Friday, June 26, 2009

Fairy Tales Sell Burgers

The German Burger King commercials that you can view courtesy of YouTube and the Sur La Lune Blog here may enlist fairy tale in corporate spin, but you have to love the puppets.

Little Women


I teach Little Women. So I was amused by this piece in Jezebel. Laugh at the March girls? Never!

Although, my own frustration with the novels (for I read all in the series) was that Jo so readily gave up her scandalous, salacious writing. She enjoyed penning these tales. Why should she have to write 'realistic' tales? It always struck me that the narrative's attention to Jo's trash was a bubbling undercurrent of rebellion encouraging readers to ignore the Professor's advice. After all, Alcott herself liked to write trash.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New Alice Film


One of my most vivid childhood memories is of sitting in front of the television watching The Wizard of Oz and the wonder as the black and white of Kansas turned into glorious technicolour.

Of course, we had a black and white television back then.

Anyway, I had a similar feeling when I saw the stills of the new Alice in Wonderland film. And although initially, I hadn't been paying it much attention, I just noticed. Linda Woolverton, screenwriter of Beauty and the Beast, worked on it. And aside from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter... Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman. This is a must see.

Still some work to do

This bookblog in The Guardian - "Let's stop sneering at fantasy readers" - disappointed me a little. Mostly because my reaction was: "we still have to tell people to stop sneering at fantasy readers?" Part of the problem of working in genres like fantasy is that everyone feels they have to apologise or defend the work being studied. Why? People don't apologise for studying Joyce or Beckett. I'm an advocate of not apologising and focussing on the study at hand. After all, I've not found any particular stumbling blocks for students embracing a study of fantasy, beyond the lack of critical resources (hence the need for putting our heads down and getting critical writing out). I'm not altogether sure people really do sneer at fantasy readers in general. No one has sneered at me recently. Mind, my experience is not everyone's.

One of the problems in the blog, though, I felt, was that it again privileged a kind of fantasy that, yes, often is sneered at. The "elves, witches, swords etc" branch of fantasy. It's just a little too easy to skewer. The pointy ears and buxom warriors give it away. The trick, I believe, is to fully embrace and promote the diversity of the genre.

Not that I would sneer at a good epic about elves. I've read quite a few.

And, let's face it, if you're going to accuse fantasy of harbouring a great deal of dreck, you could just as readily stop by the literary fiction shelves and also locate more than a fair share. Perhaps it's just a little easier to identify in the fantasy genre? And that may be a good thing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Adults need guidance too...

I perked up this evening, seeing a piece in The Guardian by Alain de Botton. When I lived in the UK, I read all three of his early novels in quick succession. I've just bought my copy of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which has a particularly beautiful dust jacket.
In the piece, he writes about how often people are concerned about the impact of advertising upon children, but how rarely they are concerned by the impact upon adults. It has an interesting parallel to literature. All too often, children's literature is awash with anxiety and apprehension, while few ponder the inherent dangers and delights of what adults read. Unless, of course, you're discussing chick lit. Or fantasy. It's worth thinking about.

Particularly for those of us always reading those heady, dangerous books.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Harry Potter as Romance Fiction


Meg Cabot's analysis of the new Harry Potter film posters is, I think, quite brilliant! It made me smile. In teaching literature, you're always dealing with questions of genre, but when it comes down to it, marketing can turn any genre into another genre altogether... or it can fail miserably under a pall of genre-confusion (as happening with The Princess Bride). Mind, the raging hormones at Hogwarts do really kick in around book six.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Needlepoint dustjackets

I love Leigh-Anne Mullock's cover design for Austen's novels. It features needlepoint. Perfect.

And who wouldn't want a Jane Austen T-shirt? The following is from Cool Custom Design.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Harry Potter fandom - a personal narrative

This assignment, published on Henry Jenkins' blog, simply made me happy.

Bring back the light

In the last few days, I've come across a couple of pieces of interest. Today on Jezebel, Intern Katy blogged about Fairy Tale Heroines Return to Dark Roots in Modern Setting. I am intrigued, but I still have a few doubts about the projects on this theme.

One of the doubts is that the 'return' isn't really a return. Fairy tales have always had a mix of dark and light (yes, even Disney's versions) and some of these images wearied me to a degree - they seem a continued victimisation of the princess. Beauty was never really obsessed with her Beauty. Snow White didn't seek a Prince - he turned up, she became Queen. And having watched Disney's Cinderella, I've always been amused by her desire for the castle... the Prince simply came with it. Of course, it's difficult to get to the heart of these discussions in a blog post, but why do so many want the princess to 'fall' (although, I kind of liked the image of Cinderella in her great dress sitting in the bar - I wonder if she was wearing cowboy boots underneath instead of glass slippers, ready for a chance to line dance?)? Do they really understand the princess? Or the power of a victorious ending?

Then Meg Cabot blogged about trauma porn. The article she links to reminds me of those I read in the 90s. Why is a book more realistic if it's grim? If it deals with sexual abuse, drunkeness, domestic violence, drugs etc? This goes pretty much hand in hand with the argument to return fairy tale to its darker roots (although its darker roots were always laced with comedy and with a healthy dose of victory, justice and revenge too). There seems to be a preoccupation with the idea that reality is awful. That anything with a happy, joyous or comic turn must be 'fantasy' and children and teenagers should be taught that.

That troubles me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going online with your novel

There are different schools of thought on whether or not this is the right way to go, but Catherynne M. Valente is publishing her novel chapter by chapter here online, with a facility for donations. I haven't yet read the first chapter, but the first sentence is very promising: "Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her father's house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog."

And she's not alone. Freely available children's fantasy short stories can be found here.

Of course, the problem is, if we all get used to free content, how will the writers be paid? Will opportunities to be full-time writers dry up? Will what is effectively busking online really generate income?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Women writing

The thinking around women writers has always intrigued me, possibly because I am one (rather obvious, I know). Yet, there are questions raised in respect to the females of the author species that are rarely raised in respect to the males. Jezebel is debating a twitter post by Susan Orlean in respect to female literary non-fiction authors. It did make me think about my female colleagues. Female academics are in a similar situation, surely? Yet our output is rated alongside our male colleagues without discrimination. I know quite a few women who have started families while working on PhDs. I know quite a few men who have done the same. Is there a significant difference that leads to a further difference in output?

I did like Anna N.'s point at the end of the piece, though: "It would be nice for female writers to be able to shut themselves off from society from time to time, without guilt. And it would also be nice for everyone to embrace a variety of different processes for writing and for work in general, and not to privilege one single-minded and traditionally male-associated approach."

I think that single-minded approach is in its last gasps anyway. We're increasingly merging aspects of our lives - skipping from Facebook to the laundry to an article to a student consultation to a few rows of knitting.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Knitting and Lit.

An article here in The Times begins: "Who knew that hat-making was really the secret to happiness? At the Hay-on-Wye literary festival last week, in addition to the usual maelstrom of novelists, historians, philosophers, environmentalists, comedians and religious leaders, there were also classes on knitting and hat-making."

Knitting? I smiled happily. I always knew knitting and literature go together.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finding the quote

I've just had the intense pleasure of finally locating a quote that I've been searching for. It's from a speech Neil Gaiman gave in Melbourne in 2008 and is from his poem, 'Boys and Girls Together,' talking of the princesses who give up their disguises and "gleam and shine in all their finery. Being princesses." It can be found in Kate Bernheimer's anthology of "men on fairy tales" called Brothers & Beasts. I haven't yet read it all, but I'm enticed by the snippets I've been snatching while finishing my Wrock paper (to be given at that Collaborations conference on Friday).

Yesterday in reading group I mentioned that I'd love to write about the Prince Charmings who do such inexplicable things as set off for castles that could contain ogres or sleeping princesses, who collect girls in glass coffins, who get bedazzled by a really pretty dress on their dancing partner. Maybe I should keep that under wraps? It would make a terrific book... shhh... you don't remember what you just read, you don't remember what you just read, you don't remember what you just read...