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Out in July

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley                 One of the things I want to do is drive though the Hudson River Valley.  I have t...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Out in July

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

                One of the things I want to do is drive though the Hudson River Valley.  I have travelled though part of it by train.  In fact, the Amtrak ride from NYC to Montreal is a stunning, beautiful trip.  I highly recommend everyone take that rail journey at least once.  I do, however, want to drive though part of those towns. 

                And now, after reading this book, I have a couple more places I want to stop.

                Adamovic looks at the Hudson valley though the lenses of seasons.  Along the way, he hits places of historical importance – such as Sleepy Hollow.  The focus is mostly on the glorious scenery.  Adamovic places the wildlife in context, in other words it is just seasonal behavior but also text that details the fauna and flora.  The end of the book contains a location map and directions, making the book a practical work of art.

                 The photos of the flowers and animals are quite beautiful, including those photos of insect eating plants.  The deer photo in particular was adorable. 

Handmaid's Tale Post 1

Recently (as in literally this weekend), the cast of the Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale said it wasn't a feminist story.  The creator of the series even said it was a story about a survival.  This must come as news to Atwood who has never backed away from the "feminist" label the book has - she has declared it herself.  While it is true the book does deal it with repression, it is FEMINIST.  One never really sees cast distancing themselves from sports movie the same way.  This first post is my review of Atwood's novel.

Source Pinterest

HT was not the first work by Atwood that I read, that was a short story or two in a Canadian Lit class, but it was the first novel by Atwood that I read. I read it over the summer, over the length of a day, torn between the story and the World Cup and walking the dog. It's a favorite novel, though not my favorite Atwood, that is The Robber Bride.

HT apparently has moved to the current events section of several libraries, moved from the fiction section. Women protesting anti-abortion laws in Washington DC have dressed up as Handmaids. The novel has been adapted both as a movie and an opera.

Perhaps the future that Atwood depicts in this novel won't come to past (we do seem to be past the date, yet even with the doubt (or knowledge) that such future will not exist, yet we see echoes of it in today's world. Events of the novel seem to happening regardless.

Okay, maybe not the dressing in red and blue, but the other issues. Women forbidden to work and read, women who can't own anything not even thier bodies, women who must produce a child or be cast aside, young girls married off to men they don't know. Even if those places were equality reigns women still, on average, earn less than men for the same amount of work. Atwood's Gilead is at once far off and too near, a point that all good literature has. (The blame on Islamic terrorists is a very intersting connection to the current day).

While the book is feminist, it is also humanist. Offred might be passive but in the characters of Luke, Offred's mom, and Moira we have the feminist voice. If anything, the book is a caution about either type of extreme - extreme religion and extreme sexual freedom (Feels on wheels, Pormomarts) - both of which seem to be, to various degrees, not good.

Additionally, Atwood deals with the issue of complancy. Offred is less feminist than her mother, than Moira. And while we admire both mom and Moira we think we might be more like Offred, because nameless Offred (of Fred) is the Everywoman in this Everyman parable. 

Perhaps this is the reason why this story is so timeless, why it stands the test of time, why it would've made Atwood's name even if she never wrote anything else. The questions it raises about gender, women, society, life, and family are still one we debate today, are still definitions we debate today - what is a family, is abortion about life or control of a woman's body, why the differences standards for women and men?

This is a great book that is always timely.

Out in June

Photo Source Amazon

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Assateague owes it fame to ponies, perhaps mostly to Misty and her family. There is, however, far more diverse wildlife on the island then simply horses. Marc Hendricks book on the island showcases this quite well. According to his text, Hendricks has made a study of Assateague for a great many years. And while there are beautiful photos of the ponies, there are a great many beautiful photos that details the Sika, birds, and water life of the island.

The books chapters are photographer’s journey – in regards to various animals. Hendricks is able to connect the reader to the capture of the photography. And yes, one of the journeys does detail a pony, a black stallion to be more exact.

The true selling point of the book is the photo, and these are quite lovely. If you love nature, the ponies, or have been to Assateague, this is an ideal book.

Breyer Misty Models

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Clothes off!

Essay on:
Red and Wolf
Cindy Eller
BBW Shifter: I Shifted and She Liked it
Stranded with the Wolf
Bought by the Billion bear
Jinn of Lust
Beardly Sane
Wet for Nessie
And other kindle freebie erotic short stories

Of the books, short stories really, featured above I only managed to finish one. That would be Stranded with the Wolf because it actually put some effort into developing characters. Yet, they all have something in common. Even if the book itself doesn't advertise it (and some do), all the books seem to have this idea of an "alpha" in common. Now, if you read regular urban fantasy, you will be thinking that means like a leader of a pack. Well, in these types of books, it does and it doesn't. 

An alpha apparently means a boss man who is one step removed from being a rapist (at least in the legal sense) and overcomes the woman. It isn't seduction at all. It isn't erotic, at least by my definition.

I know fantasies are fantasies. That what one dreams or imagines doing (or even does in play) isn't the same as really, actually doing it. But I have also read enough theory (feminist and otherwise) that argues (and does so very well), that rape fantasies are not so much about the woman's desires but about the man's or what a man tells (thinks, believes) a woman desires. Reading these, even the one I finished, it's hard not to agree with that.  It's hard not to think of "grab them by the pussy".

Before I go on, I should point out that in one area many of the books stand out and that is in the use of curvy heroines, and in a few cases overweight heroines (not on the covers, however). While this does becomes slightly problematic in terms of a "message" (such girls only get this type of guy), it does make a nice change. Additionally, there is, in some of the stories, a feeling of fanfiction or Mary Sue. In other words, the author is playing with an idea they wish another work had used or done. Furthermore, the ones featured here, while not having the best writing and being somewhat dull (or more telling than showing) do not have the glaring errors in word usage and basic grammar that many others do. There was some level editing beyond using Spellcheck. In very few cases, the basic editing was better than that of 50 Shades.

But the Alpha idea is quite frankly disturbing. I know it's smut, but still. I mean there is smut that doesn't use it the same way (I know because I've read some). Even the ones with bear and cat (solitary non-pack animals) shifters are about the alpha and the search for the mate. For the mate, all the guy has to do is smell the girl (and in most cases the girl is far younger than the man. The one where she wasn't, she was written as if she was). Furthermore, in all of the books, the man is in a position of power over the girl (and yes I am using girl not woman for a reason). This is true even of the one book where she hires him. There is something off about such complete domination. While the idea of a man recognizing a woman's true beauty regardless of body type is wonderful, this is undermined slightly by the fact that it is because of her smell, because of fate. In other words, he is moved by biology more than anything else.  The story is more about his fulfilling his fate or biology.  The women in these stories are not affected in quite the same way, just the man.  This drive to mate is the Alpha’s excuse for acting the way he does.  The story isn’t love and quite frankly it seems more of a story of possession instead of mutual lust.

The heroine is the vessel that he must take and protect from other shifters or magical beings who want her.

But okay, it's smut and we don't really want a plot that makes sense or good world building. Perhaps, but the domination thing is the problem. It isn't just superiority in the sense of his money, his intelligence, his magical shifting, but also in his mental toughness and his wants. At no point in any of these books did I get the sense that if the girl said no, the man would back off. In fact, in "Red and the Wolf" she has been groomed for him. We should just be glad he waited until she graduated college before he made the moves on her. Not that there were that many moves before huffing and puffing. The books aren't about a woman's desire and her sexuality but about a girl (regardless of age) who is being dominated by a man because that is what happens. Even when reading the "erotic" senses, and despite the mentioning of the girl's moans and screams in organism, it still seems to be about the man. The girls are always very tight, even if they aren't virgins (and isn't that disturbing for another reason) and more detail is given to his being pleasured than hers. In all the books here, the girl never, ever has any control over anything - not over what she eats, what she wears, who she loves - SHE HAS NO CONTROL.

The idea of girl with a man is something that runs through a great many of these freebie books.  It is even the virginity.  There is a tendency to have a shaved vagina, as if a natural woman isn’t enough.  I don’t know if various experts are correct when they link the shaving as a desire to have the female porn star more closely resemble a girl, but the idea is enough to freak me out.  In many of these freebie stories, even if the hero is older in terms of a years, she acts like a young girl, as teen.  In other stories, she might act young, but her age is young.  It is not uncommon in these stories for the heroine to be a doctor or well established in her career, one that many times requires a few years, yet she will be mid-twenties at the oldest.  In other stories, she is just in college, usually a freshmen or sophomore.  In most, she is less experienced than the hero.  In many, she works for him.
The question, I guess I am asking is how come so many of these types of “romance” novels are proper.  Why the domination, why the alpha, why the man’s desire being central to the story (his fate).  Usually the hero is also the more active, and if the woman is she meets the man she wants babies. 

It’s true that these stories are designed for the reading pleasure or a quick buck.  And this is true.  Yet, we see the trend in those books published by big named publishing houses as well.  50 Shades anyone?  And the politics in the stories, do seem to be played out in the news.  It isn’t just Trump.  There have been cases where the unconscious women are seen to have given consent because she didn’t say no, or at least that is how the rapists claim they see it.  The effect of the case on the rapist is given more weight than on his victim, especially if he is a sports star.  A woman’s dress and behavior is questioned.  Her sexual history is put on trial, not his.  Her motives are called into question. 

And yet, there are hundreds of these books were the hero engages in behavior that should at the very least get him smacked if not arrested.  There are a great many movies. There are photo spreads for GQ.

 There are ads like the one below:


How sad is it that the trend is re-enforced by fiction that is supposedly for women?

Though I have always thought it was fiction more for men so women could be brainwashed into having sex the way men want.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Underground - TV Series Review

(Photo source Wikipedia)

Underground is the best show on television.

                It is.

                If you don’t know, Underground airs one WGN America, a cable network.  The show is set prior to the start of the American Civil War (the second season is leading upon to Brown and Harper’s Ferry) and focuses on the Macon 7, a group of slaves trying to escape the Macon Plantation.  The focus is on three of these run-ons, Rosalee, Noah, and Cato.  The main cast is rounded out by Ernestine (Rosalee’s mother), Elizabeth (an abolitionist), and August (a slave catcher).  Additionally, there are several supporting characters. 

                I started watching because of Journee Smollet-Bell.  She has earned the right to my time ever since Eve’s Bayou.  I kept watching because of the wonderful writing and the strong women, who are strong in so many different ways

                The first season, as the name implies, was focused on the Macon 7 and their  quest for freedom.  Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and her mother (Amirah Van) work in the house, Cato (Alano Miller) works as an assistant to the overseer, and Noah (Aldais Hodge) has been recaptured after an escape.  Part of the first season focuses on the groundwork the seven most do to escape, the other half on the escape.  Breaks are taken from the on the run plot as the viewer spends time with Elizabeth (Jessica De Gouw) and her husband, John (Marc Blucas) as well as what happens to those left behind.  Even slave catcher August (Christopher Meloni) is given a backstory and a family that makes him human.

                The second season widens the scope – Rosalee works with Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth joins a Sewing Circle that isn’t just about sewing, and the others struggle through various hardships.

                Each episode of Underground is well written, well directed, and well-acted.  Everything that occurs in the series has an historical precedent or draws on a historical documented fact.  The cast and crew also trust the viewer.  There is a gut wrenching scene in the first episode where Rosalee steps in and takes a punishment for her younger brother James.  The viewer suspects, and then knows, that Tom Macon, the owner of the plantation and the man who okays the punishment, is Rosalee’s (and James’) biological father.  This is conveyed thought the excellent acting of both Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond (who guested as Tom Macon).  Even a character like Elizabeth, who I first thought would be the weakest developed character, is given not only depth, but who surprisingly quickly became a second favorite.  In many ways, one of the greatest pleasures of the first season is watching both Rosalee and Elizabeth discover their hidden strengths in different and surprising ways – their interior journeys mirroring the harrowing onscreen escape saga.

                The first season also dealt with issues such as sex and rape in terms of slavery – not only from the enslaved woman’s point of view but from the enslaved man’s point of view, for Cato and Noah go to some lengths to gain some vital equipment for the escape. 

                And it isn’t just the issue of sex and rape, but also the question of morality and how slavery forces people into some tough choices.  Ernestine makes questionable and possibly immoral choices all for the safety of her family, of her children.  That is her driving force.  Cato, oh Cato.  Cato is the most complex character of are, and the area of ultimate debate -good, bad, or simply what those who abused him made him? 

                And it isn’t only the good guys.  August is not a good guy, in fact Detective Stabler would beat him up.  But the creators are smart enough to make him human, and the story of his son, Ben, is one of the best developments and plots of season one.

                The stand out episode of season one was “Cradle”, an episode told entirely though the viewpoints of children – James (Maceo Smedley), Boo (Darielle Stewart), Ben (Brady Permenter), T.R. Macon (Toby Nichols), and Henry (Renwick D Scott).  Standout is a relative term – there are, as with every show, a few points where the eyebrows raise, but every upset is made with heart and care.  Standout here just means a little, and in most cases, inventive or bold – as is the case in using the viewpoints children.  But Underground does this.  It does not shy away

                This season’s stand out episode, at least so far, is “Minty”.  “Minty” is what good television should be and what very few networks will ever do.  The whole premise is a speech given by Harriet Tubman (Aisha Hinds).  That’s it.  Just Hinds as Tubman speaking in front of an audience.  It is a bold move.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Musings from the Grading Desk

Want a good grade on an essay?  Perhaps avoid the below:

1. The five paragraph essay -  unless the teacher/prof assigns exactly five paragraphs.  Nothing is really said in many of these essays and all thesis statements sound alike.  So do the topic sentences.

2. Much more - what the hell does that mean?

3. I personally remember - Really?  Do people remember for you on a regular basis so you have to say you personally do?

4. The reason being is because: no shit, Sherlock.

5. the people that - People are not things.  You should use who.  People who.  The same is true for it.  The only time a person is an it is if (1) he/she wants to be or (2) you are being insulting.

6. In today's society - okay, so what about tomorrow's?

7. Girls when referring to women over the age of 18.

8. Females when referring to women.  This usually goes like "men and females".  I do not get it at all.

9. Heshe is not acceptable for a transgender person.  IT is REALLY not acceptable.

10. Make sure you are treating proper names correctly.

11. Make sure your facts are correct.  So China is not part of Japan, Lincoln did not go to the movies, and Hitler's son did not free the slaves.  Incidentally, the Civil War (American) was not fought in 1920.

12. Martin Luther King Jr never fought in the rumble in the jungle.  Seriously.

13. If your hero is Christ (basically God).  Great.  Do not try to convert the teacher.  DO NOT end with "REPENT NOW OR DIE!!!!!"

14. Whilst does not make you sound smart.

15. Big words only work if you actually use them correctly.

16. Commas are really important.  Get them right.

17. Beware of the word all.  Very few things are "all".

18. there/their/they're are three different words and are not interchangeable.

19. Neither are student and kid.

20. A  kid is a baby goat.

21.  All that blank space between paragraphs?  You are fooling NO ONE!

22. Sam's book - means the book Sam has.

23. Sams book - means there is more than one Sam with a word that does nothing

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What is it with teen boys and prom dates?

Apparently, earlier this week some white teen in a high school you never heard of it did a stunt to ask a famous star to the prom.  On one hand, I admire both the guts of these young men (and it is usually young men) but on the other one hand, the stunts always leave a bad taste in my mouth.
                What the hell does Emma Stone owe this teen?  Nothing.  In fact, one could argue that he capitalizes on the popularity of her last movie to get himself ten minutes of fame.  He gets on the news, he gets written up as far away as Australia.  He admits, to be fair, that he did not simply to get noticed, maybe some free swag or something.
                But that doesn’t really disturb me, outside in a “I know it’s stupid” way.  It’s the reaction more than anything.   Reporters usually end the report with the hint that Stone should so yes.  But, why should he?  How is this anything more than putting public pressure on someone to do what you want?  Take away the fame of the object (and Stone is being treated as an object) would we really be looking at this the same way?  Would the reports think it cute?  Would people be saying that Stone should say yes?
                And why is it usually suburban high schools and young white males?  I know this isn’t all the class.  There was a couple that invented a footballer to their wedding.  But they just sent him an invitation, and it wasn’t news until he showed.  There was no pressure on him.  It’s the reaction, the expectation that not only does Emma Stone owe him answer, but if she was a nice person she would say yes.

                Is this some outgrowth of rape culture?  Am I being too sensitive?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spies in the OSS

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

                In my English 101 class, we just talked about spies and saboteurs in World War II.   It was in a conversation about an essay that dealt with the changing nature of history books in schools.  We were discussing people and ideas that history books leave out.  Female resistance members and the dropping of people into occupied countries came up.

                Perhaps we don’t like talking about such people in wars because there is a whiff, just a whiff, of something not quite right.  It is almost sneaky but in an understandable way.  It is the question of tough choices and we really know that real spies are not James Bond in any of his incarnations.   It is messy and tough, and not fair.

                Perhaps that is why.  Perhaps this is also why we romanticize the role because we know that it is a necessary one.

                This slim volume gives a brief history of the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) built pretty much by Wild Bill Donovan as well as detailing some of the lesser known missions.  Both Alsop and Braden worked for the OSS, so the reader gets a sense of wanting the deserved acknowledgement.

                Considering the time in which the authors lived, they deserve absolute kudos for noting woman agents and pointing out that the women agents did not hesitate to throw themselves out of perfectly good airplanes.  It almost makes up for the use of only male missions in the second section of the book.

                The authors also note the use of non-white agents as well.

                Yet the authors do deserve praise for not trying to sugar coat not only the risks but also the need to sometimes act in a less than chivalrous way, this is particularly true of the last class.

                At times, the stories seem to be a bit blogged down with words (and sometimes with too similar names), yet Alsop and Braden do a good job at bringing a little known but very important role in the Second World War to light.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Happy Birthday HCA

Hans Christian Andersen
(Photo Source Wikipedia)

Today, Hans Christian Andersen would be given drugs and therapy, and then more drugs. He would be put into a study about repressed homosexuals and boys with a mamma fixation. All this because of his stories. Andersen’s stories are also not very happy when you truly think about them. For every happy story, like “The Ugly Duckling”, there are at least two sad stories.

"Ugly Duckling"illustration by Theo van Hoyetma
(Source Pinterst)

Yet Andersen, at least in American circles, is considered a children’s author. Whether this is due to those editions or retellings of Andersen’s stories that make the ending happy, I don’t know. I do know that I have read Andersen more times than I have read the Brothers Grimm and that Andersen speaks to more people than the Grimm brothers ever will.

Princess and the Pea by Carter Goodrich
(Source Pintesret)

The Grimms were interested in collecting folktales and folklore. Andersen is interested in telling stories. Outside of Demark and other northern countries, he is known for his stories, in particular for his fairy stories. This is misleading for Andersen also wrote plays and poems as well as travelogues and autobiographies. His first success wasn’t with his fairy stories. His poem about a mother mourning her dead children is touching (and a theme that enters into one of his tales). Even just considering his stories, people are misled. Everyone thinks they know “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling”, or “The Little Match Girl”, fewer people know the stories how they actually are and even fewer know more of Andersen’s work, such as “The Shadow” or ‘”The Storks”. This does Andersen a huge injustice.

Little Match Girl Stamp
(Source Pinterst)

Andersen was heavily influenced by several things in his writing. It is common knowledge that he was influenced by folklore and the stories told to him by his grandmother, but he was also influenced by the German writers that predated him or who were his contemporaries. While it is not apparent in his better known tales, he had a strong love of country (even though he always seemed to be traveling away from it) as well as a good dose of patriotism. He was also religious, though this seems to come though in his tale more than anything else.

Danish Coins featuring Andersen
(Source Pinterest)

Several critics have pointed out that Andersen has a cult of suffering. His leads his heroes and heroines always suffer. The Ugly Duckling gets frozen in water, the Little Mermaid feels as if she is walking on knives (or broken glass); the Marsh King’s Daughter is transformed into a frog, the little Match Girl freezes to death, the money pig breaks, the storks deliver dead babies. Andersen’s characters seem to suffer far more than those people in the Grimm’s tales (though that isn’t a cake walk either). Andersen, however, is still a considered a children’s author because of the tone, his use of sound (read his tales aloud if you don’t believe me), of putting himself in a child’s shoes (who doesn’t imagine the flowers coming to life).

Love's Teeny Lure Teapot, inspired by "Little Mermaid"
(Source Pinterest)

Too often people look at Andersen in the simplest terms. Take “The Little Mermaid” for example. Many today know the story not as Andersen’s but as Disney’s. They think that the mermaid marries her prince and everyone lives happily ever after. While the cursory reader of Andersen knows that this is not the ending, a deeper reading reveals, if not a happy ending, perhaps a slightly hopeful one as well as a few details about the prince. In the mermaid’s story, Andersen presents a people where the women seem to help each (the witch, the mermaid’s sisters, the mermaid herself) and where the only male who does anything is the prince himself. The mermaid and her sisters are desexualized (she loses her voice, they their hair). The prince treats the mermaid like his pet dog. The mermaid, however, wants a soul more than a prince. She acts more as if she has a soul more than prince. By taking “The Little Mermaid” and reducing the plot to a love story, the adaptor or reader does Andersen a disservice and dismisses the larger issue. In the story, it is the non-humans, the merfolk, who appear to have those virtues that humanity claims – compassion. The mermaid might eventually get her soul though she doesn’t get her prince. Today, there is a movement to de-religion stores (look at Narnia in both the movies and the exhibit), but to do so to Andersen guts this story.

"Marsh King's Daughter" Illustration by Artus Scheiner
(Source Pinterst)

Or take “The Marsh King’s Daughter”, one of Andersen’s lesser known popular tales. Fairy Tales always treat rape as a non issue or blame the victim. Sleeping Beauty, for example, in some versions is woken by the birth of twins, yet never seems to feel any emotional upheaval. Andersen is one of the few fairy tale writers to deal with the issue of rape and not fully gloss over it. Like the Grimms, who buried the incest theme of some tales, Andersen glosses over the attack that starts “The Marsh King’s Daughter”. The daughter of the title is the offspring of the Marsh King and the Egyptian princess who he attacks. This daughter is full of rage and pain except at night when she becomes a frog. Part of the story is about the daughter coming to terms with this rage. Where else would the rage come off except for the attack on the mother?

Illustration for Thumblina by Dani Soon
(Source Pinterest)
Many of Andersen’s tales are concerned with relationships, in particular those of mothers and children. Many critics have discovered or argued for the presence of Andersen’s own relationship with his mother in these tales. Andersen’s mother, who gave birth to a bastard daughter before marrying Andersen’s father, comes off looking less like a saint and more like a drunk if this is true. But then, there is a tale like “She Was a Good for Nothing” where the mother is a drunk who dearly loves and cares for her son. In this story, Andersen contrasts public view versus private life, of how the upper class views the lower class.

Illustration from "The Tinderbox"

Andersen is often concerned with class in his tales. The upper classes tend to be dismissive of the lower classes, though it is the lower classes that exhibit more of those human virtues. Sometimes, like in “The Tinderbox”, Andersen even seems to attack the royalty, seemingly suggesting that the old order must give to the new. Even in his class stories, Andersen also shows a great love and knowledge of his country. Some of his stories are about the humble beginnings of Great Danes (no, not the dogs) like Thorvaldsen, whose work Andersen seemed to love if Andersen’s stories are anything to go by. It should also be noted that in some of stories, especially in stories where different classes of children met, Andersen suggests more of equality than out and out class warfare.

Hans Christian Andersen Hus, Odenese
(Source Pinterst)

Andersen’s stories aren’t all for children; in fact, as he wrote more stories, Andersen saw himself as writing more for adults and this would example the class conscious stories, but also the longer stories like “The Ice Maiden” or “Ib and Little Christine”. It is in the longer stories that one can see the German romantic influence on Andersen. While the tales are more adult, they also consider several of the same themes that inhabit his more child friendly stories. While “Ib and Little Christine” can be rather annoying if you are female reader, it is impossible to describe the creeping feeling of unease that stories such as “The Ice Maiden” and “The Shadow” inspire.

Illustration for "The Snow Queen" by Angela Barrett
(Source: Pinterest)

Andersen borrowed from more than his grandmother and the Germans. His “The Rose Elf” presents a revenge minded “Pot of Basil”, a twist on a familiar tale presented by Boccaccio but also used by Keats among others. Andersen’s variation of the “Seven Swans” makes far more sense than other versions, even if it is chaster than those other versions.

Andersen’s most famous story might be “The Ugly Duckling”, a story that many critics, rightly it seems, consider to be Andersen’s most autobiographical work. This isn’t to say that the similar theme of belonging, of fitting in, doesn’t appear in other works. There are shades of “Duckling” in “Thumbelina” as well as some of the class conscious Andersen short stories. “The Ugly Duckling” is more memorable because the plot of the story could happen. The plot of “Thumbelina”, not so much. We believe in the duckling becoming the swan because of the way Andersen sets up the story – a mistake could happen. Today, even with all our supposed advancements, you still have hospital mix ups.

Ice Maiden Cover
(Source Pinterst)

In most of Andersen’s stories, the reader can meet actual places and people that Andersen knew or admired. Edvard Collin, Andersen’s man crush, appears, as does Jenny Lind. Even smaller characters in Andersen’s history, less well known to the average reader, seem to appear. Andersen’s teachers, the women Andersen felt rejected him (or whom Andersen allowed himself to be rejected by); all seem to appear. Copenhagen is a time honored companion in the stories, but so is Andersen’s love of Italy. This sense of place gives another level of reality to the tales, a level that seems to be missing from the works of the Grimms or Perrault.

While many of Andersen’s tales have “morals” or lessons, they are not spelled out as in the work of Aesop or Fontatine. Andersen respects his reader, be that reader a child or an adult, and knows that his reader can follow his lesson without the moral being directly spelled out. Perhaps it is this reason that examines Andersen’s staying power even among, or especially among, female readers.

Moira Shearer by Sir William Russel Flint
(Source Pinterst)
Andersen’s female characters do seem to get punished at far steeper rate than his male characters. While it is true that the Ugly Duckling freezes, his end is far different than those ends of the girls in “The Little Match Girl”, “The Red Shoes” or “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf”. To say that Andersen was sexist would be a mistake. Even in stories where the girl is horribly punished there are good women – the grandmother, the girl who prays for Karen. More importantly, one of Andersen’s most famous stories, “The Snow Queen” presents two strong willed girls, one of whom keeps her independence; another of women is helped by more women than man when she quests to save her childhood fan who also is perhaps her adult love or husband.

The statue of the Little Mermaid in many ways, is a fitting and unfitting memorial to Andersen. Like Andersen himself, the statue has survived various attempts to deface it. Andersen faults against those who mocked him, who tried to educate the imagination out of him, or who ignored him because of his class. He survived the fact that he would not be able to fulfill his first dream, to be a dancer. The statue of the mermaid has overcome beheadings, defacing, and veils to still exist as a tourist attraction. But like the works of Andersen’s own works, few people who see the statue know true story of the character the statue is based on, few know the story of the statue itself or of the Kasslett located nearby. Fewer know that it is not the only statue in Copenhagen depicting a merperson that has connection to Andersen (he wrote a story based on the Forsake Merman). Perhaps it is this sense of mystery that keeps Andersen’s popularity. We are introduced to him at two points in our lives. The first time when we are children. The second time when we are older, perhaps after seeing the statue or reading a story to a child. We can have two different readings of Andersen, the man and his work.

Little Mermaid Statue, Copenhagen
(Photo Source: Love Collage)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Caves and Horses - Review

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

                I have never seen the Lascaux Cave paintings, at least not the real ones.  I did see the traveling reconstruction exhibit, which was very cool.  But truth be told, I have never really thought about cave paintings very much, outside of abstract desire to see them.

(from the traveling show. Photo taken by C.Ethier)

                David and Lefrere, however, seem to have spent a significant about of time thinking about cave paintings.  This is a good thing. 

(Cave to scale.  Photo taken by C. Ethier)

                In this short book, it is possible to read this in an hour or so, David and Lefrere make a pretty good case for the cave paintings’ creation – both the how and the why.

                The theory about the why is one of those moments that at first seems so out there but makes such prefect sense when they lay out the details and take the reader along with them on the journey of discovery. 

                I am not entirely sure if I fully believe all the why part of the theory.  While the authors make a very good case, there are too many variables that can be called into account.  The process of how the art made it on to the wall – the “technology”/technique – of the animals on the walls of the cave.

(Reproduction.  Photo C. Ethier)

                The book is very readable because the structure is done in steps.  The reader goes on the journey of discovery with the authors.

Story of Troy Part 3

The next day, the sun came up and saw Achilles’ face.  Helios decided to make way for some clouds.  The Trojans assembled on the plain.  The Greeks lined up.  The battle started.  Achilles mowed his way through people, not really caring whose side they were on.

                Then he saw Hector.

                Hector saw him.

                Achilles charged like a bull, without horns because he didn’t have any.

                Hector ran.  In fact, he fled.  It wasn’t very heroic, but Hector wasn’t dumb.  Would you want to fight a guy who was unbeatable?  Whose skin turned away swords?  I didn’t think so.  And Hector had a wife and child to think about.  He knew what would happen if Troy fell.  Plus, no one had told him about the ankle.  Only certain people knew.

                The Trojans inside the walls of the city were even more frightened.  They slammed the doors shut and refused to open them for Hector because he hadn’t paid them that month.  They had hungry mouths at home too.

                Hector ran around the walls once.  Achilles couldn’t catch him.

                Hector passed Achilles and circled the city a second time.

                Achilles started to pant.  It was hot on the plain.

                Hector passed him a third time.

                Achilles wised up.  He was more brawn than brains after all.  He stopped running.  He leaned on his sword.  He waited.

                Hector ran right in to him.

                It wasn’t a good day for Hector.  Or for his corpse.  When Hector breathed his last, Achilles tied the corpse up to his chariot and pulled it back to the Greek lines.

                Most people considered this a bit over kill.  It was war after all.  Yet, consider.  The heroes had this thing about bodies.  It was kind of trophy hunting.  After all there had been a tug of war over Patroclus’s corpse.  It was a manly thing, fighting over manly remains.  It sounds manly today as opposed to the reality of mourning your dead lover.

                Well, the Trojans were horrified.  That was not cricket.  Tug of war was one thing, dragging a corpse totally another. 

                Andromache fainted. 

                Priam got together all the gold in the city and went to ransom his son’s body.  Why he didn’t use the gold to try to undermine the Greeks to begin?  That would have been the sensible thing to do.  Which is probably why he did not give control of the bank account to Hecuba.

                Priam was lucky because the god Hermes didn’t have anything better to do; he disguised himself as a young boy and accompanied the king, guiding the wagon filled with gold.

                Hermes was tired of all the other gods hogging his glory.  If Hector had bothered to pray to him, Hermes would have lent him his winged sandals and Troy’s greatest hero would still be alive.  But no, nope, nada nothing.  Not even the dregs of wine.  Just cause you floated on wing sandals and without an annoying bow and arrow of love.  People ignored you.  Zeus had sex coming out the wahzoo.  But a messenger boy?  Nada.

                Achilles had propped Hector’s corpse up before a fire and was regaling it with tales of what he and Partoculus had done as young lads.  In great detail.  The only thing missing was the slide pictures with all those vacation photographs that make you want to kill the person who went on vacation.  You know those photos, the same scene from like six different angles.  You might have taken them, but if you are nice person you don’t show them to anyone.

                Luckily for Hector’s corpse, the slide sorter, let alone the camera had not been invented yet. 

                But it was a near thing.  It seemed to the nearest watcher, in this case Odysseus, that Hector’s corpse wore a very pained expression.

                Luckily for Priam, he had pack many gold rings and bracelets in the treasure trove.  Achilles loved a gold bracelet, he especially liked putting them around his ankles.  A good anklet put his heel in a flattering light.   It gave him a warm feeling.  Long story short, Priam got his son back, or at least his corpse, and Achilles got bling. 

                Then there were a whole bunch of funeral games because the Greek invented the wake – at least for famous people or those who knew famous people.  Little people didn’t matter.  Greek fire fodder.

                Shortly after the funeral games and rites were over, the war started back up again because Helen was still there.  Achilles killed many people including Amazons, which distressed him because he didn’t realize they were women.  He thought all women were weavers.  He just thought the Amazons were men with really buff chests. 

                There were nasty rumors about what Achilles did with the corpse, but those were just rumors.  Achilles never really knew that much about women.  He should have left the anklets alone though.

                Paris used the anklet to aim his bow and then boom, Achilles got hit the heel.  He kneeled over dead as the proverbial door nail, though that proverb hadn’t been invented yet.

Anywoo, Paris didn’t have long to celebrate because the Greeks got another archer who had conveniently been left behind by Jason of the Argonauts (the Greeks were always leaving people behind   - women who did good things for them, funny smelling warriors, rowers – when they weren’t “accidently” eating their child).  He shot his poison arrow at Paris who didn’t die right away because it was a poison arrow.  It’s like Shakespeare where everyone has the time to say, “Oops I’m dead”. 

                Helen couldn’t do a thing for him.  She was just good looking.  It was a lot of work to keep those looks up.  So, Paris sent for the nymph he had abandoned when he went after Helen.  Said nymph gave him that look and went back to work.

                Rumors were that she burnt herself on Paris’ funeral pyre.  This is not true.  It was only a story put out by Zeus who believed no man should be condemned for getting some.  In fact, the nymph meet a nice jam maker and became a follower of Hera.

                Did the Trojans do the sensible thing and give Helen back?

                Do politicians ever drain the swamp?

                Helen kept marrying young Trojan royals who kept getting killed in battle shortly afterwards.  Andromache began to get a little concerned because sooner rather than later, Helen would have to marry Hector’s son, who was still a babe in arms. 

                But now the Greeks were getting bored.  Whacking people dead was only fun for so long.  They also had kingdoms to rule, and you can’t really rent them out.

                But what really happened was that Achilles’ son showed up and everyone realized that they had spent far too long in Turkey.  Plus, who knew if Helen still had all her teeth or was still in good, clean working order.

                Odysseus hit upon the idea of a horse.

                And it worked because the Trojans were stupid.  And Helen was tired of hanging out with stupid people.  Don’t believe me, why didn’t Hector know about about Achilles when everyone else did?  Who doesn’t hand over Helen on a platter?

                The Greeks took the city.  Killed many people, but Helen wasn’t one of them.  Melanaus showed up at her bed chamber, ready to kill her.

                She dropped her robe.

                Divine beauty ages really well.  It’s like what Sophia Loren said – you couldn’t handle her naked.

                Menelaus dropped his sword but his other sword went up.

                Agamemnon got Cassandra but he didn’t get to keep her very long because wifey was waiting at home with an axe.  Odysseus took the scenic root home, slept with a few women while his wife kept weaving at home, before showing up in a disguise and killing people, including maids.  He was only allowed to sleep with people.  Then he discovered that his son had ideas about how to run the kingdom and that his wife was old.  So, he left to go back to the scenic route.

                Unlike the other great absentee father, Zeus, Odysseus was killed by the son of one his by the blows.

                And the Trojans, well, let’s not ruin a nice story with too much ugly death.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fictional Fatherhood

(Photo source Librarything)

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell.  (Source Wikicommons)

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

Percy Shelley.  (Source Shelleyblogspot)

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Clairmont, There was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

Byron.  (Source Pinterest)

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

Claire Clairmont  (Source wikiversity)

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

Fanny Imlay  (Source Who fix)

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

Frankenstein by Bernie Wrightson (Source tumblr)

Villa Diodati supposed where MS thought of the novel
(Source wikiepedia)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Elephant and Macaw Banner 1-3 - Review (Spoiler warning)

The Elephant and Macaw Banner series is written by Christopher Kastensmidt.  I picked up the first three volumes in the series when they were offered as Kindle freebies.  The first three volumes - The Fortuitous Meeting, A Parlous Battle and The Discommodius Wedding - detail the beginnings of a series of adventures of two men - Gerard Van Oost and the warrior Oludara.  By the second book, the adventures are joined by a woman, a native of Brazil, named Arany.  The setting is a Brazil during the time of the Portgeuse arrival/conquest, but it is an alternate reality, a historical fantasy, for the adventuring men must battle and face monsters and gods.

The first three installments (each averaging around 40 pages) are pretty good.  Is it the best fantasy I have ever read?  Well no, but the idea is interesting, there has been editing, and the characters are likable and believable.

Gerard has a problem; he wants to explore and make a forture; however, no company will have him because he is Dutch and Protestant.  Additionally, while his heart does seem to be in the right place, he isn't the sharpest sword in the armory.  Fortunately, he runs into Oludara, a warrior from Africa, who has been sold into slavery.  Oludara is a Yoruba, a ethnic group from the area of today's Nigeria and Benin.  Because Oludara has the intelligence to answer a question of stragedy, Gerard determines to free him (by buying him and then freeeing him) and to do earn the large amount of needed money, Gerard must see Sacy-Perey, a Brazilan prankster god/creature.  He's like Loki, but younger, darker, nicer, and missing a leg.

The second and third volumes find Gerard and Oludara interacting with the Tupinamba people and eventually becoming part of the tribe.  While the interact of Gerard with the native tribes might be a bit too modern for it to be truly historically accurate, the books do have a clear eye to detail about the culture as well as poking fun at what the Europeans think of the Tupinambas.   The series is quite fun in the terms of the use of legends and myths of Brazil.  

The only false note is in the first volume when Gerard buys Oludara.  Oludara does sound out Gerard, making sure of the man who buys him and that is not the false note.  Oludara was only one of many men brought on a slave ship to be sold to millers and sugar farmers.  When Gerard asks Oludara if any of the other slaves are family, the Yoruba answers no, and once Gerard says, basically, that's good because he couldn't afford to pull the others.  I can understand why Kastensmidt does this - he wants to answer the question that most readers are wondering - what about the rest.  It also shows Gerard in a good light (though Kastensmidt does not make me too modern as seen in the other installments).  Yet, Oludara's disregarding of the other men rings false - would this really be his reaction, especially considering his reactions in the other volumes?  It just felt like there should be more here.  It was too simply done.  It felt off, as if Oludara would have tried something more.  

But Oludara is the star, he is the central.  He isn't simply the wise black friend who the white guy seeks advice from.  He isn't the moral speaker.  In the first volume, it looks like it might be the case, but in 2 and 3, Oludara is central stage.  He is the one who gets the love interest while Gerard simply plays the best friend, the second fiddle.  

Which is kinda nice.

(Photo Source Goodreads)