Thursday, December 29, 2011
"In a 1970s advertisement for Lego, a small girl holds up a free-form construction, made up of a jumble of different types of bricks and figures. She is wearing a blue T-shirt, a pair of jeans and blue sneakers, and her red hair is plaited."
It's very easy to see issues like this one become linear: somewhat along the lines that 'girls have always been commercially segregated from boys and this needs to change.' In fact, if you go back in history, you'll find that there are many, many periods in which boys had long curls and were fitted into dresses for the first few years and, likewise, that pink was the traditional colour for boys until the last century. Yet, there has been an increasingly aggressive move towards 'pink marketing' for girls and it's difficult to ignore.
Now, this is problematic, not simply because I agree - girls don't always want everything in pink and marketing executives shouldn't assume they do. It's lazy, for a start. But it also inspires campaigns like PinkStinks and while I agree with much of the campaign's argument, I still wince at how the colour, intentionally or not, becomes the crux of the outrage, rather than the marketing approach to the colour. I like pink. Pink isn't the problem. It's the way pink is being used in this commercial context that is the problem.
In fact, I think part of the reason pink creates such tension is that it is an assertive colour. I've blogged about this before. You rarely find someone saying 'I hate blue' with the same vehemence. Pink is divisive. Pink doesn't care what you think. Pink has the potential to be revolutionary. (Note my little joke there.)
I worry when the response to marketing for girls is reduced, essentially, to an attempt to stamp out pink and maybe sparkles and princess dresses too (which would be a shame, because you'd miss stuff like this). Inevitably, immediately following this attempt, is a reassertion of the binary by which all that is offered to girls is 'bad'. What is offered to boys is 'good'. See what's happening there?
I confess, as a girl myself, I insisted on wearing long dresses with puffy sleeves and sashes and playing with dolls. My mother made all my dresses to my exacting standards and my best ever Christmas was when she made me a new wardrobe for my dolls, mostly with scraps from my pretty dresses (they were often in blue, incidentally, and as you can see, I didn't really pay attention to marketing and didn't even know Barbie dolls existed). But before you judge me, I will add that all my friends were boys. I taught the boys how to skip and behave properly at tea parties. I played outdoors with them, teaching them how to chase dragons and hop over alligator swamps. (Yes, I was pretty assertive, too.) It didn't occur to me until the second year of school that I was 'supposed to' play with girls. That is still one of my saddest days ever and I've never entirely gotten over the heartbreak. (Edited to add: That wasn't actually intended as a pointless personal ramble. The point I wanted to illustrate is that each girl's experience is unique, being girly doesn't necessarily mean you lack assertiveness, and that girls and boys can play at a whole range of games irrespective of supposed gender assignations.)
So I watch these debates with some concern. I particularly worry when a voice pops up asking about the boys and whether it isn't also sad that they have a restricted range of toys marketed to them, a range that doesn't include little stoves and mops, and inevitably someone takes that person to task, 'because boys are privileged.' They're not privileged if they can't easily go into the toy shop and ask for pink fairy wings or a plastic saucepan! Patriarchy is bad for girls and boys. We're not going to get rid of the gender binary and create gender equality if we simply insist all girls should wear jeans and play with trucks. We're not going to get rid of the gender binary and create gender equality by outlawing pink. It's rather like saying it's anti-feminist to make cupcakes. And often, it's not what is being said, but how people are interpreting it.
This isn't what thoughtful, open-minded people like Michelle Smith are saying, but just look at the comments to some of these pieces and you see these extremes come into play.
Mind, I also got a little frustrated at a piece in The Guardian on comic books and women by Ben Quinn. Here's a little snippet:
"'There is a certain sensitivity that you find in women's art that just does not appear in a lot of guys' work,' says James Pearson, who edited the anthology, which follows the story of escaped slaves taking refuge in a swamp."
Oh no, I thought, sighing a little. It's not so bad, but I always feel unhappy when emotions or creativity become gendered. We do need to see more women artists and writers in comics, but they don't necessarily have to produce 'feminine' content, whatever that is. Can one truly tell if an artist is male or female? We used to debate in the unit, 'Writing Women,' whether one could tell if the author was male or female and if it even mattered. A student memorably told us about a friend who insisted he couldn't abide women writers. She smirked. He had a poster of George Elliot on his wall.
Finally, it was incredibly soppy, but I really loved this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. As I noted to some friends - spoiler alert - I especially enjoyed watching a woman carry an entire forest in her head without exploding, without dying, and without having to have the Doctor take the burden because she wasn't strong enough. Those who have watched previous series might know what I mean.
Friday, December 16, 2011
I'll be away from all things academic for a couple of weeks, although I'm sure I'll still be reading fairy tales and thinking about glass slippers. Academics are never quite on holiday.
I did see the double bill of Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman at the Wheeler Centre event last night. It was brilliant. I won't do a blow by blow account, but I did have one 'can I just duck under the chair?' moment when someone asked Gaiman how he felt about academic critique and his books being taught. I know most authors don't really like their books being taught and I do completely understand that. If I had a book, I'm almost certain I wouldn't like it being taught.
It's true that many students are turned off books by having to 'study' them. I was one such student. Although I did discover a love of Andrew Marvell through high school English, I also came to the conclusion I really hated The Catcher in the Rye. I regularly hear students talk about the books that school and university have ruined for them.
It's scary being a teacher of English Literature. You want students to love the books you teach, but you know that can't always happen. After all, even if you recommend a book to a friend, there's no guarantee they'll love it. Still, you sort of have to study books in English Literature, don't you? And although authors often say they prefer people to find their books 'naturally,' I think schools and universities can be places where you can discover authors 'naturally,' so to speak.
Happily, I've heard from many students who have discovered authors through my classes and have become great fans, going on to read all the authors' books. I have heard from students who had difficulty wrestling copies of their class texts back from a parent or partner in order to study for the test or write their essay. I have even had the occasional email about how a student stayed up all night reading a book and how the book made them happy (incidentally, that was, at least on one occasion, Gaiman's Stardust). So while I know that I have inevitably ruined books for some students, I know other students have discovered new books to love through my classes. That makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing.
Last night did, however, make me stop and reflect upon how we, as teachers and academics, can work to better overcome the stigma of ruining books for our students. I don't have a ready response yet, but I will be thinking about it further... after the holiday.
Monday, December 5, 2011
My friend agreed and pointed out a C. Wright Mills piece, "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," which can be found in the appendix of The Sociological Imagination (1959). Mills tells us: "It is best to begin, I think, by reminding you, the beginning student, that the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives. They seem to take both too seriously to allow such dissociation, and they want to use each for the enrichment of the other. [...] Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his craft; to realize his own potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of the good workman" (195).
This is what I've been trying to get it in my own erratic way. Being an academic is not simply about sitting at a computer for a designated number of hours writing an article or spending an afternoon reading until the book in question is covered in post-it notes or marking a 10 foot high stack of undergraduate essays. To really succeed academically, it has to be about the craft. The academic wants to create, to learn, to improve and innovate.
This is something I want to bring more and more into the classroom. To make undergraduate life at university less about assignments, grades and playing the system and more about a lifestyle. I'm always frustrated that so much of our teaching and student-contact has to be geared towards final grades and major and minor structures. I once overheard two students on the bus complaining because they'd had a couple of lectures on a topic that wasn't covered in the exam. "What was the point of that?" asked one. I barely resisted turning around to say, "Learning."
I also have a soft spot for Mills since he called himself a Wobbly. Yes, a Wobbly. "'I am a Wobbly.' I mean this spiritually and politically [...] I take Wobbly to mean one thing: the opposite of bureaucrat" (Letters and Autobiographical Writings, 2000: 252).
I aspire to be a Wobbly.
Incidentally, in terms of craft, I've been reading Jane Austen Knits. While there is little evidence of Jane's own knitting, her mother could be easily absorbed in the knitting of gloves and socks, which makes me like her all the more. I like the combination of literature, history and knitting that has gone into each of the patterns included in the magazine. For a little taste, here's a link to a blog post by the designer, Sharon Fuller, of 'Picturesque Cape.'
Thursday, December 1, 2011
I've also been delighted to see that Dark Horse is releasing Buffy and Hellboy comics for reading on iPads. Hardcopy magazines and comics have been expensive in Australia. Storage rapidly becomes an issue. Digital subscriptions and copies overcome these problems and make the material readily available. Albeit, these are advantages only if you have a digital device to read the material. I'm not advocating the iPad, incidentally, but it's the device I went with and it's been handy.
The matter of this post, ostensibly, is useful advice for authors (or hopeful authors) and their readers. Neil Gaiman, a great supporter of audio books, has just blogged a post that will hopefully spread far and wide. In "Audiobooks: A Cautionary Tale," he provides advice on making the most of your audio rights. With audiobooks becoming ever more viable and popular thanks to downloadable formats, this is rapidly becoming an significant aspect of a writer's work. Gaiman writes:
I think the most fun I had with an audio book was sitting with a group of friends one night listening to a Doctor Who story. We were traveling and decided to have an early night 'in'. Since we were on the road, this was a B&B. We had a supply of edible goodies from M&S and sprawled happily about the room while I logged into iTunes. A few of us fell asleep before the end, but thankfully, no one who snored over the narration. There is a communal aspect to the audio book that is doubly appealing to me. Joining in as you all gasp and giggle is entertaining in itself.
There is also an excellent post on Amazon reviews from Anne R. Allen's blog. With the bookstore in increasing trouble, we're more reliant on reader reviews and recommendations through online bookstores like, of course, Amazon. I usually flick through the reviews before buying. They don't always persuade or dissuade me, but they do matter. I appreciate the reviews, in particular, that outline the content in more detail than the publisher's blurb (I wish publishers would catch up with the realities of today's book buying practices and provide good, concrete information on the contents). Allen's post gives pause for thought, though, on how much power the buying public now holds over the author. I encourage everyone to read the post and think about reviewing books on Amazon. We have more power now to substantially support writers. It's time to use this power wisely.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
It does look quite bonkers. It does look cheesy. This is probably why I like it better. It's not taking itself seriously.
Although I have to admit, I can't wait for the time when heroines will rescue the Prince without the need to point out that old chestnut about princes generally rescuing heroines. After all, quite a few heroines have been out rescuing their princes. This is not a bad thing and it is becoming rather common, thank goodness. Maybe soon we can drop the idea that it's unusual?
Both Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror!, however, focus on the Queen as an aging woman. Note the underlying assumption in both that because she is getting older, she is no longer as beautiful (or, judging by her corsets in the case of Julia Roberts' Queen, as slim). Enter the younger beauty. Beauty and youth are seen to coexist. That's the crux of the problem. Fairy tale has an apparent long history of issues with maturing women (see Basile's 'The Old Woman Who Was Skinned'). Yet, many fairy tales aren't at all concerned about a woman who happens to be getting wrinkles. I'd far rather see more work on overturning this old chestnut than the damsel in distress trope. Let's see more older heroines who are regarded as great beauties!
Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with my personal age... I swear.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Meanwhile, i09 has been recapping Once Upon A Time to great effect. I love that the show is pitting Snow White against a bunch of bridge trolls (brilliantly headlined "Once Upon a Time trolls Snow White" by i09). It does indeed look cheesy. I like cheesy. Fairy tales should be cheesy and fun. Fairy tales should never take themselves too seriously. That might be just me. Yet, I don't think so.
I was actually just working with L'Héritier's "The Discreet Princess, or The Adventures of Finette." Now, this is a fairy tale that needs to be filmed! The villainous Rich-Craft tries to seduce our clever heroine...
The villain persists, but "Rich-Craft was not very courageous, and as he watched the large hammer, which she played with like a fan, he consented and retired to give her some time to pray."(Quotes taken from Jack Zipes' Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales)
Seriously, who would love to see Finette on the big screen?
It's a shame L'Héritier's other tales aren't readily available, particularly in English. She is the niece of Perrault and her tales are more complex, riveting and energetic. While many have speculated that she followed the example of her uncle, I suspect it really was the other way around. She has more in common with D'Aulnoy and Bernard, for instance, than Perrault.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
This unit is a dream come true!
It's the first outing, so everything will be new and untried, but I've just firmed on my texts. I'm tackling the nineteenth century, basically. I'll be looking at Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Rossetti's Goblin Market, Morris's The Well at the World's End and Dunsany's The Book of Wonder. [UPDATE: Okay, that just changed. I'd firmed, the timetable hadn't, which has involved some renewed jiggling of texts. Decisions, decisions...]
I just wish there were in print editions of the Kelmscott Press The Well at the World's End.
Wouldn't that be a beautiful text to study from? One of the reasons I really want to include Morris is that I love his connection to the arts and craft movement and his work as a designer is truly remarkable and beautiful. This gives me an excuse to explore that a bit more!
i09 is also doing a series that 'backdates' the Hugo Awards: The Victorian Hugos. It's been pretty fantastic so far and is a great catch-up if you're looking for older fantasy and speculative works. They've just listed 1886. Spoiler alert, so to speak, but they went with Haggard's She as the winner:
"She would have won the 1886 Hugo, but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the more deserving of the two. She is a great read, vivid, memorable, and packed with a surprising amount of Haggard's fin-de-siecle pessimism, but there's a reason that Jekyll and Hyde is in the literary canon and She is not. Jekyll and Hyde is better written and more complex symbolically and psychologically. She is good fun; Jekyll and Hyde is good literature."You know, I think I'd still back She? I just didn't like Jekyll and Hyde as much. And I always resist the rating of literature based on 'better written' and 'more complex'. Literature should be as much about good storytelling and Haggard is a brilliant storyteller of his time.
Not that I'm saying good literature shouldn't be well written... it's just that I've read some awful stories that were very well written...
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I'm sort of on iTunes now
As you might know, I have a fairy tale in The Voyage: Journeys in Creative Writing (Monash-Warwick Research Initiative 2010/2011). It's called 'The Cat Swindle' and here's a little snippet:
" I turned and peered through the cheap glass window, streaked and smeared with grime. The shop’s display featured tiny slippers in rainbow shades of silk. They hung from a stolen tree branch by their ribbons. Arranged below the slippers, high heeled shoes of delicately tinted leather and shiny stiletto boots with laces and folded cuffs. Such amazing shoes for such a shabby shop, I thought. The Cat rose to her hind legs and rested her forepaws upon the window, leaving more smudges, and her excited breath misted the glass."
I'll be back at Prato in 2012. We just had the first information session on Wednesday. I showed a PowerPoint slide of my 'wall of gelati' as enticement. It wasn't till afterwards that I got to thinking... some students might have been wondering why I took photos of every gelato I bought. Simple reason? A friend, upon receiving a tweeted photo of the gelato I was eating, sighed 'I suppose you're going to send me photos of every gelato you have?' She might have known I would. It was funny. And hence, I have images of most of the gelati I've eaten in Italy in 2011. There, that doesn't sound nearly as obsessive as it may have looked!
I am looking forward to a second run at Fairy Tale in Italy. The first time around, I was new to the programme and learned a great deal about expectations and the peculiar circumstances of intensive teaching. This time around, I plan to take full advantage of all that experience.
And just a final note...
In our fairy tale reading group meeting this week, Bel and I mentioned Once Upon A Time, the new ABC show that has scored good ratings with its first episode. It does look like great fun! There's a recap on i09. I know it was very sad, but seeing Snow White try to kiss Prince Charming back to life? Marvelous. I also love the idea that our reality, so to speak, is 'horrible' in the words of the wicked stepmother. Although, I'm not 100% sure she's the stepmother here... I really need to see the show!
Incidentally, if you are interested in joining the fairy tale reading group or would like to know more about the reading groups I'm part of, just drop me a line. In fact, I may blog about them next.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I spent some time with family and with the old, dead relatives. During this time, I discovered that I'm descended from Morgensterns. My squeal of delight completely baffled my grandfather, who glanced over the gravestones, trying to fathom why his granddaughter was executing a happy skip in a most inappropriate place (don't worry, everyone there had passed away a long, long time ago). Yes, if you know me, you know that The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favourite novels and that it is 'abridged' from S. Morgenstern's novel. That I have Morgensterns in my family tree thrills me.
When I returned, I found in the comment to the last post the link to a Princess Bride cast reunion.
That seemed to be serendipity. I think I need to watch the film again!
P.S. I'm also thinking of putting The Princess Bride on the Fairy Tale Traditions curriculum. I'd been teaching it in Fantasy Narratives, but I do think it'll work better in Fairy Tale Traditions.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
However, today a book arrived on my porch and I thought I'd quickly share it.
Being a great Austen fan, I couldn't go by this, even though my crochet skills are rather... wonky. The cover blouse is called - brilliantly, I add - "Eat Your Heart Out Willoughby." I'm not quite so sure about the "Dreaming of Mr Knightley Pajama Set." The styles aren't always entirely practical, but there's also some good cushions and rugs for the less adventurous, all with a theme drawn from Austen and Regency fashions.
A student once presented me with the volume below as a thank you after she finished one of her degrees. It was a wonderful surprise.
There are a range of books out for more contemporary literature too. I learned how to knit mittens from Charmed Knits. It's a great source for basic patterns, actually.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Just finishing off my lecture on China Miéville's The City & The City. It's a brand new lecture for the new first year unit, 'Reading the City'.
One of the reasons I've been really excited to give this lecture is that it opens up the debate about how genre fiction can operate in terms of tearing down, rather than maintaining genre distinctions. Miéville's work, which to an extent wears its intellectualism on its sleeve, is a great example for looking at the literary nature of genre fiction, thus voiding the particularly stubborn distinction between genre and 'literary' fiction. All fiction belongs to a range of genres - it's just that we don't always recognise it.
But one thing keeps nagging at me as I work on the lecture. Is The City & The City good fantasy? Of course, it's not simply a fantasy novel, but if one were to evaluate it as fantasy, would it work? I'm still in two minds. So much of the construction of the two (maybe three) cities works effectively in terms of fantasy, but now and then, a little doubt creeps in and I think this is in part because of the nature of the noir detective story and the political 'isms' that really drive the novel. The general populations are somewhat distanced and generalised so that although there are tantalizing glimpses into the day-to-day lives of Besz and Ul Qoman, the implications of the fantastic in the day to day aren't quite realised.
However, it would certainly be unfair to judge the novel purely as fantasy. There is more than one genre to The City & The City!
Of course, as one's writing, one sometimes needs a quick break and sustenance. I just discovered these no-bake, oatmeal and chocolate cookies and they are brilliant for lecture-writing energy. Just in case you happen to be writing a lecture any time soon.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
I've just pre-ordered Marina Warner's book, Stranger Magic. This is a book I've been quite excited about for some time. I heard Warner read from her manuscript at the Fairy Tale After Angela Carter Conference a couple of years ago and the more I research fairy tale, the more I find myself running into the 1001 Nights. So I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a proper edition of the tales while I was preordering Stranger Magic.
Don't be surprised if they pop up on next year's Fairy Tale Traditions curriculum.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
One of my favourite novels is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It's clever, witty, but never cruel. The heroine is forthright and wise. There's little not to love in the novel. The film adaptation is also excellent.
I've been so excited seeing Gibbons' other novels being re-released by Vintage Classics (see an article about it here). I've already devoured Nightingale Wood, which is a brilliant twist on Cinderella, complete with cheap silver dancing slippers. I'm now working through Starlight, which is a surprisingly gentle, wry novel about being old.
And, incidentally, you can catch a little snatch of my own fiction in The Voyage, which is available as a free - yes free! - e-Book (just click that link). Here's the blurb for the book:
It also includes a fairy tale.
It actually came upon me as a surprise. I was looking through my google search results for D'Aulnoy and my name came up!
Saturday, August 13, 2011
We had a fantastic time. The presenters were great, the discussion lively, and everyone incredibly friendly and supportive. It's such a pleasure to run an event where the participants are enthusiastic and good natured. I dare not single out any particular panel or paper, because I enjoyed everything I had a chance to sit in on. We even managed to Skype one presenter in from the US - it didn't go horribly wrong!
We were surprised by the media interest. No, that wasn't me in The Age. It may have been a couple of other members of the team, though. We had people on drive time radio, Karen Healey, our keynote speaker, did a spot on The Book Show, and we have some more media coming up. It appears people are interested in female superheroes. This can only be a good thing!
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
There are definite perks to teaching on an Italian campus. Above is one of them. And if I'd had the sense to jot down my favourite gelato shop, I would, of course, share it with you. But I've forgotten. I'll have to track it down for later.
The experience was fantastic and I hope the students had just as wonderful a time as I had... even though they had to put up with a voiceless teacher for at least two classes. Yes, I lost my voice. So we proceeded in the literary tradition of the fairy tale, courtesy of word processing and a projector.
I'm working through the grading today and getting ready to start the semester's classes tomorrow. Hopefully, the jetlag excuse will hold for a few more days, particularly since I combined it with a cold caught on the flight back.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
But just imagine a horse trek through the Loire Valley, learning about the French fairy tales? I may be getting carried away!
Okay, maybe one day.
I do think it's important not to see literature as a sedentary thing, though, but as something bound up in living and making and creating. As my students know, I happily encourage knitting and needlework etc in the classroom. I respect those who see this as a distraction, but for myself, I know I pay more attention when I have something to do with my hands. I suspect this is why we see so many Mother Gooses at their spinning wheels. Often reading, telling or listening to a tale as your hands work, you discover new nuances that you wouldn't have discovered had you sat in your chair simply reading. Rhythms change.
It's much like telling or listening to a tale. The pace changes. Your attention is taken up in a different way. If you're lucky, you get to hear an author tell their tale and you learn how it sounded in their heads. Even listening to people generally telling tales about their life experience - it was a treat listening to Stephen Fry stand on stage and just tell us, the audience, about things that had happened to him and stuff that mattered to him. These are things that make life good, that create new resonances that we can draw upon to enjoy and understand our experience.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
I've just 'done and dusted' a fairy tale that has been sent off to editors. We'll see. I've resolved this year to be more open about the fact that I do write. Although I don't aim to be a creative writing academic and I do believe that critical writing is creative too, I enjoy writing fiction and suspect a good majority of English Lit. academics have manuscripts tucked away or published. I've been writing 'seriously' since I was eleven and realised people could do something like write books. Of course, I'd read books before then - many books. I just hadn't thought of books as being authored by people who did that kind of thing for a living. The realisation was somewhat life changing and I then took writing seriously. It became important. It became something I did. And while I haven't always been anxious to publish, I don't know where I'd be if I wasn't walking around without at least a story or two buzzing in my head.
That could be why I look a little distracted at times.
For the first time today I also hopped over to look at Pottermore. I watched the video. The video is amazing - it uses animated book papercuts, which are among my favourite things in the world. The concept itself is intriguing and embraces the ideals of transmedia storytelling, although under the control of Rowling as author. Some are less than enthused and see it as another example of the forces of commercialisation wielded by Harry Potter. It does permit the author control over the interaction of readers with the text. Yet, it could indeed be where fiction will go. Other authors, like Jasper Fforde and PJ Haarsma, also have sites that encourage interaction and provide digital material for readers.
I also take my hat off to Rowling that, however it happened, she maintained the digital rights to her work. Those rights are valuable today.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
One of the commenters, UnpublishedWriter, noted: "I guess it also says a lot that this is in the 'Technology' Section rather than 'Books.'" Indeed. The ability to be tech savvy is becoming as important as being able to write well.
But what about English Lit. academics? Is our role changing too? Yes. Of course, academics are always debating the state of the discipline, so it's nothing new that our role is under scrutiny today. The question that really interested me after reading Doctorow's piece is whether our role as 'gatekeepers' is changing too. I've heard many colleagues talking about how we have a great range of truly wonderful literature to draw upon. Yet, universities all over the world seem to teach from the same selection of novels. I'm as culpable as anyone! What will we do as published work spreads across the online environment? As increasingly obscure works are unearthed and made accessible thanks to sites like Google Books? Will we increase the range of literature we look at now that more literature is readily available?
I'll need a few more cups of coffee before I start positing answers, but in the meantime, I thought I'd quickly share one of my own favourite artists who has taken advantage of the potential in the environment, Marian Call. Yes, it's music, but there's lyrics, and to me, that counts! Plus, there's a very cool use of a typewriter.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
And, as Dr Mewburn writes, "who wouldn’t want to hire someone who guarantees cupcakes at every staff meeting?"
Our reading group used to regularly share muffins and cakes. It's happened less often of late and I'm a little sad about that. I might have to do something about it. Although, most of my baking lately has been confined to dog biscuits...
Likewise, there are two distinct, well known arcs to fairy lore. There is the older lore of terrifying, cunning, duplicitous fairies. There is, too, a sentimental lore that gives us romantic, sweet fairies. The latter largely arises from a Victorian/Edwardian sensibility. The two arcs are increasingly intermingled in contemporary tales about fairies.
I tend to distinguish between tales about fairies and fairy tales. The term, fairy tale, was coined by Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy, who did write tales with fairies. These were largely female fairies, regal, powerful, often quick to offend, but also quick to provide aid if they so chose. They wielded greater influence than kings, significant in an era dominated by the Sun King, Louis XIV. I know D'Aulnoy was winking broadly at her audience. Since D'Aulnoy gave us fairy tale, it's worth noting that the most popular tales often do feature fairies.
What about tales with fairies, though? These are the tales that draw more explicitly on lore. I not-so-secretly really enjoy Supernatural and the other night, I was over the moon to see their take on fairy lore in "Clap Your Hands If You Believe..." I think it's become my favourite episode, if only for the scene with the microwave and Dean shouting: "Fight the fairies! You fight those fairies! Fight the fairies!" I sat afterwards, pondering as you do if you're an academic, whether it was urban legend with fairies or fairy tale. Tricky. While the brothers' story seems more urban legend with fairies, particularly since they research fairies and use lore to defeat the bad leprechaun, the core tale about the 'cobbler' rings true as fairy tale.
It's cases like these that make you aware of how bendable genre is. Academics work to define. Storytellers don't worry about definitions - in fact, they're often actively trying to subvert, bend or break definition. In creating fairy tale, D'Aulnoy herself was subverting those tales that she'd inherited. Her version of Cinderella, 'Finette Cendron,' for instance, plays a little joke on the shoe-play in Basile's 'The Cat Cinderella.'
I've none the less come to see fairy tale as a literary genre (in which I do include comics, plays, librettos, film and television scripts). I'm not going to be too strict about this, though.
Friday, June 17, 2011
The other night, I was looking for something fun to read. I'd been alternating between Calvino's collection of Italian fairy tales and the Grimms. Calvino's collection is stupendous. The tales are insane and playful, just as they ought to be. You can pick up threads of the stories you know from Basile, Straparola and others. You laugh out loud a lot, which can be embarrassing at the specialist's waiting room. They are glorious mash-ups with a dash of working class philosophy. The Grimms? I now have issues with the Grimms. The tales are heavier. Many people mention how 'dark' they are, but I don't find them as dark as others I've read. At least, not in the sense of being deliciously, entertainingly dark. The morality feels a bit too strained. No one seems to really enjoy being wicked.
But I thought I needed a change from fairy tales. So I was browsing the Amazon Kindle store, because I have created my own browsing method for online stores. I'd never heard of Michael Swanwick, but I liked his name. I loved the title, The Dog Said Bow-Wow. The cover is terrific. I clicked through to the first pages. I was sold.
I've still only read the first couple of stories, but they are... fairy tales. Who knew? The blurbs tell you these are stories about Faerie, dinosaurs etc, but as you read... yes, they are absolutely fairy tales. Fairy tales that exist in a world that has science fiction and steampunk. They are amazing. There's a scene in the title story that recalls D'Aulnoy's diamonds and emeralds. Surplus, the hero of the tale, is none other than our Puss in Boots, craftily reimagined as a dog.
I have, in short, found a new author! Readers know that thrill. The sense of discovery, the feeling that an author is writing tales just to entertain you. I admit it, I don't like books that I have to work at loving. I love books that feel like they were written just for me. This collection feels like it was written just for me.
And it's fairy tales! I guess, in the end, I didn't need the change - I just need to find more fairy tales.
(Note added: You might also note the profile picture for the blog has changed. I found my perfect Puss in Boots boots.)
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I'm hoping the experience in Prato will be something like this:
Meanwhile, closer to home, a good friend and colleague, Deb Waterhouse-Watson, and I will be giving our paper "Beyond Wicked Witches and Fairy Godmothers: Ageing and Gender in Recent Children's Fantasy" at Continuum 7, 11am Monday 13th June. It will be followed by a panel elsewhere at the convention, "Crones, Witches and Marginalised Power in Fairytales," featuring Catherynne M. Valente, the guest of honour. The old women aren't so marginalised on Monday 13th, obviously!
I've never been to Continuum, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it's all about. I'm enjoying becoming involved in fan/industry conventions. It gets me out of the old ivory tower now and then. (I wish I did work in an ivory tower - the Menzies really isn't conducive to fairy tale thought and I haven't seen a single Prince try to scale its walls.)
Thursday, May 19, 2011
It was also a marvelous exercise. I recall that just before we tried the one page story, we played with six word stories. You can see a website for such stories here. I came up with something along the lines: "Met Death. Dying to tell tale." Terrible pun. I didn't submit it.
These are useful exercises, though, if you're suffering a little creative writer's block. They focus the mind. They provide a quick fix of accomplishment. They're particularly entertaining to share, since you aren't asking your friendly readers for hours of their time.
Spurred on, I've created a couple of pages for the blog. One is for scholarly writing. I'll be adding quotes from some of my work there. There's already a few selected quotes from various papers I've given about the place. One page is for fiction. That's where I've pasted in my one page short story.
Incidentally, I'll be presenting at Continuum 7 next month. I'm presenting a paper on ageing in fairy tale and fantasy with a terrific colleague of mine, Deb Waterhouse-Watson.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I'm also delighted by Snow White whipping out a sword, even if Prince Charming makes her put it away. I hope she stops listening to him at some point. There should be more sword wielding fairy tale heroines.
UPDATE: You can also see a preview of Grimms here.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
It's worth popping over the British Library site to have a closer look at the saga, since, of course, most of us won't be able to make it there in person. The work involved is intricate and detailed. The sisters, particularly, and their brother were quite passionate about world building.
Such activity isn't new. One of my favourite examples is in Anne of Windy Poplars (1936). It isn't really fan fiction, unless you argue that all fairy stories are in some way fan fiction (that in itself isn't a bad argument - the fans involved are simply enthusiastic readers who in turn begin to write).
Anne: "One stormy evening when the wind was howling along Spook's Lane, we couldn't go for a walk, so we came up to my room and drew a map of fairyland. Elizabeth sat on my blue doughnut cushion to make her higher, and looked like a serious little gnome as she bent over the map. (By the way, no phonetic spelling for me! 'Gnome' is far eerier and fairy-er than 'nome.')
"Our map isn't completed yet . . . every day we think of something more to go in it. Last night we located the house of the Witch of the Snow and drew a triple hill, covered completely with wild cherry trees in bloom, behind it. (By the way, I want some wild cherry trees near our house of dreams, Gilbert.) Of course we have a Tomorrow on the map . . . located east of Today and west of Yesterday . . . and we have no end of 'times' in fairyland. Spring-time, long time, short time, new-moon time, good-night time, next time . . . but no last time, because that is too sad a time for fairyland; old time, young time . . . because if there is an old time there ought to be a young time, too; mountain time . . . because that has such a fascinating sound; night-time and day-time . . . but no bed-time or school-time; Christmas-time; no only time, because that also is too sad . . . but lost time, because it is so nice to find it; some time, good time, fast time, slow time, half-past kissing-time, going-home time, and time immemorial . . . which is one of the most beautiful phrases in the world. And we have cunning little red arrows everywhere, pointing to the different 'times.' I know Rebecca Dew thinks I'm quite childish. But, oh, Gilbert, don't let's ever grow too old and wise . . . no, not too old and silly for fairyland."
Friday, May 6, 2011
The importance of authorial intent has been a fierce debate in English Literature - see for example Barthes' "Death of the Author." Yes, I always quip "no, they're alive and tweeting." It's not so much that I think the author's intent is the last word (after all, that would make my job redundant), but that I think scholars need to be balanced in their approach. Scholars should take into account the production of texts and the people behind them, for that gives us an idea not only of the thematic ballpark we're working in, but also the practical ballpark (and here I'm going to break off the baseball metaphor since I don't know a thing about baseball). For example, recently I was reading an academic book, Nikolajeva and Scott's How Picturebooks Work. It's a very good book and I recommend it. However, it illustrates how I became torn on this issue. I wondered if relating the appearance of crinkled brown endpapers in Sendak's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, to a statement on "the rawness of a life devoid of the usual 'civilized' resources" was entirely logical (249). I did quite like the proposal that it represented "the need to use and reuse the detritus of a richer life" (249). However, while both statements make fascinating reading and form a cogent analysis, particularly in relation to Sendak's social themes, a little voice inside me wondered if that was going just a bit too far on those themes - or if the crinkled brown paper was just a clever idea, drawn from the practice of crafting itself, that gave texture to the endpapers; an effect that fitted the overall aesthetic of the book. Sometimes, the simpler answer gets to the heart of the matter. Part of the work of literary scholars is to juggle the urge to take the analysis further and the little voice that wonders, bluntly, 'if you're not reading too much into this.'
Of course, often times, an author or illustrator will write or draw something and later think: 'oh yes, that could also be a reference to the detritus.' (I just like the word 'detritus.') Or they'll hear someone else say it later and nod, pretending that was intended all along. (NOTE: And I should add, the more I thought about this analysis, the more I liked and agreed with it.)
This is part of the challenge. But it is worth reminding ourselves, occasionally, that other people are looking at our clever analyses and thinking "sometimes, the crinkled brown paper is just crinkled brown paper."
Saturday, April 30, 2011
On the other hand, it did give me an excuse to watch the royal wedding. Remember the wedding of Princess Mary? It was described as a 'fairy tale wedding'. So too was the wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William just the other day. Why are royal weddings automatic 'fairy tales'? Yes, there are princes involved, but I don't think either Kate or Mary were exactly cursed to clean for housefuls of dwarfs or to be kidnapped by beasts or to run away from lecherous fathers before the nuptials, although part of the romance undoubtedly lies in their status as 'commoners' who rise up the ranks. In a rather neat gender reversal, Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria married her personal trainer. Again, her groom hadn't pushed through thorn barriers or discovered why she kept wearing out her dancing shoes. In contemporary, real world terms, the fairy tale has been boiled down to the wedding ceremony and, particularly, the dress. Fairy tale has become an adjective for wedding paraphernalia and hopes - an indication of how prized a pretty dress and wish for 'happily ever after' still is. While many lament the disassociation of married life from this fairy tale equation, I actually lament the loss of the pre-story with the fantastic adventures, disappointments and serendipities. Somehow, even when there is a prince or princess and a castle into the bargain, the landscape of pubs, gyms and university campuses doesn't quite feel the same.
I should note, too, that I managed to lose a previous post in which I mentioned having seen Red Riding Hood with my fairy tale reading group (it was a sometimes slightly bizarre, Twilight-infused mash-up of tropes) and Terry Pratchett at the Wheeler Centre (funny and incredibly sensible and I can now tick him off on my list of authors I'd really like to see and hear speak).
But I'll end on this note.
Last year I gave a talk at AussieCon 4 on the Doctor as fairy godfather. I simply had to get my hands on this latest comic issue.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The Guardian has a very good obituary and it made me grin:
"She was amused by the considerable academic attention her work attracted; reading in one paper that her work was 'rooted in fluidity', she remarked: 'Obviously hydroponic, probably a lettuce, possibly a cabbage.'"
I love how authors often view academic criticism of their work. It's a good reminder to academics not to take themselves quite so seriously.
I was also delighted to learn something new as I read Neil Gaiman's blog post: "she told me once that the young Chrestomanci in The Lives of Christopher Chant was sort of based on me too." I did not know that. I'm tempted to break that book out again now.
The strength of a great author is in how their legacy continues to make you smile.
Monday, March 14, 2011
We'd just been talking in class about why as a society we value reading. The discussion was in relation to Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Education Rodents, in which rats like Dangerous Beans and Peaches learn to read and write and want to pass these skills on. How often do we study literature, but not really think about why it's important? How often do we say 'kids should read' without really articulating why? Of course, the answer isn't easy or singular. Although, I think ultimately it does come down to the ability to think more. Reading gives us access to all kinds of thinking that we can use in our lives and writing gives us an opportunity to express and share what we think. There are other ways to do this, of course, but reading and writing are among the most common and widespread and have helped build incredible communities.
I'd love to start a project like Kids Need To Read. It'd be great to integrate into a subject like Children's Literature. One day!
Incidentally, pop over to P.J. Haarsma's website - it is pretty amazing.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
One of the first things that occurred to me as I contemplated my panel was that while we often associate blood with violence in fairy tale, very often the lips or cheeks of a particular beauty will be associated with blood. I have something to say about this, but I'm saving it for the panel!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
I did come across this post linking to 18th century animal illustrations from 'Collection des Animaux Quadrupèdes'. The animals have peculiarly human expressions. We'll be studying anthropomorphism in Children's Literature this semester, as it underpins much of the great work: Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Rabbit etc. Who doesn't love teaching Winnie-the-Pooh?
We also have our new CFP for a conference in August.
TIGHTS AND TIARAS: FEMALE SUPERHEROES AND MEDIA CULTURES
12-13 August 2011
Monash University, Melbourne
Sponsored by: The Centre for the Book, Monash University
In 2010, the 600th issue of Wonder Woman celebrated the Amazonian superhero’s longevity in print media. To mark the occasion, the issue reinvented the superhero’s iconic costume to make it less revealing, introducing dark trousers and a blue, starred jacket. This shift to more practical, less sexualised wear arguably reflects changing attitudes about gender and the growing female presence in the comics industry. Nonetheless, the change prompted some controversy online amongst fan communities, again highlighting the problematic history of the representation of women as powerful figures.
‘Tights and Tiaras: Female Superheroes and Media Cultures’ is a one and a half day interrogation of the construct of the ‘superhero’ as female and more generally of the representation of powerful female figures in fantasy and science fiction. Looking at a range of print and visual media, papers will explore the range of female characters in superhero narratives, the material history of the female superhero, and how visual and textual constructs of female heroes - and anti-heroes - have been re-imagined, re-invented and re-packaged over time.
Possible topics include:
● The representation of female superheroes in print and visual media – in comics, comix, graphic novels, novels, short stories, fan fiction, film, television, and other media forms
● Distribution of narratives and images of female superheroes across multiple genres and media platforms
● The female hero quest
● Deconstructing the superhero trope – studies in feminism, patriotism, politics, race, satire, comedy, and so on
● Constructs of the female supervillain
● Superhero fashions, including costumes, cosplay and sartorial signifiers
● Female collaboration in comics
● Female comics artists: historical and contemporary
● Female comics audiences and fan communities
● Analysis of the institutional, commercial and licensing histories of female superhero properties
● The construction of powerful women in fantasy and science fiction genres
Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words, accompanied by a brief bio, by emailed attachment to Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario (Rebecca.DoRozario@monash.edu). The deadline for abstracts is 11 April, 2011.
We're really looking forward to this one.
One of the members of the reading group behind the conference also has a blog, Silk for Caldé. He just published a post on his new Lisa Snellings-Clark poppets, which are brilliant. Snellings-Clark also has a special edition range of poppets for The Graveyard Book. I'm still kicking myself for not getting her Gaiman rat.
Last, the ERA 2012 Ranked Outlets Public Consultation is open. Please have a look. This is about the ranking of scholarly journals. There are some brilliant scholarly journals, like Marvels & Tales, languishing at a C ranking for no logical reason and this is an opportunity to provide feedback and an argument for a better ranking. You can register at:
Universities are already starting to advise academics not to publish in C ranked journals. This is potentially very damaging, particularly to smaller (at least in Australia) and newer fields of research.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
But I did learn of a new addition to the Fairy Tales Re-Imagined Symposium:
Dark Tales, Serial Archetypes
5pm, 11 March 2011
Quoting from the promotional material:
"You may not know it, but the fairytale is alive and well and living in your TV through characters such as Dexter Morgan.
Join Jeff Lindsay, author and creator of our favourite serial killer sociopath, in conversation with Professor Sue Turnbull as they explore the renaissance of macabre fairytales in popular culture and examine how fairytales have influenced Lindsay’s writing."
Tickets can be purchased separately for the talk, with details available on the website (linked above).