Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Neil Gaiman talking about fairy tale

It's here. It makes you wish there were radio interviews available with earlier fairy tale tellers. Imagine the potential transformation in scholarship.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Library Thing


Today in the mail, I received my copy of She & Him Volume Two. I had downloaded a couple of the songs on iTunes, but I do still like a really good CD in physical form, particularly if I like the artwork. And I do love the feel of the cardboard-packaged CDs in preference to their jewel-cased compatriots.

I opened the CD and found a little pocket with the insert, all done up to look like an old-fashioned library index card.

That's right - libraries no longer use such index cards. At least, the majority of libraries now work on digital systems, so your book is swished through a scanner and you can't snoop at previous borrowings and due dates.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if younger readers at all remember the days when library cards were in use? Which makes it particularly curious that many children's books likewise reproduce the nostalgia of library ephemera. Take Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia, seen above. The borrowers' slip records all the acknowledgements neatly. Emily Gravett's Wolves likewise reproduces such nostalgic touches (her website is worth a look). Such authors/illustrators incorporate the ephemera of snail mail and used books, deliberately aging their pristine works.

If you pop over to the Jingles for Juniors exhibition at the Monash Rare Books Collection, you can see an earlier example in the Japanese fairy tale series by B.H. Chamberlain et al., 1888, displayed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Literary/horror Mash-Ups Continued...

I've been teaching Little Women in the Children's Literature unit. So, without further preamble, let me pass along news of the imminent release of Little Vampire Women. For some reason, I'm finding this one particularly intriguing. Perhaps in part because I think it would delight Jo March. Remember, she did like penning the odd salacious tale, a habit she had in common with Alcott herself, who wrote romantic thrillers for the magazine trade (a selection are available in this volume).

I also think Amy March would make an excellent vampire, although she would continue to have issues about her nose shape.

Now I shall eagerly await the first grad. student who feels the urge to understand this current phenomenon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jane and Facebook

It's a little eerie how well Pride & Prejudice can be adapted to Facebook. However, it is to be expected. I do suspect that Jane Austen would have loved social networking sites. She would use every scrap of the page in her correspondence and was always hungry for gossip and eager to pass it along.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Future of Books Continues...

It's no secret I really want an iPad. And I want it so that I can read books on it. I'm curious to see how the technology will work and what it will mean for my reading experience. I love books. I love embossed and leather covers and pages that crinkle under my fingers. Yet I also love reading online and discover myself growing impatient when a book I want to explore isn't available for preview on Google books.

In light of technologies like those presented in the iPad, the future of publishing is being actively debated. I also just noticed it's being debated in the future. Today's the 21st and this New Yorker article is currently cited as the 26th.

Monday, April 19, 2010

To the writers

i09 features a useful post from Charlie Jane Anders, "4 Danger Signs to Search For, Before Sending Off Your Novel." It's good, solid, practical advice, although I tremble to imagine it applied to this blog.

Word of warning, the blog is written very quickly in between other tasks or it simply wouldn't happen. (There, that covers me, right?)

As I was copying and pasting in the link and considering a title for the blog post, though, I did initially hit upon 'to the creative writers.' And it struck me - why do we talk of creative writing? Surely all writing is creative (bad or otherwise)? When I set creative writing tasks for assessment, I always feel a little twitch of discomfort, as though it implies the critical task is not creative or vice-versa.

My creativity is constantly taxed in scholarly writing. I'm still inordinately proud of my observation that Voldemort concealed his identity in "an act of anagram" in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Drawing the reader in, amusing the reader, is just as important to me in terms of scholarship as in terms of creativity. The better I can capture the sense of the novel or play or short story that I'm writing on, the better I can explain how it works and why it is significant.

This also goes to the vexing problem that plagues academics of my interests. How can you write about vampire slayers, windy warthogs, little green gnomes etc in a serious scholarly work without it sound(ing - proof reading fail) just a bit ridiculous? The only answer is in extending your creativity in how you write about such matters.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shakespeare wouldn't really roll in his grave...

...even if I simultaneously wince and laugh at this take on his work, "Such Tweet Sorrow." It's a contemporary, 'live' performance of a rewritten Romeo and Juliet, produced in a partnership of Mudlark and the RSC, and taking place on Twitter. It's only just started and the story will continue to unfold over the coming weeks. Ferris Bueller has already been referenced - never a bad thing.

It's a clever idea, though there are many characters from many tales currently sending out their tweets, including Richard Castle, whose novel, Heat Wave, I just finished. It's a fun, cheesy piece of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fans make better scholars

Reading Henry Jenkin's comments on "reducing the world's suck" on Boing Boing this morning, I liked his wrap up of fans: "a community of readers, who compare notes, pool knowledge, and thus can deal with the scope and complexity of rich television narratives." However much we try to fight it, academia in the Humanities is still largely a solo experience. Conferences and symposiums help. Collaborating on articles and books brings us together. Yet these activities have to constantly defy a system that frequently keeps us apart. Often, if a few colleagues are found in the staff room, we remark on how unusual it is now to have an opportunity to share coffee and talk. Competing teaching schedules, individual deadlines, supervision and administrative meetings etc conspire against communal scholarship.

Yet I've been running reading groups and I constantly find these intellectually stimulating and reviving. Academics can work like fans. In fact, if you look at our rich history, we often do. And I'm not even thinking simply of the Inklings, who'd meet up at the Bird and Baby for Beer and debate.

In particular, as I'm researching 'the book', it occurs more and more to me that there are simply too many tales, too many variations, for one individual. Fairy tale requires a communal approach. It always has.

Incidentally, there were a couple of other interesting pieces on Boing Boing today. I like the idea they may have discovered evidence of the Doctor (they say it's a hipster, but the costume design of the Doctor has always been a little odd like that). And, now that I'm actively counting down to getting an iPad, this made my day. It's the little things. And another cup of coffee.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stitching Alice

As you may have noticed, I have a fascination for the collaborations of craft and tale-telling, so I loved this round-up of Alice embroidery designs on Feeling Stitchy. I particularly like the simple stitching on red linen in this design.

Of course, you can't always go passed the original.

(Later Note: A friend just showed me this. Alice for the iPad. I need an iPad now.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vote on the best Austen covers

I just discovered this online poll for the top Pride and Prejudice cover via Twitter. I cast my vote for no. 8 - how could I not?

How is my research progressing today? Apart from taking some time out to put together a speech for tomorrow's opening of the Children's Literature exhibition at Monash University library, my research is looking a little like this:

Copyright's Birthday

Cory Doctorow has a terrific mini-essay up at Boing Boing about the 300th anniversary of modern copyright and the importance of copying.

It's true. We learn by copying. The best storytellers have learned by copying and expanding their favourite tales. We see it in the playgrounds all the time. We see it on fan fic sites. People learning and honing the trade of storytelling will always copy and then reinvent.

Copyright would have devastated the fairy tale. The fairy tale was enriched by copying, adaptation, reinvention. In more recent times, some have turned their noses up at what they perceive to be blatant copying of tales, repining, for instance, that Madame d'Aulnoy simply copied Basile. Yet she didn't. Her tales remain distinct even as she reinvented the tales that Basile possibly himself reinvented (much is lost in the unknown of the oral tradition, to the extent of not knowing if it was in turn an invention in its own right). Competing versions of tales were often the fare of the salons.

The notion of copyright draws very much on a notion of property. Yet ideas and stories aren't property. You cannot measure their boundaries, fence them off, place a sign declaring 'no trespassers'. Much as we try to own and sell ideas and stories, the stories refuse to be pinned down into the terms of a contract.

There must still be fair play. It's only in our own interests to ensure the storytellers can support themselves and blatant plagiarism has always been a callow act. But Cinderella is not a parcel of land or a chattel, either.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Class Prep.

'Fairy Tale Traditions,' the second and third year unit I run on fairy tales, is still a few months off, but wouldn't this be ideal prep? It's Neil Gaiman's recitation of his poem, Instructions. It's made to promote the beautiful Charles Vess illustrated edition I'll be ordering myself shortly.