Monday, March 29, 2010


The Rare Books Collection at Monash University is staging the "Children's Books: The Lindsay Shaw Collection" exhibition shortly. The opening is on April 13 and you can RSVP by contacting the collection.

And I'll have to give a speech. A short speech. Nonetheless, a speech. "Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away..."

Seriously, if you are in the Melbourne area, it'll be an excellent chance to have a look around at the many and varied gems of the collection.

Easter Reading

It's time for a little stretch, dark chocolate Lindt bunnies, and the good corner of the couch where one can sit and read for hours.

I also picked up Drawing Down the Moon. It's a collection of art by Charles Vess, one of my favourite fairy tale illustrators. Vess runs through his influences and project selection processes. There's a great section on his collaboration with Gaiman on Stardust. I love the scenes with the flying ships. In an interview, Gaiman describes the process: "A lot of the story was actually pushed into existence by me going, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to see Charles drawing so-and-so?’ And occasionally he’d draw something and I’d go, ‘That’s good. I’m going to bring that back.’"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vintage magazines

The wonderful thing about my current research is that I can indulge in vintage fashion and needlework magazines with abandon. They are truly gems. Take this Needlecraft magazine from January, 1919.

In between stylishly drawn articles on sleeve shapes for the fashionable lady and advertisements for durable socks for children...

In between patterns for a child's crochet bedspread, featuring ducks, mice and bunnies, and excellent pie recipes including 'Conservation Meat Pie' (ingredients include dripping and cold cream of wheat)...

In between patterns for collars, centrepieces and refugee-bags, you find stories. In the case of this issue, a story entitled 'Cinderella'. The heroine is called Enid.

Enid arrives at the stenography pool looking drab and shabby. Later and somewhat mysteriously, she begins to appear at her desk in beautiful clothes and before you know it, she's engaged to the boss's son. She discloses her secret mid-way - she learned to design and sew her own clothes! Thanks to the Women's Institute, she becomes a Cinderella.

It is a very thinly disguised advertisement for the Women's Institute, but in terms of my own research, it does convey a change in the early twentieth century, where we begin to see Cinderellas emerge who work for a living and in the evenings, sew up marvelous concoctions of fashion in which to hit the town. She is enshrined in the Disney animated film, but she reappears in the twenty-first century as Giselle (Enchanted), too, or even Carrie, from Sex and the City, who may not make her own clothes, but certainly earns the money to indulge in her passion for Manola Blahniks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What to do during Earth Hour?

In The Guardian, I was just reading some suggestions about what to do during Earth Hour ,when I came across this one: "You could also be very retro and go in for a bout of storytelling, as some people recall doing during the 1970s power cuts."

What about telling fairy tales?

One of the great things I've noticed in fairy tale's history is the frequency with which tales are told not in isolation, but in competition. Tellers and audiences gathered together to compete to see which tale would be the best, how people would use a theme or character or motif, how long the audience could be kept enthralled. This isn't the passive, sitting in a circle listening to an old wife or nanny spin a tale in front of the fire, scenario. This is the fairy tale sports equivalent, a lively jumble of bravado and bombast.

That would surely pass an hour in the dark.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Writing a Thesis

One of my postdoc friends pointed me in this direction. It's a terrific piece on the process of writing. Lynn Hunt writes: "Writing is a magical and mysterious process that makes it possible to think differently." Although, I don't quite agree about writing instead of watching Mad Men on the laptop during long haul flights...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dragons, dinosaurs and all good things

I've been keeping up with Tiny Art Director for a while and am so pleased there's now a book available. Basically, the illustrator's tiny daughter has been giving him briefs and she then critiques the results. One of the recent posts has a great fairy tale theme... with added crocodiles.

There are many children's authors who produce work in some form of collaboration with their children. I've taught The Wolves in the Walls, the idea for which Neil Gaiman took from his daughter's dream. The illustrator, Dave McKean, included one of his son's toys, a pig puppet. And there are other works, including Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, that were likewise composed in collaboration with children's play.

The impact of such collaboration is fascinating, but under explored. Often, particularly in the older examples, there is a taint of exploitation. Yet, contemporary examples show that such collaborations are likewise lively, engaging and productive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teaching Tools

Reading io9 earlier this morning, I couldn't help but think that one of these screens would be great to have in a lecture theatre. My lecturing would be greatly enhanced with such a toy... I mean, hi-tech visual aid. (Yes, I would totally spin the files like Castle does. And possibly freeze the entire system.)

If you catch up with the morning spoilers on the site, too, you'll spot a quote from The Guardian, where Steven Moffat says: "For me, Doctor Who literally is a fairy tale. It's not really science fiction. It's not set in space, it's set under your bed. It's at its best when it's related to you, no matter what planet it's set on." Speaking last night of fairy tale fashion, Doctor Who is, of course, one of the exceptions to the general lack of male fashionability. Converse sneakers, bow ties, his fashion look is highly debated and critiqued. I'm also rather excited about the fashions for the new companion. I heard the rumour of 'vintage'.

Mysterious Breeches

Sometimes, Twitter is amazingly helpful. Just tonight I learned about the recent release of Sarah-Jane Downing's book, Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen.

My MLitt. thesis was on the Jane Austen phenomenon occurring in the 1990s. It was known among my friends as 'the men in mysterious trousers' thesis, after a quote I'd found in a review. The review tongue-in-cheek blamed the Austen phenomenon on 'the men in mysterious trousers' appearing in the film and television adaptations. Unfortunately, I've left the thesis at the office, so I don't have the citation handy and will have to add it later.

Oddly, there's not a great deal of male fashion in fairy tale. Descriptions tend to be quite general in contrast to the glass slippers, dresses like the sun, moon or stars, red hoods and mutton-leg sleeves of the heroines.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Illustrators and authors talking about book covers

There's a terrific piece over at SF Signal about recent sci-fi book covers. Apart from the gorgeous covers on display, there's some good insights about the nature of sci-fi cover art. For instance, Lauren Panepinto says: "I think it's more important in our genre than pretty much any other that we be as true as possible to the descriptions and worldbuilding in the books as possible. Our readers love these books because they want to be swallowed up by the world our authors have toiled long and hard to create - your mind always has the picture of the cover in your mind when you start reading, and if you have to work against that as you read the book, it takes away from the experience, I think." I picked this particular quote out, because I do have concerns about increasing reliance on stock images and fashion trends for covers (it's odd, though, that Twilight seems to have had a bigger influence on book fashion than Harry Potter ever did). The beauty of really unique cover art ought to be celebrated.

Note: It's actually odd reading some of the comments following the piece on io9 that are concerned about reading books with non-nondescript covers in public. I think we should celebrate illustrative, colourful covers in public situations. It makes bus and train trips so much more fascinating. Why be embarrassed? There's nothing wrong with reading imaginative work, good or bad or inbetween. And there's nothing wrong with enjoying covers belonging to other, interesting readers when waiting for your next stop.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Doctor Who is Fairy Tale

Courtesy of DW Magazine, Matt Smith on Steven Moffat: "He lives in a fairytale land, and it comes through. That's what I think is magic about this particular series. It taps into the fairytale." (DWM 417)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

William the Bloody on Shakespearean Sonnets

I've been sharing this link with a few friends and colleagues who have enjoyed it so much, I thought I ought to post it.

It's an interview with James Marsters (hence the William the Bloody in the subject line - apologies, I couldn't resist the obvious). In the interview, he speaks about performing Shakespeare's sonnets on stage and gives one of the best critiques of the sonnets I've read. I'd recommend reading the whole, particularly for the Lennon reference, but here's a snippet:

"Two-thirds of the sonnets are to a guy. And not in a subtle way, either. It’s right out there, “O, my beautiful man.” I cannot believe that no one told me about that. Once you understand that, and once you understand that the sonnets are really autobiographical, they become almost like punk rock. Because Shakespeare doesn’t come off very well in them. Shakespeare comes off like a mewling, wet little kitten."

(Part of me is now tempted to finish with "fifty-seven academics just punched the air," but it'd be more than fifty-seven in reality.)

Speaking of James Marsters, I'm toying with including a Buffy script in my Fairy Tale Traditions course. I'm thinking of "Gingerbread." Xander: "I'm still spinning on the whole fairy tales are real thing. I don't know about you, but I'm going to trade my cow for some beans." However, knowing the world of Buffy, that would be an awfully terrifying giant at the top of the beanstalk. Of course, it always was.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Time-lapse video of book cover design

Cory Doctorow over at boing boing just posted a video of the design process going into a book cover (oddly enough, of a series I've been thinking of reading... once I finish the pile of fairy tale books on my desk).

My only sadness is that covers are increasingly designed using stock images. Of course, absolutely amazing covers can result from such tactics, particularly when done well, but part of what makes many children's book covers so vibrant is that artists are commissioned for a particular book and work with the text from scratch.

Or perhaps I'm just idealistic?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Happens When the Disney Princesses Get Together?

Over at Huffington Post, they linked to this Mean Girls' take on the Disney princesses. I rather enjoyed how arch Briar Rose can be!