Thursday, January 28, 2010

Baking Buttons

We all know that baking cookies is a perfectly valid study technique. If you're working on Coraline at all, I'd suggest baking these.

It's wonderful when a story takes such a simple object and turns it into something magical, terrifying or extraordinary, because it leaves such potential for rethinking that object out here in the real, everyday world. In effect, the story forever twists our perception of that perfectly ordinary object and when we encounter it, we hear the echoes of the story and we shiver.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Eyes Have It

First, if you've read Neil Gaiman's Coraline and you have the urge to look like the other mother... here you go. Thanks to one of Neil Gaiman's tweets.

And, of course, today is the launch of the iPad. I think I'll like it. We'll see. But I was intrigued by the second photo in this launch blog. It's great to see the liberal arts and technology engaged. I see a fantastic future for eBooks. I already find myself flicking through a book unconsciously looking for the search button. But I wonder how long we'll keep speaking of turning a page? A little like the return key on the computer keyboard or the rewind button on a DVD remote control, how long will the vocabulary of the previous technology linger in the new?


Fantastic post on conceptual fiction by Ted Gioia that should inspire some thought. The opening question is a good one: "Is it possible that the idea of "realism" as a guiding principle for fiction is itself unrealistic?"

Working in fairy tale myself, I would answer 'yes.'

I wouldn't agree with everything in the post - certainly, some academics aren't blinded by 'genre' - but I do see the need for a greater understanding of the kind of conceptual thinking that is undertaken in what remains termed as genre fiction.

Famous Addicted Authors

Perhaps not a list where you'd expect to see Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. Having looked through the list, they don't look a very reputable crowd, really.

I wonder if anyone has compiled a list of happy, well-adjusted famous authors?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Words, Words, Words (Hamlet 2,2)

I just saw this excellent video of kinetic typography, using dialogue from the Firefly episode, "Out of Gas." I'm a big fan of Firefly. It's an intelligently written show and a brilliant premise. It's also spectacularly funny. This video emphasises the great dialogue and the energy type can bring to the written word.

It also made me think. It's a shame we don't study more television scripts in English Literature. We study Shakespeare and other playwrights, but we don't often - if at all - study television scripts. Yet, some of our best, most innovative storytellers are working in television today (and there is more than a little truth to the idea that Shakespeare would be working in television were he alive today). True, obtaining access to scripts is not easy. But wouldn't it be fantastic?

Blogpost for Thought

New laws in Australia could have wide-ranging consequences. If you're curious, there's an excellent post by Mark McLelland here. As someone with a casual research interest in fan fiction and Harry Potter fandom, the filter could have very real, very unpleasant consequences.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reading Jane

There's a very quick YouTube video where The Morgan Library's assistant curator, Clara Drummond, shows you one of Jane Austen's letters. It's a wonderful insight into how Jane Austen would use every available millimeter of paper to scribble her thoughts, accounts of events, and desires for fashionable items.

Mind, she would frequently use every bit of paper to also write absolutely terrible - but very witty! - things about the arrival of new babies in the family and among acquaintances. One sample:

"I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it."(April 25, 1811)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another list...

A count down of the best fantasy and sci-fi novels here. Not a bad list at all, although... is it just me or is it often overwhelming realising how many of the novels on a list you've not read? For those of us studying outside the core English curriculum, it becomes even more overwhelming. Not only do we need to know our Shakespeare, Austen, Byron etc, we need to know our Kay, Martin, Pratchett etc.

I am working on Pratchett. I'm reading Equal Rights at the moment. I find it intriguing and entertaining that his witch-centred novels draw most on fairy tale.

Oh well, as Alain de Botton indicated in a tweet (and this is a very rough paraphrase as I'm not going back to find the tweet), even those of us who haven't been reading a great deal will still be better read than Aristotle and Plato.

Gustaf Tenggren and the art of fairy tale

One of the factors to always keep in mind when studying fairy tale is that illustration has a profound impact upon how we absorb the tales. While traditionally considered an oral form, fairy tale really has a richer, much more tangible, literary heritage and as time went on, provided us with Walter Cranes, Edmund Dulacs and Arthur Rackhams who showed that illustration is just as important in storytelling. The illustration is simply as significant as the words - how Beauty looks or the style of boot Puss wears will be remembered.

Many children came to fairy tale via the Golden Books and there's an excellent little piece on Gustaf Tenggren here, beautifully illustrated (just look at Cinderella's golden dress). Tenggren spent time at Disney before going on to put his stamp on the 'look' of Golden Books.

There's a tendency in academic or 'grown-up' editions of fairy tale to skip illustration. Thankfully, this isn't universal and yes, there are practical reasons sometimes for foregoing the pictures, but in understanding how fairy tale operates, don't overlook illustration. There's a skill to reading a picture, but it can, as the saying goes, be worth a thousand words.

(Later note: Not that I advocate this, but taking a typewriter to a lecture to take notes... priceless.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

There is hope for new writers

I just read a Wall Street Journal article on the demise of the slushpile (via boingboing). While in some ways disheartening, if you are a writer seeking that break, read to the end. There's a ray of hope there!

How to read science fiction... or fantasy?

A piece to ponder from boingboing today. Cory Doctorow is reflecting on Jo Walton's essay about how to read science fiction. It could be just as easily applied to fantasy, since, despite assertions the two are quite different, they mingle readily enough.

I do like Walton's assertion that the zombies are just zombies. True, there probably is a metaphor or two in there, but first and foremost, they're zombies who like to eat people's brains.

I'm discovering a great deal in my own fairy tale research by sometimes simply taking a shoe as a shoe, a hood as a hood. Sometimes, the storyteller really is working with what the thing is, rather than what it represents.

Of course, I am skimming a theoretical minefield here, but I'm afraid I haven't had a second cup of coffee yet.

P.S.: One of the comments describes Star Wars as fantasy. It's fairy tale. That's why it's been popping up on this blog rather a lot lately.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Dearest Wish Granted!

The subject line is a slight exaggeration - slight. Remember that I inflicted upon you a link to the Star Wars Christmas Special? One of my greatest desires has been to have Carrie Fisher's take on it. Well, here it is. Thank you, The New York Times! There's even video.

Speaking of all things amazing in the performance stakes, I just watched the DVD of the RSC's latest Hamlet. I had as much fun watching this filmed performance as I did when I was ten and first came across the play, bouncing over sofas and coffee tables enacting all the great scenes, including the various death scenes... multiple times. There's nothing like dueling and poisonings when you're ten! I would work up many a tear over "Goodnight, sweet prince." This is a little self-indulgent, but let me explain.

This was the kind of energy this performance has - the energy of a great discovery, that words are brilliant, that life is confounding, confusing and often terrifying (I wish I could think of a synonym beginning with 'c' to keep up the alliteration there), and that there is, indeed, more in heaven and earth than has been dreamt of in our philosophies.

And amazingly apt that this Hamlet, who will destroy the CCTV cameras in the palace, will also have a little camcorder on hand to film himself.

I was thinking of this as I watched a flashmob in Rome dancing to Glee. Sure, there is a certain commercial manipulation, but there is something joyous about the way the dancers participate, making the performance their own. At the end you see the Glee posters, but what you really remember is the little dog.