There’s always a mix of joy and frustration in revisiting old classics or old favorites for this column, but the proportions of the two tend to vary from topic to topic. This week I sat down with an old Roald Dahl book I haven’t cracked since probably grade school, and found that, while it’s overall sweet and somewhat empowering, it had several elements that left me rolling my eyes. This book is, of course, The BFG.
Recently, my fourteen-year-old self knocked on my window in the dead of night and asked me to reconsider demon butlers. Or, rather, I went to watch Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (a movie adaptation of one of the later arcs of the manga) in the cinema with a friend, where we were both promptly reminded why we’d loved this series so much as teenagers. The Black Butler manga is more than ten years old and still going strong, and the movie reeled me back into this world of supernatural action and Victorian Era finery with enough force and finesse that I was compelled to revisit the first few volumes of the manga—the “Jack the Ripper” arc, the storyline I remember being my favorite and starring my favorite pair of villains—and dive back into this story to see if it held up. Is it still good? Certainly. Is it also riddled with problems I’m much more wary of and attuned to now that I’m older and wiser? Absolutely. Spoilers for the arc ahead!
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.
The Great Muppet Caper is probably one of my favorite Muppet movies. I mean, it’s hard for me to actually dislike any Muppet movie, but still, this is one of the better ones. This movie came out in 1981 and is a mystery musical comedy. Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo are reporters for a newspaper called the Daily Chronicle who are investigating a robbery committed against prominent London fashion designer Lady Holiday. This eventually leads them on a wild adventure to prove Miss Piggy innocent when she is accused of stealing Lady Holiday’s jewels. I discovered the movie was available on Amazon Prime and was excited to watch an old classic, but while it was as hilarious as I remembered, some things in the movie sadly didn’t age so well.
The first time I saw Wicked, it was 2005, and my high school musical’s cast, crew, and a passel of chaperones had come to New York to see the sights—including the still relatively new show. We sat in the very last row of the very last balcony, and I cried like a baby at the end. (I still do, even just listening to the soundtrack.)
Time passed, and a million fairy tale retellings, Ozian and otherwise, came and went, inundating movies, books, television, and comics. But no matter how these stories ebbed and flowed in popularity, Wicked has stayed strong and stayed open, belting out its loving but revisionist history of L. Frank Baum’s fairytale world eight times a week at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. However, I haven’t seen the show in years, and the last time I saw it was with the national tour, rather than the Broadway version. So when a good friend came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go see the show, her treat, I was delighted to agree. I was surprised to find, however, that despite the show’s age, it seems more relevant now than ever.
One of the dismaying parts about writing for this column is that you often discover that a thing you really liked a long time ago is super problematic when you revisit it. For example, the last time I reread a Robin McKinley book (The Blue Sword) for a Throwback Thursday, I realized that it’s a dead ringer for the Mighty Whitey trope. Of all of McKinley’s books, Spindle’s End was always one of my favorites, so it was with some trepidation that I picked it up to read it again after several years.
To my great relief, I discovered that, in leaving the world of Damar behind for a different fantasy country, McKinley left her troubling racial tropes behind as well, instead weaving a fairy tale retelling that focuses on the importance of the bonds between several very different women.
Spoilers for a sixteen-year old book after the jump!
Fantasy is big money now. Everyone is looking to the hefty fantasy tomes of the past for inspiration for the next Game of Thrones, with mixed success. The appearance of Terry Brooks’s world of Shannara on the small screen thanks to MTV is just one example of this.
When I first heard that the show was being made, I decided it was time to finally reread The Sword of Shannara, the 1977 book that introduced me to Brooks’s expansive world, and which I first read in my grade school’s library. Real life intervened, however; a season of the show has come and gone, and I only just sat down with my battered old copy of the book last week. Unfortunately, my reread left me mostly confused and concerned for the tastes of my elementary school self, as The Sword of Shannara is an odd mix of utter tedium and story beats lifted directly from its more celebrated contemporary, The Lord of the Rings.
Spoilers for the novel below.