Archive for fairy tales

My Book is Officially for Sale!

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2012 by vprime

It’s a momentous occasion for sure. You can now buy my book through Amazon. Tomorrow, it will go live on the Barnes & Noble website. It’s also going to be available through Smashwords, probably tomorrow as well, I just can’t find it today. Read it, review it, cherish it as if it were a precious baby bunny made of solid gold!

Twisted Fairy Tales, Lovecraftian Dates and More

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2012 by vprime

I suppose this is going to cost me my internet anonymity, if I ever actually had any, but I can’t not mention it. I’ve explained the types of stories I write on my author website KarenDBest.com, so if you’re interested in reading that, it’s available. You can also read a synopsis and the first story of the collection at Beating Windward Press.

It is a bit odd integrating my writing here with my real name and fiction work. Not that I think the two are unrelated in my mind, but I like maintaining different functional personas. I’m not necessarily comfortable having people who know me from other contexts reading my work, but I guess that’s one of those introvert things that I have to get over once bits of my psyche make it out into the public.

Book Review: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2012 by vprime

There’s a fine line between simplicity and shallowness that fables and fairy tales must negotiate. These are stories, after all, that don’t rely upon the assumption of psychological realism when creating characters. Rather, the fable relies upon types rather than people, which is to say, obviously artificial figures that don’t entirely reflect our reality. The talking animal, the evil witch, the valiant hero: these are essentially paper cut-outs representing parts of ourselves. Part of what draws me to fairy tales is their unapologetic use of fantastical events and figures. There isn’t a tedious explanation of why the big bad wolf can talk to red riding hood, he just does, and the story gets on with itself. That being said, stripping a tale down to its figures can be dangerous if the simplicity exists only because the author can’t be arsed to come up with a good reason why Red should pause to have a conversation with the wolf. I’ve found that the current trend for this type of fairy-tale style writing often cloaks a lack of substance. I bought Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day largely because the cover art of a UFO and tentacle looked intriguing, and the blurbs on the back praising the collection as “a mesmerizing landscape of nightmares, daydreams, fables and parables.” Expecting something like the short stories of Kelly Link, I bought the book.

I should have known better than to trust a blurb.

The first sign of trouble was a table of contents listing over 190 stories in a book of under 200 pages. And before you say “flash fiction” let me state my pet theory that 90% of what is sold as “flash fiction” are story outlines or bits of scene hacked out of context. (Aside: yes, I’ve been guilty of this too. Get off my back–all of you–with that werewolf story!) So, knowing I was about to get the equivalent of a Ramones album (30 songs! All less than 2 minutes long!) I began reading. One could argue that these stories present us with amoral fables—stories in an instructional mode that leave off the moralistic conclusions. Only, I had such difficulty getting over the “who cares” factor that I could not appreciate these as exercises in style. One example, “The Octopus,” presents us with an octopus that has moved into the city and collects spoons. Already, my whimsy meter is overloading. The octopus is named Harley and his two octopus nephews are coming to the city to visit. They visit and the octopus takes them around the city, albeit reluctantly, since, as he explains, he has other things to do. Also there is something about how an octopus who moves out of the sea can live forever, but it has no relevance to anything else in the story. The octopus takes his nephews back to the beach and sends them home. Then he decides to return home himself. That is, we don’t see him deciding, we aren’t even really privy to any thoughts that might indicate the octopus is deciding to return to the sea. Nothing has happened while his nephews have been visiting him that stirs this desire. He pictures his octopus family and goes back into the sea. Ho-hum. So, why is it an octopus? It could just as easily been a story about a guy who moved out of the country. Is there something about an octopus’s point of view that this story needs to have? Give me a reason, any reason, why the protagonist is an octopus and not a shark,  I suspect the octopus was chosen just because it is a zeitgeisty emblem of “weird” and “unique” (check this and you’ll see what I mean) and made the story seem like it had some hidden meaning. The octopus, living forever and collecting spoons are just quirks thrown in to give some semblance of meaning to an utterly dull story. They have no organic reason to be there. For example, this issue of living forever might have naturally occurred to the octopus as it contemplated returning to the sea, maybe? Nope. And the entire book is written in a plodding, stripped-down style that grates the longer one has to endure it. There’s no description or attempted character development to save this Kindergarten Kafka. The other stories are similarly ineffective. In “The End of It All” a man builds a spaceship to search for the wife aliens abducted. He devotes his life to exploring the universe in search of her. On his last day alive he cries out that it was worth all his trouble just to have known the wife and the aliens return her. Pretty ironic, huh? In another story a hunter collects talking heads that convince a boy to behead the hunter. Whatta tweest! Trust me, it sounds more interesting than it is. After a handful of these stories the Twilight-Zone-y twists and 3rd grade writing style get old. I read all the stories, but getting bored less than 50 pages in makes me wish I hadn’t.

If you’re truly interested in the use of fairy-tale tropes in fiction, read Kelly Link or St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell.

Is “Red Riding Hood” a Feminist Movie?

Posted in Culture, Movies with tags , , , , on March 14, 2011 by vprime

As a longtime fan of Angela Carter, I was excited to hear the terms “feminist” and “werewolf” together in reference to “Red Riding Hood.” What came next was not at all what I expected. I cannot recall the last time I was so eager to see a movie end. What I was left with at the blessed end of the movie was the question “is this a feminist movie?”

Valerie is our titular character. She has grown up in a village that is set somewhere vaguely European. Half the characters have French names, the other half have English names and most of them look like they’re starring in a high school production of Erik the Viking. The forest and village have an unreal Disney look to them, most of the houses quaintly sitting on stilts and the trees bearing huge thorns that look as though made of hollow fiberglass. I half expected Keebler Elves to bounce out of Valerie’s grandmother’s house. In this village, Valerie struggles to reconcile her love for the brooding, darkly handsome woodcutter Peter with her impending marriage to the brooding, darkly handsome blacksmith Henry. The two males have no real characteristics that would make either one appealing. Both are made up of a bag of glares, bedhead and stormings off. I honestly had trouble keeping them straight for the first half of the film. There’s not much in the film that explains why Valerie has feelings for either hunk. They’re cute and nice to her when not in the throes of their own mild angst. I suppose that’s what passes for chemistry.

The action begins when we’re alerted to the existence of Valerie’s beloved sister by the news of her death. The villagers had been feeding a local wolf bits of their livestock to keep it from attacking them, now they find it has developed a taste for humanburger. After a bit of crying and wailing, the menfolk rush off into the mountains to kill the wolf and return with a head on a stake. Then Gary Oldman appears doing his best version of the Spanish Inquisition from Monty Python. He warns the villagers that the true wolf lives among them there within the village. The film could have done much with this moment of paranoia, but instead the villagers have a big peasant party that ends up looking like the high school Fall festival.

Here is where we learn just how ineffectually drunk Valerie’s father is, as she finds him passed out in the snow. The exchange between them here highlighted what was for me a huge problem in the film: it was far too contemporary. Valerie has a casual relationship with her parents. All the dialogue sounds like it came out of a CW teen drama. The biggest bogeyman the film can conjure is Gary Oldman’s holy warrior who commits the grandest modern sin of being intolerant. So Valerie’s father is a drunk who is too bland to even be interesting in his dysfunction. He harmlessly totters off after his daughter kicks him and points out the vomit on his jerkin. Yawn.

Oldman comes off as a nondenominational inquisitor. He’s unpleasant without resorting to any actual religious content. He has a confusingly multi-ethnic group of werewolf hunters with him. To show just how much of a big meanie he is, he roasts a mentally challenged kid in a giant metal elephant. Yeah. I couldn’t help thinking of films like “The Messenger” in which the religious zeal of the characters formed a compelling terror in and of itself. I commented to my moviegoing partner that this movie seemed like it had been written by someone who learned about history entirely by skimming Wikipedia.

Amongst all this, Valerie discovers she can psychically communicate with the wolf, which results in her being branded a witch. Before Oldman can carry out any actual Malleus Maleficarium-style soul-saving on her, Valerie has to sit out in the village square wearing a dog mask. At this point, some girl says mean things to her, which I guess is meant to create tension? The rest of the village doesn’t seem to turn on Valerie, so it does little to show how  a young woman depends upon her reputation for social survival. This moment was another great missed opportunity to show Valerie’s own cleverness, but instead she’s rescued by the two suitors who have put aside their dislike of each other.

By the time the film gets into the identity of the wolf, it doesn’t seem to matter. As a character, Valerie mainly reacts to whatever’s put in front of her. We know she’s supposed to be tough and smart because everyone keeps telling us so, but she displays little of these traits. There’s even a cringe-worthy moment of go-girl fake lesbian sexuality that seems to be modern film’s shorthand for “feminist character.” Valerie exists primarily to be wanted by other characters. Her actions lack real agency. In the way she relates with other women, Valerie continues to serve as a vessel for the desires of others. Valerie’s mother, for example, wants to correct her own mistake in choosing Valerie’s father by ensuring Valerie marries someone stable and relatively wealthy. The film introduces the intriguing character of the grandmother who has the potential to symbolize real destabilizing female power, but tosses her out of the way in the third act.
Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” revisited the Red Riding Hood story as a tale about the dangers of desire. The wolf could represent the predatory male, or the beast of desire within Red herself which threatens the social order should it emerge. In this film the potential for desire to upset this world is curtailed. Valerie is, above all, a good girl. She doesn’t seem to have any desires other than a distant fantasy about leaving the village–a fantasy that ultimately is subjugated to being a good girlfriend. So, Red  Riding Hood is not much of a feminist film. Female desire here is safely contained within the bounds of being adored by cute boys.