As with many families during the 90s, my family was a Disney family. In my eyes, though, there were fairy tales far more enrapturing than The Lion King or Pocahontas. My mom had this stash of fairy tale stories that I’d never heard of before—it was from this stash that I’d first learned about The Snow Queen and got a head start on my Frozen disappointment. Fairy tales don’t tend to age well under a critical eye, but I remember there being one story in particular that seemed outwardly feminist, even to my tiny baby mind, which had no idea what feminism even was. Jane Yolen’s 1989 Dove Isabeau doesn’t manage to escape all of the not great fairy tale tropes, but the agency given to its heroine and the rejection of typical masculinity saving the day is enough to make me forgive the tropes the story does hold onto.
I very recently started watching Star vs The Forces of Evil (no spoilers, please!) and was amused by an episode where Star needs to undo a spell she’s cast on Marco. She pulls out the wand’s manual, an ancient, crumbling tome filled with the wisdom of ages of wand users to consult, only to realize that all of their notes are so cryptic and poorly organized that it will take her ages to make any sense of them. This got me thinking about magical journals in general. A common staple of fantasy fiction is a magical guide to the world in question, typically in the form of some kind of handwritten diary or log. Sometimes a book is just a book; I can’t imagine, for example, that Newt’s finished version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be anything but a basic bestiary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, these books are often most compelling when they serve a greater purpose than simply as a how-to or a reference of some kind. By including these books in a layered way, we can add additional complexity to the stories we tell.
Harry Potter is a pillar of civilization by this point. What began as a series of children’s/young adult novels is now a virtual empire, with eight movies, several spinoff books, movies of the spinoff books, theme parks, and the website Pottermore to ensure that the franchise is constantly alive and being added to. Given the impact this series has had since its release in the ‘90s, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the Western world who hasn’t been influenced by it—and it would be nigh-impossible to find someone who hasn’t read the books that have shaped a generation.
You’d think that, but you would be wrong—Mike Schubert, a twenty-four-year-old American man, has never read the Harry Potter novels that so defined the childhood of his peers. And so, in a grand experiment, he’s sitting down to read them all one after the other, and discuss them with his Potterhead friends in this week’s web crush: the Potterless podcast.
On my latest pre-Halloween adventure through the realm of nostalgia, I decided to revisit a movie that—for some reason—absolutely terrified me as a kid: 1994’s The Pagemaster. To say that any movie terrified me is really something, considering that I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at age five and Jurassic Park was my favorite movie at age six, but evidently watching a tiny, animated Macaulay Culkin scamper through an uncanny valley of living books was on another level of disturbing.
This uniquely 90s nugget of media is about a boy named Richard who is terrified of absolutely everything until he has to go on an adventure to escape from a library that has somehow been turned into a fantasy realm full of monsters and dragons and pirates and such. Helping him along the way are three anthropomorphized living books with creepy faces and weird little arms and legs. Are you not shaking in your boots yet? Come on.
Click below for the interview!
I just finished reading the novel Mort(e) by Robert Repino. To call it speculative is by far an understatement. It’s about an apocalyptic future in which a psychic colony of giant ants gifts sentience (and human-equivalent size, and opposable thumbs) to domesticated animals, instigating a human-animal war. The Colony claims to be working with the animals against the human scourge, but it’s more likely that the ants’ Queen is on nobody’s side but her own. Our hero Mort(e) is a neutered, declawed housecat (formerly named Sebastian; post-Change animals tend to discard pet names as “slave names”). While everyone around him is taking sides in the war, Mort(e) just desperately wants to reunite with his pre-Change companion, a female dog named Sheba, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do so, even if that means allying with the dwindling human resistance.
Yeah. It’s a lot.
Unfortunately, even with this complex and intricate premise, the novel still couldn’t do right by its women.
I typically don’t like to read sad books. So from the get-go, I was leery of a book titled More Happy Than Not, as anything with a name like that promised to be bittersweet at best. While I wasn’t wrong in this first impression, I don’t regret having read it. More Happy Than Not is a beautifully told story about regret, memory, and queerness in the very near future, and contains an important message about the damage compulsory heterosexuality can do.
Major spoilers for the story below the jump, as well as mentions of suicide and violent homophobia.
I’ve been a reading fiend lately—my new library card is beginning to wear down under the abuse. I’m trying to catch up on several years’ worth of not-having-consistent-time-to-read, and have especially been trying to reacquaint myself with both what’s new and what classics I haven’t read from the genres I love. Because of this, in the last two weeks I’ve found myself reading two different books that are set on an Earth so post-apocalyptic as to be unrecognizable. These books are both ostensibly fantasy—they include magic items, fantastical locales, and creatures of legend—but the fact that they’re supposedly set on our Earth gives me pause. If there wasn’t magic before the apocalypse, where did this magic come from?
No, that’s not exactly true—I dislike memoirs. Maybe it’s leftover annoyance over every creative writing class I’ve taken, but the genre has never warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart. I’m just not the type to get inspired by “this abnormal happenstance happened to me, but this really generalized lesson is still applicable to you!” since, no, those lessons are generally not applicable to anyone outside of that situation. Maybe, again, it’s a curse of normalcy. And really, I didn’t expect much better after picking up Felicia Day’s recently released memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost), but something spoke to me in that Barnes & Noble, or maybe (there’s a lot of uncertainty here) I just opened up—in my own abnormal happenstance—to the one page that would guarantee the book’s purchase.
I’ll be honest: I don’t exactly know how to go about reviewing a memoir. It’s not like I can really go about judging representation in their own lives, or say “wow, that was totally unrealistic” because, obviously, it happened. For real. Not to mention that, personally, judging it as either “good” or “bad” seems like judging someone’s entire life, which no one has the right to do (unless they’re objectively bad in the “serial murderer leading a death cult” kind of way). The one conclusion I can come to, though, is that after everything’s said and done, it feels like Day is still trying to navigate through life, and while not always good, there’s something relatable and comforting about that.
Not too long ago, I ventured into my local Barnes and Noble in search of a specific book I’ve had my eye on for many days. You know, for an early Xmas gift to myself. Though I scoured the teen section high and low, I couldn’t find it and resigned myself to missing out on the fairy tale re-telling goodness I was going after. However, then a strange mood hit me: on that day, I was damned if I was going to leave the store empty-handed! So after looping around the aisle a couple times, I finally picked out another book and left the store feeling apprehensive, but intrigued.
As it’s November and media has dictated that we should already be waist deep in mistletoe and and various other Decemberween/Festivus/etc. accoutrements, I was immediately drawn to something with that sort of holiday feel to it. But unlike many, I… never had any attachment to the story of The Nutcracker. Sure, I know the story and Tchaikovsky’s music, but I never went to see the ballet in person. In fact, I can’t ever recall liking the old tale that much. Despite my indifference, with a promising endorsement from Marissa Meyer (author of Cinder) endorsed in sugar plum purple on the cover and the promise of much more than dancing rats and swordfights, I journeyed into the world of Claire Legrand’s Winterspell. At the end of it all, I truly felt like I had weathered a great battle, but not necessarily for the reasons Legrand was intending.
Spoilers beneath the cut, and trigger warnings for rape and sexual harassment.