After a long couple months of YA booksthat I couldn’twholly get behind, I went back to the library to return them and then just wandered the aisles for a while. I didn’t have any other recommendations from friends or websites, so I ended up in the children’s section, picking out, somewhat at random, what looked like a fairy tale adventure with a Black protagonist. The back cover told me it was the second in a series, so I grabbed the first book, as well, and went home to see if they were any good. As it turns out, they were incredible. Not only are they some of the best revisionist fairy tales I’ve read, the book I picked up, Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella, was also centered on social justice and the ills of child labor. Did I mention I found this in the children’s section?
Earlier this week, I talkedabout the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.
The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.
Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.
Not long ago, Ace and I were discussing how the wizards in the Harry Potter universe never seem to grow as a society. They are still stuck with very basic technology, and while many tasks are certainly made easier with magic, no one can deny that Muggles seem leaps ahead of wizards in a lot of ways. From being able to explore space, to using computers, to even having pens, Muggles have it better — seriously, why would I ever use a quill? But this got me thinking: this isn’t just in the Harry Potter world. A lot of magical societies in fiction seem to be stuck in a more medieval era. This led me to considerhow we evolve as a society. It is just a fact that human beings are more likely to grow and change to fulfill a need. It’s easier to wash clothes with a machine than by hand, and having a computer makes it easier for us to access information, keep in touch with friends, or learn new things. But for magic users, when you can wave a wand to conjure fully prepared food or teleport yourself somewhere in an instant, is there ever really a need or desire to grow and change?
While there has been some notable improvement lately, video games have not historically done a fantastic job of representing queer identities (or really anything other than “straight white dude”). The days of overt homophobia and extreme stereotypes are mostly behind us, but to put it bluntly, LGBTQ+ gamers usually take what we can get in the representation realm. Sometimes, that means playing as a gay character with very little actual identity beyond a statistic on a character sheet. In many cases, it means there is a female character who can be romanced by any gender of player character but basically is just gay or straight depending on your play-through, rather than a realistic portrayal of a bisexual woman. In an increasing number of cases, an NPC (usually one you can’t romance) is presented as canonically gay, but this either comes off as tokenization or even as baiting. It acknowledges that queer people exist within the world of the game, but doesn’t really allow queer gamers to roleplay authentically, unless you count “one dimensional flirting with that person I have no chance of hooking up with” as an authentic roleplaying experience.
As the trend towards inclusiveness increases, we often see developers either avoid defining a character’s sexuality if it doesn’t directly come up in gameplay or taking a “let’s just make everyone pansexual so players can make their own canon” approach (like many Bethesda and Bioware games). While there is actually something to be said for that second approach, particularly in an open RPG where making your own story is the point of the game, there is also something to be said for explicitly defining those identities and making players deal with the reality of not everyone on earth being bi/pan.
Note that the female version of the char is featured in the promo art. (image via Wikipedia)
The debate over the portrayal of sexuality in games has been going on for quite a while (anyone remember the controversy surrounding Juhani from KOTOR 1?), but gender is only just starting to get addressed along these lines, and finding solid representation of BTQ characters is often much harder than finding LG representation. Recently, Dragon Age 3 took a bold stance and allowed players to define not only their sexuality but their gender identity. The success of that game and the fact that the inclusiveness certainly didn’t hurt sales has opened some doors, and developers are starting to cautiously move towards them.
The recently released Torment: Tides of Numenera falls squarely into that category, exploring these concepts in a way that’s actually inclusive but not quite taking it to the level of DA3 in terms of how that is done. Like much about Torment, it’s a solid step in the right direction if not quite a running start.
I haven’t heard any complaints, so I’m going to keep on keeping on reviewing the various queer comics that have come into my life. Honestly, it’s pretty damn awesome that there are enough of them that I haven’t run out yet. This week’s subject is a new series from Dark Horse called The Once and Future Queen, which, as the title’s riff on T. H. White implies, is a “Return of King Arthur” story with a female Arthur.
I definitely judged this book by its cover—I picked it up entirely based on the intriguing title and cover art alone—but in the end I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Another day, another subpar YA novel. After the disaster that was Three Dark Crowns, I told myself, “Luce, don’t get sucked in by another excellent premise, it will only disappoint you,” and I should have listened to myself. I picked up a new book called The Hawkweed Prophecy based on its premise: two girls, one magical and one not, were switched at birth and have to find their way in the world. The author, Irena Brignull, seemed particularly accomplished as well: as a screenwriter, she worked on The Boxtrolls and the movie adaptation of The Little Prince, and she’s worked on many other projects as a script editor for the BBC. Yet somehow, there turned out to be very little to recommend about her first novel.
Minor spoilers and trigger warning for some discussion of abortion after the jump.
When you are as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, you start to notice some of the overarching worldbuilding issues that affect the characters you love so much. One big issue is definitely the Statue of Secrecy, which has been the cause of a lot of conflict in the Harry Potter universe. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that all wizards have to hide themselves and their magic from Muggles. However, there are a lot of problems with this, and Grindelwald certainly seemed to have a point about the Statue of Secrecy at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the video below, Grindelwald (still disguised as Graves) states that the Statute of Secrecy is a law that “has us scuttling like rats in the gutter, a law that demands we conceal our true nature, a law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery. I ask you, Madame President, I ask all of you, who does this law protect, us or them?”
Grindelwald’s words seem to ring with a terrifying truth in that moment after the death of Credence, a charge that none of the other wizards present truly seems to be able to answer. Granted, Grindelwald’s plans to take over the world and enslave Muggles are neither good nor reasonable, but I can certainly see why he seemed to draw a larger following than someone like Voldemort. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that wizards really can’t do much to help Muggles or even help themselves. It definitely causes issues with the worldbuilding in the series as well, and it would be beneficial to have a character who could better show the complexity of this issue.