistah

I really liked the feel of this story. Folksy, I guess would be a good word. The foreword says it's based on a traditional ballad. I thought the ending was a little dissapointing. She could have expanded it a little, it felt cut short. But it was an interesting story, a murder story was not what I expected. It was pretty creepy that Calliope kept the hair and scapl of her murdered sister.

ha-ha-ha...ho-ho-ho...and a couple of tra-la-las...

Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)

Honestly, I don't know what to think of this story. I didn't like it, that is for sure. I just couldn't figure out the plot line. Not to mention, although weird, it wasn't very fantastical. Sure, it alluded to the Holy Grail at some moments, but it just wasn't fantasy to me. Mysterious, yes, fantasy...not quite.

What do y'all think? I guess mysteries and fantasies can overlap. I don't know.

One thing I did enjoy, however, was the 'old-man-ness' of the interviewee, Manny Marks. He reminded me of my grandfather, just talking away about nothing whatsoever. And that is really what the story amounted to...nothing whatsoever.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Good Luck to Andy

I think Andy is having surgery tomorrow? Just wanted to wish him the best of luck with that. Maybe an amazing fantasy story will come to him while he is knocked out :-P.

Blogging Woes

I've been having lots of blog issues, too. I was having trouble posting and it backed up a bunch of posts for me, too, and didn't show them despite refreshing. I think it might be something to do with Lauren and my internet, though, as the connection was down entirely last night and this morning and it's been kind of shoddy-seeming for a bit now. But I have it working right now, at least, and have finally caught up and can get back on with my own posting.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Problems with the Blog

So I was wondering if anyone else has been having trouble with the blog updating? I've been checking it every day like I normally do, but for some reason posts aren't showing up until days later, which obviously causes some problems. Anyone else running into this?

Night Watch

I just picked up Sergei Lukyanenko's new fantasy novel Day Watch and though my soul is too consumed with work to be able to read it I thought I'd share some thoughts about the first book in the same series, Night Watch.

The basic premise is that there exists a race of "others". These others are indistinguishable from human beings but possess great powers which become awakened at certain points in people's lives. Once an other emerges it has a short period of time to choose a side, Light or Dark, which will determine their place for the rest of their supernaturally long lives.

The two sides are, obviously, opposed - but there is a wrinkle. In ancient times the forces of Light and Dark met on the Battlefield with the intention of ending their struggle. However, they were too evenly matched and instead they signed the Great Truce which prevented either side from taking action against the other. To enforce this they created the Watches: the Night Watch - manned by Light Ones - watches over the Dark while the Day watch - manned by Dark Ones - watches over the Light. The two watches prevent any action which might tip the balance in one way or the other and strictly regulate and license vampires, witches, and other creatures.

The first things that needs to be realized about the Night Watch series is that they are written by a Russian author and take place in post-Cold War Russia. The watches, the focus of both novels, are simply bureaucrats. Bureaucrats with sweet superpowers, but bureaucrats nonetheless. The characters are restricted from doing anything by the rules they seek to enforce. They must operate along loopholes and struggle to get anything done. Stripped down of its fantasy trappings the novels are simply about people struggling to accomplish anything in a restrictive system that they themselves keep together.

It can really be read as a group of people in a mundane office. The main character, Anton, is relatively new and is still learning the ropes and is not all that valuable to the organization and has minimal, at best, skills. He is simply trying to prove himself to his co-workers. This is compound when he begins a relationship the new worker he helps bring in. She begins to quickly out perform him, clearly has a better innate skill set, and is destined to be promoted to levels he will never reach. All the while he is trying to do his job but must step carefully. Add some superpowers, shape shifters, sorcerors, and fight scenes and that is essentially the book.

The work suffers from some narrative and stylistic excess, taking its own epicness way too seriously, and seems to be trying to hard to be Western which causes some parts to be forced and may be better served embracing its setting rather than try to fit some model it clearly doesn't (the main character uses a Mini-Disc player for Christ sake - a product with a technological lifespan of about 20 seconds). However, it is overall enjoyable and I simply thought it was a great portrait of the struggles within a bureaucracy. Furthermore, while other similar works (ie Brazil) focus on how such a system eats away at a persons soul causing them to break free any way they can Night Watch features characters which truly believe that what they are doing is right and must be done and are willing to fight through the red tape.

Which brings us back to Russia. The country is notoriously embroiled in regulations and it is unable to get anything done without either bribes or endless patience. My parents faced this system when adopting my sister Sasha. Lukyanenko's novel comes from a lifetime of those experiences under both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. It is not a hard stretch to see Night Watch as his picture of the democratization of Russia. In the book, threats of vast conflict and destruction come to naught, but the seeds are sown for an inevitable battle at some point over his two sequels. It will be interesting to see where Lukyanenko takes it and how he expands this allegory, I simply wish I could read how he might incorporate the actions of Mr. Putin.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Slicing into "Hero Kai."

To offer an understatement, there's a lot going on here.

To start, though, I want to take a broad swipe at theme. My impression is, as the introduction says, this is a SF story with fantasy underpinnings. (Or to get smart about the ending, its SF declaring war on fantasy.)

It is, like a good SF story, about the world being pinned into a change and forced to adapt. The Neighbors and the folks of Kai's land are weak because they are dependent on magic to solve their problems with a few chants and a whiff of spit. Even Kai.

But Kai's ultimate "heroism" is turning off the magic, the gods and the easy ways of the world into something more real and tough and agnostic.

And then he died horribly.


Not Just Another River in Egypt...

Sorry, I couldn't use anything else for a title on a post about Denial...just wouldn't work.

Anyway, for some reason, this reminded me a lot of Poe's William Wilson. I don't know if anyone else got that vibe, but the whole bit about blurring out whether one or both of the characters was really dead rang familiar to me. In any event, it was an interesting idea to use the uncertainty of the characters'...I guess vitality would be the best word, especially next to the obvious religious themes.

One thing I wondered about was the setting. It seemed pretty obvious that the main characters were Muslim, which would suggest a Middle Eastern heritage (given the time period), but with the mix-mash of other religions and the more-or-less accepting nature of the various peoples, I had a difficult time placing them geographically (if this was even a real place at all). Given the title, I wondered if that really was an intended play-on-words, but on a second scan-through of the story, I noticed several mentions of caste systems and two or three Indian words.

Anyway, I thought it was very cool the way the writer mixes themes of life and death, religion, culture, family, gender roles, and social responsibility together into such a fantastical and philosophical story.


The Souls of Drowning Mountain

For me, this story greatly blurs the line between Fantasy and Horror. I think this is a result of not only the story itself but also of the style in which it is written. The story style is very "cold." Everything is somewhat drear, and it definately reads from the mind of a manly man ( which makes since seeing that the author is a mack-truck-driving-mountain-man. ) To me, this style both takes away from the fantasy element as well as the horror element. It makes the story a bit too dreary to be entirely fantasy and a bit too slow and calm to be completely horrific.

The Zombies seem like the distant, hillbilly cousins to those whacky Canadian Zombies we read about in Kelly Link. They're obviously not entirely frightening like zombies often are portrayed, and they can be confused for regular people. The reader is made to feel somewhat sorry for these poor, living-dead miners, and the mangled bodies flying from the exploding Cadiallac seem a fitting payment for their forsaken lives and the way they've been treated.

My only complaint is that the story seems to be a bit lop-sided. There is a strong buildup to the explosion, but things get very faint and lazy at the climax and conclusion of the story.

Fairytale Question...

I was wondering...and this is kind of random...but I was reading the post about women in fairytales and the comments about how fairytales are normally associated with heroines yada yada yada...and as I was pondering that point and racking my brain for fairytales about men, I came to the conclusion that I didn't exactly know what fit into the category of "fairytale." I mean, what is a fairytale? What makes a fairytale different from just fantasy or myth/legend, etc. What are y'all's thoughts?

Quick Question

I was just wondering who all got assigned a story since I had to miss the last time we had class and do not know if I got one myself. Aren't we supposed to be having blogs on here about them for whoever got assigned?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Geoff Ryman's guest of honor speech

These are the notes I took March 15 during Geoff Ryman's guest of honor speech at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Titled "In Praise of Science Fiction," Ryman's speech touches hardly at all on fantasy, but he does wind up praising -- who else? -- Kelly Link.

Ryman is a Canadian citizen living in the United Kingdom, where he teaches at the University of Manchester. He led the team that designed the first No. 10 Downing Street website and the first British monarchy website, which required him to personally brief the Queen. Ryman's story "The Last Days in the Life of Hero Kai" -- in the latest Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and on our syllabus -- is only one of his several Cambodian-themed fictions, which include the World Fantasy Award-winning "The Unconquered Country" (1985), the new novel The King's Last Song (2006) and the new story "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2006).


In his introduction, Gary Wolfe of Roosevelt University in Chicago says the question of what happened to Dorothy Gale’s parents has been a theme of all Geoff Ryman’s fiction, not just the clearly Wizard of Oz-inspired Was – including “The Last Days in the Life of Hero Kai.” Wolfe quotes Ryman: “It is necessary to distinguish history from fantasy whenever possible, and then use them against each other.”


At Oxford, an interviewer asked Ryman how he reconciled the writing of science fiction with the teaching of literature.

Ryman loves the TV series Battlestar Galactica – the music, the camera work, the special effects, the acting. He thinks Mary McDonnell’s performance, for example, very well depicts what a female U.S. president might be like. But note that everything he loves about Battlestar Galactica never would be, never could be, contained in a novel. Novels don’t have music, camera work, special effects and acting. In fact, a novel built of the same materials as Battlestar Galactica would bore him utterly. For one thing, he’s allergic to faster-than-light travel, especially when it’s seemingly cost-free. He’s allergic to fiction about the urgencies of wartime, because this is a good way to avoid writing about everyday life and about women’s issues. He’s also unimpressed with the stereotyped black characters on Battlestar Galactica, who are the same stereotyped black characters found on Firefly. You’ll never see three black characters conversing on any supposedly multiracial show, because three blacks conversing (or three Asians conversing, or three Native Americans conversing, etc.) is seen by white audiences as a conspiracy, a sign the minorities haven’t been properly assimilated.

“Science fiction’s response to the Other is really straightforward: You either shoot it or assimilate it.”

In “big-surface sf,” including most Hollywood sf, we see a turning away from the future as a land of possibility. For example, in his novel The Carpet Makers, the very popular German writer Andreas Eschbach, an expert storyteller “who can’t extrapolate his way out of a paper bag,” just cobbles the past onto the future. Firefly is just a Western in space, a future Gunsmoke. Battlestar Galactica does a better trick, the Star Wars trick of cobbling the future onto the past: Such science fiction isn’t set in the future at all, but “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” so that any question of prediction is swept aside.

Battlestar Galactica also teems with “female hate figures”: all the Cylons, all the cyborgs, Admiral Cain (“the series’ Pol Pot”), the commander’s wife, the terrorist who takes over the pleasure dome, etc. Moreover, “The female hate figures all are killed by other women,” or more specifically by “assimilated women,” women who act just like men. “It’s a simple trick, and it’s extraordinarily easy. I could do it in my sleep. You just take a character gendered as a woman and have her do everything a man does. You can spot her because she does men’s dirty work.” This simple trick long predates feminism and post-feminism; such female characters appear in the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ripley in Aliens is such a character. What would we think if a male character had snarled, “Get away from her, you bitch”? Ripley is there to do men’s dirty work.

The famous exchange in Aliens – a man asks a strong woman, “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” and she replies, “No, have you?” – would make no sense in a truly genderless future, a future in which maleness and power weren’t equated.

Of the Cylons, he wonders, as so often, “Why would a machine want to be mired in gender?” He wonders the same thing when Maria in Metropolis becomes a cyborg and promptly does an erotic dance.

Hannah Arendt attempts to explain the failure of 20th-century politics as a refusal to acknowledge the advances of science. In discussing Sputnik, she says society has never paid sufficient attention to science fiction as a vehicle for mass sentiments. And indeed, science fiction has endured remarkably well. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein predates the theory of evolution, and it has outlived such later innovations as Marx, Freud, modernism and postmodernism. Arendt provides an answer for such durability: Science fiction satisfies deep-seated mass desires, some of which we perhaps should be afraid of.

In many species, the mother drives the child out of the nest. Among humans, however, the child tends to make the break of her own volition, against the parents’ wishes. The science fiction dream is “a dream of escaping the realities of life” – escaping mother, escaping the culture – often expressed, alas, in terms of genocide.

Cultural and familial legacies are remarkably enduring. Present-day Cambodians happily will tell you everything in Cambodia is great now, back to normal, even though gang-rapists commonly deliver a broken victim to the police station, where the police then gang-rape the victim in turn.

When you write science fiction, you don’t need to create a fresh future. The elements of the science-fiction dream are all there already, waiting to be used. And only the science that fuels the dream gets used in science fiction. One of his favorite science fiction novels is Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Its very interesting use of relativistic effects allows the writer and the reader to see the personal effect of change over a time span much longer than the human lifespan. Very few other writers have done this in the 35 years since that novel was published; one critic says the trope quickly “got boring.” “Boredom is the sound of the dream being frustrated by not getting what it wants.”

“The dream is a dream. It’s not logical. It’s not consistent. It doesn’t debate. It simply wants. … You do not have the dream. It has you.”

Literature is “the use of words to put new thoughts in readers’ heads.” If science fiction is to be literature, it must have new thoughts. We need a new continuity; we need a new mass dream.

Locus recently covered the science-fiction scenes in Brazil and India. Some of these writers, surely, will escape the science-fiction dream they inherited from their colonizers. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel about cloning, Never Let Me Go, never touches on the science-fiction dream. Ryman’s Cambodian writing students often hark back to their own traditions, the 19th-century Cambodian verse novels about fabulous creatures and mythic heroes. “There is hope, too, when you read Kelly Link and realize, at 55 years old, that you’re just now figuring out what she’s doing.” Surely it’s an encouraging sign that Link can sell 20,000 copies of a self-published story collection that challenging, that juxtaposed to the science-fiction dream.

Peter Straub and John Clute in conversation

These are the notes I took during the March 16 event at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts that was billed as "Peter Straub and John Clute in Conversation," with moderator Gary K. Wolfe of Roosevelt University in Chicago. (A far more accurate and complete transcription is being done by other hands and will be published later, I believe.) Their chief topic was horror, but in a larger sense, they were talking about genre fiction in general, and occasionally about Kelly Link. Straub, an occasional collaborator with Stephen King, is a best-selling and acclaimed novelist whose many books include Ghost Story and Koko. Clute, an influential critic, is the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Wolfe: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Random House, 1944) established the horror canon for generations of readers. Clute’s new critical book on horror, The Darkening Garden, and Straub’s new fiction anthology in progress, Poe’s Children, attempt – among other things -- to expand that canon.

Clute: Horror could not be covered adequately in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which he co-edited, partially because so much horror is non-fantastic and partially because there just wasn’t room in that already-mammoth volume. He decided belatedly that one could “usably” trace science fiction, fantasy and horror as separate genres from the mid-18th century, each defined by its relationship to the scientific history of the Earth.

Straub: He guest-edited Conjunctions 39 to demonstrate to Conjunctions editor Bradford Morrow and the readers of that journal that they would like writers whom they otherwise would have disdained as lowly genre writers, if said writers only were given an attractive display in a show window, as it were. At the outset, Straub invited Morrow to read John Crowley’s novel Aegypt and said, “If you don’t like this, there’s no point in our talking.” Morrow did indeed love it, and proceeded to love Kelly Link, too, Link being the next author Straub handed him. For his own part, Straub knew little of science fiction other than his youthful reading of A.E. Van Vogt until he started attending ICFA, which showed him sf had changed, had become teeming and diverse, with room for highly literary, Nabokovian works. Straub decided, however, that all the strengths of the Conjunctions 39 writers derived from their genre origins. The volume ultimately was titled The New Wave Fabulists, but Straub wanted to call it The Underground Stream or The Mountain Behind the Mountain – the obscuring mountain being the one erected by the New York Times best-seller list, the M.F.A. industry, etc.

Clute: His Conjunctions 39 essay described some of the included stories, then described Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in genre terms, terms familiar to readers and critics of the fantastic. Among other things, for example, Heart of Darkness is a “club story,” with an essential frame of safe, secure witnessing, as the fantastic story is told, after the fact, to a friendly audience. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan can be similarly read because they are similarly told. In fact, Clute went on to argue, Conrad’s Congo cannot be adequately read naturalistically; it can be adequately read only by people at ease with the fantastic.

Wolfe: We have to get past the trivialization of horror as a mere literature of effect, a literature that simply evokes the emotion of horror. That’s not what Conrad, James and Machen are doing in those classic stories, each of them central to the history of horror. That’s not what Peter Straub is doing in his fiction, either.

Clute: We’re dealing with a genre set in worlds that are false until their stories are told. The truth that is revealed in horror is not necessarily transcendent.

Straub: After Conjunctions 39, he kept noticing that all sorts of contemporary literary mainstream writers were moving into horror territory, often with actual knowing references to the likes of Peter Straub and Stephen King. Dan Chaon wrote a marvelous 2001 collection of uncanny stories, Among the Missing. When the Ballantine Reader’s Circle edition came out, one of the reader-guide questions asked Schon whether he considers his work horror. Schon replied, sure, and quoted Straub (without naming him) as calling The Red Badge of Courage “a ghost story in which the ghost never appears.” From there, Straub saw Kelly Link embraced everywhere as “a major American writer.”

Clute: “What you’re describing … is a kind of tacit dismissal” of the genre problems of the past. Today’s writers seize the opportunity to make use of whatever tropes are useful, whether they are associated with genre or not.

Wolfe: They use genre as a resource, not as a pigeonhole – a toolbox, not a box of confinement.

Clute: We are very close to a revolutionary stage in which stories are simply not identified by genre at all. Horror, more so than sf and fantasy, needs these genre walls to blow down, because traditional modes of horror aren’t “plastic enough.”

Straub: “Horror is disdained most by really dedicated sf writers,” to whom horror stories seem simplistic and childish.

Clute: His own horror canon “tends to be very, very eccentric.” To him, horror stories include a glimpse of the truth to come, then a thickening of tension, then a state of revel in which the world becomes terrifyingly clear. Too many horror stories, however, get stuck in the thickening stage and never do anything more. In any genre, formulaic stories are the ones that get stuck in empty verbiage without thought toward a conclusion.

Straub: His goal in Poe’s Children is to show that horror, at this level, is literature – if one sets aside all the preconceptions that come with the word “horror.” Straub’s trilogy that began with Koko, for example, includes no supernatural elements, other than the hallucinations of people in great battlefield extremity; as Paul Fussell has pointed out, at a certain point people subjected to battlefield conditions simply go insane. Yet each review of each of those novels called it a horror novel and Straub a horror writer. This first annoyed him, then gratified him, as clearly horror was a more wide-open field than the old “crustacean” definitions seemed to allow. Nor were these crime novels, exactly, as they were too long with too much description and too little detection and muted climaxes and too much dwelling on pain and loss. Straub decided that horror is simply the genre in which we put front and center the things we traditionally seek to put behind us. “Putting it behind you” was the traditional prescription for battlefield veterans, for mothers whose children had been stillborn; today, “we know better,” and so we acknowledge and treat such scarring, but all that subterranean pain is still “very valuable material” for writers.

Clute: Horror leads toward “an opening of the eyes,” an awareness of our “bondage to a natural world that we have ruined … an awareness of what we did or did not do … it ends in a kind of aftermath.”

Straub: We get not closure, “but a widening out.” Joan Didion writes in her 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking about how she belatedly discovered grief, but most of us learn it much earlier; we all realize, sooner or later, that the world is awash in grief. This is “a powerful, a beautiful awareness,” one that brings people together and underscores their common humanity.

Wolfe: “Facile bleakness” is easy, as any undergraduate fiction-writing workshop demonstrates. That the world does not care about you should be obvious from high school, if not sooner.

Clute: He disagrees that the world’s indifference is generally known. He believes this is a very difficult lesson to learn. “I want a definition of horror that acknowledges that Harold Pinter is a horror writer,” without any disrespect being done to Pinter.

From the audience, Kevin Maroney of The New York Review of Science Fiction says that David Drake was vitally involved in horror, as a writer, editor and publisher, in his early writing life, partially because of the military experience that he has mined since in other genres.

From the audience, fiction writer F. Brett Cox, who also teaches at Norwich University in Vermont, says Stephen Crane’s “The Monster” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” both qualify as horror largely because of the chilling effect of their final lines. Might we risk losing, in these evolving grammars of horror, the power of such snap endings? In contrast, H.P. Lovecraft’s stories aren’t scary -- although H.P. Lovecraft himself was scary.

From the audience, fiction writer John Kessel, who also teaches at North Carolina State University, says that famed science-fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. was a horror writer, in Clute and Straub’s terms, and both Clute and Straub happily agree.

From the audience, Charles Brown, founder and publisher of Locus magazine, says another science-fiction novel, Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, is the most terrifying novel he ever read, and he doesn’t find Lovecraft scary, either. But just as any assessment of science fiction must somehow account for A.E. Van Vogt, surely any assessment of horror must account for H.P. Lovecraft.

Good Girls and Wicked Women in Fairy Tales

These are the notes I took during the March 15 "Good Girls and Wicked Women in Fairy Tales" panel at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

Moderator: Helen Pilinovsky, Columbia University.
  • Ellen Datlow, co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and many fairy-tale anthologies.
  • Elizabeth Hand, fiction writer and book reviewer for The Washington Post; her story “Kronia” is in the current Year’s Best, and on our syllabus.
  • Nalo Hopkinson, fiction writer and anthology editor; her new novel is The New Moon’s Arms – which is about “sea people,” among other things.
  • Jennifer Stevenson, fiction writer; her upcoming novel, The Brass Bed, is first in a new series titled The SeX Files.
  • Veronica Schanoes, University of Pennsylvania.

    Pilinovsky’s Ph.D. work is on the bowdlerization of fairy tales in the 19th century, which she argues led directly to the creation of the fantasy genre as we know it.

    Pilinovsky: “Who are the role models in fairy tales? Who are the good girls?”

    Schanoes: “I don’t look for role models in fairy tales. I think that’s a mistake.”

    Pilinovsky: Some characters reinforce the values of a society, while other characters subvert those values or contradict them or break them.

    Schanoes: One thing she likes best about fairy tales is their valorization of trickery, deceit and cunning. Such examples abound, but are trickery, deceit and cunning meant to represent society’s values, or a subversion of society’s values? Who are we to say that trickery, deceit and cunning have not been among society’s values all along, at least since the creation of that deceitful, cunning trickster, Odysseus?

    Datlow: The princess in “The Frog Prince” is “a dimwit” who seems to make a morally repugnant bargain without any pressing need to do so. She’s not in extremis, like the heroine in “Rumpelstiltskin.”

    Schanoes: To her, the frog prince is the more repugnant one because he refuses to let the princess out of her bargain, even though she’s clearly unwilling to go through with it. Is this a form of rape?

    Pilinovsky: She prefers the more complicated, gender-reversed Russian version, about a frog princess who courts a human man.

    Stevenson: She questions what moral, if any, is taught by “The Frog Prince.” She suggests: “Throw a prince against the wall, and if he sticks …”

    Schanoes: We’re still too hung up on the Victorian insistence that fairy tales must have morals, a 19th-century invention. “I like stories in which girls perform badly and skip away happily.”

    Schanoes: “Can you name me a fairy-tale character who isn’t an idiot?”

    Datlow: The same could be said of Oedipus. Myth often relies on stupidity to get the plot engine in motion.

    Hand: But what’s the next thing in fairy tales? What new fairy-tale paradigm is coming along that’s not just a stale role reversal or gender switch?

    Schanoes: Her students say they’re already bored by the “pretty-girl-kicks-ass” trope, and they see Buffy the Vampire Slayer as just one more example of it. She tries, with only partial success, to convince her students that Buffy and Xena were groundbreaking in their time.

    Datlow: The villain-as-hero trend, most famously done in Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked and the Broadway musical based on it, is certainly a current fairy-tale trend. In fact, she and Terri Windling are putting together an all-villain anthology.

    Pilinovsky: Morals were present from the earliest literary fairy tales – those that were written for publication, as opposed to being passed on orally – but they often didn’t quite fit the story, and that sometimes may have been the sardonic point. Charles Perrault tells us the moral of his “Blue Beard” (1697), about a monstrous wife-killer, is “Women, obey your husbands.”

    Stevenson: Novelist Jennifer Crusie says you can make it through the day without a cigarette but not without a rationalization. We tell ourselves stories all the time to justify ourselves, and the most successfully mass-marketed stories are those that successfully rationalize things for the largest numbers of people. This familiarity is one reason fairy tales are so often co-opted for marketing purposes, even though the best stories can’t be reduced to pitches for underarm deodorant.

    Pilinovsky: In Emma Donoghue’s 1993 collection Kissing the Witch, each retold fairy tale turns out to be connected to all the other retold fairy tales.

    Schanoes: There are many fairy tales about cooperation between women, often sisters. “In the 20th century, those are not the ones that have been popularized.”

    Pilinovsky: She loves the ambiguous character of the little robber-girl in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” (1845), partially because the little robber-girl is so untypical of Andersen’s female characters. On the other hand, some fairy tales uphold rebellion by putting the heroines into situations so odious that they have to rebel.

    A member of the audience says that Andersen’s heroes have success in life, while his heroines must suffer and die and achieve success only in death.

    Schanoes: Only in the 19th century do the heroes and heroines of fairy tales stop achieving secular awards on Earth – fame, power, riches – and start achieving them only in Heaven.

    Pilinovsky: She agrees on the chronology, but says the heavenly reward is much more likely for female characters than for male ones.

    From the audience, Sydney Duncan asks whether the traditions they’ve been talking about apply to non-European fairy-tale traditions, or just the European ones.

    In reply, a member of the audience says that in African folktales, young girls are rewarded for trickery and cunning, but older women, mothers, are not. Older women are expected to be keepers of the culture; they have more responsibilities than the young girls, and thus are less free to subvert the culture.

    Hopkinson: She retells an African tale about a lazy husband who asks his wife to hunt for him. The wife says OK and turns into a lion. The terrified husband climbs a tree and begs his wife to turn back into a woman. The wife says, “I will, if you’ll do your job, and let me do mine.”

    Stevenson: Some of these old stories are composed of so many different stories mashed together that, to quote John Varley’s description of an ugly spaceship in The Ophiuchi Hotline, they look like “a hat rack fucking a Christmas tree.” For example, all the fairy tales about the 12th or 13th child of a family are, on one level, stories about the calendar.

    Pilinovsky: In fairy tales, transgressive women who must be punished often transgress by trying to hang on to their youth or act uppity, like Cinderella’s stepsisters.

    Schanoes: Danish folklorist Bengt Holbek’s Interpretation of Fairy Tales (1987) argues that many old tales have, in effect, chapters told from different points of view. Often, the more recent versions shear off the alternate points of view and the ultimate reconciliations/transformations that they convey.

    Hopkinson: In the Caribbean, the only people interested in collecting the tales in the first place were the indigenous peoples, not the colonialists, so the effort to bowdlerize was largely absent from that process. Many of those folktales, moreover, were invented for subversive purposes in the first place, often adapted from African precursors.

    Pilinovsky: The Grimms were vexed by sex but not by violence. They took out the sexual offenses but left in the harsh punishments, which seem even more beyond the pale as a result.

    From the audience, Bryn Neuenschwander of Indiana University (who writes fiction as Marie Brennan) says much fairy-tale violence is symbolic violence, to which the characters seem largely impervious.

    Datlow: She agrees, saying it’s hard to think of fairy-tale violence in which the victims actually suffer. There’s no affect.

    Hopkinson: Modern sexualized fairy tales “just put the sex back in” that was present in the first place, before 19th-century and 20th-century bowdlerization.

    Pilinovsky: The casual symbolic dismemberment in fairy tales tends to be more of a Northern European tradition.

    Andy Duncan, in the audience, says the origin of the Tin Woodsman in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a spectacular recent example of this casual symbolic dismemberment.

    Schanoes: Graphic sex and graphic sexual violence, as in Tanith Lee’s White as Snow – which she teaches – make central the parts of the fairy tale that had been elided.

    Pilinovsky: She prefers Terri Windling’s The Armless Maiden.

    Hand: In the United States, at least, graphic sex in fiction, even fairy-tale fiction, is hardly news any longer, has not been news for decades. What’s the novelty in continuing to do this over and over, as if we just discovered it?

    Schanoes: The textbook example of what’s wrong with the Grimms “is what they did to ‘Rapunzel.’” Originally, Rapunzel was sexually active and punished for it. Without Rapunzel’s sexuality, the punishment – isolation in a high tower -- is bizarre, and the potential timely message for 21st-century American audiences is missing.

    Andy Duncan asks from the audience how Pan’s Labyrinth fits into these traditions, and whether it does anything new.

    Schanoes: Pan’s Labyrinth has been compared to Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, which was based on the fiction of Angela Carter, but what Pan’s Labyrinth brings to the fairy-tale table is a consideration of politics other than sexual politics. She would have ended Pan’s Labyrinth with the death in the maze and not with the apotheosis. She felt that was “a tacked-on happy ending.”
  • March 21 and March 28

    By now, all the class members should have received my e-mail explaining that we'll meet for class neither this Wednesday, March 21, nor next Wednesday, March 28 -- though we certainly can discuss all the assigned short stories, and lots more besides, on this blog as much as we like.

    Those who have been assigned a particular story can make a substantive post about it here, in place of their classroom observations. And needless to add, those of you who want to talk to me one on one in the meantime can e-mail, call, etc.

    I also will post here notes on fantasy and related topics from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, where I got the chance to talk briefly with Geoff Ryman about his "Hero Kai" story.

    The next time I lay eyes on you folks, and vice versa, will
    be April 4, the first of our three class sessions devoted to Susanna
    Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. You all will have finished reading that novel by April 4, I'm sure.

    I look forward to our ongoing blog discussions, and to seeing you all in April.

    First Thoughts on Jonathan Strange

    So, as I procrastinate till the last minute I have just recently started to delve into the Jonathan Strange novel. One of the things that I immediately saw in the characters such as Mr. Drawlight was how their opinions seemed to change to fit what other people believed and how he laughably exaggerates his own importance to others. I think that this is extremely relatable in our society since people are at times afraid to voice his or her true opinions in fear of how others will perceive them. This notion even seemed to show up in our classroom whenever we started to talk about religion since no one really knew what each other's standpoints on the topic were and no one wanted to offend any one else.

    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    Ball pits in urban legendry

    "The Ball Pit," by China Mieville et al, nicely draws upon some of the bloodcurdling stories we've heard about those supposedly innocent romper rooms. Here are two of them, courtesy of the invaluable urban-legends site: the heroin-filled syringe and the venomous snakes.

    In support of spoilers

    New research by Jason Mittell of Middlebury College in Vermont suggests that for many fans, knowing in advance how their favorite TV shows are going to turn out actually heightens the experience.

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    The Tuscaloosa Werewolf Killings

    I listened to a really interesting book review on APR today. The book is Midnight Red by Steven Rudd, an alumni of our own University of Alabama.It's an unconventional vampire story with the main female character linked to Tuscaloosa; her father was the former head of Bryce before he and most of his family were slaughtered by a werewolf posing as a Bryce orderly. The critic , Don Noble, said that while the dialouge was amatuer at best, the story was worth the read.
    Here is a link to the book on Amazon:

    Sunday, March 11, 2007


    Okay, so I went to see 300 on Friday. It was an awesome movie in every respect. It had everything anyone could ever want in a movie. Well, maybe not, but it was still one heck of a movie. I really enjoyed how the special effects made it more a fantasy movie than historical fiction. Does anyone have any comments they could share without completely destroying the movie experience for others?

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Spring Break

    As I sit here blogging and packing for spring break . . . yes, I know it's really late; I'm a procrastinator. I just wanted to wish everyone a great spring break, and I look forward to being back in class with y'all on wed.


    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    Good V. Evil?

    I was thinking about what we were saying in class today about The Mushroom Duchess and how no one could really get behind any of the characters. The Duchess was mad-scientist creepy, the son was a complete idiot, and the daughter-n-law seemed pretty dim and generally annoying. This sort of strange treatment of the antagonist/protagonist portrayal reminded me a lot of two Jaqcueline Carey novels that I particularly liked. If anyone else was interested in this whole "What-if-Good-isn't-really-that-good-and-Bad-isn't-really-that-bad" idea, you might try checking out Banewreaker and Godslayer (it's a two-parter). Also good, but more one-sided (as in, apparently-evil protagonist whose actions aren't really so bad when you get the explanation) are the Bio of a Space Tyrant novels by Peirs Anthony (a personal fantasy/sci-fi favorite).

    Personally, this sort of manipulation of antagonist/protagonist good/bad angles is one of my favorite themes to play with, so I thought I'd share.

    a twist...

    "the last one" was a pretty cool story. i really enjoyed it because of the surprising twist at the end. the entire time i was waiting for the narrator to kill his bride like in the old school horror films and have a collection of their dead bodies or something twisted like that. instead, robert coover used a different kind of twist in the ending by placing the woman in control of this situation....i loved the switch in her role from victim to victor

    names in Walpurgis Afternoon

    I think I liked this story the best this week. I loved the way Kim named every new pet she found after fantasy characters. I didn't know if this was actually the case at first because Frodo was the only name I knew for sure was from fantasy, but the final cat she found she named Hermoine, so that sealed the deal for me. I wondered after I finished whether everyone was capable of becoming magical, because it seemed like it was pretty easy for Evie and Kim once they were in Ophelia's house, so maybe everyone in the book had magic in them, but they needed the house to bring it out of them.

    Anyone been to the movies?

    I havent been able to go see it yet but was wondering if anyone had seen The Number 23 movie yet. The previews had reminded me of the "Scribble Mind" and I was just curious to see if it was good or not. I heard some bad reviews, which disappoints me.

    The Mushroom Duchess

    I think my favortie out of this week's readings would have to be "The Mushroom Duchess". It read like a Grimm's fairy tale with its once-upon-a-time feel. It related to "Walpurgis Afternoon" with its "practical" approach to magic. The Duchess derived her powers from her scientific knowledge and manipulation of nature, and that seemed to be what was going on with the witches in "Walpurgis Afternoon". Any thoughts?

    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    just your everyday meth addict...

    For all those who have already read "The Case Study," I was wondering whether you would consider it fantasy? I for one thought the story was clever and quite funny, but to label it as a fantasy was going a little far for me. What do y'all think?

    Miyazaki on Spirited Away

    The Nausicaa fan site's section on Spirited Away has a useful essay by writer-director Hayao Miyazaki and a useful Q&A with him, both linked from this page. Among other things, Miyazaki talks about how he makes use of Japanese folklore.

    Change of venue for March 7 class

    Folks, because of some problems with the videoconference equipment in Nott Hall, our class this week will meet in Room 124 of Martha Parham Hall West -- on the other side of University Boulevard, nearly at Bryant Drive. If you're not sure where it is, please consult a campus map, or get directions in the Honors College office; Room 124 is just inside the building's main entrance. Please pass the word to your classmates, if you stumble across any; I'm sure everyone won't see this message, or the one I'm e-mailing everybody. There also will be a notice up in our regular room in Nott Hall, and Martha Parham West is only a few minutes' walk away, so no one should be TOO late for class. See you soon.

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    Anime Night

    Tomorrow night the Bama Theater will be showing Princess Mononoke, from director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away). It starts at 7:30 and the cost is $5. I haven't seen it yet but it looks pretty fanastical.
    here is the link to the event page:

    and here is the link to the film trailer:

    I'm planning on going if anyone is interested in meeting up.

    Saturday, March 03, 2007

    Practical Magic

    So I started reading the stories for Wednesday, and I have to say the first one, "Walpurgis Afternoon" is my favorite story of everything we have read so far. I think I loved it so much because to me, it is the epitome of a great fantasy story. There is something in the plot that is clearly magical, but also not so far away from real life that you can't connect to it. I mean, who wouldn't want to wake up one day to find a gorgeous house next door with very nice witches? It actually reminded me a little bit of the movie Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock & Nicole Kidman. I was kind of wondering why it was chosen to be the first story in the anthology though. Do you think it's because it is so clearly a fantasy story, and the editors wanted to start off with something that would draw in people to read, then challenge them later with stories that don't fit the typical mold of fantasy? Just a thought...

    Friday, March 02, 2007

    Thought stemming from my paper

    So, while I was writing my paper, Word decided to correct my "Coraline" into 'coralline,' which got me to thinking about the deal with the names. Obviously, Coraline is related to coral and the such. On, I looked up Miss 'Spink' and Miss 'Forcible,' being a small kind of bird and producing a powerful effect, respectively. I don't offhand remember their physical appearances. Who specifically gave Coraline that stone with the hole? Just a few things I happened to think about, all thanks to Word.

    Alice and Spirited Away

    Last class I thought it was interesting when we talked about the similarities between Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Spirited Away. Andy compared Yubaba to the Duchess; the physcial likeness, the frong servant, the baby. Also, in Alice the baby turns into a pig and of course the babe in Spirited Away get transformed into a mouse. Any other comparrisons you guys can think of?

    The framerate! Oh, Lord, the framerate.

    I just wanted to comment that it was good to see you in the flesh, Andy. I also wanted to remark that I'm glad for your health that you don't really change colors randomly or lose parts of your body as you move. I just wanted to open a thread for people to say what they thought of your visit.

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    Voices in Spirited Away

    After we spent a decent bit of time in class (and at Dr. Halli's house) trying to figure out who all of the voice actors that did the English version of Spirited Away were, so after I indulged my curiosity and looked them up, I thought I'd add some I found just in case anyone else found it interesting (or annoying to not be able to place the voices):

    The actress that did Chihiro apparently also did the voice of Lilo on Lilo and Stitch.

    I think we mentioned this, but the mother and father are, respectively, from "NCIS" and "The Sheild".

    The actor that did Kamajii was Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast and John Ratcliff in Pocahontas.

    And, of course, we already mentioned John Ratzenberger, Suzanne Pleshette, Susan Egan, and Jason Marsden in class.