Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First Impressions

Just saw the trailer for Mirror Mirror!. I may be having a Darcy-Elizabeth moment and I have only seen the trailers, but I think I like this film better than Snow White and the Huntsman.

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

Fairy tales all over our screens, big and small

I just saw the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman today. It's a touch The Lord of the Rings, in fact. It's epic. There are battles. Snow White is in armour. I'm totally overlooking that she's also played Bella... well, almost. However, the wicked Queen does recite the essential 'mirror, mirror on the wall' rhyme, which is a good thing.

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...

"However, he found Finette armed with a large hammer, which had been accidentally left in a wardrobe in her room. Her face was red with emotion, and her eyes sparkled with rage, making her appear even more enchanting and beautiful to Rich-Craft. He would have cast himself at her feet, but as she retreated, she said boldly, 'Prince, if you approach me, I'll split your skull with this hammer.'"

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

A New Unit: Roots of Fantasy

In 2012, Patrick Spedding, Peter Groves and myself are undertaking 'Roots of Fantasy.' I'd been teaching 'Fantasy Narratives: An Introduction' in first year, but it never felt like a comfortable fit. Plus, there was a rich heritage of fantasy literature I couldn't cover.

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...